Next week sees the opening of the 17th Bristol Encounters International Film Festival, celebrating everything that’s great about short and animated film.
The festival will showcase 180 new films including A Gun for George, directed by, and starring Garth Marenghi’s Matthew Holness; The Pizza Miracle, by Tony Grisoni, screenwriter of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Long Distance Information, the debut drama from Douglas Hart, previously of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
On 17 November, The Ren & Stimpy Show creator, John Kricfalusi, will be chatting about his favourite and most influential films as part of the Desert island Flicks series.
Design Week caught up with Kricfalusi ahead of the festival to talk about animation, the decline in American cartoons and ‘the bottom of the creative totem pole.’
DW: How did you start out in animation?
JK: I always drew cartoons and started making flipbooks when I was about eight or nine. I used to fill my school textbooks with cartoons of the Flintstones doing censored things to each other.
DW: What advice would you give to people hoping to do the same?
JK: Watch the Flintstones and think thoughts that your parents wouldn’t approve of.
DW: what makes a brilliant cartoon?
JK: That’s pretty subjective. For me, it would be a good combination of:
Skill: “wow factor”
Using the medium to its advantage, rather than imitating live action
Fun and unique characters
I wrote about it here.
DW: What do you think it is about your cartoons that made them so popular?
JK: Maybe that they were so different from what was being done at the time. And hopefully because the performances of the characters are rich enough that they stand repeated viewing. That’s what a lot of fans tell me. They seem alive maybe.
DW: How would you describe your style of animation?
JK: Cartoony but with realistic human emotions and acting.
DW: How have things changed in the way animators work since you started?
JK: There seems to be a few general styles that grew out of Ren and Stimpy: the flat retro style from our fake commercials like “Log”. The gross and surreal style like Sponge Bob. Edgy cartoons like South Park and Family Guy. Flash is everywhere now and we were the first ones to use it to make animated cartoons.
Cartoons were pretty generic and bland in the 1980s. Now they are more stylized.
DW: How different do you think cartoons like Ren and Stimpy would be had you been making them now – if at all?
JK: They’d be a lot more skilled. If you watch the series in order you can see that we were learning by trial and error. The first ones looked like Hell. The cartoons generally got more polished and confident as we kept experimenting. It was sort of like the 1930s when there were no rules and the animators kept changing their styles as they learned what worked and what didn’t.
DW: What trends do you see at the moment in animation?
JK: The tendency to repeat what has already been done to death. More and more executives have inserted themselves into the process and it makes it harder for animators to evolve and improve the art.
Animators are at the bottom of the creative totem pole. They used to be at the top and that’s when the best cartoons were made.
DW: How has the rise and rise of the internet and technology changed the way animators work?
JK: The internet hasn’t done anything for animation that I can see, besides allowing cheaper stuff to get made.
I have been using Harmony and that has made me change the way I work. I can animate a lot faster, do more experiments and get a better-finished look to the characters. I have more control over the final animation than in the old system where we had to send so much work overseas.
DW: Is there a marked English or American style? If so what are the differences?
JK: I will find out if there is a marked English style when I get to Bristol. I imagine you have more variety than we do in America. The whole country here is frozen in the blandest state of its history I think. Nothing seems to have a voice anymore. It’s all corporate formula.
America’s creative golden age was from the 1920s to the 1960s and it’s been downhill ever since.
DW: If you could collaborate with anyone on an animation who would it be?
JK: Maybe Jamie Hewlett. He’s great. But I’m not sure our styles would mesh. I’d also like to do something with Mike Judge one day. I just finished collaborating with Matt Groening on a Simpsons couch gag and that was really fun.
Bristol Encounters Film Festival runs from 16 – 20 November. Click here for more details.