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David Jones adjusts his puppets in the upside-down gravity defying world of his student film, "Highwire"

alumnistories


Dave Jones and Al MacInnes
interviewed by Ben McGill

 

Both Dave Jones and Al MacInnes are past graduates of AIM, Dave having completed the course in 1993 whilst Al studied in 1995. They met while I was in the throws of filming my major project in 1998. Like me they had both chosen to make a stop motion film as their major works, and were eager to check out how I was getting on. Needless to say they were both helpful, excited and sympathetic to the creative roller coaster they knew I was on, as only an AIM graduate can know.

Like many people who experience AIM, Al and Dave formed a friendship and now a working relationship based on creative drive, like-mindedness and an appreciation for each others skills. Many of these skills introduced, extended and honed through the AIM course. Their most recent collaboration is Dave's brainchild called 'Chasm', an online interactive game that was funded by the ABC as part of a new initiative called 'Game On'.

Apart from working as multimedia designers in Australia and overseas, Dave is also an internationally recognized rock climber and Al a professional musician. I put a series of questions to them regarding their backgrounds, experiences of AIM and their careers post AIM. This is what they had to say.
....


Ben: What was your background, pre AIM. What were your interests and what was your work situation.

Dave:
Well I went pretty much straight through school from Kindergarten to AIM in one long push so I never really had a "work situation". There was a point where I raked some leaves for an old couple who lived down the road from me but that was about it.

Al: I drew a lot when I was little but sort of forgot about it during high school. Though I did do a Super 8 animation using plasticine and cut-outs during year 12. Then I randomly went and studied Science at uni in maths and psych. And my work situation prior to AIM was pretty much live music, playing guitar.

Ben: How did you find out about the course and what was it that first drew you to applying.

Dave: I think my father actually pointed it out to me. He worked at Swinburne (which is where AIM was based at that point) and was pretty keen on the course himself I think. At that time I was studying science (maths and physics) at Melbourne Uni and the idea of studying animation seemed like a good one. AIM was a post graduate course though so I needed to finish my degree first. I'd always been interested in drawing and telling stories but somehow ended up studying maths and sciences. Doing the AIM course seemed like a good opportunity to jump ship and really start heading in the direction I wanted to be going in.

Al: I found out about the course though Tim Ryan (a friend of a friend) who had done it a few years earlier. He was right into the multimedia side of things and was very excited about it all. I remember him showing me the Replacements interactive, which I loved in terms of its graphics and feel.

Ben: How did it feel to find out that you had been successful in your application?

Dave:
I was pretty pleased with myself really. It was the culmination of a year where I thought I'd played my cards all pretty well. At the start of the previous year I'd wanted to get a place in honours at Melbourne (as a fall back plan), to get a place in the AIM course and to do this particular rock climb that I'd had my eye on. So I'd spent most of the year either drawing pictures on the sides of my lecture notes or training my arse off trying to get stronger for summer. So that summer I got the place in honours (which I never took up) did the climb I wanted to do (yay!) and got a place at AIM (woohoo!). So I gave myself a little pat on the back.

Al: Well at first I missed out and I thought, well good one, fair enough, I wasn't prepared at all, pretty lucky there really, I'll try again next year and have my act together this time. Then of course Robyn Blake rings back and says there is a place, so of course I accept it and feel very frightened.

Ben: What was knowledge of computers, and multimedia like before embarking on the AIM course?

Dave:
I had a pretty good knowledge of computers (how to turn them on, and save a file and that kind of stuff) but no knowledge at all of multimedia or animation or anything like that. During the course I didn't really do much on the computery side of things. The computer parts kind of made sense to me just to look at and I assumed that I'd be able to pick those skills up myself at a later point. What really excited me was the whole world of animation, lip sync, timing, anticipation, etc, etc. All this stuff that I'd never seen before and suddenly there I was in a room with teachers who knew loads about it and were only too happy to teach me. Very Exciting. My major film was a model animation, "HighWire" and I learned so much from David Atkinson about working the camera, lighting the set, editing the shots. I've always been very grateful to him for that.

Al: I had a 48K Sinclair ZX Spectrum in early high school which I throve on at the time, playing its games, and making little programmes. Then I forgot about computers till I had to use them for essay writing at uni. I'd had a bit of a play with Photoshop prior to the course too, but I didn't have too much idea.

Ben: Did the AIM course have any affects on you socially or personally, for example did it affect your diet? hygiene? Sleep patterns? Relationships?

Dave: Well, since I already had a marginal diet, low standards of hygiene, irregular sleep patterns and no relationship, my lifestyle didn't actually change that much while I was doing the course. For the 4 months prior to starting the course I had been living in a tent at Mount Arapiles and when I was filming I pretty much just moved into the studio or slept in my car across the street.

Al: Well you do learn a lot and there is a tendency to want to do a lot, so I was hoping make both a stop-motion and a VRQT idea which I was pretty exited about. I finished the stop-motion "Killjoy" OK but I didn't complete the VRQT, so I felt a tad hyper and unfinished at the end there. But no, the course didn't really change my existence too much, I still managed to play my gigs, go out with friends and that sort of thing.

Ben: What in your opinion are the most important aspects that the course tries to push?

Dave:
I think that just being exposed to a broad range of ideas and techniques is the most important thing that happens at AIM. Once you are aware of what is possible it just becomes a matter of coming up with the ideas. The other great thing about the course was spending the year in a room full of other students who were all equally inspired and enthused. You sort of feed off one another in that sense. It's a really good environment to be in. And the teachers. The teachers were great. David, Jeremy Parker, Robyn Blake and John Bird were teaching when I was there and they were such a dedicated bunch of people. I've never been in another learning environment like it.

Al: David, Jeremy and Robyn showing you all the aspects of animation and then giving you open-ended projects are great for introducing you to everything and allowing you to see what you most enjoy. You've got a lot of freedom but they've got a lot of helpful experience. Also Jeremy's end of year commitment is ludicrous. And finally, being with like-minded people and having access to all that gear is great.

Ben: What could you say about the quality / calibre of the people you have met through the course?

Dave
: I think that the talent that has emerged from the course is huge. A lot of people have gone on to make some really good things. Most of the people I choose to work with these days are ex AIM (Al MacInnes and the Lycette Brothers for example). If I were going to employ someone on a job the AIM centre is the first place I would look.

Al: Both artistically and just personally they're fine quality indeed. I've made great friends through AIM and worked with brilliant students and graduates.

Ben: What is your relationship to the course now?

Dave:
Sadly I don't see nearly enough of the AIM mob these days. I live out in Natimuk (about 4 hours drive away) and I usually put off coming to Melbourne until I have a huge list of meetings and errands so that when I'm in town I'm too busy rushing around to pop in to AIM and see what's happening. I always like to go to the screenings and see what has been produced at the end of each year.

Al: I often go in at the end of the year when the madness reigns and help with people's sound. Otherwise I generally call in during the year to say hello.

Ben: Where have you worked post AIM?

Dave:
Initially I started freelancing. One of the main places I worked was Global Vision. I used to go there and do a contract for 3 months or so and then go overseas climbing until I ran out of money and then come back and do it all again. They were really good people to work for and I still pop in there to visit from time to time when I'm in Melbourne (though like AIM these visits are sadly infrequent at the moment). Since about 1999 (When I started up "Transience". I have been predominantly doing internet based jobs and the vast majority of my clients have been from overseas (USA, UK, Europe).


Al: Mostly freelance in terms of animation and sound design. My favourite corporate jobs have been Flash animations for Sony music (Aust) and Discovery Channel (UK), and a stop motion ad with GlenArt for Samsung (Korea). I do a fair bit of sound design for other animators/game designers/interactive makers. Also I've lectured in sound design for new media at RMIT, and I'll be doing more of that next semester at the University of New South Wales.

Ben: Can you list some of the work you have done and what formats they have been?

Dave:
Most of my work these days involves the making of short animations or games which are then distributed via the internet. You can see a lot of these at: http://www.transience.com.au
(For another interview with David Jones on The Australian Centre for the Moving Image website: <click here>
)

Al: My first Flash job was for Sony music, I designing and animating some dancing characters with Flash for a promotional CD game. I worked with a programmer who put the final game together in Director. My last large job was for a Discovery Channel promo. I was given the voices for two dinosaurs sitting around talking about a new 3D dinosaur TV programme (they were out of work because they were only 2D dinosaurs). I designed and animated them in Flash, and we put it through post to look like it was shot on film. I also enjoyed the Samsung job where I was working with Glen Hunwick, Sharon Parker (AIM) and Maung Maung Aye (AIM) doing a stop-motion ad for Korea. Millions of characters' walk cycles. All sorts of fun. You can see a lot of these (or some versions of these) at
http://www.almacinnes.com


In terms of sound, last year I did two jobs with Dave Jones, his game 'Chasm' and his animation "Swain". They were both made in Flash, but I did the sound for "Swain" in Protools.

Ben: Have employers and industry people usually heard of AIM, or even have a direct relationship to the course?

Dave: Well, as I said before, most of the work I do now is with overseas clients and very few of them would even know where I went to school so its not a topic that has really come up in conversation.

Al:
I have found the Australians have.

Ben: What opportunities has the AIM course opened up to you as far as work, travel and creative expression?

Dave I think doing the AIM course totally changed the direction I was taking career wise. I can't imagine that I would have persevered with the sciences and gone and got a job in a mine or something like that (I was too motivated to do something creative) but as soon as I did the AIM course I had a real sense of direction. I knew I wanted to be in a position where I could be making and distributing my own films. Doing the course helped in two ways. Firstly, it made it very easy for me to get freelance work which meant that rather than being stuck in a full time job, I could spend time developing my own projects, safe in the knowledge that when I ran out of money I would be able to scamper off somewhere and get a job for a little while. Secondly, it inspired me to actually spend the time and energy developing my own projects rather than just working for somebody else.

Al: Just meeting a heap of like-minded people in the course is helpful in all those areas. People will know your skills and ask you to collaborate, or you can have jobs passed on to you because someone else is too busy. In terms of travel, the internet is brilliant, particularly for Flash jobs, and also, having a laptop makes everything very lovely indeed. Regarding creative expression, just the range of skills learnt during AIM gives you all sorts of scope, which has lately translated into sound design and Flash animations for me, but within the animation jobs you're also designing characters and telling stories.

Ben: What festivals / awards have you had your work screened at?

Dave: My films have been screened at a lot of festivals. I really can't remember all of them but there have been festivals in Japan, Korea (SICAF, SeNeF), Spain(OFFF), Italy (I Castelli Animati), France (Annecy, FIFI), Brazil (Animamundi), the Netherlands, England, America, and even Australia. Last year, I went to Annecy (France), Stuttgart (Germany) , OFFF (Spain) and I Castelli Animati (Italy) where some of my films were being shown. These are the ones I went to so I remember them the best. Annecy is possibly the biggest animation festival in the world. It was outrageous, so many people, so many films, such a nice place. I'd like to go back there at some point. At one point last year some of my works were exhibited in an art gallery in America somewhere. Here is a list of actual festival awards that my films have won.

AWARDS:

OFFF (Online Flash Film Festival), Barcelona - Best Game for "The Immigrant Game", 2002
SENEF (Seoul Net Festival), Korea - The Digital Express Special Prize for "TeeV", 2001
Castelli Animati, Italy - Best Short Film for "Teetering",
Animamundi, Brazil - Best Internet Animation for "The Heist", 2001
OFFF (Online Flash Film Festival) Spain - Best Animation for "The Heist", 2001
Bit by Bit festival, USA - Best of Show for "Teetering" and "The Heist", 2000
Pixie Award (Online Academy Award), USA - Best Animation for "Teetering", 2000
Animamundi, Brazil - Best Internet Animation for "Teetering", 2000
FIFI2000 Festival, France - Prix Du Jury for "Teetering", 2000
FIFI2000 festival, France - Best Soundtrack for "Teetering", 2000
Best Technical Achievement Award for Highwire, 1994, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia

Al: Well the only festival success I've had has been thanks to AIM sending off the films. I found myself watching "Killjoy" last year at a festival in Montpellier where it was showing, which was a hoot, having to get up with outlandish translator-phones and spiel to a French audience. AIM also sent off 'The Fang' (a music video I did with about 20 other, generally AIM, animators) to a few animation festivals including Seoul, Brisbane and Melbourne I think, I don't think we won anything though. I've won some best sound design awards for other people's interactives (including AIM grads Greg Zaritski and Alyssa Rothwell).

Ben: For Dave: What was the inspiration behind 'Chasm'? Apart from your collaboration with Al, was there any other links back to the AIM course in the production process? Eg testers?

Chasm was inspired by a climbing holiday I took in Spain a few years ago. There is this amazing gorge called El Chorro. Its shear sides plunge a couple of hundred meters into this raging river and winding down one of its sides is a rickety concrete path. It was the most Dr Seuss like thing I've ever seen in real life. The whole thing was built by condemned prisoners, so that the king could walk along the gorge to inspect work on the dam. Hundreds of people died while it was being built and then, when it was done, the king refused to walk on it, saying that it was obviously far too dangerous. Anyway, a hundred or so years later we were there and it was great. It just seemed like a great environment to set a game in. A lot of the testing of the game I just had done up here in Natimuk where I could supervise but I think Al brought an almost final version in to AIM to show Jeremy.

Ben: For Al: Your role in the production of 'Chasm' was Sound Designer. How has your experience as an AIM graduate and an animator helped in terms of fulfilling your role as the Sound Designer?

I think because I've done the course other animators will know that I know what they're talking about, so they'll feel confident I'll be aware of what needs to be done. Because animations, interactives and internet based works will all need different sound design approaches.

Ben: You have collaborated on a number of projects now, how has this worked for you both, as your communication would usually be in an online environment, and even cross continent? Are there any interesting experiences regarding the nature of working in that situation?

Dave: The internet has made this sort of working relationship so much easier. At various points during the production period Al was in England while I was out here or I was in Italy while Al was in America. I think it's a great way to work. When you know how one another work and you know what is required of you there is no need for anyone to be looking over anyone's shoulder. None of those places we were at are as remote as where I actually live most of the time anyway (Natimuk is a tiny town of approximately 500 people). I think the only draw back was Al having a tough time trying to find a Kookaburra laugh while he was in Europe (no matter how long he sat there in the bush with his mic at the ready).

Al: Wherever in the world we are we can communicate easily enough via email or on the phone if need be. We first work out an overall idea for the job, which depends on whether it's a linear piece to be shown in theatres or a web-based work. And we send updates to each other as we go along. So we're generally working in parallel, which can be a good thing in that Dave can tweak an animation for a really good sound, or I can tweak a sound for his animation depending on which works best at the time.

David Jones, AIM coursework graduate 1993
Al MacInnes, AIM
coursework graduate
1995
interviewed by Ben McGill, AIM
coursework graduate 1998



animation & interactive media


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