Signed up to be represented by production company Blinkink only a matter of weeks ago, Becky & Joe (Becky Sloan and Joe Pelling) had no idea they’d end up working together as a directorial duo when they both graduated from Kingston University in 2009. In fact, they both studied different courses, with Sloan graduating in Fine Art and Pelling in animation.
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“After we graduated we got a studio with some friends and formed a collective called This Is It,” explains Sloan of how the pair came to work with each other, “and we still all share a studio together”.
“With the collective we had a lot of people who could do a lot of different things but we all liked the same sort of stuff, we all had a similar sense of humour and that helped us to create work together,” continues Pelling. “We’d all come out [of college] with student films we weren’t that satisfied with so we used our studio space to create more prop-based films rather than using loads of software.”
This Is It’s film Bad Things That Could Happen is precisely the type of prop-based film Pelling is talking about. In it performers wearing specially made costumes and outfits interact with giant props to illustrate various disastrous scenarios, from inadvertently hammering a nail through a water pipe to some dancing germs having a party on a sandwich.
Post graduation, Pelling worked for about 18 months as an animator and then as a director at London production company Sherbet. While there he created a sequence for the animated biopic of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, A Liar’s Autobiography, and also (with Sloan’s assistance) a charming Christmas card film involving wooden toy-like characters playing instruments. “As we spent more time working in the industry, Becky and I started to realise that we wanted to work together more,” says Pelling, “mainly because we share a stupid sense of humour and also because I think we have different skills that combine together well.”
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared
“I come from a prop-based set-design background and Joe is an animator,” adds Sloan, “so we initially just needed each other’s help but then realised we had the same weird ideas.” The duo’s first self-initiated film together as co-directors, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, couldn’t be any more bizarre. In it a crow, a hairy red character, a yellow muppet-like puppet and a talking (and singing) sketch book explore the realms of creative thinking with the help of song, glitter, CGI and some lumps of raw meat. “When we started writing it, we were almost taking the piss out of ourselves,” recalls Pelling. “The Bad Things film was really quite considered and quite cute-looking. It had a really nice sensibility to it and so we got asked to repeat it a lot. We thought it would be funny to do something with rotten meat in it instead: no-one’s going to ask us to do a film with rotten meat, puppets and bad CG in it, are they?”
Why repeat something when it’s much more fun and challenging to keep making films differently seems to be Becky & Joe’s philosophy. Which is why, when band Tame Impala asked them (on the strength of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared) to pitch on a music video for them, Sloan and Pelling’s idea didn’t include meat or puppets, but was based instead around an animation that would be created entirely using Plasticine. They won the pitch and designed the animation using a computer before painstakingly making each frame, rolling the Plasticine into sheets using a pasta maker. The sheets were photographed and stitched together to make the final video. Now the pair have started work on a sequel to Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared in their free time, and have also finished their second music promo, for band Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s track Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark), which features more puppets.
“I think we lean naturally towards stuff where you can physically touch it, towards more tactile work. But having said that, we wouldn’t rule out completely digital-based projects,” says Pelling. “I think there’s loads of great stuff you can do just using a computer too.”