Dolphin Burger Studios Presents

dbDolphin Burger Studios is a group of disabled animators based at a large disability charity’s day centre in Brighton. Led by professional animator and graphic artist Harry Hunt, the team first started working together in June 2012. A year later, the controlled chaos of “FOAS vs The Ringmaster” was lauded as “perfect tv for a hang over” by cult animator Lee Hardcastle; and DBS collaborated with Jo Norman of Furry Tree Studio to create a series of animations based on the seasons, for Fan Dance Theatre Company‘s legendary “Cool Beans” production.

This year, the jewel in their crown is a new music video for Peter Gabriel’s SLEDGEHAMMER. Nine members of the studio collaborated in all elements of pre and post production, and each crew member makes a personal appearance in the short. The original SLEDGEHAMMER animation was created by animators including The Brothers Quay, and Dolphin Burger Studios draws on some of its original style and influences. There are nods to Giuseppe Arcimboldo; a plasticene steam engine circling its creator’s head; and a constellation of motion track dots, sported by a team member who insisted on repeat takes and adding stars until he was happy with the film’s grand finale. The finished product isn’t just a riotous homage – it’s a fresh and dynamic new interpretation of Gabriel’s iconic track. We spoke to Harry and his team about Dolphin Burger Studios’ origins, and its consistently prolific and ingenious oeuvre.

T1: What animation techniques and editing software do you use?

HH: Adobe Effects for digital animation and post, and for stop motion, a number of different suites for tablets, PCs and smartphones. We use 2D digital, live action crossover and pixilation.  The group started up initially based around an app for Android phones called Clayframes.  What drew me to it was the fact that the camera could be operated by sound, or just by waving, which meant people with extremely limited mobility skills could get involved.

T1: Do your projects evolve organically, or do you try to impose a structure?

HH: Some of the projects are freeform, and we just throw whatever people create onto the stage and let the narrative write itself.  Sometimes we try and corral things into a more orthodox story structure, but really we try to design the projects around the customers’ ideas of what a film/cartoon should be.

I want disabled people to see what we do, and be inspired to try something similar.

T1: Is the dynamic of a large group hard to manage or does everyone work well together?

HH: It’s a hectic environment, a lot of voices want to be heard, and a lot of visions want to be realised!  More often than not, this lends energy to what we do, although admittedly to the outside observer it might seem a bit chaotic.

T1: Does your team have an audience in mind – or is the joy of animation in the process just as much as the finished product?

HH: I try to strike a balance between giving the customers a voice, giving them a chance to try something new, and using their work to promote disability arts.  Personally, I want disabled people to see what we do, and be inspired to try something similar.  Sadly, depending upon which part of the whole health/social care service you are in, you might be pitifully understimulated by the choices on offer.

T1: Earlier group-led projects seemed to mix classic fantasy with personal wish fulfilment – the stories often seem to be inspired by activities that non disabled people might take forgranted, like going to the pub or a cafe.

HH: We, and the customers in question, make no secret of the fact that a lot of the films we make are pure wish fulfilment.  I invested in a large green screen, and it gives me great pleasure to hear “I want to be in Eastenders/Space/Ibiza” and be able, to some extent, to oblige.

We also posed a couple of questions to two members of the team: 

T1: What would your dream project be, if you had an unlimited budget?

K: A film about me driving my power chair to a pub in Scotland. I would play me. Abba would be in it, being silly; they would have no hair.

N:  I’d draw it all myself. I’d draw a theatre and then make a film. The Hulk would be in it. He would be picking me up and saving me from a fire, I would nearly die but the Hulk would save me. S would be in it, he would be the Hulk. There would be Abba music in it: Money, Money, Money. All drawn, no live action.

T1:  Which Dolphin Burger production or scene are you most proud of? 

K: SLEDGEHAMMER. I liked using the camera and making stuff for it; I drew on my tablet. It was fun.

N: SLEDGEHAMMER. I liked dancing with the ball. J with the fruit was good in the video, with pears and apples. I liked it at the start with my eye and my ear. I’d like to do that again with my face: mouth, nose, ears and eyes in new animations.