We sat down with Animation Mentor alumni Rich Farris to discuss his recent Annie Awards nomination and journey from 3D character animation student to stop motion film director.
‘From The Top’ Short Film
Animation Mentor: Congratulations on your recent Annie Awards nomination! Please tell us about the film and how it came together.
Rich: Thank you so much for the congratulations! I’m still not sure it’s quite hit me yet, or if it ever will!
‘From The Top’ is about a woman, Robin, who grew up with a passion for drumming, but now later in life has turned her back on the drums. It’s the story of her trying to take her drum kit back to the music store, once and for all, but realizing that giving up on a passion isn’t easy.
Ultimately, I made the film as a message to myself to do what I love doing, and not let expectations or external validation hold me back! The idea for the story came from my own past – I was once a professional drummer in a band, but when the record label dropped us, I stopped playing.
While working on the idea with writers Francesca Lin and Jack Maraghy, we came up with the concept of setting the film within a huge drum. We loved the idea that as Robin got closer to her destination, the journey became physically harder as she had to climb steeper and steeper gradients. It also gave us the opportunity to play with gravity, keeping everyone else in the world with their feet on the ground, to represent the feeling of being the only person in the world to be struggling.
‘From The Top’ is my graduation film from the National Film and Television School in the UK, where I was studying an MA in Directing Animation. Amazingly, the school allowed us to actually build the whole 12 and a half feet tall drum set, thanks to Production Designer Nivitha Muralikrishna’s architectural background.
As the director of the film, I was across all departments, but it really was a team effort to get the film made. Everyone, from the Heads of Departments to the art department volunteers, to the model making students, did an amazing job! In terms of animation, I was fortunate to be able to call in some favors from a couple of friends to do a few shots, as well as having a volunteer for a day, but I did end up animating 90% of the film myself. Luckily I love to animate, so it’s certainly not a complaint.
From 3D Character Animation to Stop Motion
Animation Mentor: How did Animation Mentor help prepare you for the industry?
Rich: Animation Mentor prepared me hugely for working in the industry! Aside from the obvious animation skills, the practice of taking and giving feedback is so useful. It’s something that happens every day, so something to get comfortable with. Having different mentors was great as well. I would try to view them as a director, and each one had a different style of helping the students to make the best work possible. I found that really interesting and is something I think about now, when I’m directing. It’s good to know that there are multiple ways of getting a good result!
Animation Mentor: What was the transition from 3D character animation to stop motion like?
Rich: People often tell me that it’s unusual to come across someone who started in CG and then went into Stop Motion. Apparently it’s usually the other way around, but for me it was the perfect route. The animation principles are the same, no matter the technique, and the same applies to good performance. Learning these things in CG meant I was able to try things a lot easier, without that fear of messing it up and having to start all over again. I could try something, and if it didn’t work, I could tweak it to understand what the problem was. Plus, having an undo button takes a lot of the pressure off!
Animation Mentor: What advice do you have for current or future Animation Mentor students?
Rich: I would say have fun! I’ll bring it back to the message of ‘From The Top’ – do it because you enjoy it! Don’t get hung up on trying to make something to impress people, or try to fit in to a specific studio’s style. Make animations that you enjoy!