Matthew Lawes

‘Emma imagines a World based in Colour,
Where dreams are not nightmares and Children don’t suffer.’

Matthew Lawes is a London based director, animator, writer and all-round creative genius. When I first saw Matthew’s videos the vibrant colours, artistic narratives, beautiful music, creative sets and skilful animation took me back. In 2012 Matthew animated and directed the beautiful, yet haunting, short film Emma. The dark moods juxtaposed with the children’s fairy tale, makes for an unexpected narrative. Matthew constructs his Cinderella meets Rapunzel-esque narrative around a young girl called Emma, who “is different, her story unkind”. Emma’s authoritative father enjoys watching her suffer, and locks her away in a tower. However not all is to despair, as Emma’s hardship does not oppress her creativity; with her only way to escape her cruel reality is through her imagination and the cinema.

After being visually enchanted by Emma, the narrative filled me with a bittersweet pathos for the young innocent girl. I felt pathos and empathy for the cruel life young Emma endured. Emma’s salvation through her imagination and the cinema made me relate to her. In times of ‘doom’ and ‘gloom’, I can relate to Emma wanting to use her imagination to escape a harsh and mundane life. I think this is something we can all relate to.

Matthew’s career path has taken an interesting turn since graduation from the University of Newcastle, where he studied Architecture. Yes, I too was wondering how Matthew ended up in animation and not architecture. So I put my journalistic hat on, and got Matthew to answer a few of my questions. Matthew was kind enough to chat to me about the making of Emma and Emma’s fairy tale world, his creative background, awards, inspiration, and advice for all you young avid filmmakers.

So you studied architecture at Newcastle University, how did you end up wanting to make and direct short films?

I have always had a huge passion for film but didn’t want to study it at university. Architecture appealed to me as it was design led and the skills are easily transferrable to film – from the pitching process through to completion. The biggest lesson was how to use limitations to your advantage, which is hugely relevant to animation when you start out. I want to make films for the rest of my life, so three years of studying something else seemed more important at the time. I also wanted to see if I could achieve in something that I was not naturally drawn to. If I could achieve that then I felt I could do anything in the ‘real world’.

How long did the making of Emma take?
Around six weeks; with the sets and models taking three weeks, and the animation and editing taking another three weeks.

How did you come up with the narrative of Emma?
I have lots of poems and small bits of writings in various notebooks around my studio, so it was basically just a case of which one do I want to make first. I like to think it is a compendium of ideas, however most of it is total gobbledegook. I found a note the other day in capitals that said ‘I AM TOO SERIOUS SOMETIMES BECAUSE I AM TIRED!!!’ Sigh. The narrative came from a poem I wrote. Whenever I think of something weird and wonderful I jot it down and sometimes I connect those thoughts to form something more substantial. I suppose it is like a diary of my daily thoughts but less personal.

Are you Emma? Do you find happiness in a dark world through filming and capturing your dreams?
I think there are parts of me in Emma, but I’m not directly her. I was surprised how dark people thought the film was. It is really interesting to think of a story and form your own opinions and then have them changed once an audience has seen your film. I hate negative emotions so I would say the opposite; I find happiness in a positive world personally. Maybe I have a darker side I don’t know about yet, maybe Emma suggests that.

How did you feel when you were nominated for Shorts 2012 New Director of the Year?
Honestly that has been my biggest personal triumph so far. I am incredibly chuffed and inspired to work even harder. It was amazing to be put in a category with some brilliant new directors from around the world.

What inspires you?
Emotions and people that convey them well in any art form, inspires me. Also, my friends and family inspire me. Stories and late night chats around a large dinner table with lots of bottles of wine and laughter. I love finding out about people and what they stand for and experience.

For young people trying to break into the film industry, what would your advice and wisdom be?
Work harder than the hardest worker you know. Be tenacious and stay positive. Surround yourself with good people, enjoy the highs and learn to deal with the lows as quickly as possible.

What have you got planned for the future?
I am working on a number of adverts at the moment and I have just written a new short film about childhood imaginary friends. It’s a live action short with animation. I also produce a site called www.citysessions.co.uk, which is great fun. I want to collaborate with as many people as possible.

With the success of Emma, Matthew saw himself nominated for New Director of the Year at Shorts 2012, along with other nominations from Phoenix Comicon Film Festival 2013, Golden Kuker Sofia International Animation Film Festival, Rob Knox Film Festival, N4YP Film Festival, Basauri – Bizkaia International Animated Film Festival, and Cornwall Film Festival. As you can see, Matthew he has already created a huge international buzz around his animations.

Quick. Hurry. Go and check out all of Matthews other awesome videos: http://matthewlawes.co.uk/ and check out www.citysessions.co.uk.

Max Martin- The Busker

One day after I finished a grueling two-hour day at university, I decided to unwind doing my favorite thing- feeding my habit of YouTube. Along with nail biting, this is a bad habit I picked up from my Mum. Mum sends me a million videos a day of random things she finds on YouTube. Such as, videos about various cats, videos of a snoring dormouse, twin babies that can talk, but not talk, but they manage to understand each other over a political conversation in the kitchen, videos of dancing ponies, videos about a gorilla who makes friends with a dog, then the dog dies and the gorilla is super sad. Oh and other classic, about a gorilla who learns to understand what death is through American sign language, and naturally like anything that understands death and the cycle of life for the first time, the gorilla gets angry. Anyway, where was I…? So I hopped onto YouTube, to watch some short films. Ever since watching Bob the Builder when I was a young girl (okay, I was about 10… is that wrong because the shows target audience is two to five year olds?), I have love Stop Motion Animation. I came across an animation gold mine, finding the work of Max Martin. I was drawn to Max’s video The Busker, and the optimistic message of always finding the silver lining.

The Busker is the story about a one-man band. The Busker is playing his music in the busy streets, when he thinks someone has thrown him some money, which turns out to be a bottle cap, the Busker smashes his fist onto the ground. The Busker is opened up into a music utopia, a scene very similar to when Harry Potter goes to Diagon Alley with Hagrid (I am a massive Harry Potter enthusiast). In this magical music utopia, the Busker discovers that his hair, fingers, feet, ribs and body is a source of music. The Busker optimistically shows how you can turn a bad situation, into a brilliant one.

 I wanted to know more about the man behind The Busker, so I asked Max some of my burning questions.

How did you come up with the narrative of The Busker? 

“I can’t take any credit for the story of The Busker. The film came about in a second year project that involved creating a short animation within teams. We all had to pitch our ideas, and then split into groups depending on whose film we liked the sound of most.”

 In relation to the character the Busker, do you associate and sympathise with him?

“To be honest I’ve never really felt any emotional connection to any of my characters. Except the brief moments of hatred when the puppets arm falls off and ruins the shot. That said, to get the best movement out of your puppet you do have to in a sense become the character, and act out the way it should be moving before and during shooting.”

 What inspires you? Is it the street and environment that surrounds, similar to The Busker?

“It’s hard to say what inspires me. Half of my work is just made up as I go along. I can get more ideas by physically interacting with a character, or object within a set, than sitting with a pen and paper trying to force it. This is why I’ve always been impatient with the pre-production stages of animating, I just want to get stuck in and get my hands dirty.”

 So you studied Animation at Bristol School of Animation- what made you want to go into animation?

“I first got interested in Stop Motion animation when I was fourteen. I had watched some crudely made but fun Claymation shorts online when I was off sick from school. (Message from Mel- sounds like someone has a YouTube habit too, Max I think you are my long lost brother). When I realised that the people making them were just a few years older than me, I was inspired to play around with it myself. It was at least a couple of years later when I started thinking that animating could be more than just a hobby.”

 Out of all your films, which is your favourite?

“I find it hard to watch all of my films. Partly because before they are even finished I have seen every single frame of the animation multiple times, and partly because I don’t see the segments I’m happy with. I only see the mistakes I made and the things that I wish I had done differently. If I had to pick a favourite though it would have to be Mushroom Tea, a music video I made for Altai Lelio. This has more of an easygoing flow to it, as I created the entire thing without a scrap of pre-production. No storyboards, no sketches I just wanted to make something fun and colourful, and I think the fact that I enjoyed making it shows through.”

 For young people trying to get into the film industry, what would you recommend?

“The best thing I could suggest for youngsters trying to break into the film industry would be to share their work as much as possible. Utilise sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, get involved in the communities there and see what feedback people give you. That’s how I started out, and it really helped me pin point areas that I could improve.”

 What have you got planned for the future?

“The past four or five animations I have been involved in very commercial projects, that haven’t had much scope for creative expression. So, I’m planning on working on a music video or two for a friend of mine, using a couple of ideas that I’ve wanted to make a reality for a long time.”

 Go and check out all of Max Martin’s great videos, at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheClayLord or http://www.claynation.co.uk/.