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Diary: Interview with Van Sowerwine

The nofreelist gang love a good animated film, as evidenced by the animation genre's high overall statistical ranking on the site. And one that we've loved of late is Van Sowerwine's short stop motion animation film entitled Clara (2005). We had a bit of a chat with Van herself about her journey making Clara.

Screenshot from Clara nofreelist: What led up to this film? What's been your creative journey? And what inspired you to make this film?
Van: I've always been fascinated by dolls, and have amassed quite a collection of them. I would often find that I'd discover a doll and think about a story for her. I studied Media Arts at RMIT where I made a few animations using both stop motion and drawn techniques, and developed an affinity for stop-motion animation - working with real objects and creating life out of objects has an inherent fascination for me.

I then moved into sculpting my own dolls, and having metal armatures of skeletons built for them so that I could make them move in a more human-like way. I wanted people watching to think of the characters as real people rather than dolls.

Clara was originally part of a larger script, which told 3 stories of girls just reaching adolescence and having to cope with difficult circumstances and events. I realised quickly that making 3 separate stop motion animations would be very difficult, and picked Clara as my favourite story to focus on.

A lot of my work is drawn in part from autobiographical emotions and events, and I'm particularly interested in childhood and early adolescence. For me, this is a period where things are incredibly new and vivid, and emotions are so strong and powerful.

Why did you choose to make a stop motion animation film as opposed to a different type of animation, or, for that matter, a film with actors? What do you see as the benefits of stop motion, and what drew you to it?
I think this is because of my attraction to dolls. I love the look of stop-motion animation. It has an imperfection about it that I love. I also enjoy working with real objects as opposed to sitting in front of a screen. I've also made drawn animations, but for me it doesn't have quite the same magic.

What was your technique in making the film? Did you carefully storyboard each scene, or did you have more of a take-it-as-it-comes approach?
I found it quite stressful because we had to storyboard very carefully, since all the models and sets would be built based on the storyboard. Building miniature sets is very time-consuming, and I was getting Scott Ebdon to do it all before we started filming, so to a certain extent everything was very carefully planned. I also had to create a very strict shooting schedule to help us avoid having to set up scenes more than once. But of course once we started filming it became a bit more organic, and we did have room to move.

How long did production take on the film? What made up each portion of that time?
Production took 8 months - 4 months pre-production, creating sets and characters and sourcing equipment, then we had a 10 week shoot, then about 2 months post-production - editing, sound, and basic visual FX such as keying out blue screen. Isobel Knowles also animated all the ants in post-production - we weren't planning to do this, but found it impossible to do otherwise.

Screenshot from Clara You must have worked pretty closely with Isobel Knowles as animator on the film. Besides doing animation, she's also a graphic designer, and a musician (in Architecture in Helsinki). What's she like to work with?
Isobel is amazing - we've worked together on 4 projects now. Our sensibilities match perfectly - we bounce ideas off each other and complement each other. When we work together it's very intense - for the shoot it was 10 weeks, 6 days a week and 15 hour days. I can't exactly explain it, but we have an incredible working relationship.

How did you organise funding for the film, and what's it like to make this type of film in Australia?
We worked incredibly hard on the funding application, and only got it from the second organisation we approached (Film Victoria). The application was incredibly detailed, and we got a lot of generous advice from other successful filmmakers and animators, often people we didn't know but just called up. A friend of mine who is an artist recently said that the only funding she's ever gotten has been when she's worked her arse off, which is also true for me. But there's also an element of chance, of being in the right place at the right time and of having people assessing the funding application that might have seen your work before.

What was the Cannes experience like? Who were the most impressive people you met or saw from afar?
Cannes was amazing but crazy - it feels so surreal and I've been back for less than a month. I saw a few stars from a distance which was completely weird - they're not meant to be real people! I really liked some of the other short film makers who were in competition, and they were the people I most enjoyed meeting.

Where can people see this film?
On the Clara website there's info on upcoming festival screenings as well as a trailer. We're also negotiating to show the film on Australian TV, and hopefully a DVD will be available at some stage.

What would be your advice for wannabe animators, or for other Australian film makers?
Keep making work, and explore different avenues. I also show stop-motion animation as installation in galleries, which I feel also helped in getting funding. Most of the time it's persistence that gets you somewhere rather than just the quality of your work. Also find great people to work with, and establish meaningful relationships with them.

Screenshot from Clara What do you see is the future of hand-made stop motion animation? Lots of animation is heading toward CG nowadays, but where do you see this style of animation fitting in? What's next for Van Sowerwine? Do you think you will stick with animation, or has this film been enough for you?
I'd like to make more stop-motion animation - I'm thinking about another short film or maybe a short TV series. It's difficult with stop-motion animation because it's so expensive to make. I hope there will always be a future for it - I imagine it will continue to live alongside CG work - the two are still quite different. I know that I'll still be making it even if no one else is.

Anything else you think we should know about you?

by pearly on Mon 27 Jun 2005 at 22:31 PM

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