Animation is such a varied medium that comparing any two series can be a difficult. As such, we’ve decided to write an article about four of them.
For Melbourne WebFest this year, the four animations featured in the Official Selections each have their own tone, animation style, writing, and backgrounds. These four series are Spike & Dadda (AUS), Antarktika (GER), THIS IS DESMONDO RAY! (AUS), and Swift and Loose (AUS).
Spike & Dadda, directed by Sheldon Lieberman, centres around the amusing conversations and interactions he has with his child.
“I used to write scripts and force my family to voice act them out. We had to do it in one take because we’d start fighting. When Spike was born, it was too good to script and he was too young to act, so I just started recording,” Lieberman says.
This unique way of gathering a story has led to the interesting challenge and question: Where does the series go as Spike gets older and is no longer an innocent toddler? Sheldon has been working for seven years, naturally leading to his son getting older.
He assures us that the future of his series involves “the new and more challenging Spike & Dadda (but only if we have the guts to record our arguments).”
This is, of course, only how the ‘script’ is written. With animation, there is another element that cannot be ignored; the animation itself.
“Igor our illustrator and animator is a good friend and he knows the family well. We lived together for a while but that didn’t work and he had to go back to Serbia to get away from me,” says Lieberman.
Having someone that knows the family helped to create the animation, from halfway around the world Igor was easily able to capture the characters by just listening to the audio, Lieberman explains.
On the flip side, Antartika began with the visuals and the audio came later. The series follows Myra Johnson who has joined the crew at a research station, Antarctica III, who have all lost touch with reality.
Executive producers David Brenner and Kristian Costa-Zahn explain 90% of the series was filmed directly in Minecraft and only 10% was special effects.
Brenner and Costa-Zahn strategically utilise a medium that audiences are familiar with, and that also allows them to show biomes and settings that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
“In a realistic series setting, it would have been hard to shoot in the Antarctic. Minecraft allowed us to tell our story free and almost without borders. Whatever we thought up, it was realizable in a few mouse clicks.”
While this is also potentially achievable through regular animation, this method specifically allows consistency and lets the creators know exactly how they can make their visuals look before they even begin filming.
“Minecraft has given us so much freedom that our vision has developed perfectly,” the producers say.
Even with a program to create visuals already existing, this didn’t mean it was a quick process to gather everything they needed.
“There is no facial expression in Minecraft. We therefore had to find new ways to give emotions to our characters. Through intensive work in the studio recording process, we were able to experience many via the soundtrack.”
Audiences outside of Australia can watch the trailer here. Sorry Aussies it isn’t available here yet 🙁
Another series with unconventional visuals this year is THIS IS DESMONDO RAY!, created by Steve Baker.
The story follows Desmondo Ray, an animated man in a live action world, trying to find his place and someone to share it with.
“I really wanted Desmondo to be the ultimate outsider and feel completely alien to the world around him, so what better way than to make him an animated character in a live action world. Plus, I work in both mediums so it was a great excuse to play around in both,” says Baker.
To achieve this effect, repeatedly looking between what Desmondo was doing, and what the live action footage showed, was necessary.
“I designed and animated Desmondo in Flash and used After Effects to composite him into the live action footage. Then it was a matter of going over and over it, back and forth between Flash and After Effects until Desmondo’s performance felt right and he sat nicely within the footage.”
The tone for the series is somewhat of a melting pot, much like the visuals. This means the production needed to switch between atmospheres fluidly, which Baker says was important to him.
“I’ve always been attracted to that lingering bittersweet feeling that comes from combining humour and heart. There’s just something about that kind of tone that really resonates. However, being able to add a layer of darkness into the mix was probably the most exciting part for me.”
The final animation in the Official Selection is Swift and Loose, directed, written, and animated by Maree Railton.
It is a noire series following private Detective Swift as she takes on a missing persons case for a shady businesswoman.
Traditionally, noire films have male leads, and Railton used this break in convention to drive character interaction.
“Being a small female means she relies more on wits and tricks rather than physical intimidation. I think it also drove the choice to give her clear emotional vulnerabilities, in contrast to the stone-faced, too-cool-for-school noir detective trope,” says Railton.
Creating a noire series means that certain conventions should be followed though, and Railton found that with her animation style.
“Visually this was the first time I’d tried animating in a film noir style so there was a lot of experimentation. The ‘initial vision’ was more ‘I’m not sure how this’ll look but dammit, I’m going to have fun trying’.”
As Railton directed, wrote, and animated Swift and Loose herself, she needed a medium that allowed for a great deal of solo work.
“There’s something about the warmth and nostalgia of 2D animation that I’ve always found beautiful. The great advances in 2D rigging in the last few years also make it a versatile and efficient medium for a solo content creator,” Railton says.
The four animated series that made it into the Official Selection are all unique when placed next to one another.
From the art style, to the tone, to the kind of story being told and the way they were each written, there is something special about each of them.
They share common threads though. Animation takes time. It takes effort, its labour intensive, and it requires real passion.
Why do it then?
Because it allows a series to do whatever the writer wants, and in the end, be truly original.
Watch these wonderful series and more at Melbourne WebFest 2018.