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Iain Gardner’s “The Tannery” Released Online – Director Interview

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The Tannery – a short film by Iain Gardner has been released online. Gardner, perhaps better known nowadays for his work promoting the legacy of Norman McLaren for last years McLaren 2014 celebrations, released The Tannery in 2010. The film follows on from his other short films such as the acclaimed Akbars Cheetah and The Loch Ness Kelpie. Gardner has recently worked on Oh, Skinny Legs music video for Looper. 

The film follows a fox and a rabbit as they journey through the afterlife moments after their deaths and begin to understand how the tannery links them in death. The film was commissioned by Channel 4 as part of the 4mations series and was produced at Axis Animation with music composed and arranged by Belle & Sebastian’s Mick Cooke.  

The film collected best animation at the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival which qualified the film for entry into 83rd Academy Award race. It was also awarded Best Animation at the Celtic Media Festival in 2011, and was also nominated for a Scottish BAFTA.

Keen eyed Skwigly readers will of course recognise the characters from Iain’s contribution to the Skwigly Advent Calendar in 2013

We caught up with Iain Gardener to ask him about the film.


What made you want to tell the tale of lost souls and the fur trade?

Well, I don’t think I was compelled as such!
It was very much the muddling together of personal experience and chance. I’d had a personal experience which I really wanted to communicate via animation – not a story, but an emotional feeling and I knew that I didn’t want to retell the circumstances which brought the feeling on within the film – being literal is not what makes animation such an interesting medium.
One day, I just had this image in my head of a dead fox yearning for his pelt from the afterlife. It seemed a good vehicle to express the emotion I’d felt, and the story just evolved from there.


The spiritual journey the characters undertake is a clearly defined one, is this down to a particular belief that you hold or that you were inspired by?

I wouldn’t describe myself as a spiritual person – the images are very much drawn from childhood conceptions of an afterlife, the sort I was exposed to at Sunday School but with a little bit of a critique of those notions – until recently animals weren’t allowed an afterlife! But there’s actually a whole logic behind the existence and role of those souls within the environment of the world the story is set in which I developed for this film. I may revisit this another day if I ever get a taste to make a sequel in that universe! What we see on screen was paired down from a much bigger story which may yet come to the screen.

You seem to have an affection for animal characters, telling stories with them at the mercy of mankind’s cruelty where does this come from?

It’s basically due to the fact that animals can’t advocate for themselves. It’s always disturbed me how we take nature for granted and culturally invent tropes that justify our unbalanced relationship with the natural world. My focus is on those cultural constructs we’ve developed rather than an investigation of natural history, which would be more suited to a wildlife documentary.


What did you use to create the look of the film?

The film was produced by Axis Animation, already one of the leading CG animation production houses in the UK. It was a thrill to have their team realise my designs in CGI, something I think they got a kick out of as well. The match between the 2D and CGI was done the same way live action and animation was mixed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit – print outs of the CGI backgrounds became the layout to each frame of 2D animation for those sequences – the majority of the film was traditional 2D layouts, painted in watercolour. Five years on, if I were to do it again, I reckon I’d just be animating over the CGI reference directly in software like TVPaint.

You clearly have a tie to traditional art materials, using pastel and crayon to great effect, is this a choice of comfort or a conscious style choice?

For The Tannery it was a very conscious choice to delve into the handmade process of animation. In the intervening years between my first film Akbar’s Cheetah (one of the last animations shot on 35mm in the UK) there was a real commissioning emphasis on digital innovation. From that period came a lot of flat, cut out style animation which was a trend I followed along with as it seemed to be the only stuff that was getting commissioned at the time! But I really wanted to get back to fully drawn 2D animation and used The Tannery as a vehicle for that. Now, with the development of software such as TVPaint, I can see digital drawing developing in my practice – as in my recent music video for Looper.


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