Year after year students from the Royal College of Art turn out some of the most exciting and innovative short film work you’re likely to come across in the world of animation. With graduates from the school’s animation programme picking up both Oscar and BAFTA awards in recent years, it’s no surprise the course is often viewed as a world leader in educating up and coming animators.
With the 2013 RCA Graduate Exhibition having recently taken place (at the end of June), DN was lucky enough to get a look at the recent batch of animated shorts coming out of the college. We spoke to four of this year’s animation graduates to find out more about their final RCA films, production processes and time at the prestigious school.
PLEASE NOTE: Unfortunately, as the RCA holds the copyright to the films in question, we can only bring you extracts at the moment, but we’ll be sure to feature full length versions as soon as they’re released. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for these films appearing at a film festival near you in the future.
“The film is about a little bloke having an existential crisis.”
I wrote the script during the second term of my second year at the RCA, around January of 2013, one night, slightly drunk in my room. It was accumulation of lots of ideas I had gathered during the first term. I wanted to challenge myself, especially in terms of my writing, so I developed this narrative about a guy suffering with anxiety and constant doubt. I felt that the more absurd his worries and insecurities were, the more I could push myself with animation and storytelling.
The film took 8 weeks in total to make, I tend to work intensely and more efficiently in short periods of time. I find that if I have months and months to work on a project, I end up procrastinating or getting bored of the idea fairly quickly. Working this way allows me to keep things simple and economical, it also allows me to come up with (usually) better ideas as I go along.
I had a small team of three animators helping me on the film. During the third term of the first year at the RCA, it is required that first years work on a second year project for a minimum of two weeks – I had a grand team of guys who did a really great job, and the more we worked on it together, the more excited I got about the project. It was my first time directing a team and I really enjoyed it, they also helped me sometimes solve certain problems and gave suggestions on how to improve the narrative. I also worked with a sound designer, Nikola Medic, whom I had collaborated with on my previous film Home. He was stuck in Serbia, so we did all the sound stuff via Skype. He’s really great and his contribution really added depth to the piece. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget how essential and important sound really is to a finished picture.
Everything was animated in Flash and then treated in After Effects.
I think I definitely learnt a lot more from my peers than from the tutors, I think this is normal. You’re around each other constantly and you talk about your ideas on a daily basis – you become good at problem solving and noticing things in each other’s work. You are exposed to so many different cultures and departments at the RCA that you have several points of reference and different things to look at and be inspired by. For me it was really an eye opener, I feel that in two years I really grew and developed as a filmmaker and made works which I am proud of. I think it’s so important to be exposed to a wide variety of art, not just animation or film, because even subconsciously it all has an effect on how you may or may not approach your work. If you spend your whole time just around animators, you end up making work for animators, being around such a diverse environment really helps you push yourself to make interesting and original work.
THE SHIRLEY TEMPLE
“The film is an abstract-narrative about childhood and adulthood, escapism and sexuality.”
It took half a year to make. I animated it digitally in 2d, with a program called TVpaint. The film is very minimalist in aesthetics, so I could animate almost everything myself. Some of the colouring was done by Annlin Chao, a fellow RCA animator. Throughout the process of making this project, two amazing people I’ve worked very closely with were my composer, Duncan Thum and my sound designer, Joe Tate. The animation is partially abstract, so I wanted to sound to be very precise in communicating the right atmosphere, so that the story felt right.
I think the RCA is a place where you can get inspired by a lot of different kinds of artists: animators, designers, illustrators…you name it. You just watch in awe how everybody around you creates their work, and learn from how they approach their projects. It’s really exciting. I think this motivated me to try new ways of drawing, have a more abstract approach to filmmaking, but also to think about good design in animation. The experience also created a kind of contrast, because every animator has a different focus in his/her work. At the RCA I found that the most important thing to me about animation is how it moves. I love drawing movement. I gradually found that all the work I’ve been making revolves around this idea – animating very simple shapes to tell a story.
THE AGE OF THE CURIOUS
“The film is a surreal growing of age, sexual awakening story, with three characters in the middle.”
From the first glint of inspiration to the render of the final edit it took about a year to make my movie, although the active work took nine months all together. I got some support from some of our RCA first year students, who helped me out with additional animation at the end of the process. I also worked together with Zuzia Ziolkowska, whose music is a very important part of the atmosphere of the film. Other than that I mostly worked alone, because my animation is an association based psychological journey, which needed a cohesive, personal feeling to it, a point of view which I think is not easily adopted in team work.
At the RCA I got to meet some outstanding animators and friends. Their support and criticism helped me shape my way of creating animation.
THE DEWBERRY EMPIRE
“The Dewberry Empire is a film about two children forming their own empire during a strange and still summer afternoon, a film that can become dark, weird and idiosyncratic when you see past its guise of a children’s film.”
This film was in its pre-production-approach a departure from my previous work, which had usually been fully formed, as a narrative, inside my head before taking its first shape on paper. With the Dewberry Empire, I wanted to give enough freedom within a rough plot for the children to play with their roles, outdoors, so I could then choose the best and most natural sound bits of that recording to form out the details of my story.
This approach gave me an unusual, natural quality to the sound, which is rare in animation, where sound recording tends to happen in a studio, with fixed, scripted lines. The exact series of events became only apparent after the sound recording, during sound editing. Only then did I start to make a storyboard and proceed with the usual way of making my animation, i.e. drawing and painting until I was finished. I also decided to use the opportunity to teach myself watercolour painting, which I hadn’t done before and was a bit nervous about, since it would mean I couldn’t click ‘undo’. I think it worked, though, and I am happy with the result.
Ultimately, it took me 7 months straight of animating and background painting, in which I took only a handful of days off, for about 5000 animation-drawings and 70 matte paintings.
That wasn’t too healthy, though. I got some help with the colouring, about ten shots or so are coloured by assistants. It was a bit problematic though, since the way I draw is hard to decipher for others before it’s coloured in, and so my assistants would repeatedly colour bits in the wrong colour, and I couldn’t do anything about it, but check every frame myself and fix it. But in the end, they did save me a couple of days and I am grateful for that.
I found the RCA a strange place. While I think I didn’t gain much from the college itself as an animator or filmmaker, apart from having the time and a bit of pressure to use it to produce films, I met some good people there, and there aren’t too many of those around.
“The tedious insanity of insomnia, first hand.”
My film started life when I came across an interesting quote from Bill Nichols; ‘Every film is a documentary’. He argues that every film, even the most whimsical of fictions, gives evidence of it’s director. From the culture they were brought up in to their personal experiences, it is played out within their work. So I decided to make a film drawing on my personal experiences – to give a feel of authenticity but not be restrained by the documentary format. One thing I had a lot of experience of was insomnia, so I chose that as the theme.
I co-wrote the script with writer Victoria Manifold. It is an mix of both personal experiences and those of family and friends, which were then smushed together and exaggerated to try and evoke the feeling of having insomnia but in a farcical as opposed to serious way – poking fun at it. From much trial and error I realised for the humour to come across I needed a comedic voice. I knew from articles she had written that stand up comedian Susan Calman has had similar experiences with insomnia. That combined with her fantastic accent made her my first choice. She very kindly came into college and with the help of Mike Wyeld, our sound technician, we recorded the voice over, giving it a much needed sense of authenticity and humour.
I built the bedroom set in the RCA basement with the aid of the woodwork technician Ricky and a lot of reggae. Dressing the set (painting/ props etc) took a while. It was important to me that the visuals and voice over worked together to tell the story, neither working independently. Everything, from the flowers to the pictures was carefully created or picked with this in mind.
Shooting took around 3 months and I was very fortunate to have; two wonderful first year students, Alice Dunseath and Ana Stefaniak, one gifted animator Jen Cardno, the accomplished actress Jayne Edwards and the great multi-tasker James English each helping me out for a week or two. Additional expertise was provided by an array of visiting lecturers who gave pointers on everything from lighting to editing to sound design. With the complex nature of the edit (some scenes contain 9 separate shots combined to make one picture) I filmed and edited simultaneously, using pretty much every programme in the Adobe package to get the job done smoothly.
Sound design was done in one day collaborating with the talented Tom Lock Griffiths. I was fortunate to meet him in the first year when he was studying at the NFTS and I thoroughly enjoyed working together adding subtle sounds to give the film an extra lift.
From actually beginning to write the script to finishing the edit the film took me approximately 6 months to make.
Being surrounded by animators and other artists of such a high standard was definitely intimidating and pushed me to work hard but the anticipated competitive atmosphere wasn’t present – instead I found a sense of community, everyone helping and supporting each other. Meeting my peers from the RCA was definitely the best part of the experience. Second to this were the wealth of talks, visiting lecturers and workshops across college along with amazing technical staff and facilities – giving me the tools and knowledge to improve as a filmmaker.