Huge congratulations to recent NFTS Directing Animation graduate, Fokion Xenos whose graduation film, Heatwave has won the 2019 ‘Mclaren Award for Best New Animation’ at the Edinburgh international Film Festival.

Stella Heath Keir, Fokion Xenos and Kevin Langhamer at Edinburgh Film Festival

Heatwave: In the midst of a searing heatwave, two little children find a way to cool everyone down.

The Team: Director/Writer Fokion Xenos, Producer Priya K. Dosanjh, Cinematographer Brendan Freedman, Production Designer Antonio Niculae, Production Manager Joseph Phillips, Editor Stella Heath Keir, Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer Kevin Langhamer, Composer Andreas Gutuen Aaser, Marketing and PR Alexandre Ermakov, Model Makers Thanos Kantzavelos, Harry Saxon, Colourist and Online Editor Liz Glennard

Edinburgh International Film Festival, the world’s longest continually-running film festival, showcases global, international and UK films and plays host to the world's greatest filmmakers. With an emphasis on new talent, discovery and innovation, EIFF’s vibrant programme of films and events combines a commitment to audiences with a strong ongoing stake in the development of the UK and Scottish film industries.

Applications for the NFTS Directing Animation MA are open until the 7th July 2019 (the two-year MA course starts in January 2020) – for more information and to apply, please visit www.nfts.co.uk/animation

The NFTS has been named as one of the top five animation schools in the world in this year’s Animation Career Review 2019 School Rankings list.

Both our Directing Animation MA and our new Model Making for Animation Diploma courses are highlighted in the list and the School is named number four in the world and number two in Europe.

It’s been an incredible year so far for both courses. Recent directing Animation MA grad, Fokion Xenos has had his grad film, Heatwave selected for world leading animation festival, Annecy. Heatwave is also to compete for the ‘Mclaren Award for Best New Animation’ at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival alongside fellow NFTS grad animations, Almost There, directed by Nelly Michenaud and One Liner, directed by Mathew Lee.

Another graduation film, Solar Plexus directed by David McShane was selected to compete for the Cinéfondation prize in Cannes, making it eight years in a row that the School has been selected for the festival!

Other fantastic news for the department includes alumna, Paloma Baeza who graduated in 2017 and won a BAFTA in 2018 for her graduation animation, Poles Apart and has been signed on to direct a female-led animated feature on iconic Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. Fellow alumni, Alison Snowden and David Fine were nominated for an Oscar this year for their animation, Animal Behaviour and NFTS alumni have also won the British Short Animation BAFTA five years in a row from 2014.

The Model Making for Animation Diploma which is now in its second year worked on a stunning set recreation from NFTS alumnus, Nick Park’s Oscar nominated graduation film, A Grand Day Out to celebrate Wallace & Gromit’s 30th birthday – read the full story here: www.nfts.co.uk/wallace&gromit

If you’d like to follow in our student and alumni’s footsteps, apply for the Directing Animation MA by 7th July 2019 to start in Jan 2020 at www.nfts.co.uk/animation

An incredible six NFTS graduation films have been selected for this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, which takes place between the 19th and 30th June. NFTS graduation animations, Almost There directed by Nelly Michenaud, Heatwave, directed by Fokion Xenos and One Liner, directed by Matthew Lee will compete for the ‘Mclaren Award for Best New Animation’. Other graduation films selected for the festival include documentary, Beyond The North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie directed by Natalie Cubides-Brady, Animation, Moth directed by Ewa Luczkow and fiction, Rooftop Refugee directed by Alexandra Brodski.

Almost There: On an everyday train journey quite unlike any other, a not-so-casual observer goes to extreme lengths to avoid other passengers, a giant baby runs away from his parents, a romantic woman starts an ill-fated relationship with a cuckoo, and a naïve boy discovers that some problems can’t be fixed by pictures of unicorns.

The Team: Director Nelly Michenaud, Producers Kate Phibbs, Nathanael Baring, Screenwriter Tim Dees, Cinematographer Alana Mejia Gonzalez, Production Designer Theo Boswell, Production Manager Julia Jendrysik, Editor Celina Øier, Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer Ioannis Spanos, Composer Adam Price, Lead Animator Richard Farris, Model Makers Angus Choy, Alastair Fleming, Thanos Kantzavelos, Lisa Ott, Harry Saxon, Melissa Tague, Becky Weston, CG Lead Ysabel King, Colourist and Online Editor Liz Glennard

Heatwave: In the midst of a searing heatwave, two little children find a way to cool everyone down.

The Team: Director/Writer Fokion Xenos, Producer Priya K. Dosanjh, Cinematographer Brendan Freedman, Production Designer Antonio Niculae, Production Manager Joseph Phillips, Editor Stella Heath Keir, Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer Kevin Langhamer, Composer Andreas Gutuen Aaser, Marketing and PR Alexandre Ermakov, Model Makers Thanos Kantzavelos, Harry Saxon, Colourist And Online Editor Liz Glennard

One Liner: Ian Plinth, best known as the unfunny half of a comedy double act form the 1970s, attempts to make his solo comeback on board a cruise liner.

The Team: Director/Writer/Animator Matthew Lee, Producer Teodora Shaleva, Cinematographer Molly Manning-Walker, Production Designer Lauren Taylor, Production Manager Palma Derzsi, Editor Mirjam Jegorov, Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer Edward A. Guy, Composer Rachael Philip, Marketing and PR Alex Chronopoulos, Model Makers Oliver Arnell Argles, Ellen Carnegie, Angus Choy, Alastair Fleming, Thanos Kantzavelos, Lisa Ott, Harry Saxon, Melissa Tague, Becky Weston, Lead Compositor Mark Graham, Colourist and Online Editor Michael Pearce

Beyond the North Winds is a hybrid documentary about the decommissioning of a nuclear plant in Scotland. Tracing the journey of a fictional character who disappears while working at the reactor, the film explores our relationship with technology, myth and landscape.

The Team: Director/Producer/Additional Cinematography - Natalie Cubides-Brady Cinematographer - Sebastian Cort Production Manager - Alana O’Neill Editor - Jamie King Sound Recordist - Ben Band Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer - Ben Goodall Composer - Andreas Gutuen Aaser Compositor - Ysabel King Online Editor - Michael Pearce

Jumping between reality and fantasy, Moth is the story of a grieving family told through the eyes of lonely 8-year old Mabil and her vivid imagination which shows her how a tragic loss is breaking apart her parents.

The Team: Ewa Luczkow, Director/Animator; Nikolay Savov, Producer; Sophie Sims, Screenwriter; Alfred Thirolle, Cinematographer; Ewa Galak, Production Designer; Kieran Nolan Jones, Production Manager; Conor Meechan, Editor; Sean Mcgarrity, Sound Designer & Dubbing Mixer; Jo Paterson, Composer; Thomas Hurd, Cg Lead; Baitong Moseu, Lead Compositor; Beatriz De La Osa, Colourist & Online Editor

Moth TRAILER from Conor Meechan on Vimeo.

Rooftop Refugee is a satirical comedy that follows Martha as she attends her daughter’s primary school performance. a young refugee boy who is threatening to jump from the school rooftop throws the event into chaos and the adults below take the opportunity to spread their views on the world.

The Team: Alexandra Brodski, Director/Co-Screenwriter; Shereen Ali, Producer; Rebecca Martin, Co-Screenwriter; Alfred Thirolle, Cinematographer; Tea Palomäki, Eline Van Oeveren, Charlotte Smith, Dominika Lapinska, Assistant Directors; Rosalind Grégoire, Production Designer; Alex Mcardle, Production Manager; Selina Hånkansson, Editor; A T Grigore, Production Sound Mixer;  Joshua Deji Bamford, 1st Assistant Sound; Breen Turner, Sound Designer & Dubbing Mixer; Anna Bauer, Composer; Laura Jane Dart, Colourist & Online Editor

Edinburgh International Film Festival, the world’s longest continually-running film festival, showcases global, international and UK films and plays host to the world's greatest filmmakers.

With an emphasis on new talent, discovery and innovation, EIFF’s vibrant programme of films and events combines a commitment to audiences with a strong ongoing stake in the development of the UK and Scottish film industries.

Applications for the NFTS Directing Animation MA are open until the 7th July 2019 (the two-year MA course starts in January 2020) – for more information and to apply, please visit www.nfts.co.uk/animation

Everyone at NFTS was thrilled to welcome Wallace & Gromit creator and multi-Oscar® winner, Nick Park back to the School last night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the creation of his much loved characters, which were born right here at the NFTS. We were proud to host the premiere of Carrot Productions live orchestral interactive experience, Wallace & Gromit's Musical Marvels: The Wrong Trousers to a packed house of industry guests and Wallace & Gromit fans. The audience was also treated to an exclusive and highly entertaining Q&A with Nick Park and fellow NFTS alumnus, Julian Nott (composer for the Wallace & Gromit films) hosted by NFTS Director, Jon Wardle. If that wasn't enough, a special film was unveiled at the event, It's a Cracking Celebration, Gromit which tells the story of how Nick created Wallace & Gromit at NFTS and also how the School's Model Making for Animation Diploma students have recreated a set from A Grand Day Out.  

It's a Cracking Celebration, Gromit is Co-Directed and Produced by NFTS Head of Model Making, John Lee, NFTS Head of PR and Communications, Vicky Hewlett, NFTS Directing Documentary alumna, Bex Singleton, Edited by NFTS Editing MA alumnus, Robin Whalley. Sound Mix by NFTS Senior Supervising Engineer, Jeremy Rodeschini and Grade by current NFTS DFX MA student, Andrea Lo Priore. Also unveiled on the night was an incredible set from A Grand Day Out recreated by the NFTS Model Making for Animation Diploma students. 

Nick Park with Model Making for Animation Diploma students and NFTS Head of Model Making, John Lee

The iconic 62 West Wallaby Street basement set complete with the rocket under construction and lots of tiny details from other Wallace & Gromit films plus a tiny Oscar and a BAFTA was a huge hit with guests and Nick absolutely loved it!

Nick Park sees the set created by NFTS Model Making for Animation Diploma students for the first time

John Lee, Head of Model Making explained: “We wanted to design and make something that would really bring Wallace & Gromit’s story to life. The Model Making students have worked tirelessly to recreate every detail of the set and have also added some hidden extras to the set such as a tiny Oscar® and BAFTA® to further celebrate Nick’s achievements. This and the incredible achievements of our animation department are testament to the fact that our students are following in Nick’s footsteps and ensuring that stop motion animation and model making continues to be a hugely important part of the School’s output.

Nick Park with NFTS Direcing Animation MA students and Head of Animation, Robert Bradbrook and Senior Animation Technician, John Osborne

Nick Park said: “I’m really looking forward to returning to NFTS for such a special event. The School was such an inspiring place for me to be whilst I was creating Wallace and Gromit. I was very fortunate to be amongst some very talented people who all helped out with A Grand Day Out - many of them, I still work with now.“ Nick posed for a photo during the premiere with fellow NFTS alumni who he worked on A Grand Day Out with including Danny Hambrook, Julian Nott, Adrian Rhodes and Lesley Manning (also pictured are regular Wallace & Gromit cinematogrpher, Dave Alex Ridett, Aardman Co-Founder, David Sproxton and Wallace & Gromit creative director, Merlin Crossingham.

L-R: Danny Hambrook, Julian Nott, Dave Alex Ridett, Nick Park, Adrian Rhodes, David Sproxton, Merlin Crossingham, Lesley Manning nhp

Another highlight of the evening was Nick Park signing the wall next to the room where he created Wallace & Gromit at NFTS!

NFTS Director, Jon Wardle said: “It's an honour that we were asked to host this very exciting premiere at the NFTS and to welcome Nick and Julian back to the School so guests can enjoy and celebrate one of our proudest moments. Nick Park and Wallace & Gromit are very much part of the fabric of the NFTS so it’s incredibly fitting that we celebrate the 30th anniversary of two of the UK’s most loved characters being created right here at the School.”

Nick Park, NFTS Director, Jon Warlde and Composer, Julian Nott on stage with Musical Marvels orchestra

Ngaio Harding-Hill, Head of Attractions & Live Experiences, Aardman: “It is wonderful that Wallace & Gromit’s Musical Marvels premiered at the film school where Nick started his career. Carrot Productions have produced a fantastic show, and we look forward to audiences across the UK having the opportunity to enjoy this unique musical experience.”

Musical Marvels presenter Matthew Sharp

You can buy tickets to Carrot Productions Musical Marvels tour here.

More information about the NFTS Directing Animation MA at www.nfts.co.uk/animation and the Model Making for Animation Diploma at www.nfts.co.uk/modelmaking

 

NFTS Directing Animation MA alumna, Paloma Baeza who graduated in 2017 has been signed on to direct a female-led animated feature on iconic Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.

Paloma Baeza and Ser En Low with their BAFTA for Poles Apart

Paloma won a BAFTA with NFTS Producing MA alumna, Ser En Low for Best British Animation in 2018 for her graduation animation, Poles Apart and is currently directing Alex Garland’s animation and live-action hybrid movie, The Toymaker’s Secret.

Frida Kahlo

The film about Frida Kahlo is yet to be titled but is said to use 2D animation with some live action and will be a celebratory representation of her as an artist and a woman.

Paloma is of Mexican descent herself and comments in a recent article in Variety: “Frida Kahlo approached life with such vibrant energy, and was ahead of her time in many ways. With my Mexican heritage, it is particularly meaningful to have this opportunity to explore her deep and complex personality, as well as her relationship with Mexico’s past and its future. Lupus Films have a reputation as a highly respected artisanal animation studio so this project couldn’t be in better hands.”

Paloma animating Poles Apart at NFTS

Lupus Films managing director Camilla Deakin added: “Frida Kahlo’s story is startlingly modern and a powerful representation of how to embrace challenges and conflict in a meaningful and positive way. As an all-female team of director and producers we are excited to be telling Frida’s story through animation, allowing us to capture the vivid palette of her work, her inspirations, and the colors and textures of Mexico, and we are delighted that such a talented director as Paloma Baeza shares our passion for this project.”

For more information about the NFTS Directing Animation MA, please visit www.nfts.co.uk/animation
Applications are open until 7th July 2019 to start in January 2020.

A short animation - Mary Anning: The Girl Who Helped Discover Dinosaurs - directed by NFTS Directing Animation MA alumna, Anna Humphries with music composed by NFTS Composing MA alumna, Alexandra Harwood, has scooped a prestigious RTS West of England Television Award for Best Animation.

L-R: Cordelia Hebblethwaite - Commissioner at the BBC, Anna Humphries - Creative Director at Studio Panda, Jon Lawrence - Production Director at Studio Panda, Amelia Chiew - Animator at Studio Panda

The animation was made for the BBC and is part of Studio Panda’s online series of animations called “Forgotten Females” which celebrates women who have been marginalised or written out of history.

Mary Anning is now considered one of the grandmothers of palaeontology, but at the time her incredible achievements and contributions to geology were largely unrewarded. The short form documentary is animated in stop frame sand art. Studio Panda said of their win: “Not only have RTS shown their support of this new and exciting genre of Animated Documentary, they have shined a light on how brilliant and imagination-inspiring sand animation can be.” 

Cordelia Hebblethwaite, Commissioning Editor, BBC said: “They delivered a truly fantastic piece of work. Their talent, creativity and sense of fun shone through the piece. Anna was incredibly knowledgeable and put together a great script very quickly. The team set a clear timetable for the work – including storyboards, review points, time for tweaks etc – and stuck to it.”

Anna and Alexandra have teamed up on another animation, this time celebrating Lotte Reiniger – a pioneer of early animation - and this film has been selected for this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

Studio Panda was co-founded by Anna (Creative Director) with Production Director, Jon Lawrence.

NFTS students are to compete for the prestigious Cinéfondation prize for an incredible eighth year in a row at this year’s Cannes film festival, which takes place between the 14th and 25th May. NFTS graduation animation, Solar Plexus directed by David McShane, written by Jessica Sinyard and produced by Paida Mutonono was picked from 1971 works submitted by film schools from all over the world and is one of just 17 films selected for the Cinéfondation short film programme. Only two of the 17 films selected originate from the UK.

Solar Plexus is about Noah who has not accepted the death of his mother, an astronaut. In order to move on, he must break the umbilical cord that still connects them. The film uses two animation techniques; stop-motion involving two sets and puppets, and oil paint-on-glass.

Solar Plexus Director, David McShane animating on set

David was inspired by an outline of the story pitched to him by NFTS Screenwriting student, Jessica Sinyard, saying: “Jessica sent me a pitch with an image of an astronaut curled up in the foetal position. The cord coming from the suit reminded me of an umbilical cord and felt oddly emotional.”

Solar Plexus Director, David McShane painting

On the film’s selection at Cannes, David continued: “It feels wonderful and surreal! I’m excited to see all the other films at the festival. It’s particularly lovely to have the time, tears and effort that so many people put into Solar Plexus celebrated.”

Solar Plexus Director, David McShane on set

David hails from Worksop in the Midlands and came to the NFTS after completing a degreein English at Oxford university. He was "delighted" when his application to the NFTS was accepted: "I discovered the NFTS when researching animation schools. It was actually the only course I ended up applying for as I loved both the quality of the graduation films and their diversity. I also wanted to learn more about the craft of film and, as the NFTS is a film school that happens to do animation, it seemed like the best fit. I was quite shocked to be accepted, particularly as my plan had been to try and get some more experience and then re-apply. I also thought that the application workshop had been a disaster, so I prepared myself for a rejection. But I was delighted when the news came."

Astronaut model from Solar Plexus

The Solar Plexus Team (All NFTS students who graduated in February 2019): Director/Lead Animator - David McShane Producer - Paida Mutonono Screenwriter - Jessica Sinyard Cinematographer - Lily Grimes Production Designer - Qingling Zhang Production Manager - Lisa Killeen Editor - Francesco Cibati Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer - Inês Adriana Composer - Will Turner Marketing and PR - Diyana Zaykova Model Makers - Oliver Arnell Argles, Ellen Carnegie, Angus Choy, Alastair Fleming, Emma Hodgson, Thanos Kantzavelos, Lisa Ott, Harry Saxon, Melissa Tague, Becky Weston Colourist and Online Editor - Michael Pearce

The NFTS animation department has enjoyed a huge amount of success with alumni including Oscar winning, Wallace and Gromit director, Nick Park and Peppa Pig creator, Mark Baker. NFTS graduation animations have also won the British Short Animation BAFTA for five years in a row from 2014. If you're interested in finding out more about our Directing Animation MA, apply for the two year MA by 7th July 2019 to start in Jan 2010 - www.nfts.co.uk/animation 

Contact for further information: Vicky Hewlett, Head of PR and Communications, NFTS: vhewlett@nfts.co.uk

 

“It’s the real light on real objects that makes stop motion special. You get the imperfections, chaos and uniqueness of real life – that’s what makes it so magical.”

Following a special preview of stop motion animation studio, LAIKA’s new feature, Missing Link, NFTS students were treated to a Q&A with the film’s director and writer, Chris Butler. Missing Link is Chris’s follow up directorial feature for LAIKA after Paranorman, which was nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA for ‘Best Animated Feature’.

Chris Butler with NFTS students

Featuring the voices of Hugh JackmanZoe SaldanaEmma ThompsonStephen FryDavid WalliamsTimothy OlyphantMatt LucasAmrita Acharia, and Zach Galifianakis, Missing Link follows myths and monsters investigator, Sir Lionel Frost, who sets off on an adventure to the Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of a legendary creature—Mr. Link. Frost, who's also looking to gain acceptance by his small-minded explorer peers, is accompanied on his journey by Adelina Fortnight, a free-spirited, independent adventurer who just so happens to possess the only known map to Shangri-La.

Missing Link

The session was hosted by freelance journalist and Empire Contributing Editor, Dan Jolin who started by asking Chris about how he moved from being predominantly a storyboard artist to writing and directing. Chris replied: “I always wanted to write and from a very early age knew I wanted to work in animation. I started out with 2D animation and then worked at a studio in London that combined 2D and CG and was a big fan of Ray Harryhausen (acclaimed stop motion animator) but it wasn’t until I worked as Storyboard Artist on Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride that I was turned onto stop motion and haven’t looked back since then. Following that I worked as Storyboard Supervisor on LAIKA’s first feature, Coraline and had written the script for ParaNorman which I showed to LAIKA CEO, Travis Knight who said “I want this to be our second movie and for you to direct it!”  

ParaNorman

Chris talked about how stop motion made him a better storyboarder as “you have to be careful where you point the camera and very thoughtful with regards to framing due to the physics of stop motion on set.” He also described stop motion as being similar to being on a live action set “but at a glacial pace! You’re surrounded by a great range of crafts people just as you would be on live action.” On whether stop motion was the best form of storytelling in animation, Chris said: “You should be able to use 2D, CG or stop motion to tell a story.”

Dan asked Chris about his influences when writing Missing Link and also pointed out it’s the first LAIKA animation not to have a child protagonist. Chris explained that the idea for Missing Link had come to him because he’s always thought “it would be cool to have a stop motion Indiana Jones! Missing Link is Indiana Jones meets Sherlock Holmes meets Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Ray Harryhausen characters! There are so many influences! Not having a child protagonist wasn’t a conscious decision but I think one reason we did this film next was that Travis likes to do something different. I gave him three scripts to choose from and he chose this one because it’s ambitious and expansive. Despite not having a child at its heart, I think Missing Link is still very appealing to children.”

Chris on a tour of the NFTS Model Making department with Head of Model Making, John Lee

One of the Model Making for Animation Diploma students said how much she loved the puppets in Missing Links and was particularly intrigued by their tongues and what they were made of! Chris explained that the tongues were mostly made of silicon and there was even one giant tongue made that had to be rigged in six different places so it could gently undulate! Another kind of tongue is described as a ‘mouth bag’ and is printed but if it peaks out of the puppet’s mouth too much, it needs to be varnished.

Missing Link

Another student, this time from the Composing MA asked about the music on Missing Link. Chris said: “I’m not about wall to wall music which is often the case with animation. I knew I needed a lot of music as Missing Link is more of an action movie but I didn’t want to go with what was expected. I wanted to get Carter Burwell on board as the composer as I wanted the score to be sophisticated and he’s a hugely sophisticated and smart guy. Carter was into the idea as he saw it as a challenge and he was great to work with.”

Missing Link

One of the students was “blown away by the fluidity and subtlety of LAIKA animations” and asked how much of a role previs played in achieving this? Chris explained: “Our history with previs has been tricky. We storyboard the hell out of the movie, even gestural stuff. Previs to us is most successful when used to inform the design department and the set build. We don’t use it to block a performance. Every shot has a rehearsal – usually on 2’s – and that’s how we attain that fluidity. You have to commit to that performance in the rehearsal.”

Chris finished by talking about what he loves about stop motion: “It’s the real light on real objects that makes stop motion special. You get the imperfections, chaos and uniqueness of real life – that’s what makes it so magical.”

Missing Link is released in UK cinemas on the 5th April.

NFTS graduation animation, Heatwave directed and written by recent NFTS Directing Animation MA graduate, Fokion Xenos has been selected for Annecy, the world's leading animation film festival, which takes place from the 10th to the 15th June.

Still from Heatwave

Heatwave synopsis: In the midst of a searing heatwave, two little children find a way to cool everyone down.

Fokion working on Heatwave

Fokion was inspired by the Greek summers of his childhood and wanted to make a “vibrant, colourful film that is unapologetically fun and optimistic.” Fokion said: “Heatwave is a film about how we tend to get lost in our own problems and anxieties no matter where we are or who is next to us. I find that being playful and humorous in a mad and bleak world is braver than being pessimistic and too serious. We tried to capture the essence of how people behave under their own pressure and how being open and silly can make us a bit more grateful about the world and each other.”

On Heatwave’s selection at Annecy, Fokion said: "Heatwave being selected for Annecy film festival is a great honour for me and my team. We worked really hard this past year so we are grateful to have the opportunity to present our colourful, bright universe to an international audience!" 

The Team: Director/Writer Fokion Xenos, Producer Priya K. Dosanjh, Cinematographer Brendan Freedman, Production Designer Antonio Niculae, Production Manager Joseph Phillips, Editor Stella Heath Keir, Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer Kevin Langhamer, Composer Andreas Gutuen Aaser, Marketing and PR Alexandre Ermakov, Model Makers Thanos Kantzavelos, Harry Saxon, Colourist and Online Editor Liz Glennard

Find out more about the NFTS Directing Animation MA at www.nfts.co.uk/animation and apply by 7th July 2019 to start in January 2020.

 

“Put yourself in a headspace to not care about what everyone thinks. When on the mixing stage, I always think this will be one dude’s favourite movie and that’s enough for me!”

Chris Miller and Phil Lord with NFTS students

NFTS students were yet again treated to a one-of-a-kind masterclass, this time courtesy of Oscar winning director, writer and producer team, Phil Lord and Chris Miller a couple of days before they picked up their BAFTA for ‘Best Animated Feature Film’ for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and on the same day The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was released in UK cinemas. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse also won the Oscar in the same category and the pair won the ‘Best Animated Feature Film’ BAFTA in 2018 for The Lego Movie. They also directed and wrote Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which was nominated for a Golden Globe and four Annie Awards.

The session was hosted by NFTS Director, Jon Wardle at 20th Century Fox in London and among his questions were a number that had been put forward by the students.

Jon kicked off the high energy session by asking Phil and Chris how they started working as a team. Chris explained how Phil had convinced him to take an animation class while at university and from then on they started to make films. Phil continued: “We pulled three all-nighters to finish the first film and then followed that up with a year’s worth of all-nighters! I can’t say they were our finest quality films but you’d recognise us if you saw them.” Chris quipped: “We’ve been on the same sleep schedule since then!” Head of Disney at the time, Michael Eisner read an article about Chris in a publication about Dartmouth College of which he was also an alum and asked his team to contact him to arrange a meeting. This eventually led to a meeting with the Head of Animation at Disney and as they showed up together it was assumed they were a team so “that’s how we went on from there!”

Still from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Phil and Chris’ feature film directorial debut was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which they also co-wrote having previously cut their teeth on critically acclaimed TV-Series like Clone High which they co-executive-produced, wrote, and directed for MTV. Phil explained how different the culture was between making films and TV-series at the time and how a collaborative approach led to a successful outcome for everyone: “We didn’t know anything about making movies, especially feature length movies. Suddenly we had a team of storyboard artists who thought we sucked!” Chris continued: “Our only move was to embrace everyone’s gripes about the movie. We asked the story team and the artists: What’s your vision to fix the film? Once we started incorporating people’s ideas, they got excited as they felt they could contribute. This feeling trickled into every department and everyone started trying to top each other!” Phil added: “We took the TV writers room culture into filmmaking so it felt like a little family and an improv group.”

Still from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Jon clarified: “But you’re not saying yes to everything?” Phil countered: “The best idea wins and most people are respectful of that.”

One of Phil and Chris’ approaches to making movies is to put ‘thoughts and feelings’ at their heart and Jon asked how the realisation that audiences like this came about? Phil explained how Amy Pascal, who was head of Sony Pictures at the time had got them to “hang out” with Oscar nominated producer and self-coined ‘script whistler’ Lyndsay Doran (Sense and Sensibility). “She gave us a masterclass in emotional storytelling which helped us evolve to a place where we could see that the emotional stuff makes the movie funnier and is critical to the understanding of the story.” Chris added: “It’s obvious stories need conflict and bad things to happen to make them gripping but it’s sometimes a mistake for characters to be fighting all the time. We found that people getting on with each other is a wonderful thing to watch.” Jon asked if 21 Jump Street, which Phil and Chris directed, was a good example of this. Chris agreed: “Jonah (Hill) and Channing (Tatum) who play the lead roles in 21 Jump Street are so different as human beings but the cool thing about the movie is that they’re friends and love each other. That’s why the audience wants to root for them.”

Still from 21 Jump Street

Continuing this theme, Chris and Phil agreed that the tone that unites their output is “optimistic and nice” and centred around wanting the audience to “feel good”. Phil quipped: “We have faith in humankind!” Chris added: “We don’t want audiences to go away feeling bleak.”

Jon pointed out how diverse the cast of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is and how timely that felt with the film coming out when it did, even though the work started on the film a number of years before the ‘Me-Too’ movement. Phil said: “Even at that time, there was awareness that the industry was due for a wake-up call.” Chris added: “When we were offered the opportunity to make an animated Spider-Man movie, we talked about how to make something different and unique. We knew straight away that we wanted to cast Donald Glover who had previously voiced Miles Morales in the Ultimate Spider-Man TV Series in a cameo due to the groundswell of support for a spider-man of colour. The idea we could make a comic book come to life was very exciting.”

The technical challenges in making the movie look like a comic book brought to life involved them writing new software and coming up with “fancy techniques” to fill the in-between gaps caused by animating at 12 frames per second rather than 24 frames to give a traditional hand-drawn, 2D animation feel.

On the techniques used for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Chris explained that they used “mostly CG made to look like stop-motion. We used a lot more mixed media in this movie including lots of pipe cleaners and fabric! For one scene in the sister’s bedroom, we even built digital hands to mess up the fabric so it looked like water.”

One of the questions that came in from the students was about how Chris and Phil “stay sane” when waiting to hear about audience numbers for their new movies. Phil exclaimed: “I live in anxiety! Chris has a theory that creativity and anxiety are closely linked. You spend too much time on things not to have anxiety about whether people will like them. I don’t read reviews any more as I’ll find one thing that bothers me.” Phil counselled: “Put yourself in a headspace to not care about what everyone thinks. When on the mixing stage, I always think this will be one dude’s favourite movie and that’s enough for me!”

Phil Lord, NFTS Director, Jon Wardle & Chris Miller

After the masterclass, Phil tweeted: “Thank you @NFTSFilmTV for a great visit with me and Chris. You are all geniuses and we can’t wait to see what you make next!”

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is out in UK cinemas now.