Interview with animator Will Rose

The best sort of inspiration can often come from children. Animator and illustrator Will Rose found inspiration on holiday in Spain with his niece when she expressed excitement at the sight of a goat herder and his flock. It was this daily spectacle that prompted her to chant ‘lots and lots and lots of goats!’, sparking an idea which was to become his first animated film.

Winner of ‘Best Independent Animation Award’ at the Blue Plum Festival in Tennessee earlier this year, Will’s first short film;  ‘The Goat Herder and his Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats’ is now touring the festival circuit, following screenings at Ottawa Animation Festival and Bristol Encounters Festival.

Interview by Lisa Hassell

I had always wanted to make something for Ella so that I could be a ‘cool uncle’. I decided I early on that I wanted to challenge myself.

The story behind the film is rather special, tell us how the idea came about?

It was after my sister Anna came back from a holiday in Spain. She told me the story of how they had stayed in a valley in amongst the mountains. Every day they would see a goat herder with his flock of goats, and my Niece Ella who was two at the time would shout ‘Lots and lots and lots of goats!’. As my Sister laughed through the story my imagination was sparked, and I could almost instantly visualise this silhouette of a goat herder and his flock of goats walking over ridiculously steep mountains. The same day I story boarded out a rough idea and I was very quickly ready to go. I had always wanted to make something for Ella so that I could be a ‘cool uncle’, and had wanted to make a storybook initially, so a film seemed like the next best thing. The opportunity arose when I had a two month period in between animation assignments, so I decided to go for it! I gave myself a deadline to complete the film by, and most importantly I could relax knowing that I had work coming up afterwards.

I love working with colour, and creating simple characters that are humorous but have a strong sense of design. My mantra at college was always to be ‘simple but effective’ 

The film has a limited but moody colour palette; why did you choose to make the characters as silhouettes?

The look and style of any animation is very important to me. I have never actually worked as a designer but it is a big part of what makes me tick. I love working with colour, and creating simple characters that are humorous but have a strong sense of design. My mantra at college was always to be ‘simple but effective’ and that’s what I wanted to capture. When I drew the characters in my notebook for the first time I used a black felt pen, so without even intending to I had instantly created silhouettes and it developed from there. Drawing the characters in this way also sped up the animation process, as I removed the need to animate facial features and expressions.

We’re always curious about studio spaces – where did the film get made?

I was pretty strapped for cash at the time and my girlfriends family very kindly let me stay with them. The loft or as we came to call it ‘The Factory’ was my little space where I could go and hide and create. Over the two months it took to make the film, me and my girlfriends Dad, Phil, also an artist, would do a nine till six shift up in the loft, and the space acted as our creative hub as we both churned out our work listening to the complete unabridged version (with all the bloody songs in!) of Lord of the rings, Count Arthur Strong, Round the Horn, Benny Goodman and a variety of other jazz artists to keep us going! There were friends I could have called on for help, but I decided I early on that I wanted to challenge myself. I used Flash and created all the walk cycles I needed and then manipulated the goats for each scene.

Do you think your experience of working on a successful children’s show like Peppa Pig was important?

Definitely! Mark Baker and Neville Astley are not just directors, they are the writers and designers of the show. Their scripts for Peppa Pig are fantastic and not only do they engage the kids they’re aimed at, they entertain the mums and dads too with their funny parodies of family life. It was great to work with them when I co-wrote “Pedro is Late’ for the fourth series. I think that gave me the confidence to make my own film. They also taught me how to create something that would work for all audiences. When I first created the storyboard for The Goat Herder he was clubbing bears and shooting vultures! I think it’s fairly easy to make something with a violent or rude nature, but I soon realised that making something with universal appeal that could be watched by anyone would be better.

There are a lot of animals and birds in your film, how important is nature to you?

I’ve been a bird watcher since I was very young, our family holidays always involved us staring up to the skies in search of a tiny speck hoping it was an eagle or vulture. We were never, what you called ‘twitchers’ but whenever we went anywhere we would always have a perky eye out looking for wildlife. I think my hero is and always will be David Attenborough. As a boy I’d draw peregrine Falcons killing pigeons or Sparrowhawks chasing blue tits; I used to draw Transformers and Ninja Turtles too but it was always the animals I enjoyed drawing the most! I have recently started drawing and painting birds again, and make the odd card and frame some paintings. It’s something I hope to do more of.

I’d love to make an animated interactive story book ipad app. Just imagine if kids could press the goats and make them ‘baaaaa!’ or point to a place they wanted the goats to walk to!

Can you tell us more about your use of sound in the film – Why did you choose to have no dialogue?

Animated films that have no dialogue are very effective. The first fifteen minutes of Pixar’s Wall.E are fantastic, arguably the best material they’ve ever done. I wanted to create something that wasn’t restricted by language – so anyone from any country could watch and enjoy it. I knew as soon as I began to animate the goats that they would make this monotonous munching and footsteps sound wherever they went. I quite like crude, funny sound effects; a lot of the sounds in Peppa Pig are very abrupt and clunky. I think that definitely influenced me when it came to developing the goats – flopping down to rest and the way they plonk down the mountain.

The Goat Herder and his Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats from Will Rose on Vimeo.

The sound was an essential part of the story telling, as much as the animation so it was a big part of the film. I made a rough cut of the sound myself before I took it to the brilliant JM from Fonic who created the final version. I also asked my friend Tom Gisby from The Peppa Pig studio to compose the title music. He did a great job creating the opening track which really set the mood for the film. I’m so grateful for their help. When I finished the animation I did consider placing a musical track over the film; I had just been to see the band Vetiver at a gig and I really liked a track of theirs called ‘Soft Glass’. I tried laying it over the top of the film but it was too dominant. I then tried using it for the return journey of the goats and it seemed to work perfectly.  I edited the music so that the goats went over the mountains in the final shot in unison with the rhythm of the track; the music served to communicate to the audience that the goats were on their way home. I was also incredibly lucky to be granted the rights to use the track for a year by their record company.

Your film has been screened at several festivals this year – how has the experience been so far?

I have just come back from the Bristol Encounters Festival, and it was great! The Goat Herder was entered in to the Children’s Jury Award, and the results will be decided at the end of November. So far the children-only jury has picked my film to go through to be screened at the festival along with several others; the film will then be shown to classes at local schools in Bristol before they decide on a winner. I was also invited to run a workshop which was a lot of fun – I made badges for the kids to wear and cut out cardboard backgrounds and goats for the kids to play with. We used the new animation program ‘Animate it’ created by Aardman; it’s fantastic for workshops. I printed out the walk cycles of the goats for the kids so they could see the different leg positions as the goats walked.

I edited the music so that the goats went over the mountains in the final shot in unison with the rhythm of the track; the music served to communicate to the audience that the goats were on their way home.

Did you take any other steps to get more exposure for your film?

I’ve been featured on some great animation blogs and have promoted the film using twitter and various social networks. I also uploaded the film to Vimeo which has been great exposure.  Only this weekend it was picked by Vimeo for their ‘Staff picks’. This was fantastic news for me as it meant it was getting viewed by a global audience. My viewing figures doubled overnight from 3,000 to 30,000 in one weekend! It was amazing and a great example of what can happen if you can get your film promoted on a popular website. Now the film pops up on websites in Mexico, Spain and the Dutch equivalent of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper!

That’s brilliant! So what happens now? What are your future plans?

Later on in the year the film is going to New York, Brazil, South Dakota, Bradford, Toronto and many more! Once you start getting accepted into festivals it’s quite addictive. It felt so good to finally make a film of my own, that I would love to make another, maybe a collaboration with some of my creative friends in the industry – something a bit more ambitious. I’d also love to make an iPad app, I think ‘The Goat Herder’ would be fantastic as an animated interactive story book. It has such a strong graphic look, I think it would translate well to phones and tablets. Just imagine if kids could press the goats and make them ‘baaaaa!’ or point to a place they wanted the goats to walk to! Hopefully I will make another film soon, but for now i’m just happy that lots and lots and lots of people seem to like what I created.

And finally, any advice to animation graduates looking for their ‘big break’?

I just took the first job I could get. It took me a long time to create my own stuff after moving to London, and in a way I wish I had enrolled in another course. Institutes like the National Film and Television School and Royal College of Art are great places to go if you want to be a film maker. One thing you have to be is patient. It can takes a long time to get where you want to go. A bit like animation itself!

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About Will Rose

Graduating from the Mid Glamorgan Center for Design with a BA 1st class honors in Animation in 1999, Will Rose has been working in animation for over ten years. Making a living working on various children’s animated series, most notably under the direction of Neville Astley and Mark Baker as an animator on the popular childrens series ‘Peppa Pig‘ and more recently ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’, he went on to co-write an episode of Peppa Pig, which will be screened in late 2012.

 

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