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Categories: Interviews

We interview Jammer Simon Cartwright, director of the animated short “Manoman” which was selected for Cannes Cinéfondation earlier this year.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 2.48.50 PM

How long have you worked as a director of animated films? 

Having experiment a bit with animation while at college, I went on to study it at the Edinburgh College of Art in 2005, where I focussed on 2D character animation. Soon after leaving uni I made a film called ‘The Astronomer’s Sun’, a stop-motion short funded by the UK Film Council and Screen Yorkshire. I co-directed the film with Jess Cope, who I went on to make a couple of music videos with in different styles. 

What inspired you to take up the craft?

I can’t remember one thing really that inspired me to start animating, but I had always drawn and loved animation so I thought it might be a way of using drawing to explore different worlds and characters. 

Which animators, or other artists, have most inspired and influenced you?

Strangely I’ve always been more influenced by live action films, although I tend to love film makers like the Coen Bros and David Lynch who often have heightened performances in their films which are closer to caricature and animation. 

Likewise, a lot of illustrators have made an impact on me. In both cases I think it’s the way they construct worlds and the characters within them to create something outside of reality in some way. 

Recently the work of sculptor Henry Moore has made a huge impact on my work, mainly through how pure and minimal his characters are.

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You did your MA at the National Film and Television School. What kind of skills did you learn while taking the degree?

For a while before going back to study I had felt like I had amassed of lot of ideas and needed a concentrated period of study and practice to work through them. Being at the NFTS definitely provided the opportunity to do so and also tested me greatly. 

The best thing for me about working at the school is working with people who are dedicated to their specific role and passionate about film. For instance, working with sound designers and composers from the writing stage onwards opens up a whole world of possibilities. In the professional world that usually isn’t possible and those people would come in at a later date. 

Your film “MANOMANwas show at our latest Jam Session. What is the premise of the film? 

The film is about a man called Glen. In a desperate attempt to tap into his masculinity he attends a primal scream therapy session, but even surrounded by wailing men he cannot make a sound. When another member of the class pushes Glen too far he finally lets something out – a miniature version of himself which does whatever it wants, regardless of the consequences. The two go on an impulse-fueled rampage through the night and by the end Glen is forced to question whether he and his primal self can ever exist in harmony. 

Tell us a little bit about the process of animating “MANOMAN. What were some of the challenges you and your team faced along the way?

I wanted to try something new with this opportunity. MANOMAN felt like it would be too big to do in pure stop motion, even though I would have loved to do it that way. So I decided to try a mixture of puppetry and digital animation. The film was made using rod puppets and then in post we manipulated the faces to add animated eye movement, blinks, lip sync etc. This gave the performance a lot more nuance than is possible just with puppetry. 

This turned out to be just as challenging and probably even more so than stop motion would have been. Luckily I had an incredible team of puppeteers and set-makers who went way beyond the call of duty to make the film happen. Without them the film would never have been finished!

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What is your personal approach to animation and directing in general? How do you try to separate your films from the rest?

Recently I’ve been trying to experiment a bit with the type of narratives I make films around, aiming more for achieving a mixture of feelings in them so audience experience is different from person to person. I find it strange that a 3-minute pop song can evoke such strong emotions in people, yet people can watch entire feature films which leave them feeling nothing. 

Ultimately I think the feeling a film evokes will always outweigh any intellectual argument that can be made for its existence. With this in mind I try to make films that are an experience to watch, even if the audience doesn’t pick up on every detail. 

What do you think is uniquely special about animated films? 

Animated films can create entire worlds unique to themselves. That being said, there’s no reason not to do this with live action and CG now so I think animated features are free to try new things just as shorts always have. I’ve always been amazed at how different Japanese animation is at feature level to the West, exploring different and often completely insane ideas!

When you look at the sort of animated films coming out in the cinemas today, do you think theyre up to a good standard, or would you like to see a change?

There is much more exciting work being done right now in animated kids shows like Over The Garden Wall and Adventure Time. It’s possible that work like this will start to affect features being made soon, but I doubt the major studios would dare to stray from the formulas they’ve established for developing films.  However, every now and then something comes out which completely defies the trend and with Charlie Kaufman and Wes Anderson both making stop-motion films at the moment, this could be a very exciting year.

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What advice would you give to other up-and-coming animators trying to break into the industry?

There are so many films which cover the same subject matter – try to look outside of the usual stories animation might tell and find something which is important to you, even if it’s not the neatest story. Sincerity always shine through above technical wizardry or even originality. 

Outside of your own work you’ll probably need a gigging job to earn money, like animator, storyboard artist, or puppet maker. So try to find what it is you enjoy doing and really go after that skill doggedly. Usually it’s through that work that you will meet other who can help with your own films. 

What are you working on right now?

Recently I’ve been working as a storyboard artist on adverts. It’s nice to be able to throw ideas around and walk away before the drudgery of animation begins!  In between projects I’m writing a couple of new things for funding and always developing ideas for pitches. I’d like to go back to doing some 2D animation and try something different. 

Finally, since this issue is all about animation, which are your favorite animated films?

In terms of animation I think Akira will always be the film I come back to time and again for its incredible precision and detail, but also the feeling that film gives me by the final scenes is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I recently saw Tekkonkinkreet and that completely blew me away; the animation is so loose and expressive but the world of Treasure Town is so well designed it’s just beautiful to live in for a while. 

Fantastic Mr Fox is probably my favorite stop motion as it plays with the medium in such a fun way. 

Find out more about Simon’s work, including MANOMAN, on Twitter and Facebook.

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 Sep 1, 2015

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