The Ventriloquist is the latest short film by Armchair Productions a Sydney-based animation and content studio.
Each year the studio makes at least one short. Created between paid jobs, the films serve as a training ground for animation interns to get real project experience without being taken advantage of on paid jobs.
We talked with Stefan Wernik, Founder & Creative Director of Armchair about his experiences on making an original animated short film and some of the concepts and challenges behind it. We also asked him about the state of the Animation Industry in the Harbour City.
Ozanimate: Tell us about The Ventriloquist, where is it coming from and what were some of the motivations behind the short?
Stefan Wernik: Our idea is to create a short film each year for two main reasons; because we love animation and because we wanted our interns to work on real world projects without taking advantage of them on paid jobs. We commissioned some writers we’d been working with on series projects to create some short film ideas and this is the one we liked best. I gave them the parameters that they could only use one or two locations and a no more than 3 characters. I’ve learned that short films need to be manageable in terms of scope or they will never get finished.
I expanded the original idea which had the manger catching the doll in the shower to give her more motivation to finally show herself. I felt it gave the doll more pathos and added themes of celebrity and who actually takes credit for the work? Some of it comes from the idea of the auteur which has always interested me so maybe that’s why I was drawn to this story.
Oz: Your signature style seemed to be this interesting mix between 2D and 3D, can you share some of the process used to achieve this aesthetic?
Stefan: The beauty of 3D software is that it’s so flexible and can create any look. For some studios this has lead them to chase photo real images, for us it’s lead to making 3D as painterly as possible. It’s the production paintings from feature films rather than the finished work that inspires us. We want work to be glitched ,messy and human something where you can feel the stroke of the pen. We love to mix 3D with 2D to create a hybrid look. In this project we took influences from children’s illustrations and drawings. The final rendered look took many passes each distressed in After Effects to get a style that match the roughness of the backgrounds. Some of the secret to getting a good look is adding a lot of the colour and shadow into the textures. For the camera moves we referenced old Disney cartoons like ‘The Old Mill’ and were inspired by the multi plane camera look that was pioneered by those early shorts. It was all modelled in Blender and animated in Maya.
Oz: How important is it for a studio to be working on their own passion projects and IP?
Stefan: Isn’t it the reason we all got into animation? We all want to create films that mean something to us and hopefully other people. I salute anyone who creates a film and gets it out there, good or bad. It’s a huge effort but always worth it. We’re actually working on our next film already, again keeping the scope manageable. As I’ve mentioned it’s a way of training new animators, trying new techniques or just getting a rest from the commercial world. We’re also working on several series ideas which are our own IP. A few people have asked to see more of the Ventriloquist. This is definitely a world I’d like to expand on, how did the doll come to be alive, are there other puppets that are alive too, will she ever be able to reveal herself, what keeps the Ventriloquist from decomposing? I see the series being for an adult audience in the vein of Bojack Horseman. It’s something we’ll be exploring in the future.
Oz: What is the Sydney Animation scene like in your eyes?
Stefan: There’s a lot more studios in Sydney then ever before, which is good for a vibrant animation scene. There’s big budget animated films that are made here, like The Lego Movie(and all the spin offs), Happy Feet and currently the Peter Rabbit film. That keeps a large amount of animators employed. It also helps flow work into more independent studios and we get a chance to go after US and UK adverts as well. However, this only happens on a large scale when the exchange rate is favourable.
In the independent world our lack of population means there’s not that much state funding for the arts, but it also means that there’s less people going for the money that is there. The lack of population effects funding in other ways as TV and other media channels have less money to spend on product. If you want to get a series made it’s very rare for it to be fully funded in Australia.
Advertising budgets (which is how most studios fund their short film projects) are generally much smaller in Australia than in Europe. You do rely on getting those jobs floating in from abroad. We have an agent in the US which definitely helps us.
Having said that it’s harder to get your first break in the industry at the moment. So much of the basic series animation work has gone abroad. That’s how I and most of the people I know became decent animators, by knocking out 250 frames a day. We’re trying to bring people in as interns and I’m glad to say all of the people that we’ve mentored are in the industry now.
Director and Producer: Stefan Wernik
Writer: Jason J. Cohn
Animator,Compositing and Rigger: Arthur Collie
Designer: Alexander Watson
Backgrounds and additional design: Deanna Hewitt
Character modelling: Tristan Lock
Animator: Jason Cho
2D FX Animator: Quentin Cordonnier
Voice Actors: Natasha Beaumont and Gavin Vance
Music: Stephen Frost stereocouture.com/