Where did you grow up, and where do you now work and live?
I grew up in Guildford. Over the last three and a half years of my professional career I have continued to work from the Guildford area commuting regularly to London to work in-house for studios.
Tell us about your creative background.
I was never really strong at academic subjects, and my dyslexia handicapped me greatly when it came to reading and writing. However I found a forgiving comfort in anything creative, whether it was painting or drawing. Creative activities gave me the opportunity to be great at something.
While at Chelsea [Institute of Art and Design] I took a fond interest in life drawing – in particular, gorillas. I managed to fill an entire A2 sketchpad capturing these amazing animals. I was fascinated by them, their eyes, faces and hands.
After finishing my foundation course I had an incident with UCAS, where they lost my application form to apply to Kingston University, and was not eligible for a placement there. This devastated me, but instead of taking a year out I decided to follow up an Illustration course at Portsmouth University for a year until I could re-apply.
Portsmouth was a blessing in disguise for me, I learnt a lot about myself and others, and most importantly about my artwork. While at Portsmouth I was introduced to typography and printmaking, two avenues of illustration I had never considered before. I threw myself into screen printing and etching while combining this with my new fondness for type.
After completing my year at Portsmouth, I was later accepted into Kingston University where my first year was spilt into practicing both Illustration and Animation. I had never considered animation as an option before, but after doing a short project on ‘walk cycles’ I was sold. I grew up watching cartoons (and still do), however at that point it had never struck me that I could make a living creating them.
I worked hard during my three years at Kingston, and every project I completed had to better the last. When it came to my final year major project, I wanted to make an animation based on my own belief and experiences with life and fate. I believe strongly events happen in life that may be good or bad, but they happen for a reason to put you on the correct path to where you should be. So I took it upon myself to make this project.
What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Animation?
Like every kid I watched cartoons, but unlike every adult, I still watch them. Cartoons were the main incentive for me to be part of the creative industry, though my passion to become an animator really became relevant after watching hours and hours of Dragon Ball Z. My ambition to this day is still to animate a fully choreographed fight sequence.
Most challenging part of your job?
As an animator deadlines are your worst enemy and your best friend. Unlike more regular jobs animation doesn’t run on a 9-5 timetable. Being able to manage your work and time is of the utmost importance. Completing a project late means you don’t get paid. I have found many a time working for 16+ hours a day to meet a deadline. My co-director, Will Milton, and I once completed a full 30 page comic, edited, coloured, and print ready in 5 days. This meant a 97 hour week, we didn’t sleep for three days. This was hugely painful and exhausting, but I’m very proud of the amazing feat we accomplished.
What are your top 3 greatest animations of all time?
Tekkonkinkreet, The Iron Giant, Adventure Time and Dragon Ball Z.
In your opinion what elements contribute towards making a successful animation?
A great storyline, likeable and relatable characters and a complementing soundtrack.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a program commissioned by BBC3 called ‘Dumb Nations’. It’s a clip show featuring audio of real people, and I’m creating the animation and character designs to give life to the audio. It’s a really funny project and the audio alone makes you laugh, but when you see my characters interacting with the story it brings the whole package together. I use real observation in my characters to try and create the kind of people you know in your own life, which makes the comedy that much more identifiable and engaging.
In 2009 you worked on a bullying awareness campaign with Bold Creative, entitled ‘See Something Say Somthing’ which saw your series of animations win a prestigious BAFTA award. Can you talk us through the production stages for a project such as this, from research through to finished project? What sort of time scales did you have to deal with?
The process started with finding our story. We interviewed children aged 9-13 about their experiences with bullying. We wanted to find a range of stories to give the project depth. We came across an amazing boy called Shiez, (aka Marcus). He was brave enough to tell us how he used to bully one boy and thought it was funny until the boy’s mum told him how unhappy he was making the victim. And this resonated with Shiez, transforming him from bully into friend.
The story was so strong, and unusual. Normally the bully is the villain, yet in this instance he becomes the hero with whom we empathise and hope will change his ways.
After finding our different stories we recorded them to use as the audio bed for the animation. We then broke the audio down into a two minute edit, which would form the foundation of our film. Using the audio as a base, we made storyboards and characters. After a lot of development we where happy with our pre-production phase and began animating. I would draw all the characters and key frames, directing the assisting animators to how the film should be.
After the animation had been completed, we exported all the scenes and my co-director Will, composited all the animation together with his stunning quasi 3D backgrounds.
We created four films in the series – each of which took under three weeks to complete, from storyboarding to finished product ready for broadcast. The time schedule was very tight in order to meet Nickelodeon’s timeslot and to also coincide with November’s anti-bullying week. But with a bunch of lengthy days and some six day weeks, we finished. And won our BAFTA for Best Short Form.
You’re 26 now and your career has gotten off to a flying start, what would you have liked to achieved career-wise by the time you hit 30?
Well, by the time I’m 30, I will have my own company and will be pitching for funds to make my feature film and TV series.
Keep up to date with Ben’s latest projects here.