Squaring the Circle

Squaring the Circle

Neil Carstairs tells us about his latest cartoon which won one of Australia’s “Ten Best on Eight” awards.

I finished Nightmare in November 1981, just in time for the U.K. competition season. I was thinking about changing from 2 pin to ACME registration because parts of Nightmare, particularly in the bedroom scene, were unsteady. This feeling was confirmed when one of the judges in the Scottish 8, a professional animator, made the same comment, so I bought a Filmcraft 80 rostrum, adapted to take 12 field cels. After a couple of months getting used to the rostrum, and catching up with all the other things which got left while I finished Nightmare, I started looking around for ideas for my next film.


I felt that Nightmare owed a lot to Gilbert & Sullivan and so I decided to start from a blank sheet of paper as I had with Elixir. Ever since school I had experimented with geometrical designs. One of these had formed the butterfly in Elixir and I used two others, a deer made from circles and a flower made from straight lines, to give me somewhere to start from. My original idea was to get an “artist” to paint a series of these designs in the search for public recognition. I got as far as producing the backgrounds and the painting of the deer before deciding that it would be too difficult to put across the complex ideas and emotions. Instead I chose to use two artists, one a circle and the other a square. The circle could only draw circles and the square could only draw straight lines, so I decided the two families of designs could come to life and made the escalating conflict between them give a theme to the film.

By this time it was spring and I knew that in August I would be moved from the office in Edinburgh to the far North West coast of Scotland for at least a year to help supervise the construction of a bridge. I knew there would not be much else to do up there, so I decided to concentrate on getting the story and characters sorted out before I went and to leave the repetitive drawing, tracing and painting till later. This also meant that I could try ideas out on my parents, and get my father, who did several of the initial designs for Nightmare, to help produce further characters. To make it easier for the audience to accept the paintings coining to life I abandoned the original complex background and produced an unobtrusive geometric pattern, rather like the one used at the start of Nightmare.


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