Ainslie Henderson is a stop-motion animator and director who graduated from the Edinburgh College of arts in 2012. His film I am Tom Moody is creating quite a sensation across the international festival community with over 30 screenings so far. This wonderfully sensitive stop-motion film looks into the mental turmoil of Tom, a musician who struggles with his insecurity and self-belief on stage just before a performance.
So far the film has one both Ottawa’s Media Award and Grand Walt Disney award, Encounters Best British animation award and Montreal Best academic animation Award to name just a few. But this film is only just beginning to gain momentum with another 10 screenings due in April 2013.
Ainslie follows on from a long list of successful graduates from ECA. As well as his own success he also won a BAFTA with fellow ECA graduate Will Anderson for his work on The Making of Longbird.
Skwigly took the opportunity to sit down with Ainslie Henderson and discuss his film, his influences and his future.
Thank you for talking to Skwigly. Your most recent film I am Tom Moody has been very well received so far, you have had screenings all around the world including Ottawa What do you think it is about your film that has captivated both audiences and critics?
I think people like the honesty in the films I make, I came to being an animator by a very strange route, I was originally a songwriter before. I came to making animated films with a similar kind of sensibility that I had with songs, when I hear a good song it always has to have someone in it saying something about their life, that I really believe and is convincing, so I came to making films in a similar way. I don’t want to be impressed or existed or exhilarating but the most import things is that there is someone inside saying something about them elves.
I am Tom Moody appears to be a very intimate film, dealing with very personal issues. How important was telling this story for you?
I’m quite up and down as a person and I feel things very strongly. I have periods of being melancholic and then other times of feeling so excitedly happy, its hard to get things done when your up and down so much. There are definitely feelings in my head that are conflicting. I wanted a way of bringing all those things together and unifying them together in a film and a character- I wanted to cartoon those voices into Tom moody. So there is definitely bits of me in Tom.
I noticed Mackenzie Crook was the voice of Tom and Crook’s son Jude was used for young Tom, how did you get them involved?
I’ve know Mackenzie for around ten years or so, not terribly well just kind of being a friend and in touch, I’ve always admired him as an actor and found him very funny. I just like who he is and what he’s about. When I was writing this character of Tom I knew I needed someone that could play, parts of Tom that are deeply insecure and stuttering and awkward and then at the same time be really aggressive and domineering and have those two parts played really well. I’ve seen Mackenzie do both of those things, he has this character, he hasn’t done it for years, a geography teacher called Mr. Bagshot and the whole act is for him to stand in front of an audience in a stand up situation and basically be a shouting teacher, yelling at a class. It was just brilliant, that aggressive father part of Tom it was that performance of his that made me think that I would love him to voice Tom.
When I went to record it with him, I knew I still didn’t have anyone to be the son and I kind of sheepishly suggested, because I felt bad asking Jude to do it, and I didn’t know if he could do it, as I hadn’t seen Jude in a few years. But we got there and we just decided to do it. Jude absolutely amazed me so natural, Innocent but intense. The voice recording bit was done in Mackenzie’s spare room, because I didn’t want to take Jude to a recording studio as I thought that make him uncomfortable, so we just did it in the room in his house, and we made this little recording booth out of mattresses and duvets, like a den and we crawled inside with this one microphone and the two of them crowded around it and whispered into it. They recorded maybe three times, and each take was just lovely and as soon as I heard that recording I though we’ve captured that scene. That was one bit of the film I knew would work.
You studied at Edinburgh College of Art; what did you learn, and how have you applied it to I am Tom Moody?
Edinburgh is an odd school because they never give you “classes” in animation there was I few little classes in walk cycle or something like that, most of the time your left to figure out things by yourself and you lean off other students as much as you learn anything from the tutors. I learned to be self-reliant and to have my own motivation, they really let you do what you want to do, and you really have to figure out what you want to do. They don’t hold your hands. So I guess I’ve carried that on after leaving.
As you mentioned before you were originally a singer and songwriter; what made you become an animator, and how does your background in music influence your films?
I use to live in this mad commune, that had a pottery in the bottom of it and I got into making things out of clay. Then I got into making sculpture and I just adored sculpting characters, in my house I’ve got theses mad little ceramic creatures all dotted around. I saw a friend’s film called Solo Duets by Joseph Feltus it Is such a beautiful piece of work. I saw that and that is when I realised that Edinburgh College of Art had a good reputation for stop-motion animation and somewhere in my mind I always had this knowing that I was going to go and do a degree in stop-motion animation at some point in my life. And I think things came together, I turned 30, I loved making sculptures I saw this film by Joseph I knew I was going to do it somehow and it all just came together. I put a portfolio together, was accepted I went straight into second year, I didn’t do the first foundation year because I knew really clearly that I wanted to do animation and I wanted to do stop-motion.
And with music, the film was about music, but it’s interesting to me that there isn’t very much sound design. It’s kind of like the voice is the music of the film, I recorded all those voices first and edited them all before I started animating so I suppose that, when I’m animating the sound design is always in my head, often that leads me before the visual stuff arrives. And I suppose being a musician influence me in that way.
The making of film that accompanies ‘I am Tom Moody’ is fantastic, showing the highs and lows of a lengthy production, what was it like to create?
I didn’t really think about it at all. What you see in the making of is a tiny fraction of what I actually shot. When your in a little dark room for months and months it gets a pretty lonely, recording I’d just open photo both and just talk as a way of almost having a friend in there with me. So it was comforting, you start to form a funny relationship with the puppet it forms a personality I called on my friend Will Anderson, we do a lot of things together. I shot tons of stuff and kind of gave it all to Will to edit. To his credit he edited out all the stuff I thought was important; I went into loads of detail about the technical process I was doing and how it was shot and all of that stuff and he just threw all that away and focused on my mad emotional turmoil.
Can you give us some incite into the development of ideas, and following that into production?
I didn’t do a lot of story boarding for Tom, that’s something I’m learning now. With Tom I took a voice recorder, I walked around in the woods a lot, and I have streams of audio of me just ranting at this tape recorder being the two parts of his mind and playing. A lot of it came about in that way. I built the puppet early on. I was voicing these characters and I knew the way they looked, and so my storyboards were appalling and really embarrassing, and the animatic was so poor. On reflection, the film could have been better if I had focused on that a little bit more, when I watch it back I think it could be edited a little, be a little tighter.
I’ve started a new film, and we have been so pro-active in storyboarding and animatic- we’ve built the most beautiful animatic. It so slick and tight, it shows every shot really clearly, I think its something worth doing, and I’d have saved myself a bit of time.
As well as your success with your own film, you recently won a BAFTA award with your partner Will Anderson for The Making of Longbird. What was it like to work on that animation?
That was great he was in the year before me, he was in 4th year when I was in 3rd. In 3rd year I didn’t have much pressure on me I was kind of having fun and Will had all the pressure, and that’s how we met and got to know each other. He was making Longbird and I was just really taken with the idea and his spirit and energy, he’s a very bright funny guy, so just being around him is a pleasure. And he’s kind of contagious, you get caught up in what he does and I think he finds my ideas contagious as well, so if one of us has a good idea the other one muscles in on it. He was making Longbird and I was so taken with it, there was no real agreement, no ‘so you’ll do this’, we just talked about it. So we had a lot of conversation about Longbird, I helped in any way I could and Will very generously put me on as writer on the end. Which I was very grateful he did.
Can you tell us what’s next for you and your work?
Its stop-motion animation with live action spliced into it. It’s based on a real life psychologist called Harry Harlow who did a serious of experiments in the 50’s and 60’s called Monkey Love experiments. I’m interest in psychology so that’s why I know this guy, and he’s an incredible figure. He did his experiments, which were equally cruel and bizarre, but he profoundly changed the way we think about our connections with our parents and the ways we learn to love. So it’s set in Harry’s world, though Harry isn’t really a big part of it. Its focused on a monkey called Gandhi and it’s set in the time of the space landing. So it’s on the run up to this space launch mission, and Gandhi manages to convince himself that he is a monkey that is destined for space travel, when actually he is a monkey in Harry Harlow’s lab.
So that’s the story for Monkey Love Experiment, It’s kind of bizarre, because Tom is such a personal film, and I wanted to make something that was bit more universal. I wanted to make something about love, I knew that, and I wanted to explore what love is and what it means to people and how we learn to love and why we learn to love, and I thought by putting it in a monkey it makes it less particular to one individual and we can think of it more as a concept.
I’m working on this with Will and this is the first film that we have embarked on that we’ve both said were going to make this. I’m directing and animating it, Will is art direction and composting, we both wrote it so it’s a real collaboration on this one.
It will be a stop-motion monkey composted in a live set. It has to be finished by end of June, so it’s a tight deadline and we haven’t built the Monkey yet. It’s also our first funded film. We’ve been able to hire in puppet makers and such, suddenly there’s a sound engineer. And it’s a great learning curve.
Learning to allocate jobs is a different kind of stress, but I’m lucky because I’m working with really great people
I am Tom Moody has just been selected for the official Graduation film selection at this years Annecy festival. Lets see if Ainslie can follow in partner Will Anderson footsteps who won the same prize last year.