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Steve Lawson - 'Build Me Up' Director Q&A

Claymation, stop-motion, call it what you will, there's something about it that just seems in tune with the British filmmaking psyche. We couldn't be bigger advocates of it here at VFF, and believe that Build Me Up is one of the best short film examples going. Read on to see what director, Steve Lawson, had to say about this remarkable film.

VFF: One of your characters has some of the most expressive ears we’ve seen on screen - what gave you that masterstroke of helping them to communicate in this way?

SL: Ha! Thank you, I wonder if we can get that on the poster. The ears were something I’d tried in another guise on another character a while back. But, as I was doodling to find Vera, they re-emerged as wires/pigtails, then rockets, and then became something more solid and sleek.

Crucially, we decided there would be no dialogue, so the characters needed physical traits and shapes to suggest who they were. Vera’s head is modelled of a wasp; but her ears are inspired by a hare. I knew they’d help her emote in a variety of ways, but it was only as I was animating that it became second nature to build so much secondary action into her ears moving, twitching etc. That’s one of the key reasons that Gromit is so emotive; he’s another NFTS character.

VFF: Can you tell us a little bit about character design? How long each took to do, what inspirations you had etc.

SL: I’ve always enjoyed drawing and creating characters, so I was always going to design them myself. But originally they looked quite different. It was when I was throwing all sorts of wacky ideas about that I landed on Sprocket having an arm come out of his head. I based the rest of him on having the feel of a toy, or a little tractor. In arriving at Vera’s design, we thought about trying to have the two robots combine to make a snowmobile; so at one point she had a weird ski thing instead of legs. But for ease of animating, that was changed, and I came up with the ears that we talked about earlier.

What I must mention is that the NFTS modelmaking department was a great help in finessing the designs as they brought them to life. It gave them that extra polish, and since then I’ve drawn them based on the puppets. There’s also a little bit of inspiration from things like The Mandalorian and Wall-E, but fundamentally they’re the product of me saying ‘what if…’ while doodling!

VFF: As we’re only in our 2nd year, this is actually the first Sci-Fi VFF have screened, and we’re absolutely over the moon (pun intended). What drew you to the genre?

SL: I’m a fan of a good pun myself, nicely done. How exciting that this is your first sci-fi short! We are honoured.

I’ve always loved this genre, and can remember my dad introducing me to Star Trek and Star Wars when I was a kid, just as Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released in cinemas. Dad’s a nuclear engineer, so I’ve always been fascinated by machines and figuring out how things work. After exploring stop-motion at university - something I’d long been curious about - when I got to the NFTS, I finally met the right team of likeminded creatives who were prepared to take a leap on a sci-fi stop-motion short.

It’s not the sort of film that usually gets made at the school, and I’m super grateful to have had amazing collaborators like Emma (Producer), Jamie (DoP), Kate (Production Designer) and over 100 others to help bring the film to life.

Build Me Up will be playing at Close-Up Cinema, Saturday 19 February 4-6pm and as part of our online event through Eventbrite February 19-28

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