Bio

Inspired in part by my high school media/english teacher Ian Jones and my geography teacher Bob Whiteway, I went to college to become a high school teacher in media and geography. I meandered my way through my studies working as a record shop assistant, dishwasher, hotel room attendant, pancake restaurant waiter and cook, a mock patient for nurses in training, bicycle courier and art department gofer on the John Lamond/ Colin Eggleston feature film Sky Pirates (inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark, in a jump-on-the-bandwagon way). During my undergrad years I made some animation just by messing around with the college’s equipment and, in third year, the media department brought in Bruno Annetta to run special animation workshops. He was a really great teacher, and it began to sink in that this is something I could further pursue.

My first teaching job was in a small special unit working with high school students who were truants or had other behaviour that impacted on their school life and home life or, quite often, where home life impacted on them. There were eight students and the programme was designed to mix ‘deeds kids’ with ‘needs kids’. The idea to mix ‘naughty’ kids who had a bit of fire in their bellies with kids who had their spirits crushed from their home life. The staff were so dedicated to the kids and the kids were sweet, funny, challenging and helped me learn much about myself and my own attitudes to education and learning. Later on, stepping into a regular high school as, what was then known as an ‘Emergency Teacher’ , I didn’t feel ready for the world of institutional orthodox teaching. Although I had four years of teacher education, I was too unformed and restless for that time and place.

I decided to take a year off to do a graduate animation course at Swinburne Institute of Technology (now Swinburne University). I thought it would provide additional film making knowledge to take back into the high school. It was an intensive year of study that gave me the opportunity to rapidly work hands-on in all the steps of animation film making. One day, sitting at my animation desk in the basement studio of the film school, for the first time, I felt at peace with ‘doing something’. I wasn’t an especially talented drawer (still not), but the way I could totally immerse myself into inventing and constructing a film was life-changing. The dedicated tutelage of John Bird and the super generous and talented David Atkinson were significant contributors to the success of my student film. It also was a meeting place for a lot of emerging and ready-made creative talents and firebrands and where I met Anthony Lucas and Paul Gehrig.

The three of us set up a business mentored by the highly respected Australian animation ‘elder’ Peter Viska (Mickey Duck, Viskatoons). Through his generosity we hired a studio space at peppercorn rental in his building to start Oddball Animation in 1989. We specialised in stop motion animation and created television commercials for Kraft Peanut Butter, Duracell, Bostik, SPC and many others. We made music videos and in-camera effects for other productions. It was a vertical learning curve, long days and nights and very testing. Both Anthony and Paul came armed with amazing talent, endurance and ability. As time went on, I personally found it increasingly difficult to compliment their significant energy and commitment. I loved much of what we were doing but after about four years discovered that something was going wrong with my health and my behaviour. It may have been ‘burn out’, but it was mostly what is called ‘mental health disorder’ these days. I had received some psychological counselling during my time at uni but, at the time, I didn’t completely grasp the situation until I found myself unravelling as a 28 year old and sitting with my doctor who provided hypnotherapy and prescribed anti depressants. Back then, this was news you didn’t necessarily want to share with your closest friends or broadcast widely, especially if you were looking for work. If you were known as ‘mental’, then no one would hire you and, socially others gave you a wide berth or were judgemental. I remember someone who worked in the same building frequently asked me with her, characteristic, deprecating bluntness, ‘Are you on drugs’? Perhaps she was perplexed by my slowness or proclivity for distraction on a given day, but I had nothing to say. She was right – anti-depressants are drugs. It’s hard to explain, but I couldn’t faithfully commit to the demands of the job, given this health disorder. I tried to hide it. I didn’t fully understand it. I panicked. It was time to flee.

Luckily for me, I had a short film production funded by the Australian Film Commission that I started at Oddball Animation and continued with after I left. I was able to escape to a ‘cave’ for eighteen months to work on Redback. It gave me a single focus and I loved making it and working with cast and crew that included bringing in some friends to get through the enormous amount of work. I stuck with the medication and counselling for some time to help with the internal battle, but my mainstay was being busy with the film and connected with friends . The film would not have been completed or as successful without the kindness and support from the people around me from the start to the end. The credits let you know who they are. It was screened widely and garnered a few awards.

After Redback, I drew cartoons for education and corporate publications and storyboarded for live action films and television programs including Round the Twist, Thunderstone, The Genie from Down Under and the final series of Lift Off. (all kids shows). In 1995 I was also filling in for animation teaching staff at Victorian College of Arts, School of Film and Television. This was the dedicated fine and performing arts college where my old film school from Swinburne relocated to after the university decided that they didn’t want to have a film school anymore. ( This changed a number of years later when Swinburne decided that they really did want a film school after all. That’s bureaucrats for ya!). Anyway, I found that working with the students was great fun and I loved the range of challenging and inventive projects- a lot of stuff that the ‘industry’ didn’t want – yet.

Late in ’95 my dad died and, well, I’ll save the words around this event for another time. On the upside, the film school was looking for a teacher to come in for one to two days a week. Initially I baulked, feeling unqualified and, frankly a little unsteady, but going to work there with Ann Shenfield and Sarah Watt – both talented artists and lovely people was a delight. Head of School, Jenny Sabine and other senior staff such as David Price and Chris McGill were incredibly warm, helpful and supportive as were everyone else. The vibe was vibrant, chaotic and always under threat of cutbacks and closure from above. It was a mess at times, but it had a pulse of its own. It’s a place that most students came away loving their experience, and some would feel broken and bitter. It wasn’t dull. Many students went on to do many great things.

Sarah Watt became increasingly successful with her animation and live action features, so she decided to leave the college. Prolific artist Paul Fletcher came and brought in a new energy and enormous capacity in technology, sound and art. Ann, Paul and myself worked 2 days a week each with some overlap and our different approaches and experiences worked well. Around late 2000, I began writing and boarding a new film and was picking up storyboarding work. I had been at the film school for five years and decided to leave- which some people thought was crazy in light of my partner Jen and I starting a family. However, I thought, well, it’s two days a week, maybe two and a half and I was feeling like I needed to get new experiences and skills. I was teaching animation, but not making any. Andi Spark came in my place and brought in her strong traditional studio methodologies and her spirited personality with much success.

Work life was then doing the occasional storyboarding, cartooning jobs and some titles work and animated segments for ABC-TV. Primarily, I was a ‘stay-at- home’ dad now with two kids and helping my mum whose health was in decline. Whilst the kids were sleeping or at kindergarten, I took over the double garage in our flat and over a few years made the stop motion film Lucky for Some. Paul Fletcher and Peter Frost (who also worked at VCA) made and mixed the audio tracks and did a great job.

I’m going to time warp here to 2005. Ann Shenfield departed the film school and illustrated books and published poetry. Andi Spark left to teach at Griffith University in Queensland. With the void, I returned to my old job. I was better prepared with the skills developed working on other peoples projects as well as my own. Paul and I oversaw the transition of the one year graduate animation course into a three year undergraduate plus honours course, writing completely new curriculum, implementing new technologies and embracing risk, experimentation and collaboration. I stayed there until March 2021, during a pause in the Covid-19 chaos. Unlike my first stint at VCA, I did manage to make two films: Paris Lakes and Nightlife, plus a number of other smaller projects and collaborations as well as complete a Masters degree whilst teaching three to four days a week. After 16 years, it was definitely time to depart, if not overdue. The University of Melbourne now has the VCA fully absorbed into its traditional university structure. On the one hand it has maintained the film school’s financial survival, on the other hand it has shifted priorities considerably- some of it great, some of it I found perplexing and unnecessarily taxing, but this may just have been me reading the tea leaves to move on. The film school continues to be in great hands with dedicated staff, talented students and always doing new things.

Today, I continue to write and make animation, work with others and assist others with their projects. I’m not sure what’s next, but on my desk I have a bookmark my mum gave me not long before she died in 2007. It has a cheesy poem on it called, ‘Don’t Quit’. I love it.

Some links to some of the people mentioned above.

Peter Viska – http://www.viskatoons.com

Anthony Lucas- https://www.spindlyfigures.com.au

Paul Gehrig – https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-gehrig-3309ba11/

Ann Shenfield- https://redroompoetry.org/poets/anne-shenfield/

Paul Fletcher – https://www.paulfletcherartwork.com

VCA School of Film and Television-https://finearts-music.unimelb.edu.au/study-with-us/discipline-areas/film-and-television

Filmography

Still Flying 1988 -Swinburne School of Film and Television

Redback 1995- Oddball Animation

Lucky For Some – 2004

Paris Lakes- 2011

Nightlife- 2014

Killer Cuisine – 2020

Unloaded- 2020

Hooded Plover- 2021