Simon Robson (aka Knife Party), creative director of Engine, directed the animation for the BAFTA nominated feature film Taking Liberties. His most recent project, Coalition of the Willing is an animated film and web-based event about an online war against global warming in a ‘post Copenhagen’ world.
Coalition of the Willing was directed and produced by Robson, written by Tim Rayner and crafted by a network of 24 artists from around the world using varied and eclectic film making techniques. Collaborators include some of the world’s top moving image talent, such as Decoy, World Leaders and Parasol Island.
Robson is one of the key speakers at Sydney’s SPAA Fringe Annual Conference for emerging filmmakers taking place on 22 and 23 October 2010.
I asked Simon some questions about the project, as well as the interesting process of crowd-sourcing.
How did Coalition of the Willing evolve from an idea into a collaborative project?
I wanted to make an environmental film and approached Tim Rayner about working with me. I was living in Sydney in 2008 and was shocked by a Jeep ad I saw with large Jeep on top of a mountain and the words “Have fun out there.” I felt that if people still thought is was OK to drive a huge SUV around the outback just for fun, then surely the environmental message was not hitting home.
Tim and I started writing and creating tests for the film towards the end of 2008. Then in April of 2009 we spoke at a creativity conference in NYC called F5. Here at the end of our address I pitched the idea out to the audience that we’d like to collaborate with other artists on the film and to come and meet us at the bar if they were interested. We were flooded…
What was the process of making Coalition of the Willing was and how did you select the other contributors.
I was a curator as much as a producer/director; finding the right people with the right mix of styles was a long process. I was looking to work with art director/animators instead of just animators. I wanted to work with people whose aesthetics I respected. I wanted the collaborators to own the look of their sections. Once key names engaged with the project, other people became interested, it snowballed.
As to how Coalition was made, well I was like the hub of the wheel, communicating and ideas generating with all the collaborators. I also, animated and directed my own sections too. I was kind of the guardian of the message, making sure Tim’s thoughts were respected in the visual interpretations. I was across the project top to bottom and that meant I hardly worked commercially during the period of production. People relied on me to make sure all the pieces fitted together and I wasn’t sure they would right until the end.
Each studio I collaborated with gave huge amounts to the project, creatively and commercially. It was an amazing voyage of collaboration.
Would you refer to this as a crowd-sourcing project?
I’d call it creative crowd-sourcing. Crowd-sourcing to me is where many make very small contributions to a big project. Here each collaborator was intrinsically and creatively involved with the production. It was a much richer process than just crowd-sourcing.
Did you have any face-to-face contact/meetings with the other contributors, and if not, how did you communicate your vision to them and keep them focused?
About 50/50. Some collaborators I still haven’t met and maybe never will, others I saw on almost a daily basis. Those I didn’t meet, I collaborated with on email sending storyboards and ideas back and forth, and Skype, simple as that. The online side of the film required greater planning for which we used Basecamp.
I kept people motivated with un-faltering optimism for the project which sometimes belied my inner uncertainties!
You have a great ability to project political messages in a simple and concise way for viewers. Where did you learn these motion graphic skills?
Actually, motion graphic skills have nothing to do with communication. Communication comes from within and learning about people over the course of your life, watching responses, gauging moods and so on. I have worked in moving image for over 10 years which has helped me learn software and design skills. Much of the learning I’ve done in my own time, evenings and weekends. It’s been a long road. Now I have a little boy I have less time for software learning. His days are too precious.
What personally inspires your creativity in design? Any artists or designers in particular?
Stanley Kubrick, Gerald Scarfe, political/war poster art. I guess most of all, rigidly original people, people like Morrissey, Will Self, Josef Mueller Brockmann, brilliant original communicators. Plagirism and derivative work leaves me feeling bereft. Following a trend/style as a safe means of attempting to secure a commercial contract is a bloody awful way of going about doing things. I’ve been guilty of this a couple of times and it has amped my self-loathing no end.
How has social networking helped to spread word about your projects?
I think it is the only way now. We released Coalition online in sections over a four month period earlier this year. With clever web-heads on the project we’d attracted many thousands of followers, even before the film was complete. I was all over the Twitter and Facebook side of the project for the first few months, now I’ve lagged a bit, but Tim and new collaborators have taken up the slack. Social media communication is something so huge and so constantly evolving that I think its almost impossible to strategise. You just need to keep on with it; Tweeting, following, Facebooking, smiling, shouting ‘Yeah!’ and eventually people pick up on it. In a way, I think Twitter is probably a much more optimistic place than the real world, everyone’s in self promotion mode, pessimism gets left at the curb a bit, which isn’t always a good thing.
How do you see social networking working as a tool for climate change?
Gosh, same as the above really. It’s information and connections that people need. People need readily available solutions, people need quick fixes in their own lives, people need readily available easy environmental alternatives to their current ways of living and they need like minded folk to discuss it with. If social media information flows can be distilled into un-complicated tailor made environmental ‘to-do’ lists, particular to people’s localities, then we’ll see big shifts to green ways of living.
What programs/tools do you use most frequently for your motion graphics?
After Effects, cumin seeds, Cinema 4D, a home-built multi plane camera, Photoshop, oil-paint on glass, Illustrator, various slices of art papers, Flash, balsa wood, Dragon stop-motion software, strands of wool, V-Ray, soldering wire, Final Cut Pro and rubber washers…
What is the next step for the Coalition of the Willing? Are you involved with other environmental or political campaigns?
We have an amazing new Coalition project on the drawing board that I’m super excited about. Peter Broderick is advising us right now, he’s a genius. It’s going to be earthy and community based and totally harness the power of the swarm, artistically and ethically. It’s also just a bit illegal.
What is the next step for you and your role at Engine?
I’m creative director at Engine and right now at Engine we’re running around town showing everyone our amazing work and what we can do. I predict great things for Engine; we can shoot, edit, design, animate in 2D and 3D and finish in Smoke and Flame. We’re a bloody creative bunch, and we have an award winning chef in an amazing kitchen. I have to cycle to work so as not to stack on the pounds!
You can watch the film here: http://coalitionofthewilling.org.uk
As mentioned, Robson is one of the speakers at the SPAA Fringe. If you’re in Sydney, catch him on 22 and 23 October 2010.
Images copyright Simon Robson.