The College’s sponsorship of Bradford Animation Festival yielded an additional treat on 13th April, when highly respected animator, Barry Purves presented The Best of BAF; an engrossing appreciation packed with pointers for prospective animators. Barry was introduced by Deb Singleton, Director of Bradford Animation Festival, who expressed her delight at bringing this celebrated animator and director, whose films had been nominated for more than 60 awards, including Oscar and BAFTA nods, and had won acclaim for numerous theatre productions, to speak to students. She noted that Barry was a regular jury member and advisor for animation festivals around the world, and revealed that in 2011 BAF would be screening one of his films.
Barry began by urging students to make the most of BAF. He said, “You are lucky to have such a great festival on your doorstep. Now you can see animation on YouTube, your phone etc., but it is still nothing like seeing animation on a big screen. As an animator seeing your film in a cinema, with people in the dark concentrating, is thrilling. Bradford is a very friendly festival with everything in one place, prestigious international guests and no hierarchy.” He also encouraged them to submit their own films as “screening facilities at BAF are second to none.”
Barry then reflected on his career and early influences. “I have been an animator for 35 years and it has never been harder. Budgets are getting smaller but I still love story telling.” He traced his realisation of this to watching The Sound Of Music in the cinema when he was just nine and played a clip from the puppet show, which he reckoned was “the scene that changed my life and one of the most influential sequences in my career. I loved the fact they were having so much fun being creative and seeing the mechanics of the creative process.” The young Barry wanted to be in the scene, puling the puppet strings, painting the backdrops and making the music but was also aware of some underlying importance of that moment. “Something else was happening. Relationships change through the act of putting on an artificial thing. This little play verbalises the truth about relationships. Something fake is being really honest.”
Barry had discovered what he explained was a major device in films and plays, citing Hamlet as a prime example. He continued, “I think this is what animation is: distancing; this artifice allows us to say the unsayable and gives the change of perspective all drama has. Sometimes a character allows this, for instance Pinocchio has Jeremy Cricket and Mary Poppins, who is an outsider who allows a damaged family to heal, has a talking umbrella that is really honest. As a child I saw this talking umbrella and thought it was great.” Barry argued that celebration of artifice was at the core of drama, poetry and ballet, and quoted Oscar Wilde: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Barry then talked about War Horse and the way the horse was used as a metaphor to depict the horror of war, before showing an extract of a film about how the National Theatre’s production brought this to life with bamboo puppets and three clearly visible operators. “This is an extraordinary, sophisticated adult evening at the theatre – with puppets - and has audiences crying every night. It is not about being literal. You are becoming part of the story and enjoying the shared experience of storytelling. In animation technique is a crucial part of storytelling and should be celebrated. It is wrong to make animation realistic, as it would be in ballet and opera. We are not in the business of reality but credibility.
All animation works best when you can see the technique, for instance the fingerprints on Wallace and Gromit which Nick Park has rightly refused to erase. As animators we have to create all elements from scratch, so let’s hone our craft so everything there is part of the story. Animation is so expensive and so concentrated that we must make every frame, every colour, and every note count.” Recalling making 5 minute films for Channel 4, Barry suggested that the discipline this imposed was a blessing, allowing no waffle but encouraging creativity with the development of a visual shorthand and immediacy, before showing a series of short films that exemplified points he had been making about technique.
The film section began with the latest BAF trailer and Barry encouraged students to submit a good idea for the trailer to be screened before every film at the festival. Then the audience watched and were alerted to the significant factors in several films: Prayer for Peace by Dustin Grella; UAE Ecological Footprint (which begins with newspaper in a kitchen being torn into figures that discuss the problem and ends by panning out to show the set in fast frame being dismantled and consigned to the recycling bin); and John and Karen by Matthew Walker. continued