First of all, please tell us how you became interested in animation and filmmaking. And how did you start your career?
My earliest memory of watching a film was watching Star Wars on old VHS tapes, and being completely amazed. My dad told me that the spaceships and the lasers were made using special effects and animation, and ever since then I wanted to make my own films and worlds within them.
The first films I made were LEGO stop-motion films with my friends from school because we'd been inspired by some on YouTube, and this naturally progressed into more sophisticated films, both live-action and animated, as I grew older. I also decided to study film at college, where I gained lots of knowledge that influenced me to start working on higher quality productions to submit to festivals, and it helped me to focus on animation, as it feels like the best way to capture my exact vision of an idea without having to compromise due to budget or personnel constraints. My love for animation also comes from the fact that it can accommodate even the most fantastical of scenarios and fill them with life and expression in a way that other forms cannot.
How did you come up with the initial idea of Homebird and what changes were made to arrive at such a result?
I wanted to tell a story about a lost character, and it was currently winter, which gave some inspiration for the setting. Following this, I considered films such as Scott of the Antarctic, particularly the atmosphere in the final scenes, and aimed for a similar feeling. I had also recently become quite interested in shadow puppetry, so I aimed to design my character as a shadow. I wasn’t able to replicate the complexity of many shadow puppets, but I instead opted to place this shadow character into a three-dimensional space, using cotton wool, coloured paper and a toy igloo to bring the set to life. After designing the character and the set, I tried to imagine how hopeless it would feel to be in such a situation, and what might enable the character to escape from it. I opted to shoot the animation handheld, which is quite an uncommon approach, to demonstrate the uneasiness of the character and the setting. Ultimately, I wanted the film to tell a story about clinging on to what seems like a hopeless situation, and the strength it takes to escape from such a place and to head into an uncertain future, and hopefully I achieved this.
The character of the story is stuck in a difficult situation and has to struggle for survival. The simplicity and, at the same time, the attractiveness of the story line makes us think that sometimes we don't need to go to complicated stories. Why do you think there is a tendency towards complex and detailed stories in the works of today's artists?
There are lots of different ways to make a story stand out, and many artists try to achieve this by pushing the complexity of the narrative to the limit to keep the audience interested in where the story is going, but I also think that, if done incorrectly, it's possible that viewers can lose focus or become confused and disengaged if a film's story is overly complex. Indeed, the greatest complexity can often be found in simplicity, particularly in movements such as early surrealist cinema, or the films of Andy Warhol, where detail tends to be left out of the film, allowing for spectators to consider their own interpretations. With my film, I felt that the understated way I told the story would be how it stood out, rather than by adding complexity to the story.
You tell your story without any dialogue or narration. How do you explain this learning of image language? Can one reach such a degree through practical experience or academic, theoretical work?
Film has been primarily a visual language since its beginnings, with dialogue only becoming prominent in the late 1920s. Therefore, there is a wealth of silent films to study which have influenced cinema throughout its history. Even today, the moving image on the screen is the most important part of a film, as it is what separates it from other art forms. I think the best way to practice using less dialogue in films is to remember the classic rule of ‘Show, don’t tell’. Only use dialogue if you can’t present information about a character or the story on the screen, or through other forms of sound, at any given time. In turn, this makes any dialogue that is used more impactful.
Sound production, music, and the overall soundtrack play a very decisive role in your work. How long did it take to work on the soundtrack?
I started work on the soundtrack after completing the animation process, with a general idea of what I wanted it to sound like. As I stated earlier, I was looking for an understated score, particularly in the beginning. The opening piano track is simple, quiet, and defeated, much like the main character of the story. In terms of foley, I particularly wanted sounds such as the fire to be very prominent in the mix to create a sense of unease. The final piece took the longest to create, as I wanted something that reflected the uncertainty that comes with the character’s final decision to head out into the wild, but also to celebrate the return of their hope. Overall, it took around a week of work to plan everything out and another week to record.
The open ending of your work puts the audience between the two paths of life and death of the character in the story: hope or demise. What do you think? Will the character of the story manage to survive the cold?
Personally, I think that it does not matter. The important thing is that they are trying, and that they are no longer accepting defeat, having found motivation and belief. That said, although unlikely in reality, I like to imagine that they make it home against the odds, embarking on a journey full of twists and turns before finally reaching their goal, in a similar vein to the struggles of Odysseus, who took over twenty years to return home from the Trojan War in The Odyssey.
The form you have chosen for your work is different from other animations of the day- a combination of stop motion and cinematic tricks. Tell us about reaching this form.
Stop-motion is a very traditional technique that has been used for a very long time, and I wanted to combine that with the modern technology available today to make something slightly different. The set and character are very simply designed to allow for ease of animation, and it allows for me to utilise modern editing software to add colours, transitions and other effects with ease.
Do you find it possible to expand this form to the size of an animated feature film? And if so, how much do you think such an animation would cost?
The cost of this short film was extremely minimal, as I shot it on my phone and made the set out of paper, cotton wool, and a toy igloo. I definitely believe it is feasible to upscale this style into a feature film, as the only true bounds are time and creativity. It certainly takes a long time to animate, although using simplistic silhouette figures such as the one in this film definitely helps to speed this process up dramatically.
With Homebird, you have participated in various festivals and it has been recognized as a winner. What effect do you think film festivals have on the visibility of a work?
For a film to be shown at a festival is a mark of a certain level of quality, suggesting that it is worth watching and helping it to stand out to any potential viewers trying to find new films to watch. For this reason, I think festivals are immensely useful for visibility, as they also come with an audience who follow the festival to see up and coming films and filmmakers.
If possible, please tell us about the work you are currently making or the initial idea you are considering.
In a previous question, we discussed the potential to create a feature film in this style of animation, and that is certainly something that I am considering, as well as a longer short film in the same fashion. Currently, I am experimenting with CGI to create a short fable involving a magician, a rabbit, and a job centre, but that’s all I can really say for now.
Thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure to enter and win at the Roma Short Film Festival and to speak with you.