Our latest summer interview comes from illustrator and animator, Ben Cady. Sharing our love of the handmade, Ben specialises in hand-drawn animations using traditional pencil-on-paper techniques. F&E became a fan of Ben’s work after spotting his Goat and The Well animation on the animation festival circuit. His construction site ampersand illustration has also featured on our blog.
When did you first decide to explore the possibilities of animation?
I discovered animation on a taster day at the beginning of my foundation year at the London College of Communication. I had intended to do photography for the year, but a day scratching and painting on 16mm film, and then running it through a projector, convinced me otherwise. I spent that year experimenting with different media, and, after discovering my love for pencil-on-paper animation, I ended up doing a degree and an MA in it.
What was the first animation you made and how did you create it? What do you think of it now?
The first proper film I made was called ‘alive and chicken’. It was a silly film suggesting the possible fates of a chicken that went missing from my flock for a week, and then reappeared again. (Yes, I keep chickens.) It was fun to make, all done straight ahead (no key frames), and all in pen, with no rough animation (no mistakes allowed!) It took about two weeks. I played it to some children at an animation workshop I was helping to run recently, and it went down quite well! You can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/51077191
Why do you opt for a hand-drawn process, over digital animation?
I work using pencil and paper because I enjoy it more. We live in a world where most people spend a worryingly large proportion of their time staring into screens (computers, kindles, iphones, tablets) and I find it nice to look at a bit of paper for a change! I also enjoy the control and feel for detail that working on paper gives you, and the fact that the work you create is physical, tangible and actually there. I recently bought a graphics tablet to try, and it’s horrible! Almost as bad as using MS Paint with a mouse. Anyone want a cheap Wacom?!
Besides hand-drawn, pencil on paper animation, do you work in any other mediums?
My newest film Anomalies uses cut-out animation and a bit of photomontage, to create slightly surreal apparitions to accompany my drawn animation. I’ve also messed around with stop motion and rotoscoping a fair bit, both of which I’ve enjoyed immensely. My main passion is hand-drawn animation though, I just really like the look and feel of it, as well as the slow pace of work, which allows me to get through a LOT of audiobooks!
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Recently I’ve had a bit of a break from animation, since finishing Anomalies, which was a pretty epic project. I’ve concentrated on illustration a bit more, making greetings cards and other bits and bobs. I’ve got two animation projects in the pipeline now though. One is a project that I started during my MA, which is about a little boy being taken trophy hunting. The other is just taking shape in my brain. It will be absurd, ridiculous and silly, and will probably feature brightly coloured aliens speaking in nonsense languages.
If you could have made any animation that you have seen, which one would it be?
There are two: The Hill Farm by Mark Baker, and L’Ondee (The Rains) by David Coquard-Dassault. Both films are incredibly touching, thought provoking and simple, and both are subtly funny. They also both have a wonderful sense of timing, and neither relies on dialogue.
Where do you tend to get your inspiration?
I’m not sure. Often my film ideas stem from one drawing on a scrap of paper, drawn while I’m out and about. I don’t know where that drawing comes from. I think I just build up different experiences I have in my head, and sometimes they combine to make an
idea. I do a lot of long-distance cycling and walking, and I love the countryside. I’m sure the things I see when I’m pootling around doing these things influence my work, directly or indirectly. Obviously, other films, and also theatre, help with how I actually execute my ideas. Recently I’ve become obsessed with Monty Python…
How do you get so much expression into such simple characters?
That’s a compliment and a question at the same time, so thank you. I’m not sure. The eyes? The eyes. The eyes are really important! The eyes make them think. I actually think the simplicity of the characters is what allows them to be very expressive. The lines and shapes are so simple and easy to read that the slightest change in them has an enormous effect on the emotion they project. Also, if you use a very simple character, you are more likely to keep re-drawing, correcting and perfecting, to get the expression just right. Not using Dialogue is good too. Someone can say “I’m sad”, and you think “they are sad” but you feel much more empathy for them it they just look sad but say nothing, and you work out yourself how they are feeling.
Are you characters ever influenced by people you know?
I don’t think so. Maybe they are, unconsciously. I also expect they expose certain sensibilities I have. In terms of basing characters on people, I’m more likely to think of a character by looking at someone who walks past me on the pavement than I am by looking at someone I actually know. I can make up loads of stuff about the person on the pavement, even though it’s probably not true.
What would be your dream job or production to work on as an animator?
I’d love be able to get some funding for one of my own films. However, they are pretty cheap to make, so if nothing comes up I’m happy to keep on doing them on my own. I’d enjoy working on a project for a client who was keen to use my style of animation – hand-drawn, minimalist character stuff. I’d also love to work as an animator on a larger hand-drawn project, directed by someone else. I enjoy the keying and in-betweening process, and I’d like to think that hand-drawn animation is an actual useable craft, that I can use as part of a team, rather than just on my own films. It would have to be the right film of course. I did hear that Don Hertzfeldt might be making a feature…