Dropping out of a physics degree to study animation at RMIT has proven to be a smart move for Aggelos Papantoniou, recently dubbed one of the field’s most exciting new voices.
While studying a Bachelor of Design (Animation and Interactive Media), Papantoniou directed a four-minute animation about a crying baby left behind on a Melbourne peak-hour train.
Mrs. Metro won Papantoniou and his lecturer Mark Lycette, credited as a producer, the City of Melbourne Grand Prix for Best Short Film at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
The MIFF jury applauded the short as a “dark and deranged black comedy” that “elicits a wide range of feelings and reactions”, and an outstanding film that marks Papantoniou as “an exciting new voice in Australian animation”.
“We’ve all taken public transport and can instantly recognise the characters on screen, but they’re made larger – or smaller – than real life with skewed angles and distorted bodies,” the jury said.
Mrs. Metro, which has screened at 11 festivals worldwide, was also named Best Political Animated Short at the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival, awarded the Australian Short Film Award at the Sydney Underground Film Festival and longlisted this year for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Your film is quite dark – what was the inspiration behind it?
In the first year of my studies, a teacher showed in class the short animation Billy's Balloon by Don Hertzfeld.
Pretty much Billy's Balloon is about children getting bullied and beaten up by balloons. I can clearly remember, while the film was playing, half of the class was laughing and the other half was freaked out by the brutality. I will admit that I was in the first half.
Anyways, I thought "That’s amazing! The children are not real. They are just drawings and look at the impact they have on me and my classmates." I tried to do exactly that with Mrs. Metro.
When I was storyboarding the film I made a few alternative endings and there were discussions with teachers whether the baby ends up surviving at the end or the homeless guy comes back for revenge, etc. All those endings seemed to be weakening the story and its impact and so I kept it the way you've seen it in the screen.
What was the hardest part of making the film, what challenges did you have to overcome?
I had to scrap my initial idea for the film which wasn't the story of Mrs. Metro. A teacher told me it was rubbish and he was right. The next day I went for a walk at the park and Mrs. Metro came almost as an epiphany.
I look back and I think that every step of the making was an ordeal. When I was coming up with the story, I thought, this must be the hardest part.
And then, when I was animating and making backgrounds, I thought, this must be the hardest, so I don’t have a really good answer. However, there were a few technical things I tried to be really careful about. For example the baby's cries had to be designed so that the audience wouldn't find them too annoying and stop watching the film. Another one is the backgrounds running outside the windows of the train which shouldn't distract from the main action and focus of the shot.
How did it feel to win the MIFF award and have your film selected for the Academy Award longlist?
I was really happy. Didn’t expect it.
How did RMIT support you in getting the film from idea to screen?
My teachers and classmates gave me really constructive feedback to every step of the making of the film.
Just as I mentioned before, teachers especially, wouldn't hesitate to tell us that an idea is not good. Instead they would try to direct us to find our own signature and ways of working.
Also, being part of a community of animators really helped and motivated me to try the hardest I could.
Not to forget that the 24/7 access to the animation labs and equipment at RMIT came really handy the final year. It was one of the best experiences to be working every night next to my friends at 4am.
What made you choose animation as a creative career?
I am not quite sure. I was studying physics science in Greece but I would draw and make my own comics during the classes and so I quit. Then my dad said "Let’s go live in Australia" and then I said "I am gonna become and animator". It doesn't make sense.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming animators, or anyone considering studying animation?
The Animation Survival Kit by Richard Williams is a great book to learn how to animate. It also comes in short tutorial videos.
And what’s the next step for you, what are your creative and career goals?
I don't really think about this. I keep trying to come up with story ideas and hopefully I will make more films in the future.
Story: Aeden Ratcliffe