Philip Hunt, Creative Director, Studio aka

This week, director Philip Hunt’s charming CG-animated project Lost and Found took home the top audience award at the Palm Springs Short Festival. Produced by Hunt and his team at London’s Studio aka, the special has been nabbing awards left and right since it aired on Britain’s Channel 4 last Christmas (including one at the recent Annecy Festival in June). Lost and Found is based on a beautiful children’s book about the friendship between a boy and a penguin written by Oliver Jeffers and is narrated by Brit actor Jim Broadbent (who is also in the new Harry Potter movie). The talented Max Richter composed the short’s music. Hunt, who is also the creative director at Studio aka, is a graduate of London’s prestigious Royal College or art. He is also the co-exec producer of the award-winning JoJo in the Stars and Varmints, directed by Studia aka’s Marc Craste. We recently had the chance to catch up with the brilliant Mr. Hunt during a brief Q&A:

Animag Online: Congrats on all the awards and recognition your project Lost and Found has been receiving. Can you tell us a bit about how you and Studio Aka got involved with the book’s adaptation?

Philip Hunt: Lost and Found was was proposed to us as a co-production by Joan Lofts from Contender Entertainment who saw an opportunity for Studio aka to bring Oliver’s much loved book to the screen. It was serendipitous that not only was Oliver a huge Studio aka fan but that I was an avid reader of his children’s books’I read them to my kids that is! My interest in adapting the book for a half hour film was made stronger also by the willingness to look beyond the original line style and develop the piece into a dimensional world. Oliver was showed us an incredible level of trust in letting us adapt and develop the book in the ay that we did and I’m pleased that despite all the differences we made in making the film a stand alone piece, the spirit of the book is central still to the film.

Lost and Found

Animag Online: How did you create those beautiful, poetic and tactile visuals in CG?

Philip Hunt:That sounds like the expectation is that CG could not be poetic and tactile! I believe very strongly that the tools and medium are irrelevant’the choice that you make in technique is secondary to the attention to story and expression of movement. My start was in stop frame and I bring exactly the same interest and expectations into working with computers.

All techniques have their strengths and weakness and CGI is no exception to this. I can think of many ugly pointless uses of CGI, but equally I can point at as many soulless uses of pencils, paint and clay. What is important is to choose your technique according to what you are trying to convey and pay attention to the care with which you then create.

There is a point in CGI where you have an opportunity to layer and composite a final image that can drastically affect the way the film is read, and probably what I look to do is to allow for the human hand involved in lighting and texturing to show through, it’s really hand crafted work that underlies the final frame. It’s much like the moment in 2D where the you make the final trace backs and line art, or in stop motion where you bring lighting to a sterile set and make it sing…

All of these techniques, from 2D to 3D, have a moment which is all about the technical process, what separates the work thereafter is what touches you make to bring the work to life. No one cares about any of this in the audience though, and rightly so, what they want is to be transfixed and transported.

Lost and Found

You recently attended the Annecy Aniamtion festival in France, where Lost and Found received the top prize (Cristal) for Best Animated TV Special. What do you think makes it so unique and different from other animation festivals around the world?

Philip Hunt: Annecy has something more of a celebration than just a festival feel to it, and although the competition provides a focus for approval and recognition, the main event is always the experience of screening your work in front of an audience who can be incredibly passionate in their response, and vocal too! The location and ambiance of the town and the lake help to create a feeling that you are transported out of everyday life for a while and the gathering of so may animation creators form so many different fields within the medium is never less than fascinating to be among. I think many festivals have a unique signature and attitude which make stem a delight to attend, and Annecy is no exception, I’ve screened both student work and professional works in the festival and I’m nervous as hell every time…

What’s your take on the animation scene in 2009? Are things looking up in the U.K.?

Philip Hunt: As ever there are people doing amazing works, and increasingly via unorthodox and less traditional routes, but I think it’s looking pretty good in the U.K. at the moment, but its always a little precarious as well. I co-run a commercial studio and we are definitely seeing this aspect having to adapt to the changing economic climate, but creativity and interest in what we do has not dimmed one bit. What I am impatient to see is more European feature and specials work, especially as there are some great films coming out of Europe at the moment. What I’d dearly love to see ware more experimental and short works finding funding, but I’m heartened to see so many interesting films around at the moment, despite these difficulties.

Lost and Found

What’s happening with Varmints? How did that project flourish? Are any of the the two projects (Varmints, Lost and Found) being developed as series?

Philip Hunt: Varmints began its life as a book written especially by author Helen Ward for Marc Craste to illustrate. Helen had seen Jojo in the Stars (our first film with Marc) and the book that resulted was so intriguing that we proposed to make it into a short film. Marc developed the story quite considerably and what began as a ten-minute short ended up as a half-hour, which really takes viewers into another place. The film has been doing very well at festivals and was nominated for a BAFTA award and shortlisted for the Oscars. Varmints is available on DVD and is already on iTunes which is great. Lost and Found is out on DVD (in the U.K.) and receiving amazing critical response. Neither project has been considered in terms of series adapattion, but both projects have other developments attached to them. What’s of a paramount importance to both myself, Marc, and the rest of Studio aka is that we get to make more films, both shorts and longer form!

To find out more about Philip Hunt and Studio aka, visit http://www.studioaka.co.uk/