John Lee, Head of Model Making at the NFTS was thrilled that his students were once again given the opportunity to become heavily involved in another inspired ‘real life’ commercial brief for SHEBA® Cat Food. NFTS Directing Animation MA student Nick Cinelli was selected to make the 60 second promo, titled ‘Resistance is Futile’ as part of an inaugural scholarship awarded to him by Flare Studio, Omnicom’s content commissioning platform. More info here.

Nick’s winning brief was to remind viewers that cats have never quite forgotten that they were once worshipped as gods. It involved an ambitious technique that included a rotating miniature set and combined live action with 3D and 2D drawn animation characters. The brief landed with the Model Making department when Nick and NFTS Bridge to Industry Executive Producer, Venetia Hawkes, realised the only way to create the very particular and innovative aesthetic they were after was to bring on board the students from the Model Making for Animation Diploma, now in its third exciting year. Nick created a tight animatic, which the model makers worked from.

John Lee explains the process: ”We created a miniature set at 1:6 scale of a pretty generic sitting room, which during the one minute story, transforms in ‘real time’ into an elaborate Ancient Egyptian den, complete with artefacts, sculptures, detailed ornate props and surfaces. Interior walls were ‘floated’ in and out so that Nick could achieve a variety of camera viewpoints during the two day shoot. The elaborate concepts and set designs were created by NFTS Production Design student Roz Gregoire, who then worked with my students on the best way to create the miniature environment in a short pre-production period. The detailed props were built by all 10 model makers, who shared out the work during a four week period. Industry prop making expert; Steve Gregory found time to share his knowledge and skills of mechanics and construction, in between his busy commitments at Pinewood Studios on the recent Star Wars film. The model was shot live action, with hand operated props and scene shift gags by NFTS Cinematography student Molly Manning-Walker, who also smoked up the interior to give it the necessary level of realism.  

These atmospheric background plates were then locked in the edit before the 2D animation overlays of the Sheba cat and human characters were drawn by NFTS MA Directing Animation student Nelly Michenaud. Nelly created hundreds of hand drawn frames over the following months post shoot. My students were naturally excited to be involved in the live brief and also to work with industry experts, such as Steve, Joe Holman, and Josie Corben who were more than happy to share their expertise. Projects such as these help boost the students already comprehensive portfolios as they complete the course and prepares them to fully enter the world of model and prop making. It’s every Head of Department’s dream to not only deliver their own unique courses but when we get the chance to work on a real brief? Well, that’s why our students choose the NFTS!”

Director Nick Cinelli who has since graduated from the NFTS, said: “Working on this project was amazing and Flare Studio gave me the creative license to run with it. I couldn't be happier with the end product, but more importantly the experience of collaborating with so many lovely people.”

Watch Resistance is Futile below.

Applications for Model Making for Animation are now open for a September 2020 start!

Watch an insightful Masterclass from Head of Model Making, John Lee alongside Model Making graduate Lisa Ott, who is currently working on several projects with the award winning Mackinnon and Saunders, here.

For more info on the Model Making for Animation Diploma course click here.

#modelmakingmonday

18/05/2020

The NFTS has once again been named one of the top five animation schools in the world in this year’s Animation Career Review 2020 School Rankings list. The NFTS Directing Animation MA and our Model Making for Animation Diploma courses are both highlighted, with the School named Number 5 in the world and Number 2 in Europe - a fantastic achievement! These are the eighth annual international rankings for animation by Career Animation Review who considered nearly 200 schools with animation programs from across the globe in preparing this year's rankings.

Robert Bradbrook, Head of NFTS Directing Animation MA said: “NFTS Animation is a unique place that combines art school philosophy with professional state-of-the-art film school facilities. Uniting these worlds has resulted in innovative and creative films that have been celebrated around the world.  Our ethos of collaboration between departments, such as model making, music composition, cinematography and producing means that our students are ready for employment in the animation industry as soon as they graduate. Recent students have gone on to write and direct everything from commercials to animated TV series to feature films such as Shaun the Sheep – Farmageddon. It’s fantastic that the Animation Career Review has recognised this remarkable environment and put us so high in the world’s league tables.”

John Lee, NFTS Head of Model Making for Animation added: “Not only do my students create wonderful models, props and puppets, but they also support the fabulous Directing Animation MA course on some of the School’s stop frame graduate film animations. With the Model Making students on board over the last two years, the quality of models and puppets in the grad films has significantly stepped up a level. The animation directors have very much enjoyed the collaboration and I’m sure that upward trend will continue as we increase our profile with accolades such as the well-deserved rankings from Careeer Animation Review. During my career, I’ve had the pleasure of working on three classic stop frame animations; Fantastic Mr Fox, Frankenweenie and Isle of Dogs so it’s a natural progression for me to share some of the skills I’ve picked up over the years with this new generation of artists emerging from the NFTS.”

After a phenomenal 2019, with a host of graduate films selected for the most prestigious festivals around the world including Annecy and Cannes, 2020 graduate film, O Black Hole written and directed by recent Directing Animation graduate Renee Zhan has been shortlisted for Animafest Zagreb 2020. A record nine NFTS films have been shortlisted for the 2020 BAFTA Student Film Awards in Los Angeles including three animations, two of which were worked on by Model Making graduates. Read the full story here.

NFTS graduate Renee Zhan working on her animation 'O Black Hole' at the School

Applications are now open for our one year Model Making for Animation Diploma:  Apply by 31st May to start in September 2020: nfts.co.uk/modelmaking 

Applications are now open for our two year Directing Animation MA for a January 2021 start: nfts.co.uk/directing-animation 

 

 

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.