Interview :: Dave Carter (TrackSuits)
October 22nd 2013
- TrackSuits :: Animation with Dave Carter
Dave Carter is a stop motion animator based in Sydney whose work has been commissioned by the likes of MTV, Mike Judge (creator of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill), Mondo Media and Sony BMG.
His films have screened at the some of the most prestigious animation festivals in the world, including the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and a complete career retrospective screened at Fest Anca in Slovakia. Several of Dave’s animations have been included in the National Film and Sound Archives for preservation – meaning that Dave’s work has been deemed important enough to put in a vault to preserve for future generations of Australians to appreciate many years from now.
But a fact not featured in Dave’s official bio is that he was born profoundly deaf.
DC1: What inspired your decision to enter the field of animation, and how did your deafness influence your direction?
DC2: Being born profoundly deaf – not having any access to any hearing – I grew up with a visual language, so I only understand people by seeing. That kind of education prepared me to be design- and visual-oriented.
Growing up watching TV, I found live action TV was crap; there was not enough visual information. Cartoons were visually dense and contained clues as to what the narrative was about and if I couldn’t figure out the narrative, there was still room to tell your own stories, because cartoons are still abstract in a way. By the time subtitles came out when I was about 13, I realised all those cartoons I was watching were absolute shit! But that gave me the tools to want to tell my own stories and make better cartoons.
I grew up in the time after Warner Brothers cartoons, Tom and Jerry and Disney, and going through the worst decade of animation in the 1980s, where you had talking heads like Fred Flintstones and He-Man. Now, I respect the nostalgic aspect of He-Man, but jeez, I just wanted the characters to f*cking move.
I feel that animation for me was something I was interested in as a consumer and wanted to do better.
It’s fascinating that despite what many would see as a disadvantage, you’ve achieved outstanding things in animation, and still managed to work with music to create a film clip for Sydney band POMOMOFO. How does your deafness change your experience of music, and how did that influence your animation?
I’ve always been reluctant to do film clips, simply because I’ve thought that I’m not the best qualified to have an artist to entrust me with their beauty, their baby, their song. I can still feel the sound of music, but I can’t distinguish lyrics.
But it was my long-time collaborator Nikos, for whom POMOMOFO have done countless favours by doing the sound and the scores of my animations up to that point… saying now, will you do me a video clip?
The song, Tamagotchi Girl… I couldn’t understand the lyrics and I never asked for them. What I like about music videos is that they do not simply animate what’s being said, but bring something new to the table by animating a different interpretation of the song. So my interpretation of the song is mine only, and no-one else would make a similar clip because no-one else would experience it in the same way.
Often I see film clips being animated in a way that many people would have chosen, because it’s simply what’s happening in the words.
I made Tamagotchi Girl as a completely improvised stream-of-consciousness animation, which was a nightmare to make because I didn’t know how it was going to end. Which is, I think, how music should be. I felt the song was completely unpredictable, and it goes off on tangents, so I felt the approach should be to take all my paper printers and cameras and just play with no end in sight. I spent 3 months putting it together, and was really happy with how it turned out.
I’ve read that you can spend up to 14 hours in your studio to get just one shot. What role does music play in these marathon animation sessions?
The truth is, the great animators from Disney always said that you should never play music while you animate, because they believed that music would influence the rhythm of your characters. That sounds really depressing, but it’s true.
When I’m doing characters, I do have to go mute and just listen to the characters in silence, because stop motion is like an extended performance. So when you’re performing, if you’re listening to a song – like the one you just played, M.I.A’s Boyz – or if you were an actor like De Niro doing a scene from Taxi Driver, you couldn’t be listening to music at the same time, because you can’t be focused on the performance. I do kind of like the idea of Taxi Driver being set to M.I.A’s music, by the way!
I do use music to start the day to get me up and motivated. When I’ve been up ’til 4am and I’m completely burned out, I need coffee, I need music to energise me. So I put a track on.
I was obsessed with a Velvet Underground track, which I thought was called I Found a Reason – which I thought was a perfect track to get me motivated, to “find a reason” to animate. Someone came in the studio while I was playing it and I was saying, “this is my favourite song, what are the words?” And she said, “He’s singing something about Cowboy Bill”. I said “What!?” I pulled up the album, and I had the wrong number! The track was actually called Cowboy Bill. And suddenly I found that the track did nothing for me, because it was about “Cowboy Bill”, and the track really called I Found a Reason didn’t move me with its sound.
So the experience of the sound plus what I think it means is really important, and that can change.
What are some of your own favourite animators and music animations?
The Warner Brothers Cartoons, as I mentioned before, were really influential because they were gag-oriented, and for me it’s all about comedy. It’s quite hard to find comedy in an animated music clip to be honest, because it’s often undercut by the seriousness of the music.
That’s why I did Tamagotchi Girl, because I knew it was a silly fun song and I could work with it. Pretentiousness is a really strong word, but when you’ve got comedy in a music clip, it becomes a little too self-conscious, and comedy can’t be self-conscious, it needs to feel spontaneous and instant.
What I look for in a great animated music video is ideas… I just want ideas exploding off the screen. The problem today is that there’s lots of great video artists doing high-concept stuff and I like that stuff, but after a minute they’ve run out of steam because they’re simply exploring the same single high concept idea they came up with in the first place and the narrative isn’t there. Digital cameras create all this freedom to do amazing conceptual stuff, but what I like to see is narrative.
Good Song by Blur, directed by David Shrigley and the video group Shynola, is a great example about a fairy falling in love with a squirrel and then having his head bitten off and his body blown away by a leaf blower.
Kris Moyes is a great video artist, he’s done half of The Presets’ videos. The Presets’ Are You The One? is a great video exploding with ideas.
The thing I love about animation is that it’s a touchstone for people of all ages, across eras and generations. The last thing I want to introduce is how a single piece of music can be featured for more than 50 years because of it’s sonic qualities that inspire certain visual cues that animators have used for many years.
Raymond Scott’s tune Powerhouse from 1937 has been featured in literally hundreds of Warner Bros Animations and has such a strong association with frantic action. It’s timeless. It’s been used on Ren & Stimpy, it’s been on the Simpsons 12 times. Certain sections of this track are going to be very familiar to your audience of any age, despite the fact it’s nearly 80 years old!