Animator and Director Ross Stringer talks about his film ‘Crab Day’ which is a finalist at this year’s BAFTA Awards

In a matter of days, the BAFTA Awards will descend on one of the UK’s most prestigious arts venues – the Royal Albert Hall. The annual celebration an acknowledgment of Britain’s finest filmmakers and their undeniable storytelling skillset at both a televisual and filmic level. With a total of 25 categories in all, the nation’s emerging, as well as high profile stars will don the red carpet in anticipation of the evening’s results, and overall, in appreciation of art and how art is expressed. Having honed his craft as an animator at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) on the Directing Animation MA course, Ross Stringer’s coastal themed film Crab Day is one of this year’s ‘British Short Animation’ finalists awaiting Sunday’s result. An exploration of self acceptance, nurturing our differences and going against the status quo, the film follows a fishing community’s annual ritual, whereby a young boy must kill his first crab in order to become a man and gain his father’s approval. Ahead of the award ceremony on Sunday 18th February, Ross tells us more about what it means to make it as a finalist, exploring the film’s themes further and the creative process.

Hi Ross! Your short film Crab Day has made it as a finalist in the ‘British Short Animation’ category at this year’s BAFTA Awards. How are you feeling ahead of the ceremony on Sunday 18th February?

It’s a very abstract concept to grasp, but firstly there were lots of grateful feelings towards the people on my team. It definitely brings a lot of attention, and I’m not super used to being in the spotlight as an animator, so that was an adjustment. It’s funny how you can draw some simple characters on paper for a year and get recognised for it. Also, I realised I had to buy a suit for the awards which turns out to be quite tricky…

Crab Day explores self acceptance, nurturing our differences and going against the status quo – as part of a fishing community’s annual ritual, a young boy must kill his first crab in order to become a man and gain his father’s approval. What inspired you to explore this narrative further?

The idea was inspired by my childhood, growing up in Great Yarmouth which was once a great fishing town, and based on memories of fishing with my dad when I was a young boy. There was a specific memory I have of when I killed a fish for the first time. It was like a rite of passage that I had to take in order to ‘become a man’. I didn’t necessarily want to do it but there was an expectation. This got me and my writer obsessed with the idea of rituals and it just snowballed from there.

The film is directed by yourself, and written by Aleksandra Sykulak. It is produced by Bart Stanislawek, with compositions by Matteo Tronchin. Tom Simington is responsible for the film’s cinematography, Donya Maguire for editing and Sean-Marc Eck, Simon Panayi and Siim Skepast for sound. How have you all worked together to realise the film?

There’s definitely a standard of film that is impossible to make on your own with limited time, everyone’s contribution was incredibly valuable to the film. You also get people who can do things in ways you’d never think, which add so much. I think you definitely end up with a core team who really get the project. My editor, Donya, was so good at understanding what the film needed when I’d become blind to it, she definitely propped me up when I needed it. My writer and producer, Aleks and Bart, were always in the edits and writing room with me. Matteo, my composer wrote the most amazing music, and rerecorded it in a different genre in the last week or so of production when I’d asked, and I will always thank him for it (sorry Matteo). We had sound designers, Jean-marc and Siim, jump in last minute when Simon was working on another film. I could go on, there’s a lot to be grateful for there. My job was just to make sure the film said what we wanted it to, how it got there was up to the whole team.

You studied for two years on the Directing Animation MA course at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) where you developed your interest in traditional storytelling – resulting in the creation of Crab Day. You have a minimalist approach towards your practice, using hand-made textures, and audio-visual rhythm. How was the course able to refine your practice?

I’d come from a more experimental background, but I always try to do something I’ve never done before, and the NFTS was incredibly good at showing you how to tell a good clear story. I’d gone into the school hoping to find a mid-ground between experimental and traditional narrative, which I think I did, but maybe more the latter. The school’s main benefit is its ability to mould you into a team player – I went from individual artist to collaborating with a bunch of new people across the different departments. You learn a lot about how everyone slots into the process and how they can elevate a project beyond being a small scale student film.

How have you found the process of showcasing the film at film festivals? What feedback have you received towards the film?

It’s been an absolute pleasure to share my film around. I’ve had some wonderful reactions from all sorts of different age groups too, which has really made me appreciate how versatile the film can be, and it’s really interesting to see how different people interpret it. That’s also a huge advantage of a film with no dialogue – almost anyone can understand it and not have to read subtitles.

Are you currently working on any new projects?

I might be developing something that is loosely based on Crab Day along with my writer and producer. Other than that, I also love animating independently. I found an unexpected interest in performance animation last year, creating visuals for music, so even that is an avenue I want to explore. Always open to ideas, or collaboration, tell the world!

What can viewers expect from the film?

Crabs, hopefully some laughs and to feel a little warm inside by the end.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

This year’s BAFTA Awards take place on Sunday 18th February and will be available to stream on BBC Iplayer from 8pm. To find out more about the awards, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop