Interview – Oscar nominee Lachlan Pendragon on his award-winning stop-motion short film that took 10 months to make in his living room

It was a night that changed Brisbane-based filmmaker Lachlan Pendragon’s life forever. On January 24, “An Ostrich Told Me The World Was Fake And I Think I Believe It” was read out as a nominee for ‘Best Short Film – Animated’ in the 95th Academy Awards. His excitedly sincere reaction video capturing the hearts of Australia.

His hilarious titled short-film tells the story of a stop-motion character who is a telemarketer (and not really a great one, at that)  that discovers the stop-motion world he lives in is all a sham. A sham that is explained to him by a large stop-motion ostrich late one night. What follows is a visually stunning and thematically interesting story that questions existence through the lens of a 3D printed puppet and his ostrich shaman.

But, it wasn’t an easy journey getting his hybrid stop-motion/live-action short film on the nominee list for the Oscars, with a laborious journey both pre and post production period of over 3 years leading to this nomination. Now, with a little over a month until the big night, I spoke with Lachlan about the process of getting his short film to the Oscars, the 10 month filming process and his feelings leading up to the big night!

Nick: First and foremost, congratulations on your Oscar nomination! Like many, I saw the video of your reaction to the nomination, but can you take me back to the days leading up to the nomination and then that night as you’re watching the livestream just before your name and film are read out?

Lachlan Pendragon: Yeah, it was such a nerve wracking thing. You don’t ever expect to go to the next stage. Even up to that point, there was a lot of stages that shocked us every time we go there. It was never a thing we expected, it was just this snowball effect. Even just submitting it to the Oscars was a big deal! We never even thought that would happen! So yeah, you’re just sitting there, kind of nervous, going: “it can’t possibly be happening”! But here we are.

Nick: Your film is such a unique idea, and not just the integration of stop-motion and live-action, but also the concept itself. The meta aspect in which you actually show the audience the filmmaking side of things and how it affects the character within the film. How did this idea come to you initially? And what was the developmental process like?

Lachlan Pendragon: It was a very different way of making a film. For me, it came from an academic research perspective. That was how the film was made, it was paid for by my film school through my degree. It meant I had to read and study everything, and be able to justify everything I was doing, so I could write about it.

I knew I wanted to do something in stop-motion, because I’d been practising it and I was interested in what it was about stop motion that I found so charming. It’s kind of this antiquated technique that’s not very efficient. So, I wanted to find what was so special about stop-motion and emphasise as much of that as I can.

For me, it was to make it with those tactile, handmade qualities and realising those familiar materials, and seeing them come to life on screen. I wanted to push that as much as I could. So, I went down this meta rabbit hole. And what came with that was the challenge that this potentially can be very distracting, or just way too much. Because there is a lot happening in the film that is very visual. I wanted to make sure that you could still connect with the characters in the story throughout all of that.

Nick: I can only imagine what the physical process was like making this film. I’m sure there’s many people making short films, with their friends over a couple of days – but for something like this, what was the production process like? Did you have much help? And how long did it all take to come together?

Lachlan Pendragon: Yeah, it’s a lot more drawn out with stop-motion. I mean, I also started out making short films in live action, and that’s kind of what I thought I would go in to. I loved being able to shoot something over a weekend and then cut it all together. But, with stop motion, you can only do that if it’s a couple of seconds long!

This was part of a three-year degree. So, there was that overarching time frame that I had to work with. So, the animation of it was me sitting there with the puppets, animating for about 10 months in my living room by myself. Like, getting five seconds [of film] done would be a good day. But some days you would get 1 second done, or sometimes you wouldn’t even animate anything, you’d just be setting up something!

It’s a very unique way of making a film because you’re spending a lot of time with a very small moment. Obviously, that is helpful. You can really get into the details and make tiny decisions about every little thing. You have any insane amount of control over everything. But then you can also overthink things and second guess. Like, I spent 3 years with a 10 minute film! That’s quite a bit of time, and quite a bit of time to overthink things! I had to remind myself that the audience is only going to be with this for 10 minutes. So I would think from the perspective of if I was watching it for the first time. Are they really picking up on this small detail that I’m thinking about?

It’s a long process and it gets more difficult towards the end just because you have been with it for a long time. It’s harder to make those decisions. I found I spent a lot of my time early on storyboarding  and getting the movie pretty much to where I want it so then at the end I was only making small decisions.

Nick: I guess another interesting decision you made early on in the process is to have the stop-motion playing on a monitor for the audience, while we can still see time-lapsed, live-action footage of you animating in the background! How did you actually capture that? Because it looks incredible!

Lachlan Pendragon: So, what you’re seeing in the background is actually what is happening in the frame on the monitor. Here’s a little behind the scenes: that monitor is a spray painted photo frame that I stuck a bunch of little buttons on.

Nick: That’s incredible! You fooled me!

Lachlan Pendragon: This is a very small budget film! I didn’t know if I could justify spending the money for another monitor other than the one I was using to take the photos. But this process also came with its challenges. I can’t be bumping anything while animating, plus I had a secondary camera shooting that ‘monitor’. Because I’m shooting in a small living room space, it kind of gets a bit cramped and you’ve got to figure out a bit more logistics on top of everything else. Like, making sure you’re comfortable for the amount of time you’re spending with that shot!

Nick: Especially with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio that came out last year, so many people were fascinated with the behind-the-scenes of how that was created, and you’re here making it a part of your film.

Lachlan Pendragon: I mean, I get excited by behind-the-scenes stuff. Whenever I finish a movie, I’ll always watch the behind-the-scenes. Sometimes, I’m way more excited about finding out how they made the movie.

Nick: You mentioned earlier that this film was a part of your studies, and if I’m not mistaken, you’re now a PhD candidate. What led you to want to study film?

Lachlan Pendragon: I went into studying particularly because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to specialise in. Definitely during my undergraduate, I learned lots of different things and tried to figure out if I connected to anything. It wasn’t until about a year and a half in that I realised that stop-motion was the thing that connected the most.

I think because it’s that middle ground between live action and animation. You can still use cameras and stuff like that. I could then draw on other skills that I’d learned up until that point. So I did a bit of 3D modelling, and then I could do some 3D printing for things like the mouth shapes and a lot of the props. Having a 3D printer was basically like having your own assistant! And I still wanted the puppets to look handmade, so I was very conscious of that when I was designing them that they looked as if they had that quality to them.

Nick: Being a fan of films and how they’re made – who are some of your filmmaking inspirations?

Lachlan Pendragon: Definitely Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Fantastic Mr. Fox is incredible. I really enjoy the sense of humour in them as well, not just the art style. I think that sense of humour has creeped in to what I do, as well.

I would say the key animation that I’m always – like, I have a stack of book of behind-the-scenes are for Isle of Dogs, and Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Studio Laika are so impressive with what they do.

Nick: And I’m guessing you’re off the US soon for the Oscar’s ceremony. How are you feeling knowing you’re going to be in that huge room on the big night?

Lachlan Pendragon: Yeah, I’m nervous. But I think it’ll be a lot of fun. It’ll be this weird thing where you’ve got all these famous movie stars and filmmakers that you like up to, just walking past you. It’s just such a surreal experience. And, it gives me a license to go up and chat with them!

Nick: Absolutely – you have to shoot your shot there! Lachlan, thank you so much for you time. Your film is absolutely deserving of the nomination, and I know all of Australia will be backing you come Oscars night!

Lachlan Pendragon: Thank you.

Thank you to Lachlan Pendragon for his time, and to Annette of NedCo PR for organising the chat. You can watch the Oscars on March 13th, starting from 9am AEST.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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