Oscar Winner Elliot Talks Krumpet

Back in July, we caught up with filmmaker Adam Elliot after his short film, Harvie Krumpet, won a trio of awards at the Annecy Film Festival. Now that Elliot and his pal Harvie are Oscar winners, we thought we’d revisit that interview for those of you who didn’t catch it the first time. Enjoy!

If it weren’t for bad luck, Harvie Krumpet wouldn’t have any luck at all. Born with Tourette Syndrome, struck by lightning, missing a testicle, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ‘ the list goes on. But there’s just something about this little pear-shaped, naked guy with furry boots and a bald head, something that audiences find irresistible.

The 23-minute short Harvie Krumpet was a hit with the press, the judges and the audience at the Annecy Int’l Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France. With three major awards, it took home the most accolades of any film screening in competition.

The project also proved attractive to a certain Oscar-nominated actor. Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) provides the film’s narration.

So what exactly is it about Harvie Krumpet? The answers may be found in the book of “Fakts” Harvie keeps slung around his neck, but we decided to ask writer/director/animator Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs of Melodrama Pictures.

AMO: How did the idea for this film come about?

Adam Elliot: Harvie has been in my head for over ten years and I am so glad he is now out. I love to make biographical films and investigate the life of just one individual. I try to make my characters as believable as possible. I want people to fully empathize with them, identify and relate to their everyday struggles. I am not completely certain where Harvie came from, although I am sure he is an amalgamation of myself, family and friends.

AMO: How were you able to get it produced? What was the budget?

Melanie Coombs: Harvie Krumpet was financed by the Australian Film Commission (the federal film development agency), SBS Independent (the commissioning arm of one of Australia’s two public broadcasters) and Film Victoria, a state based government film funding body. Our budget was very modest, $377,000 AUD which is about $240,000 U.S. using the current exchange rate. Just about all film production in Australia has significant government financial support as we have a very small population and therefore no significant local market. Also, as an English-speaking nation, our market is saturated with American and English product, so we need government finance to create local production. This is to ensure that as Australians we have a cultural voice that is uniquely our own. We think that Harvie Krumpet certainly tells an Australian story that gives audiences around the world an insight into our culture.

AMO: How did Geoffrey Rush get involved?

M.C.: We approached Geoffrey Rush by giving him copies of Adam’s previous films Uncle, Cousin and Brother and asking him if he would be willing to be a part of our next project. He said Yes! Geoffrey is an enthusiastic supporter of Australian film and television and is, among other things, the Patron of the Melbourne International Film Festival where Harvie Krumpet had its Australian premiere on the opening night on July 23.

AMO: What can you tell us about the character designs?

A.E.: As with many character designers, I consider the eyes to be the most vital component to a character. I make my eyeballs large to fully express the character’s emotion. So much about a person can be sought through their eyes. I always make my characters spend much of their screen time gazing directly at the audience. This helps create and immediate engagement between the two. I also try and keep my characters and sets simple, minimal. Too often animation can be overly cluttered with color and detail.

AMO: Why do you prefer to work in clay/stop-motion?

A.E.: Quite simply, I love to get my hands dirty. I could never be a computer animator, as I would find the process frustrating and limiting.

AMO: Did you incorporate any computer-generated elements/effects?

A.E.: No. I love to create my films the ‘old school ‘ way. There is something so much more gratifying about making clouds out of cotton wool than using a software program. I think the reason model animation still exists, and studios like Aardman can flourish, is because there is something magical about the imagery. The audience knows that what they are seeing is tangible and tactile–not generated on a hard drive.

AMO: What filmmaking tools did you use?

A.E.: I use a 35-year-old super 16mm Bolex camera aided with a video assist camera.

AMO: How long did the film take to complete?

A.E.: The shoot, which included all model and set building, took just over 14 months to complete. Post-production took another four or so months.

AMO: Did the puppets have wire or ball-and-socket armatures? Who built/sculpted them?

A.E.: My characters have no ball and socket joints. The characters are completely solid (car body filler), except for the arms which are color-matched plasticine over aluminum wire. The heads can swivel only left and right, but the eyeballs can rotate freely in their sockets. I sculpted all the characters myself out of plasticine and then made molds from them. My two assistants help cast, sand and paint them. Some of the main characters had solid replacement mouths made from Sculpey and were held into position using tiny magnets. Harvie had more than 30 different mouth shapes.

AMO: Why do you think people respond to the film so well?

A.E.: People can see themselves in Harvie. We have all had bad luck in our lives, some more so than others. We can relate to Harvie, feel his frustration and pain. He is an archetypal "loser" or underdog and falls into the classic comic/tragic figure. He is a fighter, free spirit and towards the end of his life, a rebel. He, as with everyone else, is searching for answers and reason. He struggles with life and attempts to find solutions to its riddles. Harvie also delivers to the audience some measure of hope. Despite life’s uncertainties and unfairness, there is always something to live for, a reason to keep going and savor the moment. As Harvie notes as his final "Fakt", life is like a cigarette and should be smoked right to the butt!

The Harvie Krumpet crew also includes assistant animators Sophie Raymond and Michael Bazeley, mentor animator Darren Burgess, editor Bill Murphy and sound designer Peter Walker. John Flaus provides the voice of Harvie.