Vicky Mathers to Iain Alexander, March 23, 2010 (excerpted):
I first started out as an animation director just over two years ago when I received Leverhulme Scholarship and a CTBF award to attend the Animation Direction MA course at the National Film and Television School at Beaconsfield Film Studios in the UK.
Prior to attending the NFTS, I studied fine art at Kingston University, making little animations here and there; I never really knew what to do with them and had little guidance to point me in the right direction.
I then worked as a photographer/ illustrator/ designer/ stylist and costume maker, across the Music, Fashion, Film and TV industries. I had a number of clients asking me to direct music videos, this was something I wanted to do but didn’t quite know where to start.
After a couple of years, I felt sidetracked from the film industry; I stood back to take a good look at my work. Upon evaluating my skills, animation, and directing in particular made perfect sense to me.
It was a case of things falling in to place when I came across the NFTS, at the time I happened to be writing an animation for fun with my friend Keaton Henson, and I decided randomly to attend an open day at the school. I was instantly hooked and managed to make it through the selection process.
During my two years there, I can honestly say I have had the best experiences of my entire life, I am leaving with a strong body of work, I’ve worked with some of the best new talent and I’ve learned from all my film and animation heroes- I mean, I had lunch with Ray Harryhausen, he’s an animation legend!!
What attracted you to this side of filmmaking?
Growing up watching Betty Boop cartoons, Bagpuss, Terry Gilliam, the Marx Brothers and James Bond with my dad…the stop motion terror dogs in Ghostbusters had a profound effect on me as a child.
I’m interested in craft based design and observing the concentrated energy within a hand made object or in a painting, animation is much the same, it holds a certain magic. My parents are very inventive and craft orientated, my fathers’ workshop itself is a hive of activity, he’s always inventing something, which inevitably ends up in one of my mothers’ oil paintings.
I was lucky to have had early experiences as a teenager, mainly in the art department on live action features, shorts and a comedy sitcom for Channel 4. I’ve always felt at home on set, and enjoy the thrill of working with a bunch of strong talent to creatively realize a vision.
I enjoy live action a lot, however, I have a different connection to animation, it takes inventiveness to a whole new level. Ultimately, as animators we can breath life and character in to inanimate objects, the surreal nature of this fascinates me and it means anything is possible.
How did you make your recent film ‘Stanley Pickle’ ?
I had a core crew of 11 from the NFTS: writer, producer, DOP, production designer, editor, composer, sound designer, SFX and VFX. I recruited some external crew who had just finished working on Fantastic Mr. Fox and many other talented and experienced individuals. We were lucky enough to have a budget and access to industry standard equipment thus enabling us to technically achieve something of a professional quality.
After a couple of month’s pre production, we shot half of the film on two large sets, a kitchen and bedroom. We shot the other half in two locations in the surrounding area, a beautiful beech tree forest and a large long grass field with rolling hills in the background.
The entire film was shot using Dragonframe, this worked very well for the DOP John Lee and me, since there is a cinematography function. This meant John could control the camera from the computer, then switch over to the animation window when it was time for me to shoot. This meant we had a clear dialogue between us at all times. We used a Canon EOS 40D stills camera, and shot pixilation frame by frame, like you would shoot stop motion, only with people. We later composited a miniature house and a stop motion puppet bird, shot on green screen and animated by Andy Biddle.
The first actor I cast was our lead Drew Caiden, not only did he look like my character drawings, he had an uncanny ability for pixilation and amazing control over his movement. All four actors were put through physically exhausting shots, some of which took over an hour to shoot. Try and break down a facial expression in to 12 separate movements, it’s not easy!
We had the luxury of a postproduction team and spent some time colour grading, this was particularly important for John and I to achieve the look I was going for.
It was a complicated, challenging and extremely good experience and one I don’t think any of us will forget since I feel every member of cast and crew genuinely committed to the project and cared about it.
Since we premiered on the 26th of February we are getting some fantastic and rewarding feedback!
For any further information do visit our freshly built website (thanks to Patrick Hearn):
Do you have any upcoming projects that we should know about?
I graduated a few weeks ago after our premier at the BFI, and now I am working on promoting Stanley Pickle and sending him to festivals to see how he does!
I am eager to start developing new projects! I want to develop my own stories, make music videos, documentary animation, commercials and I am particularly interested in how film is being used in the fashion industry at the moment.
What would be your advice to people looking to work in animation?
Based on my experience as a director: Be original; make films that you want to watch.
Check out the Animation Department at the NFTS: http://www.nftsanimation.org
Henry Selicks’ advice to us was “You don’t need to sleep, you need to make something great.”
Winner of 33 International Awards:
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 (McLaren Award for New British Animation)
Chicago International Festival, USA 2010 (WINNER Best Animation)(Academy Recognized)
LAShorts International Film Festival 2010 (Best Experimental Short Film) (Academy recognized)
Raindance Film Festival, London 2010 (Best UK Short)
Festival du Film Britannique de Dinard 2010 (Prix Du Mielleur Court Metrage)
Cinanima Film Festival, Portugal 2010 (Best Student Film)
KROK International Animated Film Festival, Russia 2010 (Best Graduation Film)
The Golden Kuker, Bulgaria, 2010 (Best Short Between 10- 20 minutes)
E-Magiciens The European Young Digital Design Conference 2010 (Canal+ award)
Metropolitan Film Festival, New York 2010
(Best Animation) Jury Choice- 1st Prize Black Maria Film and Video Festival 2011
Verna Fields Award in Sound Editing 58th MPSE Awards for Dario Swade 2011
Best Animated Short Omaha Film Festival 2011
Best Short + Grand Jury Prize at San Diego Indiefest 2011
Best Student Production Post Grad Award at Learning on Screen Conference, London 2011
Short Wave Award, Monstra Animation Festival Portugal 2011
Vision Innovation Award, New York Digital Short Film Festival 2011
Best Student Film ECU Paris 2011
Best Short Film Arizona international Film Festival 2011
Outstanding Achievement in Short Film Making Newport Beach Film Festival 2011
Best Animation Seattle True Independent Film Festival 2011
Best Short + Best Sound Design DMVIFF Washington DC 2011
Anca Award Fest Anca Slovakia 2011
Outstanding Visual Achievement Van D’or Awards, Cannes in a Van 2011
Best Short Film Wild Rose Independent Film Festival 2011
Distinctive Achievement in Costume Wild Rose Independent Film Festival 2011
Distinctive Achievement in Editing Wild Rose Independent Film Festival 2011
Distinctive Achievement in Animation Wild Rose Independent Film Festival 2011
Best Cinematography Seattle Short Film Festival 2011
Best Animation or Experimental Film Tbilisi Student Film Fest Georgia 2012
Best Experimental at Calaveras International Film Festival California 2012