As a regular dweller on Vimeo over the last couple of years, the name Adam Wells has been one that pops up in my feed and the feeds of many others with alarming regularity. With three ‘Staff Picked’ shorts in the last 12 months, animator Wells’ distinct style (it’s so recognisable you could almost call it ‘Wellsian’) and prolific output have made him a filmmaker pretty hard to ignore in the short animation arena. With this in mind, I invited Adam to join the ever expanding list of filmmakers to feature in our TheyAreAnimators series, to find out exactly how he manages to produce such a prolific amount of content and how he developed that style of his:
When I was young I really liked model-making, which I think comes through in some of my work. For a long time I wanted to work in motion design and the more I learnt the more drawn I became to stories and characters – it seems like a nice way to connect to people. It’s also cheap to self produce animation because I don’t have to find a cast, or a location and don’t have to deal with budgets which is so liberating. Anything is possible like that.
I did some university back in 2005 where I learnt animation and then I worked at some big epic corporations and media groups for a few years. As a designer I found that kind of environment strangely inspirational and at the end of 2011 I decided to really get into animation. I started making short films because I had all of these ideas floating around about how to structure things, but those more experimental approaches can’t really be expressed in commercial work, so I decided to make them into pieces in their own right.
“Inspiration comes from lots of places”.
I take a lot from the theatre and set design. Theatre companies in the UK like Punchdrunk and You Me Bum Bum train offer their audiences delightfully interactive, voyeuristic and challenging experiences. A show by UK artist David Rosenberg called Electric Hotel particularly affected my approach to presentation and narrative. I also love the art and design seen in a lot of video games, when I was working on Risehigh, I borrowed a lot from an old video game called Grim Fandango.
Audio storytelling is important to me. Radiolab and This American Life have the ability to transfix me in the most incredible ways and the people behind those shows understand how to construct a story like no other people on earth.
Finally – and it’s probably not talked about as much – there is certainly an egotistical aspect to making your own films. It’s great to have something away from commercial paid work, where you have complete artistic control. Something you can point to and be proud of.
I work in 3D animation, most of the CGI shorts I see may as well be live action. Directors deal with the cinematography as if they were shooting a real scene, with close-ups and slow dolly shots. I suppose I am trying to design with a slightly more classical cartoon or illustration approach, using things like animation smears in CGI which isn’t commonly done. I suppose style comes down to personal taste, and it’s something that evolves over time. Hopefully it’s something I can keep improving on with each new piece of work.
The visuals are intended to be provocative. Determinism is a highly contentious issue. We are ‘free’ individuals today, but there is clearly a tension about the kind of freedom we have created for ourselves. It’s something I would like to look at more in other films….as long as it’s done in a fun fashion.
Most things are made of up simple shapes if you look at them and squint a bit you’ll see I have just straightened out the edges. Speed is really important to me and blocky design is something I can do really quickly (it’s also a little easier on my laptop). But I suppose really it’s about stripping things back. When I was working on Brave New Old I did not want to get too bogged down with the character desig’n so I stripped it back to essential elements. I thought, “Do I really need legs to tell this story? How about elbows? Do people care about elbows?”.
“Abandoning sleep comes with the territory”.
I seem to have a lot of steam these days and I feel the need to show people more of my work in order for them to understand what I am trying to do. Whilst I have that energy I should take advantage of it. I think I am probably going to limit the scale of future productions. Risehigh was a grueling antisocial 6 months, mostly working at night. The film was way too experimental for such an epic amount of work but I learnt a lot and am less intimidated by production as a result – that will definitely define future storytelling as I learn to limit myself. When you work commercially you’re required to turn out heaps of work really quickly. I suppose I wanted to try move as quickly on my own projects. It’s all practice, right?
The longer pieces require more planning. I tend to write and storyboard, that’s not a very natural thing for me and because of the kind of storytelling I do it’s kind of important that I actually work on the script. Once that creative bit is done, I pop on some music and podcasts and pretty much go onto auto-pilot for a few months to animate the thing, which is a period I really enjoy.
On the flip side, I have made a few musically inspired shorts. I plan these far less and let the track I use drive the action and animation. I basically sit on the bus listening to the same track over and over until I can hold a whole animation in my head.
It’s quite nice sitting about and watching animation all day and festivals are good for that. People always say it’s important to watch your film play with an audience for their feedback but, unless you’re making comedy and can measure the chuckles somehow, I am never quite sure what feedback I am supposed to be looking for when sitting in a cinema. It’s been nice to put some faces to names – I don’t really know that many filmmakers – so it was really great to talk about production and animator things. It’s also pretty novel to see things on a big screen.
“Online feels more important as it’s far more permanent”.
Short animation seems to work really well online but I think it’s a tougher nut to crack. If your work’s a bit awkward and difficult then it’s easily ignored so your persistence feels more important. I personally feel like I am trying to create my own audience, but that takes years and lots of work.
I am finishing up one more larger short, Fake Expectations. I have plans to make a few other shorter pieces but then I would like to try some experiments. Perhaps try working with other people, maybe play around with a projector.
“Be inspired by things that are not animation”.