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This Week We "Sit Down With" Animator and Director Steve Small of Studio AKA

04 December 2018

This week 'We Sit Down' with Animator and Director of Animation Steve Small of Studio AKA

Click to view Steve Small's workClick to view Steve Small's work

During his career the master craftsman has created stunning animation for the Disney features Hercules and Fantasia 2000. He also created the hugely successful Mr Bean animated series for Tiger Aspect & Richard Purdum Productions.
Since working with Studio AKA Steve has directed and animated a huge range of commercials including spots for Tele2, Nicktoons, UKTV & Orange, Green Flag and the charming Sing Up. Recently he has been crafting the new TSB characters and creating a series of animated sequences for a forthcoming BBC drama TBA.

Here we hear about his influences and his latest project to bring alive the iconic posters by lb Antoni.
Ib Antoni (1929-1973) was one of the most sought after Danish visual artists of his time. The family and Gallerist Mikael Hauberg have partnered with Studio AKA to create two animated gifs directed by Steve Small and we are showcasing them here.

So over to you Steve Small...

What movie inspired you to be a DP/Director?

Milch by Igor Kovalyov (2005). I was already into animation but that one rekindled the flame.

Who is your favourite Cinematographer? Slawomir Idziak ‘Three colours Blue’ and ‘The Double Life of Veronique’.

Click to view Black Earth RisingClick to view Black Earth Rising

What other mediums do you draw inspiration from? (e.g. paintings, photographers, writers, etc)

I work in Animation which has now virtually no technical limits when bringing an idea or a technique to life. Whilst this allows us to make very rich pieces of work, I still admire ideas and realisations of ideas that keep things simple. Ib Antoni is a good example of that ‘Less is More ‘ approach.

Could you talk us through the instructions or brief you received from the client?

We were asked what we would do to bring his iconic posters to life. It seemed to me that we should add as little to them as possible because their simplicity was a big part of their appeal. Also, like most great cartoonists and poster designers, Ib Antonis’ works have that enviable knack of saying everything in one image. Which means that whilst it might be just a snapshot of that world, it delivers on many levels.

Click to view ConciergeClick to view Concierge

Can you talk us through the piece. So, the concept, what it shows and the visual approach you've taken?

When asked how we would bring the work into animation, the concept was simple. Let’s animate that poster as exactingly as we can. That design. Lets even make that design an actual frame of the animation. In other words, the poster was the brief. We put forward the idea that we make a simple sequence and imagine the result being as if the posters were the result of a photo taken by a stills camera (albeit an artist making a painting) and that we’d replace a stills camera with a film camera. (several artists making several paintings). We’d animate that moment, adding and removing nothing.

Beyond the brief, what else did you look to for inspiration when creating the piece? Was there anything else that inspired or informed the visual approach you took?

I like to do a lot of research. And that can take many forms. Reading, seeing any original works etc...In this case it was fairly focused and straightforward. And because he was such a consummate designer, all we needed was right in front of us. All we had to do was study the image and find out what made it tick. A reverse engineering process. How were they painted, what techniques were used, what is the personality of the work and so on.

How did you create the work and can you talk me through the key steps in the process?

We adopted as many traditional methods as possible. The craft is evident in the originals and we wanted to make the animation as hand drawn as we could. We created line tests in TV Paint, Flash (using it as a drawing tool rather than a vector tool) and a Photoshop animation timeline. Once the line-tests were completed we art-worked and painted one frame at a time.

Click to view TivoliClick to view Tivoli

How do the tools you use influence your creative process..?

In this project we were lucky that Photoshop had just released some great brushes. Without these, it would have been a very different process. With practice and research we developed a terrific, though still labour-intensive technique that was strikingly true to the original print. Working on these two animations gave us a perfect opportunity to learn what these brushes could do. So when an opportunity came along to pitch on a series of scripts for Hugo Blick’s new series ‘ Black Earth Rising’, I was able to sit down for a day or two and make paintings in photoshop in a thoroughly intuitive way. This opened the way for a different working method to one we used for finding the technique for Ib Antoni. This was not reverse engineering but an exploration of new territory.

What piece of advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

I haven’t made a film yet. I have made sequences. But even working on these I can see that no matter what the technique, the idea is the most important. Know what you want to say first, then play with how you want to say it.

What are you hoping for in your next project?*

Time and enough budget.

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