Interview of the Week – 11

 

Dik Jarman created one of the most moving and complex animated movies we have seen in a tribute to his father. "Dad's Clock" tells the story of his father's last days as he constructs a clock lovingly made out of wood. He is a professional architect in his home country Australia as well as being involved as a film director, in theatre design and animation. In making the movie he used timber and brass to construct his models and puppets. He also photographed 22,000 images and over 1000 moving pieces. You can view his movie via the following link to Zed CBC Television.

Adam:

You are quoted as having spent two years making "Dad's Clock".  Was this your full time job at the time or was it produced in your spare time?

Dik:    It was my full time job from about ten in the morning to midnight seven days a week for around 18 months. I originally took two months off work to write and storyboard the production for the application of funds from my job as an architect.
Adam: Why did you decide to use this abstract style for making the film?
Dik:   

By having the entire story told verbally by a narrator I was able to make the imagery as poetic as I wanted without fear of the audience misunderstanding it.

Dad’s Clock is a tale of internal feelings and about lack of communication between two people and unspoken emotions. I felt that using words and literal images alone were not enough to reveal the complex emotions of the tale. By abstracting the images I could focus in on what I felt was important in the story, and omit that which was not. I often describe it as “building outside that which is felt and understood within.”

I chose to use timber as it was the material Dad used to make the clock out of, so I was continuing the material of his choice. My ability to use timber in the first place was something I learnt from my father by holding the one end of the plank when he was working on the other. It showed in a Production Design fashion my connection and inheritance from my father whilst the text spoke about my distance. I felt it added to the complexity of the tale in this way.

Adam: I read that you made a thousand moving pieces and 22,000 images during the making of this movie. I sit at a computer and create my animations there. Practically speaking what did making your movie involve?
Dik:   

Puppet animation differs from computer animation in a number of ways, but the most fascinating for me is that stop-mo is a linear process. That is once I start animating a scene, it is a performance, a dance if you like, the puppet and me. If the puppet is having a bad day (like a dodgy knee) then it makes it hard for me. If I am having a bad day I have to try very hard for it to not affect my performance with the puppet.

In computer animation, like drawn animation, you continuously test, tweak, change, add, until you are happy with the scene. It is non-linear animation and I don’t enjoy it due to its lack of risk and element of performance. It feels more like process than art.

Making the movie involved designing and building all the sets which took the most time, (around a year all up). Animating was fairly simple as they were puppets which only requiring moving limbs, rocking the boat, etc, with no sculpting required to achieve expressions as there is in claymation.

For me to do a frame of animation, typically I would go under the set to operate the 8 car jacks that provided the rocking motion for the boat, then climb a ladder to turn two axles which turned 180 cogs that moved the timber waves a bit, then move the puppet a bit, and that was a frame. I shot 25 frames per second as it was made for Australian television.

Adam: Am I right in saying that you used a stop-start motion capture technique, if so did you make your own characters?
Dik:   

The film is all stop motion animation.

I made the puppet of my father all by myself with the exception of his glasses and shoulder blades which were made by armature specialist Scott Ebdon, and his beanie which was knitted by my mother. The puppet is all timber and brass.

The hero bird was assembled to my design by Scott Ebdon from brass, aluminium and an old clock that used to be in my father’s workshop. His beak is an old ink pen from my father’s compass set which he bought when he started to study for architecture in 1946. I chose it to represent me as it shows where my head is at; architecture.

I made my brother birds, with each of their beaks also representing their trade, a file for a builder, forceps for the doctor, and a quill for my brother the lawyer.


Adam: Did you do the narration yourself? Did you write this first or do the movie first?
Dik:   

I always record the voice first as it gives a lot of information as to how the characters should react and at what times. I had a veteran Australian actor, Barry Otto, do the voice. I originally had thought of having someone my age (32 at the time) do the voice over but could not find anyone with a voice that I liked.

When I found out Barry was available I was very excited because his voice is so lovely, it has a softness to it which echoed the fragility of the story. It also added to the story as it was the tale of a young man about an old man, told by the young man when he himself was old, so it gave a kind of circularity to it. Also, I didn’t want the voice over to be too dominant as sometimes narrators seem to be like the voice of unquestionable authority which I didn’t want, I wanted the audience to make up their own mind as to the reality of the story.
Adam: This is a bit of a personal question but why did you decide to capture the memory of the latter part of your father's life in the form of animation?
Dik:   

Simply I am an animator. If I was a painter I would have painted him. I think it is very odd that some people think that some stories are better or worse for animation, and irrelevant.

I was hesitant in telling the story at all at first as I felt that it was almost cliché having a man dying building a timber clock, but I was convinced by friends that it was a worthwhile story to pursue.
Adam: What were the feelings of your family when they viewed the movie for the first time?
Dik:   

I sent my family the script before I made for comment and received only some minor factual changes regarding dates from my mother.

Once complete, I showed each of my brothers the film separately and they each provided their own additional input to the story that I did not know. It is very much my version of the story as they each have different memories and relationships with him as mentioned in the film. I believe they all approve of the film.
Adam: You admit yourself that the film is produced in the form of metaphor. How true were details of your relationship with your father?
Dik:   

The words spoken by the narrator are true of how I felt as a child and a young man. I did feel like a “replacement” to my brother at times but whether that is true from my parent’s point of view is another matter and unknown.

Metaphorically it is completely true. I, of course, am not a bird, but my position to him during this time was exactly that. I could come and go from the house as I pleased, and my presence there helped, but I couldn’t save him from his ship going down.

Adam: At school I am doing an animation course using Flash and I was wondering if you used any software during the making of this film?
Dik:    I used Adobe Photoshop to touch up images, Adobe Affects Pro to do my compositing, and Adobe Premiere to edit and assemble the film itself. This was all on a pc. I used an old Amiga 2000 computer with frame capturing software to watch the animation as I made it.
Adam:

Is this the film you are most proud of making? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Dik:   

It is indeed the film that I am most proud of making, I am very happy with it and it’s successes and affect on people.

There are some edits in the film that I do not like and if I had more time I would have reshot them. (In particular when the bird is helping Dad on the boat with the cog. I find that sequence awkward and would do it differently if i had the chance.) Also when the boat opens some of the ribs shudder too much for my liking, it looks like bad animation to me.

Adam: You are described as being in the process of making a puppet series of animations. Could you provide any further information about this?
Dik:    No.
Adam: Can you see yourself, in the future, expanding and going into independent feature length film-making?
Dik:    Yes.
Adam:

How did you decide that you wanted to go into animation and film making for a career? For most people being an architect would be challenging enough.

Dik:   

Architecture is challenging enough and it sometimes drives me crazy. Not by the art itself but by being limited by people not wanting to do something different.

In animation difference is celebrated.

I am also in charge of the story in animation (typically) not just designing the sets as in architecture and I have stories to tell.

Adam: Have you seen any other Australian animators that you like and can recommend?
Dik:   

Plenty, we are very lucky here in Australia. A quick list would be:

    • Southern Ladies Animation Group (SLAG) “It’s like that” a tale about children in refugee camps in Australia
    • Adam Elliot “Harvey Krumpett” (recent Oscar winner), “Brother”, “Uncle”
    • Tony Lawrence  - “Plasmo”; stop-mo sci fi series
    • Nick Donkin – “A Junkies Christmas”
    • And the work from the school of animation at RMIT Victoria called AIM.
Adam:

My final question is not a question but "Dad's Clock" was a fantastic tribute to your father. You should be proud.

 

Dad's Clock may be viewed at: Zed CBC Television

It was featured last year as our Movie of the Week 51 on our Website