Animator Timothy Pattinson’s most recent short, The Farewell Party, was just nominated for an Academy Award for best short subject. He worked on Mary and Max, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film earlier this year, and was also the lead animator on the Oscar-winning Inside Out.
The artist behind such classics as Hotel Transylvania and Trolls is now focused on telling stories about mental health issues through his films. He talked to us about his latest project, showing how films can be a medium for exploring sensitive issues, and the importance of having a diverse range of films available to offer an alternative to horror.
Bert: Can you tell us a little bit about The Farewell Party?
TIM: Sure, this is a short film about a middle-aged man who is planning to commit suicide. It’s a bit of an exploration of the meaning of life and death, and the fragility of the human condition. The main character, Gordon, is a bit of a mess. He’s an okay guy, but nothing really seems to phase him. He walks through his daily routine without much excitement or wonder, and he lacks any real emotional connection to the people or things around him. This could be because he feels like he’s never going to be fulfilled or happy, so there’s no point trying, but also it might be that he’s looking for something to focus on. Something to make him feel alive and engaged, but also at the same time, he feels like he’s living in a black hole with no way out. So, in the end, he comes across a pamphlet in a bookshop that sums up his condition perfectly: ‘Suicide is painless and painless surgery is kinder.’ So, with that, he makes a decision and decides to go for it. What’s amazing about this film is that it’s made up almost entirely of archival photos, and it still manages to feel incredibly fresh and original. It’s a great example of how an artist can subvert our expectations and still keep the essence of what we loved about the original work.
What is your process for creating a short film?
TIM: My process is always the same. First, I pitch a story to a client. Then, I do a whole lot of research, reading, and thinking before I dive in and start drawing. After that, I just keep going until it feels done. Sometimes I’ll do tests and adjust a few things here and there. But most of the time, I just follow the instructions and see how it all comes together. It’s a pretty linear process, but for some reason, I feel like it’s always the case. Maybe it’s because as an independent animator, I don’t want to rush anything or cut corners. Maybe it’s because I want to do justice to the story. Also, I think that if I had more time, I would probably go into more details and adjust a few things here and there, but for the most part, I like to leave things as they are and not mess with the formula too much. It’s the same with Mary and Max. I did a whole bunch of initial research, reading, and thinking about human behavior and psychology, and then I just started drawing. At first, I was really worried about how it was all going to come together, but once I got into it, I just started animating, and it all started to make more sense. I think that when you’re in the middle of it, all you can do is trust your heart and instincts. Even in the most rushed of circumstances, you can never go wrong, because you’re doing your best for the story and for the people you’re working with.
The Last Dance is another short that was just released and features one of our favorite animated couples of all time.
TIM: Yeah, I love that movie too. I mean, I love all of Richard Linklater’s films, but mostly, I love The Last Dance. It’s a great example of how independent animation can be done successfully with very limited resources. Normally, you’d need a huge production to pull off a film of this caliber, and it’s really refreshing to see a small, independent crew pull it off so perfectly.
The key to The Last Dance and all of Richard Linklater’s films is that he always puts the story first. It doesn’t matter how much resources he has, he will never sacrifice the story in order to make the film look more cinematic. If a scene doesn’t work, he will cut it. If the dialogue isn’t there, he will rerecord it. If the shot isn’t there, he will shoot a different one. The main thing is that he always puts the story first and makes sure that everything supports it and enhances the experience of the viewer. It really makes for an interesting comparison to John Woo’s Hard Boiled, which we also featured on Designing Beautiful Designs, as John Woo also puts the story first and makes sure that every shot and every edit is in line with the story he’s trying to tell.
Many of your other shorts have been comedy-based, can you tell us a little bit about your process for coming up with this type of content?
TIM: Most of my other shorts have been for clients that wanted something funny or light-hearted. So, for the most part, I think that I’ve done my best to give them what they want. My goal is to make people laugh, and if I can do that while exploring some serious subject matter, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. You can’t just make fun of serious subjects like depression and suicide. It doesn’t always have to be funny. There are a lot of funny things that happen as a result of depression, and a lot of people suffering from depression can relate to the characters in my shorts. So, hopefully, in some small way, my work can help others by showing them that it’s okay to be funny while they’re dealing with something so serious. In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not that big of a deal, but for someone that’s dealing with depression, it can be a great comfort to be able to laugh about something. Just because things are funny doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious, and I think that people with depression know that better than anyone else. So, it’s important that we continue to make light of these sorts of issues and not hide them away.
What is your take on the current state of animation? Do you think it’s a viable avenue for ambitious filmmakers?
TIM: Animation is a really viable avenue for filmmakers. It’s not only about being able to tell a story, but it’s about being able to do that in a compelling, exciting way. As an independent animator who primarily does short films, I feel like I’ve been really lucky to be able to experiment with different styles and try new things. I’m not really familiar with the state of the industry, but I know that there are a lot of amazing and creative individuals out there who are looking for opportunities. I believe that if you’re a good enough artist, you can find a way to make a living and tell your stories no matter what. As for the future of animation, I’m not really sure. It’s always changing, and it seems to be heading more towards traditional hand-drawn animation and less towards computer animation, but maybe that’s just me.
The fact is that no matter what, animation has never been about following a set formula, and I think that that’s what makes it so unique and exciting. It’s always changing, evolving, and taking on new forms, which is what makes it so interesting. So, who knows, maybe in 10 or 20 years, we’ll look back at this point in time and think that computer animation was the only option. Who knows?
Where can we go to learn more about your work?
TIM: You can find everything you need online. My website is full of information about my work and links to where you can learn more. I even uploaded my reel and can send it to anyone that wants to see it. You can find my work on my website or on Vimeo. Just search for ‘Timothy Pattinson’ and you’ll start to see my work. There is also a special section on my website where you can see all of my shorts, and along with the storyboards, you can even download the complete scripts and voice over recordings. So, it’s all there, and if you’re really looking to get into my work, you can’t find a better place than my own website. It’s all there, and I think that it’s important that people that are interested in my work get as much information as possible, because otherwise, how is this going to help anyone?