The animator Richard Noble grew up in London, but you wouldn’t think it by watching his films. A recent graduate of Royal College of Art’s animation master’s, Richard’s latest film Wandaland is about as American as it gets. Steeped in American mass culture, the mixed media six-minute film is a playful take on perhaps one of the most recognisable of American conglomerates, Disney. On this evidenced interest in American culture however, Richard tells us: “I really can’t account for this discrepancy, except to say that the sheer scale and immodesty of American culture simultaneously captivates me and offends my English sensibilities.”
For the Wandaland creator, “animation is just filmmaking for people who don’t want to go outside.” It’s a line he’s well known for, which feels more prevalent than ever given the year of Covid and thus, being indoors for much of the time. “I approach animation as a filmmaker first,” he continues, “which is to say that I’m more concerned with the relationship between one shot and another than I am with the intricacies of timing and movement.” He likes to delve into what he calls “the grammar of film,” which details what is revealed or concealed, and importantly, in what order. Animation allows him total control over this process, arming him with the authority to direct each and every frame.
Coming back to Wandaland, Richard proceeds to tell us how this unique animated biography of a fictional animation tycoon came about. Inspired by an anecdote on how Walt Disney used to have a secret apartment on Disneyland’s Main Street, where he would stay while the mammoth park was under construction, “That was such a vivid image,” Richard recalls. Spurring him on to come up with a Citizen Kane-style narrative, albeit with demented-looking teddy bears and an amalgamation of animation styles sprinkled in there too.
After a year in the making, Wandaland eventually took its final form, detailing the life of a man slowly becoming untethered from reality. The disparate animation styles reflect this sense of unhinging, sliding in and out of various levels of realism. To top it all off, the short is impregnated with a tumult of visual stimuli. Billboards, cereal packets, cinema screens, statues, photographs, paintings, not to mention a number of characters, all pack the short with a sub-story of a fictional bear who gradually becomes more present than the man who created him.
It’s the perfect story to tell in a theme park, which Richard likens to “a low-tech form of virtual reality where real structures are replaced with immersive images.” It’s a relationship between the digital and physical that he’s explored in the past; taking paintings and drawings from one corner of the world and translating them into 3D environments so the images become objects in the alternative animated world. Paintings can in turn be seen nuzzled behind the glass of windows or discreetly placed on walls in the distance.
All these little elements build upon each other to tell the story of an entertainment tycoon building a giant monument to himself which “eventually becomes a kind of monument to his own self-delusion.” With an undercurrent theme of identity running through the short, recently, Richard has only just realised the prevalence of this theme in his work. In the second film he’s made while at the Royal College of Art, The Sam Story (which he’s currently working on) Richard tells a story exploring free will: A man discovers his long-lost twin brother and a near-identical life and questions the nature of free will.
“So there’s something I’ve been unconsciously obsessed with,” says Richard on the theme of identity, “which is the way we meticulously construct images of ourselves to present to the world, and yet how disappointed we are when others fall for the trick.” It’s a paradox Richard experienced first hand while making Wandaland. “There was a certain irony to how immersed I became in the fictitious world I was building for myself and how the project kept growing in ambition, and how bound up the film became with my own ego.” He likens it to a kind of method acting, as the film’s production process became more “torturous and protracted,” interestingly, so did the narrative of Wanda building his park.
GalleryRichard Noble: Wandaland (Copyright © Richard Noble, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.