With a first festival outing in 2002, when his short Robot City played the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Malcolm Sutherland’s consistent output has seen his films continue to tour film festivals around the world for the past 10 years. In fact Sutherland’s films have screened on every continent around the world – if you don’t include Antarctica (I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of festivals there?), meaning if you attend animation festivals, you’re probably already a fan of his distinctive style.
Taking a double-pronged approach to his education, Sutherland studied both printmaking at the Alberta College of Art and Design and film at Concordia University, but how has studying these two disciplines contributed to his filmmaking?
I think studying film and art had a slightly backward effect on me in that it gave me an idea of what it was that I didn’t want to do. At art college I found everything there so self-important that it left me wanting to make more honest and straight-forward things. At film school again it helped me to focus in on my own ‘guiding light’ by being in an environment where we were taught The Way It Is Done.
The inspiration for my films almost always comes from an experience. I find there is a strong distinction between my experience of something and the thing I am experiencing. This may seem like an obvious point, but it has significant consequences when I sit down to make something. For example with The Tourists it wasn’t the actual German tourists that inspired me, it was my experience of them, and the strange love I felt for them. Same thing with Bout – it was more my experience of professional wrestling that inspired me than the actual event.
“This style goes way back to a B&W Ninja Turtles comic book that I was obsessed with when I was growing up”
Experimentation has always been an aspect of animation that I find very attractive. I have never consciously tried to develop a style, in fact, probably it has been more the opposite – but the love of experimentation is always there for me.
My starting point is almost always drawing, but whenever and wherever I can combine drawing with a new technology I am totally into it. In most cases the technology imposes certain limitations on the drawing process – but actually these boundaries provide a general kind of structure which can be fun to play with.
I think to some degree I have always had this drawing style, at least in my sketchbooks. Thinking about it, this style goes way back to a B&W Ninja Turtles comic book that I was obsessed with when I was growing up, it was my bible for many years. But in terms of animating in this style – it is more the case that I have been learning how to bring this drawing style to life, rather than trying to develop the style itself. In general I have about 4 or 5 different drawing styles that I return to.
Starting back in 2009, crowd-sourced project Star Wars Uncut set out with the ambitious task of asking internet users to remake Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. It was a project that seemed to appeal to the creative imagination of Sutherland no-end and a task he has gone on to embrace with great passion. You might even say that the Force is strong with this one (sorry!).
There is something so awesome about getting a 15 second scene that is already finished and being able to take it anywhere. Having everything established forces you to imagine where the scene can go, because, quite literally, it has already been done! So more than anything else it is the particular creative challenge that it poses which keeps me coming back for more. The fact that it is Star Wars is cool too, although I am not a huge fan and would probably like remaking a scene from any good film.
Here’s what Casey Pugh, creator and director of Star Wars Uncut had to say about Malcolm’s input into his popular project:
When Star Wars Uncut was first released I was curious to see if fans could not only recreate Star Wars, but also reimagine it. Just two months after Uncut’s release, Montreal-based animator, Malcolm Sutherland, submitted three scenes that blew everyone away.
Malcolm imagined an amazing alternate reality where Obi-Wan is a three-eyed wizard and Luke Skywalker is an X-Wing flying Samurai warrior. The quality of Malcolm’s illustration, sound design and utter creativity has made his scenes some of the most popular among all of Uncut with over 350,000 views and counting. He even created the official Star Wars Uncut poster which is filled with tons of little surprises that highlight the spirit and silliness of Uncut.
We first became aware of Sutherland’s work on DN when we witnessed the mighty Umbra on Vimeo back in 2010. Since then the film has amassed over 300,00 plays, 6,700+ likes and won an animation award on the popular video distribution channel. Sutherland has another 60 videos on his Vimeo channel alongside Umbra, with his 61 animations clocking up well over 1 million plays since he started sharing his films online three years ago.
I wouldn’t be able to reach very many people without having my work online, so it has been fantastic in that respect. It has never really been my goal to have a career in film or animation, I have always been guided by the basic pleasure of doing it – so in many respects, the success I have had online has seemed like icing on the cake.
“I have found the online scene to be much more dynamic. There are fewer boundaries online and things can happen very quickly”
I am certainly not an expert on either online video or the festival circuit (both of which are extremely vast arenas these days) but in my limited experience I have found the online scene to be much more dynamic. There are fewer boundaries online and things can happen very quickly.
I am about to become a dad again, so, there goes my life for the next while. Ha ha, no – being a dad has been great, but I have been doing a lot more commercial work to support our family now, so my film-making has slowed down a lot. But next year I am going to be in production on a new film, so it is just a bottleneck really.