Monday, June 13, 2011

MIAF Feature: The Batchelor Experience - Fiona Dalwood

(image source: all images seen in this interview were provided by Fiona Dalwood)

As mentioned in our previous post in the lead up to the Melbourne International Animation Festival we have some features on some of the best Australian stop motion animation films at the festival whose names were given to us in our interview with Malcolm Turner a couple of weeks ago.

To kick off our first feature we have Fiona Dalwood talking about her film The Batchelor Experience (which sounds hilarious!)

The Batchelor Experience screens on opening night at the festival which is Sunday 19th June at 6.30pm as part of the Best of the Next Program #4: Australian.

Can you tell us a little about the story of The Batchelor Experience and some of the concepts and themes within the film?

The film is about an exclusive restaurant-cum-gentlemen’s club in the heart of the city where patrons can be free to behave like a complete slob. The dress code is “No shoes, no ties, no pants” and that pretty much sums it up – the full blokey bachelor pad experience.

The idea came to me from time spent working in a very corporate environment, surrounded largely by middle-aged family men. I’d try and imagine what freedoms were left to them between the lives they lived at work and the lives they shared with their families at home. They’d disappear at lunchtime and saunter back into the office looking a lot more relaxed.

To me the film is a quick and cheeky look at the lifestyle we’re setting ourselves up for if we continue to allow our every movement and behavior to be regulated in the way that it is now. Community standards are becoming so uptight that I suspect taking part in even the most basic pleasures in life (such as drinking beer in your undies) will become underground privileges in the near future. In a world where we’re pressured to be amateur chefs each night or to pluck every hair on our bodies I wanted to explore how it might look if we put a price on something as simple as slobbing out.

Can you tell us a little about what inspired the look of the film? What made you decide to use stop motion animation instead of other animation techniques?

The Batchelor Experience shows us two sides to the same character, so I was looking for a quick and dirty way to convey the split between Albert the Suit and Dirty Bert the slob.

I limited my colour palette to two distinct moods, so the film starts with washed out greenish-grey hues ramps up to pulsing reds as Bert loses his inhibitions. It’s a very condensed nod to films like Heathers where our hero starts out inoffensively pastel and ends up a saturated monster. It was a fantastic challenge to set myself in terms of stop motion, particularly working with plasticene, because the process of making the puppets and sets is so much fun that the temptation is there to use every colour in the box.

Whilst my hand-drawn animatic was quite expressive in itself, I realized that two minutes isn’t a lot of time to work with and wanted to really make Bert come to life – this is where stop motion really shines. It has a magical ability to draw you in instantly and people are quite forgiving of ‘mistakes’. In fact, the title is a case in point – by the time I realised the typo I’d already made the main sign and shot the opening sequence, so I just had to roll with it. For me there was the added bonus of spending many hours painstakingly sculpting every tiny detail of the set and props – I find that kind of intricate crafting to be a very zen activity.

Could you talk a little on the process of developing the main characters and how they came to the final result on screen? Did you have many different prototypes, how did you make them?

My characters started out as cartoon sketches, and there wasn’t a lot of difference between those first drawings and what you see on film. I think in part that’s because I was working to such a tight deadline that I didn’t have a chance to muck around, but also because I was pretty happy with the initial look. As this was a comedy I wanted my puppets to keep that same level of cartoonishness, so built up the main shapes with very heavy lines and lots of exaggeration.

As this was my first stop-motion film and my first claymation, it was very much a case of learning as I went. I had some great teachers on hand for advice on how to construct the armatures and pretty much relied on luck to get me through the filming process – as it turns out the puppets I made are quite robust and still hanging out on my mantelpiece. I’m quite proud of my time-saving decision to give Bert a detachable head that could fit onto both bodies!

Are there any future projects you can tell us about - stop motion or otherwise?

I do work fulltime for The Man, which can be challenging for all artists, but I truly feel like I’m just at the beginning of something incredible and have found my ‘thing’. Currently I’m working on a small series of short 2d skits that I hope to string together into a web series. There are some freelance projects on the go but what I’m really excited about is the project I’m working on with AJR Traill (the voice of Bert). We’re in pre-production on “s.kEmo” a serial about – you guessed it, an emo Eskimo. I’ve also got some larger, more ambitious ideas up my sleeve for when I get some of that elusive free time. Next month sees the world premiere screening of my other 2d animated short “The Comeback” at the Revelation film festival in Perth. I’ll be heading over for the screening on the 19th of July, so if you’re heading that way be sure to say hi!

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