TESS MARTIN / director



Tell us about yourself and your award-winning animated film The Lost Mariner. How did you come across Dr. Oliver Sacks’ case study in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. What inspired you to tell this story?

I had read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a number of years ago, but it wasn’t until my mother sent me a copy in her Christmas 2013 package and I reread it, that I had the idea for the short film. Actually I had the idea to create a whole series of shorts based on patients with rare neurological disorders, and this idea has now morphed into a feature project I’m currently working on. But I thought The Lost Mariner was a great place to start. The particular memory condition described was so challenging to depict, and my mind immediately started buzzing with ideas about which animation technique would be best.

How many photo stills were taken to create The Lost Mariner and how long did it take to complete the film?

The film is five minutes and 45 seconds, and the cut-outs were animated at either six or 12 frames per second. Normally I work at 12 frames per second, but because of all the cutting involved in this film I halved the frame rate of many scenes so my hand wouldn’t fall off. I would say the final film is made up of roughly 3,000 still images.

Today it seems most animation is done with 3D software on computers — what inspires you to work with a more traditional and experimental approach to animation?

There is something incredibly attractive and relatable about animation made one frame at a time with physical material. I think it works on our sense of empathy as viewers. We can see it was touched and made by a person and that just doesn’t come across as easily in digital animation, especially 3D digital animation. And also, that’s where the fun lies for me. Getting my hands dirty, and figuring out what practical technique is best to tell this story, that’s fun. And the possibilities are endless! You can animate anything: sand, objects, dust, flowers, ink, puppets, rice. Though the possibilities are equally wide in 3D digital animation, I haven’t seen artists really take advantage of its scope. Mostly you just see animators try to recreate reality, and what’s the point of that?

Were you always a creative person growing up? What inspired you to venture into animation to begin with and what do you enjoy the most about the animation process?

Ya, art class was always my favorite class growing up, but it took me a while to find my artistic home. I signed up for an undergraduate BA in Fine Art (at the University of Brighton in the UK) and was doing weird conceptual paintings and installations the first year. But during that summer I saw a puppet show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that changed my life. I wish I remembered the name of the troupe, but it’s lost to time. It was a puppet show where the puppeteers interacted with their puppets openly. Probably this is not revolutionary in the world of puppetry, but I’d never seen it before. I was really inspired by the way the puppeteers infused life into their puppets, and when I got back to art school I started making little wire puppet and paper cutout films one frame at a time. And I’ve just never stopped. For me, making animated films is my artistic practice.

Who are some artists that have influenced your work?

My early inspirations were the animators Yuri Norstein, Caroline Leaf, and Jan Svankmejer. I’m constantly discovering new work by older animators I didn’t know about and new ones coming up. I would say the qualities I find most inspiring are creativity in storytelling — in structure of the narrative and technique used. I like a film that challenges me, doesn’t spell out the story for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring future animators?

My main advice would be to think about what type of animator you want to be — do you want to be an animator for hire at a big studio? Do you want to be a freelancer with your own business who does primarily client work? Or do you want to make primarily your own films? All of these are valid directions, and they are all possible. If you are surrounded by a community that only fits into one of those categories, it can be hard sometimes to realize that the other options exist.



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