BAFTA 2022 
Best British Short Animation Nominee
Interview

Antonin Niclass 
Do Not Feed the Pigeons

It's 2 AM in a sad coach station like any other. A collection of tired and lonely travellers are waiting for the last coach. Somehow, in that cold and depressing place, the resident pigeons manage to create a magical connection between them for a beautiful instant.

Hey Antonin, thank you for talking to The New Current. How have you been holding up during these very strange times?


Pretty good ! I’ve been working on the adaptation of Do Not Feed The Pigeons in Virtual Reality. We wrapped up early February, working with people in London, Geneva, Amsterdam and Madrid, on Zoom... It was quite surreal but we made it. The most difficult part was not being able to celebrate the hard work together.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

The process of creating Do Not Feed The Pigeons actually took place at the same time as the first lockdown in the UK and people being separated suddenly had a strange yet poignant resonance with our story. But as everyone was being isolated from the rest of the world, we also witnessed a feeling of community, with people helping each other and coming together in various ways... On a more trivial point of view, it was actually quite helpful for us animators because we were still stuck in our dark studios animating frame by frame, but there wasn’t any distractions around for us to get lost in.

Congratulations on your BAFTA Nomination, what does it mean to you to get this nomination?


I was quite shocked to find out we were nominated to be honest. Especially since we were up against big players we admire a lot in animation. It’s an incredible honour and something I could only have dreamed of when I started studying animation at the NFTS. Also we’re nominated along in the same category with my ex-housemate and very good friend Ida Melum who made the wonderful « Night of the Living Dreads », which makes it extra special.

Do Not Feed The Pigeons has already won a few awards, did you imagine you would get this type of recognition for your film?


Not at all. I often end up a film doubting every bit of it and I think for many directors, it can take quite some time until you’re ready to watch it again. I didn’t imagine the film would get this type of recognition but we are thrilled and excited to see it travelling in festivals all over the world. I’m glad the film’s message with this call for togetherness resonated for people in these very strange times you mentioned. Anyway, all this festival madness is quite motivating and pushing us a lot for new projects!

Can you tell me how Do Not Feed The Pigeons came about, what was the inspiration behind your animation?


I have always been drawn towards portraying feelings of loneliness and melancholy. I would often witness these feelings in many forms whenever I travelled late at night from a city to another. Also, I wanted a story where people would experience something as a group rather than as an individual. That’s how the first ideas came about. I like the oxymoron of « shared loneliness » people that have nothing in common and don’t seem eager to communicate happen to share the same bubble for a few hours. They are forced to live together and maybe find common grounds before going back to their separate lives.

I’ve been living in several cities in the past few years and the coach station was often a no man’s land between two cities. I felt it was full of potential to depict the loneliness of travellers waiting for a coach that may never arrive. With Vladimir (screenwriter), we decided to spend one night in Victoria Coach Station. Not to travel but only to observe travellers. We were knee deep into this melancholy, but could also feel that a beauty was hidden beneath the dirty sad walls of the station. Something that would reveal itself only if you managed to escape the rush of everyday life.

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What was it about Vladimir Krasilnikov’s story that connected with you as a director?

We developed the story together because we felt really early on during our studies that we were connected by the same themes. We really started out by expressing a desire for a mood but also for an unconventional narrative. I remember when we first pitched the film to fellow students (in all departments), it was funny to see they were a bit confused and not sure what they will have to do on the film. Eventually some of them got hooked by the atmosphere we were describing and they jumped on board. I believe the crew felt connected by that loneliness and melancholy. They wanted to explore these emotions on- screen.

Whilst working on Do Not Feed The Pigeons how close where you able to keep to the screenplay once you started filming, did you allow yourself much flexibility?


The screenplay was more a general plan to guide the shoot but I guess we remained pretty close to the structure. We started the shoot with the idea of improvising some of the characters’ actions, almost as if we were observing people in the station. I remember our brilliant tutor Kim Noce telling me to let myself be surprised by what the characters will do... even though we were the ones guiding their movements. I think that kind of advice would scare the hell out of any animation producer, but it still felt great to have that freedom while shooting. Eventually, we had a 12 minute film where the observational part was more important, but we ended up cutting it to the minimum with an 8 minute film. Some people in the crew are still missing this slower rhythm were they felt drowned in a documentary-like loneliness, but we decided to make it shorter.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Do Not Feed The Pigeons to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on your short?


What I found difficult is that this is the kind of movie that really comes together at the very end and it is very difficult at first to imagine what the characters are going to do since we want them to do almost « nothing ». I think we roughly knew the emotional journey we wanted for the film but I had no idea where to start. Working with screenwriter Vladimir Krasilnikov helped me incredibly and I find it hard to imagine starting a script alone again. Everyday he would put down on paper everything new we mentioned and give it a tangible shape. It would really keep me going forward as even a bad paragraph is better than an unwritten one. While writing, I feel a bad decision is always better than one you didn’t make, because you can then assess it and move on.

Do Not Feed The Pigeons is your post-grad film from NFTS, what has this experience been like for you and have you always had a passion for animation?


I’ve always be drawn by animation and I remember as a kid recording stories with the Lego Studios MovieMaker set my neighbour had just received for Christmas... Later on, during my filmmaking studies in Belgium, I was shooting animation with my housemates in the basement of our Brussels flat. My goal was already to join the NFTS and eventually, I did. Robert Bradbrook has been an incredibly passionate tutor and he showed us the importance of empathy and characters in stories. I was the less experienced animator when I started out at the NFTS and I learned a great lot from my classmates. During the first year, you’re 8 people sharing the same room and being constantly surrounded by animators experienced in various techniques makes you really eager to learn it all!

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"I hope we can remember there’s some kind of beauty hidden behind the places we go through everyday."

How much has your approach to your films changed since you made Panda?


I think it could be the first time a film is really « me ». I feel like on the contrary, Panda was a patchwork of ideas mixed with references of films or tv-shows I liked... I learned to em- brace the quirkiness and my « shabby-chic » style of animation without the need to follow things I saw elsewhere. On a more concrete point of view, I really like the process of animation where you actually storyboard the whole film and put it on a timeline to already find the pace, soundtrack and dialogs very early on. You get to edit your film even before it is shot. I think that would be something I would keep even if I was going back to live action.

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

Yes, I think we’re given tools to push these even more and the audience gets used to it quite fast too. I’m really excited to get people to try our VR adaptation of Do Not Feed The Pigeons as it really puts you inside that sad and melancholic coach station for « real ». For a better immersion I’d have to handle the room smell and temperature myself though.

For anyone out there thinking about getting into animation do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?


I think the advice from most filmmakers is often the same, get your phone out and make a film. But I find it even more true with stop motion as you can create your actors from bits and bobs hahaha! Set up a free stop motion app on your phone and just go with it. Be realistic, start by making a very short 30-60 seconds film and focus on your character, who is s/he and what is s/he going through?

Free phone app : for stop motion, Stop Motion Studio and for drawn animation FlipaClip.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Do Not Feed The Pigeons?

 

The characters in the film run back to their busy lives as soon as they are called to board on the bus. I hope we can extend more and more that moment of togetherness before we rush back to our lives. I hope we can remember there’s some kind of beauty hidden behind the places we go through everyday. It feels very relevant in these strange times to look up sometimes and realise we’re in this together. We need to share that same bubble of connexion even if it’s for a short instant.