A Tale of New City: An Interview with Roos Mattaar

Press photo by William Hoogteyling2Roos Mattaar is an award winning animation director, stop motion model maker and animator. She  has worked in a wide variety of roles with credits including feature films (Early Man, Isle of Dogs), TV series (Twirlywoos, Postman Pat), commercials, music videos (Sparks, Father John Misty) and short films.


We caught up with her to find out what she’s been up to since her first student short ‘Moonbird’ screened at BFP15 and to get the low down on her latest animation commission ‘Nieuwstad’ (New City).

(Image credit top right: William Hoogteyling.)


 


We last spoke to you in 2015, when your short film ‘Moonbird’ was screened as part of our New Visions showcase in the Bristol Festival of Puppetry.  What have you been up to since then?

That certainly seems like a long time ago. A lot has happened since then! Shortly after the 2015 Bristol Festival of Puppetry, I was offered work as a trainee puppet maker at Mackinnon & Saunders in Manchester. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from all the talented and experienced artists there. They are real masters of their craft.  I learned an incredible amount working there for three months in the armature department. Everyone was very patient whilst I was trying to grasp new skills, and open and willing to teach and share their wealth of knowledge.

Back in Bristol, Aardman had started production on the new Nick Park film ‘Early Man’. I got an offer from John Wright Modelmaking in Bristol, to come work on ball and socket armatures for the film at their workshop. I ended up working there for nearly two years, making a lot of caveman armatures.  There were also other projects coming in such as additional armatures for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and for the Sainsburys Christmas advert ‘The Greatest Gift’.

After this long stretch of armature fabrication work, I was very lucky to get an opportunity to get back to animating on a music video for Father John Misty by Jacknife Films, directed by Chris Hopewell.  I was involved with the puppet making, as well as being lead animator.  It reminded me of how much I love the intense nature of tight turnaround projects and being involved in a more creative role from start to finish.

I did more freelance work, such as building a complex mothman puppet for NFTS short film ‘Moth’ and I had another opportunity to work both as a puppet maker and animator on a music video for Sparks directed by Joseph Wallace.  This time I was also more involved in the setting up of scenes, lighting, cameras, etc.  These projects were a great way to get back into the filmmaking process and gave me the confidence to take on more commissions, such as this latest one where I was responsible for everything.

mothman-front
Puppet for NFTS film ‘Moth’

This commission is also the first I have completed in my new studio space at Hangar Puppet Animation Studio. After the Sparks music video, Joseph was looking for a bigger studio space and asked me if I was interested in sharing. At first I was a bit hesitant to take the risk as I had a space I was using in the attic.  But the idea of sharing with other passionate stop motion artists in a bigger, better space was exciting.  When a big industrial unit came available we decided to take the risk.  We have been doing the place up since last winter and it has been a crazy ride! It is still a work in progress, but we’re finally getting there.

 


Your latest commission for the Dutch municipality of Culemborg is your first work as animation director since ‘Moonbird’ in 2014.  Can you tell us about the project?

The video is part of an interactive historical walk for primary school children in my hometown for the project ‘Verborgen Verleden’ (Hidden history). This year it has been 700 years since the town received ‘city rights’ and there have been several events throughout the year related to the town’s history.  I had actually been discussing and pitching for a different commission with one of the organisers.  He had found my work through the Sparks music video I worked on (directed by Joseph Wallace) as he is a fan of their music.  It proved more difficult to get the funding together for that proposed project.   However, this other project was already happening, required a shorter animation and there was some budget available.

 

I was given the brief to create a short animation about the history of a specific part of the town. The film would focus on a peasant family but also need to show the bigger picture of the historical events. With all these requirements I tried to find the most interesting way to tell the story.  The animation would eventually be presented alongside an introduction video, providing more context and information, so I made it with that in mind.   Afterwards I made a version with English title cards to contextualise the story so that it can stand on its own.

For this project I did everything on my own – from storyboards to puppet making, set building, animating and final sound and edit.  After some years of mostly working in a specific role on projects for other people, I think this is really what I enjoyed most about this project. It was great to get back to actual filmmaking and have that creative freedom as well as the wide variety of challenges and problems to solve that come with it.

animating mini cows
Roos animating on the set of ‘Nieuwstad’

I really enjoyed experimenting with materials for the fabrication of the puppets and sets. I came up with new techniques for the costumes using tights and latex and I looked for interesting textures to use for the landscapes and set pieces, finding things such as wool filling, scouring pads, rubber kneeling pads, basket lining and deconstructing a broom head to use the bundles for making the medieval farm’s roof.

family progress
Puppets for ‘Nieuwstad’ in production

I also had a lot of fun painting the sky backdrops. I have always loved the big dramatic skies in 17th century Dutch landscape paintings. With the film being centred on the Dutch flat landscape, there was a lot of practice ground to attempt some cloud painting. The only issue was that as I started putting quite a lot of detail into it, I realised I would have to repaint the sky for many of the shots, adding a lot of extra work and time!

I love working with more atmospheric lighting and using the drama of a sunset or night time sky to influence the mood of a scene and direct the audience’s attention with the lighting.  Most of this animation is set in the daytime with bright daylight,  but I couldn’t resist adding in some more atmospheric lighting in a couple of shots at the end. I think it fits well where the farmer re-visits his old village which is now flooded and returns to the town by night before we cut into the time lapse that shows the town growing and changing.

Nieuwstad - press still
Still from ‘Nieuwstad’

 

What’s next for you?

Hopefully another commission for my hometown will happen at some point, directly leading from this one. I had a meeting with people from the town council when visiting during the launch of this project and some ideas are brewing.  Currently, I am animating a scene for an independent stop motion film based on a Cornish legend by Simon Tytherleigh, a great filmmaker, fabricator of motion control rigs, special effects makeup artist and boat builder – amongst other things.  I hope to be animating more on it sometime next year when the funding is secured.

I am also still doing a lot of DIY in the new studio space ‘Hangar Puppet Animation Studio’. I can’t wait to have the space finished and ready for many future projects.  I have two personal film projects in early development, which I would like to develop further.
Meanwhile there have been several interesting set building and puppet fabrication jobs coming my way as a result of people finding me and my work through my website, which is great.  Unfortunately quite often things fall through, but hopefully new opportunities will come up that will go ahead.

I would love to be involved in more freelance commissions as a director and maybe direct a music video.  Equally, I love the technical challenges of puppet fabrication and/or miniature set building to someone else’s design.  I also want to improve my animation skills and it would be great to collaborate more. So far I have been lucky to work for and with some incredibly talented people. I am still quite new to finding commissioned work, and it seems a challenge at this point to find work with sufficient budget to gather a team, but hopefully this will be possible in the future. Getting the Hangar Studio ready is the first step to actually having the space to take on bigger projects. We are sharing the space between seven of us, all very talented animators, directors and model makers. Hopefully we will get to collaborate more soon.

IMG_2901
Experimenting with Neopixel LEDs in puppet design

My favourite part of stop motion animation is to be exploring new materials and techniques and learning new skills with each project! There are so many things I’d like to try and explore.  For example, recently I have been experimenting with using Neopixel LEDs controlled via Arduino software as lighting within sets or puppets, incorporating it inside a silicone cast of a jellyfish puppet. I have incorporated ideas to make use of this in several of my projects that are in development, as well as other methods of using practical light effects.

I really enjoyed using the painted backdrops for this last commission and this is something I would like to explore further.  I have always been fascinated by the intricate facial mechanisms such as those used in many of the armatures from Mackinnon and Saunders. It would be exciting to put all the skills I have learned in the last few years to the test.  Even though this is not always necessary to tell a good story,  it is something I would love to dive into when it seems right for a project.

Ultimately I want to learn to put all of these things to good use, to get better at strong visual storytelling and animating with more emotion and subtleties in the puppet performance.

I just want to keep learning and trying new things!

 

Interview with Emma Windsor

 


To find out more about Roos’ work and to contact her regarding projects or commissions, visit her website: www.roosmattaar.com.  Stay update with all her latest news and work on her Vimeo and Instagram channels.

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