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Interview with Andy Biddle and Noah Harris, Directors of Stop Motion Short Film "Salvation"

Noah Harris and Andy Biddle take us on a breathtaking journey through time and space to explore the story of man and human nature, every facet of which they exemplify in collected detritus – knick-knacks and other odd artifacts – each item personifying a different aspect of humanity – from our most tragic flaws to our greatest achievements – in their new short film, Salvation.

The origin for Salvation – the compilation of a series of eight interconnected films, created by Andy and Noah – began with a collaboration between the animation production company Blinkink and the record label Village Green Recordings to create a series of films featuring various songs from Village Green’s 2017 roster – a project which was supported by and premiered on Random Acts. Each film is short, ranging from 22 to 33 seconds long, and explores a chapter in the overall narrative arc of a poignantly poetic summation of humanity’s most spectacular nadirs and highpoints. It begins in the first film, “Element,” with the origins of life and eventually follows humankind down into its twisty history. A path which leads to mankind’s religious devotion, human handiwork and industrialization, ultimate corruption and eventual downfall, finally ending with a film entitled “Lazarus,” exemplifying redemption, rebirth, and eternity.

Noah and Andy’s method for making these films was quite an organic process: Noah, co-director of the films, began the project with defining eight separate categories, each of which covered one chapter in the overall narrative, and for which the titles for the films illustrate: “Element,” “Life,” “Sentience,” “Devotion,” “Industry,” “Decadence,” “Oblivion,” and “Lazarus.” From there, Andy – co-director and lead animator on the films – and Noah made many visits to car boot sales and flea markets around London in search of odd objects that generally go unnoticed or are otherwise undervalued that they felt embodied a certain part of each theme. Each of these objects – some of which were painted gold or otherwise altered – were then selected to appear in the film with whose theme they most appropriately fit. Each object was then animated entirely in-camera – primarily by Andy, but there’s some additional animation that’s the work of animator Luke George.

The films are beautiful and sublime, highlighting objects and subject matter that are rarely implemented in stop motion films. You can go watch the full series here, the compilation film – Salvationhere, or you can go watch each of the films individually by clicking on the following links for the corresponding films: #1 Element, #2 Life, #3 Sentience, #4 Devotion, #5 Industry, #6 Decadence, #7 Oblivion, #8 Lazarus. You can also see the making-of video here.

Thanks to Noah and Andy, who I recently had the chance to interview about the creative process on Salvation, in which we went over challenges they met along the way, creative partnership versus a singular creative vision, advice to young creatives, as well as many many more topics. You can read our full interview below.

A.H. Uriah: Each of the eight films in the Salvation series explores one major concept in the story of man and the cycle of life, as are described by the titles of each film: “element,” “life,” “sentience,” “devotion,” “industry,” “decadence,” “oblivion,” and, lastly, “Lazarus.” From both an artistic and creative standpoint, what was the evolution of the film itself – from original conception to final product? What choices did you make along the way that shaped the final film, transforming it from the film you originally envisioned?

Noah Harris: The whole idea behind the project was that it would be an organic and evolutionary process. The narratives within each film were loosely planned, but were driven by the objects we found…

I work a lot in advertising, where everything is meticulously planned prior to shooting… and this was an opportunity to allow a project to evolve in a more explorative way. Andy and I would go to a car boot sale with some words and concepts – Sentience, Oblivion etc… and just try and find amazing objects that related to those words… From the outset the plan was that the car boot sales had to lead the narratives… We would work with what we found… Obviously as the project progressed we started to choose sets of objects and create narratives… We could start to see how certain objects would become other objects… what colours we would use, and how we could shoot them…

Overall, for me, film-making is a very collaborative process. As more people get involved, they bring their skills, knowledge and ideas and throw them in the melting pot. There is always a creative evolution underway.

Andy Biddle: These films were really born from a music video I worked on alongside Noah Harris (Peppermint by Julio Bashmore). In that film we used found objects to create metamorphism through animation. It turned out to be an extremely successful technique and it was a process that both Noah and I really enjoyed. Noah approached me last summer with the idea of co-directing a series of films for the music label Village Green. At this point he had already roughed out the themes for each of the eight states of evolution but we still needed to establish exactly what was going to happen in each film. Unlike Peppermint, these films were to be far more reliant on found objects and this meant that Noah and I spent many a weekend scouring car boot sales and charity shops looking for objects that might work for each film. On these outings we generally had a wish list for certain objects, however we weren’t always able to find what we wanted. We did however find many obscure objects that inspired very different compositions and actions which were far more interesting and exciting than some of our original ideas.

A.H.: Noah, Salvation isn’t the first project that you and Andy have worked on together, and I really hope that it won’t be the last. Your creative partnership interests me greatly as they rarely seem to work out. However, you and Andy have found a unique equilibrium in your creative partnership. How would you describe the creative dynamic between you and Andy, in what ways do your skill-sets complement each other, and, from your experience, how does the creative process differ in partnership versus being the sole creative mind on a project?

NH: We’ve worked together on projects for a long time yes, generally with me as director and Andy as lead animator. I guess we’ve developed a language between us over the years… Andy knows what I’m talking about when I start discussing some weird cryptic shit (or at least he pretends to) and I know his animation is going to take the shot to a whole new level.

I like to think I use stop frame in quite a nontraditional way. Really to me it’s just a way of making real objects move… I generally don’t set out to make a ‘stop frame’ film… I love it when people think we’ve done it in CG. Andy’s precision and skill mean we can really transcend the feel some stop frame has.

Some projects are suited to one over-riding creative mind, whereas others really benefit from creative collaboration. Salvation is the meeting point of art direction and animation. So for Andy and I to co-direct made perfect sense.

A.H.: From a technical and practical animation standpoint, what were the most challenging aspects of the production, how did you cope with them, and what, if anything, did you learn from these challenges?

AB: The production value of this project very much outweighed the budget we had. This was an especially challenging aspect of the whole project. We were very much up against it in terms of time and equipment and every favour we had in our back pocket was used. We shot all eight of these films in ten days which was extremely tight time-wise. As well as being a co director I was feverishly animating my socks off while a second unit was being prepared by our director of photography; Toby Howell. We had to have at least two units on this shoot so that both Toby and I could “leap frog” over each other everyday. On day one I would be animating in unit 1 while he prepared unit 2 and on the second day we would switch.

One film which proved to be extremely difficult technically and practically hard was “Element.” This is the very first film in the series and while it doesn’t contain the amount of objects some of the other films do, it was definitely the hardest to execute. For example, each frame required six different lighting states which all had to be reconfigured manually since we could not afford DMX (hardware that does this lighting change automatically). It was also very rig-heavy as everything was in the air and there wasn’t much room for a change in choreography, so trying to get this 15-second-film in one day with all these extra challenges was quite a task.

A.H.: At this point, you’ve worked in the creative filmmaking and animation industry for a significant amount of time. What advice would you give to young animators who are just starting out professionally in the industry, or who are considering starting a professional career? Are there any resources you would recommend to them?

NH: My career has been pretty organic really, from graphic design, through TV branding, and now directing. There aren’t any particular things I did that I could pick out as advice. I think the mix of passion and dedication are key. You need to work hard to stand out in creative industries. And the best way to work hard is to do what you love… or love what you do. I love it when I meet people who are not only talented but display an infectious enthusiasm for what they do. It means they dig a bit deeper, they’re not afraid to explore and try out new things…

AB: I graduated university in 2004 with my animation degree eager to get a job doing anything in the animation industry. However it proved to be hugely difficult to even get unpaid work experience with studios production companies but over time I managed to secure some work experience placements. One of these led to a position as a production runner at a company called Calon working on a kids tv show called Hana's Helpline and it was there I started to animate professionally. This job led to animating on Fantastic Mr. Fox and that job lead on to working at Laika. I consider myself to be pretty lucky that my career snowballed this quickly. It was a hard path though and there were a few times early on when I considered throwing in the towel. So to answer your question, my advice to any aspiring animators out there is to do as many internships as possible as the more experience you have the more likely you are to get to where you want to. To keep practicing animating. Always try to better the last piece of animation on your showreel and finally, don’t give up.

Andy and Noah both have extraordinarily prolific careers – Andy primarily in stop motion and Noah as a director and designer primarily in advertising.

Noah’s work in music videos and advertising has led to a delicious amount of stop motion projects (including several collaborations with Andy), ranging from his work for companies such as Google, Brother Printers and Kia, and for music artists such as Julio Bashmore. You can go see more of his work by visiting his Vimeo channel and website.

Andy’s career in stop motion has a very wide range, going from his work on feature-length films such as ParaNorman, My Life as a Zucchini, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Wes Anderson’s upcoming stop motion film, Isle of Dogs. He also has done some incredible work in short films, music videos, adverts, and television – all of which have led to him to becoming one of the most prolific and talented masters of the medium. You can go see more of his work on his Vimeo channel.

If you’re interested in reading another interview with Andy and Noah about Salvation, you can go here, which is with the excellent filmmaking blog “Director’s Notes.”

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