Jonathan is a multi-award-winning figure for his films, TV ads and, more recently, animations for documentaries. In 2008, as Course Director he created the BA Animation programme at Middlesex University.
On the night, Jonathan split his talk in two, talking about his own work in the first half and presenting work by his BA students in the second. He spoke as much about the circumstances surrounding his films and his experience of making them as the films themselves. This gave a very honest insight into his outlook with its successes and frustrations. The second half was an exclusive, as it preceded the Middlesex BA Animation Graduation Private View by three days. The films were screened in HD from a projector rather than from DVD as previously.
Jonathan began with examples of his TV ads:
1. Saab: “Find Your Own Road”, 1995?, gouache on paper
2. Bell Atlantic: “Wild Things”, 1997-1999, with Maurice Sendak, pencil on paper with colouring on separate layers
3. Persil: “For Love, Life and Laundry”, 2000-2003.
Although he only screened five Persil ads on the night, he actually made twenty-five over three years. Jonathan described how the advertising work dried up for him, partly because tastes changed and the demand was for 3D animation, but mainly because as a commercial animator, you have a shelf-life: a warning for us all.
4. Excerpt from The Age Of Stupid, 2009, Spanner Films, for which he was co-Animation Director with Martyn Pick (no relation).
Jonathan showed a sequence on the historical exploitation of Africa by Europeans, using book illustrations and cut-outs, animated in AfterEffects. After this experience, Jonathan decided he only wanted to work on ethical projects and never to fly again. He added that you never know where your next job will come from. This job had come about because his son was at nursery with the twin daughters of the editor.
5. Excerpts from The Trouble With Love And Sex, BBC, 2011, for which Jonathan was Animation Director. This was the BBC’s first entirely animated documentary and based on genuine interviews with participants describing their own love- and sex-lives, which were all very moving. This was a project Jonathan had to fight to get but it was really what he wanted to make. He had to be creative under commercial pressure and the film was animated in Flash and composited in AfterEffects.
6. The End Of The Death Penalty, 2012, for Amnesty International. It is the story of Mohammad Mostafaei, an Iranian defence lawyer who was traumatised by seeing a boy hanged in public and ever since has worked to save teenagers sentenced to death from execution.
7. Banana Land – animation excerpt, 2012. The hideous story of the Colombian Banana Massacre. Although Jonathans recent films are animated in Flash, which he hates, preferring instead to work on designs in PhotoShop and hand the actual animating duties to others. Jonathan decided never to eat bananas again.
8. Guantanamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes, 2013, commissioned by The Observer. It was constructed from interviews with inmates, written entirely from memory by human rights lawyers. It is a series of first-hand accounts from prisoners of their agonising force-feeding and constant terrorising by prison guards. Truly terrifying. Absolutely hideous. This film almost moved me to tears.
9. What Comes After Religion?, 2014 Again, you never know where your next job will come from. People sometimes see Jonathan online and contact him with a job: in this case Alain de Bottom, who started following him and contacted him with the message “I really like your work. Will you make a film for me?” Jonathan made it in evenings over two months.
10. Rough House, work in progress Jonathan wanted to get back to drawing, and as a result this film reminds me of Night Club (1983), which he made while a student at the Royal College of Art. A story about bullying, the film is based on a personal experience but, unusually, told not from the point of view of the victim, but one of the bullies. The story is based on his experience of living in a student house and the pranks he and the others played on a housemate.
Then in second half Jonathan showed a selection of films by his BA students at Middlesex University: current first-, second- and third-year graduating students. Apologies in advance if I spell some of the students’ names wrong.
For the first years’ one-minute films, Jonathan gives them an hour to think of a childhood memory and then record their narration spontaneously.
First years’ one-minute films:
1. Little Shoplifters by Sofja Umarik
2. Runaway Kid by Giulia Riva
Second years’ two-minute films
3. More Than A Game by Adara Todd
4. Mr Frosty by Kate Balchin
5. Introducing Allen by Ida Melum. A stop-motion animation in which Ida auditions a puppet actor for her film, with a voiceover by David Holt.
6. Her And Hubbub by Kyle Xuereb Cunningham
7. Kaffeen by Zulfaisal Zulkipli
8. Hunger by Shadeque Abdul Khaleque
9. Mediterranean by Antonia Diakomopolou
10. The Storyteller by Eleanora Quario
The films were all introduced by the students themselves. These are all remarkably strong, authored works, each with an identity and sensibility of its own. All the students were young, beautiful and remarkably talented, to the extent that I almost wanted to give up animating myself.
He is justly proud of all his students and of the course he created.
A massive thanks goes to Jonathan and all his students.
London Animation Club returns on Tuesday 7th July with our guest Tim Hope.