Exclusive Interview – Jim Batt (Neil Gaimans – The Grave Of Saint Oran)

The rate and speed at which something can go from a small little blip of a project in your small apartment to a massively grand production with all the bells and whistles to go with it can happen suddenly and beyond all expectation. Someone that is becoming very familiar with this is Director/Artist/Animator Jim Batt. Mr. Batt set out to create a paper cutout animated short based on Neil Gaimans poem The Grave of Saint Oran. What he didn’t expect is the outpouring of support that would come with his Kick Starter efforts. With Neil Gaimans blessing and endorsement he reached his funding goal in only a few days. Now there are only days to go and he has surpassed his original funding goal and is set to make a stellar production. We were very lucky to get an exclusive interview with Jim Batt for you stop motion enthusiasts. Check it out below and if you’d like to get involved with helping the production happen you can find the Kick Starter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jimbatt/the-grave-of-saint-oran-a-neil-gaiman-animation
SMM: How did you get into making this project? Was it one of those passion projects or was it weighing on your mind for a long time?
Jim Batt: It had been a while since I finished my last stopmotion animation, (which you can find at www.ihaveyourheart.com), and I was thinking about what my next big project was going to be… and found I had this poem stuck in my head, it wasn’t even published at that point – I’d just heard Neil do it at a reading. It’s imagery, rhythm, and central philosophical question really resonated with me. So I reached out to Neil and asked if he would be interested in me making a short film to accompany the poem. Happily he was excited by the idea, and so we turned to kickstarter to raise the budget for the film.
SMM: Paper cutout animation is a beautiful art form but a lot of work. Is it just you who is cutting out the pieces or do you have help?
Jim Bat: It is a very time consuming art form, and requires a lot of patience – but I actually love the process. However, with the success of our kickstarter campaign I’m looking forward to bringing some additional hands on the project, so that we can get it finished in a timely fashion!
SMM: What’s the story behind Neil Gaiman poem?
Jim Batt: The poem is a strange tale, a mixture of myth and history, that tells the story of two saints who try to build a chapel on the island of Iona. But things don’t go so smoothly… there is murder, and fear, even the nature of reality is called into question. Powerful stuff!
SMM: Can you share with us your filming setup?
Jim Batt: I use a Canon 7D hooked up to my laptop running the excellent Dragonframe software as my framegrabber. We’re going to use some of the funds from this kickstarter to build a custom animation table – large sheets of glass on sliding racks, built in lighting, with the camera mounted overhead. This allows us to shoot the scene from above, with all the characters and background elements on their own sheet of glass, make it possible to separate out the layers and animate each one by hand more easily. I’m looking forward to designing the setup!
SMM: How long do you anticipate this project to take? When do you expect to complete the project?
Jim Batt: We’re aiming for the shoot to take 6-8 months once we’re actually in production. There’s still a lot preproduction prep to go though, and the animation process is always full of surprises! We’d love to be submitting to festivals around this time next year.
SMM: What kind of rewards are you giving your backers on Kick Starter?
Jim Batt: We’ve had some beautiful rewards, giving away a lot of things that are being generated in the process of developing the film. So, concept art, animation puppets, etc. as well as a lovely poster size art print, an art book, dvd… There’s something for everyone! In fact we’ve just announced a very limited run of a stunning copperplate etching print that our artist Ellen Barkin has made exclusively for the kickstarter, signed by Neil and the team!
SMM: How do you know Neil Gaiman and will he lend his voice as one of the actors to the production?
Jim Batt: I met Neil through working with his partner Amanda Palmer, and we have quite a few friends in common so we cross paths in various parts of the world fairly frequently. We’re very lucky, and he has agreed to read the poem for the film. He has a wonderful reading voice, and I really can’t imagine it any other way.
SMM: This project looks exciting. How pumped and excited are you to be doing something so very artistic and expressive?
Jim Batt: This project really is a dream come true – I’ve loved Neil’s work for a long time, and getting the chance to interpret one of his stories is a real honour. And now with this huge wave of support our kickstarter has been getting, we’ll have the budget to do the film justice! I can’t wait to get started on making it into a reality.