Award Winner Interview: iloobia

Encounters's Isabella Coombes catches up with iloobia - aka Tim Grabham - winner of the Best of British Award for Animation for 'Films to Break Projectors', and speaks to him about the the painstaking process and detail in his astonishing film.

Congratulations on your 2017 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?

Thank you! It is a total surprise to be honest. I don’t make films with the motivation of winning prizes but of course I’m delighted with the recognition of the work.

Tell us about the process behind the whole project and how long it took to make?

It was quite a lengthy and laborious process as I first needed to physically build the filmstrip collages. The material came from the collection of films I had been amassing over the years – much of it my own stuff but there is also a lot of orphaned and found footage in there. I guess it took 3 or so months to hand edit and stick the different collages together as I had to unspool the reels one by one and hunt for the right clips with the aid of a magnifying glass and a pair of scissors, which was slow going. Then I got to the hi-res scanning stage which was painfully slow.

I wasn’t working with any kind of budget so this was all done with my own available resources, and my old scanner would regularly jam up losing hours due to failed scans, leaving me to endlessly reset / taunt / melt down over it. And that was all before stitching it back together in After Effects and digitally re-animating it in stop motion.

I lost track of time after a while to be honest, but I guess it was the best part of 6-months to make. However, it was all very therapeutic in the long run.

The sound design in your short stood out for its originality and a seamless pairing with the visual content – can you tell us a bit more about it?

My background is as much in sound and music as it is with the moving image, so the soundtracks to all my films are as important as the visual side. This means I tend to build up the audio and visual in tandem, layering sounds as I edit. With this film my objective was to draw on the principals of visual or colour music – which filmmakers such as Mary Ellen Bute, Oskar Fischinger and Len Lye explored so magnificently.

Constructing each strip as if it were a musical score was of primary consideration during the films hand editing. Hunting for clips with varying shifts in motion, contrast, colour, and rhythm were all on my mind as I hand selected the filmstrips, like gathering the different musical elements for a track. The soundtrack was then edited in Premiere and manually synced to each visual nuance and motion.

If you were trying to characterise your work generally, do you think it’s possible to identify common concerns?

A timely question. I’ve been thinking I should address this recently as I continually read artists biogs describing their specific creative orientations. Trouble is, my interests fluctuate around so many different areas all the time it would read as an inconsistent and directionless list! I already tend to switch between crediting myself as iloobia or Tim Grabham to differentiate between my animation and documentary work for example, but even that isn’t consistent. Right now I’m particularly interested in materials of preservation, octopus intelligence and cryonics. But that changes all the time.

The film is incredibly beautiful, with a unique aesthetic particularly in its colour grading – how did you create this?

Thank you again. Compared to what I more often do in the digital sense with grading and image manipulation, this was incredibly straightforward. My goal was to maintain the integrity of the filmstrips and their colours. So after scanning and correcting the colours to match what the originals looked like on my lightbox, that was as much as I tampered with the colour. I wanted it to be as close to a photographic process as I could get. It’s easy to get carried away in post and impose artificiality on the work through enthusiastic and wanton use of the tools available, but that was out of bounds for this film.

The film reels give the audience a glimpse into lots of different narratives, I read that frames from Get Shorty were used amongst others – talk us through your selection process?

The collages needed to work at both a micro and macro level, and they also had to loop with an in built rhythmic structure. So piecing them together took a lot of trial and error, taping endless strips to one another until there was a balance in the arrangement.

Film as a physical material is beautiful in so many ways. The sprocket holes, optical sound, edge numbers and keycode at the side of the filmstrip can be as beautiful as the image within the frame. So too the light leaks, fading frames and scratches on the film surface.

I would just get immersed in dense piles of unspooled film strips on the studio floor with a pair of scissors and go mining for material. Once a theme or aesthetic began to suggest itself, I would go looking for something that might complement it. It was a very cause and effect way of working.

What and who would you consider to be your main influences as a filmmaker / animator?

Things that really fascinated me growing up were the surrealist animations of Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay, stuff like Altered States by Ken Russell, The Elephant Man by David Lynch and Tetsuo by Shinya Tsukamoto. Also regularly going to the legendary Scala cinema in Kings Cross, which was massively influential.

There was also an amazing programme on Channel 4 years ago called Ghosts in the Machine which would just show experimental video art and artists film. Hardly anyone recalls it anymore but it was a rare jewel of a show.

In combination, they demonstrated to me how wonderfully broad and malleable the parameters of the moving image could be.

Are there any recent animated or live action films you’ve encountered that have caught your attention?

I saw a few shorts at Budapest’s wonderful BUSHO festival earlier this year which were really affecting. The animation ‘Negative Space’ by Max Porter was beautifully moving, as was the live action short ‘Princess’ by Karstem Dahlem and the incredible Hungarian drama ‘Welcome’ by Balázs Dudás.

You can watch excerpts from ‘Films to Break Projectors’ below, and read more about iloobia’s other work here.