ASFF 2016 Call for Entries: Q&A with Rhiannon Evans, Official Selection Filmmaker

Travel around the brain with a little, lost thought and discover what it takes to make a great idea; Fulfilament is an innovative stop motion animation featuring the use of illuminated puppets. We speak to the filmmaker about her inspiration and methods.

A: Fulfilament leads viewers on an animated journey around the human brain. Where did the idea for the piece come from?RE: I wrote the first draft of the film in November 2009. It was called A Light Chance Of Brainstorms. I had graduated from Newport that summer and there was a funding scheme in Wales that was just starting up which was too good an opportunity to let pass.The story came quite quickly when I started imagining the idea for a film as a dim lightbulb bouncing around the different parts of my brain trying to be bright. Then I fell in love with the thought of making real lightbulb puppets that would illuminate the set as they moved around. It was one of those film ideas that just wouldn’t let me go even when I couldn’t get any funding for it.Then I found out that Pixar was making a film set inside the brain and I put it to one side thinking it was a terrible idea to tread the same ground. It was a difficult decision to start developing it again because I knew that I would finish only a few months before the release of Inside Out but I felt better when they released some character designs and it was clearly going to be about emotions and not ideas.

A:The animation experiments with innovative stop motion and features the use of illuminated puppets. What is it about stop motion and this particular technique that interests you?
RE: I felt like I hadn’t seen it done before. There had been puppets that had lights in them, Zero had a light up nose, but I found it an exciting prospect to see a fully illuminated puppet. It crossed my mind many times that there might be a reason why it hadn’t been done before but I felt confident that it was possible.I started working in stop motion because of the tactile, real-world aesthetic that can be achieved. It’s the closest thing to magic in animation, to take a real object and give it life. If that object is recognisable to the audience then I think they have a stronger response to it. What I discovered about this particular technique is that it much more impressive and magical to the naked eye than it is through the camera lens. To see a puppet on set lighting up the space around it feels very real to look at but it has an artificial feel on screen.

A: How has your time at university, both at The National Film & Television School and The University of Wales Newport, informed your practice?
I’m not sure it’s the universities that have informed my practice but the students that I studied with. Newport was a very supportive but open learning experience where I think I found what I disliked about animation which helped me begin to find a voice. At the NFTS is it very structured, intense learning with many opinions on your work that are all different. I suppose it was trying to challenge me to strengthen my voice but it mostly just confused me and made me doubt myself. It was the other animation students that I listened to and trusted and I have learned more from them, and many of the other students across the different courses, than I have from the course itself.

A: Another of your graduation films, Heartstrings (2009), also uses stop motion. Can you talk about the creative process behind this animation?
All I wanted was to animate at Aardman. I’d been really lucky and done some work experience there the summer before so I decided to make a film that could show my potential as an animator. I knew I needed two characters to show I could make puppets interact and that the best course of action was to tell a love story so I could have a range of emotions to animate. At the time I didn’t realise I was making a personal film that would connect with an audience.

I had never made puppets and hardly done any stop motion animation so I wasn’t sure I could even achieve it. What inspired me was seeing the other stop motion students’ films come together. They were all far more ambitious and complicated than mine so it gave me hope. I built ball and socket armatures that weren’t strong enough around the hips joints so the puppets waddle rather than walk. I didn’t know how to paint out rigs so I didn’t use them and I didn’t have time to make a set so there’s just a plain, canvas curve.What that film taught me was that all the problems and lack of skill didn’t matter because I told a truthful story that people empathise with. It’s been almost 7 years since I finished ‘Heartstrings’ and it shocks me everyday to see people are still watching it on Vimeo. I owe a lot to Gareth Bonello for creating the score for the film and achieving the perfect tone to compliment the story and the visual style.

A: You now have so far produced four short stop motion animation films, Fulfilament (2015), The Fly Who Loved Me (2014), Heartstrings (2009) and Into The Inkwell (2008). What is it that links all of these works together, and are there any upcoming projects that audiences can look forward to?
I think the obvious answer is the aesthetic. They all make use of everyday objects and materials to create animated worlds. I hope that what links them is simplicity. Simple stories, simple ideas, simple designs. I think my job as a filmmaker is to communicate with the audience and I don’t like stories that confuse and complicate ideas on purpose. My films are sometimes shown in festivals for children which makes me very happy because it shows that I’m communicating the story well enough that a child can understand and enjoy it.

I have a couple of ideas for new films but the problem with stop motion is the cost of production. I went to the NFTS in the first place because there was no funding out there for short film and I find myself in the same position again. I will definitely write another film but it might be a few years in the making.

1. Trailer for Rhiannon Evans, Fulfilament (2015). Courtesy of Vimeo.