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Friday, 20 July 2007

Sumito Sakakibara "Kamiya's Correspondence"


"Kamiya's Correspondence" by Sumito Sakakibara is a seven minute movie in which a young Japanese girl writes about her family. In fact what she writes about and what we see are quite mundane and that's the special quality because we obtain a young person's point of view without the drama and in so doing obtain a genuine perspective on Japanese family life. The muted colours of the animation and the detailed drawing of the landscape and houses are first rate. It won the Joint Grand Prize of the IMAF 2005 awards and was the winner of the Student Animation for Adults category. The judges remarked that it was "A revelation. Beautifully coloured, peaceful and emotionally measured, it was the work of a very fine artist and the unanimous choice to share the Grand Prize.” Sumito studied at the Royal College of Arts but comes from Japan. He is an exceptional talent and worthy of the last day of the school term. "Kamiya's Correspondence" can be viewed at the BBC Film Network or YouTube.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Mark Baker "Peppa Pig" & "Jolly Roger"


“Peppa Pig” is undoubtedly my granddaughter's favourite animation series bar none. It is also just about the only cartoon she watches that I enjoy. Daddy Pig reminds me of me without the grunt. What I failed to realise is that it was directed by one of the UK's most distinquished animators, Mark Baker (in conjunction with Neville Astley, another to be featured here shortly and responsible for the wonderful "Trainspotter" as well as a clutch of high class animated commercials .) They have a flourishing London animation studio, Ashley Baker Davies Ltd. Mark produced the award laden “The Hill Farm” (British Academy Award 88 for Best Short Animation Film/American Academy Award Nomination 89 for Best Short Animation Film. This is available alongside his similarly successful 1993 The Village in a double DVD compilation of the British Animation Award Winners of 2004 available here. Both are studies of rural communities. "The Hill Farm" is a witty study of problems that beset countryside dwellers including a bear! "The Village" is a more serious study of the intrigues that takes place in a rather claustrophobic village. One very funny (and at the moment freely available on YouTube) animation is “Jolly Roger” from 1999. Once again this ridiculously talented man was Oscar nominated. "Jolly Roger" features a great parrot, inept pirates and lashes of action on the high seas, as well as a mission by a woman captive to obtain her revenge. As I said it is available freely here but crucially the ending is missing and the quality is not the best. However sadly I'm unable to find out where to buy the DVD. Content yourself with purchasing the whole series of “Peppa Pig”. It's great fun and keeps my granddaughter entertained whilst I can set my mind to higher things - and laugh with her at the Pig family's antics.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Lynn Fox & Björk "Home My Sweet Home" & Audi 5

Unravel is a lovely atmospheric piece by Lynn Fox for Björk. It has a stream of white lines flowing through the air and gradually we realise they are emanating from the singer. Björk is always the most visual of artists and, for example, her braded hair is arranged with matching cream lines. As ever I am grateful to the link provided by No Fat Clips. However a bit of digging around and I discover (because the streams reminded me of something) Lynn created, alongside her Mill 3D team, that magical commercial for the Audi 5 about which I wrote on Monday 28th May . The links between the two commercials are uncanny, separated only by a couple of years or so. The best ideas are reworked and we're all into recycling these days. Look at this explanation and description Lynn provides for another of Björk's songs, Oceania.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Michael Dudok de Wit & Arjan Wilschut ’“Father and Daughter”


I was deeply moved by Father and Daughter, Michael Dudok de Wit’s Oscar winning movie of 2000. I also watched it with a class of students who were similarly affected. In conjunction with his co-director, Arjan Wilschut, Michael has created a rare animation that works on several levels. It is obviously metaphorical and yet works on the simple level of plot. It deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated). Father and Daughter is a story of a father who leaves his daughter and rows off into the ocean. The little girl returns again and again to her vantage point on the cliff to search out to sea for his return. Each return marks a passage in her life from child to adolescent, mother and eventually old age. In the creator’s own words it is about “longing” that never diminishes despite the passage of time and in fact grows more intense. The girl’s yearning to see her father is a metaphor for every wish that is not fulfilled, remaining as potent as the day it evolved. And yet as a father of two growing daughters it works because we want the girl’s search for her father to be rewarded. It touches on deepest relationships within the family. Every father who has held his infant daughter in his hands or every daughter who has ever been held will have an emotional response to this beautiful movie and work of art. The landscape of the Netherlands with its wide skies and tall poplar trees is the backdrop to the movie. The sky and landscape is a delicate colour wash of grey, sepia, sometimes hints of green or blue. The drawing is pencil and charcoal. Often the figures are drawn in silhouette. Always the art is sparse, perhaps a smudge that transforms into a slender girl or old woman; or, a dominant feature of the movie, as the shadows of the trees or the delicate wheels and frame of the bicycle in black and white are viewed in close-up or from afar, perhaps the girl circled by trees that throw sharp shadows into patterns around her, or a simple canvas as the seascape is vast and empty. The seasons change with a rustle of leaves or the girl struggling up the hill against wind that bends the trees. The 1946 “Anniversary Song” by Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin, itself based on "The Danube Waves" theme by Iosif Ivanovici, forms the basis of the wonderful soundtrack, initially played on the accordion but embracing piano, guitar and oboe. Normand Roger’s musical composition is masterful. This is such a wonderful movie and easily one of the very finest featured on the blog. It is available for download from the BBC. I have purchased a copy of the DVD and sixteen page book about the film from animationwebshop.nl.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Dano Johnson & New York Dolls "Dance Like a Monkey"

The winner of the Bradford Animation Festival's 2006 Best Music Video is this infectious New York Dolls piece, "Dance Like a Monkey". Set in something like the National History Museum's dinosaur area (where the beasts live again) the video is an infectious mix of cavorting monkeys and the beasts of the jungle reliving the whole evolutionary cycle with gusto. Dano Johnson uses wit (the monkeys use bananas as microphones) and lends an already rousing song added impact with his skilled animation. Based in Austin, Texas, Dano has his own promotional reel available and viewed in conjunction with his animation work for the feature movie "Flatland" (see the trailer) it can be seen that here is a major commercial talent. "Dance Like a Monkey" may be viewed in a slightly reduced form at his company site Collection Agency Films or in full on YouTube.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Agnieszka Kruczek "Wojna" - "War"

Agnieszka Kruczek's short film, "Wojna" for UNICEF is finely drawn in black and white (initially at least) and is a quite frightening story of a schoolgirl hiding from the military in a war zone. There is a real sense of menace in the animation particularly directed towards an innocent young child. There is some detail about the creator here but I should emphasise the part of the music played and composed by Agnieszka's fellow student Vladimir Martinka from Slovakia. The piercingly evocative violin sets exactly the right tone. Chief-of-production was Andreas Perzl from Germany. Agnieszka is from Poland though she studied in Germany. A direct link for the movie is: http://www.unicef.org/magic/media/wojna_eng.wmv.

Friday, 13 July 2007

"The Phantom Inventory" Franck Dion

Franck Dion's 2004 movie "L'inventaire Fantôme" is an atmospheric visit to a museum full of items and mementos. It was created using a mixture of stop motion and digital remastering. The plot is basically straightforward: a bailiff visits an old man in a wheelchair intending to make an inventory of his belongings. In the attic he discovers all sorts of objects. This is not, of course, as simple as all that. The attic is a rather frightening world where gargoyles seem to stare at him like some haunted Gothic waxworks. The dialogue is in French although there is little impediment for English speaking viewers. You can download the movie at the official website though my computer would not play due to incompatability with the DIVX code. (The inevitable YouTube copy worked very well however.) I have to say though that the flash based and slick website also had detailed information about the production and lots of images and things - though I just felt the download speed was a little tedious. AnimWatch has an interesting if short interview with the director.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Mario Cavalli & Ashley Potter "Care Packages" Sundae Club

The charity international aid organisation Care was founded in 1946 to send relief packages of food to war torn Europe. To commemorate their sixtieth birthday they commissioned BBDO Campaign, Berlin, to prepare a promotional video. The result is this musical video directed by Mario Cavalli and designed by Ashley Potter. It is a soft and sentimental animation accompanied by the gentle "Constant Raincheck" by Sundae Club. The artwork is softly focussed and gentle on the eye. It commences with an affluent country home in the USA, toys are packaged and join a stream of others floating towards a ship. Ships deliver packages to the elderly, food crops to Africa and toys to needy children. In one charming scene the African child throws a package into the air which transforms into the original teddy bear wrapped by the child at the outset of the video, the teddy swirls through the heavens to be picked up by the original donator. Lovely music, textured colours, nice people: a feel-good movie par excellence. Ashley Potter and Mario Cavalli are both founder directors of the London based Colony Media http://www.colonymedia.co.uk/). Both are very experienced and have obtained numerous awards for their commercial and private work and I will, as so often, be revisiting them soon.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

"Birds Bees and Storks" Peter Sellers & John Halas


"Birds Bees and Storks" narrated by the late Peter Sellers is a comic masterpiece and classic. Produced in 1965 it features a very embarrassed father attempting to explain the birds and the bees to his son. It was inspired by the cartoons of Gerard Hoffnung. The link is to the excellent BBC’s Screenonline. However in case you are unable to view it the alternative is the liketelevision site. Naturally a full 4 minute version is posted on YouTube, the previous versions being rather shorter. "Birds Bees and Storks" was directed by Peter Halas whose claim to fame was that he directed the first British animated feature film "Animal Farm". He also created other lovely, traditionally British animations in the during the Second World War and beyond. I plan a feature shortly on the company he set up with his wife, Joy Batchelor, Halas & Batchelor . "Birds Bees and Storks" features a middle class Englishman in the mould of Arthur Lowe from Dad's Army explaining (and suffering) about the facts of life. He is seated in an armchair and as he grows more and more embarrassed his face blushes and sweats. This redness contrasts with the otherwise grey pencil drawings. "It's all perfectly clear"says Sellers, and "no problem for an intelligent father". Cartoonist and actor in perfect harmony because this is hilarious, not the least because it perhaps captures a period in our history, a certain class and a certain honesty. Nowadays, of course, parents are spared the ordeal and leave it to teachers.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Sarah Cox "Heavy Pockets"

“Heavy Pockets” by Sarah Cox is an interesting blend of video and animation. It is a moody piece about a girl rejected and bullied by her peers who has an interesting escape mechanism. It was Bafta nominated in 2005. From her biography I see she worked for a time as Head of 2D at Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia, which I have featured before on the blog. She set up ArthurCox in 2002 with Sally Arthur and they do, as in the featured "Heavy Pockets", a mixture of live action and animation. They have a interesting reel on their site together with excellent commercial work primarily for a French market from what I can see.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Dave Daniels "Humph" and "Colour Keys"

Dave Daniels is one of the directors from the busy London studio Tandem Films. He has several short movies posted and the two I have chosen to highlight may not necessarily be his best. Humph and Colour Keys are similar in that they use abstact numbers and letters in the first and shapes and pattern in the second. Humph is supported by some delightful jazz music. Both are a pleasure to view, Colour Keys looking for all the world like some high fashion display of the finest fabric designs. In both the use of colour is striking. Tandem has its latest commercials on view. Its movie Migration is for Ribena and tiny blackcurrents bounce about to good effect. Cupboard on the other hand has tiny Coco Pops bouncing around to similarly good effect.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Bruno Bozzetto "Grasshoppers"

Bruno Bozzetto's Oscar nominated classic of 1990 “Grasshoppers" is chosen to represent the Italian director's mass of work over his fifty years or so in the animation business. “Grasshoppers” is the story of the history of the world told in 8½ minutes. Each moment in time is a visual gag always ending in a fight, death and carnage. In fact it is very violent though only with the same degree of seriousness as Tom and Jerry. The transitions between the various empires are marked by grass that grows to obscure the debris of the previous altercation. The title’s significance can be seen: man is a hopping insect squabbling and fighting over the earth and then obscured before the next generation appears on the scene. Two Greeks argue over Helen, kill each other and in turn are killed; the Romans loot huge vats of gold then fight against the barbarians only pausing a moment to glance at the holy cross that suddenly appears over them before continuing. Italian aristocrats dispute who should wear the crown, soldiers switch allegiances, a woman takes charge, vanquished aristocrat metamorphoses into the Pope who declares the woman is the devil who metamorphoses into Joan of Arc. It’s all done so slickly and with wit. What Bruno selects from world history is interesting. I think I saw Britain represented at Waterloo, there’s General Custer, the Great Wall of China and much else.

Bruno did not work alone. It is Riccardo Dentin who does the animation and the music by Roberto Frattini does much to establish period atmosphere as well as cement the humour. The artwork is essentially caricatures and you can enjoy images of stabbing, climbing and burning or the detail that goes into his characters by examining his storyboard.

Any trawl of Google will lead to a YouTube copy of the movie albeit of varying quality. Compilation DVDs of his work are freely available though are not family orientated despite some of the advertising. They do however include "Allegro Non Troppo" his 1976 parody of "Fantasia". You can also see his work via his website: http://www.bozzetto.com.

Friday, 6 July 2007

"A Place to Crash" & "Me and My Monkey" Robbie Williams & Steve Edge

Robbie Williams has never been a particular favourite of mine which is why the track A Place to Crash from the album Intensive Care is new to me. It is rather good especially in conjunction with Steve Edge's witty animation about a guy who frees a number of monkees and then proceeds to live the high life. One of my favourite drop-in places Sumo Dojo is the place to go to view this. However there is a second movie by the pair though, as usual, this time the animated Me and My Monkey is posted on the ubiquitous YouTube. Steve is very accomplished and professional. I was surprised to read that he is only 20 and studying at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. Two first rate commercial music videos isn't bad and suggests Steve will pass his degree.

Bruno Bozzetto - Flash animations

Bruno Bozzetto is as much the master of the short Flash comedy genre as he is of satirical cartoons and animation generally. He was recommended to me by Davide Ragona and Davide Saraceno and it was then I realised he was the creator of the very funny Mr Rossi series of the 1960s and '70s, samples of which can be viewed here together with a very full description of the series from 1960-1964. The flat headed and often boater clad Mr Rossi gets into all sorts of situations when camping or at the seaside. I was however unfamiliar with Bruno's later work in Flash. These animations are often a series of short visual gags strung together. Take Yes & No for example. The drawings in these flash animations are simple. We look down on the highway and Bruno takes us through a series of road incidents involving squares and rectangles moving along the highway. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things and I challenge you not to laugh out loud at the wrong way. Mister Otto in 17 is another typical example of his humour as Mister Otto goes about his everyday business and suffers 17 incidents, mostly very dangerous: Otto places coin after coin into the dispenser but nothing happens until he shakes it! For for those keen on history but have little time: THE WORLD'S HISTORY FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN A HURRY. Perhaps you are intending purchasing your own apartment? Watch apartment living and be warned. There are four instalments in the soap Tony and Maria. I particularly enjoyed the Horror episode. Meanwhile Adam is abandoned on an alien planet although he does have an emergency button he can press for a friendly flying saucer. How did his planet get to be inhabited? All these and very much more at his hugely impressive home site: http://www.bozzetto.com/welcome.htm%20/& http://www.bozzetto.com/flashfilms2.htm.

Born in Milan in 1938 Bruno is a one of the foremost figures in Italian, and indeed international, animation and has received many awards and honours. His 2002 major animation feature Mammuk shows what he can do on the grand scale. I intend to feature his 1999 "Grasshopper" as one of the classic animations sometime soon.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

"The Sandman" 1992 Paul Berry

The Sandman was directed and animated by Paul Berry in 1992 with Colin Batty, Ian Mackinnon and Richard Sykes as puppeteers and set designers. For those of a nervous disposition or troubled sleep patterns it is not recommended viewing. For everyone else with an interest in animation it is compulsory. The movie is the first of what I deign to label the “classic” (and occasional) series of animations of the 20th Century. (Not to say the other featured animations are not classics but they are 21st Century classics!) It was Oscar nominated in 1992 and won the Best Short Film Award at Annecy the following year. It is nearing bedtime, the child dances and beats his toy drum in the living room as his mother works on her embroidery. The clock strikes eight and the boy kisses his mother goodnight. He climbs the very long and steep stairs with only an insubstantial lantern to guide him. He is distracted by shadows, draughts and strange creeping noises. Inside his bedroom the moonlight casts an eerie light through the casement window. The child pulls his sheet over his face to hide from the terrors of night. Creaking stairs, moon, shadows and the like are all traditional images of the horror genre. So is the frightening figure beating out the notes in the clock. A cuckoo would be far cheerier! The music by Colin Towns perfectly builds up the tension. Those who believe puppets are not scary should think again. The origins of Luis Manchado González's “Senor Sombra”, about which I wrote recently, are obvious. Joe Dembinski and Peter Kidd work their magic with the cameras although the puppeteer’s manoeuvring of the Sandman himself is a key ingredient. This is no sprinkler of magic sand into the eyes to whisk a child into the land of sleep and dreams. From his first appearance behind the moon to his creeping up the stairs there is a predatory threat to the fiend. And why does he go out of his way to creak stairs and attract attention? The animation is beautifully crafted with a firm grasp of the psychology of fear and nightmare. There is also a frightening climax together with some haunting images after the credits have rolled. However I must focus on the set for this has such a dominant effect on the atmosphere. The staircase is huge, coarsely timbered and shadowed. Even the living room induces a dark, oppressive mood. The best copies of this film will need to be purchased though there are some inferior versions of the movie available online. However you can visit the site of Ian Mackinnon & Peter Saunders and view the arrival of the Sandman in all his glory. Ian and Peter's company, by the way, have some outstanding work to their credit after first working together at Cosgrove Hall Films (production company for The Sandman) in the 1980s. I plan a feature of both companies shortly.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Animated Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo DaVinci is almost as famous as many of the animators I feature here in the blog! Sadly however, for all his inventiveness, he was unable to master the mysteries of animation. (This is not strictly accurate of course as many of the stages of movement and such are in the original drawings.) For the V&A's exhibition of his work they have commissioned some pretty clever animations of his experiments and art. Human Figures in Motion, for instance, shows the pages of his book come alive and figures walk and work. The Vitruvian Man animation demonstrates his work on human proportions. Rays of Light is, if anything, even more inventive as Da Vinci shows the effect of light striking the face from different angles. But for me the most gripping and the most telling movements are those recreating the war machines of Da Vinci's prophetic imagination in Warfare, as huge tanks prove invincible on the battlefield, way before the 20th Century saw these creatures dominate the ground. For the animation work V&A pay tribute to Cosgrave Hall Films Ltd. These and more are at the Animated Illustrations section of a museum to be proud of and a national treasure.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Darren Price and Ben Cowell "Show and Tell"

Earl Parker is forced by the brutish Miss Beagle to deliver “Show and Tell” to his bored and intimidating classmates. He is a shy individual and easy meat for Big Baxter the Bully and the rest of the mob. "This was the moment he had dreaded all week." How the class hoot with derision when he proceeds to tell them about the things he has discovered on his lonely travels and brought into school. Out of his bag emerge shiny stones, boot, fossil, cactus and a rusty spring from his bed. The poor lad is drenched in sweat. He even resorts to juggling with his treasures. To no avail. Earl is dead meat unless ..... And it is how Earl the timid schoolboy manages to extricate himself from this mess that forms the basis of this wickedly humorous tale. This is animation at its finest by Darren Price and Ben Cowell. My heading attributes the work to the two animators though they are part of a team. It is beautifully written by Bradley Trevor Greive and Sandra Walters in rhyming couplets allowing the ripe voice of Lee Perry to ham it all up, particularly the teacher. It is also a tribute to the producer Sandra Walters and director Mark Gravas (for the Australian kapowpictures.) The animation delights. The classroom with its towering perspective looming over Earl as he ventures to the top, there's the glow of red as he opens his bag to yet more treasures, the bat cave. You can almost feel the clammy fur of the long dead rat. But, I give too much away. Gosh this is good. Created in 2002 you just know why Darren went on to sell me a Honda!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Darren Price

This is the thirteenth in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Jack's will be posted there later in the week.

Jack Whitmore interviews Darren Price

Darren Price is in charge of 3D animation at the London studio “Nexus”. It was his personal project "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" that drew him to our attention here at South Axholme School. His tale of a bear addicted to vodka is very funny. Darren's work for Honda has won him awards too (and persuaded our teacher to buy one.) His interview is full of information about working in the commercial world, as well as about courses and universities.

When you first read the article about Potapych did you immediately think, "This is a great idea for an animation"?
I immediately thought that it was a funny, and interesting article, and it wasn't too long until I was considering it for an animation. I started out, though, by just writing a few lines from the article into my sketchbook, and doing some drawings of Potapych and Misha. I was on holidays in Australia staying at a house in the country, where I drew and drew until I knew, visually, how I wanted the film to start and to end.

How long did the animation take you (and your team) to do?
The animation took 12 weeks of production time. I had pretty much developed the story, and storyboards before that production time though - so we knew what we were doing when we started. Mike Greenwood, and I were the only full-time animators on the project, and we worked for most of that 12 weeks. Other animators popped in for a week or two here and there. We didn't really work too many long hours, and tried to keep it well organised, so we weren't in the studio on a Saturday night.

The colours of the movie are very rich and almost Christmas-like. How do you decide on a particular style for an animation?
It depends on who the animation is for really. This was a personal project, and so I went with a style that I liked at the time. I'd been looking at some books about a well-known concept artist for Disney from a lot of their early films, called Mary Blair. Her art is lovely, and the final Disney films don't look that much like a lot of her final art. I wanted to make something that looked like original concept art, rather than over-painted, realistic paintings. And, I work in 3D all the time, so I had a few tricks that I wanted to try, making 3D look like 2D, and putting it on top of paintings etc.

Working on commercial projects, the client will often let you know that they want the characters to have realistic textures, or to be drawn in 2D. The general colour choices, and design of the project, are usually decided by the director, or an art director. The clients can then have some feedback, but you definitely push for a look you like.

The sound of your movie is important, including the narrator with the Russian voice, music and fx. Is this something you control yourself or is it someone else's responsibility?
I am not that great with sound. I have a friend, Scott Collins, who did all the music and fx for me. He's brilliant, and so I was pretty confident he'd do something great. I gave him a really big brief at the start, and sent lots of reference songs, and bits of Russian accordion music I liked - hoping he'd pull it all together into something that sounds really nice. Which he did. The voice artist was great too. I found him through an agency that handles voice talent - and got really lucky with Yuri. He was brilliant. I went to a sound session with him, and tried to direct him as to what I wanted. I say 'tried' as I really just don't know how to talk about sound and acting all that well. It was definitely a learning experience. Also, quite stressful as we only had a couple of hours to get the whole thing right.

Did you set out to create a piece of art, win an award, create a popular film for television or as a personal project because it appealed to you?
I wanted to creat an entertaining film for television. I received a grant from Channel 4 to do this project, and so, did treat it to an extent, like a ommercial job, where I was to deliver something that would be fun to watch for 3 minutes after the news.

Is making animation films your job or a hobby?
Animation is definitely my job. Short films like Potapych feel like a hobby, but I approach them like a job. I do a lot of commercial work mostly, and work every day on lots of different projects.

We use Flash to create our movies. Could "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" have been created with Flash alone?
Yes, totally. I think Potapych held together as a story pretty well, just due to the voice-over, and simple story structure. It would have worked as a Flash animation. It's just a choice you need to make, that usually comes down to what your resources are. For a short film like Potapych...I needed to choose a medium that I was good at - just to get it done on time. If you have a big budget, you could hire a team of 3D people, or stop-frame animators, 2D...whatever you like, and just direct the thing.

What inspired you to animate? And why?
I guess I was drawn to the romantic idea of creating worlds/characters etc. out of your bedroom. I loved loads of fantasy, and sci-fi when I was a kid...and was just blown away by things like the taun-tauns in Star Wars. I also drew a lot, and would copy Bugs Bunny, and Peanuts characters all the time. I really loved the idea that you could do that stuff for a job. Actually ending up animating though.

I saw that you won the "Best 3-D Professional Animation" but have you won any other awards for your animations? And are awards important as a career aid and/or for personal satisfaction?
I've won a lot of awards as an animator, rather than a director... ie. some of the commercial projects I've worked on have won lots of awards. The ad Honda 'Grrr...', and the Motorola Grand Classics spot won loads of things. I like it when an ad is successful in the industry, as it means you get more work, and more attention. For my personal films, like Potapych, and to a lesser extend 'Show & Tell', which I put a lot into as an animator, it is really rewarding to win a prize. It does push you on to do it again, and it's just a bit of affirmation that you've made something people like. As a film-maker you are always a bit paranoid that you've wasted everyone’s time with your film...so prizes do help, yes.

Another good thing about awards is they help you when applying for jobs overseas (ie. applying for Visas), and they help when applying for grant money to make a new film.

Is working on commercials a very stimulating environment for an artist or is it too competitive for that?
Working on commercials is great at a place like Nexus - Ads have a short turnaround, and they always look very different and usually interesting. So...it's a pretty exciting area to be in. The one thing you miss as an animator working solely on commercials is being able to animate long scenes, tell complex stories, and develop characters etc. Still, a lot of animators prefer ads. They usually pay well too.

Do your animation team have similar backgrounds?
The animation team have fairly varied backgrounds. Most have some sort of animation training - 2d, stop frame, or 3D. Then, there are quite a few people who have gone through the Royal College of Art, or done a Graphic Design degree. The directors have usually done film studies, or design studies of some sort. Most of them are hands-on animators too.

What's the best way of getting into animation? (e.g. the best schools/ universities) and what sort of courses would I need to take? Is artistic talent the key or is it use of ICT?
Artistic talent is the start of it all. From there you have to learn a lot. Learning to animate is a funny thing... there are loads of courses - small courses at tech colleges, and even short courses at larger institutions, a lot of which are fairly useless. A lot of the mechanics or animation come down to practice, and doing it a lot - copying other people etc. until you know what you are doing. Hard work, but fun. For courses, I would suggest doing a lengthy course where you make a film by the end (and look at the previous films made at the school to see if they are any good). Schools I think are good are the RCA, Supinfocom in France (learn French!), Le Gobelins (again in France), possibly Central St. Martins in London (2D animation is good there), and if you want technical 3D then Bournemouth NCCA is good.

Nexus Productions has done some great commercials. At school we are just about to start our own commercial for a product of our own choice. If you had to write down golden rules to guide us what would they be?
Our most successful commercial is Honda Grr... and this had a really strong idea at the base of it 'Hate Something, Change Something'. So, we had a great base to work from - and the animation just made that idea come to life. So...golden rules...strong idea, catchy song/appealing motive, and then great animation?! Something like that... ;) Also, watch the 'Log' ads that John Kricsfalusi faked in his Ren and Stimpy episodes. They are good for exaggerating animated ads, and probably good reference for you making an ad for fun.

You come from Australia. How do you judge the standard of animation work there and here?
The quality of animation is generally better where the work is. There is plenty of work both here in London, and in Sydney, so I'd say quality levels are fairly similar. There's more advertising work here in London though, and generally more interesting/creative briefs to work with. The internet has made the world a bit smaller too. I think websites like http://www.cartoonbrew.com/, and http://www.cgtalk.com/, where people talk about animation, and show each other their animations are really helping to push quality levels up.

Is the animation industry a good one for me to get into?
The animation industry is good to be in. It is very competitive, and if the bottom line is that you want to make films, or animate on films, then this is the place to be. I wouldn't say that the animation industry has the most established career structure - ie. you get to the point where you are animating...and there's not a lot of ladder left to climb. However, as a craft and general enterprise, I think it's hugely rewarding, and the possibilites of what you can put into an animated film are endless.

Finally, "Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" was triggered by a newspaper article but if you could turn any book into an animation what would it be?
I'd quite like to animate 'Bottesnikes and Gumbles' by S.A Wakefield - an Australian kids book that had some great drawings in it. I also met the author once in Bathurst, and he was really nice... :) I'd also love to adapt some comics, but more the graphic novel type - similar to Sin City, Ghost World, and Persepolis. In a dream world where I can pick and choose such things, I'd probably want to search through some of those... Dan Clowes' 'Like a Velvet Glove cast in Iron', or Charles Burns' 'Black Hole' are great stories. Ah...I don't know, there are loads of things that would be great animated. It was nice to work from a true story with Potapych, and I'd possibly look at doing something similar for a short film again.

Anyway, thanks for the interview Jack, and good luck with everything. I'm sure you'll have fun in the wonderful world of animation.

"Potapych, The Bear Who Loved Vodka" may be viewed at: http://www.cleverlikeamonkey.com/potapych/index.html
It was featured as our 2007 New Movie of the Week 23
and was our blog entry for 24th May.