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Darcy Prendergast Interview: Gotye’s Easy Way Out & More

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If you haven’t been following the animator Darcy Prendergast’s work so far, then I can guarantee you will from now on. For the innovative Australian animator, this passion can be traced back to a young age; with Darcy claiming he could always found with a lump of clay in his hands.  Since then, his creativity has grown and, with the aid of the $20,000 Nescafe Big Break Prize, Darcy was able to buy his own studio, camera equipment and an abundance of plastiscine.

Darcy’s animation can be seen across a range of work, from commercials for Cadburys and ABC kids, to music videos, including the hugely impressive Lucky for the band All India Radio.  He was even personally selected by good friend Adam Elliot to work as Lead Sculptor on the animated feature Mary and Max.  In addition, Darcy’s own shorts, such as the darkly humorous Ron the Zookeeper, have received international acclaim, being selected for festivals including the Annecy International Film Festival, the Stuggart Festival of Animated Film, and the San Francisco Film Festival.  Having recently formed his own production company Oh Yeah Wow, with best friend Ash Nicholls, Darcy has just completed his second music video for the musician-of-the-moment, Gotye.We caught up with Darcy to talk about getting started in animation, the difficulties of working in a studio environment,  and the ‘pregnancy’ that was the latest Gotye music video, the ambitious but fantastic “Easy Way Out”.

Hi Darcy, thank you taking the time to answer some questions for Skwigly!  I read that you became interested in animation from a young age, what was it that attracted you to this art form?

At the age 4 I wanted to be a zookeeper and play with tigers like my Dad. At age 5, I wanted to be Indiana Jones, who was a cooler version of Dad. At 6 he wanted to be a paleontologist like Sam Neil in Jurassic Park. Then at the ripe ol’ age of 7, I decided that there were too many occupational hazards involved with these outlandish career paths, and nestled into the warm bosom of animation- where I could realistically reach my life expectancy.

You received a substantial amount of money from the Nescafe Big Break Prize.  Do you feel that the money gave you the freedom to establish yourself and your career in animation? 

I was 17-18 when I won that $20,000. My parents, whilst not being rich had always supported my passion- but this injection of funds enabled me to become completely immersed in the world and not be sidetracked. Im a firm believer of doing exactly what you want to be doing. I turn down work Im not interested in- even if its paying ridiculously well. Lifes too short, especially in the animated world- because you might only be able to get out a couple of projects per year. I’m eternally conscious of making those projects count, but of course its a delicate balancing act between integrity and paying rent.

Your latest video for Gotye’s Easy Way Out is creating quite an buzz on the internet due to it reportedly taking nine months make, can you explain a little bit about the process of making the video?

That report is entirely true- it was like a non painful form of childbirth. There were so many times where we were literally working on the individual elements for 24 hours straight, surviving purely on the belief of the end goal. Not even including the compositing time. The set alone, was a small house. We had lunch in it, we had naps on the bed and our actual studio fridge was painted grey and put in place. We had to build the various rooms. We furnished them according to colour palette. We found the toilet in the branches of a friends tree. We completely tiled the bathroom ourselves without knowing how. We bought over 10,000 sheets of paper for the office. And after all of that, we burnt it all with a flamethrower for the final camera pass. We’d never even made a large scale set before- so it was an almighty learning curve for us…

You worked as lead sculptor on Adam Elliot’s award-winning film Mary and Max, what was it like working on an animated feature, how did the transition from doing nearly everything to working on a specific task suit you?

Its funny, as a kid if I knew I’d be sculpting characters everyday I’d say where do I sign?

Mary and Max was a great education and Adam is an amazing filmmaker and a great friend but it really wasn’t really for me. I was a square peg wedged awkwardly in a round hole. There were production managers who had never worked in the medium before, barking out deadlines, there were long working days with little down time and I was, in truth, a terrible employee. I’d fall asleep under my sculpting desk, I’d leave work early… I’ve got self diagnosed ADHD and for me, I need to be working on different things to keep my mind alive. Thomas Edison once said discontent is the first necessity of progress and for me, it was obvious that I was never going to love the studio system unless it was my own. I needed to create a space where I a personality like mine could prosper. So I rolled the dice, took out a lease on a decent sized warehouse- bought a drum kit, tarzan rope and trampoline and started Oh Yeah Wow. I’m happy to work 20 hours days provided I have the freedom to sneak a kick of the soccer ball or the odd smash on the drumkit.

Much of your work contains a fairly dark sense of humour, what do think it is about animation that allows this sort of humour to be brought out so well?

I guess an audience is generally used to seeing escapism in animation and the beauty of the medium is that you can get away with/ create things that you can’t in live action. I guess the audience comes to expect something different from animation- as a medium. For me, the ability to stylistically exaggerate in different ways allow for this kind of humour to work. An audience isn’t going to simply find coughing up smoke humorous- but when the smoke is made up of hundreds of cotton balls- its something fresh and unexpected. Same with the abundance of plasticine blood thats seen as Wally slams his head against the typewriter.

All your clay characters have a very distinctive style.  What do you think inspired this and what do you enjoy about working with clay as a material? 

A lot of my earlier clay stuff was like this, but now I think Im branching out stylistically on a project by project basis. My kids series that Im working on now has a very different look (and narrative) to my earlier stuff, because its a completely different audience. But clay has an inherent beauty that comes with it that computers just can’t replicate. The finger prints, the tactility and the process- you cant beat it. I simply love being hands on- I dont think I could ever be one of those directors who has no involvement on the floor.

In the video Lucky for All India Radio (winner of Best Animated Video at St Kilda Film Festival, 2010) you animated glow-sticks in outdoor settings.  How did you come up with the idea for such an ambitious project and how what were the main difficulties you faced shooting?  

We produced Lucky 3 years ago now, and have since released Rippled which is the 2nd piece in a trilogy of sorts. We’ve just start pre-production on our third- but it’s a tremendously difficult technique and one that we are always battling with- no matter how much practice you get. You’re contending with weather, camera perspective, shape continuity- whilst avoiding detection from the security guards patrolling the abandoned factories we were shooting in. We’ve spent years refining the technique and pushing it into new territory both creatively and technically. We hope our third installment blows minds even further.

You have worked on several music videos, a feature film as well as commercials and many of your own shorts films, what can we expect from you in the future? 

I mentioned a little about this above, but I have my kids series pilot in production with Nickelodeon titled the Critter Litter. Its a cute little series about an oddball Llama names Lenny and his friends. I also have a feature in the early stages of development which Im hellishly excited about as well as several other music videos and shorts. Its a hugely exciting time for me right now, and look forward to seeing where this crazy life leads…

And finally, as an independent filmmaker, do you have any advice to our young readers about becoming a successful animator?

Focus solely on what you want to be doing and let nothing else distract you- glue all of your eggs in the one basket. Success hinges solely on tenacity, perseverance and love.

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