Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview: MaricorMaricar

Some of the many characters made by Maricor and Maricar for 'Big Green Idea' stop motion
(image source: provided by MaricorMaricar)
I was so excited when Maricor and Maricar were interested in answering some questions for The Creative Haven blog as we are huge fans of their work. They are 2 super talented sisters from Sydney currently living in the UK  who have created animations for clients such as Architecture in Helsinki, Murder by Death, ABC's Playschool, SBS and the British Council Australia.

I really didn't know how to cut down this interview and incorporate all that I wanted - so I didn't cut anything and now it's all here for your reading pleasure!  Maricor and Maricar have kindly provided us an insight into their work, inspirations, background and some awesome process images from their stop motion animation work for 'Big Green Idea'.

Before we begin though here is a link to their full animation catalogue from their website as I couldn't post up everything!

Tell us a little about yourselves, your arts/design background and how you came to the decision to work together. 

I've always felt a little shy when explaining our art and design background. We were never those kids that grew up drawing from a precocious age instead Maricor and I grew up reading a lot. We'd stay up all hours (it's probably why we need glasses) and go through piles of books. The stories we read fed our imagination and were ultimately how we came to discover a profession called 'design'. Our high school art teacher introduced us to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman graphic novels. We were instantly drawn to the mythological and at times terrifying stories but also equally drawn to the rich and textured covers that Dave McKean created for the series. I think this was when we first decided that we wanted to be one of those people that interpreted stories and that's how we came to pursue design.

Artwork by Dave McKean for the Sandman Graphic Novel 'Worlds End'
(image source: Fantasy Fiction Website)
We've always expected to one day work together. I think having studied together and lived together our whole lives it seemed inevitable! We started out working for different companies but finally teamed up again while at Mathematics (studio in Sydney). It was a great opportunity for us to test how we'd work together professionally. At the beginning of last year we found ourselves wanting to focus more on hand crafted design and animation so we branched out on our own and established MaricorMaricar.

When did you first discover stop motion animation?

Our university lecturers screened some work by the Brothers Quay which blew us away. We'd grown up watching shows like Pingu and The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town but this was the first time we'd seen a stop motion animation that was dark and for adults.

Image still from Brothers Quay film Street of Crocodiles 1986
(Image source: Optimistic Underground blog) 

Do you have any particular favourite stop motion works or other artists that inspire you?

We're constantly amazed by Sean Pecknold, Pes Films and Jamie Caliri's stop motion masterpieces and would love to be able to work with them.

Image still from Dragon commercial for United Airlines animated by Jamie Caliri
(Image source:Bryan Beus)

What mediums do you like to work with the most to create your sets etc?

We've experimented with paper, clay and miniature landscaping materials used commonly for train sets. I think the most fun was working with the fake grass, afterwards I wanted to cover everything in it. 

Image still from MaricorMaricar's stop motion animation Blerg for  IDN Magazine's 100th Issue
(image source: MaricorMaricar)

Image still from MaricorMaricar's stop motion animation 'If all the World were Paper' for ABC's Playschool
(image source: MaricorMaricar)
How do you share the work load when working on an animation together? Do you each have particular skills areas that you focus on or can you both multitask?! (e.g crafting/set building, editing, shooting)

During the building and shooting stage we share the tasks equally which means we can easily swap duties when one of us needs a break (usually the person animating the props). When we're setting up a shot though we do tend to divide the tasks. Maricor understands the animation program we use more than I so she'll set up the program and the edit and also plan out the frame numbers, and since I have more experience using cameras I'll set up the framing, lighting and camera.

What has been your favourite stop motion piece that you have worked on?

My favourite so far would have to be our latest animation “Big Green Idea” for the British Council, Australia. With each animation we create we try to expand on our skills so for this one we added more rigging and camera operating techniques. It was perhaps a bit ambitious for us to add shots involving camera tracking and focus pulling with just the two of us on set and with a two week turnaround but we're really pleased with how the animation turned out. Next animation though we'd love to work with a DOP.

Can you talk a little on the processes used and experience of making this stop motion animation? (How long did it take? did you use storyboards or sketches to plan it out, camera type)

The following images including the above are process images from 'Big Green Idea' stop motion animation
(Image Source: provided by Maricor and Maricar)

With Big Green Idea British Council Australia worked with their communications agency Republic of Everyone to write up an initial script which we then interpreted, fleshing out character designs and scenes. When we start an animation we go through as much pre-production as we can, Maricor usually takes care of sketching out the storyboards and creating test animatics while I start on designing the characters and the style frames.

We've had mixed experiences with animatics with our clients – with some expecting more refined animations and character movements. These animatics can vary from moving storyboards (very basic) to more detailed animatics with camera movements and animated characters for timings. Ideally we would want to spend more time refining the animatic to get specific frame numbers for everything that will be in shot before we start shooting. This is because changes are very to difficult to execute when you start shooting, it's not like a digital animation where you can go back into a scene and change/add/delete an element and then re-render.

Style frames are also usually created digitally, so before we cut it all out of paper or sew them up we'll sketch them out, colourise and texture them in photoshop to simulate what the final props will look like. Once we receive sign off on the style frames and animatic we then go full tilt both building the props and characters.

When the British Council first approached us asking if we would like to create a paper animation we initially planned to use a multi-plane set-up but the more we worked on the script a 3 dimensional technique using upright props that could be animated like puppets seemed more appropriate. It was still touch and go however whether we could achieve this technique in the time we had but I'm very glad we stuck to it. It definitely helped that we had just worked on a project creating paper props for a series of stop motion TVCs produced by the Jungle Boys and had seen how their crew set up rigging for the props and planned out camera moves, it inspired us to try out an improvised dolly and be more adventurous with the props. Our set up was a little DIY, we used a Canon 7D mounted variously onto a 'magic arm' mount or on a box (to slide on a table as an improvised dolly), one dedo light and an ikea floor lap made up our lighting kit and we used a hinged desk lamp as a miniature crane to suspend props from. The software we used were Photoshop, Dragon Stop Motion and AfterEffects.

From preproduction to post production we had 2 weeks but we ended up cramming about 4 weeks work by working around the clock. We realise now that was an insane deadline especially since it was just the two of us involved so we wouldn't recommend doing that again.

Do you think there is a resurgence in stop motion animation in the recent years?

I think digital photography has made stop motion a lot more accessible. Also the current trend in hand crafted design works well with stop motion animation.

Do you prefer working on collaborations with other artists/clients or do you prefer creating from ideas of your own?

I thought my answer would be a definite yes, we love working on collaborations but looking back a lot of our projects we've created with just the two of us. We don't work the usual 9-5 and tend to hole ourselves up when we're working on a project. Also we're so used to working together that we don't often fully verbalise what we're thinking about a certain direction or idea (maybe it's ESP!) so I think the combination of all those things make it tricky to collaborate. I'd like to come out of my creative shell more though and have found when we work with other people it has always resulted in exciting projects so we're definitely open and keen to collaborate.

Last year you guys were one of the 5 winners of the Realise your Dream British Council Awards which must have been very exciting! What are the dreams and future plans for Maricor/Maricar?

Winning Realise Your Dream has been amazing for us. We're currently in the UK on the trip made possible by the award and are looking forward to meeting with directors and studios while here. We also recently signed on with an illustration agency here called Handsome Frank so this year is already off to a great start. We're looking forward to building up MaricorMaricar's portfolio of work and developing our embroidered artworks and animation craft.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

For all you Fans of Stop Motion Animation

For all you folks who like to use Facebook instead of Google Reader (or whatever means you use to follow your blogs!) we have created a fan page here or click on the image on the righthand side of the screen!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Inspiration: The White Stripes - Fell in Love with a Girl Video Clip

This weeks inspiration is dedicated to a band I love who has finally called it a day. Of course it is also dedicated to LEGO stop motion animation.  I didn't realise there was such a huge movement for this but have just discovered this webpage Brick Films which is entirely about LEGO stop motion animation and has it's own forum, tutorials and shop! 

Anyway back to The White Stripes and their video clip 'Fell in Love with a Girl' it's an oldie but a goodie - I hadn't watched this in ages and it is amazing! Directed by Michel Gondry who also did the film The Science of Sleep which also features alot of stop motion animation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interview: Malcolm Turner & Helen Gibbins - Melbourne International Animation Festival

(image source: MIAF)

In just over a month (19th - 26th June) the annual Melbourne International Animation Festival will be held at ACMI. To coincide with the upcoming festival, we wrote to Malcolm Turner the Executive Dicrector and Helen Gibbins the Festival Manager to have a chat to them about the history of the festival, their thoughts on stop motion animation and the Australian names to look out for when the festival starts. 

This is an awesome festival and there are so many things on offer in the program this year (especially for you stop motion fans). To buy tickets you can either go to ACMI Online or to their box office in the city at Federation squre.

Now for the interview!

Can you give us a bit of background information on how MIAF started?

In 1999, 2 Melbourne animators (Nag Vladermersky and Susi Allender) had completed a short animated film called Ashputtle Or The Mother's Ghost. They toured with this film and were amazed to find animation festivals existed in every corner of the world except here. Meanwhile, in New Zealand Malcolm Turner had been running arts festivals and theatre companies and other arts events and was becoming increasingly interested in animation, including bullshitting his way into a job programming animation for a the New Zealand Film Festival (just one of many great leaps of faith to pay off for visionary NZFF Director, Bill Gosden). All three began communicating about Ashputtle and in no time had formed a plan to unite in Melbourne, set up a festival and live happily ever after. Two outta three ain't bad.

What does MIAF11 have on offer this year in regards to stop motion animation? Is there a strong presence?

Stop motion is an interesting term. There's certainly plenty of classic/traditional puppet animation spread right throughout the program. Probably the most specific answer I can give is that this year's technique focus is "Cut-Outs". There will be an entire program devoted entirely to cut-out animation both contemporary (which is in competition) and classic, dating back to some early McLaren work from the 1940's (the print of which arrived this very afternoon). MIAF exists to present the notion of animation as a diverse artform (both words carrying equal importance). In part, this means reinforcing the fact that most animation is not, in fact, in CG but is still to one extent or another truely handmade, even if computers are called upon to help with the drudge work. This means that there is always a hell of a lot of stop motion animation in the festival line-up - always has been, always will be. So long as people keep makin' em, we'll keep showin' em.

Have you noticed an increase or a resurgence in stop motion animation in recent years through your work with the festival?

Yes and no. I think there is AT LEAST as much stop motion around as ever there was and in many ways computers have made some fringe elements of the workload easier and, of course, have great boosted distribution opportunities and in turn that has made more people want to give it a go. But I think there is a decrease in the perception of most people about how much stop motion animation is out there. The roll out of main stream animation (be it features, commercial applications, gaming, etc) would probably present a false impression to someone who only looked to the mainstream for their view of where animation trends are heading. The one possible exception to that rule MIGHT be TV ads, there's a surprising number of stop motion ads out there but how the ratio of stop mo to CG runs I don't know.

Are there any stand out Australian entries in stop motion you can mention?

Yep. ZERO (Christopher Kezelos, David Cox), GRAVITY (Darcy Prendergast), THE BATCHELOR EXPERIENCE (Fiona Dalwood), REMEMBERING BONEGILLA (David Pennay), BLOWN AWAY (Seamus Spilsbury), AWW JEEZ (Michael Greaney). Interestingly, there was probably just about as many stop motion submitted for the student section as submitted for open competition.

Why do you think audiences still connect with animation and in particular stopmotion animation?

Geez, where do you want me to start? It is WAAAAAY more likely to have a soulful componant to it, they are real objects. There is a sense of understanding how it is made, a sense the audience can appreciate the wonder. There is a stronger chance that it will feel like a personal statement and will be a more individual looking and feeling work. They tend to lack polish and sheen (the non-charlie variety.... whatever happened to that dude anyway, he was big news this time last week) which makes them easier to connect with on a more personal and instinctive level. None of these are universal truths (trust me, there is no shortage of shitty, souless stop mo out there) but as a generality I think they're undeniable elements of the auteur animation landscape and I just never see that changing, some people just really want to make films using those tools and while people are making them people will watch them and seek out the best ones.

Big thanks to Malcolm and Helen for answering our questions. We are hoping to have more on the festival when it hits Melbourne in June including reviews and hopefully some chats to the local animators as well if we are lucky!

Stay tuned...