On Balancing Creativity with Commercial Success, Winning the Nikon Z9 & Avoiding Burnout: An Interview with Animator and New Shoots: 2022 Winner Simon Ball

Posted July 6th, 2023 by Jim Read

‘Another Presence’, the winning short film of the 2022 New Shoots: Filmmakers Awards, is a captivating animated short documentary that delves into the unique and often curious experiences of individuals living with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), the third most common form of dementia in the UK. Through the testimonies of those directly affected by DLB, the film takes viewers on a profound journey into the surreal world of this multi-sensory condition.

When selecting the overall winner, we welcomed Wendy Mitchell as a judge, in which she commented “Simon’s artistic vision for the film means it’s the opposite of a dry medical film, instead immersing the viewer in the visual hallucinations – both playful and disturbing – of people living with this condition. The narration from DLB patients and their loved ones pairs beautifully with Simon’s dreamlike, fluid animations. ‘Another Presence’ truly takes the audience into another realm.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Simon, who shared insights into his creative process, collaboration with charities and medical research centers, and his excitement about the Nikon Z 9 camera.

Finding Balance: Audience, Income, and Experimentation:

Simon acknowledges the difficulties of balancing the need for an audience and income with the desire to experiment: “It’s almost as if animation isn’t an industry in itself, more a way of producing moving images that plug into other fields.” 

While he has been fortunate to tap into corporate and commercial work in fields like advertising and television, Simon recognizes that freelancing comes with challenges. He explains, “Many jobs happen in a short space of time, then nothing at all for the following months. And more often than not, the commercial work pays significantly more than the independent work.” To overcome these challenges, Simon believes it’s important to find innovative ways to fund creative projects and allow oneself the time to immerse and enjoy them.

Concept First, Then Technique:

For Simon, every project begins with a concept. He shares “Even if I have a story or visual idea that I like, I try to step back and analyze why that idea appeals to me – what concepts are involved that I can expand into a broader film idea.” 

This approach allows him to delve deeper into the underlying themes and ideas that make a project compelling. While working on documentary projects like ‘Another Presence’ Simon remained open-minded during participant interviews, recognizing the importance of incorporating their perspectives. He adds, “It’s obviously really important to let the participants and the institutions I work with have input on the story. But still, at every stage of the project, I’m trying to lean on the conceptual ideas that are present in each project.

The Nikon Z 9, A Game Changer:

As the overall winner of the 2022 New Shoots: Filmmakers Awards, Simon recieved a Nikon Z9. As an animation director, Simon expresses shares his perspective having primarily worked with video and rotoscoping, saying, “Having my own camera is a real game changer.” He adds “The Z9’s ability to take high-quality stills as well as video is perfect for animation production. It means I can be more flexible when experimenting with ideas and takes away some of the stress of planning film shoots. It’s expanded my toolset and I’m really looking forward to having it with me on my next documentary project.

Collaboration with Charities and Medical Research Centers:

‘Another Presence’ was part funded by the Alzheimers Research UK Inspire Fund and during our chat, he expressed his gratitude for collaborating with amazing organizations dedicated to developing knowledge and support for people with dementia: “The scientists I’ve collaborated with have a level of expertise in their fields that I couldn’t come close to achieving. So, in that sense, I’m sort of a translator both for the scientists and the participants who live with Dementia.” 

Working with charities and medical research centres “… means that there are certain boundaries as to what I’m able to include in the films, but as I say, I’ve been lucky to work with institutions and people who believed in me.

Challenges and Lessons:

One huge aspect of SP is how willing people are to share lessons learned from challenges they’ve overcome in the filmmaking process – reflecting ever-present discussion about financial hurdles, Simon says “The danger of burnout is ever present, especially for animators. It’s really important to put your physical and mental health first and set boundaries for how much you’re willing to give to projects.” He has more valuable advice: “Listen to what your film tutors probably said over and over again… plan plan plan. Keep planning, plan better, and plan more effectively.

Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers:

Drawing from his own experiences, Simon emphasizes the significance of building and developing projects to allow for enjoyment. Simon explains, “Film projects, and animation in particular, can be all-consuming. And when you’re balancing work and life, it’s easy to forget why you chose to pursue filmmaking in the first place.” 

He encourages filmmakers to identify challenges and either find better approaches to overcome them or view them as enjoyable challenges rather than barriers.

What’s Next?

Looking to the future, Simon reveals he’s working on a third film focusing on people with atypical forms of dementia, specifically dementia aphasia and individuals experiencing language impairment.

The 2023 New Shoots: Filmmakers Awards are open now until 31st of July 2023 – so if you’re interested in submitting your short film, head here.

You can find out more info about ‘Another Presence’ on the official website here.

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