My Dad

Shorts Nominees 2015 | My Dad

Marcus Armitage is a director, writer and now BAFTA nominee thanks to his film My Dad a beautiful hand drawn animated commentary on life in contemporary Britain.  And all before he’s hit a quarter of a century. We caught up with Marcus on the week of the Awards to find out how he was getting along…

Marcus, in under a week’s time you’ll be walking the red carpet of the biggest night in British Film – how does it feel?

It’s going to be strange; I’ve gone from studying my whole life so far to walking onto a red carpet, I can’t believe it.

It is something I have always aimed towards with every film that I have made, and am so excited to have been nominated. I feel very honored that a film about such a current issue as inherited racism has been put up for this huge award. It means a great deal to me and has confirmed that I need to keep making films.

You’re nominated for your animation called My Dad, could you sum it up in a couple of lines? And talk us through your inspiration for the piece.

My Dad, is a hand drawn film about how a boy, living in a multicultural melting pot such as London, is affected by inherited judgments and opinions that are passed down from his dad. It looks at how these ideas tear away at his world of opportunity and leave him in a closed off city.

So the film started life as a reflection of my move from Yorkshire to London, moving to somewhere that had a huge diversity of life but in such a small space. Everyone living on top of each other and somehow, having to get a long.

I was interested in why racism existed and where this fear of the ‘other’ comes from. From then the research snowballed, eventually coming to inherited racism in children.

This became the key theme of my film, looking at how a father figure while also being a good and normal dad can also be affecting their child’s life.

Can you talk us through the steps you’ve taken to get to this point. Did you go to art school, what other films have you made? Did you have a mentor?

I became interested in painting and drawing during my A-levels and did my A-levels in Art, English and Photography (and Geography). I continued into a foundation degree in art at the Leeds College of Art and Design. There I got interested in animation and studied for my BA at UCA Farnham and then went straight into my MA at the Royal College of Art! I made this film as my graduation project at the RCA.

I have made a film every year since starting university, and they are all up online for anyone to see! My first year RCA film, Over Dinner is a paint on glass short about a family’s last dinner together before their son leaves to join the army. The Laughing Policeman was made at Farnham, a story about a policeman caught between the clash of cultures at day and night at British seaside towns.

I have been lucky to have great tutors along the way, Lesley Adams at UCA Farnham who has pushed me to try and better myself with every film, Tim Webb at the RCA who helped me form the narrative to My Dad and my drawing tutor Martin Morris who taught me so much about drawing in such a short amount of time.

Your animation style is so beautiful to watch – how did you come up with it? And can you describe in laymans terms how you created your film  - the steps you took, the programmes you used etc.

When beginning this film I knew I wanted something intense and vibrant, to really get across the feeling of an alive and multicultural space. I tried lots of things paint, pencils but oil pastels had such great colour and were incredibly fast to use. From there I just tried to enjoy myself, creating these clashes of colours you see in the film.

At the RCA I really started to enjoy animating, instead of animating in the usual way of creating keyframes, I used the straight ahead technique, where you start at the beginning and keep drawing the next frame until you get to the end of the shot. This allowed me to make flowing and expressive animation and keep the process enjoyable for myself as well.

This film for me was as much experimentation with colour and drawing as it was the narrative. I left behind lots of normal routines such as animatics and storyboards and went straight into the animation, editing as I went along, which meant the film would change every week until the very final edit. So in all it was an eye opening and challenging piece to make but something I had fun in making.

In terms of programs I made the whole film digitally first. I animated into TVPaint, a 2D animation software which is great and very fast to use. With those simple shapes and lines I projected it onto paper where I traced with the oil pastels. I did it in this way as it would have been impossible to animate straight with the pastels as you cannot see through them once they are on the paper and they smudge very easily so had to be very careful with each frame, of which there are thousands!

The scenes where the father’s world tears into the child’s, I physically tore the frames. I wanted the viewer to see the harsh edges and the smudges and fingerprints so it would become a physical manifestation of inherited racism. This was quite a tricky process as I was tearing the original frames and a mistake would mean I would have to draw it again!

I edited the whole film in Adobe Premiere taking those animated sequences and rearranging them until it was going in the direction I wanted. Showing it to classmates and tutors as often as possible to gauge reactions and get feedback.

Looking back on the project now – is there anything you’d do differently in how you went about creating the film? In terms of the budgets – was there anything that surprised you and cost more or less than you thought it would?

For me, the way I made this film was a completely new experience; I was animating differently and enjoying myself at the same time, which was new. I didn’t leave myself much time to make the film as for half of the year I was working on a different film, which I decided to scrap. This was probably the best decision I have made so far! But it may have been a different film if I had had more time, so I’m happy that it hit me in the face when it did to be honest.

I was surprised at the cost of oil pastels! I needed a lot of pink, yellow and blue so had to buy individually. Not only that, but only the Daler Rowney pink was vibrant enough, so I had to buy up their supplies, which were hard to come by. However I do now have a surplus of pink and blue so my next project will have to be in those colours only.

Did you have any help and if so how did you pull your team together?

As it was my graduation film, part of the course at the RCA is that some of the first years help you out for 2 or 3 weeks. So I had the help of Jonathan Long who did the tearing scene at the end of the film. And Diana Gradinaru who helped me with some of the oil pastel art working. And I also had the help of Noriko Isihibe who joined me from my old university UCA Farnham to do some animation on the digital side.

Special thanks goes to my girlfriend L.J. Stacey who did the sound design for this project and fed me when I was staying up all night relentlessly colouring those oil pastel drawings!

It was a new experience to work with a voice actor, but was great fun and Divian Ladwa was perfect for the role.

In total how much did it cost to make and how did you fund it?

There were a number of scholarships and prizes to apply for at the RCA and I was lucky enough to get the Nat Cohen Scholarship, which brought my starting budget of £500 to £2500.

Once finished - how did you promote your film? Did you publish it online and hope lots of people watched it? Or did you hold it back and submit it for select festivals?

For My Dad I have kept it offline and submitted to lots of festivals, where I won Best British Short Film at the London International Animation Festival very recently! I really enjoy going to festivals and gauging audiences’ reactions to my film.

I wanted the end of the film to silence the crowd and I think it achieves that. It’s a definite change in tone if it comes after a comedy, which is always fun to see.

What’s your plan for awards night – or you planning on using it for networking or just getting drunk and dancing on tables?!

I’m sure it depends on the result of the night! But I’m planning to have a great time, soak up the atmosphere and hope that I haven’t reached my peak!

And finally – what’s next for you?

That is a very big unknown for me. I only finished studying in June so am finding my way in the professional world. But I want to make a new film soon, I have lots of ideas and starting points and it’s just a matter of following them up and trying to get some funding.

My ultimate goal has always been to make a feature length animation and I currently have a few ideas brewing, and I am going to keep working hard until I get there. And hopefully be back for a BAFTA in the feature film section.