Ross Hogg, known for his critically acclaimed and award-winning short film “Isabella”, co-directed with Duncan Cowles, is one of the Artists in Residence at this year’s edition of Vienna Independent Shorts. “Yellow Bread” talked to him about “Isabella”, his work in animation, his residency project, short films and what’s next for him.
Can you talk about your background?
Ross Hogg: I began making films at the end of my third year at The Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. There was no animation course there and I didn’t set out to make films when I started studying. I sort of fell sideways into experimenting with animation and initially taught myself through trial and error. I’ve always been really drawn to hand-crafted, physical animation and also work which is more process led, allowing the medium to dictate the direction of a piece of work.
“Isabella” is a very personal film for you. Can you talk about it and what prompted you to make it?
R.H.: Yes. Isabella was my grandmother and as she got older (and as I realized how fragile her life was becoming), the necessity to preserve her in some way became extremely important for me. She always had a few really engaging stories she would tell and I had previously thought about recording them for a potential animation. It was also a method of ensuring that I spent as much time as possible with her as I could while she was still alive and, in the end, it became quite a cathartic process for me.
How did Duncan Cowles become involved in the project? What can you tell us about your collaboration? Will there be more?
R.H.: I had initially planned for the whole film to exist as an animation but, with Isabella’s memory beginning to falter, it felt somehow dishonest to continue down that route. I suppose that’s when Duncan got involved. I felt it was important not only to capture my Gran’s stories, but to also reflect what was happening to her memory, in a sensitive and honest way. This, for me, could only be done by having some live action documentary footage involved and I felt that Duncan would be able to handle the subject in the delicate way I had in mind. I really enjoyed the collaboration with Duncan. I think it was an essential step for the project to take as I was far too close to it emotionally, and Duncan was able to provide a more objective perspective in the editing process.
I’d be very keen to work with Duncan again, but I think it has to be on a project where that would make sense – I don’t think either of us would want to force a collaboration if it didn’t speak to the concept
What did your family think of it? And, Isabella?
R.H.: My family really like the film. I think they’re just glad we made it when we did. It is tough, at times, for some of them (especially my dad) as it’s quite emotional, but overall I think they’re relieved we managed to make an honest portrait of her at that time of her life. Isabella did manage to see the film not long before she passed. I’m not entirely sure how much of it she understood but when asked how she felt about about being onscreen, she responded: “I think I looked beautiful”. That was probably the best feedback I could have asked for!
Can you talk about your animation work? And, your prints and drawings?
R.H.: My animation work always stems from drawing. I enjoy working in an intuitive, immediate way and drawing is the perfect medium for that. All of the films I have made so far have grown and developed from one initial drawing that normally happens in a sketchbook or notebook as soon as I’ve had the idea. A lot of the time, these drawings or ideas come from small observations from the world around me, and I really enjoy experimenting with mark-making to create something which feels vibrant and spontaneous.
Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
R.H.: No, I didn’t always want to be a filmmaker. I actually spent most of my years growing up doing nothing but playing football. I’ve always loved drawing and always had an interest in how time can affect work, so animation and filmmaking seemed to be the right direction for me. One of the first films I made was football related, so there has been a crossover.
Who is your favorite filmmaker? Who inspires you in the world of film?
R.H.: I’m not sure I have a favorite filmmaker, as such. There are definitely short filmmakers whose work I love and continues to inspire me. Norman McLaren’s pioneering animation work particularly comes to mind. I’m also a big fan of Jonathan Hodgson’s work – he has created some of my favorite short films and his approach to filmmaking is one of the reasons I got into animation.
What is your favorite film?
R.H.: Again, I’m not sure I have a favorite, but “Nightclub” by Jonathan Hodgson definitely has to be up there. It’s such a brilliant observational short film which expertly captures a time and place.
How do you feel about being one of the Artists in Residence at this year’s VIS? How do you think it will help your career?
R.H.: I’m thrilled to be one of the Artists in Residence at this year’s VIS. Vienna Shorts is one of my favorite short film festivals which I’ve had great experiences at in previous years, so I’m extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to work here for two months!
Having the time to develop work and refine ideas, free from other external pressures, is really beneficial and, hopefully, it will help me progress further with the project I’m developing and allow me to get it off the ground.
Talking about the project you are developing, what can you say about your residency animation project that uses the traditional technique of painting and scratching directly onto 16 mm film?
R.H.: I’m currently developing a 16mm animation project, called “4:3”, which will become an exhibition piece once complete. It will consist of twelve individually painted 16mm films (arranged in a 4 by 3 grid) and will aim to explore the relationship between image and sound in an immediate and analogue way. The audio has been created by scratching directly onto the waveform of the 16mm film stock, resulting in a rhythmical soundscape. The final work will be a physical, immersive exhibition where imagery will move fluidly from projection to projection (and at times, all twelve projections may make one whole image).
What is your opinion on the short film format?
R.H.: I really love the short film format! It’s a great environment to experiment with ideas and make bold decisions that otherwise might not make it to the screen. It allows filmmakers to be playful and to hone their individual filmmaking voices, which I think is extremely important.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
R.H.: Alongside the animation for the exhibition I’m developing, I’m currently working on a new short film that is still at the scripting stage. I’m quite excited about it as it probably sits in a more traditional narrative genre, and I’ve previously steered clear of that, focusing instead on process led animation. I think this will provide different challenges for me and will push me out of my comfort zone a little, but I’m excited to push my animation work into a slightly different territory.