From Australia's The
Age ( www.theage.com.au ),
The ABC's (Australia Broadcasting
Corp.)secret is about to be let out.
Deep within the bowels of its Elsternwick offices sits a self-effacing
animator with white Colonel Sanders-style facial growth who creates magical
puppets. Each bug-eyed creature is carefully handmade, painted and primed
before making its star appearance in Nick Hilligoss' short
films. Animation is incredibly labour intensive, but Hilligoss takes it to
another level. Not only does he make several versions of each puppet for
different shots, he meticulously builds and paints the life-like
three-dimensional sets. Only then does he start filming.
It is why Hilligoss who is attached to the ABC's natural history unit, often
vanishes --- into his cluttered office version of the backyard shed - for
long stretches of time. "He disappears for a couple of years at a time and
the whole ABC hierarchy changes around him, but I don't talk about him
because people might find out he's there", laughs, Dione Gilmour, the head of
the ABC's natural history unit.
Gilmour lured Hilligoss, then a modeller at the ABC, to the unit after she
spotted his miniatures of extinct animals for the Nature of Australia series
in 1998."We dragged Nick in here because I could see that there were signs of
brilliance about the guy", she says. Hilligoss' knowledge of dinosaurs, honed
as a kid matches that of any dinosaur expert in Australia, she says. So his
first job was to make animated versions of dinosaurs and other extinct
animals - the only creatures the unit's wildlife cameramen couldn't capture
on film - for documentary, Once Upon Australia.
"Unfortunately for me, when I was halfway through doing it Jurassic
Park came out and overnight it was obsolete, so I tended to go a little
more towards the humorous approach because I wasn't really going to impress
people with how amazingly real these dinosaurs were", Hilligoss says. The
show which took two and a half years to complete, won a number of
international animation awards. "After that I wanted to do something shorter
more manageable, and I ended up doing five shorts called Bunch of
Fives in the same time", he says.
His latest labour of love is the five-part animated series Good
Riddance, which chronicles the exploits of an eco-friendly pest
controller and his uninvited house guests, a streetwise gang of rats. "A
five-minute film is about six months of work", Hilligoss says. "That's if all
goes well, but if there is difficulty, delays creep in". The main character -
a laid back pest controller with fluorescent orange mohawk and army green
shirt - was loosely based on Peter. A possum catcher called in by the ABC to
deal with some stray pigeons."He was the inspiration for the possum film
(Bunch of Fives) but it also got me thinkng about pest control. I started
thinking of different pests and what might be used to get rid of them".
Hilligoss' cavernous studio is neatly stacked with up-ended paint brushes,
piles of puppets. Cute latex rats and various odds and ends that can, and
probably will, make their way into one of his films. In here, he has spent
eight years bringing foam latex to life using stop-motion animation. The
technique, made famous by the Aardman characters Wallace and Gromit,
involves shooting models one frame at a time moving them slightly each time.
It is a excruciatingly slow process that demands nerves of steel. Hilligoss
says stop-motion animation has surged in popularity because digital
filmmaking techniques have made the process easier. Furry little puppets can
move like they've never moved before thanks to digital post-production. Now,
instead of hiding puppet props from the camera, rods and fishing line can be
digitally erased after a sequence has been filmed.
Gilmour says Hilligoss' films are full of humour and heart and appeal to a
wide demographic. "He can sum up really complex arguments about the
environment in five minutes in such a way that nobody feels that they are
being preached at ", she says. "This whole series (Good Riddance) is
about a biological pest controller, but most of his solutions don't work the
first time so he's not saying biological pest control is the panacea for all
problems, he's saying there's a heck of a lot of trial and error.
"You can appreciate it for the characters and the amusement, but if you look
at it any deeper there's many layers of meaning underneath all that".
Good Riddance will screen on the ABC this year.
Stop Motion Works note: You can see some behind the scenes of Good Riddance
at Nick's Photo Album Site and other projects he has worked on. I am not certain, but Nick
Hilligoss works at ABC on a project to project basis. He might be available
in the future to do freelance work. At least, he told me, he might also
pursue his own independent Stop Motion projects. You may reach Nick at his
email address, hilligoss.nick(remove this)@abc.net.au Or you can contact Nick or talk with him through
Stop Motion Animation Message Board