Take a look at Kieran McLister’s stop-motion animations and you’ll be surprised to find out that the young animator just graduated this year from Edinburgh College of Art’s Animation course. You won’t be surprised, however, to hear that Kieran was “really into Aardman films” as a child, not to mention any other stop-motion animation he came across. Now creating his very own (and very slick) versions of the claymation technique, Kieran’s new film Margin of Terror displays a level of craftsmanship far beyond his years – we’d even go as far as to say he’s nearly rivalling his childhood hero Aardman in skill.
First venturing into the world of stop-motion animation at the tender age of 11, Kieran started experimenting with little slapstick clips using an old digital camera and Windows Moviemaker. “I’ve always liked working on focused, detail-driven wee things,” he tells It’s Nice That, “and I’ve got a bad habit of continually tinkering with something that I can’t quite nail until it’s dark and I should’ve eaten dinner hours ago.” So, when it came to choosing a university degree, it was natural that Kieran chose to transform his hobby into something more.
It wasn’t until he’d been studying the famously laborious discipline for a few years that Kieran realised he could actually make a career from his childhood hobby. Consistently drawn to stop motion, which he personally finds “more fun” than working in 2D or CG, the animator finds himself perpetually attracted to the physicality of the medium, which gives the animation its quintessential tactile quality. Kieran adds on the process: “I get to animate a real, physical object with my hands. If I want a character to move towards the camera, I’m not dragging things around with a mouse or working out how to keep a consistent perspective in a pile of drawings. I just take hold of it and move it.”
Seizing creative opportunities in between shots, Kieran also takes advantage of the stop-motion process to improvise. There’s a sort of “meditative calm” in the tangible process for Kieran, who enjoys the “long, focused activity” of animating in stop motion, rather than organising a whole production squad. This is exemplified in his latest film, Margin of Terror. The film revolves around a scientist who keeps making “imperfect and overcomplicated potions, before pouring them down the sink”.
Kieran’s original intention for the film’s ending saw the potions congealing into one big monster, then eating the scientist. But with time, the storyline evolved, and what was meant to be an animated short, elongated into an “indulgently long film filled with goofy jokes and butts”. He goes on to say of the lengthy process, “I had to keep cutting it in half to finish the thing anyway, so it all worked out in the end.”
Hoping to take the film to a number of festivals this year, the recent graduate is hoping to “make enough money to get by” – similar to most emerging creatives – in his first year out of uni. And whether that’s getting some experience at a studio or working within a big team, “particularly one that involves silly jokes and/or plasticine”, Kieran is pretty much open to anything. “So, uh, we’ll see,” he concludes.