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How Oscar-Contending Animated Short ‘Affairs of the Art’ Continues Harnessing Family Obsessions

Beryl is back, reflecting on her family's peculiarities and her own artistic journey in the Oscar contender from the NFB.

Affairs of the Art

“Affairs of the Art”

National Film Board of Canada and Beryl Productions International

Animation

Beryl is back, and this time she’s bringing her family along for the ride. Featuring the irrepressible working-class Welsh housewife at the height of her artistic powers, director Joanna Quinn and writer-producer Les Mills’ “Affairs of the Art” is a boisterous and heartwarming celebration of one family’s peculiar obsessions.

A co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and Beryl Productions International, the 16-minute, hand-drawn animated short film continues the series that began with the duo’s 1987 film “Girls Night Out,” followed by “Body Beautiful” (1990) and “Dreams & Desires — Family Ties” (2006).

Quinn and Mills have won numerous awards for their films and commercials, including four BAFTAs, three Emmys, and two Academy Award nominations for “Famous Fred” (1997) and “Wife of Bath – Canterbury Tales Part 1” (1998). And the BAFTA- and Oscar-shortlisted “Affairs of the Art” has racked up at least 25 international awards, including a jury award for special distinction at the Annecy Festival.

Quinn’s trademark visual style is fluid and dynamic with loose, broad pencil strokes, complemented by Mills’ wildly funny script, which has Beryl reflecting on her family’s obsessions as she muses on her own journey as an artist.

Affairs of the Art

“Affairs of the Art”

National Film Board of Canada and Beryl Productions International

“I have been obsessed with drawing all my life, ever since I was little,” said Quinn. “There’s a scene in the film where Beryl is a young girl, drawing on the wall of her bedroom. And that was my bedroom, covered with drawings, all the way around.”

The filmmaking partners are connoisseurs of the ordinary, taking inspiration from even the most mundane areas of their lives. “Everything we do is based on observation,” Quinn added, explaining how their characters are a composite of the people and events around them.

Mills, in particular, collects obscure bits of dialogue he delights in hearing in local shops and car-boot sales. “I’ve always been very aware of conversations, and I’ve listened deliberately to people all my life,” he said. “And that’s probably the way I get certain qualities to the humor in the work, that arise from ordinary situations that I’ve encountered and noted in my head, or literally on paper.”

The biggest decision is deciding on the subject matter. “It’s not necessarily a script, first of all. It’s the one idea and a lot of character profiles, and then the structure comes out of that,” Mills added.

Affairs of the Art

“Affairs of the Art”

National Film Board of Canada and Beryl Productions International

“Before we’ve actually drawn anything or we write down ideas, we say, ‘We’ve done that. We want to go this way,’ and we work all that out,” he continued. “And then we’ve got a framework for a kind of design for what ends up as the script. Usually, we start with me writing very intensive character profiles, in great detail. And then, from that, Joanna will convert those into drawn characters, and we make decisions about which one is correct for our idea.”

Once Mills has completed a script, he and Quinn act out all the parts. “We do read-throughs, the two of us, so that we can get whether it’s working or not, whether there’s a rhythm to it,” he said.

Quinn produced an estimated 15,000 drawings for “Affairs of the Art,” entirely by hand. “Every Beryl film has been drawn by hand,” he added. “‘Girl’s Night Out’ was painted cells, under a rostrum camera, shot on 16mm film. Then ‘Body Beautiful’ was 35mm film, done the same way, except we used a photocopier to photocopy the drawings onto cell, rather than drawing by hand, and then painted.”

Their next film, “Family Ties,” employed computers, but only for scanning and compositing before being transferred to 35mm film. “But this time round,” Quinn said, “it’s all drawn on paper, scanned in, and colored in TVPaint, and composited together in [Adobe] After Effects.”

Affairs of the Art

“Affairs of the Art”

National Film Board of Canada and Beryl Productions International

Quinn had initially resisted animating the dialogue in “Affairs of the Art.” “I didn’t want to do the lips. And Les said, ‘No, you have to draw lips, Joanna.’ So, ‘Oh God, it’s going to take so long.’ I just wanted to get the film finished,” she said.

But she actually enjoyed doing the lip sync. “I realized, of course, that lip sync is just acting and performing with lips added on at the end,” Quinn continued. “It was all about the emphasis and feeling a rhythm in the dialogue, almost like music, and knowing that the beat is always on the vowel.”

Like Beryl, Quinn calls herself “just a little obsessed” when it comes to getting the ultimate performance out of a piece of dialogue. “I use a mirror and act it out,” she said. “And when I act it out over and over again, the first thing I’m doing is trying to find the rhythm, the da-da-da-da-da-da of the dialogue, and working out what you would do with your arms and your face, and your nodding and your this and your that. And then, of course, the lips are last, the least important thing.”

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