Tuesday, 2 October 2012

That episode after Bristol Encounters...

As soon as the fast-ticket collecting machine at Coventry railway station declared my booking confirmation was invalid and that it was near impossible to retrieve my E-ticket before my train departed, I stood there aghast and muttered some ungodly curses (much to the disgust of some nosey old biddy who clearly drives too slowly). What a perfect way to start my pilgrimage to the animation capital of the country. I almost made the decision to drive down to Bristol and began flailing between the platform and the bus stop, looking for somebody to slap me and say, Tom, you are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity. Now just buy another ticket you fucking eejit. Luckily enough it was the plasticine man inside my head who said this. I decided to worry about the additional £50 I forked out after the Encounters Festival and concentrate on getting to the afternoon screenings. Thus began my least favourite train ride ever. 

Bit of blue for the dads; my second Encounters goody bag. 

On arrival, the beauty of Bristol immediately made me forget about the palaver with the ticket. I have been to the Encounters festival before in 2010 (inspiring the beginnings of this blog) and knew my way around. I headed straight for the Watershed to retrieve my pass and hurry to the Aardman Retrospective: Early Years Claymation.

I immediately regretted the photograph choice after receiving my pass.

There were two films from the Early Years that stood out for me (of which I hadn't seen before) because the timing and the flow of the claymation was so beautifully done. They were part of a conversation series that included Down & Out and Early Bird. These were created by David Sproxton and Peter Lord in the late 70s and early 80s before Nick Park joined Aardman and were based on recordings from public places (obviously leading onto the Creature Comfort series). Later on that evening I was privileged to see Aardman In Conversation, where David and Peter talked about how they covered their eyes whilst making these recordings. This was because they didn't want to be influenced by what they saw but rather what they heard to help create their characters; but also because they were incredibly shy whilst going about with a microphone. The video below is of Early Bird (1983) and I just enjoy the pace and humour of the animation with even the smallest of detail that gives the presenter so much more attitude. For example; excuse me, a little frog in the throat there.

Alas, I was unable to find a video clip of Down & Out but I stumbled across another conversational piece called On Probation. The characters are of the same style and capture the behaviour of each individual perfectly. Essentially, what I am trying to put across is the sheer beauty of these early years. Imagine just having a desk or a garden shed with a couple of lamps and a lump of plasticine: that is how a lot of these animations started off as, and I find that incredibly inspiring.

Daniel and myself. The short guy in the middle claims
that he works for Aardman Animations?

I am very proud to present the Encounters official programme. It not only sits presidentially upon my desk but also right here in this exquisitely positioned image. May I attract your attention to the caricature sketch upon the cover? It is none other than Peter Lord's drawing of the iconic Morph accompanied magnificently with its creators signature. This makes me a very happy bunny. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the three heroes of stop motion (Sproxton, Lord and Park) talk about their legacy in front of hundreds of adhering fans, film makers and animators. To see highlights of this event and of the Aardman's involvement in the Bristol Festival follow this link right HERE.

I spoke with Nick Park about motivation and how we all pretty much start off in a bedroom studio (it was at University where Nick began A Grand Day Out) to create that one good animation. At the end of the day, it's down to determination and getting noticed. It could even be just one beautifully animated 'scene' that does it.

To conclude a terrific Aardman themed couple of days, Daniel and I trekked across the vast plains of the Bristol docklands to take a look at the exterior of the Aardman Studios. This was more of a passing fancy with the longing of being inside. We stood in its radiance for a while. Then I rang the bell. And the pearly gates opened....

These fine fellows need no introduction...

Issuing my business cards and DVD promotional packs was something I did a lot more this time, whereas last time I was a little hesitant due to the chosen image on the front of my old business card. It was a frightfully possessed rastafarian toilet attendant, not very welcoming for anybody to behold. So the exchanging of cards was in force, when attending the after party aboard the Under the Stars boat. Many directors, producers, film-makers, animators and the like were here creating such a buzz that reflected the stop motion focal point of the world. It was also an opportunity to assemble the Twitter crew that had been massing over the past six months, giving us the chance to meet and greet fellow animators who were still at University, graduates, freelancers and the like. It was here where I met up with Gareth Hirst, Tim Allen and Drew Roper amongst many others. Even Sam Fell, director of Paranorman, had stopped by for a few drinks. This really was the boat to be on.

Speaking of Paranorman, there was a screening that took place in Bristol especially for the festival goers; and with Sam Fell giving a guest speech on the making of the film, it really was a fantastic way to be introduced to another great stop motion feature film. The room was alive with excited animators. And if the screening itself had been up to scratch (the sound and picture quality was much to be desired) then it could have easily been the best cinema experience I have ever attended. To have the entire cinema packed with enthusiasts is really a once in a lifetime experience. When I went to watch Pirates! I was alone and it was very surreal. I thoroughly enjoyed the film but I had nobody to turn to and say gadzooks what a film! There was only a disgruntled family in the foreground and the cinema attendant (who I believe was sent to check upon my status because I clearly looked like a child abductor). On a lighter note, check out the below!

Nick Park drew this and signed it. I shall
treasure it forever.

This fine piece of rocket stands tall
at approx 1200mm 
I made Gromit at the animation workshop
and I have to say... very proud

The Arnolfini building was home to not only a fine selection of sets and models (the rocket from A Grand Day Out included) but also to a Saturday morning workshop hosted by Aardman lead model maker Jim Parkyn. I went to investigate. The Aardman Kids Animation Workshop welcomed Daniel and myself as we claimed that gatecrashing the younger generation was part of the Animator's survival kit. We are big kids after all.

To top off a great morning I managed to pillage a souvenir; an official sculpting tool from the Aardman studio. I was smitten. And so this brings me very near to the end of my Encounters edition, which has taken a little longer than expected to finish. I shall, of course, tell you the reasons why in another blog entry.

In fact, I shall follow up almost immediately with the next post because it all ties in with my most recent happenings. And due to the rapid pace these current weeks have bequeathed me (adjacent to my absent mind) it would be beneficial for me to jot down anything productive and animation related. Not that I would forget an evening with Barry Purves, drinking tea and eating carrot cake (I shall indulge in the following chapter).

A couple more things to coax you back to the next episode... The Money Tree in FLIP Festival, work experience with Drew Roper, Barney comes to life and a Mortal Kombat animation preview. So thanks for stopping by. You stay classy Great Britain.


  1. Fantastically written up as usual, Mr Grainger!

  2. Thank you Mr Whitehouse! I'm glad people enjoy my writing :)