The NFTS was excited to see 15 BAFTA nominations for NFTS alumni for the 2021 EE British Academy Film Awards and we were over the moon to see two out of three of the nominations in the British Short Animation category were 2020 Animation graduation films, made at the NFTS over the last two years! We got in touch with Directing Animation graduate and Director/Lead Animator on BAFTA nominated The Song of A Lost Boy, Daniel Quirke to get some behind the scenes insight into the making of the animation, his time at NFTS and his reaction to being nominated!

Two NFTS Grad Animations nominated for a BAFTA (Left: The Fire Next Time, Right: Song of a Lost Boy)

What were you doing before applying to the NFTS?

Before applying I did a BA in Animation at Middlesex University and had worked a couple of summer's assisting on graduation films at the NFTS.

Where did the inspiration for The Song of a Lost Boy come from?

The inspiration came a lot from personal experiences I’ve had. This then was built into what became final story though many conversations I had with Bríd Arnstein (Writer) and Jamie MacDonald (Producer). Growing up in a Catholic family, I wanted to convey this feeling of losing faith as well as regaining it – but also about being embarrassed about these feelings that I perceived people with faith would judge me for not having it and on the other hand people who didn’t have faith (or believe in God) would judge me and think I’m weird for having it.

The puppets created from wax and wire were handmade by NFTS Model Making students 

So, it became a coming of age story about a choirboy who loses his ability to sing in a choir when he reaches puberty and his voice breaks. He runs away and goes on a journey to try and discover who he is and what his purpose is after bumping into a nomadic group of people wandering the desert.

We decided to keep it fairly open and not prescriptively about someone having a crisis of faith so that people could take something from the story regardless of whether they believe in God or not.

What is your greatest inspiration as an animator? 

Music is probably one of my biggest inspirations as it’s such a powerful instrument in the process. I love listening to it, working with it, playing it. I’m not really a musician but I think I have an instinct for it. There’s so much music helps me with when generating ideas, creating a tone etc. This could be a common thing or maybe a weird thing but I used to listen to music imagining parts of my life were a film – as uninteresting as it was and is – and so maybe that’s why it helps me so much? I really enjoy piecing together images and music (or sound) and how different types of music and sound (or just as importantly, the absence of it) can totally affect the way you read and process an image.

The wax puppets created by the NFTS Model Making students give the film a very unique aesthetic. How did you come up with the visual style?

Firstly I wanted to use wax because I love materials that can be changed by a process whether it’s melting, eroding, decaying, burning etc. So I was fascinated with the idea of wax puppets melting and the power that visual could hold. Initially I wanted these wax puppets in the film to be melted by the heat of the sun in the desert but story wise this became a bit too complicated so we decided to remove this aspect from the concept.

Wax puppet from The Song of a Lost Boy

As well as being able to melt wax, I also love how the material is affected by light and also the ability to mix paints into the natural wax. Gradually I experimented with different types of wax to see which would be the best to use for puppets for example, what were the melting points as we didn’t want the puppets melting under the heat of the set lights, how soft or brittle they were as that affected how much we were able to move the limbs without the wax cracking.

You studied the Directing Animation MA. Why did you choose the NFTS?

I chose the NFTS because I wanted to gain experience in working in a team and learning how to direct a team. I really liked the idea of working with someone from each specialism (for example, Producing, Production Design, Composing, Sound Design), as this would allow me to work with talented people in each specific field who would be able to bring a lot to each project we worked on together. I also really liked the facilities for the Directing Animation students and how you are given a personal space to work in during your time at the school.

Daniel on set at the NFTS

What would a BAFTA win mean to you and The Song of a Lost Boy team? 

A BAFTA win would be amazing for me and the team as it would be a huge reward for the hard work we put in during our time at the school and hopefully help each of us with getting future projects and work. As the story is personal to me in some way it would mean a lot that people have connected with this character and story. However, even a nomination has been pretty amazing and unexpected to achieve so far so it wouldn’t taint the feeling too much if we didn’t win!

What lessons did you learn from making The Song of a Lost Boy that you’ll be taking forward into your next project?

A big thing I learnt whilst making film is how to direct. How to delegate, how to try and keep morale high in a team during stressful times, how to say no sometimes. All these things are important things for a director when working in a team. Also, the key in making sure you (and your team) know what the core of the film is about, especially if it’s a long project as this will help you make decisions, especially with story, throughout. Sometimes over a year this can become blurred or easy to forget so having a team – especially a Producer – who is able to remind you of that and assist you in times of doubt is very important.

Daniel Quirke on the set of The Song of a Lost Boy

Finally, what advice can you give to aspiring animators who may be thinking of following in your footsteps and applying to the NFTS?

My advice would be if you want to be a director then go for it! It’s a very collaborative course so this needs to be what you want to be a part of. It’s a great place to be and also to meet many people I have worked with since leaving the school and hope to do so a lot more in the future. It gave me the chance to get outside of my comfort zone and to develop many new skills as an animator, director, collaborator, but also to learn a lot from the people around me due to the amazing other students and staff there.

NFTS Credits
Director/Lead Animator - Daniel Quirke
Producer - Jamie MacDonald
Screenwriter - Brid Arnstein
Cinematographer - Emma Langguth
Production Designer - Steven X. Haber
Production Manager - Amy Vearncombe
Editor - Margred Pryce
Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer - Ruanth Chrisley Thyssen
Composer - Darryl O’Donovan
Lead Model Maker - Alice Simonato
Model Makers - Gemma Byrne, Helen Ferguson, Narika Jaggard, Penelope Konstantara, Grace Lawrence, Agathe Lederer, Roisin McCallum, Sophie Monks, Rosemarie Nelson, Jake Teale
CG Artists - Mafalda Soares, Yilin (Lesley) Cai
Compositors - Nicola Bosari, Eliis Kuusk, Pietro Abati
Matte Painter - Moritz Burkart
Colourist And Online Editor - Michael Pearce

The NFTS is hugely proud of all of our students that were invovled in making the productions nominated for this years BAFTAs. We're holding our breath and keeping our fingers crossed, eagerly awaiting the ceremony on 10th & 11th April!

Applications are open for the NFTS Directing Animation MA and the NFTS Model Making for Animation Diploma


Find out more about these fantastic practical courses and apply here: nfts.co.uk/directing-animation | nfts.co.uk/model-making-animation

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