Interview: Andy Shackleford – Award Winning Animator

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I had never heard of Andy Shackleford until I discovered Ryan Keen and watched his video for “Focus”. But once I had delved a little deeper into this talented animator’s background, I discovered that I had seen quite a lot of Andy’s work.

Graduating from the University of Glamorgan in 2006 with a BA (Hons) in Animation, Andy has been successfully contributing his talents to well known children’s programmes in the UK such as ‘Roary the Racing Car’ and ‘Postman Pat’.  He also worked on the 2009 ‘Children in Need’ official video ‘Peter Kay’s Animated All Star Band’ comprising quite a lot of characters from children’s television over the years.

His first solo project was the video for Ryan Keen’s single “Focus”.  The video is mostly full animation showing a mini Ryan disillusioned with his day job, and stepping through a door and fulfilling challenges to help him find the right path to walk.  The video is quite spiritual in a way, and very uplifting and inspiring. Andy won the ‘Best Music Video’ award at the Limelight Short Film Awards in 2012.

As well as editing and directing the “Focus” music video, Andy has also worked with Newton Faulkner and again with Ryan Keen on various music videos.

It great to find out about the person behind the scenes and in this case, behind the camera. Have a read of Andy’s interview to discover his influences, aspirations and favourite parts of the animation process.

SP: When did you decide you wanted to become an animator?

AS: I found my way into animation from quite a young age. I grew up drawing and sketching, if ever we were out and about I would pester my mum for a pen and paper to draw with. Just prior to beginning GCSE’s my dad sat me down, he helped me understand that the subjects I would choose to take on in GCSE’S would eventually dictate what I would do as a job for the rest of my life. He suggested cartoons, meaning comic books and comic book strips for newspapers, but I understood him to mean Disney & Loony Toons style cartoons. I then went on to do work experience at a newspaper based in Axminster in hopes of maybe doing a cartoon. But I ended up organising the adverts page layout, not quite what I had in mind.

My second week of work experience was far more productive, I was lucky enough to get a week at King Rollo Films LTD, based in Honiton Devon. They made Mr. Ben & Spot the Dog among other shows. I was hooked, instead of giving me random/unconnected tasks they actually helped teach me the basics of animating. By the end of the week I had my own short animation, my first film! From then onwards my education was steered to somehow ending up in animation. I landed a position on the BA (Hons) Animation course at the university of Glamorgan and began my career there onwards.

SP: What programmes/animation inspired you to pursue this career?

AS: I guess it’s a mixture. Getting to animate at King Rollo Films LTD, knowing the shows they made from my own childhood. Various shows while I was at university, kids shows like ‘The Koala Brothers’, classics like ‘The Wombles’. Also ‘Robot Chicken’, an American based show, made me realise that animation isn’t just for kids but adults too. But the main inspiration was the frustration as a child that the images I would draw (mainly Star Wars and Spider-Man characters) were still, through putting pen to paper and drawing them as I saw them in my mind they didn’t move, in my head I was imagining all kinds of stories and movement that drawing alone couldn’t satisfy.

SP:  What animator do you aspire to be like?

AS:  I guess the household name would be Nick Park but to be honest there are so many outstanding animators out there that are unsung. I have been lucky enough to work with many of them and learn from them. But I have to hold Ray Harryhausen above all, without his genius there would be no industry and the industry will miss him.

SP:  What is it about animation that fascinates you?

AS:  It comes back to that frustration with drawing, a drawing can be incredibly detailed and paint a thousand words but it’s not alive. Giving something character and telling a story is what really appeals to me. I also think as an animator you never stop learning/studying, there will always be something new to animate – an animal you have never animated before and need to study its movements. Makes you constantly observant to how we move and react to things.

SP:  What skills and qualities do you think an animator should possess? Patience for example?

AS:  It’s funny, patience is often the one trait people mention most. In all honesty I’m a very impatient animator but I’m very determined and focused when I work. I think being able to visualise movement and being observant are two very strong qualities to have as an animator especially in Stop Motion. Of course patience helps when things go wrong or you have a particularly difficult scene to animate.

SP:  What’s been your favourite scene/sequence so far?

AS:  I have had a chance to work on many amazing shows and productions, lots of moments I have on my show reel that I’m proud of. But I think my favourite is from the video for Ryan Keen’s “Focus”. The snakes and ladders scene was very satisfying.  It just had a nice flow to it – the puppet actually managed to climb the ladder without the aid of a rig or support. It came out on screen incredibly close to how it looked in my minds eye.

SP:  Any more plans/requests to direct any more music videos?

AS:  I am still doing little bits here and there. I’m branching out from animation into film which is exciting and new. It’s early on in my directing career so I’m not trying to over reach but I definitely hope to be producing more animated and live action music videos in the future.

SP:  Congratulations on your award for Best Music Video – how did you feel obtaining this award for your first solo project?

AS:  Thank you, I entered it into a few festivals/competitions mainly to try and get the song and video a bit more exposure. I never go into these things expecting/hoping to win so to be told I was nominated was great but to go on and win was crazy. Such nice people at Limelight and some amazing talent showcased there.

SP:  What’s your favourite children’s project to date?

AS:  To work on or to watch? I think ‘Postman Pat’ will always be a favourite because I grew up with it and to actually have worked on a series like that is definitely a box ticked. To watch I think, though it’s not strictly a kids program, ‘Domo Kun’ was great fun to watch at university. It’s a kind of cult Japanese character that had its own stop motion show.

SP:  Did you get to choose what characters you worked with on the 2009 Children In Need video?  What was your favourite sequence on that video?

AS:  I think some animators did get to choose sections/characters to animate however I didn’t quite get to choose, but that’s fine I was happy with any shots I got a chance to do. They made sure that every animator on the production got to shoot something so no one missed out. I think the highlight for me was animating Thomas the Tank Engine, considering the show was all puppetry it was quite cool to be able to animate it. Also getting to see the Thunderbirds puppets in person. But the whole video was a pleasure to be part of.

SP:  What’s the hardest thing about working in animation?

AS:  Probably the instability of the job, contracts and productions are around but quite often there are gaps between shows, hence why I am branching out into my own bits to help bridge the gaps.

SP:  What’s your favourite part of the animation process?

AS:  My favourite part is probably about half way through an individual shot when you start to see the frames come together and coming alive, it’s like watching something evolve frame by frame but having full control on the end result.

SP:  You’ve been on tour quite a bit with Ryan Keen this year – any plans to direct another music video for him, expanding your skills/experience in the process?

AS:  Yeah I try and jump on when I can and when I’m needed. It’s all to help document all the hard work that goes into his touring and performances. We may well use the footage for some kind of video but we’ve not decided on anything yet. Maybe a behind the scenes tour video or music video, have to wait and see.

SP:  Finally, what would you like to achieve over the next five years?

AS:  Wow, next five years? To be honest this year alone worked out far differently from what I planned so to try and foresee the next five is an interesting idea. However in effort to answer and to tempt fate I’ll say I would hope to have made a fair few more music videos, have some more of my own productions out there. I wouldn’t say my own studio, as I don’t think it’s viable but definitely my own little production hub would be nice.

Animation show reel:

“Focus” Music Video:

Website: andyshackleford.com

Twitter:  @AndyShackleford

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