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Some great animators talk about their work and favorite books

In mid-October I caught up with a number of animators appearing at the Fifth Brisbane International Animation Festival. For some of their favorite books read on.

Adam Elliot told me a bit about his creative process in making his 2004 Oscar-winning claymation short film Harvie Krumpet.
He’d given a lecture at the festival and shown some of his favorite short animated films, and told about the ideas he gathered from them.
Later I was lucky enough to get an interview with him.
What he had to say would probably be of interest to all sorts of artists, and I’ll list what he said here, along with the titles of his favorite books of all time.

For starters, his creative process seemed fairly lengthy.
Harvie Krumpet had been an idea he’d had for more than 10 years and it had taken four years to get the idea out.

For a good start in making any movie, he said he kept notebooks in which he collected ideas.
He liked to have the notebooks in front of him when he started creating his movies.

This was better than just facing a blank page.

As far as writiing went, he said he relied a lot on observation.

“I’m sort of a passive observer,” he said.
He watched facial expressions of people in the street.

Harvie Krumpet was a kind of fictional biography featuring old characters, but he said he didn’t talk to people, like old people for example, or interview them to get stories for the plot of Harvie Krumpet.

When he wrote he strung ideas together, he said, writing in an organic, “very instinctive” way.
He said he was a perfectionist with the writing of his films because writing was cheaper than filming, as all you needed was a laptop, a place to stay and other basics.
He said writers should mix with the general public because these are the people who have to empathise with the characters.

He was big on empathy with the character. He didn’t want the audience to be sympathetic necessarilly.

He just wanted the audience engaged, and he said engaged was a big word with him.
During his session at the festival he had said you didn’t need a three act structure to have a successful film, it just had to be engaging.

The audience must identify with the character, he told me.
He said the story just evolved if the people, or characters, were real.
Creating a back history of the character made them more believable and genuine.
Also he said his films had a lot of static shots, “moments of silence and stillness”, sometimes too much, but he made the film appear as though there was a lot of movement and action.
He said his next film was a comedy tragedy, and a long feature, in the same biographical style, and in claymation.
He said he needed a challenge. “It’s a long work and it’ll cost a lot but it’s the next step,” he said.
He said his favorite books of all time included Barry Humphries’ More Please, Charlotte’s Web, Heart of Darkness, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (his favorite).


During Adam Elliot’s session he showed some of his favorite animated films, and how they influenced his work.
He started with Bill Plympton’s “25 Ways to Quit Smoking”. Adam Elliot said he saw this before he wanted to be an animator (at first he wanted to be a vet), in Melbourne.
He liked the way it was simple, minimilist, and in particular he liked the droll narration.
Bill Plympton gave a lecture in another session, explaining how he created his animations, and doing some illustrations projected onto the screen behind him to illustrate his points.
If you’re interested in animation and you ever get a chance to see Bill Plympton speak I can strongly recommend going along.
He travels the world giving talks about animation, eg. he recently went to Korea.

Even if you’re not into creating animation, the passion, skill, and experience he had was inspiring.

His latest animated feature is Hair High, and his other films, now available on DVD, included Mutant Aliens, and Mondo Plympton.
He told me his favorite books of all time were Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic; Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; and Preston Blair’s How to Animate Film Cartoons. “It’s my bible,” he said of the last book. “I’m glad I remembered that.”
Frank and Caroline Mouris also showed some of their animations, and they were awesome.
Frank Mouris liked using collage in his films and he used to collect bits and pieces for years, to use in his films.
His collage films were full of movement.
Coney (1975) was more like the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982), with sped up film of people walking around Coney Island, combined with music.

Caroline Mouris talked about the animation Frankly Caroline (1999), which was about her life.

Caroline Mouris said Frankly Caroline was her answer to the 1973 Academy Award winning Frank Film.
The couple ribbed each other in the narration in the film, and it showed the way they liked playing with narration as well as photography.
As far as favorite books go, Frank Mouris told me his favorite books of all time were The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand because he was seriously thinking about going into architecture at the time.
Also he liked The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass which he said “changed my life at the time”.
He said he read The Tin Drum in the English and German versions (although he had an English-German dictionary handy).
He also liked The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, which he said took him three attempts to read it before he got into it.
He said he read about one book a year while Caroline read several books a week.
Caroline Mouris said she was no longer into reading serious books so much and just read for fun these days, reading whatever happened to be around.
She had just read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.