What inspires you to live and work in Melbourne?
I always remember that quote from Dame Edna – that she wasn’t an Australian, she was a Melburnian.
After Harvie Krumpet won the Oscar, we certainly were approached to leave Australia and work overseas, but I really wanted to stay in Australia and tell stories about Melburnians.
All of my characters live in Melbourne, particularly Mary and Max, so I do have a strange affection for Melbourne. I think Melbourne is also a very introverted city in many ways – mainly because of the weather. I think it’s more conducive to being an artist, it rains a lot so we are indoors a lot, drawing and making things.
When did you first set foot in the Capitol Theatre?
I remember very clearly the first time I came to this wonderful Capitol Theatre: I was about 7, and I came with my Dad, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say I saw the film Police Academy 1. It wasn’t so much the film that stuck in my mind, but the magnificent ceiling did – the beautiful architecture and the unique sensation of being in this building.
The thing about the Capitol Theatre is that it’s all about the ceiling, designed by Walter Burley Griffin. People that come here from all over the world are pretty much awestruck when they look upwards.
Your films use a lot of humour but they also explore darker aspects of life – what draws you to telling these types of stories?
With so much animation there is a tendency to really focus on the comedy, but I’ve always loved animated films that have both comedy and tragedy, humour and pathos, dark and light. I try to create characters that are very real, and even though they are blobs of clay I really want the audience to believe that these blobs are real people.
I want the audience to empathise with the characters. In a lot of animated content the characters don’t die, but in my films there are a lot of deaths. People ask me why – and it’s because of course, people die in real life.
I think there is a market for more adult animation. My films have often been called biographical and they certainly are based on my family and friends, but they are works of fiction and I always refer to that adage of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story.
What is the process of making a stop-motion animation?
All animation is unfortunately very slow, and therefore very expensive to make. Each one of my films usually takes between three and five years.
Every prop, set and character in my films has been handmade, there’s not one single frame of computer-generated imagery, so on average we shoot only between three and five seconds of animation in one day.
So you know, I can really only make three or four more films and then I’ll be dead!
What do you think makes a good animation, and do you have any advice for young animators?
I always say to students who aspire to be an animator, it doesn’t matter if you’re using plasticine or using charcoal or a computer – a computer is just a very complicated pencil. It’s really about the story, a good story well told. I try to encourage students to spend just as much time on their scripts as they do on their actual animations.
I learnt at a very early age that the story is paramount and the most important part of any film. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, it’s all about a good story well told.
Why is transforming the Capitol important – for the arts community, the film industry and for Melbourne?
Melbourne is very lucky in that we have lovely places like the National Gallery of Victoria, and Federation Square and the beautiful Forum Theatre, the Palais, the Regent, the Princess.
It is the Capitol that seems to be the last one that needs to be restored – its final coat of paint. It might take a few years, but once it’s finished I think Melburnians will remember how fantastic this building is.
A few decades ago, buildings like this were demolished because there was a real movement to modernise cities – and Melbourne did lose a lot of beautiful buildings way back in the 1950s. Luckily the Capitol wasn’t demolished and it’s still here.
It’s a unique building and it definitely has to be saved.
Adam Elliot is one of Australia’s most eminent animators, and an independent filmmaker of six stop-motion films, which have collectively received over 100 awards. His film Harvie Krumpet won an Academy Award in 2004, and the feature-length Mary and Max has been named in the top 250 highest-rated films of all time on IMDb. Adam is an RMIT Capitol Theatre Appeal Ambassador.