This interview with Chris Gavin, the Director of TXT ISLAND was filmed by the onedotzero festival team in 2009. TXT ISLAND was shown at the BFI cinema in London and subsequently all over the world as part of the onedotzero touring programme.
The following Q&A is edited (with a few new additions) from interview responses Chris gave to Digital Arts Magazine. The original interview was posted Thursday May 29th, 2009.
SO HOW DID THE IDEA FOR TXT ISLAND COME ABOUT?
"First of all there was an element of chance. I found my first pegboard and set of letters in an Islington charity shop (The Salvation Army shop on Upper Street) maybe around six years ago. I played around with them to create some real-world ASCII-style artworks. I soon needed more materials, so I found a supplier and bought further sets of letters and peg boards."
"I wanted to use the pegboard letters to represent something big; epic even. I started using the peg letters to shoot some stop-motion tests, and soon realised I could use this as a symbolic shorthand to represent really big scenes that would be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming to create in any other way. For example, a large letter 'O' and two smaller 'X's could become a Chinook helicopter."
"I soon began to have fun with how grandiose and overblown the scenes could become using such basic visual elements. The technique particularly suited crowd scenes rather than individual character animation, so I started developing the story to depict a large population of figures."
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THEMES IN THIS STORY?
"There's a pretty clear 'man versus nature' battle going on here. The basic storyline of figures arriving by air and colonizing a tropical paradise is something I wrote three or four years ago. As is the way sometimes, the idea was rattling around for a while, but transformed into something else a little bit later on. Once I hit upon using the typographic technique, I adapted the storyline somewhat to play to the strengths of the chosen method. I found that the animated letters were great for epic shots and crowds in particular. That's when the storyline expanded to become something more ambitious."
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO MAKE THE FILM?
"I get asked that quite a lot. Looking back at my notebooks, I started shooting this properly around October 2008 and took about 8 months working from home on all of the design and animation. I was holding down full-time work during this time, so mostly had to work at nights on this. The film was released to YouTube in May 2009 (launched on the TANDEM films Youtube channel) and had its first public screening at the 'Short & Sweet' film night around then.
HOW WAS THE SOUND TRACK TO THE FILM MADE?
"When the picture was almost finished, I showed it to my chosen sound designer Russell Pay of www.shrooty.com. From the first briefing, Russell worked for around four weeks to compose the music and arrange all of the effects and mixing for the film. I think the work he did helped a lot to build the scale of the film and portray the relentless efficiency of the invading forces... In many places, the sound more than makes up for the limitations imposed by the somewhat restriced animation technique. For example, when the soldiers wake up the day after landing on the island, we see just dots and inverted letter V's. When Russell added zip sound effects, the V's become tents; the sound has filled-in for the details that are necessarily missing from the visual treatment."
DID YOU REALLY SHOOT ALL THIS FOR REAL?
"Well mostly! All of the main animation was shot under camera (with the real plastic letters) using Stop Motion Pro software. The camera I used was a monochrome Sumix 150M machine vision industrial camera. I used After Effects a lot to enhance the footage I shot. All colour has been added in post, also the scenes requiring multiple duplications and really large scenery were digitally assembled at the compositing stage."
ANY MORE TO ADD?
"I'd like people to enjoy the way the scope of the film seems to grow over time. As TXT ISLAND plays, it seems to be continually trying to outreach its own limitations and I hope audiences enjoy the mini journey it takes them on."