The Astronomer’s Dream : interview with animator Malcolm Sutherland
Have a look at this recently released animated short film “The Astronomer’s Dream”. We get a little more insight on the project and the man behind it as pixelpoodle talks to independent creator and animator Malcolm Sutherland.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you ? What job do you do ? Sure, I grew up in Calgary Alberta, which is like the Texas of Canada. I soon fled east, now I live in Montreal where I make animated films, illustrations, and the odd commercial.
What prompted you to move into animation ? How did you go about pursuing it ?
I discovered animation at the Quickdraw Animation Society, which is an artist run animation co-op in Calgary. I took a class there with independent filmmaker / animator Kevin Kurtynik, which totally changed my life, he cracked my head open and let the light pour in.
How long have you been making animations ? Do you have a background in print or web ?
I have been animating since 2002, so thats about 8 years now. My background is kind of all over the place. I first studied astronomy in university, then quit and spent the following year in India meditating, came back to Canada and went to art college and studied print making, then got a job offer to make a film for the National Film Board of Canada here in Montreal so I dropped everything and came here. Eventually I went back to school at Concordia University here in Montreal, mainly as an excuse to be around other film makers, so I finally got a degree in Film at Concordia.
“The astronomers dream” has quite an unusual and intriguing plot. What, if any, was your source of inspiration for the story ?
Basically it is inspired by my experience studying astronomy. I got into astronomy in the first place out of a deep-seeded feeling that I was connected to the universe, and I wanted to experience how. After a while I abandonded astronomy because I felt like I was chasing my own tail. I couldn’t get into it because of the fact that as astronomers we were looking out into the universe for some kind of truth, and yet there was absolutely no interest in the lens that we look through: our own awareness, or minds. I guess it was just a practical thing, that I felt I should understand the lens in order to understand the vision, and without that it was kind of a fools game.
The story raises some philosophical questions. Can you give us some more insight on the meaning / moral of the story ?
There isnt really a specific meaning that I was trying to get across in the film. Ideally viewers would walk away from the film with their own interpretation, kind of like a real dream.
But if you want more background – (and if I can just dive right into some shameless self-promotion for a moment – if you buy the DVD off my website there is a director commentary, animatics, and a bunch of production info on it as well.
How did you get to the graphic style of the project ? Is it derived from previous illustration / animation work or sketches ?
Yes, the style is basically an extension of my sketchbook work, although at the time I made this film I was looking at a lot of Mayan art, so I think that had a big influence me.
Since there is hardly any conversation in the film, the music becomes an important player in telling the story. Are you closely involved in the composing process ?
On the involve-o-meter I was probably a 4/10 on this film. I gave my sound designer (Leon Lo) some inpirational tracks for the music and laid out some of the key moments for him, but I tried to give him as much freedom as possible. Unfortunately we didnt have much time and the whole soundtrack was done in about 2 weeks. I would have liked to have had more time to refine it, but thats the way it goes. Actually, I am about to finish a “remix” of the film with a new shorter edit and a new musical score. I think the new version works much better. This version will be premiering at the Ottawa Animation festival in a couple of weeks, and I also plan to post it on Vimeo in a month or so as well.
What is your workflow when creating a shot ?
With this film, because I was doing everything, it was kind of intuitive. The pre-animation stages were a combination of storyboarding, animatic, or skipping it all together and going straight to the animation.
What is the balance between analog and digital art ? Do you prefer paper and pencil for as long as possible, or do you dive right into the deep end ?
Ha ha, no I never draw in pencil, I dont really like it. When I am creating a background, character, or some kind of original element I prefer to draw with ink on paper, but for the animation, once I have established the elements of the shot I prefer to work directly into the computer. So the animation on this film was done directly into the computer using a wacom, sometimes using scanned ink drawings for keyframes.
Which art mediums and software packages do you use in the creation process ?
Mainly ink, paper, scanner, wacom tablet, Toonboom Studio, Sony Vegas, and some Photoshop.
Can you offer any advice to those interested in producing their own independent animations ?
Be forgiving, listen to yourself, have fun. Also, if you can, win the lottery or marry a millionaire.
Are you working on something new or do you have any future projects planned ?
Yes, in addition to some commercial work I have 2 films on the go right now, one called UMBRA, a halucinatory story about a character who loses himself in his shadow, and the other is a kind of sketchbook documentary film about Quebecers.
Thank you for your time.