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Interview: Mikey Please On His BAFTA Winning Short, The Eagleman Stag

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Skwigly got the chance to interview Mikey Please, the winner of best animated short at this year’s BAFTA; whose film the ‘Eagleman Stag’ also won a special distinction as part of the graduation films at this year’s Annecy animation festival.  The film follows the life of Peter.  A man obsessed with the flow of time, an obsession that takes him on a journey to great scientific and personal discovery.  The animation technique used in the short alone is worthy of great appreciation before you are taken in by the thought provoking plot.  Created using paper and foam this film is a technical marvel as well as a visual delight. The story is narrated masterfully by David Cann who takes the viewer on a whistle stop tour through the central characters life from the view of hindsight. This refreshing method of storytelling eventually becomes part of the story itself as the narrative progresses.  We follow Peter throughout his life from the womb through to the reason he is recounting his story.  This film certainly leaves a lasting impact on the viewer, a trait many feature films struggle to accomplish but this film manages to, in just less than 9 minutes. The Eagleman Stags dark comedic edge and original presentation creates a viewing experience that is very captivating.

Before he won his award Skwigly’s Steve Henderson, caught up with Mikey and went for a walk down to the lake where they chatted about the film, his BAFTA success, and his plans for the future and a mutual love for Rolf Harris!

 

Did you enjoy Annecy?

I certainly did, it has been really amazing.  A crazy few days with Lots of heavy nights and of course the interesting culturally rich days too.

What was your earliest introduction to animation?  Is it something that has been a part of your life since a young age?

Animation was one of the things I first did off my own back; it was not something someone told me to do. I remember being given a big block of plasticine when I was around six and just transcribing loads of Calvin and Hobbes characters; thinking “I’m quite good at this”.  So yeah, a lot of my youth was spent making models and flip books for animation.  I actually met Rolf Harris when I was 9 or 10! I got to sit on his knee and have my picture taken with him, then he signed my Rolf’s Cartoon Club books.

I’m jealous!

It was a big moment; I have a photo of my mum in a poncho with me sat next to her on his lap holding two books.  Rolf’s Cartoon Time was amazing.

They should bring it back for all the 25-26 year olds that still love it.

Yeah!  All the techniques he taught were amazing, there was a kind of Gondry-Esq DIY spirit to it all that i think had a big effect on me at that age.

The Eagleman Stag is a graduation film, how much of an influence does an education at the Royal College of Arts play on the creation of a film?  Could this have been achieved out of school?

No, I definitely could not have made the film if I was not in that environment.  Although I had the story before I went there, one of my main reasons for going to the college was because I wanted to make the film and I felt that this would be the best place to do it.  I wanted someone to physically challenge me and be critical.  The RCA has a huge emphasis on the quality of writing, almost as much as the technical side of things.

Is writing key to the success then?

The three nominations for this year’s BAFTAS, was largely down to the emphasis on writing.

You said you had the idea of the Eagleman Stag beforehand; how much did it change under the colleges influence?

It was a short story, and I adapted it into a screenplay at the RCA.  It’s about having the mental headspace; we have two years to focus on making two films. My first was a disaster; I had an audio tape of my dad and my brother which didn’t work at all but from that I developed the style you see in the Eagleman Stag, because it was the re-creation of a memory so I wanted something that seemed cerebral not a direct representation of reality, so I developed this white on white style.

Although the first film failed I used it in the Eagleman Stag.  I wanted something that felt more symbolic than representational, so a white cup is a symbol of a white cup rather than trying to be a replica, because I don’t think that’s what memories are, they are information that you put pictures to.

How did you develop the style of the Eagleman stag, it all looks to have been done using paper and foam, is it as simple as that or do we have complex armatures and buckets of CGI in post?

No CGI, I like to set a bunch of rules before I start something, one of the rules for this film was everything had to be in camera partly because I did not have the time and partly because thing just look better that way. In answer to your question, yes I did everything in camera with just a little bit of compositing. They were however, lots of armatures and rigging which were painted out

How did you settle upon that style, did the story come first and the style come second or was it always envisioned this way?

Trying to find the style that is relevant to the story takes some time, so even once I had these white on white simple shapes I still had to find other ways. The angular design is intended to compliment the anally reticular character.

Will you continue to work in this medium?

I wouldn’t do something exactly like that because it would become a gimmick, the music video I just did is slightly similar but there’s colour involved.  In a technical way, I like using the foam and keeping things simple, so will continue to work like that but with colour or with something different.  I am not going to be a white on white animator for the rest of my life!

Besides creating a wonderful film how do you win a BAFTA, how does a film get noticed by the right people?

Well, you have to be happy with it and get it submitted, but actually the college submitted it.  I had no idea until I saw it on the BAFTA website. I think if there was a formula I would be doing it every week!

What was the experience like?

It was pretty much a peak in the graph of my life. Very surreal! Sat next to the director of Harry Potter and JK Rowling was in front of me; all these people you don’t quite believe are real are there! It is like pulling back the curtains and removing the mystery a bit. I met Tim Burton and Lee Unkrich and Helena Bonham Carter, they were nice, and we got to geek out about stop motion.

What is next for Mikey Please?

I am developing a feature film with Warp Films and Film Four.  So as well as going to Annecy festival to enjoy the films, I also did some research at MIFA.  It’s going to be a European co-production and potentially the next five years of my life!

What can you tell us about that?

I don’t know! I don’t know what I am allowed to say! They have not given me a do’s and don’ts list and therefore I’m afraid to say anything. However, I am working with Mary Burke who is the producer of Bunny and the Bull and Submarine; we are in early development stages. I don’t think I can say anything about the story or even what it is called because the title is not fixed. Sorry!

Mary is just incredible, she has a similar approach to how I go about animation, a mandate just to get things done and not get caught up in bureaucracy.  Also, Warp Films are obviously awesome…I am really excited.

Okay then, if you were to describe it in five completely random words what would you use?

[Laughs] okay it’s an adventurecomedy, science-fiction and epic! Can ‘science-fiction’ count as two?

Thank you very much for talking to Skwigly

Thank you, you’re welcome!

————-

The Eagleman Stage Trailer:

 

Mikey receiving his BAFTA award / interview:

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