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Skwigly/SWAN Focus: Paul Hill

// Featured, Independent Animation, Interviews

Skwigly, in association with SWAN, the South West Animation Network, are bringing our readers a monthly focus on prominent/emerging animators, studios and artists based in the South West of England. In our latest South West focus we meet director, animator and compositor Paul Hill, whose work on a variety of projects for television at Bristol’s A Productions has, in recent years, expanded to directing his own shorts including Sun, winner of the DepicT! ’13 Random Acts Special Mention Award.

To start with, can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do in animation?

Hello. My name is Paul Hill. I’ve worked at A Productions in Bristol since 1999. I do not wish to think about how long ago that was. I direct when required, do a bit of design and animation, but more often than not I’m compositing in After Effects. 

What sort of effect has your industry work had on the development and production of your own shorts?

I guess the main thing is the skills I’ve learnt along the way. When I first started, I had never heard of After Effects and really wasn’t sure what compositing actually involved. My previous experience with animation at university had all been created pixel by pixel on an Amiga computer.  So it was an exciting surprise to find all these interesting effects at your fingertips. I have always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out a new way to achieve a specific look or effect. It is like a puzzle that you have to find all the pieces and put them in the right order. Plus, there always seems to be something new to discover in After Effects. I’m forever on the lookout for some fancy new plug-in or script to play with.
With regard to my own short films, you may notice a propensity to add a lot of subtle textural effects. The relatively simple ideas for my films do not really require this amount of work, but I tend to get carried away.

And on the other side, has taking the opportunities to create more personal work been beneficial to your industry work?

Certainly.  Having my own short films out there means that I get a little more noticed by potential clients. I have been told that when some clients come in to the studio to discuss other projects that they have mentioned seeing and enjoying my films. It means that I get a few more opportunities to direct proper paid for commissions.
Working exclusively inside one company for so long could have potentially kept me hidden and shielded from the outside world. I do not think I would have found that very satisfying. There is a risk of finding yourself in a rut. Even if it is a very comfortable rut.

You worked closely with animator Phil Parker on Sun. Can you talk a bit about this working process and how effectively you feel your ideas were carried through?

Sun was a film idea that I had about eight or so years ago. It came out of my head pretty much fully formed. I remember doing a basic thumbnail storyboard in my sketchbook at the time. It was that storyboard that I photocopied and handed to Phil. I talked it through with him and then let him go. Phil is an accomplished animator, so I really did not want to over direct him. The whole film is essentially one shot, so I left it to him to best work out its construction. He was working in Flash so I think the files started to get quite unwieldy. He would go away, work on it for a day, then come back to show the progress. I made a few edits here and there. The general idea was to keep the whole film under 90 seconds so that we could enter it into the Depict! competition at the Encounters Short Film Festival.

Phil worked in black and white. I always knew I was going to add a lot of fancy, over the top but subtle effects and colour work later. The only problem this caused was that Phil had spent a lot of time creating some exquisite and detailed fire animation. When I plastered over my effects work it completely obliterated his fire. I had to strip out a lot of the flames to get the balance right. He was probably not very happy about that. It was my fault since I had not fully explained what I was going to be doing with the effects. Although, at the time I was not even sure myself.
Still, it all worked out in the end. The film was selected for inclusion in Depict! And went on to win the Special Mention award.

Is there anything you’re working on now that you’d like/are able to tell us about, work/personal or otherwise?

I always have ideas swimming around in my head. I have got a couple of stories that I have had since university that I keep telling myself to write. At the moment, I’ve been thinking of a possibly series of short films combining live action and animation. I am a terrible procrastinator so I am trying to work out the easiest way to achieve this whilst at the same time making it look like I have done loads of work. Like many people, I am waiting for someone to invent the automatic animate button. I certainly have the itch to get working on another short film.

Do you feel there’s a strong animation community in Bristol/the South West, and if so has this helped with your own work?

Yes, there certainly is a strong community in the area. It seems that most animators are connected either directly or indirectly to each other. The freelances are constantly swishing around from place to place. I am in the rather unusual position of having worked in the same company for over fifteen years (I said I didn’t want to think about that.) So, I am rather more isolated from the outside work world. I pick up what I can from my friends on social media. There always seems to be some new project starting up somewhere in the region. Long may it continue.

You can learn more about Paul Hill’s work at
Find Paul on Twitter – @palhil

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