For London-based animator and filmmaker Rory Waudby-Tolley, the beauty of his chosen medium is its absolute diversity. In combining so many processes, in one project, he acts as “designer, filmmaker, illustrator, sound artist and animator.” Not only that, but “you can tell many different types of story, and in so many different ways” using its media. In turn, Rory’s portfolio is a varied one, full of animations which are “wildly different to each other, both in design and concept.” One thing they are all, however, is funny.
Rory studied 3D computer animation at Bournemouth University before completing a master’s at the Royal College of Art, where he now teaches alongside working as a freelance animator and director on commercial projects. “But mostly I enjoy making my own short films,” he tells us. One such short is his recently-released powerwash (I love you). A hilarious two and a bit minute film “about love and patios”, it follows two stick figures as they reminisce on their relationship. Executed all in black and white, it makes use of a wooden voiceover and sarcasm, as the camera continually zooms then focusses on new shapes as the story unfolds.
The project began as a free writing exercise, with Rory imagining a boring conversation until “it all came out quite naturally,” he tells us. “I decided I liked it and should just hurry up and make it before I changed my mind.” With the intention of creating the film as quickly as possible, Rory figured using text-to-speech generator as his “actors” would give him the best chance of doing so. While it was a practical choice, on one hand, it’s this disembodied robotic voice which provides much of the deadpan humour of the piece, and it also influenced its design significantly, Rory explains. In turn, everything about the film is slightly off-kilter, slightly uncomfortable and awkward.
“The whole film is animated using shape layers in After Effects – all drawn using just a mouse – and keyframed so they interpolate with fairly inorganic movement,” Rory says. “I like hand drawn animations where the camera drifts and things move with incorrect perspective, so for every keyframe, I went in and moved points in the shapes to make it deliberately wonky.” He also wrote a bit code that kept the line width consistent even with things zooming in and out, to further the film’s hand drawn feeling, “without pretending to not be digital.” The whole thing, he adds, is supposed to look “kind of like a photocopied zine, so the text was also an important part of the design.”
Allowing the audio to guide the short in this manner is something Rory often does, as the process of seeing words leaving a drawing’s mouth is “still kind of magic” to him. With an interest in language itself, animating without this element as a guiding principle feels almost redundant to him. Sound or no sound, however, it’s always Rory’s intention that the story leads the design “but more and more I am getting into trying to use more abstraction in my work and take a more experimental approach to aesthetic and movement,” he says. “Oh and humour, I like funny things.”
Aesthetically, his projects tend to have a cartoony feel to them, and most of his work is character-based. This, he muses, is perhaps because he learned 3D animation before 2D, “which is probably the wrong way round,” but it means he’s “enjoyed trying out a mixture of techniques.” As in powerwash (i love you), Rory’s animations err on the simple side in regards to style, not for a lack of technical aptitude but in an effort to rely on “strong poses to get the most movement out of fewer drawings.” Often, he employs several different styles within one film, particularly on documentary films: “I use [these] as an excuse to use several styles of animation in one film, as the real-world story acts as the backbone holding it all together.”
Currently, Rory is working on an animated music video and writing a few new short ideas, as well as experimenting with how to create an abstract film only using code. Clearly, he’s a creative spurred on by the idea of discovering the next thing, whether it’s a new style or a new technique or a new way of telling a story. On what keeps him so motivated to work within animation, he concludes: “I like that you can create your own rules for each film and how the world works within its own sphere. Whether that’s in its design, or the way things move, you have complete control of space and time. As an independent animator, you kind of get to be a one-man-band film crew.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.