h3ll y3s: A Chat With The Makers of “Stilton’s in Charge”

Still from "Stilton's in Charge"

I’m buzzing right now. I have that fuzzy feeling that comes from digitally stumbling upon people who are doing exactly what it is that we promote around these parts — making your own animated films, with whatever supplies are available, rejecting all the standard assumptions about the “required” equipment/budget/aesthetic and, waiting not for societal, parental, nor governmental permission, but embarking forth into that potentially scary yet often exhilarating empty sequence of the NLE of your life, and telling animated stories for the love of it.

“Stilton’s In Charge” is the utterly charming new short from Jonni Phillips and Victoria Vincent, which they made with some sharpies, not a small amount of construction paper, a 10-year-old webcam, and a certain Windows abandonware classic, and you really just need to watch it right now. Read our interview after the jump to find out how it was made.


h3ll y3s: A Chat With The Makers of “Stilton’s in Charge”

Where did the idea for “Stilton’s in Charge” come from?

Victoria and I were playing this game where we sat down and took turns drawing one line at a time to create characters, and when we were done we named all of them, and we liked them so much we wanted to make a movie about them. We came up with the story very spontaneously; we took bits from our lives and made a loose narrative out of a bunch of different ideas. Some stuff was based on real life, others we just did it because it was funny.

Where did you shoot it, and with what gear?

We shot it my parents’ garage (which is also my bedroom), with a webcam that I’ve had since I was 10 that I bought to make Lego movies. We used the freeware MonkeyJam and we edited both the sound and footage with Premiere. We recorded the sound with our phones.

How long did production last, from start to finish? How often were you working on it?

We worked on it once a week for about a month and a half. It was hard to find time to work on it together, because we live far away from each other and Victoria had an annoying pizza job that took up a lot of her time. [Victoria has since documented said pizza job via her animated short, Pizza Movie. —ed.]

You mentioned that you made this with just construction paper and sharpies. Why physical media? What was the appeal?

We decided to use stuff that we already had. We also wanted the film to feel like a kid could have made it. We thought the best way to execute that idea was by only using materials that would be obtainable by a child.

With the obvious exception of “In The Navy”, how did you guys write and record the music for this film?

We found a kid’s cat keyboard at Goodwill and we sat down in Victoria’s car, and I basically just watched the film and improvised the music. We also used some of the prerecorded tracks on the keyboard [After a bit of Googling, we have tentatively identified this as the illustrious B. Meowsic Keyboard, as featured on Ellen’s Cat Week, c. 2010. —ed.].

I’ve watched Stilton several times, and the dialogue animation is simple yet so effective. Any tips for other animators attempting to do lip sync, mouth-flapping style (with a minimal number of mouth shapes)?

When I was animating it, I just kept the line in mind, and improvised the mouth movements just based on what I could remember. In editing, Victoria tried to make it fit the line better by cutting and pasting frames. We weren’t too concerned with the lip sync, but for advice, just listening to the audio while you’re animating and figuring as you go usually works for us. Especially for stop motion projects, editing it afterwards usually works if you have enough frames. If you’re working with cutouts and you’re doing a similar limited animation style, it also helps to just keep in mind what the line is and what kind of sounds are made, and then designing the mouth shapes to fit as much of the dialog as possible.

If you could make one piece of Stilton merchandise, what would it be?

I think it would be fun to have stuffed animals, Victoria says she wants a Stilton lunchbox. [We’d rock a “Fruit Snacks” t-shirt —ed.]

Any new projects in the works?

Before we go back to school, Victoria is making a movie about working at a pizza shop [Update: in the time since this interview, Pizza movie has hit Vimeo — ed.], and I’m collaborating with a friend on another film. I am also trying to make a film on my own before school starts, maybe with cutouts. We’re thinking about making another Stilton film, but we’re not entirely sure yet. We’re going into our second year at CalArts, so we’re also both going to be making individual shorts this year. I’m also directing a short cartoon pilot at Frederator Studios for Cartoon Hangover, which Victoria’s voice acting for. If you want to see more of our work, we have our own art blogs, Victoria’s is vewn.tumblr.com, and mine is jonniphillips.tumblr.com.

What’s the last short you saw that really inspired you? Can you guys recommend something for DIY Animation Club readers to check out?

For Stilton specifically, we were really inspired by Janno Poldma’s Birthday, and Amy Lockhart’s Walk for Walk. In general, I’ve been really inspired by this Teletubbies clip, “mango” by Hannah Cosselmon and Fantadroms. Victoria really likes the work of Anibal Bley, and this music video.

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