This week's short film tells an epic story of love, tragedy and survival
A Very Nice Honeymoon is a beautifully crafted 2D and 3D animated film about filmmakers Jeff and Phill Simmond's great grandparents Mariano and Elizabeth Vella who were on the steamer SS Wairarapa when it was wrecked on the coast of Great Barrier Island, New Zealand, in 1893.
Described as a documation, the voices of yarning family members are married to their cartoon likenesses, to comic and ultimately moving effect.
The film opens with Mariano and Elizabeth's great great granddaughter and ends with Elizabeth herself describing her first-hand experience of New Zealand's third-worst maritime disaster in which approximately 131 people lost their lives.
The Simmonds brothers have answered five questions for us:
What first prompted your interest in animation?
Phill: We were introduced to the magic of theatre at a very early age - our mother was always involved with musical comedy and the stage.
When we are animating we combine sound and pictures and when you put music and images together you have theatre. It's coming at you through your ears and your eyes and that makes it potentially very, very powerful. We grew up watching Walt Disney movies and always dreamed of animating and making movies ourselves.
Jeff: I was given an old standard 8 movie camera for Christmas when I was about 15. The first thing we did was to make a stop-motion animation of bottles moving around the back lawn. Obviously technology has come a long way since then, but the principle is exactly the same: a series of moving images. I am interested in film and writing stories, and Phill was also drawing, so it seemed an obvious thing to do to make Phill's cartoon characters move.
Phill: Yeah, my background is cartoon illustration work and I'd always wondered how they would look if they were moving. So as soon as we had our hands on some basic animation software there was no looking back. I was hooked.
Why did you pick up this story?
We grew up with the story of our great grandparents and the wreck of the SS Wairarapa. The old photos were on the wall and we always wanted to tell the story in animated form. It's about our whakapapa and the waka we arrived on. There's all the romance and drama you could ever want in a story. The ship struck a sheer cliff on Great Barrier Island in 1892 and sank with the loss of 132 lives. Fortunately our tipuna survived.
What is your favourite memory of the film?
When we started working on the film it was scripted - like other historical dramas. Then we were made aware of the existence of a C60 tape recording of our grandmother Elizabeth talking about the wreck. When we tracked it down and listened to it we thought it would be perfect to use her voice in the film. That's what got us searching the Sound Archives for recordings of Metty, Elizabeth's daughter, and we did some of our own recordings of members of the family. That's how we ended up with 5 generations of our whanau telling the story. It wasn't what we set out to do but that's what I love about the creative process.
What is a documation, the genre you've created?
Phill: Many years ago I came across a video of Creature Comforts by Aardman Studios in Bristol. I was inspired from that point to use unrehearsed and unscripted audio of 'ordinary' people for my animations. Documation is our word for the genre. Using a soundtrack of people telling their stories in their own words is marvelous because you get all the 'ahhhs' and 'ums', pauses and changes of direction that occur in normal conversation. Animation allows us to emphasize this with simple but effective body language - subtle eyebrow expressions and hand movements.
We like to go the opposite direction of the trends. 3D is increasingly popular at the moment, so we're working in 2D, ha ha ha. Low-tech is the new high-tech. If you want your work to stand out it has to be different - that's always been important to us. The world seems to be fixated on celebrity. I'm interested in what's going on in the supposedly mundane. You start off with something 'ordinary'. A little further along the continuum you get 'very-ordinary'. Further along you get extra-ordinary. Extraordinary! Also, there's nothing 'controversial' about what we're doing and perhaps that's why our work works. We're really not going for the South Park Virgin Mary scenario. That's like poking people with a stick. The 'shocking truth' simply isn't that shocking any more so the only way left is to head in the opposite direction to find something startling.
What do you think are the essential attributes of a good animator?
Patience. I think you're either a born animator or you're not. At any particular point you might be working on one part of one drawing on one layer of one frame of which 12 screen a second so it's a completely different scale compared with other art forms. You have to have a particular type of psyche to take two days to create a few seconds of animation. It'll either drive you mad or it's magic.
More about the Simmonds Brother.