Ozanimate recently sat down with current student and animator Bryce Pemberton to talk about his current and upcoming projects, his striking visual style, and his reflections on animation in Australia.
“I’m really interested in projects that can trick viewers, like superimposing animation over live footage – it gives this extra level of like, ‘Oh! How did they do that?’,” said Pemberton, “That’s what excites me.”
That sentiment is very much at the heart of young animator Bryce Pemberton’s style, which seems to be constantly evolving (often incorporating mixed-media elements like puppets, computer animation, compositing tricks – you name it!) yet is always strikingly, well, ‘Pemberton’. The young animator expressed that whilst he may have recognisable character designs, he’s always on the lookout for new, interesting or obscure techniques to incorporate within his work.
“If someone’s done something that I find particularly interesting as far as process goes, then I’ll try and adapt it,” says Pemberton, on finding his voice as an animator and artist, “try and figure it out, reconstruct it, something like that and then I’ll do my own version of it. Then I have something interesting. I’d probably end up skewing more towards a technical person, but like… experimentally technical. [But] I think my character designs are pretty consistent.”
After studying abstract print-making and doing gallery shows at art-school in Canberra, Pemberton soon made the jump to Sydney to pursue his passion for animation at the University of Technology, Sydney. Primarily, he enjoys working with mixed media, compositing and 3D animation – but anything goes. Despite (or maybe because of) his art-school background, the question of whether he calls himself an ‘experimental artist’ gives him pause.
“Umm… not as experimental as most, probably! I went to art school and there were some very experimental people there that were like, I don’t know, screaming into a bucket of spaghetti,” Pemberton chuckles, “But I like to experiment with software and technique.”
(Conversation briefly turns to The Doctor and the Pencil spoof from The Mighty Boosh, as well as the BBC comedy’s equally eccentric, eclectic film-making style.)
“I used to love The Mighty Boosh, and then it was like a moment were I think all of my friends thought it was lame and so, so did I,” laughs Pemberton, “And now I’ve done a complete 180, like, ‘no, no, they’re geniuses!’. Stuff like that is just amazing, that the BBC was like, ‘yeah, sure‘,” he laughs again, “and then to just have these like, fun songs too? Flight of the Conchords was a bit like that too. But there was a lot more mixed media, a lot more puppets in The Mighty Boosh.”
Maybe not completely unlike that Cute Loopdeloop he did in collaboration with fellow animator Lester Chan?
“We had puppets, yeah! And so, there’s a lot of stuff I want to do and it does include making puppets and making all this extra practical stuff and then basically making it, fusing elements of this and that.”
Pemberton also cites Bocquelet’s The Amazing World of Gumball as having had fair influence over his approach to mixed-media in animation.
“They [Gumball] basically do like, photo-collage, a little bit of 3D renders, a little bit of like actual photos, a little bit of drawing over the photos and then these really rubbery appealing cartoons and it’s just like… it just works. And trying to figure out how to mash things together and make them work really appeals to me,” says Pemberton, “That’s the direction I’m heading.”
Most recently, Pemberton worked with fellow UTS animators Erika Ju and Yori Narpati on Enjoy Ice Cold, their third-year film at UTS. Pemberton describes how drawing materiality from real-life sources fed into the style of the film.
“If you’re strapped for time and if you’re strapped for resources, there’s a lot of stuff you can get from the real world if you want – to make cut-out textures, or to build your environments by using clay or something like that – you get all the richness and the texture from that for free. With Enjoy Ice Cold, we could’ve painted all the backgrounds but that’s like… that would’ve taken so long. [Our approach was] basically almost like a shortcut that ends up being something that is cool and appealing. That, ‘oh! They did it that way’, that’s really cool.”
“We designed characters and we set up our shots in a certain way… Like there were close up shots, there were medium shots, and the action progressed from one side of the room to the other. It was called Enjoy Ice Cold, because that was the vending machine slogan. I was trying to figure out names… and I hate trying to figure out names!” he chuckles, “So, writing anything like names or whatever, it’s just like pages of ‘word vomit word vomit word vomit’…”
But as a narrative storyteller, Pemberton does take pen to paper quite often.
“I do a lot of writing now because I’m more ‘narrativey’,” said Pemberton, “it’s a fun exercise to go ‘there’s this character, and then this happens’. Just like [working off] a premise? My sketchbook is full of premises. For some reason, I find premises really entertaining to write and then other people can go, ‘okay, that’s a bit silly’, and it’ll make me laugh.”
“Currently I’m working full-time for a while, until Honours and for Honours I have that group project which I probably won’t talk about,” said Pemberton, “But there’s also a personal project, which is… I don’t know how I would explain it.”
He pauses thoughtfully.
“It’s basically like, stories of me growing up as a teen, ‘cause my group of friends were very much delinquent teens and I haven’t really explored that before,” he says, “And I think it would be fun and shocking to do something really dark, because most people don’t think I’m a very dark person… It’s kind of weirdly been haunting me for a while.”
Pemberton explains that the story he wants to tell is very personal, very dark.
“Whenever I explain this story about my life to other people, they seem shocked! And also, because I grew up in Canberra they think that it’s very much whitewashed, that it’s very plain? But there are a lot of very bored kids that do a lot of damage, I think,” said Pemberton, “Another reason I wanted to do it is that it’s another thing I want to mess around with, with video and even like, 3D scans…”
“You can take a photo of a tree from like, ten different angles and you can turn that into a 3D asset which is textured with the photogrammetry and stuff like that. I’ve seen some people do animation on video where they didn’t even have to model their backgrounds – they’d literally just taken this weird abstract 3D photos of their environments and then this program had just decided ‘what it is’. And it’s kind of like this abstract, weird… ‘it looks like the Woods, but it’s not like the Woods’, really cool thing. The material works against you, but it also works for you. The ‘ghost in the machine’, or whatever.”
“So that would be animated. And I’ve kind of written a story for it. And also, I wanted to make it really dark, because my Honours film is going to be about a children’s spelling bee,” he laughs, “And it’s going to be very cute! It’s going to be very fun!”
Pemberton has a strikingly graphic style. Might he have plans to tackle a graphic novel in the future?
“No. For some reason, I try, but animation is… comics are magic. Comics and animation, they’re both magic,” he laughs again, “I dunno! But I draw a lot of storyboards, so I think it scratches that itch. Drawing a graphic novel really, really does appeal to me and I tried to draw mini-comics and that sort of thing, but there’s so many other things too.”
Thoughts on Animation in Australia
“The animation in Australia is bigger than I thought it was, it’s better than I thought it was,” says Pemberton, “and it’s really exciting.”
“I think moving to Sydney helped a lot – I know a few people in Melbourne that feel the same way – just being in a place were there are great community events. [But in Sydney] they’re… they’re all at Knox Street Bar!” he laughs.
What would he like to see more of in the Australian animation scene?
“Well, Loopdeloop is really, really good. I would just like to see more… screenings of stuff? Like, this is very specific, but it’s like… I wanna’ see more ‘Vivid’ but like, more home-made Vivid? Like, I don’t know if that’s actually around either, but that’s the thing, like, if there were a group of people in Sydney doing like animation projection in some suburb… like, I would wanna’ know about that! So, will you let me know?”
He expressed a desire for more public animation events.
“Knox is a very cool place, with Loopdeloop. I love Loopdeloop a lot and I love Knox Street Bar a lot, but there’s a barrier to entry in terms of dealing with crowds a little bit. And also being in an enclosed space that a lot of people – a lot of animators – can’t always deal with. They’re very introverted, as well,” said Pemberton, “And I feel like these same people haven’t gone to a single Loopdeloop even though they’re very good animators – they love animation, but the vibe is sometimes a bit too overwhelming for them. And yet they’ll go to Vivid and say, ‘this is great. I love it!’. If there was something that was like… in between that, that would be amazing.”
“So, more public events. Open public events for animation.”
Much like his approach to film-making, Pemberton’s plethora of influences are ever-changing and constantly in flux. At the moment, he is enjoying the photography of Wouter Van de Voorde.
“Wouter and a group of his photographer friends often explore around the ACT and rural Australia taking some amazing photos of empty streets and homes, run down cars, swampland and arid bushland,” Pemberton said, “looking at them perfectly personifies how I feel sometimes when I go back home away from the city and I would love to capture some of that.”
When it comes to animation?
Caleb Wood has just been so prolific and varied. I love going through his back catalogue on vimeo or wherever and being refreshed by all the things he does that seem so far apart from each other but are all *a n i m a t i o n*.
Dadu Shin, I love his very still and emotive illustrations. I’m a weird sucker for seeing a figure or a silhouette in a very passive pose being blasted by a beautiful pattern, or a very considered use of texture.
And Paul [Rhodes] is a hype man and a saint. Seeing this guy work is really impressive. He doesn’t step back from being experimental and gutsy with animation decisions, and he has a way with writing really entertaining humour as well which I am envious of.”
But it’s the studios that really excite Pemberton.
“I’m at Buck right now, but I love Buck!” Pemberton smiles, “Like, all of their work is really good. They love mixing it up. They just did a commercial for Holden where literally, it’s just 5 seconds of 3D, 5 seconds of stop-motion, 5 seconds of hand-drawn animation, 5 seconds of motion graphics… and it all just works together! It’s really cool.”
“[I’m also into] anything that The Line Animation Studio in London is up to. The Line seem like an amazingly talented group of people that just give a lot back to their community with fun side shorts, public events and their own animation podcast, The Pegbar and Grill.”
Advice to Emerging Storytellers
“Just do your thing,” says Pemberton.
“It might stress the kids out a bit too much, but I do this thing where I imagine that I’m like… playing Mario Kart and there’s like, a time trial ghost that’s like ten seconds ahead of me? And I need to beat that ghost,” Pemberton laughs, “So, for all you Mario-Kart fans out there, you gotta’ beat that ghost!”
Pemberton is excited that animation is beginning to boom in Sydney, Melbourne and Australia (“Stop going to UTS! It’s full!” he jests, riffing on the ever-growing popularity of the university’s animation program), but acknowledges that competition for places in the industry will also grow as more people ride the wave.
“Don’t let that get you down. You have to figure out what you want to do and you have to do it,” Pemberton says, “and don’t forget, if you’re upset or you don’t like what you’re doing – just figure out the quickest way to solve that issue so you don’t get stuck in a rut. Keep going.”
“People will work hard and do good work and get rewarded. And that’s the way it always goes, I think.”