Interview with Scottish animator Will Anderson

 

Have you heard of the Russian master animator Vladislav A. Feltov? No? Well, no wonder, he was an early 20th century artist, and all his work had long been forgotten. But now, his star creation Longbird (who is, as you might guess, a very long bird) has finally been found and revived.

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Alright, truth be told, another reason why you haven’t heard of Feltov is that he didn’t really exist- but Will Anderson’s short „The Making of Longbird”, his graduation film from the Edinburgh College of Art, chronicles Anderson’s process of redescovering Longbird and attempts to become his new director documentary-style, thus creating a lovely piece of historical fiction and commentary on filmmaking. It’s also very funny, because Longbird, as you may expect from a veteran actor, is not one to tolerate being bossed around by the young generation.

The short won Will plenty of awards, including Best Graduation Film for 2012 at the prestigious Annecy festival in France. I saw the film in October at LIAF, London’s festival of animated film (where it ended up winning Best Film, too) and I loved it, so I asked Will to have a chat with me about Longbird and animation in general, to which he kindly agreed.

Nadia: You built quite an elaborate origin story for Longbird and his long-forgotten Russian master. Did you manage to convince people of the existence of Vladislav Feltov and his lost films?

Will: I think so. I feel that any work of fiction requires a huge amount of realising, the only difference with ‚The Making of Longbird” is that it looks like a documentary. A writer sets up the rules of the world he is creating; no matter how fantastical it may be, it is anchored in reality. A lot of people have asked this about the history of Longbird. For me it’s exactly the same as anyone else writing any fiction.

I actually managed to convince myself about the history of Longbird and Feltov. I saw something interesting online a couple of years ago… An old image drawn on paper of a seemingly animated sequence, dating before Great pioneers’ work. This begs the question, what about the others who slipped away from us? For all we know, there could have been many others in our history who we know nothing about.

Nadia: What is your animation technique of choice?

Will: I’m not sure it matters to me much. I am experienced in 2d animation, but I’m not sure I’d like this to be the case forever. As long as I’m telling a story in the most effective way then that’s my technique of choice.

Nadia: If you could have a chat with any old cartoon character, who would it be? And what do you think they’d be like?

Will: This is a spooky question, as I’m sort of doing this now… I can’t say too much but I am talking with an old cartoon character from the 1950’s, who is very shy and wishes not to be discussed quite yet. I will inform you about him soon though.

Nadia: What would you say are your influences in animation? Any real-life old masters you cherish?

Will: I am a huge fan of Ladislas Starewitch’s puppet films. I mention Starewitch in ‚The Making ofLongbird’ claiming that he was a ‚close friend and collaborator’ of Vladislav Feltov. After a few screenings in Germany and France, Starewitch’s granddaughter got in touch with me regarding her grandfather’s mention in my film. She works to archive, and teach of Starewitch’s work, so she was interested to hear my motivation for claiming he was involved with Feltov. The reason was to ground it in historical accuracy. My film is also in homage to the great masters who pioneered animation, if it wasn’t for them, then maybe we wouldn’t make it at all. I was very honoured to travel to France where she lives and meet with her, to discuss his work.

Nadia: I have been looking through your YouTube channel and your short cartoons, most of them with dialogues that sound very natural and candid (and hilarious). I love your Scottish seagull! Tell memore about them, who does funny voices, what’s your work process like with these?

Will: These short sketches are all performed by collaborator Ainslie Henderson (who is a stop-motion Animator) and I. We write comedy, perform it in a conversational tone, and animate to it. This fits in with a philosophy that animation should be really believable, amusing and moving. I like the idea ofwatching animation unfold as if it’s happening before our eyes… that way, it’s real.

Nadia: Is animation school as awesome as it sounds? What things did you learn there that you feel were most valuable for your career and would had been impossible to learn by yourself?

Will:  I went to art school – The Edinburgh College of Art –and studied animation for 3 years. The ECA don’t teach technique at all. What they do is teach storytelling. You come out of there with an understanding of what communicates to audiences, and with an appreciation of animation as an art form.

Nadia: Conversely, if someone were to try learn animation by themselves, where would you recommend they started?

Will: I believe that if people want to do it, they will do it no matter how hard it may be. I knew I wanted to do it from a young age. I think it’s a lot easier now…technology has come a long way in a short time. I have a saying I remind myself of quite a lot… I do quite a bit of commercial work, but occasionally, it dries up and there’s no work… but if you keep making things, no matter if its not making any money, then you’re on to a winner… Keep making things, it will keep your creative heart happy!

Nadia: What do you think of the British animation industry, as far as opportunities for young animators go?

Will: There are opportunities here, but it’s competitive. There are few big successful companies, and lots of hugely talented individuals… again, the way I seem to keep doing it is by constantly making things, creating characters and images that hopefully have a lasting impression on people. There are many places, and people to speak to about animation here, and it is supported.

Nadia: What are you up to next after Longbird?

Will: I am in the middle of trying to get an Animated Television series commissioned featuring a Scottish seagull. I am also writing a new film that may have been mentioned in this interview earlier… He is shaping up, and I’m quite excited about it. But enough about me!

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