As we await Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards, I chatted with Wild Life directors Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby about their inspired animated short from the NFB about the Canadian frontier in the early 20th century. It’s told with a wry mockumentary style utilizing gouache on paper to achieve a rough, painterly look.
What was the origin of Wild Life?
Wendy Tilby: Amanda had an idea many years ago of telling a story about remittance men (young British gentlemen who were told to do something in the colonies rather than hang around home), but she wasn’t necessarily thinking about animation, and when we were trying to come up with a story to do after When the Day Breaks. We were thinking of something a little more documentary and it merged into Wild Life.
Amanda Forbis: It kind of comes from the place we’re both from, which is Alberta — the Canadian prairie — and the fact that we both have English relatives who came over around that time and who suffered under similar circumstances. The point was that all the breeding in the world can’t help you in those circumstances.
And this theme is more applicable than ever.
WT: I was just about to say that we’re hoping that the theme can be broadened to empires in general and the hubris that goes without that.
AF: For me, as an animator, I think I have a very tenuous grasp on well being. The rug can be pulled out at any moment. Animation is what I know and what would I do without animation?
It’s a wonderful journey and I especially liked the comet metaphor (not being a part of the whole and crashing).
WT: Thank you. That was a slightly contentious issue at the end with people looking at the film just before it was finished, who were puzzled by it and thought the descriptive text might be a distraction. But we were reluctant to take it out. It was part of the story from the very beginning and added a dimension.
AF: I think helps in terms of visualizing the emptiness and loneliness.
WT: It’s his version of a religious experience at the end.
How did the animation go?
WT: That was kind of agonizing actually. We had just finished When the Day Breaks when we started working on this and we wanted to use the computer more because we were just getting literate with it, so we thought we’d use a style that would be computer friendly and it would go faster. And we mucked around with different techniques in the computer and just never found anything that was truly satisfying to us. We decided to go back to real paint because we like the accidents that are created; there are all these unintended things that happen with painting that make them interesting and it’s harder to achieve that with the computer because you have to plan everything.
For the style itself, we wanted a folksy naive thing: opaque, colorful. It was rather a long process because we would animate in Flash and then print them out and paint them and then hand them in and, in some cases, cut them out and place them in a different background. It was a pretty arduous process and I don’t know if we’d work that way again.