I was sat at my desk one night a few months back not really aware of what was going on at the time. I was just staring at the #Flashers chatroom watching everyone talk about animation and that's when I had a thought Wouldn't it be cool to have an interview with Adam Phillips?
So here it is with an added bonus, exclusive images from Adam's next Brackenwood animation, Waterlollies.
I'd like to thank Adam for taking the time in the middle of his busy schedule to answers these questions. It's greatly appreciated.
Age: You're a very influential animator amongst not only people in Flash communities and websites but also the wider world of animation. So I wondering, Where does Adam Phillips get his inspiration from?
Adam: Nowadays my inspiration comes from a whole bunch of different places, from stories, music, paintings, movies and my own dreams. Usually before I go to bed at night (mostly between 3-5am) I take half an hour look at the sky, the stars, the moon if it's risen, the clouds and the huge dark trees over the graveyard behind our house. It's those quiet times when ideas and inspiration come flooding.
I think the most lasting influences on all of my work are scary stories and wild environments. It's probably for this reason that I've always been entertained by the old creepy faery tales where people actually die and terrible things happen. The type of faery tale that was deliberately designed to terrify children. "Sleep now children, or the long-legged Scissor Man will come and snip your thumbs off!"
Fantastic! What child sleeps after hearing that?
One of my favourite all-time stories is called Faery Tale (Raymond E. Feist). It's all about the real faeries and it portrays them exactly how they should be portrayed. I'm always fascinated by how they were perceived in ancient times and the drastic measures that people took to ward off the faeries. From stories like this, you realise that while the otherworld is a beautiful place to glimpse, it's not somewhere you want to be trapped.
Age: In relation then to film making what would you say are your 5 favourite animated films?
Adam: I'm a huge fan of Brad Bird's work and I'm excited about Ratatouille, so for sheer storytelling brilliance:
1. 'The Iron Giant'
2. 'The Incredibles'
3. 'Allegro Non Troppo' had a huge influence on me when I first saw it by chance on late night TV and occasionally today I recognise some of that flavour in my own stuff.
If you haven't seen it, it's a kind of Fantasia parody, with violence, humour and some adult themes. Several short scenarios are played out to famous pieces of classical music. My favourites are the evolution sequence played out to Ravel's Boléro, and the saddest animated story ever told, about a cat in a ruined house with Sibelius' Valse Triste.
4. 'The Princess Mononoke': For pure atmosphere and darkness, Miyazaki's work definitely makes the list. Not only are the environments and animation visually stunning, but the stories are generally very dark.
5. 'The Wall Pink Floyd'. This film was another big influence, and not just because I am a Pink Floyd fan. When I saw it for the first time, I was completely blown away, watching how animation was used to illustrate somebody's mind as they slowly went insane.
Age: How do you feel about the lack of 2D animation when it comes to western mainstream cinema releases?
Adam: Personally I don't see today's lack of 2D animation in feature films all that bad.
Firstly as we all know, it's more about story than medium and the 3D movies that Pixar are putting out is proof of that.
Secondly, 2D is no longer a new innovation and the audience isn't captivated by hand-drawn characters coming to life, like they used to be. Now they're captivated by something completely new and one day 3D will be seen as 'everyday' or run-of-the-mill.
Thirdly, absence makes the heart grow fonder and I reckon it's just a matter of time before 2D is rediscovered by the audience and will be welcomed not as something new and magical, but more like a long-lost friend.
Age: Over the years you've won a fair few awards for your animations including Best Cartoon at FlashForward last year twice for littleFoot and the Yuyu but what do you consider to be your best work?
Adam: I'm really pleased with the artwork, colours and layouts in littleFoot, but as far as animation is concerned I think the Yuyu is my best work. Mostly because there was just so much animation in that short and even now, I look at it and wonder how I managed to pull it off. I remember just 3 days from finishing the Yuyu, I was looking at the monitor saying "I'm NEVER going to finish this.. it's too big".
Aside from that, I'm thinking my upcoming Brackenwood short 'Waterlollies' is already looking like the best one so far because I've combined all the best elements from previous movies. Highly detailed landscapes, more water effects, lots of floating camera work and a very high drawing-count making the character animation more fluid. It's going to be very difficult for me surpass, next time around.
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Age: I understand that since a young age you've always been fascinated with drawing and artistry but what was it that made you want to become an animator and go down the path you did? Is there one defining moment?
Adam: The defining moment definitely has to be in 1990 when I was working in a steel factory in Queensland, Australia. One day the machine on which I worked grabbed my glove and pulled my arm in. My forearm wrapped around a spinning shaft and both bones were snapped close to the wrist. Fortunately I (somehow) managed to hit the emergency stop before it tore my arm from me.
As the accident was in the course of duty, all my medical expenses were fully paid, including the surgery to put metal plates on the bones, physiotherapy and months of recovery time.
The very best thing about the whole deal was that I got 6 months off work with not a care in the world. I lived alone in a trailer on an amazing stretch of Queenslands Gold Coast, so I spent my days sleeping and my nights drawing from dusk till dawn and wandering along the beach.
I had always loved to draw, but during that time I learned so much about perspective, human anatomy and sequential storytelling (OK yes, comic books) that I wouldn't swap that half year for anything. As a matter of fact, many of the drawings I did over the course of those months were the drawings I sent to Disney in 1992 as part of my job application, which landed me the job.
So when my arm was healed and I'd recovered from the second round of surgery (to remove the plates), I went back to work in the factory. It didn't last long though.. I saw the place as a deathtrap and decided to quit.
Up until I heard about the job going at Disney, I had never considered animation for a career path. At the time I was into comic books in a big way and I wanted to be the next Simon Bisley so it's amazing how things turned out. If I'd never broken my arm, would I still be in that factory, or driving tractors on a farm somewhere? Well I'd like to think not, but it's funny how life can take you on a little detour.
Age: On to the Flash software itself do you have a particular favourite version that you like to use? And what are your opinions/expectations on Flash 9?
Adam: I love Flash 8 because of the enhanced gradients, custom easing, blend modes and filters. I've constantly used all of these in my work (with the exception of blend modes) so I would find it very difficult to go back to an earlier version.
As far as what we can expect to see in upcoming versions of Flash, I personally would love to see Adobe continue what Flash 8 started, and that is greater focus on the designer/animator. Those few features I mentioned above were the most significant animator-friendly additions ever seen in Flash.
Either way, I'm one of those guys who upgrades religiously so I'll probably be using Flash 9, no matter what.
Age: Other than animating and being creative what other things do you like doing? Is there anything you do to relax?
Adam: These days I eat, sleep and answer email when I'm not animating, but in the past when I had a little more time, I was a fitness fanatic. I loved to climb things and throw stuff.
I actually haven't exercised in years so now I'm skinny, white and soft. That's probably got a lot to do with working all night and sleeping half the day, seeing the moon more often than the sun. These last couple of years, whenever I've had some free time, I'd play Half Life, UT2004, Quake 4 and more recently WoW.
Age: So what have you got up your sleeve at the moment? Are there any particular goals you'd like to achieve next?
Adam: I'm not sure how long I can keep doing this Brackenwood thing for free. Currently I'm lucky enough to have Newgrounds sponsoring my movies now which really helps me out, but I'm going to have to get serious about pitching my ideas to production companies and studios.
After Waterlollies I'll need to top up my savings with a freelance job or two, then I'll probably spend more time on developing the Brackenwood feature film. I've already done some work on the plot outline and art direction and it's a lot of fun to work on so it's something I really want to do.
Age: What's the biggest/best piece of advice you've ever received in terms of animation?
Adam: Construct your scene first (perspective, composition, design), then work very rough until you have the basic movement nailed.
When you're first starting a scene you should ignore the fear of doing a bad drawing. Rough out a scene with a very feint colour so you get that vague line (if you're animating traditionally on paper, use the broad edge of the pencil, not the tip!). Once the scene is animated, then you can work on the finer details of the model.
None of the great animators started a Mickey, Donald, Daffy or Bugs scene by creating a clean line-drawing with all the fur, ears and expressions, ready for colour. They start with basic volumes and primitive shapes. We've all seen those rough character construction poses where the head is a circle with lines indicating eye level and centre. Even hands and feet are basic block-shapes until the animation is working.
It's also much easier to erase a drawing at the very rough stage. The more effort you've put into it, the harder it is to start over.
Age: Finally while we're on the subject, do you have any advice for the budding animators that are reading this interview? If so, what is it?
Adam: Learn all you can about perspective and human/animal anatomy. They're the most basic building blocks not only for animation, but for illustration as well. Remember too that if you're just starting out, don't be discouraged by your early, clumsy efforts. The very fact that you can see something's wrong is proof that you'll inevitably improve with practice. Treat mistakes as lessons learned.
Everyone starts at a point, but only those with dedication will become awesome.
Thanks Adam once again for your time.
Wise words from a man that certainly knows his stuff. I'm sure many people myself included will take his advise to heart and really use it improve upon their animation.
Be on the look out for the release of 'Waterlollies' it's sure to be excellent! And if you're not already familiar with Adam's work you can visit his website at BiteyCastle.com.