At the beginning of 2010 I completed my first funded short animation - Battenburg under the Digicult development initiative. The film has found success at both the Scottish BAFTA New Talent Awards and most recently, the Jim Poole Awards. This week it will also be premiering at the Edinburgh International Film Festival under the Mclaren2 animation program. Each following success for the film was less expected than the previous and greatly appreciated. I only hope more are to come.

The experience of working on a small budget film of this nature has given me rather a better idea of what helps a director or film maker produce something ‘successful’. While I was squirreled away in my parents’ shed filming Battenberg, I paid close attention to other films with similar production time-scales and budgets. Further research revealed many film makers working with similar parameters whilst creating – unhindered by such constraints – fantastic pieces of story telling. Initially I thought of these parameters as restricting, however since finishing the film I have come to recognise that each and every hurdle which forced me to jump higher and higher to finish the film within budget and on time was integral to its success.

What I have realised is that too much time and money can spoil a director by letting them go wild in the sweetie shop and rotting their little creative teeth away. Budgetary restraints and a feverish desperation to have my film selected for funding, inadvertantly set the boundaries that helped Battenberg retain a consistent visual aesthetic and production philosphy which I now believe is key to a films’ visual success when time and money are not a liberty. By sourcing the majority of the props from found, second-hand objects, the set and puppet build cost very little. I found myself unhappy with the objects I contrived for the set and puppets, preferring the freedom of finding something just right and not having to sacrifice time or money in the process. The entire films visual essence was subsequently displayed as a found object. This in turn let me very quickly rearange sets and test out scenes all in the same two metre squared set. If somthing didnt work out as I had hoped, or fit the script, it was easily rearranged or manipulated to suit, allowing for greater scope for improvisation. These ideals then seeped into the the technical equipment, resulting in a highley succesful camera dolly manufactured from one of my childhood rollerskates, which gave the camera movements a special touch.

This was the ingenuity bred by my parameters, but it has shown me how setting rules for the tools you use in animation can help the universe you create become more believable. Computer film makers such as David O’Reilly and Nina Paley, creator of feature animation Sita Sings The Blues, have also shown this. Sita Sings The Blues’ 1:21 minutes was animated by one person over 3 years. The independent spirit of the project is what I believe nurtured its ingenious and elegant story telling. Similarly, David Oriely has built his success on his restrained use of 3d animation, but this is not solely an economy of style, but rather an awareness of the bare essentials of story telling and what animation really is: the potential that exists in two sequential but shrewdly looped frames. Similar to commercially successful televised animation series such as Dragon Ball Z. This awareness of how simple, pared-down aesthetics can tell a captivating and emotional story has allowed many animators to move beyond what you would expect, in terms of the length and quality of films made by an individual. As a result, right now, my heros are the lone animators and film makers who find ways to make work with very little – the ingenuity of finding a way to create something bigger than themselves.


The mechanical shark used in Jaws kept breaking down and they were only able to utilise it in a small amount of shots.

‘Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged’
Andrea del Sarto, Robert Browning

Other heroes include:

Bruce BickfordMonster Road, Prometheus’ Garden.

Adam ElliotMary & Max, Harvie Krumpet.

During the EIFF I will be part of an animation panel chaired by Melanie Coombes – the producer of Harvey Krumpet and Mary and Max – which should provide great ideas and insights into the film making process, I hope some of you can join us for the discussion.

Red or Dead: Creative Choices in Short Filmmaking
Sunday 20th June
Playhouse Suite, Novotel Hotel, 80 Lauriston Place
14:00 -14:45

Battenberg Screening times at EIFF

Thursday 17 June 11:30 Filmhouse 3 (Press & Industry Screening:McLaren Animation 2)
Friday 18 June 18:30 Filmhouse 3 (Public Screening: McLaren Animation 2)
Sunday 20 June 11:45 Filmhouse 3 (Public Screening: McLaren Animation 2)
Monday 21 June 13:30 Filmhouse 2 (Public Screening: Digicult Shorts)