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Categories: Interviews

The illustrator and animator discusses her inspirations, work and the animation techniques she employed to make the poignant short.

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Jamie Plaumer is a Glasgow-based illustrator and animator whose sharp 2015 graduation film from the Glasgow School of Art, Milton and Lydia, has been making the rounds at big festivals including the London Short Film Festival, the Gather Film Festival in Edinburgh, and the Klik! Amsterdam Animation Festival as well as showing at Cinema Jam’s March Jam Session.

Distinctively hand-drawn and cloaked in textured sound design, Milton and Lydia takes us into the spaces of two adults who nervously prepare for an online date, surrounding themselves in worry as they contemplate their insecurities and futures. It’s a carefully-crafted and modern 4-minute short, and I was excited to learn more from Jamie about how it came to be.

Tell me a little about your background. What led you to the Glasgow School of Art and inspired you to go into animation?

I studied on the Art Foundation course at Manchester Metropolitan after I finished college; I was completely stylistically lost at that point – sometimes I think I still am! I wish I’d realised sooner that there is so much room for error, especially during those years of development. It’s really important to make mistakes and I struggled with that for a long time – I still tend to start a sketchbook in the middle because I’m just not ready to commit the front page.

I applied to the Glasgow School of Art for the Communication Design course because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to make of my work yet, and the course is so broad, it gave me the tools to try out such a range of mediums. In the third year of studying students choose a specialism. I chose illustration, and animation felt like such a natural progression from there, because I love drawing characters and I love film.

plaumercar

Do you have any specific animators (or other filmmakers/artists) who have inspired you or your style?

Julia Pott’s work was one of my first loves. I remember seeing her film Howard and thinking “that’s what I want to do” – her work is very character-based and so engaging and empathetic; she isn’t afraid to venture into the surreal, dream-like possibilities of animation. I admire that kind of imagination.

I’m a fan of Nate Milton, too; he achieves this really convincing, fluid movement in his work. Specifically in his film Middle School – it’s not so much about realism as it is about conveying really responsive motion. It’s very effective and something I want to improve on in my next film.

I also really like Faye Moorhouse’s illustration at the moment. She manages to inject humour into everything very organically. Her Wonky Movie Posters are particularly brilliant.

What animation techniques did you use for “Milton and Lydia”?

Milton and Lydia was drawn on a (very precarious) light box with pencil and paper, scanned, then coloured in Photoshop, and pieced together with Final Cut. It’s a time-consuming method, and it can feel a bit stagnant at times – when you have spent hours making one arm move the way you want and then you change your mind about the colour, for example – but it’s a process, and such a rewarding one when you’re finally presented with the outcome.

Amateur hand-drawn animation is inevitably going to be a bit rough around the edges, and I’m not adverse to computer animation by any means, if I had the skill it’s something I would be keen to experiment with; but I’m passionate about traditional animation as a medium, not only aesthetically, but I think there’s something really gratifying about being able to see the imperfections that let you in on how something was made.

miltonandlydia

Where did the idea for the film come from, and how did it then develop into the final story?

I knew in the back of my mind that another idea I had been working on wasn’t coming together, and I was losing sleep over it because it was getting closer and closer to the deadline. I had been storyboarding this nonsense story about neighbours in a block of flats, and something to do with a bath? I don’t know – it was completely devoid of concept and humour. So I was knee-deep in something I wasn’t passionate about, and the other half my brain was ticking away, looking for something else.

Dating was a topic that had been recurring in conversation around that time for some reason – and it’s a funny thing, meeting another human that you haven’t met before, especially in a dating context when you’re throwing in the possibility of romantic companionship, it can be really scary and it leaves you vulnerable to judgement; but the film isn’t a comment on online dating, so much as it is about the chance element, and the human nature of self-talk and insecurity.

The film is very character-driven – how did you come up with the characters?

Next to the animation itself, the character design was probably the most time-consuming process. I felt like it was really integral to the story that I built characters that I understood inside and out before I started writing. There was a lot of sketching and quite a few variations in the early stages. For a few weeks Lydia was called Lynn, but as I got to know her character, the name didn’t seem to fit any more. When I had decided on how Milton and Lydia were going to look, it helped to just write in the voice of each character, and from there I could suss out the kind of things they would say or wouldn’t say. It was definitely a learning experience.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting this film together?

Because the idea came to me so late, I found that the pressure of the deadline clouded my head a little. There were plenty of days when I was just on autopilot scanning hundreds of frames, and that kind of intensity doesn’t leave much room in your head for anything else. I think if I had realised what I wanted to make sooner, I would have been in a better mental state for fluidity in the storyboard.

milton

What’s next for you, in general and in terms of projects?

I’ll be working on a book with my friend, Jill. She’s an incredibly talented writer and this will be her first published work; I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to illustrate it. I’m also in the process of animating another short. I’m in it for the long haul with this one, because I have quite a specific idea of how I want it to look, and I’m enjoying the luxury of time to really develop the story.
I had the absolute pleasure of working with Natasha O’Keefe and Dylan Edwards as the voice actors for Milton and Lydia. But recently I went to Klik! Animation Festival in Amsterdam, and I saw some amazing work that just utilized image without the need for a script or any spoken narrative. Check out Frederic Siegel. I saw his animation Ruben Leaves at the festival and it really inspired me to get back on the light box.

What have been some of your favorite films of recent memory?

I saw the Charlie Kaufman film Anomalisa recently. It was brilliant. It’s quite a testament to the art of stop motion, but not only that, it could have been filmed in live action and still been great. It nails that blissfully depressive outlook on human life that is so relatable that it’s hilarious.

I just moved house and I’ve been without internet for a while, so I’ve been working my way through some films that have been on my to-do list for ages. I finally watched Mad Max 2 the other night. I’ve been meaning to watch it since I saw Fury Road. I haven’t seen the rest of the Mad Max series, but I’ve heard the most praise for the second film and it didn’t disappoint.

Oh and The Hateful Eight! The new Tarantino film. It got a lot of stick for being self-indulgent and overly long, but I loved it. It’s seriously dialogue heavy, but it’s just written so well, it’s like reading a really good book. It was really sharp and tense, and classically gory, of course.

Find out more about Jamie’s work on her blog, official website and Vimeo page.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Apr 4, 2016

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