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Interview with ‘Sound of Horns’ director Conor Finnegan

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Conor Finnegan is an animator, director, illustrator and all-around creative beast. Represented here in the UK by Nexus, Conor splits himself between working commercially in London and from his home in Dublin. Since we last spoke to this now well-established animator about his graduation film Fear of Flying, Conor has worked on a multitude of commercial ventures as well as personal films such as his contribution to Late Night Work Club film ASSHOLE and Dorset Cereals. 

He has recently worked on a music video for Candice Gordon’s Sound of Horns. The haunting music inspired an equally creepy and spacey world in which Conor’s bobble headed pink men wander through, repeating themselves all the while adding layer upon layer of details, colour and loose threads of conjoined storylines. A mixture of stop motion and digital techniques with a nod towards traditional oil paint animations, this visually rich piece offers a playground of experimental techniques with gloriously weird characters and thought processes.

Skiwigly had the opportunity to discuss this music video as well as some of Conor’s most recent work.

Picture,2766,enYou’re currently a director at Nexus, can you tell us a little about your involvement and what your day involves?

I work with Nexus on a freelance basis but I’m based in Dublin. I go over when I have a job on with them and will stay for the duration of the project. I love London and the people in Nexus are the best, they genuinely (and weirdly enough) feel like an extended family. I often wonder if I should move to London. I feel like I’d get more work there but not necessarily end up doing the kind of projects that I want to be doing. Living in Dublin gives me the space to concentrate on the things that I want to do next, in between commercials. I go to my studio most days and work from there. I also make commercials with a production company in Dublin, called Speers, and often I’ll be working on a treatment for them, or Nexus. If I’m not working on something for either of them I spend the day developing ideas for short films, music videos and some longer form projects that I always have bubbling away in the background.

Working on a music video is most animators’ dream job, when were you approached and what was initially asked of you?

Candice Gordon and I were in school together. We’d met up loads of times since then and talked about doing something together but with her living in Berlin/ touring and me traveling between Dublin and London, it was rare that we’d both be in the same place at the same time. Eventually, after doing a couple of commercial jobs back to back, I decided I’d do an animated video for her (before we’d always discussed doing something live-action). Candice was very open to ideas- we both wanted it to reflect the mood of her music- which is quite narrative and dark and trippy. I had the idea for the technique of getting the paint to “boil” and one of Candice’s songs seemed to fit. It was a good opportunity for me to do something I’d wanted to experiment with for a while so I did it.

How did you set about making the film?

I started out doing some tests with the paint on a puppet and then I storyboarded the first few scenes. After that I just started animating and compositing it as I went along. I knew there were certain points in the song that I wanted to hit and I’d just keep animating until I got to them. It was really nice to work that way and problem solve as you go rather than having to work to an animatic. It’s rare that you get to do that in animation, understandably for obvious reasons. I ended up animating scenes that were left out and doing tests that amounted to nothing but I was treating it like a personal project and enjoying the process so I didn’t mind.

What was the concept behind the story of the film?

tumblr_mptzb0dh0N1rc6a1xo1_1280I listened to the song a lot and was definitely inspired by the lyrics and the mood of the melody. The lyrics seem to tell the story of someone waking up after a night out and repeating themselves to forget what they’ve just woken up to. The kind of self-destructive viscous-cycle people can get themselves into. The idea for me was that this ends up alienating you from yourself. At the end of the film, they’re copies of himself dancing with themselves (if that makes sense), but he’s still got no one to dance with and is left all alone.

How did you go about constructing the hypnotic/ psychedelic world of the film?

The ground was made of plasticine. That seemed like the best material for a mushy-type ethereal feel. I bought some fake plastic plants in a pet shop that were meant for fish tanks. They’re really highly saturated and that helped make it slightly stranger. I mixed them with real plants and twigs and things to create a good mix of fake and organic. I shot all the backgrounds separately and then comp’d the character in later, adding the coloured fog, which also helped with the psychedelic vibes. Man.

Was it nice to return to stop motion?

The only stop-motion in the video was the paint on the puppet parts and I animated one 360-degree turn for the head and body. The rest of the animation was done in After Effects. It was nice to build the sets though and get to experiment with the paint and oils floating in water.

I really like your idea to create a moving paint effect on the surface of the character, what gave you the idea?

I ended up watching a bunch of paint on glass animations one day and thought the boiling effect of paint was really nice. I wondered what it would look like on a puppet so did a test and loved the result. It makes it feel much more alive and visceral which really suited the song.

You have used the combination of stop-motion set and bodies with 2D limbs and features before, why do you choose to combine these methods?

Animating mouths in stop-motion is really awkward. When I did the 2d mouth for Fluffy McCloud it was to avoid having to put a real mouth on him. It worked so well that I began applying it to other things, like in Fear of Flying the eyes and legs are 2d. It seems to work and suits my workflow really well.

You have a very clean and bold look to your work that stretches over both your 2D and 3D work, what led to you working in this way?

I’m a fan of simple design. Less is more!

Earlier this year Ghost Stories by the Late Night Work Club was released; your film was particularly bizarre (in the best way), how did you come up with ASSHOLE’s concept?

I was trying to think of a good story for Ghost Stories while having a shower one day. I wanted it to be quite disturbing but funny. Then, while drying myself with the towel it came to me. The film is a bit of a mix of How to Get Ahead in Advertising, the shower scene in Psycho and was probably influenced by the films that scared and fascinated me as a child, like Chucky from Child’s Play or that mutant guy’s belly in Total Recall.

When did you find time to work with Late Night Work Club?

I worked on it between other projects. It actually came together quite quickly- I think I animated hard-core for about two weeks and then did a bit of finessing and fine-tuning for another couple of weeks between jobs. Despite the name, I tend to not work too late into the night.

I saw you recently worked for the Dorset Cereal Company. How were you approached for this piece?

The Sunshine Company ad agency were talking to Nexus early on and when they saw my work they felt I’d be right for the project so we were working closely from the outset.

The commercial was more reminiscent of your earlier short Fear of Flying, what was it like to return to this style of work?

It was really enjoyable to get to work this way again. I love stop-motion but there’s also something really nice about the immediacy of hand animating puppets in live-action.

There were a lot of puppets in this advert; did this make things more difficult or more interesting due to the interacting characters?

I think we ended up with something like 18 characters, each one lovingly crafted from 100% organic British lambs wool. It was definitely more of a challenge to have so many characters but a welcome one! We shot some of it as separate plates and would puppeteer two or three characters at a time on different sections of the screen and then composite together later. It made it all a bit more manageable and allowed us to pick the best bits and from different takes and merges them seamlessly together.

Are you able to tell us anything about what you are working on now/next?

I’ve just been talking to a musician that I really admire and am hoping to do a video for their upcoming album. Other than that, more ads and music videos while trying to get longer format projects into development.

You can check oout Conor Finnegan’s work at his blog, Vimeo or Twitter

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