Posts tagged 'Interview'

Scott Benson Interview / Ghost Stories Preview

I’ve been following Scott Benson since I first saw his entry into the Animation Tag Attack project. It was super-short but packed with glowing lights, bizarre imagery and psychedelic flourishes; all things that are squarely up my alley. Then came The Murf, one of my all-time favorite music videos (easily in my top 5) so when I first heard about Late Night Work Club, an independent animation collective he helped co-found last summer, I was beyond excited for their first release.

Now, more than a year later, the wait is almost over – Ghost Stories drops on September 3rd (the trailer is attached above) – so I reached out to Mr. Benson to talk about his work, #LNWC and what has motivated him to pursue a career as an ‘indie animator’. Check it:

You describe yourself as an ‘independent animator’, what does that mean? How do you make a living?

I tend to use the term “indie animation” to mean noncommercial, independent work. Bit of a redundant definition, I suppose. I make a lot of things that are self-motivated, self-produced, diy, etc. If I had to pick what my main activity is, it’s that. I work on my own, and I pay the bills by selling prints and doing client animation work.

This year, among a few other things, I’ve done a music video, a biographical video for a humanitarian organization, some game animation for a science museum, etc. My style tends to restrict me to a specific kind of clientele, which means the work is sometimes sporadic but the clients I work with are much more interested in working with me personally as opposed to simply wanting my knowledge of After Effects. But it also means I’m probably not going to be animating the intro to the MTV vma’s or anything. Sorry, MTV.

What’s the part of the job you love most?

Charles and I were talking about this last night, those weird moments where you’re just finding this zoned-out joy in what you’re doing. For him it was doing inbetweens, for me it’s working on environments and atmosphere. There are those times where you just sit back and look at something and are just amazed you got it out of your head and onto the screen and it turned out pretty decently. So that’s one part, the most craftsman angle.

Another part is, I make a lot of things that have some sort of idea behind them that I’m trying to communicate. Sometimes really explicitly, sometimes not. What interests me about what people make is that idea of communication, being able to connect with someone and what they’re saying or feeling or just some part of them. I like music, games, comics and animation that have a really strong authorial voice, where you can see the fingerprints and brush up against them a bit (not as creepy as it sounds). So whenever I can pull that off I’m beyond happy. I also like talking to people and making friends and stuff, and my job allows (and really needs) a lot of twittering. Twitter is fun.

What sucks about it?

It takes a really long time, a well-worn career trajectory for indie animators is practically nonexistent in the US, and there’s almost no money in it. Which is why just about everyone I know no matter where they are do a lot of client work. Some people just do whatever job so they can get back to work on what matters to them, and there are people like me who are gluttons for punishment and seek out work that is meaningful.

I’m a really big fan of The Murf, not just in it’s style/execution but in the overall story you told. I was raised in a super-religious, fundamentalist Christian home (I no longer subscribe to that belief system) and I connected with the themes about belief/wonder/worship and how it has driven – and, in some ways, continues to drive – our evolution as a species. The description you included with it on Vimeo says that Rendezvous “pretty much gave [you] carte blanche to do whatever [you] wanted to do”. Can you tell me a little more about where the idea came from? Where was your head at during that time?

Thanks! The Murf came about right after I had “accepted”, for lack of a better word, that I no longer believed in god. I was raised a conservative evangelical and was in ministry through most of my 20s. Over time that belief broke under the strain of a great many cracks. I really had a hard time admitting it to myself. Faith has a way of taking doubt as affirmation, and the struggle that tension creates feels vital and real. I think that’s one of the things that’s really seductive about religious faith, that kind of drama.

I ended up coming to grips with my vanishing belief in the summer of 2010, and was still leading a weekly bible study and doing a talk every Monday. I basically told the other people who ran the ministry that I couldn’t do it anymore, that my beliefs were changing and I didn’t feel like it was right for me to keep doing what was going to be an increasingly poor job of leading. That pretty much shut the ministry down as well, which was a bit heavy.

I lost some friends who were at the time quite dear to me. And it was just traumatic in general, like going through a divorce but with Jesus and your entire view of everything from humanity to art to history. It was dizzying. But it was also like a window had opened and fresh air was streaming in and I could see the sky for the first time.

The implications of my not believing kept adding up. I no longer had to work my way around misogyny or homophobia in the scriptures. I no longer had to grapple with the Bible’s take on human nature. I no longer had to ignore the cognitive dissonance that was often deafening. And oh wow, there isn’t a planned end point to human history! We could just survive for a very, very long time! And maybe all of the good things about humanity I attributed to god’s grace before, maybe they were just because humans are kind of ok sometimes.

Losing faith in god made me a far greater optimist. I started working on The Murf in February of 2011 and all of this stuff was still blowing my mind on a daily basis (still does). It was kind of me working out my revised take on humanity, evolution, history and the future. The squid and whale were my way of talking about how we draw meaning from the universe. Our first go at it is to give it a personhood and assume it’s regarding us in some way. As we learn more about it things like the stars turn out to not be exalted ancestors or patterns that tell the future, but balls of gas shining from billions of years away. So we find new meanings in those new understandings.

By the end of the video, the stars mean something very different than they did when we were just looking at them from our campfires. That video was very meaningful to me, and a massively positive experience to make. It also helped that so many people seemed to like it.

How did Late Night Work Club start?

Late Night Work Club really got going almost exactly a year ago as I write this, in mid summer of 2012. The idea came about slowly throughout the preceding few months.

I’d recently got into reading NoBrow issues and was thinking “this is the comic version of the kind of animation I like, I wish there was something like this for animation, why isn’t there?”. I grew up in the punk scene and I remember getting punk comps from some label a couple friends ran from their garage or something, and you’d get all excited about checking it out because it’d have a ton of bands and any of them could be super rad. Those were the two immediate influences on the idea.

Charles Huettner and I had been grumbling on twitter for a few months about our dissatisfaction with how noncohesive the online indie animation scene is, and how poorly most sites cover it. We’d kinda threw out the idea of doing some kind of “label” to release and promote independent animation work. It was still just a vague “wouldn’t it be cool” thing, but it was just tugging at us I think.

So in late July of 2012, I was talking to Charles Huettner, Eimhin McNamara and Eamonn Oneill. We all talked on twitter pretty regularly and had started doing Google Hangouts to talk about making things and whatever else. And I ran the idea past them and they got really excited and threw in their ideas. Over the next couple of days we had an email chain a couple hundred replies long from just the 4 of us, and then we started reaching out to people we knew whose work we liked. I think I immediately emailed Sean Buckelew. By the next Tuesday we had contacted over a dozen people thinking 1 or 2 of them would say yes. Original idea was to have 6 people or so. But then just about everyone said yes and suddenly we had a massive roster. Still unexpectedly awesome.

What do your admin duties entail? How many hours (on average) a week do you invest in #LNWC?

Let’s see… I do the scheduling and group emails, run the twitter/website/email/vimeo, edit the things that go up on vimeo, pester people about things, do a lot of the general hyping and reaching out to sites and blogs, write most of the copy, do random things like the logo and make dumb little decisions that would be boring for everyone to chime in on. And I participate in the actual project, so you’ve got that too.

Aside from animation, it’s hard to say how many hours on average. Some weeks it’s just emails and tweets, some weeks it’s building a website and cutting a trailer and doing interview things. Just varies quite a bit. Definitely a part time job.

Other members do a ton as well: Charles pretty much runs the tumblr now and he does a lot of random art and gifs that keep things interesting during the months we’ve been working. Jake Armstrong did the Ghost Stories logo, has done really sweet mailers and is one of the several members who are setting up screenings. Other people do other things too but just to say it’s definitely a group effort.

Your first release as a group – Ghost Stories – is coming up soon on September 3rd. Who’s involved?

Let’s see… you’ve got me, Charles, Eamonn, Sean, Dave Prosser, Jake Armstrong, Alex Grigg, Conor Finnegan, Ciaran Duffy, Louise Bagnall and Caleb Wood all doing shorts. We had a few people have to drop out over the months which is something we were expecting. This is all no-budget DIY work and life happens.

Andy Rohrrman is doing our theme music and Dave Kamp is doing sound design for some of the members along with the final mixing and mastering. And my wife Bethany Hockenberry is handling a lot of the behind the scenes work for the Uncanny Mystery Pack, ordering materials, coordinating other admin stuff post-release, and other stuff I forget to do. Which is a lot. She’s the best.

Can you tell me more about the UNCANNY MYSTERY PACK?

The Uncanny Mystery Pack will be on sale for $30, with a limited edition of 100. It’ll include minprints, pins, stickers and a zine with artwork and comics and other stuff from a bunch of us. It’ll be super rad. (Editor’s Note: The Uncanny Mystery Pack will be available for purchase at midnight on September 3rd at Gumroad.)

I’m really excited to see Charles Huettner‘s film.

That actually isn’t from Charles’ LNWC film, fyi. That’s from another short he was working on. THIS is a gif from Charles’ film. (Editor’s note: !!!!!!!!!!!) I can’t really tell you much about it, other than it’s really wonderful. That kid is a prodigy, all self-taught, only been doing this for a few years.

I’m super-excited to see your Ghost Stories film, too! Are these stills from it? Any chance I can get a sneak peak? :)

Those pics are indeed from my short. It takes place in the far future, where a utility worker encounters something old and dead and terrible. Lots of stuff I like- flashing glowy lights and spooky dead things.

I don’t have a lot of it rendered yet (putting the finishing touches on it as we speak) so I sadly don’t have a sneak preview for you! :( My short changed a lot over time. I have one I did two minutes of earlier this year that grew into something larger and heavier than would work in Ghost Stories, so I’ll be finishing that one this fall. And I wrote a script for another one that was easily going to top 10 minutes, so I don’t know when that’ll happen.

A lot of people who frequent this site are creatives or aspiring creatives. If someone out there is interested in becoming an ‘indie animator’, how important is it for them to go to college?

I mentioned Charles earlier- he went for a more general art degree but taught himself animation afterward. He’d have more to say about his experience, and I can only speak to mine. I actually didn’t go to school. I taught myself over a few years of really terrible work, landed a studio job and quickly caught up on the job.

After the second studio I worked at went under due to the craziest management ever, I said fuck it, I’m just going to start making my own stuff and applying for freelance work, and maybe the things I make will lead to some work as I go. And that has turned out to be a pretty good strategy for me at least.

Obviously as with anyone doing this kind of thing there are lean times, but that’s to be expected. So anyway, if your goal is to just make things and do freelance work, you don’t necessarily need a degree at all. There’s no guarantees either way, but there’s no rules either. We’re all just making it up as we go along.

How long did it take you to go from ‘It’d be so cool to be an indie animator…’ to ‘Whoa! I’m making my living as an indie animator!’?

Broadly speaking, I never said “I want to be an INDIE ANIMATOR”. It just kind of happened.

After a while I realized that I was doing mostly my own stuff and supplementing that with client work to keep the bills paid. I started using the term “indie animator” after a while, as it seemed the best description and it’s a kind of working identity I think is underrepresented and maybe we should be out in front about it.

A lot of folks assume if you’re an animator you want to work at Disney or on a cartoon series and anything else you do is just in lieu of that. I want to make my own work, and success for me is doing that and having enough money to live reasonably comfortably.

How can someone who’s interested in becoming an animator get started?

If you want to learn some form of animation, there are no end to the tutorials and learning materials online. I’d say just start learning and practicing and making things all the time.

Try a bunch of things and see what catches you. You have to put the work in, have something you want to make, and be realistic about what you’re doing. And start small. Make little 30 second things, and remember you don’t have to post everything you make online. Just put the time in and you have as much chance as anyone of making it work. But at least for me it has to be THE THING you do. Making things is a massive part of my life, be it animation or illustration, and that takes some level of obsession I guess. It’s something I need to do.

OK, back to Ghost Stories…from what you’ve seen so far, who, in your opinion, has made the most bizarre film?

Eamonn O’neill has the weirdest film, hands down. But some of the others are plenty weird as well.

The most colorful?

I’d say Eamonn’s is also the most colorful but that’s hard to pick because it’s actually a really colorful collection of films.

One more question: What’s the best video game you’ve played this year?

KENTUCKY ROUTE ZERO. They’ve only released 2 of 5 episodes so far, so who knows what the future holds. But in the meantime, that game is doing something others should be watching and learning from.

Thanks for your time, Scott! Cheers!!


You can find Scott on Vimeo, Twitter, Tumblr and his personal portfolio/blog site; he also has a bunch of fantastic prints for sale on Etsy.

Ghost Stories will be “available for free and for everyone” via the Late Night Work Club Vimeo account on September 3rd at midnight. Be there.

[ Ghost Stories ]