Elizabeth Hobbs is a award-winning British animator, who specialises in making short films that stretch the material possibilities of her medium.
She often works with Emily Tracy and The Creative Research Collective, as well as sharing her practice through lecturing and workshops. Currently based in London, she is a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone and a recipient of EIFF’s McLaren Award. This year the EIFF held a retrospective of her work as part of Anim18.
She kindly took the time to answer a few questions on her career, British animation and how to learn the skills.
What got you interested in animation?
I came from a background of printmaking and making small editions of my own artist’s books, so it seemed like a natural progression for me to turn the narratives from the books into short films.
How did you learn the skills?
I’m not trained as an animator, but I did a postgraduate course called Electronic Imaging in Dundee, where I started working with moving image and became more confident with technology.
What it is about animation as a form that you feel is the best platform to communicate your ideas?
I’ve been animating for 18 years, and my practice has become more experimental over the years. Presently I like to think about those 25 frames per second and how I can bring many different materials to life in ways that might be interesting.
What other animators or animations do you like or have inspired your work?
There are so many animators who’s work I like! This isn’t an exhaustive list, but amazing British animators include Will Anderson, Marcus Armitage, Paul Bush, Robert Bradbrook, Emma Calder, Iain Gardner, Jonathan Hodgson, Ross Hogg, Tim Hope, Ellie Land, Ruth Lingford, Peter Millard, Maryam Mohajer, Sam Moore, Phil Mulloy, Vera Neubauer, Kim Noce, Edwin Rostron, Kayla Parker, Emily Scaife, Bunny Schendler, Chris Shepherd and Joanna Quinn.
On the international scene, there are too many to mention them all, but I love David O’ Reilly’s work, and there’s amazing new films from David Barlow-Krelina, Martina Scarpelli, Xi Chen and Nikita Diakur, and Gina Kamentsky makes a beautiful film most years.
You often work with materials not commonly associated with animation. What are the benefits and difficulties in working with those materials?
Yes, I’ve made films with typewriters, bathroom tiles, butterfly prints, rubber stamps and paint. I try to chose a material or technique that chimes with the narrative of the film, and I try to solve any problems directly under the rostrum, so that what you see is what I did right there. e.g. in my film G-AAAH it would have been too difficult to register the background in each frame, so I used flicker to create the impression that the plane was flying through the clouds.
What do you get out of your collaborations with others like Emily Tracy, on Tracy and Hobbs, and Creative Research Collective?
It’s really nice to work with other professionals and friends, it gives me the chance to stretch out a bit and challenge my practice. Emily Tracy works with installation and light to create spectacle, so together we can work in communities to investigate something special with drawing and animation and also find ways to show the animations that we make together in unusual places. With the Creative Research Collective, I am a part of the team and we help young people tell their stories, and those stories are often linked to research, so the hope is that the films can perhaps have an impact on training or policy.
Do you think British animation has a particular style or theme?
Luckily I think not! There’s a huge amount of richness and variety in British animation, and that’s because of the fantastic degree and postgraduate courses at RCA, NFTS, Middlesex, Farnham, Edinburgh and LCC to name just a few, and perhaps also because we are still riding the wave as a result of the golden years of funding for animation in the 1980-2000 period.
Do you think British animation receives enough support and attention?
I think that the talents of British animators are very much acknowledged on the international scene, but there’s isn’t enough support at the moment. I’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of an ACE GFTA Grant, which has made a real difference to the type of film that I can make. So I’m hopeful that it signals a time of change. We need to support animation, in particular to try to address the lack of diversity in the industry.
Animation learning isn’t easily available to everyone, so what’s something people can do that’s accessible to most?
It’s a great time to get into animation. There is a lot of affordable or free software for making stop motion or drawn animation, you can make films on your phone and distribute them on social media. It’s also really easy to see what other people are making and to find out how they did it, even to have a dialogue with professionals on social media. I think it’s all there if you’re talented, keen and curious.
What’s your day-to-day life like?
On an animating day, I use my rostrum set up in the bathroom at home. I animate between 10am – 3pm, and in that time I make around 5 – 10 seconds of animation. I also teach in two universities and run workshops in schools too, so those days can be very different.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
It’s a really brilliant feeling to bring a film to life, and then to share it. I don’t really have any worst things anymore. If you’d asked me 10 or 20 years ago I would have had a good grumble, but I’ve been doing this for a long time now, so I really only work on jobs that I like, with people that I respect. I’m very lucky.
What’s the process like in creating a work?
For me the material comes from playing under the camera, I don’t have a big plan or a storyboard, I tend to try and think of a scenario and just let something unfold frame by frame under the rostrum camera. I end up with a lot more material than I need. I edit what I have together as I go along, to create a rhythm out of the sequences.
How long does it take to make an animation?
Anything from two weeks to four years depending on the scale of the idea.
What was the last project you completed?
I’ve just finished a 6 mixture animation about Oskar Kokoschka called ‘I’m OK’. It was painted on paper and each image was captured under the rostrum camera while the paint was still wet, so it’s really a record of the moment that I made it . It was funded by ACE and produced by Abigail Addison of Animate Projects in co-production with The National Film Board of Canada. It was really fun to make.
What project are you working on now?
I’m making another 6 minute film called ‘The Flounder’ which is an adaptation of The Fisherman and his Wife by the Brothers Grimm, it’s been commissioned by Klangforum Wien in Vienna. I’m lucky enough to be working with producer Abigail Addison again and composer Carola Bauckholt and the score will be performed live, so that’s a new way of working for me.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be an animator?
I would say look after your own practice and look after yourself, because the years go by so fast!
You can watch Lizzy Hobbs latest work, ‘Speak Out’, below. It follows 46 young people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans took part in the SpeakOut research project about life in the care system.