If like me thoughts of those nascent days of “My mate fancies you” school yard flirtations still bring a blast of embarrassment to your cheeks, then be warned, Jack Bennett’s charming animation Not the End of the World is sure to trigger post-traumatic memories of note swapping and public displays of affection as a spectator sport. After recovering from the flush of embarrassments past, I spoke to Jack about the solo nights and weekends production of Not the End of the World and the fortune of a well placed tweet leading to ex-frontman of The Streets Mike Skinner taking up the role of narrator on this journey of befuddled romance.
What prompted you to return to the clumsy days of school romance for Not the End of the World? How did it develop?
I initially thought of the concept when my girlfriend told me a story about a one day relationship she had in school. Similar memories flooded my mind and I thought it was something I could really write about and maybe put a spin on. The film then went through so many iterations in animatic stage. I have to thank Luis Cook from UWE as well as the amazing minds of Sam Morrison and Jason Bartholomew from Aardman for giving me doubts along the way and slowing me down from going into production. This gave me time to do loads of rewrites and iterations until the film was nice and smooth and really considered.
How different is the final film from those early animatic drafts both narratively and visually?
Well I actually looked back over my first draft animatic recently, and basically, it’s a different film. There were about four other plots going on at the same time, all fighting for attention and distorting the central theme. At the time of making it I had never been challenged so much narratively with previous projects and so I would just proceed to production. Now, I really believe that this two steps forward one step back is crucial for a good project. Likewise with the tone, the original scripts were slightly more juvenile in the humour and when I heard other people’s interpretation of the script it really didn’t sound like the film I wanted to make.
Visually, it was mostly a case of simplifying things for me. I’ve never been great at amazingly detailed drawings so simplifying things made the whole thing clearer and an easier way for me to showcase my story. This was especially true with the backgrounds, but the characters also had to be reduced somewhat to counter my own inability to draw to a high standard!
Narration is provided by none other than Mike Skinner, how did he become involved? We’re all familiar with his vocal delivery from The Streets, was that something you wanted to tap into when directing his performance?
Mike Skinner was kind of a crazy one. I wrote the film in my flat with my flatmate/sound man, Dave Scott and the whole time we were listening to The Streets. Whether it was on purpose or not, I really wanted to capture the minimalism and honesty in his language and expression. He has a way of saying so much whilst refusing the say much at all. It was a total stab in the dark, as I had no credentials, but I sent out a tweet to him. I never imagined I’d hear anything about it but his agent contacted me back asking to see an animatic and after I sent it to him he was keen to get involved. It was really as simple as that and kind of unbelievable.
I really believe that this two steps forward one step back is crucial for a good project.
In terms of directing, I think I didn’t do a lot to be honest. We went to SNK Studios and we basically read through the script with him and he nailed it. He even came up with a couple lines himself which stayed in the film! My only fear going in was that I’d be nervous having grown up to his music but when we got in there it was smooth. I even forgot to ask for a selfie, something I’m still kicking myself for!
How challenging was the production stage of the project as a solo animator? What was your animation process?
Actual production was fairly smooth, because I was dying to get to the animation stage; it was just fitting it around full-time work, so it turned into a real evenings and weekend project. It was so planned out by that point that I barely had to think and it was just a lot of fun.
For the animation, I designed all the characters within Flash, something I’ve heard people wince at before. I like to animate based around key poses which helps me not to get bogged down with the long process – which with this film became particularly long with the two big long shots in the middle where it was a couple weeks of animating before I got to see them back. From there I’d take my characters into After Effects and create the backgrounds, comp all the elements together and then throw it into Final Cut.
This is a process that I’ve worked with for years in freelance projects and any chance I get to work in Flash these days, I love it! Later on down the line, I went back over all the shots and tidied up the animation and altered anything I felt necessary. All in all it took about 8 months to make (6 months writing, designing and boarding and then about 2 months animating), and then around 2 months of working on it, doing tiny insignificant changes.
Before I began animating, I went down to Encounters Film Festival to check out the shorts and was blown away by the standard of animation, acting and story. It really drove me to push my own skills that much further. I’d always wanted to be part of that festival and the light at the end of the tunnel is I’ve just been accepted, which is genuinely a little dream come true for me!
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Right now I am doing my best to do the adult thing and work for a living and hold onto jobs. I’m currently an animator at a small studio called The Likeminded doing commercials and things. Toward the end of last year I also worked with the great Bristol-based studio Wildseed on a hilarious show called Wolf Jenkins. More recently I’ve been working with them on some scripts for their Disney show which is a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll do some more scripts.
Apart from that, I’d really love to make another short but for now I can’t find the time. I imagine that is a part of the ‘adult thing’, but hopefully I’ll be able to make another one soon!