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Robert Morgan returns this Halloween with ‘Invocation’

// Featured, Interviews


Channel 4’s second successful season of Random Acts has brought another wave of inspired short filmmaking to the airwaves, with animation work from the likes of Dice Productions, Matthias Hoegg, Alasdair & Jock and Chris Shepherd among many others proving that, even under today’s budgetary constraints, animation is still alive and kicking. For Halloween night the scheme has turned to British animation’s true master of the macabre Robert Morgan, the man responsible for such gleefully nightmarish films as The Cat With Hands and the BAFTA-nominated Bobby Yeah. In his latest short Invocation Morgan explores the relationship between a stop-motion animator, his subject and his camera to suitably grim effect. The film, which screens at 00:30 this Thursday night, also sees Morgan’s first return to live-action since his 2003 tale of sibling sociopathy Monsters, combining it once again with the stop-motion nightmare visuals he’s best known for.

“I got the idea when I was doing Bobby Yeah. A film about a stop-motion animator whose creation goes out of control was very natural, but also in a way it encapsulates my philosophy about stop-motion animation in that it’s not this cosy, cute thing, it can be quite dangerous. For me (animation) is a form of invocation – bringing something to life, conjuring something from another dimension that’s not necessarily gonna be something that’s your friend…”

invocation1

“Invocation” (Channel 4/Random Acts)

The film is Morgan’s first collaboration with Random Acts, being a veteran of the earlier channel 4 scheme Animator In Residence. The endeavour proved to be a positive creative experience for the filmmaker. “It was really painless and easy, very pleasant really. You have to get into the mind state of doing it quickly and not spending too long on it because the budget doesn’t support a long production schedule, so built into the task at hand you have to adopt a fast way of working, which was actually really good fun. There’s something quite nice about such a short, high-energy production after taking three years to make Bobby Yeah, it was almost light relief! They were really nice, they just totally left me alone to get on with it, it was a perfectly effortless, lovely experience.”

Meanwhile his previous film Bobby Yeah, following a hugely successful reception on the festival circuit with its mix of jet-black humour and disquieting aesthetic, was made available earlier this year on Vimeo’s new filmmaker distribution platform Vimeo on Demand, which has also proved successful for fellow animators Don Hertzfeldt, Grant Orchard and Paul Driessen among others.

“I approached (Vimeo on Demand) purely as an experiment, because once the festival run was over it was really a case of ‘Okay, what do we do with it now? Do we put it online for free or could we try and see if there is some kind of revenue that can be generated from it?” The advantage of Vimeo On Demand is there’s a really good revenue split, how much you charge is up to you. We just decided to make it available just for one pound because I think people are probably gonna be reluctant to spend a lot of money on a short film, but for that one dollar you also get to download it and keep it in HD . I do wonder what options there are available to short films, distribution-wise, it feels like there’s not really much revenue that can be generated from short films, so from my perspective it’s an experiment to see it can work.”

You can find out more about Invocation with our Robert Morgan video snippet below:

The full interview will be included as part of our upcoming 2013 Festival Special. To keep Skwigly readers satiated in the lead-up to Halloween you can indulge in some of Morgan’s previous films.

The Frightfully Fearful Filmography of Robert Morgan

lowerleft
The Man in the Lower Left-Hand Corner of the Photograph (1997)

Taking its title from an obscure Mike Patton soundscape, Morgan’s student short is a claustrophobic tale of solitude, suicide and unexpected companionship. In the comparative simplicity of its execution it remains one of his most out-and-out unsettling pieces of work to date.
“In my last year of college I just really put my head down. I think really good advice to students generally is to spend your student years trying to make a good film. It’s the most important thing, the best currency you can have when you leave is to show you can make a good film. And it did very well at festivals, it won some prizes, it got me the funding to do the next one, and then that got me the funding to do the next one and so on. Both Photograph and Bobby Yeah are actually, in a way, the two ‘purest’ films I’ve made, though actually even with the student film I had my tutors and the college to answer to. With Bobby Yeah it was the first time I wasn’t answering to anybody, so it was very liberating, actually, to work like that.”

catwithhands
The Cat With Hands (2001)

Partly inspired by a recurring nightmare of his sister’s, Morgan’s first funded film (and the first of his to combine animation and live-action) is a truly disquieting tale of an apocryphal beast who steals human body parts.
“Channel 4 used to run this scheme called Animator In Residence, which took various shapes over the years. They used to do longer films but for its longest period it was a three-minute slot. The process is that you make a little one-minute pilot first, and then you spend three months in, originally, the Museum of the Moving Image, but when that closed down they put the animators in a little booth in the IMAX cinema in Waterloo. Basically the idea is that you’re a kind of living exhibit, making a little test for the film, then you deliver this test to Channel 4, and if they like it they’d greenlight the film. At that point they stepped aside and just let us get on with it, which was very nice. It was the first time I’d worked with actors – in my student film there’s a live-action maggot wriggling, but that doesn’t really count, I don’t think.”

separation

The Separation (2003)

Standing out as one of the more impressively-filmed shorts of Morgan’s, The Separation made brilliant use of its larger budget to tell a tale of sibling co-dependence both horrific and tragic.
“I’ve always sculpted my puppets in every film because I don’t think anyone would be able to do it in the way I like it. I think that people would probably be able to do it better, but it’s not about that, for me I have to get my hands on them, the imperfections have to be a certain way. But with The Separation we got a really good budget so were able to very heavily design the look of the film with a very talented production designer Stephane Collonge and a really good cinematographer Philip Cowan. So collaborating brings its own rewards, there are visual ideas in that film that I would never have thought of.”

Monsters (2004)

Another sibling story, Monsters stands out as being the only film of Morgan’s to not incorporate his signature stop-motion animation style, focusing on the troubled relationship between an antisocial child and his exasperated sister.
Monsters was not an easy film to make. I’m not entirely satisfied with the film but I feel like I learned by doing it. The key difference between live action and animation is live action is all about making it believable, you’ve got to ground it in some kind of reality that the audience will accept, and that’s through staging and dialogue and, particularly, the acting. There’s a certain level of realism, even if it’s heightened realism, it’s still got to be convincing, whereas animation is all about imagination, you can be as crazy as you want and the audience will still believe it, because they’re already in this abstract realm. So that is the difference, and you can channel the same sensibilities through it, where one is about making it believable and the other is, in a way, the opposite.”

bobbyyeah
Bobby Yeah (2011)

Morgan’s funniest work to date, the film retains all of the nightmare quality of his best work coupled with a stream-of-consciousness story of crime, punishment and shiny red buttons.

“There was about a five year gap when I hadn’t made a film, and I just woke up one night thinking ‘Oh my God, I might never make a film again! I’m basically spending my life asking permission from other people, most of which have no idea about filmmaking, if they will let me make a film.’ It struck me as a really absurd situation to be in – other art forms don’t have that problem, so I just thought ‘That’s not right, I’m gonna do it’. So I made the film in a kind of spontaneous, made-it-up-as-I-go-along kind of manner, doing it in my spare time for about three years prior to 2011. I basically had a spare room with the set and the cameras and lights sort of set up in there permanently and I could just go in there whenever I wanted to make a bit more. As there was no funding body to answer to and there was no script, I was able to take my time with it.

“Previously I have written scripts when I have a story to tell, and the visuals come second to the story, but this time around the narrative evolved actually out of making it so the story’s really secondary to the psychedelic mania of the film.  The first shot of the film is the first shot I filmed, and the last shot is the last, and everything in-between was chronological. All I had at the start was just purely a visual sense, I just had a puppet and a set and just started animating that. Then you start noticing you’re subconsciously telling a story.

“Once I finished shooting and had the final cut I took the film to Mark Ashworth, who does all the sound for my films. As far as the visuals of the film itself it was basically just me with a little bit of assistance here and there. My girlfriend is a photographer so there’s a little exterior sequence in it that she helped shoot and there’s a cinematographer friend Marcus who helped with the shots of the weird psychedelic sky when his head’s floating off at the end of the film, which was ink in a water tank. I got my friend Dominic Hailstone, who’s also a director and a sort of special effects genius, to help me tart things up a little bit, so there’s bits and bobs along the way friends helped out with.”

You can hear our full interview on the making of Bobby Yeah as part of the Skwigly Animation Podcast #4
For more info on Robert Morgan’s work visit robertmorganfilms.com
For more about Channel 4’s Random Acts visit randomacts.channel4.com

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