continuedBarry advised that “if stuck for story, ask ‘what if?’ Take an ordinary situation and flip it on its head. Finding stories not a problem, it is finding an interesting way of telling them.” He then played Overtime, a film made by three French students in 2004 which demonstrated this. Describing it as a “perfect film, with not a wasted frame” he continued, “it speaks to me as for every animator character or creation there is a creator. If you listen to the use of music, scratches on the record playing shows it is artificial but this separate world could not be done in live action. We use animation to say something we cannot say otherwise due to pressure of society, gender, culture or politics, using distance to liberate oneself. Other examples of this are ventriloquists and dummies or drag queens.”
Then Barry played The Monk and the Fish, drawing attention to the charming use of watercolour and musicality, with a different colour palette and music used to signify the cloister and the outside world, and the way the movement expressed the character. Barry suggested that this highlighted skills and qualities animators needed. “I would encourage every animator to learn to read music as this is essential. Dance is also a must for all animation students and tutors, and you should learn anatomy for shape and movement. I love ballet and tango for their rhythm, shapes and storytelling.”
He then showed the Argentinian film The Employer, which he described as a marriage of design, sound and timing” before playing one of his own films, Next, made twenty one years ago when working with Aardman and commissioned to make films about language. He explained, “I ignored the brief of language as I was more interested in body language and thought it would be an arrogant conceit to tell the complete works of Shakespeare in five minutes without any words. The budget only allowed me one puppet. You need the sensibilities of a performer – the awareness of how people tell stories through their bodies.” Barry’s considerable skills in this area, sharpened by stage design, direction and performance, were ably demonstrated as he recounted each visual reference to the 37 plays depicted as the film played! He revealed that despite winning multiple awards and universal acclaim, diminishing budgets were now the norm. “ Next cost £50k; about 10k per minute with no rehearsal, shooting 12 seconds a day. Twenty one years later, the film I am doing now about Tchaikovsky has a budget of £35k for 12 minutes, so I am having to be really creative, which is not a bad thing. You have to tell the story as simply as possible and if it doesn’t have a point, don’t include it.”
Aptly for a man who had animated the complete works of Gilbert & Sullivan in sixteen minutes, Barry summed up his attitude to animation by quoting lines from the operetta Patience: 'Nonsense? Yes, perhaps. But oh, what precious nonsense!’ He concluded, “Make it good. Animation is a very special world and if you want to became animators you won’t get rich but you will travel the world and have fun at festivals. I have no money but I have used animation to say things about me in my own voice. If you are happy to see eight seconds a day as an achievement, you are cut out to be an animator! It is about detail, creating worlds, telling interesting stories – some might find it small, slow, boring – but I love it!”
Clare Lamkin, College Cultural Events Manager who had arranged the lecture, thanked Barry on behalf of all the audience, for giving everyone “an inspiring glimpse into your world.” One of our students who is a very gifted animator, Tom Hinchliffe currently in the third year of his BA (Hons) Graphic Design Illustration & Digital Media degree, seized the opportunity to talk to Barry after the event about an aspect of his dissertation and was elated when promised some work experience with him.