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The Making of a Creative Partnership

The creative partnership between Edinburgh College of Art alumni Will Anderson (BA Animation, 2011) and Ainslie Henderson (BA Animation, 2012) is a Scottish success story which looks set to run and run.

Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson

Will's graduation film, The Making of Longbird, which he co-wrote with Ainslie, has been shown at over 40 international events, has had its own touring exhibition, and to date has won over 20 prizes at film festivals, including a Scottish BAFTA, and, most recently, the BAFTA for Best Short Animation. The 15-minute feature follows Will as he struggles to make a movie about Longbird, an animated Russian bird from 1911.

Ainslie, who is no stranger to the spotlight, with his debut single reaching number five in the UK charts in 2003, picked up the Best Animation prize at the New Talent Awards from Scottish BAFTA for his first short animated feature It's About Spending Time Together, when he was still a student. His graduation film, I am Tom Moody, a tale of creative struggle and self-doubt voiced by Mackenzie Crook, has scooped a number of awards including the Animation prize at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards in Toronto and the Audience Award at the Glasgow Short Film Festival.

They recently took time out of their busy schedule to chat to our alumni reporter CJ Cochran.

Could you tell me about how you came to study animation at Edinburgh College of Art - have you always wanted to make films?

W: I've always loved animation, and growing up I was into TV shows like The Simpsons and South Park. I made models, and used my dad's old 8mm camera to make films. I was really interested in art and design, particularly drawing, and went straight from secondary school in Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands into a general course at ECA, with animation as an elective. I had convinced myself that I wanted to do animation before coming to ECA as I loved the medium but I definitely didn't think I was a filmmaker. ECA helped me enormously as it focused my attention much more on filmmaking.

A: I have also always loved drawing, and have been involved in art in a variety of ways since my childhood. I was a musician for a long time, and I then started to make ceramic art, sculptures, and models. Physically crafting things is really important to me. A friend had taken a course at ECA and through speaking to him I discovered that ECA has a very strong history of stop motion which really attracted me. I came in to meet the programme director of the time, Donald Holwill, who really liked what I was doing, and on the strength of that meeting, I was able to come straight into second year.

Physically crafting things is really important to me. A friend had taken a course at ECA and through speaking to him I discovered that ECA has a very strong history of stop motion which really attracted me.

Ainslie HendersonBA Animation, 2012

And what was the student experience like at Edinburgh College of Art?

W: ECA is a very special environment, it's a place where ideas are truly nurtured. We had a huge amount of creative freedom and that's what I wanted to highlight when I was interviewed after winning the BAFTA. The atmosphere at ECA is very open minded and I really appreciated that.

A: One of the major lessons we learnt was the importance of finding our own motivation. Although we have to structure our work differently in the professional world, everything we learned as students set us up for life after graduation. We had to make a lot of creative decisions, such as how to set up collaborations, who to collaborate with, and what was possible within the allocated timeframes, all of which was invaluable experience.

I had an absolute ball at ECA, and I cherished the whole time, perhaps because I was a little older. I think when you've worked, and then go back to study, you perhaps appreciate and value the opportunities studying can bring even more.

Could you tell me about how you work together?

Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson

A: We share influences and inspirations to an extent, and we both seem to have a lot of fun about being Scottish, but we also bring particular individual elements to our working relationship. For example, Will is very much a digital animator and I'm much more of a stop motion animator.

We have very different sensibilities, and bring distinct qualities to our work. Will's the joke teller, and I'm good at laughing! He's fast, spontaneous, and impatient, and I am more thoughtful and methodical. I'm from a village called Denholm, near Hawick in the Scottish Borders, and I do think there is something about being brought up in a rural setting that can make you more thoughtful and creative, you can really let your imagination take hold.

Having the freedom to seek out our own collaborations at ECA was extremely beneficial for us, and if we hadn't had that freedom we may not have been able to work together. Will and I instantly had a creative relationship with each other, we had such fun, and instinctively understood what the other was doing.

W: There’s a good balance between us. I really enjoy the collaborative approach. I think it can be difficult for people to understand but I always stress that Longbird is the result of a team of us pulling together.

The pair are set to move into a studio in Edinburgh’s Summerhall, and are busy working on new projects, having already garnered an impressive collection of awards.

W: Since we graduated we have been working as freelance animators and directors, taking on commercial work whilst also trying to develop our own ideas. I had a year on the film festival circuit, as Longbird screened internationally. I visited Germany three times, and also went to France, as well as attending the UK festivals.

A: At the moment we're developing a series for the BBC, and we've also made 15 minutes of animation for a feature documentary called The Great Hip Hop Hoax - artist and filmmaker Jeanie Finlay commissioned us to do this as animation proved a better way to tell some of the story. It's a great tale about two Scottish rappers who pretend to be Californian in order to secure a record deal. [The film recently premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW), in Austin, Texas.]

And yesterday we heard that we have received funding from Digicult, an independent film production company, for another new short called Monkey Love Experiments. Today is our first day working on this!

Work really hard! And share what you are doing with others - you can't do everything on your own.

Will AndersonBA Animation, 2011

And one final question, as multi award-winning alumni, what would be your advice to current students?

W: Work really hard! And share what you are doing with others - you can't do everything on your own. It's certainly really important for me to be able to work with someone else in developing ideas.

A: I agree, work hard but I'd also add work well. Have fun with it. I think the phrase "work hard" can be misconstrued - you shouldn't be grinding away in a difficult place. You should be excited by what you're doing, that's when you make good work. So, believe in what you are doing, and try to enjoy it as much as possible.

Edinburgh College of Art