From the very beginning my intention with Sumo Lake was to focus as much on the process of animation and eschew everything else that usually got in the way. I animate because I like to draw, not the other way around, so you can guess how much time I wanted to spend writing exposure sheets, designing camera moves, line-testing, cleaning-up, doing paint and shadow, effects an…zzzzzzz. Sorry, but once you get past the joy of grinding graphite particles into individual pieces of bleached wood pulp and bringing the marks you've made to life, it's all pretty tedious. 

Animation was getting slicker by the day, and I felt more removed from it with the increasing shine of each new pixel.

Even during the course of a typical "traditional"* animation production, by the time an idea had gone through script, storyboard, design, layout, and timing, actually sitting down and doing the animation can feel somewhat pre-determined and perfunctory. This is a necessity when you have to pre-sell to a lot of vested interests or accomodate a large crew working on individual components of the visuals. No such conditions existed here. 

Instead, a guy in a room sat down and made drawings, one after another. When he had a stack of them, he picked them up and flipped through them to watch them move. He adjusted them accordingly. He did this for about 5 weeks until the story was told. It amounted to about 1300 drawings resulting in 3 minutes of footage. 

Despite my disciplined posture, I still needed a visit to the physio afterwards.

Note the "magic pencil" attributed in the credits, given to me by my friend Darren Burgess.
My film weighs 6.25kg, nearly the birthweight of my two children put together.

(If Lars von Triers's "Dogme95" principle could be applied to animation, "Sumo Lake" would likely qualify. I didn't even do a line test, though maybe using a light-bulb instead of a candle behind my animation disc would cause Lars to withhold his approval. )

Why crank out all these drawings in just 5 weeks and risk permanent wrist-damage and eye-strain? Funding for "Sumo Lake" was provided by South Australia's Media Resource Centre through their Tropfest Initiative. For those not in the know, Tropfest is a hugely popular, celebrity-driven short film festival that requires fresh new films with a designated signature item. Inclusion among the 16 finalists results in high-exposure and major kudos for the filmmaker and all involved. It can kick-start a career or recharge a flat one; exactly the sort of thing funding bodies like to do with the limited funds at their disposal. 

So "Sumo Lake" needed to be completed in time for the Tropfest deadline and had to include the 2011 signature item of a "key."At best, there is only a few months between release of the signature item and the deadline. By the time all the elements came into place for "Sumo Lake", drawings had to be cranked out at the rate of noughts. Wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

This is as much storyboard as I allowed myself, or wanted to do. Just enough to keep me from animating completely blind. May not have done this at all if I hadn't had time to kill in a cafe with the animation occupying my mind.

Did I rotoscope? Did I bloody rotoscope?! Are you talking to an animator, or some pixel-pushing panty-waist?!  That's right, sure I rotoscoped! - while wearing support hosiery and sipping chamomile tea!

No, instead I just watched a heap of wrestling and ballet clips and made little notes. What a wimp. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to motion-capture.
*"traditional animation". Geez, I really, really hate that term. It makes an art created and practised by some of the greatest crafts-people and visionaries of the 20th century sound like some quaint activity done by a bunch of Quakers in a farmhouse. 


  1. It's a beautiful short, congratulations on it! :D

    Is there somewhere online I can get a pencil like that to try it out?

  2. That pencil was a gift, so I can't tell you much about where it came from.

    It's a mechanical pencil with a 10mm lead (I used a 4B most of the time). A real heavyweight beauty, and I know they're not cheap. It was a very generous gift as well!

    If you walk into a fancy pen or stationery shop (there's a few around, depending on where you live), they might have a few you can "test drive". It pays to be well dressed in circumstances like that.

  3. haha thanks for the dress tip. I imagine it to be quite good fun to animate with something that chunky, really putting some force into your drawing.

  4. Beautiful short. It was really interesting seeing you explain your process here. I've always wanted to "traditionally animate" but honestly have no idea what I'm getting myself into or how to do it. Seeing this makes me feel better about just going for it. :)

    Great work.

  5. Glad you liked it, asrai7, and even happier that it's taken you down the path to grabbing a pencil and hitting the paper.

    While there is a mountain of instructional books, videos, and online information about the techniques and principles of animation, it all boils down to "Draw something. Draw it again changed in the way you want it changed. Repeat."

    That said, expect to screw it up a few times before you're happy. Don't let over-flowing waste-paper bin get you down. Ruthless editing is part of making any art. Best of luck, and I hope you'll share the results with us someday.