Why She’s On Our Radar: London-raised, New York-based animator Julia Pott’s brilliant animations have received over a million hits on YouTube, thanks largely in part to her web breakout “My First Crush.” The film sets Pott’s signature hand-drawn animals to recordings of people discussing their awkward histories with their first crushes. Now, she’s on the festival circuit with her heartbreaking coming-of-age friendship story “Belly.”
Indiewire caught up with Pott after she screened this latest film at Rooftop Films in New York.
How did you get your start animating?
I guess I started like everyone else: I went to school for it. Then I went to Kingston to do Illustration and Animation. I thought I wanted to be an illustrator, but the balance of both was nice, and I realized I wanted to do Animation. I graduated in 2007, and I did my first short film, “My First Crush.” I was taking time off, and it got a million hits on YouTube, and I started to get people wanting me to do work. So that was the start of my career. I was able to start animating as a career without having to do anything else after school.
I guess one can’t assume how they’re career is going to begin.
Yeah! It was baffling!
How often are you doing stuff that’s self-directed and how often are you hired to do things?
I don’t think I’ve ever been hired by somebody else more than a handful of times. I helped a couple of directors while I was starting out. I’ve mostly done self-initiated stuff. With commercials, I’m given a lot of creative freedom, because they’ll have seen something else that I’ve done and want something similar to that, which has been super lucky so far, because I don’t think I’d be very good at taking direction. It’s good, because I pitch on those kinds of works-for-hire and I never get them! I think my production company kind of hates me for that!
How does collaboration work for you? Do you like working with certain kinds of people?
Because it’s my comfort zone, I prefer to work alone. With the music videos that I did, they just told me to do whatever. They tell me simple things, like this should have a red shirt, this shirt should be blue. But then, I collaborated with my ex-boyfriend on this Bat for Lashes music video and that was the first time I’ve worked with somebody else, and that’s the thing I’m probably the most proud of because we had to write it together and compromise. It’s an important skill to learn!
I’m working on something for Channel 4 right now, animating a poem from another writer. They found the writer, and I’m animating his poem. It’s about the end of the world, told backwards from the last day on Earth through the five days before. It’s not my writing for the first time which is liberating! There’s not that anxiety where you come up with the idea, and you say “Maybe I’m the only one who likes this…”
“Belly” is such a beautiful story. How did you come to it? [“Belly” actually had me in tears, the first time since the intro montage of “Up” that I’ve cried during an animated film.]
That was my thesis film from the Royal College of Art, where I graduated last July. It’s a two year course. The first film I made was “Howard,” but with “Belly,” the second film, I last ditched it on everything. I thought to myself, “From now on, I’ll make commercials and not make my own things.” I’d never written a script from scratch before, so I did that. I’d never worked with actors before, so I did that. It was a bit too much, but basically the basis of the film…I’ve never done a non-love story before….it’s sort of a bromance.
It’s a coming-of-age that explores how you’re always being criticized by older siblings and peers. You embrace all the scary and spooky things in life, your brain’s working in ways that it won’t for much longer, your brain will grow out of it. But once you had this sweet deal! As you grow up, you still have this feeling in the pit of your stomach, which is why the film’s called “Belly.” It was based on my relationship with my sister, and she’s super offended!
But she appreciated it or no?
(Meekly) Yeah. She came to see me present the film in Berlin, and I talked about how I wanted her to see me as one of her own. I don’t think my family understands my work, they’re just “You made a film!”
Where do you find your images are coming from? What do you look at for your aesthetics? You have such a unique style.
I was explaining something to a friend — and in the middle of it she just stopped me and said, “Wait, the weird stuff in your films…that’s just how you see the world!” I guess she was right.
Looking back at drawings that I’ve done as a kid, I realized that nothing much has changed, I just have gotten worse. I don’t look at many other artists, so it’s probably good that you don’t want to hear that. I may just really love the hand-drawn elements. I like doing it yourself. It’s very therapeutic, redrawing again and again. My inspiration generally is film, “Twin Peaks”-y stuff, old romantic comedies, musicals, and things like that, and American landscapes, Arizona and things like that. I’m shooting the footage myself now. Putting that with the handdrawn element, I like that. The characters are animals because it seems more real to me. They technically are just people in animal costumes.
And after the film for Channel 4 is finished, what are you up to?
When I’m working on something, I wake up at 8, and go to bed at 2, and go on for six months or whatever. I like doing that less and less, I don’t want to stay up late, I’ve convinced myself I’m going to give myself repitative strain injury. But then when a film is done, you can legitimately take a break and not do anything for awhile, saying you’re thinking of your next film.
I’m being approached by a lot of companies to pitch a TV series, so I’m going to start working on something long-form, not worried about any of those companies, and see what comes of it. I did very little of articles for the Huffington Post, and I found the process of writing really enjoyable, and see where that will go. I don’t know that I want to be an animator forever. I could quite happily move into live action or something like that. The same feelings in my films with real people
It is kind of crazy. You just get the actors together in a room, and you’re ready to shoot them!
Having arms and limbs already there….they know how to move, I don’t have to think about it! I would much prefer that!