What is your name and your current occupation?
I am Zeke Ares stop motion animator/director and T/A of Black Box Building animation studio here in Stoke on Trent UK.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Well I was a chef for 9 years of my career, which was pretty crazy. I know your thinking “what?” but Chefs are crazy! I have ended up in knife fights working in kitchens before, drunk lock-ins till silly o’clock and even naked frolicking. Like I said chefs are crazy, but that’s what working stupid amount of hours for bad pay in very hot circumstances does to you, Fun times but definitely crazy.
What are some of your favourite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I believe this is one question I love to answer and the answer is always the same, War of the Worlds SURGE. A trailer based animation, a short adaption of the novel by great British author H.G Wells. I have always been a little bit obsessed when it comes to War of the Worlds. It’s something I have always dreamed of doing. So when my chance came along to do a film at university I jumped at the opportunity to create a stop motion version just like the late and great Ray Harryhausen in 1949.
So with an amazing team behind me (now known as the SURGE crew) we set out to create this intense animation, it became more of a tripod obsession in the end. Just animating tripods for weeks. One very intense interesting shot we did was after a few weeks of animating on the church set we had to destroy it But I had so much fun on this film I even had the symbol of the animation tattooed on my arm now everyday can I smile when I look at it.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from the very green city of Milton Keynes in the UK, I have always wanted to be an animator and after 9 years of being a chef I decided to chase my dreams and re-join education for 5 years to gain my BA HONS in stop motion animation & puppet making. From here I started my own production company Black Box building, and now create short films, puppets and sets for a living and it defiantly beats being a chef. Just being able to be creative for a living is such a wonderful reward.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Multitasking is a massive task of a simple day in my studio; everything has to be put into priority. Because we make puppets and films we also run online animation competitions and at the moment we are searching for funding for our own film Kernowland which takes up a lot of time. So we have to decide in what order to do things in each day. We have to spend at least 6 hours a day online networking, as this is a massive part of our industry and our business. But we also have to cast resin/ plaster moulds, puppet fabrication, designing & set builds. So each day everything has to be done in a very particular order as there are not many of us to spread around projects. But we all love what we do so being busy with lots of different small projects is what keeps us alive as animators we love it.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Without a doubt my first passion is set building/dressing I just love to create wonderful worlds of imagination, there is just something so rewarding when I get to create a world for puppets to perform in, beautiful part of my job.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Personally its editing, I find it very frustrating when I do it myself. I don’t mind watching or helping that I enjoy but never alone…and with deadlines it can be hell with sleepless nights. No thank you, just no thank you.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I work with some beautiful canon SLR’s, tablets and my PC. When it comes to technology and stop motion its only getting better with amazing things like the new Stop motion pro app and just by using your tablet you can animate literally anywhere in the world, whereas before you needed your computer and camera plus other bulky equipment making filming anywhere except your studio a massive task. So basically this year stop motion went mobile and this is revolutionizing our industry, stop motion is still to have its day.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The way the stop motion animation industry stands at the moment with there being such few films being made for the big screen, jobs are tight and hard to come by as there are a lot of talented competition out there and with CGI animation taking over, stop motion productions are being shut down and put on hold. An example of this is Pinocchio and the shadow king both were in production but both now have been shelved. This has made it very difficult to gain funding behind short film, there is a lot out there to access with some wonderful foundation like BFI but the process can be an uphill struggle with 1000’s of entries making it difficult to gain funds at the end. A lot of companies and individuals have now got to grips with crowd funding to gain much needed money to create their films but again can be an uphill struggle with no outcome. So funding is the most difficult thing about stop motion animation.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I almost don’t want to answer this question as it’s very sad…As all stop motion animators I am a massive fan of the late great Ray Harryhausen and earlier this year I received an email that Ray would like to see my stop motion version of war of the worlds! I was so shocked an honoured I just could not believe that he wanted to see one of my creations. I emailed back immediately with so much excitement, but was short lived as I received an email from a friend later that same day with the news of Ray passing. It was a very sad day for all stop motion animators hearing the father of your profession had passed away but with the email came more emotion, I was so close to having a master of the art see my work but I will always remember that he wanted to see it, it brings me hope for the future and for the future of stop motion animation.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Times are hard in the animation world at the moment with jobs being short, I am a family man with 3 children so times can get very tough from time to time. But we create through it we stand strong as a family and with my beautiful wife behind me we can make it through any tight spot we are in.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Absolutely! At the moment we are working on Kernowland a stop motion adventure based on popular children’s books by author Jack Trelawny. An adventure following bother & sister Tizzie and Louis as they are transported into a parallel universe filled with giant mutant creatures, evil villains and pig-leg pirates. We have a team of 13 amazing animators volunteering their time and skills on this creation, our production page can be found at facebook.com/Kernowland but once again we have the struggle of funding which we have decided to try crowd-funding to gain the much needed funds, all details can be found on our production page. But this is more than just another animated film; we are doing this for the 1000’s of children who are fans of the books. We want to help create a wonderful childhood memory of their favourite heroes becoming Film stars. For the first time in my animation career we already have an audience waiting to watch, where as normally we take our films to festivals and promote ourselves that way, everything is parallel in Kernowland world. But yeh check us out get involved there is loads going on production wise.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
No not really sadly, all my talents lay with animation and my children, I pass on all my creativeness to them, my son was 3 years old when he created his first animation, they amazing me every day.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
You need 3 vital things to be a part of the animation industry, passion, talent and networking. Now any student has all ready shown he/she has talent and passion for what they do but networking is just as important, in fact it’s the one thing that can make you succeed, you have to get yourself and your work online and start talking with other animators..Connections are one way of getting work and meeting people in the industry also a massive amazing way of getting advice. So get yourself online on animation forums, Facebook, Linkedin and anywhere you can, get talking, sharing and involved with every project you possibly can. Get yourself out there.