Space FLiK

 Posted by on December 5, 2014  Drawings, JourneyMan, Thoughts
Dec 052014


Recently, I found a small cardboard box that contains all the artwork, and the super-8 film spool of a movie I made when I was 15/16, for my final high school HSC art exam. This celluloid masterpiece was called SPACE FLiK, and was a hopelessly crude parody of Star Wars in the style of Mad magazine (two things I was obsessed with at that age). The same curio box even contained a journal of my process making this opus, that I submitted to examiners along with the film. It took well over a year of spare-time drawing and very fiddly filming to complete this 3 minute silent epic, and was definitely a case where the end result does not show the amount of time and effort that went into making it.

As a small child, I’d often dreamed of doing animation for a living, but didn’t seriously think it was even an option. The cartoons on television all had American accents, so I didn’t know that animation was even produced in Australia. In 1979, I had the choice of leaving high school at the end of that year, as I’d completed the compulsory education requirement, but my parents were both firm believers in the power of education, having been shaped strongly by it themselves, and were insistent on my continuing the final 2 years of high school, to keep my options open for further study. I briefly toyed with the notion of studying at film school, but the Australian Film and Television School prospectus did a thorough job of convincing me that I was not worthy. The pamphlet I recieved in the mail contained the bios of the previous year’s enrolment of 20 students, the cream of 2,000 applicants, and every last one of them was a prodigy, making award winning Super-8 movies at the age of 9, that sort of thing. So I needed a new plan.


These days you can easily search for specific things on the internet, and even if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for you can make headway by fooling around with a search-engine for a few hours. As a teen, I only had the local library and the phone book, which were useful if I knew exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t. Then, during school holidays between 1979 and 1980, Dad read out a newspaper advertisement; “Sydney animator will hold an animation workshop over the summer break.” Wha!? I enrolled and met a future co-worker. While we farted around with pencils and paper, he explained that although the voices on TV cartoons were American, many episodes were actually animated in Sydney, at the Hanna-Barbera studio. Better yet, I didn’t have to attend a special school to work there, and could be trained on the job. My jaw hit the floor. Suddenly, a dream job now seemed a possibility, and I had a mission: find out more about this studio and get a job there. I used 1980 email; writing a letter to Hanna-Barbera, including my drawing samples, and put it all in the mailbox. Even after a few repeat queries, I didn’t get a response, so I got on with life.

In 1980, the year I turned 16, I begun planning the practical art requirement for my final year high school art exam, which was to be at the end of 1981 (hilariously, these earnest teen art pieces were referred to as our “major works”). Because I’d taken 2-unit Art (a ‘double major’ in American terms) I had to do two of these art pieces, and decided to make a short animated film and a series of book illustrations. The illustrations were for the RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that we studied in English class, and I did 7 moody pencil illustrations on pastel paper. Very artsy. Thus feeling that I had the highbrow art angle sufficiently staked out, I went lowbrow for my next effort; SPACE FLiK, a super-8 animated movie that used a combo-technique of animation on cells, animation on punched paper and cutout animation, that took NAFF to a whole new level..


Although I’d often animated flip books, I’d never even attempted to animate on film before. I loved animation, but actually doing some myself seemed about as likely as a ride in a Lamborghini. 1980 was a different time, of course. These days we all carry a tiny movie camera in our pockets, but back then I didn’t know anybody who had a proper movie camera, and even still cameras were relatively uncommon. Our school did own a massive 1970s video camera, and a few of us students tried to do some stop-motion on the clunky thing, but it had no single-frame shooting capability. If you could squeeze the trigger gently enough, you’d shoot half-second bursts, and make a silly video of your mates seeming to fly around the running rack in jerky pixelation, but nothing with finesse. This changed when a good mate of my Dad’s who taught at the nearby Teacher’s College, John Harris, finagled me the extended loan of a proper film camera via his department there. Meaning that frame-by-frame animation was something I could finally try.

SpaceFlik_LOGOMy spare time in 1980 was spent planning storyboarding and animating, drawing on bond paper scrounged from school or Dad’s work, and punched with a standard two-hole punch. By the end of that year, I was ready to start filming, and for a boost of inspiration, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK came to my hometown cinema at around the same time. I knew that ‘proper’ animation was done on clear plastic cels, but had a hard time finding raw material to make cels with, and used whatever was available. I butchered several shirt boxes for their clear plastic but never had many, and didn’t have the means to xerox my drawings onto the cels anyway, so the animation done on paper was then cut out with scissors, and painstakingly glued onto these naff cels.

After each shot was in the can, the drawings were peeled off the cels and I’d do another scene. Sometimes, I’d just eyeball it and move the sequential cut outs under camera, using one cel with positioning guides drawn on it. I was utterly clueless about photography at this stage in my life, but thankfully David Rose, a photographer from the Teacher’s College, impressed upon me the need to take great care with the technical aspects. He painted a vivid mental picture of me filming for months, only to develop the roll of film and discover that I’d either under or over exposed it. Needless to say that scenario was my nightmare, and was only averted by David showing me tricks to ensure that the exposure in the camera was set correctly (involving holding a grey neutral card under the camera when taking a light reading).

SpaceFlik_inviteSPACE FLiK was shot in a study room at school where I could leave the camera setup undisturbed. Because this was the only camera that I had access to, and was in use by others during term times, I did most of the shooting during weekends and holidays. While my family went on holiday that summer, the end of 1980 into early 1981, I stayed home to shoot my movie, and ‘shooting’ was the theme of the shoot; the radio played the news of John Lennon’s killing while I was filming, then the Pope was shot a few months later and Ronald Reagan a few months after that, around the time I started editing (it was a brutal shoot in more ways than one). Although I’d worked on the film for ever so long, it took so much time to simply animate, shoot, and edit it that there wasn’t time for many reshoots, and the final film is pretty much my first pass.

In that same box of recently-found SPACE FLiK materials, was an invitation I drew for the FILM PREMIERE party, where family, friends, various supporters, and Ross Cochran, my art teacher, all assembled in August 1981 to finally watch SPACE FLiK. It debuted at a screening in the poshest room of our house, where I’d set up a movie projector and screen (likewise provided by John Harris and David Rose). As we nibbled Mum’s snacks and watched my movie, my supporters were a very appreciative and encouraging audience, but I could see all my mistakes; the timing was off, sometimes too rushed and sometimes too slow. Nearly 2 years after I’d cooked up the idea, it seemed perhaps a little too silly, even to me; I was 15 in early 1980 when I hatched the plan, and 17 when it was finally done in 1981. The ratio of work done to screen-time was heartbreaking, but it was great to have it finally done at last. Not long after, it was sent off to be judged by the HSC examiners, along with my artsy book illustrations. In the end, I made quite a cock-up of the written part of the HSC art exam (answering BOTH questions in an either/or essay option and neglecting to answer another compulsory question completely) and my final art mark was a disappointment to everyone, not the least being me.


After submitting it to my high school art exam, I entered SPACE FLiK in a young filmmaker’s contest, perhaps with visions of being thought of in the same glowing terms as the filmmakers in the Australian Film and Television School prospectus that I’d read earlier. The gala screening was a fancy shindig at the Sydney Opera House, and though I knew in advance I’d not won any prizes, it was a thrill to attend and hear the keynote speaker Peter Weir, who addressed we young hopefuls. I eagerly looked forward to reading the judges’ thoughts about my film, which all contest applicants received. The thrill diminished substantially upon reading the multi-page assessment of SPACE FLiK, where each of the judges utterly savaged it, in one withering page after another. Though it gutted me to read this tome of scorn at age 17, I’d gleefully share some quotes with you now if I could, but I must have tossed the document away in a fit of teen peevishness. But the judges were right; as a personal film, SPACE FLiK was derivative and hopelessly crudely made.

This project from my long-ago adolescence is my closest equivalent to the films my colleagues all made at CalArts or Sheridan, and the only personal animation project I’ve ever done. Finding these mementos of my NAFFimation™ has brought back a flood of memories and quite a few chuckles, and I’m now looking into a way of transferring it from super-8 to digital media so I can watch it again. Perhaps due to its critical savaging, and my own growing awareness of its limitations, I never showed  it to anyone to get a job in animation, although that had been on my mind when I made it. I eventually got my first job at Hanna-Barbera on the strength of my drawn portfolio alone. But making this silly little high school film was invaluable experience nonetheless.


Learning the punishing ratio between workload and screen-time in a cartoon was a useful early lesson for someone who’d soon go on to work in professional animation, because the same principal exists there too. Over the next 30 years in the industry, I’d learn another startling truth; crews work every bit as hard on the films that you hate as they do on those films you love. Family and friends will always be impressed by the filmmakers’ efforts, but everyone else only cares about what’s on screen. It’s a heartbreaking fact that sometimes the hard work simply isn’t captured in the film, for utterly mysterious reasons, unrelated to the talent, brains, passion and work ethic of the filmmakers.

Kid Kalimari

 Posted by on November 27, 2014  Drawings, Sephilina, Updates
Nov 272014
Kid Kalimari

This guy here is called KID KALIMARI, a comics character that I never did much with. He is related to another one of my characters that I have actually followed through on publishing; SEPHILINA.  He lives in the city of SAN FIASCO, and ends up becoming a pal of ROCKET & the PROFESSOR. In the back of my mind, the [ more..]

Here Be Monsters

 Posted by on October 10, 2014  Drawings, JourneyMan, PROFESSIONAL
Oct 102014
Here Be Monsters

Here Be Monsters is a book illustrated and written by Alan Snow that inspired the animated film, The Boxtrolls. The book is a rambling grab-bag of fun ideas, seemingly every idea that Alan Snow ever had up till that point. It is a very enjoyable read, but presented a problem to adapt into a 90 minute movie. There was so [ more..]

The Boxtrolls

 Posted by on September 26, 2014  Film/TV, JourneyMan, PROFESSIONAL
Sep 262014
The Boxtrolls

I’ve admired the films of Laika for years, and now I’m pleased to say that I’ve been involved in one; THE BOXTROLLS. From 2008-2012 I worked on this film, and to make this an extra special experience for me, it was directed by my dear friend of many years, Tony Stacchi, and Graham Annabel, a new friend made during this [ more..]

Flower Car

 Posted by on September 9, 2014  Drawings, Lefties
Sep 092014
Flower Car

Last weekend Julia and I went to Flora Grubb nursery  to buy some plants. I had heard of this cool place before, but had not realised that it was over by the area where I used to work when I first came to San Francisco. It was a dodgy neighbourhood back then, when I worked for Colossal Pictures on Third [ more..]

The Time Trickster

 Posted by on September 1, 2014  Baker's Dozen, Film/TV, Lefties
Sep 012014
The Time Trickster

Old plot details (and fan-enthusiasm!) refreshed by a Netflix marathon, we recently watched the theatrical, big screen debut of the 12th (or is it 13th?) actor to play DR WHO- that alien space/time traveller in the big blue box. As with last year’s 50th Birthday episode, likewise screened in movie theatres worldwide, this feature-length episode, entitled ‘Deep Breath’, was a [ more..]

Hotel Holiday

 Posted by on August 9, 2014  Drawings, Family, Lefties, Travel
Aug 092014
Hotel Holiday

My Brother Jo and his family recently invited Julia and I to join them, and my Dad and his wife Wendy, for a holiday in Mexico. We’ve had a rocky time of things the past few years, and this was a wonderful opportunity to relax. Despite feeling ill the entire time, I did some sketching, and broke in a beautiful [ more..]

Popeye Magazine

 Posted by on July 10, 2014  Drawings, JourneyMan
Jul 102014
Popeye Magazine

In 1988 I was living and working in Tokyo, and I had a few steady illustration gigs to supplement my other jobs, which were some English teaching when I first arrived in Japan, and then working at TOEI animation studio when I got better established.  It was a busy time. One of the magazines I did a few illustration jobs [ more..]

Los Troppo Drongos

 Posted by on June 15, 2014  Comics, Drawings, JourneyMan
Jun 152014
Los Troppo Drongos

This is the first comic I ever did, for an anthology made by the staff of the animation department of Colossal Pictures way back in 1992. Originally, my contribution was printed as a 4 page story and the end pages were added later. (I have split the pages in half here to make an 8 page story, plus intro and [ more..]

Stern Grove

 Posted by on June 1, 2014  Drawings, Lefties
Jun 012014
Stern Grove

Not far from our flat is the park called Stern Grove, and we went there a few months ago for some sketching. I’ve finally finished and scanned the left-handed sketches from that day. At one end of this long narrow park is a dog paradise, full of people walking their pooches. In the middle is the band shell used in [ more..]

May 022014
SPACE..The Final Frontier..

Here are some left-handed drawings from recent TV sketch nights drawing Star Trek. The bright colours and simple shapes, not to mention the broad characters and melodramatic action of James T. Kirk and his iconic, space-faring crew, can be quite fun to draw. I remember the very first time I ever saw Star Trek; it was 1974, I was 10 [ more..]

Apr 182014
One Flew Off to CUCKOO’S NEST

July 15, 1986, I left Australia for what I thought would be a 6 month or one year trip at most, but it ended up being an overseas jaunt that lasted the rest of my life. I’d worked in Sydney animation studios since 1982, saving money for a trip to Japan. By mid 1986, I’d got my passport, bought a [ more..]

Early Lefties

 Posted by on March 31, 2014  Drawings, Lefties
Mar 312014
Early Lefties

For posterity, here are some of the very first location sketches drawn with my left hand. I’d already done a lot of lefty drawing at home, (including some illustrations for my childhood stories on this blog) but had not ventured outside to draw from life until last September, when both Julia and I went drawing for a couple of consecutive [ more..]

On Drawing

 Posted by on March 17, 2014  Baker's Dozen, Drawings, Lefties
Mar 172014
On Drawing

I have recently been wrestling with re-learning how to draw. The loss of my former ability has led me to reflect on what drawing has meant to me in my 30 year career as a cartoonist, and how and why I came to be so interested in drawing in the first place. Back when I was very little, when my [ more..]