Saturday, 6 February 2016

Goings On

Apologies for the quiet start to the year. Not that I presume anyone's on tenterhooks for the latest Ben Mitchell bon mot, but still. On top of the unending goddamn death parade January was when it comes to people I love in the worlds of film and music, closer to home there has been a peculiar glut of family hardship and tragedy that has been very difficult to just grin and wade through.
Tempted as I've sometimes been to use this blog as a repository for personal woes, I'll once more abstain and keep focused on the positives. Mainly that there is an abundance of love and support in my life that I'm beyond grateful for, that I have a job I've been especially enjoying of late and that the good news for 2016 is starting to trickle in. On the latter front I should have some updates soon, but in the meantime here's some Skwigly stuff to get caught up on:
We have two new podcasts for January, the first in which Steve meets Disney'n'Dragon's Lair veterans Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the second featuring Mike and Tim Rauch of Rauch Bros. Animation who, among other work, produced many of the Storycorps animated shorts. For those not familiar with Storycorps, they're essentially a collection of animated oral histories/documentaries, making great use of industry talent such as Jim Smith, Bill Wray and Stephen deStefano (all of whom I've been a huge fan of since the days of their Ren and Stimpy tenure).
On the subject of animated docs, George Sander-Jackson (with whom we previously spoke in episode 10 of the podcast) recently corralled a group of some fantastic animators to direct short animated segments detailing stories of postnatal mental illness for Animated Minds, the aim being to spread awareness to families facing similar issues as well as healthcare professionals. As well as being gorgeously rendered they are also fascinating and tremendously informative so I recommend you give them all a watch and learn more about how they came together from the directors themselves:
Animated Minds: Stories of Postnatal Depression
Elsewhere on the site I recently spoke with The Secret Life of Pets director Chris Renaud (of Despicable Me and Minions fame) in anticipation of the film's Summer release, learned a bit about the animated revival of a 'lost episode' of Dad's Army from some pals who worked on it, interviewed New York-based Australian animator Elliot Cowan on his indie feature The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead (which will screen here in the UK February 13th at Animex) and put up two new Lightbox episodes. The first features my chat with Tomm Moore at the recent KLIK! festival discussing Song of the Sea and his role in Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, the second is a somewhat old (though evergreen) interview Steve did with Mackinnon and Saunders (the fabrication team who created the puppets for Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, Fantastic Mr. Fox and many more), who have an exhibition of their work up at the Waterside Arts Centre for the rest of this month. Give 'em both a watch below:

Other highlights from our contributing writers include a breakdown of this year's VFX Oscar hopefuls by Nathan Wilkes, Stephen Cavalier celebrates Chris Shepherd's Dad's Dead (one of my personal favourites, recently remastered in HD) as part of his 100 Greatest Animated Shorts series, Laura-Beth interviews Sheridan grad Edlyn Capulong on her wonderfully weird short Lucy and the Limbs and Julia Young dissects Frédéric Doazan's brutal and brilliant satirical piece Supervenus, which was recently given an official online release. Definitely give this one a watch (maybe not while having your dinner) - it's sort of Terry Gilliam-meets-Embarrassing Bodies-meets-Saw:

That'll do for now. Keep 'em peeled in the coming weeks for some exciting announcements and the like.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Auld Acquaintance
Happy new year from the Skwigly Animation Podcast!
In the latest episode we're closing out the year Denis Norden style with our first ever outtake special. Peer behind the curtain of the Skwigly Podcast's stark professionalism to see the rambling mess of reality. Warning: Non-sequiters, blathering, stammering and adolescent ribaldry lie herein.
There are a fair few hours' worth of outtakes and excised tangents accrued over the years, so for this special I've erred on the short'n'sweet ones that won't actually get us into trouble. What I especially like about hearing this all put together is that it really represents what a pleasure and a laugh it's been to produce these podcasts over the last few years, and I'm happy to say that as far as I'm concerned they're due to keep going for a good long while. Stream the latest episode below or direct download here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Llama Face!
In the latest episode of the Skwigly Animation Podcast we meet Jay Grace, director of Aardman‘s latest Shaun the Sheep special The Farmer’s Llamas (broadcast this Boxing Day), following on from the character’s successful feature film outing earlier in the year.
Also in this episode we welcome back producer Michael Rose (who previously appeared in episode 8 of the podcast) of Magic Light Pictures, whose latest animated adaptation is the holiday special Stick Man (which will air on Xmas) based on the children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
Stream the latest episode below or direct download here.

This is our last episode before Xmas itself but be sure to check back around the 30th for a very special end-of-year podcast that'll be a lot of fun indeed.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015


Here are some more Skwigly advent calendar contributions to help you get your holly and jolly on:
Claude Cloutier

Sean Cox

Stephen McNally

Ross Phillips

Blue Zoo
We've passed the halfway point but fret not, there's still plenty more goodness to come. In the meantime you may wish to peruse some other Skwigly offerings such as Lucinda Parry's recent interview with Peter Sohn (director) and Denise Ream (producer) of Pixar's new feature The Good Dinosaur:
Also Laura-Beth has some holiday gift suggestions for the animator in your life, as well as interviews with Pa director Lawrence Rowell, Snowfall director Conor Whelan and Cooped director Mike A. Smith, all fantastic films from this year (and the latter we had the pleasure of screening at MAF last month). Meanwhile Steve Henderson has interviewed Fresh Cut Grass director Rob Cullen, Stephen Cavalier has added some more entries to his ongoing 100 Greatest Animated Shorts series, Johannes Wolters brings us a chat with Pete Doctor (director) and Jonas Rivera (producer) of Pixar's other 2015 film Inside Out (now out to buy) and new contributor Heather Wiggins gives an overview of MAF's inaugural edition as well as the feature film highlights of 2015. Meanwhile I recently caught up with Canadian director Howie Shia of PPF House about his latest NFB film BAM (a fabulous piece of work indeed) along with a Q&A with Tom Gran of Spin Kick Bros about their new webseries Lone Wolves.

I was also kindly invited by Marco de Blois to contribute again to Revue24's end-of-year animated short film critics' lists, my personal top ten being: 
  1. World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt (États-Unis / USA) 
  2. Teeth, Tom Brown, Daniel Gray, Hungary (Hongrie-États-Unis-Angleterre / Hungary-USA-England) 
  3. Splintertime, Rosto (France-Pays-Bas-Belgique / France-Netherlands-Belgium) 
  4. We can't Live Without Cosmos, Constantin Bronzit (Russie / Russia) 
  5. Ernie Biscuit, Adam Elliot (Australie / Australia) 
  6. If I Was God..., Cordell Barker (Canada) 
  7. Stems, Ainslie Henderson (Royaume-Uni / UK) 
  8. Sonámbulo, Theodore Ushev (Canada) 
  9. Very Lonely Cock, Leonid Shmelkov (Russie / Russia) 
  10. The Story of Percival Pilts, Janette Goodey, John Lewis (Australie / Australia) 
Interesting to note that there isn't quite as notable a disparity between my picks and the other critics as last year. Have a read of the full article and see what you think. I'm looking forward to checking out the films others have picked that I've not yet come across so far.

Monday, 14 December 2015


Earlier this year I released my latest album The Birdcage digitally, bucking a long-established tradition (2009 - 2010 - 2012 - 2013) of releasing my projects right before the holidays so as to probably be too late to arrive on time, marketing genius though I am.
Now that the seemingly unconquerable mountain that is Project Group-Hug has been conquered (for now) I've had a snatch of time to finally release it on CD for you traditionalists out there. CDs were these shiny round discy-wotsits from the long, long ago. Ask your parents.
So for those of you who fancy your indie music with an extra retro vibe, pick up the fifth Struwwelpeter album The Birdcage at Amazon today! It comes with fancy-shmancy new artwork, lyrics booklet and a bonus hidden track to boot. Well, it isn't that hidden now.
The extra song is in fact one of the first songs I ever wrote, way back in 1997. My balls were in mid-drop at the time and so it's only ever existed as a warbly, adolescent whine recorded on cassette (don't even bother asking your parents, I'm not sure I even remember what those were all about) until I re-recorded it during The Birdcage sessions as an experiment to see if it held up. And did it? Well...sorta kinda not really but sorta kinda. It certainly wasn't album-worthy but it's a fairly innocuous, mellow tune with some nice moments so what the hey, I've snuck it in there. Of course the album is still available to buy as a digital download via Bandcamp, and you can preview the whole ordeal below:

The perfect gift for the hipster in your life who insist they only listen to the most obscure and indie music; this'll learn that smug bugger good!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Look at 'em go!

It's that time of year again, and to whip up some merriment we at Skwigly are gathering together some of our favourite animators to contribute to our main page advent calendar throughout December. Check back each day on the site for a new artist's illustration/animated GIF to feast your eyes on. In the meantime here's a smattering to get you in the seasonal mood:
Ross Hogg

Robert Morgan

Andy Martin

Steve Kirby

Dan Emmerson
More a'comin'!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

All Hugged Out

So it would seem that the oft-mentioned though rarely-elaborated-upon Project Group-Hug is finished. As the above would indicate - and as I'm sure I've confirmed previously - it is indeed a book. A bloody great big book with lots of words that will hopefully be readable and entertaining. Helping out on that front in a major way is the fact that it was built around over fifty interviews conducted over the last year and a half (hence 'project group-hug' - rest assured that won't be the actual title), not to mention a boatload of very pretty pictures. I won't elaborate on the exact specifics just yet but in brief the project is a bringing together of insights into the working processes of some of the best artists of the contemporary independent animation scene. It's been a massive undertaking and everyone involved has been beyond brilliant with their time, assistance and wisdom.
All being well the publication date will be around June/July 2016, so obviously I'll keep you posted in the interim. I'm quite looking forward to talking about a book that isn't some variation of Throat for a change (though don't forget, book 3 is out now! Makes a perfect xmas gift! Eh?).
So that should explain all the cryptic allusions to being busy - turns out it's actually true. Some lessons I've learned from writing a book:
1. 90% of the times I say 'which', I should be saying 'that'. But that's also the case with literally everyone I interviewed, so maybe Word can keep its passive-aggressive little green wiggly lines to itself.
2. Once you clear 100,000 words in Word for Mac, the word count bar freaks out and disappears so you have to load it up from the menu to check your progress.
3. The way Jack Torrence behaves in this scene - once thought to be absolutely objectionable - is completely reasonable:

Hopefully I wasn't that bad. Much love to ma shawty, friends and family for tolerating me being the "constantly banging on about writing a book" guy this last little while. I'm hard work at the best of times so that extra layer probably wasn't much fun.

Monday, 16 November 2015

'Cast Away
Quick podcast roundup. In episode 37 Samuel Ortí Martí - AKA Sam - talks to Steve about his Spanish stop-motion horror pastiche Pos Eso, which looks like great fun. Also Katie Steed of Slurpy Studios joins the podcast to give us the lowdown on this year's Dublin Animation Film Festival.
In episode 38, which just went up today in anticipation of us all being at MAF this week, Laura-Beth joins us to discuss the special Skwigly showcase screenings we've put together and the success of Tinman Creative's Super Science Friends. Guests in this episode are Sheldon Cohen, director of the NFB classic The Sweater discussing his latest film My Heart Attack, as well as Rhiannon Evans who some may know from her short film Heartstrings and recent NFTS grad film Fulfilament.

Both My Heart Attack and Fulfilament will be part of our MAF showcases, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. See you there!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Fringe on top

I recently mentioned that Skwigly will have a couple of fringe screenings at next week's Manchester Animation Festival, and I'm pleased to say the full info for both is now confirmed. Curated by myself and Laura-Beth, these events compile an assortment of standout work from the last couple of years, from films that have caught our eye at festivals, Skwigly Showcase submissions, films we've done prior Skwigly coverage on and MAF entries that couldn't be programmed into the main categories for whatever reason. It's been great fun putting these together and many thanks to all the filmmakers, studios and distributors who've all pitched in!
Both screenings will take place in the event space at Manchester's HOME, the main MAF venue, and are free to all (though festival passholders will have priority):
Screening 1: Existential Enticements
Tuesday November 17th, 4pm 

If The Cuckoo Don’t Crow
Dir. Steve Kirby, UK
Runtime: 1:50

If I Was God…
Dir. Cordell Barker, Canada
Runtime: 8:30

The Evening Her Mind Jumped Out of Her Head
Dir. Kim Noce, Shaun Clarke, UK
Runtime: 8:00

The Urban Fox
Dir. Joanna Hepworth, UK
Runtime: 1:45

Dir. Animade, UK
Runtime: 6:17

An Ode To Love
Dir. Matthew Darragh, Ireland
Runtime: 7:33

The Meek
Dir. Joe Brumm, Australia
Runtime: 7:26

Mr. Director
Dir. Andy Martin, UK
Runtime: 6:50

Dir. Sue Dunham, UK/Canada
Runtime: 3:50

Clockwork Jerk: Tea
Dir. Oli Putland, UK
Runtime: 1:28

Dir. Benjamin Arcand, Canada
Runtime: 5:40

My Heart Attack
Dir. Sheldon Cohen, Canada
Runtime: 13:43

Hart’s Desire
Dir. Gavin C. Robinson, Scotland
Runtime: 6:23
Screening 2: Fetching Fascinations
Wednesday November 18th, 3:30pm 

Dir. Claude Cloutier, Canada
Runtime: 4:45

Dir. Stephen Ong, UK
Runtime: 1:43

Dir. Mike A. Smith, USA
Runtime: 9:03

Dir. Ben Prudden, UK
Runtime: 1:30

Dir. Rhiannon Evans, UK
Runtime: 7:37

HeCTA: The Concept
Dir. Chris Shepherd, UK
Runtime: 3:37

Loop Ring Chop Drink
Dir. Nicolas Ménard, UK
Runtime: 10:30

Dir. Jean-Baptiste Aziere, Delphine Delannoy, Simon Goeneutte-Lefevre, Edwin Leeds, Camille Roubinowitz, France
Runtime: 2:25

Dir. Aidan McAteer, Ireland
Runtime: 8:45

‘Shop Genie
Dir. John Lily, UK
Runtime: 1:14

Lucy and The Limbs
Dir. Edlyn Capulong, USA
Runtime: 2:49

Dir. Robert Grieves, UK
Runtime: 6:15

The Kik: Cupido
Dir. Natali Voorthuis, Netherlands
Runtime: 2:54

Dir. Matei Branea, Romania
Runtime: 14:48

For more info on the MAF festival and its other excellent events including the not-to-be-missed Joanna Quinn life-drawing class, Tomm Moore masterclass, and the always fun Skwigly Animation Quiz (that I'll be co-presenting with quizmaster Steve) check out their official site. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 9 November 2015

KLIK! Bait

Since returning from KLIK! and its brief respite from what has to be classified as one of the most stressful and busy periods of my professional life (I love it, but I love to complain too) I've managed to piece together a brand new series of Skwigly podcast minisodes, something we haven't done in a while. The first three episodes feature excerpts from the festival's Filmmaker Talkshow sessions hosted by animation buff Hans Walther.
Unfortunately due to an audio glitch with the recordings provided not all of the interview sessions could be included but there's a lot of great insight from attending filmmakers Natali Voorthuis, Roman Klochkov, Stephanie Blakey, Laura d'Addazio, Alexandre Mailleux, Frederic Siegel, Veronica Montaño, Manuela Leuensberger, Lukas Suter, Sacha Feiner, Marilyn Haddad, Monique Almelle Renault, Susanna Szabo, Eugenia Pashkina, Liz el Saadany, Fela Bellotto, Lalita Brunna and Marieke Blaauw of Job, Joris and Marieke.
In episode four I meet the remaining two-thirds of said studio, Job Roggeveen and Joris Oprins, discussing their body of work that includes the fantastic Mute, the Oscar-nominated A Single Life and their most recent short (Otto). Also in the final episode I meet festival director Yvonne van Ulden, catch up with the brilliant PES about what he's been up to since last year's podcast appearance and speak with Cartoon Saloon's Tomm Moore about his involvement in the multi-artist animated feature The Prophet. You can listen to all four episodes via our Skwigly at KLIK! playlist below:
On top of the podcasts you can also read my report on the festival as a whole (as well as some personal highlights from the official selection) over on Film Hub NWC, the fantastic organisation behind This Is Not A Cartoon and who provided a bursary that helped make the trip over to KLIK! possible.
Special thanks to Tünde Vollenbroek, Samuele Mini, Jen Hall and Alison Kennedy. Here's hoping I'll be back over there next year!