August 24th, 2012

Featured Film: Simon Cottee

Published in RAW Features

 
“When I was making The Wedding, I had no vision beyond getting it done, and now that it has been finished I've had some incredible opportunities. My university sent me to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival to screen in the Short Film Corner. Now, if you ever need some motivation for your film dreams, go to Cannes and walk that red carpet in a tuxedo, oh boy. Directly after that, I was sent to Israel of all places for the Tel-Aviv International Student Film Festival, where I got to meet some amazing international filmmakers, student and professional. I also snuck into Palestine for a few days, and I think that was one of those moments of crossing the border and thinking, “This is all because of my dumb film about a kid on a boat?”
 

We're so used to seeing really melancholy stories told in live action. Can you tell me a bit about your decision to tell -- let's face it -- terribly sad stories by way of animation?

 
It's really interesting to me the different viewer reactions to this film. I've had screenings where the audience is laughing and cheering and then audiences that are straight-faced and you can almost hear them saying "Oh, the poor thing.” I think that says a lot for the medium. Because the style is very simple and the characters almost templates, people can inject themselves into the work a lot easier. But then, on the other hand, you get people who perceive animation as "cartoons for kids" and they probably won't be particularly moved by it. It's so much easier to charm people with animation. If this film was made using live action, I would probably find it obnoxious and super annoying to watch.
 

How did you first get your start as a filmmaker? 

 
My father is a draftsman and when I was younger (pre-CAD), I would get all his discarded gigantic sheets of paper, so I would just draw and draw. I realized I wanted to become an animator after seeing Toy Story and announcing on the drive home it was my new career. 
 
Professionally, I moved to Brisbane from Canberra with the intention of breaking into the games industry doing 3D animation. After a very unsuccessful year that culminated with losing a horrible game testing job by breaking my hand (thank god!), I was accepted into the Queensland College of Art where I fell back in love with 2D Animation, something I did as a hobby growing up. After graduating last year (2011), I have since had a stint with freelance and am now working on my second short animated film The Duck that was funded through kickstarter.com.
 

As an animator, what is it about putting illustrations into motion that you find most exciting?

 
For me, the magic of images in motion is just as strong as ever. Everytime I animate a scene, I always get that little thrill of seeing life and movement emerge out of nothing. There is also something about the process of 2D frame by frame animation that puts your mind into a really beautiful almost meditative place. That being said, it's also an incredibly time-consuming and brutal process and I think you have to be a bit of a sadist.
 

From where do you draw inspiration for your work?

Mainly from live action films actually. Animation lives in a bit of a bubble and in the commercial feature market, it's basically great Pixar films, a handful of others, then a lot of junk. They're all sadly 3D, I should also mention. Though the short film scene is incredibly fresh and exciting for all animation. Ao as far as animation inspiration, it's mainly from that scene -- animators like Michael Dudok de Wit and from great student films from animation schools like Gobelins, CalArts and the Animation Workshop. And of course, all the other stuff like books, fine art, music and nature.
 

If there was one message or sentiment you are constantly aiming to achieve through your work, what would you say that was? 

 
Honesty. I think if a work isn't manipulative or flippant and made with total honesty, it's going to be valuable, regardless of content. If a project has that core, it will have a heart and a life of its own. A lot of animators, especially students set out to make something that looks awesome, but tend to forget about the film’s core. If you just focus on aesthetic, it becomes hollow. A good trick is to just get a great score and that does like, 60% of the work for you.
 

What's the best piece of advice you've received concerning the film industry and your career in film?

 
As the great body builder Ronnie Coleman once said, "Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weights."
 
Follow Simon Cottee on his blog: www.simoncottee.com
 
Cottee's short animated film "The Wedding" will be screening at RAW:Brisbane presents RADIATE Wednesday, August 29th at Oh Hello! You do not want to miss it. For a short taste, watch this kickstarter clip for Cottee's other short "The Duck".