Chris Wilder Interview

by Stephanie Williamson ( Twitter: @artschoolzine @art_babe

Animation imitates life; we talk crowd funding and award ceremonies with BAFTA award winning and Oscar nominated animator and paper mache creative, Chris Wilder.

This year, 26 year old British artist Chris Wilder swapped his paint splattered overalls and paper mache creations for a designer suit to attend some of the most exclusive award ceremonies in the film calendar. Rather than basking in the glitz and glamour, Wilder found such ceremonies ‘stressful.’ He rather endearingly admits to spending most of the night ‘trying not to step on anybody's gown, or spill anything on anyone.’ Wilder had been working tirelessly six days a week, 12 hours a day on the animated short ‘The Bigger Picture’ together with fellow student, animator and director of the short Daisy Jacobs. The creative twosome met at Central St Martins. 

“I met Daisy on the Graphic Design degree course. Neither of us seemed to possess any actual graphic design skill so we ran to the Illustration department, where we both hid. When Daisy came to make her graduation film at the National Film and Television School she thought our skills might complement each other and suit the style of animation she wanted to produce.”

Their animation ‘The Bigger Picture’ revolves around the narrative of two brothers, trying to adjust to caring for their aging mother. Most notoriously and recently it received a BAFTA for British Short Animation and an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film; no mean feat for these relatively young creatives fresh out of art school. In total, to date it has received 25 awards from around the world. Wilder however seems to be taking the dizzying heights of critical and international acclaim all in his stride.

‘It certainly is very nice to have people respond to the work positively’ he says ‘we spent a very long time in a dark room hoping that it would connect with people, so it was lovely to have people react to the work so warmly.’

The film was a labour of love, taking roughly six months in the studio to animate for just 7 minutes film. When asked what he enjoys doing during infrequent studio downtime Wilder confesses to appreciating the simple things…

 ‘I walk, a lot. I spend most of my time currently making things out of paper mache, often many duplicates of the same thing. So I occasionally run into the middle of the woods and jump around just to help me feel like less of a machine’.

Wilder has been a paper mache artist for as long as he can remember. His love affair with the art of paper mache started as child. 

‘When I was a kid I spent most of my time making things out of cereal boxes, then went to art school and started making work that I believed was more sophisticated but was in fact probably quite dull. And now it turns out I've ended up where I started, making things out of cereal boxes, which feels much better.’

Chris Wilder’s work is reminiscent of a contemporary, 3D ode to the classic still life; the art of appreciating the simplicity of everyday objects. The devil is in the details of his work, from watermelons to vintage telephones, you name it, Wilder has probably made it from mache. The success of the animation is partly due to the wonderful combination of highly emotive yet darkly comedic narrative with stop motion techniques, which are attempting to push the boundaries of animation. The short blends painted, life size 2D elements with Wilders life size 3D structures. This creates as mesmerising stop motion world, a sort of dreamlike 2D & 3D limbo. The story explores the painful but inevitable question ‘What do we do with our parents?’ an autobiographical tale which was written by Daisy Jacobs. It revolves around two middle aged male characters as they come to terms their the realities of looking after their own aging mother. One brother cloaks himself in denial, the other finds his role as an‘unwilling martyr’. The story pulls at the heartstrings, but is also tackles its solemn subject matter with liberating slapstick comedy.

We wanted to find out what had sparked Wilder’s love for stop motion animation, after finding it difficult to engage in his graphic design studies, he explained;

“I saw Fantastic Mr Fox a few years ago and almost wept. I liked that it was stop-motion but also had a very graphic almost flat style, it really changed the way I had been looking at stop-motion.”

Animating stop motion is a long, arduous and rather painstaking task, so it certainly demands a specific dedication to the art. Wilder’s jokes about losing his sanity to the art ‘During month 3 of the 6 month animation process, I start to go a little insane.’

But despite all this, Wilder & Jacobs aren’t taking any down time to bask in their successes; the duo have already thrown themselves into their next project. They recently took to Kickstarter to begin a crowd-funding campaign aiming to finance the future short. The pair were aiming to raise a budget of £21,000 to cover studio, equipment and production costs for their new short film. Wilder admits heading back to the studio so soon was daunting decision to say the least; however as always, they had a plan…

‘In terms of the proposal video we made, we treated it almost as an interim project between the two films, almost as a test to see if we were ready to go back into the dark. Luckily we both really enjoyed making it and made us eager to start, which was lucky, I was having nightmares about us getting to the studio on the first day of shooting the next film only to have a horrible reaction to heading back in.’

Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms are starting to revolutionise how artists and creatives fund their up-and-coming projects. The concept is simple; creatives propose a project online, which people can then donate towards on their page. Wilders project was fully funded (with and extra few thousand to spare) in February. Even small donations would receive what Kickstarter likes to call ‘incentives’ a little gift from the project proposers to the project backer. Wilder had decided to once again put his paper mache artistry to good use. Even small donations from £2 to £40 would receive a bounty of gifts’ from old films Wilder & Jacobs have worked on to posters and musical soundtracks. However the real bounty was tied to more generous donations of £40 or more. Some of our favourite, inventive incentives include… 

‘£75 – Take a photo with the life size painted characters’

‘£100 – Original handmade paintbrush prop’

‘£150 – Any paper mache item of your choice’

Wilder explains the reasons behind his eagerness to connect with generous project backers through physical art 

‘We knew that the actual film wouldn't be ready for a while as the animating would take so long, so we wanted to make sure that backers could receive something physical that connected them directly to the work. I think it creates a very strong connection between those making the work and those who appreciate the process and want to be involved. In our case we're planning to keep backers updated on the project through each stage of the production.’

Wilder remains tight lipped about the new project, however my online research suggests it will be exploring how divorce shapes families and how people drift apart. 

‘We have made a pact not to tell anyone. I fear Daisy may actually kill me.  The story is once again a very family oriented piece, dealing with how we treat those closest to us. I wouldn't say it is a sequel to The Bigger Picture but it certainly deals with issues that can arise after events that took place in that film have played out.’

As our interview with the talented animator comes to a close, Wilder tells us how far along the project is currently.

‘It's currently going well, we've been going for about 5 months now so we're coming to the end of the writing and designing stages and are currently boarding the film, which is the exciting bit. I tend to get very giggly, I'm trying to control that.’ 

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