As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make films. My Dad worked as a photographer and videographer, so I grew up surrounded by cameras, film, lenses, and old-school video editing equipment – we even had the utility room in my childhood home converted into a darkroom! I used to help my Dad by creating titles at the beginning and end of wedding videos he had shot (with some pretty old-school VHS equipment) and learned how to operate a multitude of cameras. I used to shoot films of my Lego collection or anything I could find. I was always trying to write film scripts from an early age, but never really got past the first page!
My name is Alan Travers and I’m a Digital Designer based in Galway in the West of Ireland. I run my own freelance business where I work on various Graphic Design, Web/UX Design and Film Projects for local and international brands. My clients are a mix of small businesses starting up and large international brands who are looking to redesign and rebrand. An established brand might initially come to me to redesign their website, but they’ll also generally come back to me to redesign their logo, design art solutions for them, shoot a video to promote their business or event, or create an animation to show off a product. Newly starting brands come to me to create everything from their brand identity, their logo to their website, graphic design, etc.
Galway has always been my home. Galway is that rare mix of arts, culture, craic, and great scenery. I’ve always said that if I lived anywhere else in the world, I’d always try to make it home to Galway for the 3 weeks of the year that make up the Film Fleadh and the Arts Festival. Nowhere in the world is better during that time of the year!
Outside of my job, I love to shoot short films and create animations. What excites me the most about filmmaking is the opportunity to experiment. With film, you have the opportunity to tell a story in a pretty unique visual way. I’m particularly obsessed with unique methods of framing a shot. I love when a cinematographer/director takes a shot and stops to think “how can I show this differently?”
Regarding filmmakers I admire, Stanley Kubrick is my hero. Everything he’s made is just on another level to everything else. Kubrick made the film he wanted to make with no compromises. You have to admire that dedication to a vision. I’m also hugely influenced by Edgar Wright, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, and Michel Gondry to name but a few of the great directors out there. Obviously, Ray Harryhausen is the king of stop-motion and the films that Laika and Aardman are creating these days are mind-blowing.
One of my first short films was called Morning Beats, which centred on the idea of the mundane repetition of morning tasks – from getting out of bed to leaving the house. I turned clips of a morning routine into a looping beat: the beat of feet hitting the ground after leaving a bed mixed with a spoon stirring a cup of coffee, shaving foam squirting out of a bottle, toast popping out of a toaster, etc. I had to do a bit of “foley” work for some of the weaker sounds like the feet thuds (I held a microphone behind a cushion while I punched it!). The film was shown in a segment at the Galway Film Fleadh and also shown in a pop-up festival that ran alongside the Toronto Film Festival, so I was very happy with that result for my first short film.
I have to give most of the credit to my girlfriend Dee for coming up with my film Stop-Motion Biscuit Cake. She likes to bake and had entered her delicious chocolate biscuit cake in a competition run by Irish food brand Cully & Sully. I was looking for another project and Cully & Sully wanted entrants to promote their entry with a short film. We decided to do something a little bit different, and Dee came up with the idea of having the cake make itself in stop-motion. Then things spiralled out of control when we started storyboarding!
Doing a stop-motion animation style for this film was a mixture of wanting to do something unique to show off the cake along with an admiration of the process and the possibilities of what could be done. There was also an element of accessibility to the process. You don’t need a big studio setup, actors or a computer animation pipeline to shoot a stop-motion film. You just need a camera and a lot of patience. I always hated seeing the “jerky” movement of a lot of stop-motion films online, so we decided to see if we could get some smooth motion with some patience and perseverance.
The hardest part of shooting a stop-motion recipe film is the amount of time it takes. A little while after Stop-Motion Biscuit Cake, we shot a series of stop-motion videos for Neff Appliances and AO.com. We had a shot of a lemon zesting itself which took over 3 hours to shoot! The final compiled shot was only a couple of seconds long. The zest had started sizzling and cooking under the lighting. So, imagine how difficult it gets when you’re trying to shoot cubes of butter marching in unison under sweltering lights? We had to freeze ingredients like that before shooting to try and have them survive long enough under the heat of the lights without melting!
We had lots of ideas that we wanted to explore, and every idea turned into a problem-solving exercise. We’d make DIY rigs and wires (that I’d rotoscope out in post) to propel ingredients in the air frame-by-frame, but the solution mostly came down to a LOT of patience, determination, and a steady hand!
We couldn’t have imagined how big Stop-Motion Biscuit Cake would become. There was a point when we were editing the footage together and we got to the shot where the cupboard door opens and reveals the eggs. I had synced that moment up with a moment in the accompanying music – and it just worked so perfectly. We both looked at each other and knew this was going to end up working well. But we still didn’t expect it to blow up as it did.
I remember we were in Cork, just after receiving an award for best video content in the Cully & Sully competition and my phone pretty much exploded. The battery actually died from too many notifications. When I charged it up again, Stop-Motion Biscuit Cake had been featured on pretty much every online publication you could imagine: Neatorama, The Laughing Squid, The Daily What, The Huffington Post … I lost track. Since then, it’s gone on to be shown on TV stations in Germany, Canada and the US, as well as being an official selection in a section of the Galway Film Fleadh and the ITSA Film Festival in Sonata, California. Stop-Motion Biscuit Cake won two awards at the Galway Film Festival and it’s still being discovered online with almost 1.5 million views and counting.
I’m currently in the very early days of two new film projects at the moment. One is going to be a black and white computer-animated short film set in a dystopian near-future (even though it doesn’t sound like it, it’s a comedy). I’m hoping to combine modern 2D computer-designed animation with older, traditional animation processes – we’ll see how it turns out! The other is a stop-motion short. I always end up coming back to stop-motion because I love it so much. This one is going to be more character-based and quite post-modern. Very early days yet, so we’ll see how it progresses, as there’s a lot to plan out and solve to make this one. I’m also working on a smaller, simpler short film, experimenting with vertical black & white drone footage.
In the future, I’d love to work on some more live-action films. I’ve worked mostly with animation, and my upcoming film projects are both animated, so it’d be nice to shoot some films with actual real people. The goal, someday, is to shoot a feature-length film, animated or live-action. But I love making films, regardless of length or medium and I plan to make more time to shoot some more stuff.
I absolutely see similarities between filmmaking and my job. I’m lucky enough that I get to shoot films as part of my job. We shot a series of short stop-motion films for AO.com and Neff Appliances to show off their fancy Slide-and-Hide ovens. There’s always overlap between film-making and my other skills too. For example, I often have to design logos and packaging for fictional brands to replace real-life branded products that can’t be shown in films. Besides actually shooting films in my job, I find that filmmaking is just like any other design job. You’re given a brief by the client (or you come up with an idea yourself), you plan the project, identify problems, and design solutions.
Filmmaking has also been a benefit to my technological career. When you’re making a film, you have to become a very good multi-tasker and project manager. From managing film projects, I learned valuable experience in multi-tasking, time management, organisation, and planning. There are a lot of interchangeable skills too – graphic design, colour grading, photo manipulation, motion graphics, etc. But mostly, my experience with filmmaking has benefited my career by becoming part of it. I can work with a business on a website design or a graphic design project, and part of the project might involve the inclusion of a video. Because of my background in film, this is now one of the services that I can offer my client, which means they can be sure of a more consistent design across their brand design through their website, graphics, and film material.
The most important filmmaking lesson I’ve learned is that planning is key. Having shots planned out makes the whole process a lot easier. Doing a rehearsal or trial run of some of the more difficult shots gives you a preview of some of the problems you might encounter and can prepare for before shooting.
My advice to anyone looking to take up filmmaking is to get out and shoot something. The best experience and learning you’ll get in filmmaking comes from encountering all the problems that need to be solved when shooting a film. Take your time, have patience and you’ll get the best version of the shot. Nothing is more frustrating than when you’re editing and you see that if you’d just persevered and shot one more take, you could have the perfect footage. Also, document the behind-the-scenes stuff as much as you can. It’s nice to have for nostalgia, as the whole process of a shoot can turn into a hazy, sleep-deprived blur of a memory a few years afterwards. Plus, you can learn a lot by looking back at your setup and how you can improve on it.
I think creativity and the tech world are very linked. A lot of people feel torn between their creative side and their logical side and often think that their career choices are limited to a choice between one or the other. But in reality, more and more creatives are working in the tech sector now, where design thinking is becoming far more important every year.
It’s important to have a creative outlet for yourself too. I make corporate films in my freelance job, which I always love doing, but I also shoot short films in my free time for no other reason than I feel like I have to. If I get an idea for a film, it never leaves my mind until it gets made. One of the two film projects that I’m in the early stages of has been in my head for years now. It’ll be great to see it finally become a reality (hopefully)!
To see Alan’s website and YouTube page, be sure to check the following links: