British animator Will Rose draws inspiration from Eastport’s wildlife, architecture, and late-night Justin Bieber dance parties.
By Brian Kevin
They may not recognize his name, but our 3-year-old readers will be immediately familiar with the work of London-based artist Will Rose. Of late, he’s an animator on Hey Duggee, an adorable BBC cartoon show about colorful, geometric animals who earn merit badges with help from a cheerful canine scoutmaster. Before that, Rose lent his talents to three seasons of Peppa Pig, the plucky British preschool program turned international kiddie franchise. Both air on the Nick Jr. network in the U.S., and both have legions of ankle-biting fans.
But Rose’s real passion is for cartoon animals that don’t talk or wear knickers. His first short film, The Goat Herder and His Lots and Lots and Lots of Goats, picked up awards on the festival circuit in 2012, and this month, his newest one, Eagle Blue, shows at film fests in Brooklyn and Seattle. Eagle Blue draws on a trip Rose took to Eastport in 2015, visiting friends and bird-watching along the coast. Last summer, he came back as a resident of the StudioWorks program at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, where he decided to make Eastport itself (and environs) the subject of a handful of animated micro-films — playful, looping, 10-second animations documenting wildlife and its intersections with civilization (such as it is) around Cobscook Bay. We called Rose at his office in Soho to talk nature cartoons and the appeal of the Down East coast.
So what lures a Londoner to a residency in tiny Eastport?
I’m a country guy at heart, so somewhere like Maine is very appealing. Coming from England — where we have very small animals, where there’s nothing bigger than a hedgehog that’s going to trouble you — I was interested by the wildlife of the region: moose, bears, bald eagles, whales. All very attractive to me.
How do you describe your style of illustration and animation?
A sort of whimsical humor, design-y kind of thing — it’s hard to explain what it is. I’ve loved making quirky animal stuff since I was a kid.
There’s something funny about how animals move even in the mundane scenes you’re animating: a diving loon, a crow picking over the trash, animals crisscrossing an Eastport street after dark.
The Happy Crab is in the background of that last one — that’s a great little restaurant where everyone goes. There’s a jukebox, and people stay until 2 or 3 in the morning, just having a good time. My residence was up the road. A lot of times, you could hear this music going on, and Eastport is just full of deer, so you’d have this weird thing of Justin Bieber playing down the road while skunks and deer are zooming around in the street.
You watched this out your window?
Oh yeah, I get excited by skunks and raccoons, because we don’t have them in the UK. So I was just waiting at 3 o’clock in the morning to see them.
There’s a nameless town in Eagle Blue where a hungry eagle goes scavenging, and it looks an awful lot like Eastport got relocated into the mountains.
Yeah, the town has this alpine French kind of vibe, but then a lot of the buildings are Eastport. The Happy Crab is in there. The [historic Central Congregational] church is in there.
This seems to be a theme for you — an overlap of the natural world and the human world.
I want my stuff to be universal, of course, to be watched and enjoyed by anyone, but it is nice to have just a touch of environmentalist edge to things, to get kids talking about nature and how we should be protecting stuff rather than encroaching on it. I like animals having the upper hand, shall we say.
Learn more about the StudioWorks Artist-in-Residence Program in Eastport (and see what other artists have produced).