Stop right there

AUTHOR:  
Published:  January 5, 2010
Stop right there

Growing up in the fawn coloured suburbs of Victoria during the 1970s and 80s can have a profound effect on your life, especially if you happened to be a little bit different or creative. While the unforgiving normality of the ’burbs may have crushed the dreams of some, for others such as Adam Elliot, the culture of encouraged blandness that pervaded the time became a source of inspiration as his new feature film and animated masterpiece Mary and Max demonstrates.

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

After five years of selling t-shirts down at the Esplanade craft markets in St Kilda, Melbourne, Elliot made the fateful decision to attend the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) open day. In 1996 he enrolled in a one-year Diploma in Animation. “I had never animated anything or really wanted to be an animator,” Elliot explains. “But I’d always drawn and been creative – so I thought I’d give it a go. I thought I would just do two-dimensional animation, but then I started playing around with plasticine and it all happened from there – so it wasn’t really a burning desire. It just sort of felt good at the time.”

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Yet for something that wasn’t initially a consuming passion, animation has become a big part of Elliot’s life, taking him to the red carpet of the Academy Awards in 2004 where he was awarded the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. This was for his fourth film, Harvie Krumpet. Elliot has also been presented with five AFI (Australian Film Institute) awards for his four short films. However today we are here to speak with him about his first feature film, Mary and Max, which comprises the wonderful tale of a friendship that blossoms through a series of letters between Mary, who lives in the outer Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley, Victoria and Max who lives in the concrete jungle that is New York City, US.

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Once the story came together, Elliot advises Mary and Max took five years to make it to the big screen, from initial script through to the post-production and edit. “The script itself took about a year to write and during that time my producer was out getting the money to make the film,” Elliot says. “The next step was creating the storyboard and so I spent six months doing 1300 little drawings, which looked like a very long comic book, and was a very tedious and laborious process, yet with the script and storyboard stage, if you take the time to get it right, it will make the production stage a lot smoother and a lot easier. Following that we set up the studio, employed the crew and began to think about casting. We also had to buy all the technical gear and so we employed a post-production producer, named Henry Carolina, who had worked on King Kong. He came to us with a lot of technical experience, and he helped us to work out how we were going to make this film, which cameras we should use and the technology we needed. He also went and found this company for us to work with called XDT, who build software for the army, because we needed a massive server that was something like 10 terabytes.”

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Aside from custom building a giant server, Eliot and his crew often had to call on their powers of ingenuity when working on this film. “A lot of the stuff we had to build from scratch, and some of the technology we even had to invent,” he explains. “We worked with a company called Stop Motion Pro for the frame grabbing software, which is the software we used to capture the images from the digital cameras, but we then built this whole pipeline and system for it. Then people overseas started to hear about our system and how we built it cheaply and Aardman flew over someone to look at our system. They’re now using these techniques on some of their films. Because we had such a small budget we had to think laterally and figure out how we could make this film for a fraction of the cost of other stop motion animation films, and so we were lucky we had a very experienced crew.”

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Copyright: Adam Elliot and Icon Entertainment

Elliot has now been ensconced in the animation world for well over a decade, and has witnessed the times changing, from analogue to digital. It’s been an incredible transformation, but some things haven’t changed all that much. “Well my first film, my student film, I shot on this little Bolex camera, and then we edited it the old-fashioned way. We spliced the film by hand and sticky taped it together, the sound was recorded on tape and digital technology hadn’t arrived yet. We kept hearing about it, of course, and were very excited about it,” Elliot reminisces. “I now use digital cameras to make my films. You could say that everything from the camera backwards is digital, but everything from the camera forwards is traditional with puppets and sets. None of the characters, sets or the sky behind them is digital – the rain is made of fishing wire, the fire is red cellophane, and all the tears and water in the film is made of ‘sex lube’. Everything is edited on a computer, and the sound is digital, though we did record a lot of our own sound for the film, like footsteps, instead of using library effects. So in some ways, the technology has changed completely for me, but in other ways it’s still traditional.”

www.maryandmax.com

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