Who are three contemporaries that you admire?
Shane Meadows - the master. I admire him because he’s a down to earth, regular working-class guy that’s telling stories about real, genuine people. People like him. I love it. His films speak to me on such a personal level that I feel like I want to be best mates with all of his characters.
I taught myself to animate; playing about with some plasticine and my mum’s old digital camera at home - Aardman style.
Spike Jonze. Again, just a normal guy who loves what he does – making films and being a creative. He’s got such a beautiful way of telling stories that are equally intriguing, heartfelt, honest and funny. He’s got a real sense of innocence to his work that I aspire to capture in my own.
And finally, Don Hertzfeldt. I never tire of watching World of Tomorrow or Rejected. He does things exactly the way he wants to do them and is able to make you care deeply about stick drawing characters as though they were your own family. That, and his work is hilariously funny.
Above: Mikey Please's short film Marilyn Miller has always been a source of inspiration for Kenney
Please share 3-4 pieces of work that exemplify great animation direction
There’s a short by Mikey Please called Marilyn Miller that I LOVE. It’s about 10 years old now, but it’s one that I revisit often when I need a bit of inspiration. It’s a beautifully packaged story about an artist and the love and pain she pours into her craft – and for me, the dialogue is just perfect. It’s so human.
I’ve learned so much more through being honest – about what I do and don’t know, what I can or can’t (currently) do, and when I’ve needed a little help – than I would have had I tried to blag my way through.
I saw Bestia recently and really enjoyed that, too. To do horror in animation is no easy feat, but Hugo Covarrubias does it flawlessly. There’s a real sense of tension that slowly builds throughout and evokes a visceral response that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
And finally, I’m gonna shout out my NFTS classmate, Ross Stringer, for his short, Crab Day. Although the animation is very simplistic hand-drawn 2D, Ross was able to pack so much emotion and story into the short. He has some beautiful transitional shots and lots of really rhythmic, cave-drawing style shots that make the whole film flow in a wonderfully captivating way.
Above: Hugo Covarrubias' animated horror short, Bestia
What was your journey to becoming an Animation Director?
I taught myself to animate; playing about with some plasticine and my mum’s old digital camera at home - Aardman style. From there, I made a few little shorts (if you can really call them that) before finally getting picked up for my first commission.
I did a handful of music videos, social media bits and some really weird kids Youtube videos after that, but I wasn’t making enough money to pay the bills so I worked in an office by day and would animate in my free time. Then when covid hit, I was put on furlough from my job and decided to apply for the NFTS (National Film and Television School). That decision really did change my life.
What's the most valuable skill you’ve learned in your career?
It’s probably a bit cheesy, but I’m gonna say the value of being honest. I’ve learned so much more through being honest – about what I do and don’t know, what I can or can’t (currently) do, and when I’ve needed a little help – than I would have had I tried to blag my way through.
Wallace and Gromit is a classic for a reason! Nick Park can do it all; heart, humour, perfect comedic timing and those beautiful, atmospheric northern sets.
Being candid, open and honest – I think – allows the people I work with to open up too, and that’s resulted in some great working relationships. These days, if I’m having a tough mental health day or I don’t fully understand a brief, I let people know up front – and it’s made my life easier. We’re all just people, at the end of the day. I’m not tryna be Steve Jobs.
Above: Ross Stringer's short film, Crab Day
What is one thing all Animation Directors need?
An open mind! It can be easy to think that because you’re the director, things have to go exactly as you see them in your mind – but that’s the quickest way to shut down creativity, in my opinion. There’s a reason you chose to work with the people on your team, so let them do what they do best and be open to receiving ideas in all shapes and sizes. Filmmaking is a team sport, so remember to value those around you.
A director from Aardman called Andy Symanowski took me under his wing after a visit to the NFTS
Who was the greatest Animation Director of all time? Why?
I’m gonna go with a bit of an obvious answer and say Nick Park. Wallace and Gromit is a classic for a reason! He can do it all; heart, humour, perfect comedic timing and those beautiful, atmospheric northern sets. Not only that, his animation is incredible too. His were the first films that made me realise I wanted to be an animator.
- Production Company Aardman Animations
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Did you have a mentor? Who was it?
I’ve been lucky enough over the past couple of years to have had two mentors. Firstly, a director from Aardman called Andy Symanowski took me under his wing after a visit to the NFTS and offered weekly reviews on my animated shots, giving tips on how to improve throughout the production of my grad film. That was invaluable to me. And secondly, I had the pleasure of being mentored by Mark Baker through my BAFTA scholarship. Mark taught me tonnes about good narrative storytelling, camera and how to break the rules. He was amazing.
Animation is a demanding job both physically and mentally, and there’s some serious money to be made from people doing good work. We should be able to expect fair treatment in return for that.
What’s changing in the industry that all Animation Directors need to keep up with?
Tech is ever-changing and it’s always important to try and keep up, but as a stop-motion nerd and self-confessed tech boomer, I’m not too fussed about all that. For me, I think the change in attitude and working practice is most important. We’re an industry that thrives on over-working and underpaying people, and it’s integral to keep pushing back against that. Animation is a demanding job both physically and mentally, and there’s some serious money to be made from people doing good work. We should be able to expect fair treatment in return for that.