Anthony Middleton had a lifelong ambition to become an animator before deciding to take the plunge and study BA (Hons) Animation.
After a career in printing and graphic design that saw him work for nearly two decades at one of Wales’ leading tabloid newspapers, Anthony saw an opportunity to return to his first love, after seeing an advertisement for an Open Day at Plymouth College of Art.
Now, three years later, we sit down with Anthony to talk about everything he’s learned during his time at the college, on a journey that has taken him across Europe to the FMX conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Immersive Media, training with Aardman Animations Creative Director Neil Pymer and Senior Model Maker Jim Parkyn, and to realise his love of stop-motion animation.
Do you remember what sparked your interest in animation?
The first film that I ever watched in the cinema was Bambi. I’ve been drawing Disney characters from the age of six and have wanted to work in animation ever since. When I finished comprehensive school in the 1980s drawing was all that I cared about.
I wanted to study animation but there weren’t a lot of options available at that time, so I took up printing and graphic design as a second choice, which led me to work on the South Wales Echo from 1988 to 2007.
"There came a point when I knew I had to follow my lifelong passion, so I attended an Open Day at Plymouth College of Art and was blown away by the facilities and support on offer. When I applied and was offered a place, it was a dream come true."
What led you from working on a national tabloid to come back to university?
I learned a lot, but it wasn’t fulfilling me in the way that I needed it to. My work in newspapers ended when I relocated from Wales to the South West of England, moving to Newquay and embracing the coastal lifestyle, working for the RNLI as a senior beach lifeguard.
What was your favourite thing that you’ve learned at the college?
At the start of the degree we studied 2D work and character designs. Later, when we moved into 3D I found out that I can sculpt better than I can draw.
There’s something that inspires me about physical sculpts, props and sets that have a tangible, material presence.
I’ve been a fan of Tim Burton for a long time, particularly films like Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie. That love of stop motion animations like Wallace and Gromit, or Laika films like Boxtrolls and Coraline, has really inspired me.
As well as wood and metal workshops that I’ve used to build props, I can also call on the expertise of other programmes, like BA (Hons) Costume Production & Associated Craft students to help design and create costumes for my characters. And this is something unique. We’ve gone to international animation shows like FMX in Stuttgart, Germany.
I had students there telling me that they had to source so many of the physical things independently that I was able to create from scratch using college resources.
What are you planning to do with the skills you’ve developed?
I’ve learned so much. Now, as I approach the end of my degree, I’ve created a fully-functional animation studio at home to work in. I’ve built all of my own armatures using sheet metal. I understand lighting, cinematography, directing… And I know that stop-motion animation is what I love most, specialising in set-building, props and armature.
Right now I’m working on my own animated film, This Old House, which features some very physical comedy and slapstick moments. I’m keeping VFX to a minimum, inspired by animations like Isle of Dogs. To get the best possible end result, I’ve worked with BA (Hons) Fashion students Rachael Kitchen and Megan Little, who’ve sourced fabric and created costumes based on my designs.
I’ve also had support from alumni Larisa Cleaver, who has helped on some of the larger scale set construction, and second-year BA (Hons) Animation student Scott Patrick, who I’m sure I’ll collaborate with again in future.
At the Degree Shows visitors will be able to see my original character sculpts and step-by-step guides showing how they were created, alongside some of the sets and props from ‘This Old House’. I can’t wait until the film is finished and ready to submit to festivals.
Interested in taking the plunge into creative study?