REGINA Karis caught up with special effects artist and film producer Isabel Peppard to talk about the wonders of stop motion animation and her new horror/fairy-tale short Butterflies.
It’s no secret that stop-motion animation has been gaining popularity in recent years – films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline are proof of this.
For Isabel Peppard, one of Melbourne’s own young and emerging artists, the archaic technique holds a unique charm that’s unrivaled against other forms of animation.
Co-written by Isabel and Sydney-based film producer Warwick Burton, Butterflies is Isabel’s new twelve-minute stop-motion gothic/horror short that has been gaining worldwide recognition in the world of film and animation.
In Butterflies, Claire (voiced by Academy Award-nominated actress Rachel Griffiths), is an artist who struggles to make ends meet by selling her drawings to passersby on the street. One day, a businessman offers her a job – a prospect that somehow threatens to kill her creativity.
Butterflies was created as a response to Isabel’s own creative slump which inspired her to write, direct and produce the short. Isabel attests that the film is incredibly autobiographical.
It’s exciting to think that you can submerge an audience in an entire world that comes out of your brain and is made by your hands.
While she never actually studied film, Isabel spent years working as a special effects artist, which gave her the chance to work with various stop-motion animation production houses and provided insight to the craft.
“I love the way stop-motion animation allows you to create a unique, immersive universe,” she says.
“It’s exciting to think that you can submerge an audience in an entire world that comes out of your brain and is made by your hands.”
Nevertheless, making Butterflies was an incredibly stressful and gruelling process for Isabel.
One of the most amazing and certainly admirable aspects about the film is that Isabel created it from scratch. From conceptualisation to creating the clay puppets and the wonderfully atmospheric sets, to the actual process of shooting and animating, Isabel was completely committed to her short.
“It was one year of full-time work to build the sets, props and puppets, and another nine months in the shooting and animating of it all,” explains Isabel.
“We did have a bunch of other crew that contributed a huge amount in the pre-production and animation, but due to budgetary restraints, it ended up being predominantly me and Beau in the studio.”
As she explained the rigors of stop-motion animation, Isabel shed light on how a typical day in each stage of the short’s production was spent.
“In pre-production, a typical day would be rocking up to the studio, glaring at the giant list of things that needed to be built, sitting down at our respective work benches and getting stuck into it.
During the shoot, a typical day would be setting up a shot by tweaking the lighting, rigging the puppet, making sure everything was glued or clamped down and then one to eight hours of animating. Sometimes I’d end up animating all night!
“During the shoot, a typical day would be setting up a shot by tweaking the lighting, rigging the puppet, making sure everything was glued or clamped down and then one to eight hours of animating. Sometimes I’d end up animating all night!” she said.
Luckily, the experience got Isabel out of her rut, giving her confidence in her ability to deliver as an animation director.
Not only that, Butterflies has gained worldwide recognition, having won various awards and has screened at different film festivals all around the globe. Its win at the Cinequest International Film Festival in San Jose even made it eligible for an Oscar nomination.
Isabel attributes perseverance as key to breaking into the industry, advising fellow animators and students alike to follow their passion.
You really have to keep at it. Sometimes it takes 10, 15, even 20 years for people to find any sort of success in the arts. Sometimes it can be really disheartening, but if you have a compulsive love for what you do, you inevitably keep doing it.
“There’s a lot of talented people who give up because they haven’t made it big in a few years,” the young director says.
“You really have to keep at it. Sometimes it takes 10, 15, even 20 years for people to find any sort of success in the arts. Sometimes it can be really disheartening but if you have a compulsive love for what you do, you inevitably keep doing it.”
At the moment, Isabel is focusing on developing and directing stop motion animated films and live action fantastical horror. She also dabbles in special effects makeup, silicone painting, sculpture and costume-making.
You can catch Butterflies and hear Isabel talk all about it at the Melbourne International Animation Festival this year. For more information on the Melbourne International Animation Festival, check out our report on the festival. Visit the official Butterflies Animation website for more on Butterflies.