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The University of Technology, Sydney recently kicked off their annual UTS Animation Show Showcase for 2017.

“People are saying, ‘you know, we want to support and develop Australian content’, and it’s really coming through,” said Damian Gascoigne, Course Director of the UTS Bachelor of Design in Animation.

“It’s a really, really strong year.”

The honours showcase of 2017 included a strong lineup of artists, from Steffie Yee’s The Lost Sound, Jenny Lee and Ayon Bhakta’s The Wind Telephone, Albert Jeung, Jack Tea and Yang Lei Wu’s The Wind Up, Nicholas Ciantar and Valeria Versace’s Blood and Ink, Susanna Wang’s Quack, Diana Luu and Karen Pan’s Amezaiku, Ian Lade’s Nigel’s House, Steph Davidson and Isabella Spagnolo’s Tied, Jennifer Quach and Yining Xia’s Reckless, Gisele Nour’s Nice 14.07.16, Jessica Zhuang’s Hunt, Craig Lee Campbell and Ryley Miller’s Feathers, Kylie Sun’s The Distance, to Haein Kim and Paul Rhodes’ Peepin.

On the night, UTS held an industry screening before a public showing of the films. And, says Gascoigne, the people coming to these shows are definitely taking note.

“They [the industry] know what we’ve achieved, and they know when we’ve really hit the standard. And they really felt it this year, that we’ve gone to another level – and in particular, there was a unanimous strong feeling about the film Peepin. Like, absolutely loved it.”

PEEPIN – Haein Kim and Paul Rhodes

STORY:

“Dorian is on her own playing wall ball when she discovers a hole in the wall that reveals a public hook up spot. She runs to show the school’s popular girls Kimmy K and Jae Lee her new discovery to potentially make a friend.”

Haein Kim and Paul Rhodes’ Peepin was met with uproarious laughter and high praise by audiences on the night of the screening, and was awarded Best Film of the night.   

So how did Kim and Rhodes first come up with Peepin

“We were in a lot of trouble with our tutor,” laughed Kim, recalling Peepin‘s initial conception, “and we had no idea what to do! And then Paul pulls up this piece of paper, and he draws a wall on it. And he was like, ‘okay, this is gonna’ be our idea.’ And I was like, ‘this wall’?”

“And we just kind of developed it from there,” said Rhodes, “so it started with the wall, and the missing brick – that was the device to develop everything else. But I think the main gist of what we were trying to do was to catch the ‘primary school experience’ that is… a bit awkward.”

“It was really good that earlier this year, we did that MTV ident. And that was the first time we’ve really worked together,” said Kim, “We realised that Paul’s backgrounds and my characters work really well together.”

“We’ve also been making a lot of zines at zine fairs, and we’ve kinda’ bounced off each other for ages making content, or little stupid zines and stuff,” said Rhodes, “So I think we based [the look of Peepin] on that, that’s what it developed out of.”

“We also really like Simon Hanselmann’s stuff. Megg, Mogg and Owl? We’ve been reading heaps of that,” said Kim, “Our whole film, the aesthetic of it, we were trying to make it look like a zine. So like, things we’d sell on paper. That’s why you see sometimes cuts of a wall that’s sometimes completely flat, and not really realistic.”

During the event, the pair handed out physical copies of a print Peepin zine, based on the film. 

“That’s the spirit of what we were trying to do with this,” Rhodes agrees, “Because I think animation doesn’t always necessarily have to be based on pure film-making, it can be based on anything you can design. So we tried to keep it true to that, like a mantra. And that’s why we made the zine at the end as well, to try and accompany it. It felt like a thing.”

“A package, yeah.”

Kim and Rhodes constantly reworked Peepin, adding new scenes, writing new dialogue and re-recording voice-work until they felt completely satisfied with the way each scene played out.

“We re-iterated everything. We just kept throwing things away! All the backgrounds, all the character designs, even the idea was like… our fourth idea? I think everything you see on the screen has been redone multiple times,” said Rhodes, “And I guess each time, it got just a little better. Even when we did the voice recording, we were still iterating the script and we’d have to re-record. It was pretty all-over-the-shop.”

“To land the ‘perfect’ joke!”

“-until it felt just right on screen. Like, I can just dig through my old files and you know, some of the original backgrounds look so ‘poo’. And it’s just a matter of doing it again, and then someone saying, ‘nah, it could be better.’ Like, that frog background is the one I think of. Because I spent weeks trying to come up with that playground background and Haein just kept saying, ‘it looks like shit’!” Rhodes recalls, with a chuckle, “I was so upset! But we just kept going until it eventually worked.”

“Every idea, we had to fight for, so whoever thought more strongly or had better opinions about it would make the cut,” said Kim, “I did say to try the frog, and it worked!”

“It’s funny, ’cause we also lose track of whose ideas are whose? Like, I thought the frog was my idea at one point.”

“Mate!” laughs Kim, “the frog was my f***in’ idea!”

Peepin, set in a Western Sydney school, feels strikingly Australian.

“We weren’t setting out to do something Australian, it was more like stuff from my childhood growing up as an Australian Korean,” Kim notes, “So there’s jokes about like, ‘potato fever’… and the school uniform is also quite Australian?”

“I think we just based it on Haein’s stories and even her sister’s stories, and I think with the voice acting and things like that, it just turned out Australian – which I don’t hate either. Like, I really like that,” said Rhodes, “And I like that people saw characters that weren’t white Australia, but people recognised them as Australian, which was nice. We were just riffing on stuff we knew. I guess it just turned out to be a kind of Western Sydney story.”

“It’s just so beautifully done,” said course director Damian Gascoigne, reflecting on Peepin after the graduation screening, “I just think that they’ve managed to ride a rail that’s a really difficult rail to manage. Animation doesn’t excuse you from responsibility in storytelling. And it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but they knew that and they rode that, and it’s so good.”

“I think what they’ve done is that they’ve actually put a marker in the ground in terms of aesthetics… it represents a Moment. It’s Australian content, it’s Aussie-Asian content, it represents New South Wales, it’s Sydney, it’s so f***ing local!”

FEATHERS – Craig Lee Campbell and Ryley Miller

STORY:

“Inside his palatial manor, Lord Bartholomew von Knaviery amuses himself by obsessively collecting birds. Pompous and sedentary, he boasts to his courtiers about his extensive travels despite having never left his mansion – and a wise servant decides to call his bluff…”

Ryley Miller and Craig Lee Campbell describe their film, Feathers, as a “duologue written in verse that deals with egocentrism, with an aesthetic drawn from the modern cartoons of the 1950s, 60s and 70s”. It’s a film which intertwines their shared “love of nonsense verse, the modern cartoon aesthetic and avians of every kind – both factual and fictional”, with particular inspiration drawn from the works of  Luis Borges (Book of Imaginary Beings, 1957), C. S. Lewis, Dr Seuss and Edward Lear.

“I wrote a couple of poems to get into the zone [of Honours], and one such poem became the basis for what grew into our eventual narrative,” said Miller, “And we both loved early cartoons… particularly those from United Productions of America (UPA), such as Gerald McBoing Boing and Rooty Toot Toot, and so strove to draw aesthetic inspiration from the works of that era.”

“[Inspiration also came from] our shared preoccupation with mythology,” said Lee Campbell, “and how that could play into another idea surrounding the subculture of bird-watching and amateur science.”

“Researching enough mythical birds that rhymed with each other, or with other things, was a challenging facet of the process,” said Miller, “All the mythical birds [in the film] do actually exist in legends and folklore – we didn’t make any up!

Still, working with poetry was not without it’s challenges.

“I chose an unusual rhyming scheme of AABAAB – which I thought sounded appropriately Seussian – so every stanza consisted of six lines, with two rhyming couplets and a third line that rhymed with the sixth. This meant that any alteration to the dialogue, the narrative, and what birds we decided to include triggered a domino effect that would usually require the rewriting and rejigging of entire stanzas,” Miller sighs, “My love of language kept me from going insane throughout this process!”

Whilst it took several reiterations, the final film remained true to the intentions of the original poem.

“We recruited voice actor Cameron Ralph, voice of Hootpa and Gigglefangs on ABC Kids Giggle and Hoot, to voice the Lord. He was such a pleasure to work with,” said Miller, “I’ve felt like a character has multiple stages of ‘coming to life’. Firstly, when you conceive of the character in a general sense. Next, when you nail down how they look. Through how they move, they begin to live even more when you animate them – but I’d never experienced the icing on the cake that is seeing them move and speak.”

“We were also pleased with our interpretation of the limited animation a lot of the cartoons of the 1950s, 60s and 70s utilised. We were both used to animating more smoothly with lots of motion inside an action, so there was a learning curve to this kind of animation that heavily favoured key poses and moving as quickly as possible from one to the next,” said Miller, on retro-engineering the style of 1950s era films like Rooty Toot Toot (1951), “Our tutor Deborah Cameron was instrumental in helping us nail this restrained approach to animation, and I’m pleased with how this ended up in the final film.”

TIED – Steph Davidson and Isabella Spagnolo

STORY:

“In a stiff, corporate world Clarisse lives a private life of luxury, hiding her obsession for patterned, red fabrics. Her professional world is shaken when her boss enters with a new item of clothing – a velvet, red tie. Trying to remain composed during the day proves difficult with this sweet reminder of her secret passion around.”A 2D traditionally animated comedy about a secret sensualist, Steph Davidson and Isabella Spagnolo’s film Tied emphasises and celebrates “the hypnotic harmony of intricate line-work in backgrounds and bold character shapes with minimal lines”. The team was particularly influenced by the “elusive character and brevity of line” found in the works of Henri Matisse and Al Hirschfield, as well as 1950s animation.

“Our film was inspired initially by research into Pteridomania… a love craze for ferns that defined Britain between the 1840s and 1890s,” said Davidson and Spagnolo, “We both began growing fascinated by this idea of obsession with a particular thing that would bring someone pleasure or comfort in life. This then led us to try and understand how people cope with life through hedonistic impulses. More so – how endearing the human spirit is, to find a way for expression despite being in a repressive world!”

“From the beginning we were always keen on incorporating rough hand-drawn layouts for our film,” the team said of their distinct visual style, “The ‘xerography technique’ was a style we emulated – this became the cornerstone for the look of our film, that we ultimately paired with textured, digital colour.”

Throughout the film, Davidson and Spagnolo play with both line and pattern to clearly communicate – and accentuate – Clarisse’s secret obsession.

“Clarisse, our main character, has an undeniable, unyielding, often extremely frustrating love for fabrics that gives her some private solace in a harsh world. Her struggle during the film is between repression and expression… The difference between Clarisse’s room and the world around her is quite stark. For us, the lines in our film – and lack of lines – are a means of explaining a lot about the characters and environments… [Yet] line is a tricky element to balance, when you have numerous components that need to work together in a single image.”

As such, the visual style underwent several re-iterations.

“At the beginning of developing the look, we attempted to incorporate a lot of detail paired with vibrant colours… [but] we pulled back, reduced our colour palette, simplified the character design and began to play with empty space. We found a balance between line and colour in our film through giving the detailed layouts room to breathe on softer colours.”

The take away from finishing work on Tied?

“Working with a dedicated team on this project was an incredible experience,” said Davidson and Spagnolo, “When people watch our film and resonate [with it] or laugh, that is truly a great triumph for us as budding film-makers.”

QUACK – Susanna Wang

STORY:

“‘Quack’ tells the story of a young sheep reflecting back on her experiences with Tourettes Syndrome. From being singled out in class to confrontations with a neurologist, the sheep eventually finds peace with the help of her family and friends.”Wang describes her film Quack as a ‘heartfelt story about a young adult’s mental journey.’

“The inspiration for my film was my own experiences with mild Tourettes Syndrome,” said Wang, “It had always been an elephant in the room for my family. It was only in recent years that I’ve felt more confident in speaking about it, and a short film seemed like the perfect way to do so.”

Quack‘s ‘rustic’ visual style also reflects the theme of the film.

“It was important for the visuals to reflect the earnestness of the dialogue and contents, so the scenes were all constructed by hand, then painted over digitally. I think the rustic montage-esque visuals matched the story that I wanted to tell.”

So, what were the most challenging aspects of bringing Quack to life?

“Definitely writing the script,” said Wang, “There were many other dialogue lines that I had written that had been thrown out, and the process of figuring out which lines were essential to the story was difficult.”

And the most rewarding aspects?

“The best moment for me was when Olivia Deeble – the voice actress – came into the sound booth to record,” said Wang, “It was amazing hearing her breathe life into the dialogue. The film definitely would not have been the same without her.”

THE WIND UP – Albert Jeung, Jack Tea and Yang Lei Wu

STORY:

“Patro and Chunk are good friends that work at a toy factory ruled by their tyrant leader, Voltan. Tired of their usual working procedure, Patro finds an opportunity to do something different. However, his slight misstep gets his best friend in trouble.”

When creating The Wind Up, creators Team AJY (Albert Jeung, Jack Tea and Yang Lei Wu) drew strong visual and thematic inspiration from 1980s Steampunk aesthetics and Fritz Lang’s 1927 German Expressionist masterpiece, Metropolis.

“[We wanted to] captivate a similar feel in relation to scale. Additionally, we also looked into the Great Depression in Australia, where people faced extreme hardship,” said Jeung, Tea and Lei Wu, “We tried to incorporate some of the feeling and atmosphere into the tone as well. However, The Wind Up is a very fantastical film and ultimately we wanted to create something that felt and looked unique to us.”

The team also took strong visual inspiration from the architecture and history of Sydney’s Cockatoo Island.

“After spending a few overnight trips at the island, immediately we were blown away by the eerie, yet beautiful and mysterious atmosphere it gave us. We knew we had to make a film about this amazing place for one of our future projects, and so came The Wind Up project.”

What was initially behind the story and rich visuals of The Wind Up?

“We initially drew strings from our childhood to form the basis of our story idea,” said Team AJY, “The three of us grew up from Asian backgrounds, and – although very stereotypical, but very true in our lives – we had high expectations from our parents. Continuing on with our animation path wasn’t really encouraged by them.”

“We also delved into further studies on a Chinese political activist/artist named Ai Wei Wei, and tried to evoke some of his story with his struggle against the government into the film.”

“Creating this world posed as both our biggest triumph and challenge in making this film. We really aimed to create a universe that was really our own, something that was unique to The Wind Up.”

“This project was very ambitious, I think we all knew it from the very start. But knowing our team, we were all hard-working and dedicated an insane amount of time to create every asset our world needed to breathe life and originality [into the project]. As a team, we were able to successfully achieve this and are proud we managed to pull this off within the short time-frame.”

“All those sleepless nights were worth it!”

NICE 14.07.16 – Gisele Nour

STORY:

“My film offers a glimpse into the shock, chaos, and ensuing emotional distress that I experienced at the 2016 Bastille Day terror attack in Nice.”

A film “somewhere between a glimpse, a jolt and a chaotic confusion”, Nour’s intention behind her abstract, experimental and emotionally raw Nice 14.07.16 was to  “exhibit an onslaught of metaphors through handmade, tactile, messy mediums and materiality to convey… emotional chaos”.

“I was in Nice in 2016 and was swept up in the terrorist attack on Bastille Day… there’s literally no comparable experience if you haven’t been involved in something like that. It’s not like when you go on holidays you expect it to take such a turn,” said Nour.

“I could honestly say that I had never really experienced true fear before that trip. That event really pushed me to lots of extremes in my life – fear, anxiety, paranoia, a whole bunch of emotions. It completely changed my day-to-day life, and how I interacted with previously normal things,” she recalls, “The effects are really not contained to that night. That event created an explosion of disconnections and distress in my life.”

Having not encountered any other animated films on the subject, Nour decided to approach it.

“I really struggled in trying to work out the best way of portraying my experience. Do I make it realistic or fictional? Do I focus on the event or the aftermath? Is the core concept about my altered emotions, or the insights I gained from it?”

The turning point, says Nour, was reading world-renowned German artist Gerhard Richter’s philosophies on memory, history and “finding the the right balance between appearance/visual accuracy, and experience/affect.”

“His words were reassuring, in that they led me to accept that no representation of an event can ever be perfectly or completely captured, especially when one considers that there are the variables of subjective opinion, bias and perspective, depths of layered meanings and personal contradictory beliefs, fluctuating conclusions, and the idea that sometimes you will never be able to fully make sense of things,” reflects Nour, “The nature of them is incomprehensible because the act of them was incomprehensible.”

Nour’s visual style – expressive, graphic and tactile – reflects the raw emotionality of her storytelling.

“I’ve always been interested in alternative ways of animating – using materials and mediums typically used in a still, non-moving art and translating that to animation… embroidery, pencil, paint, lino ink prints, layered painted transparent sheets, oil pastels,” she said, “There will always be an element of the production that is unexpected.”

For Nour, finishing the film – one which felt true to the inspiration behind it – was deeply satisfying.

“It was really rewarding having people come up to me and talk to me about my film,” Nour said, “I didn’t really expect that, and it was nice having other people appreciate what I made. I think that was the best part.”

“I would hope it provides a little bit of insight to those unfamiliar with such an event, and comfort to those who are.”

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