Nicole and Russell may have missed out on acting nominations, but Australians will still have plenty of people to cheer for come Oscar night Sunday.
One of these is animator Adam Elliot, whose amusing 22-minute hard-luck tale, “Harvie Krumpet,” is in contention for best animated short film. Voiced by Geoffrey Rush, the Melodrama Pictures production has already won numerous awards.
Described by one cinema programmer as “Australia’s crown prince of Plasticine,” Elliot has been working full-time on his claymation films since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1996. “All I’ve done is make short films — there’s been no ads or commercial work, and that’s why I’m still poor,” he says.
But during that time, his international reputation has grown, especially with his trilogy of short films “Uncle,” “Cousin” and “Brother,” which preceded “Harvie Krumpet.”
“It’s because they’ve done so well on the festival circuit that I’ve been able to keep doing it,” Elliot says. And oddly enough, he has no particular aspirations to write a feature.
“I want to stick to short-form biographies,” says the filmmaker, who confesses that he was almost anti-animation at film school. “I wanted to make more static characters who look still except they happen to blink.”
Unconventional heroesElliot also says that while he doesn’t have a formula, he likes to start with the detail and work backwards. “So I’ll come up with a scene where a character gets struck by lightning and work out how to get it going from there,” he says.
When it comes to developing his characters, Elliot insists that he is not especially interested in people who are conventionally heroic. “My films are about difference, affliction, disability, the underdog or loser archetype. And there’s a lot of myself in there too,” he says.
To find his subjects, Elliot admits to spending a great deal of time riding Melbourne’s unique trams, studying fellow passengers and taking extensive notes. “When I watch the people I see on trams, I’m fascinated about what makes them unique and different,” Elliot says. “I love Errol Morris documentaries, and I try not to have the audience laughing at my characters all the time. I want them to empathize as well.”
Impressive as Elliot’s often forlorn characters look on the screen, there’s no doubt that “Harvie Krumpet” owes a lot of its appeal to Rush’s well-modulated vocal performance. Rush became involved after Elliot approached him at an industry event with his script in a brown paper bag and copies of his earlier films.
“He responded really well, saying he was doing another animated film at the time called ‘Finding Nemo,’ and he came on board even before we started work on the animation,” Elliot enthuses.