THE STOLEN KINGDOMS - PILOT, 4min,. UK
Directed by Matthew Lee
The series follows the exploits of Siriol, a young mute girl and a small dragon as they journey across the land to help the wildlife.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I have been a huge fantasy fan since I was a child. Ones like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Disney fairy tales and so on. I have been wanting to create a fantasy story of my own for a while. And for this film, the original idea actually came from a dream I had one night. Where I was experiencing and adventure for three storylines. One which featured a usurped kingdom. Another featured a young girl with a pet dragon. And the third where we save civilians from a winter castle guarded by dark winged riders. I was starting my University Masters degree in animation at the time and I wanted to incorporate these stories into one for my project. Obviously, there was a lot going on, so my tutor at the time, suggested I would break them down and pick one story to focus on. And I was most intrigued with the girl and dragon story.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
The original pilot teaser took approximately a whole year or two to make. The first half of the year involved developing the story - which character's perspective to tell it through. I was going to involve dialogue but I am not really a writer as I have trouble writing character dialogue. I could only write story notes, plot lines and synopsises. So the majority of the pilot was presented through storyboards and sketch doodles I created. By the time the full pilot story was completed, I had to cut it down for my module requirements - it had to be approximately 3-5 minutes.
For the next 3-4 months I was updating and evolving the character designs and then started a few animation tests. It involved a lot of video references for the human character which a few puppetries for the dragon interaction. A nice throwback to early Disney's animations. I had no knowledge of how to create original music or foley type sounds so I met up with a few freelance sound designers and mixers at a local networking event and they were happy to part. The sound mixing was fabulous. The animation and editing took over the rest of the year.
As I am writing this, I have been continuing the story and further evolving the idea into a pitch for an animated or a series of graphic novels. In recent years, I have been developing the character of Siriol, our human character, making her be part of the autistic spectrum which I am part of. As well as creating a few recurring and supporting characters - some of whom are from a neurodiverse background, who might join her on her journey or whom she might come across. I have also been creating more of the world the characters live in, other fantasy creatures and creating more stories to tell in the series. I have been sharing the idea with other animators and creators and they are liking the idea.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
I find it hard to describe my work but I think for this it would be: Cute and Enlightening.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
For me there have been a few.
One was how to present it. As I mentioned, I was originally going to have dialogue but I couldn't write any convincing dialogue. So most of the story was told through storyboards and sketch drawings. As well as which side of the story to focus on. The girl or the dragon?
Another was how to keep to the time length I was given - it had to be told in 3 - 5 minutes. So a lot of the original story had to be cut out of the finished piece. I would like to get them finished and shown some day.
For me I think it had to be my time schedules. At the time of making it, I had to try and fit it with other commitments I had at the time. But I did manage to bring my animation work with me whenever I could.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Flattering. Really flattering. In a good way. It is always nice to hear what people think of your work. It was nice to know what they like and what they would want to know more of like 'what happens next with the characters'. They generally made me smile. Stuff like that encourages and influences me to carry on working on this idea and to continue the story.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I actually wanted to become a comic book artist. I had always been known at school as the 'kid who draws a lot'. Be for illustrations, picture books, card and poster graphics or comic books. Maybe become the next 'Stan Lee' who was one of my heroes.
In 2007, my mother got me to join a theatre group in Porthcawl, Wales, since she knew I had a fascination for film and theatre. So she thought this might also help me socialise with people. Through that group I was introduced to a BBC sponsored train scheme which got me to learn how to make films as a trainee.
By 2013, I decided to skip A Levels and take an extended diploma win creative media at college. I learnt quite a lot from it. It even got me to watch films I would never want to watch at the time like 'Edward Scissorhands' or 'Spirited Away'. I started developing new skills for myself - using a video film camera, storyboarding and video editing. I even planned to make a few short film ideas. One of the courses included animation. I had done a few stop motion animation at the time so this was a big chance for me. So i created my first ever animated short which everyone in my class, including my teacher, absolutely loved. They even got me to submit it to a local film awards and it won one for best animation age 14 - 18. Afterwards, someone asked me 'Have you ever thought about studying for animation? You should give it a try'. And I said 'okay'.
After college, I went to study animation at university and the rest is history.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Animation wise - it has always been the original animated 'Beauty and the Beast'. It is my favourite Disney film and fairy tale story.
Live action wise - I think it was probably one of the Harry Potter movies. It was one of the films that got me into watching live action productions.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I have not been to a lot of a worldwide festivals, with the exception of the Cardiff Animation Nights festival.
What you are doing is great. I think it is nice to listen to a viewer's feedback - to put it in another way 'find your audience'.
This might sound a little 'iffy' but it might be nice to know if there was anything they did not like to see how how we could improve for our next project.
It would nice to hear from audience members of how they would like to see this continue - as an animated series or in a different medium? would it work better with or without any dialogue if turned into a series? would a story like this work in 5, 10 or 15 minutes?
Maybe do a workshop of sorts - bring artists, writers or actors together. i.e. drawing workshops, share animation reels, create a short story (probably in script or plot form) together in about 1 hour - something like that.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
A little shaky at first due to wasting money on submissions that might not be successful. But after seeing other fellow filmmakers submit their films this way, it is a good way to share my work around other than posting on social media. But it is also a nice way to socialise or network with other animators and artist - get to know them, share your talents and get inspired by existing or brand new features to carry on drawing.
10. What is your favorite meal?
Definitely a chicken tikka masala meal.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I am currently doing a few theatre productions in the next year. But I as I writing this, I am further developing the rest of the Stolen Kingdoms' series, now entitled 'The Tales of Florensia'.
There have been more design works and character designs made. A few story notes. I have been thinking to get a creative team together to make it a reality - writers, designers and additional artists and animators. I would love to keep sharing this with everyone. Maybe pitch it for television or online.
But I have also been creating a few doodles for other future story ideas not related to this ongoing project.