In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.
This week’s subject is one of the more underappreciated indie filmmakers, British animator, Stephen Irwin.
In a sentence: On the borders of narrative and non-narrative, reality, fantasy, and horror, Irwin’s films combine the influences of David Lynch, Struwwelpeter (a twisted German fairy tale book), and the Brothers Grimm as they explore the mysterious and often dark undercurrents of childhood.
Where to start: Moxie (2011). Black comedy at its finest. Welding distorted live-action footage (the background sets are made primarily from parts from doll houses) with black and white drawings, this 2011 Grand Prize winner at the Ottawa International Animation Festival is a haunting, bleak, yet somehow funny (in spurts) tale about a troubled, angry young bear with pyromaniac tendencies who struggles with the loss of his mother.
What to watch next: The Black Dog’s Progress (2010). A small black dog is abandoned, beaten, raped, and burned by an assortment of crappy owners. This technical marvel incorporates flipbook animation and unfolds across multiple frames like pieces of a sadistic jigsaw puzzle.
Other key works: Hidden Place (2012), The Obvious Child (2014), Wood Child & Hidden Forest Mother (2020), Boy Oh Boy (2021)
Influences: Chris Ware, David Lynch, Don Hertzfeldt
Says: “I tend to make things up as I go along to a certain degree. I always write a script, make a storyboard and an animatic, but I know things will likely change as it comes together and I’m free to change what I want. The endings aren’t usually decided until I’m well into production because I need to see how the thing looks and feels as it comes together.”
Currently working on: Irwin’s latest short, World to Roam has just begun its festival circuit life. Beyond that, he’s “bouncing between animating a new Boy Oh Boy film and writing a new short.”