animation & interactive media

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Tim MacDonald


Carolena Helderman



Carolena Helderman
Meredith Badger
Tim MacDonald
Chris Hancock

the AIM gang at ACTF interviewed by Meredith Badger


The Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF) was established in 1982 with the aim of producing quality children's programming that is entertaining as well as educational. Some of its best known programmes include four series of Round the Twist, as well as Lift Off and The Genie from Downunder. In 2000 the ACTF produced its first feature length film; Yolngu Boy, which has received critical acclaim around the world. The Foundation's most recent series is The Legacy of the Silver Shadow, which aired on the Seven Network last year. The ACTF is currently making a new series in conjunction with the BBC called Noah and Saski. The ACTF has provided employment for a number of AIM alumni over the years, including Jeremy Parker and David Aktinson who produced animated pieces for the Lift Off series. Currently there are three ex-AIMers sitting in a row in the New Media Department: Carolena Helderman (1993) Tim MacDonald (1998) and me, Meredith Badger (1999). Chris Hancock (1995) worked at the ACTF until the beginning of this year and is now with Unreal Pictures; the company that is developing the digital component of Noah and Saskia.

I recently subjected all three to a grueling interview process and even managed to extract a couple of answers from myself....

Q1. What had you been doing before you got into AIM? (both in terms of study and work)

Carolena: I studied Art and Design and Ceramics. I worked as a Theatre Stage Manager, I also did Lighting, and I worked as an actor.
Tim: I'd been writing scripts, proposals and synopses for CD ROM based projects, most of which were never produced, as well as working on my own rather involved hypertext projects.
Chris: I'd completed a BAppsSci in "Computer Science and Instrumental Science" at Swinburne and worked on a video analysis system for a company in Melbourne.
Meredith: I was one of those perennial students who are a drain on the system. I did a Bachelor of Arts, then an Honours year, then I did a Bachelor of Fine Arts (yes, they are different, ok?) and felt like I was continually circling around wanting to write and wanting to draw. When I heard about multimedia I had a feeling that it was what I'd been looking for. And it is.

Q2: How much did each of you know about the AIM course before applying?

I didn't know anything about AIM. l think l enquired about the course a week before the application was due. So l started doing the application and rushed it there with a few minutes to spare. When interview time came around, well it was' 92 and that word 'Multimedia' wasn't known. Whilst waiting to go into my interview a student from the previous year was there, l grilled him about 'Multimedia', just so that l had some idea what to say in the interview......l had the animation bit covered but had no idea what this new technology called 'the Am' was. Needless to say, you told people you studied 'animation' so you didn't have to explain 'Multimedia' again and again. Oh, how things have changed!
Tim: I didn't know a lot about AIM. I was looking for courses that dealt with interactive media, particularly hypertext, and at that time (1997) there weren't that many about. I hadn't realised how much of the course revolved around traditional animation, so the first semester was a bit of a stretch for me (I can't draw very well), though now of course I'm glad I did it.
Chris: I did my undergrad at Swinburne, and heard about this mysterious place there that used Amiga computers to produce animation.
Meredith: I heard about AIM through one of my lecturers at the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT. I went up to see what it was like and I was so taken with the atmosphere of the place- all those fascinating things up around the walls and lots of interesting looking machines everywhere that I decided on the spot that I had to get into the course.

Q3. Why did you decide to do AIM?

Carolena: Although l was lucky to discover the course just before the application was due, l knew that l needed a change and my life up to that date had involved art and theatre and my twisted mind came up with animation being the next obvious step. I never had a plan. l just went with the flow.
Tim: There were very few courses that dealt with interactive media at the time, I'd heard of some of the AIM graduates, and the course had a good on-line presence (some other courses in digital/interactive media didn't even have a web site).
Chris: I applied on a bit of a whim after finding the advert in the Age just after graduation. I'd always been interested in animation, sound, and "production". I thought this would be an interesting field to get into, a useful extension of my freshly-acquired computer skills, and an opportunity to rediscover my Art-brain.
AIM seemed like a perfect way of learning how to combine my interest in both writing and artwork. Plus I can be a little obsessive and animation seemed like a career where this would be of benefit.

Q4. Had you had any multimedia or computing experience before doing the course?

Carolena: No. I had to watch very closely where the other students were putting their hands when turning the computers
e to think of it, the story l wrote for the application was typed on 1920s typewriter.
Self taught HTML, and some Javascript 1.0 (that was just coming out at the time).
Chris: I'd had too much experience, which is one reason why I decided to do a claymation for my major project!
I'd used Director a little bit when I was doing the Prof Writing course. Up until that point I'd had a real fear of computers. When I was doing my BFA the guy who ran the computer lab at the uni put a pirated version of Director on one of the machines for me, but I had to quickly shut the box down whenever one of the teachers walked in. It was a weird way to work.

Q5. How did you hear about the job at the ACTF?

Carolena: AIM Newsletter posting via Rhonda Smithies.
Tim: Via Rhonda Smithies (it wasn't advertised as far as I know).
Chris: Initially via the patented "Rhonda Grapevine Email System", and then a friend mentioned it too.
Meredith: Wow, four out of four. I heard about the job through Rhonda's list, too. It was initially for a three month contract and I've now been there for three years. I remember when we were looking to fill both Tim and Chris's jobs and the decision was made to not bother with advertising in the paper but to go straight to the uni mailing lists as it would directly target the right people.

Q6. What were you employed to do here / what projects have you worked on since being here?

Serve tea from a trolley but they haven't noticed that I've taken over the Kahootz web site. I've been here nine months and have mastered the crazy code it's constructed in and await the masses about to buy the Kahootz Software and flood the web site.
Tim: I was hired to develop "Texts on TV" (CD ROM based educational program) and during development I helped scope out the proposal to develop "Kahootz 2" in-house at the ACTF. I've been working on that project since then.
I was employed by the ACTF to work on Kahootz (available now!) as a Director programmer. I'm currently working for Unreal Pictures on Noah and Saskia, where, among other things, I am helping produce some of the "virtual-world" animation sequences.
Meredith: I was initially employed to work on Kahootz 1- the 2D version. It was lots of fun- I couldn't believe I had a job where I got to make animated dinosaurs and pandas all day. When that finished I started learning about websites and made the promo site for Yolngu Boy and then reworked the ACTF site. I've also done a bit of video editing- we made a clip to send out as a promotion for our 20 year anniversary. I've always sworn they'd have to drag me out of this place kicking and screaming and it seems to have worked for me so far.
Carolena: wish I'd known you were originally the tea lady- I would have so taken advantage of that situation.... Is it too late to ask for one now? (Kahootz is an educational software package built using a combination of Lightwave and Director, which allows students to construct animated scenes and add sound and interactivity. They can also email the files to other schools that have the software on their computers. You can find out more by looking at the Kahootz website at

Q7. AIM graduates seem to have very good reputations in the workforce. Why do you think this is?

Carolena: I didn't know that we had a good rep, but everyone l've known from AIM works pretty hard.
It's our natural animal spirits and exceptional personal hygiene. (Some very talented people have gone through the course in the past - and continue to do).
Chris: I think the AIM course manages to cover quite a lot of ground in just 1 year, encompassing quite a broad range of skills. I also think that the selection process itself manages to ensure those that go through the course are genuinely interested in what they're doing. I think the skills AIM afforded me have been certainly seen as an asset in the workforce.
Meredith: When I was interviewed for the ACTF they said that the fact I'd come through AIM was a big recommendation for them. I suspect this is because you end up trying so many different aspects of multimedia and animation when you go through AIM so you have a very broad general knowledge. I think perhaps AIM teaches people to just plunge in there, even if we've never tried something before and give it a go. Obviously, this is a very useful ability- one that employers value. We also learn to function on minimum sleep and to strive to meet seemingly impossible deadlines.

Q8. Carolena- AIM is famous for being a very intensive course. What on earth made you decide to go back to do a Masters Degree?

Carolena: I'd had long enough to recover, the therapist told me it would be healing. But basically I'm cheap and nasty, it was free and David dangled the cheese in front of me! It's one of those things that just happened, not really by choice, but it ended up being a very worthwhile personal experience.
Meredith: Hmm, that's funny. I had a very similar motivation for doing my Masters, too. Now I find myself wondering what I did with all that pesky free time before I had an MA to fill up every available second...
Tim: Carolena is mad, of course, but at least now she's not prowling the early morning streets of St Kilda, twitching and muttering, a wickedly sharpened pencil clutched in one hand, malign intentions in her eyes...
Meredith: I wouldn't be too sure of that.

Q8. Does it ever annoy you that people think that the ACTF is the same as the ABC?

Carolena: I never knew that people thought that.
Tim: No, although I am irritated by people who confuse it with with the Asteroid and Comet Tracking Agency or the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
Yep, I think the combination of the words 'Australian' and 'Television' in the same title instantly makes people assume it's a part of the ABC.
Meredith: I'm never quite sure how to answer when people say "Are you still working for the ABC?" It seems rude to say "Well, I've never actually worked for them at all" but then I'd be lying to say that I was still there...

Q9. Where else have you worked, post AIM?

Carolena: Mickey Duck Animation, Animation Works, Unreal Pictures, teaching at RMIT, Freelance & volunteer web site work.
Tim: Some teaching; casual jobs on web sites; 2 years at a PR/marketing company doing Flash, Director and some web stuff.
Chris: I spent four years working for a games company called Torus Games, which involved using practically everything I'd ever learnt, as well as plenty of things I hadn't.
Meredith: I got the job at the ACTF in my last week at AIM and I've been there ever since (over three years). I have worked on a couple of freelance things during that time, including an interactive CD component of an IT textbook published by Macmillan.

Q10. Which ACTF show character do you think you most resemble?

Carolena: Crabgirl (from Legacy of the Silver Shadow)... and l don't want to talk about it.
Tim: That evil dude in the motorised wheelchair. (The Crab from Legacy of the Silver Shadow)
Chris: The ACTF make television programs? Don't you mean the ABC? Erm, "B2"?
Meredith: I'm EC- the mute, eyeless puppet from Lift Off.

Q11. Finally- and most importantly - do you have a comfy chair at work?

Carolena: It's average... Meredith is claiming victory over the comfy factor. I must do the time... to earn The Chair.
Tim: Sure, but I'd like something that reclines more, or maybe even vibrates softly.
Chris: I had a comfy chair, before the accident. Now my comfy chair is just a shadow of its former self, a broken shell of a chair, a post-pew . I've currently "borrowed" one of those newfangled "kneel-before-the-computer-god" hippy chairs from a work colleague who worshiped too long. However, I'm not the famed "cathedralist" that Meredith is.
Meredith: Yes, I only asked this question to rub in just how fantastic my chair is. Sometimes I'm so comfortable I don't even want to get out of it at the end of the day, and I ride it home instead of catching the tram.

The ACTF is located at level 3, 145 Smith St Fitzroy. Unreal Pictures is in Banks St, South Melbourne. We are happy to answer more questions if you want to buy us coffee. That's a latte for Carolena, a long black for Tim and a decaf for Meredith. I don't know about Chris, but I know he likes yoghurt. A lot. You can look at our websites if you like:

Carolena Helderman, AIM coursework graduate 1993, AIM Masters by Research graduate 2000
Chris Hancock , AIM coursework graduate 1995

Tim MacDonald, AIM coursework graduate 1998
Interviewed by Meredith Badger AIM coursework graduate 1999

animation & interactive media

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Dave Jones and Al MacInnes
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Dik Jarman

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Kate Cawley interviewed by Sleepy Brain