Take a look at dark comedy The Eagleman Stag and read how its animator Michael Please literally broke in to the industry, and his advice to other aspiring animators.
Originally published in August 2011
Describe your BAFTA journey; did your win open up other opportunities?
I have to admit, the idea that The Eagleman Stag was eligible, let alone under consideration for a nomination was completely off my radar until I received a text on the morning the nominations were announced from fellow nominee David Prosser, saying ‘see you at the BAFTAs!’ Since then it’s been an interesting ride. Lots of opportunities have come up and I’m sure the really exciting projects I’m working on at the moment (including developing a feature with Warp Films & Film 4 and currently mid-production on a commercial short for Nike) are direct results of the BAFTA incident.
What first inspired you to get into the craft of animation?
It’s the best form of art, obviously. Salvador Dali said so and I agree with him. Being able to control every pixel of every frame in a film, you can do anything. If you can imagine it, it can be animated. Animation was just something I naturally gravitated towards. I found it encompassed a lot of what would otherwise be disparate artistic practices; photography, performance, music, sculpting, design and most importantly writing. It was a way for me to package all these things that I loved into one succinct parcel. It’s like a Frankenstein’s monster of every other art form.
How did you first break into the film industry?
I quite literally did break in. I didn’t know anyone working in the animation industry so while I was still at college I snuck into a short film screening of a director I really liked, Stuart Hilton, and then got carried along to an after party where I put a showreel into his bag. A couple of weeks later I got a call from his production company, who weren’t quite sure how they’d got my reel, but liked what they saw and eventually signed me up as a director. Crime totally pays.
Which professional figure in your field do you find the most inspiring?
Well, it’s an exciting industry. I think it’s THE most exciting industry. There are just so many applications for animation, so many forms, places and platforms for it to take. And subsequently it’s chock-a-block with very inspiring & talented people. I guess the people who inspire me most are my peers, rather than some shining idol, because we’re all going through it together; David Prosser, the live action directing duo Daniels, David Oreilly, Julia Pott. It’s hard to pin that badge to any one person, everyone has something awesome they’ve got going for them, the people I know and all the people I don’t.
If you hadn’t managed to break into professional animation for film, what was your plan B?
I don’t think I had one. I would have simply ceased to exist.
Is there any particular film or television programme you wish you could have worked on?
At the moment there’s an animation series called Adventure Time by Pendleton Ward. It’s possibly the most ridiculous, playful, obscene, surreal yet strangely naturalistic series ever made. I haven’t seen anything that quite captures that uninhibited rule-free strangeness of childhood in a way that Adventure Time does. Failing being able to work on that, I’d settle for Gremlins.
What single piece of advice would you give to a young person trying to get themselves noticed?
Well, I think being represented by a production studio doesn’t guarantee anything, and lots of graduates wrongly seem to make that their goal. I think the trick is just not to stop making work, regardless of resources. It’s tough, but I really think if you put in the hours and enthusiasm you literally can’t fail.
How important is 'knowing people'? Is raw talent enough?
I think if you’re good and determined, and assuming you can get people to see your work somehow, then eventually things will happen. But sadly most people will hire dependant on who they already know rather than who might be best for the job. I didn’t know anyone when I started, but had to work at it until I did. It’s tempting to contact people remotely because it’s easier on your pride, but emails are very ignorable and there’s no substitute for seeing someone’s face. No amount of cold calling ever got me anywhere and it was only meeting people in person that made a difference.
How do you think animation technology will develop over the next few years?
Well, it’s at a pretty good place at the moment, people are managing to do far, far more with far, far less. Independent animated features are giving the larger studios a real run for their money. I’m increasingly awed by what CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) can do, however my feeling is that the more perfected that technique gets the more people will lose interest and it will cease to be impressive. It somehow feels too easy. Personally I’m far more impressed when I can see some practical effort has gone into physically making something. For me that’s a much more exciting spectacle. The most exciting thing developing at the moment I think is 3D printing, that’s what I’m keeping my eye on.