Patrick Sarell is a film maker, who this year completed a 10-minute computer generated film, Nullarbor. Currently travelling the international film festival circuit Nullarbor, has already won the Yoram Gross Award for best Short Animation at the Sydney Film Festival, Best Animation Short Film at the Melbourne Film Festival and is nominated for Best Short Animation at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in January 2012. This is Patrick’s first venture as a co-director/writer and animator after working in the industry for a number of years. He spoke to arts interview about the decision-making process when working on such a labour intensive, collaborative endeavour.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

How does functioning as a co-director work? 

Well to be honest, our roles evolved organically on the production and I guess if you want to get brutal about it, Al and I have a fairly complementary skill set with different strengths. I have a natural aptitude for character and performance end of animation, whereas Al is much stronger visually in terms of colours, cameras and mood. While we both have strong instincts across all areas of animated film-making there is something about our partnership that brings out the best in each of us.

At times this can be a fairly volatile process but we always had the best interests of the film at heart and I think we do better work in partnership then we do as individuals.

What process do you use to make decisions?  How do you ensure this is efficient?

Story is king. Story is the tool that guides you in this process. Animation is an art of economy and you can clearly see on the screen where the money goes. In order to makes sure that you get the best possible end result you want to make sure that production value is being put into the elements that matter the most. The only yardstick you have for making a call on what goes in and what gets left out is the story. So every time I had to make a decision I would ask myself “Does this help move the story forward?” If it did not we dropped it, if it did it went in.

Do you divide up areas of responsibility? E.g. allocating resources, time or money.

Yes we do. We had a reasonably large team for a short film (around 15 people) each of whom was responsible for certain areas. Those areas can be loosely broken down into the following departments:

  • Production (Management)
  • Story
  • Art, Design, Modelling and Look Development
  • Rigging and Character technical development
  • Animation
  • Lighting, Rendering and Visual Effects
  • Compositing, Editing and Output
  • Sound and Post Production

People are often misleading when you tell them that you used a computer to animate. They think that the computer does the work for you. It does not. Everything in our film is hand made and animated on a computer right down to the eye darts, blinks and pupil dilation.

Have you had situations where a decision made has caused disharmony? How did you resolve it?

Yes, many times and they were all resolved in different ways. I think that in general we were able to solve them through open discussion using the story as a yard stick for measuring the value of an idea. The major issues came after we had finished the film and it started to do well. For some reason, we all got a bit protective of the importance of our own contribution to the project. I know at one point I caught myself thinking “they could not have made this film without me” and I think that a lot of other people on the crew were feeling that way too.

Ultimately this is true, but I could not have done it without them and we all came to the conclusion that we wanted to do another project together, and the only way that was going to happen was if we believed in each other and supported and valued the work everyone had contributed to equally.

 What advice would you give to other artists working in a collaborative partnership?

Be honest, trust your instincts, surround yourself with people you trust and who you want to work with, and do not be afraid to take your time to get the important stuff right. Always be open to being wrong and learning something new, nobody knows everything. Have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, that way when someone else comes up with a better idea you will not miss an opportunity.

Always know that nobody knows your project as well as you do. Finally and most importantly: share the love and share the knowledge. To get the best work people need to feel like they are learning and being appreciated.

Interested in more information on decision-making?