When did you first find yourself playing with the idea of animation and short film making?
It was when I was at college. I hadn’t really planned to do animation at all and I enrolled onto a 3 year graphic design course at
Coming from a graphics background, did you do a lot of artistic drawing in graphic design or was it all design?
The course consisted of a series of design related modules, for instance model making, printmaking, typography and filmmaking but what attracted me to the course initially was the photography and illustration. The course valued drawing very highly and I did a lot of drawing on the course especially life drawing and I kept sketchbooks. Once I became obsessed with animation I did of course draw all of the time. Along side animation I also really enjoyed illustration and typography and when I left college I got quite a lot of work doing illustrations for magazine and educational books and designing letterheads. Always good to have extra skills!
You have a vast portfolio of short animations, what would be your favourite part of the process in making animation and short films?
Apart from the thrill of finally finishing a project and watching it (although that can also be quite painful) I suppose the actual process of animation is my favourite bit - from doing the keys drawings, through to the in-betweens. However given half the chance now I would much rather just do the keys and pass the in-betweens onto somebody else! If I work with an assistant in this way, once all the animation is done I work through all of the drawings making sure they are as good as they can be, tweaking and adjusting as I go. I also love this part of the process. Animation has never lost its magic for me. I suppose I’m just a closet anorak animator really. I’m not keen on layouts and find character design a real slog – probably because I know how important it is.
With the growth of technology, what developments have directly changed the way you have worked (for good or for worse) since when you started in the 80s to the present day?
Well, we composite in AfterEffects but all the animation is still hand drawn onto paper and scanned into the computer. Computers enable us to do more with the drawings, the possibilities are endless and this is something that is light years away from 1980’s and the confines of working on cel and shooting on a rostrum. All the restrictions of traditional methods have gone out the window. Being able to composite in AfterEffects is great and I love the way you can manipulate the drawn image and take it onto another level – so it still has the vibrancy of a drawn image but with the added qualities that AfterEffects has to offer. I think this combination is very exciting for the future of hand drawn animation. I, personally, don’t use 3d animation or flash but if there’s a need for it in our commercial work then we use animators with those skills. Generally though, all our work is hand animated onto paper.
I wanted to ask, how have you kept your projects funded throughout the economic ups and downs sine the mid eighties?
Initially we were lucky enough to be fully funded by Channel 4 and S4C, the welsh Channel 4. However times have changed dramatically over the last ten years and we now have to rely on funding our films from the commercial work we do. We’ve been doing commercials for nearly 20 years now and luckily we’ve held onto the Charmin toilet paper account for the last ten years. The money that is generated from the ads goes back into the films. The last film we did Dreams and Desires -Families Ties, was half funded from S4C the Welsh Channel 4 and the other half was toilet paper money!
Toilet paper money.......i like it
So if it wasn’t for the adverts, we wouldn’t be able to make the films. There is other funding available but I don’t really fall into a particular category. For instance I think if my work was more experimental, I’d be able to apply for funding from arts council schemes. The only real option now is to fund the films ourselves. However the benefits of funding a film yourself is that you own it and can do whatever you want with it. So when it’s possible to fund yourself, I'd say go for it
Looking at stills from your short films, every drawing that you do, captures the narratives essential elements on their own as a still. For example each still could be a stand alone painting and still tell an essential story such as classical artists do to tell within their paintings. Do you study classical art much and bring these studies into your work a lot?
I suppose I am obsessive about drawing and observation. I do try and make every drawing gorgeous. It isn’t actually essential to put so much work into every drawing because as long as you have good keys, then the animation takes care of itself and the in betweens just become the movement. However I do look at every individual drawing to make sure everything is just right and that even every in between captures something and does its job. That is where I'm a bit obsessive. I suppose working in commercials has given me the fear that I'd be sitting in the room with the agency in a post-production session and suddenly the compositor will freeze on a bad in-between! So I am always really nervous and want to make sure that every single drawing is a good. I do look at a lot of paintings and go life drawing, so I do believe that you have to constantly feed your art. You have to look, you have to observe and you have to keep learning. I'm very hard on myself and am constantly frustrated with my drawing. I always think I could do better.
What sparks your film concepts and how do you pursue these ideas and make them into short films?
I work with my partner Les Mills and he stops me from being complacent about the work that I do. When you work in a partnership you've got somebody else to bounce ideas off and Les pushes me to do my best. When we work together, Les is the writer and producer, he writes the scripts and keeps control of the budget. We are actually quite different - Les is much more open-minded than me and I’m actually quite conservative and ‘safe’ compared to him. So together, we do rather complement each other. Les writes the scripts and I do the drawings, but then once I get started and realise there’s perhaps too much dialogue to animate, I might go back and ask him to rewrite that passage with less words – to be more economic. Or I may come up with a visual way of describing the action so we may loose the dialogue altogether. It’s definitely a two-way thing coming up with ideas and working out the best way to get the ideas across.
Not all the ideas for our films are personal films as some of my films, like Britannia, are commissioned. Commissions are really good because they take you out of your comfort zone and make you challenge yourself and explore ideas that normally you wouldn’t come up with. Ironically Britannia is probably my favourite film
Lastly, have you got any exciting projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
We're just working on a new film now. It is another Beryl film and I’m just drawing her dead grandmother at the moment - not the most cheery of images (chuckles). The film is multi layered and is primarily about death, obsession and art. Beryl rediscovers her artistic side and in doing so looks back over her life, her relationship with her slightly mad sister and her own mortality. The issues are serious but hopefully the film will be hilarious! Fingers crossed!