Robert Wallace: Being Parallel Teeth
Robert Wallace, AKA Parallel Teeth, is a director and animator with a style that’s tough to pin down. Over his career he’s worked across animation, puppetry and live action, and he’s appeared at festivals from CutOut Fest to Pictoplasma. The only thing that’s constant about his work is its unpredictability.
Recently, he’s been working with the charity Vow, which aims to eradicate child marriage. The film he produced was rebellious, boisterous and perfect in tone for the campaign. You can read more about it here.
With such a diverse portfolio of work, it’s hard to know where to start. To pick back through it all, the director spoke to LBB’s Adam Bennett.
LBB> Growing up, did you always want to be a director, or be involved in film?
Robert> I wasn’t aware of the variety of careers in visual arts when growing up. For a while I thought architecture would be interesting, but the course length put me off, so instead I studied graphic design. During that course I became more interested in creating visual narratives and animation felt like a natural extension of that.
Listening to musicians and watching their videos was also a huge aspect of my life when growing up however I never learnt any instruments. Working in animation was my way of interpreting and creatively connecting to music.
LBB> So Parallel Teeth- how did that moniker come to be?
Robert> That’s a secret! However, it was the domain of my first website and it continues. It’s a bit more unique and memorable than my extremely common real name. Also, I like when people think it’s a group of people, but it’s just me in a room with a computer.
LBB> Throughout your career, you've worked with some fairly surrealist animation. What attracts you to that style?
Robert> I like thinking of narratives in terms of colour, rhythm, shapes and movement rather than just story elements. That naturally leads to more abstract creations.
LBB> Do you feel you can express certain things with animation that you can't with live action?
Robert> Definitely. You aren’t limited to the physical laws of real life like with live action, so it naturally lends itself to more surreal situations and ideas.
LBB> What recent projects have you been working on?
Robert> For the last month I’ve been working on various illustration commissions. It’s been a nice break from animation, just focusing on a single frame and making it perfect. However I always look forward to making things move again.
Apart from those commissions I’ve been working on another little group animation project with friends just for fun. That should be out later in the month hopefully.
LBB> With the Vow campaign, how did you come to be involved?
Robert> Last year’s Vow campaign was produced by production company Strange Beast (who represent me as a director in the UK, US and Europe - Passion Pictures rep me in the APAC region). The client came back to them for this year’s campaign and thought that my past work was a good fit for the tone and lively energy they were after.
LBB> As for the animation style in that video, did you always know that was going to be the right approach for this campaign?
Robert> The first style frame I drew for the project was a low angle shot with the girl towering above with her arms crossed. Her attitude felt perfect for the tone since it was a nice mixture of rebellion and playful energy. Normally I like to push my character designs to be less natural by enlarging features, distorting elements into more graphic shapes, and dropping unnecessary body parts. For this piece it was important for the girls to be relatable, so I toned down the abstraction and instead applied those ideas to how the girls could change in each scene.
I wanted the raucous attitude to not only come through in the actions but also the girls design and movement. Throughout the animation the girls don’t stick to a strong character model, instead they change depending on the scene. Sometimes we used extreme low-angle perspectives, or gave them massive muscles, or animated them like clunky stop-motion, or shrunk down their bodies. This along with the quickness of shots and bright colour palette, gave it a youthful, playful energy.
LBB> What lesson or piece of advice do you wish you heard earlier in your career?
Robert> 1. Don’t hesitate to steal ideas from your past self. 2. Drink lots of water.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes, and why?
Robert> My first job out of uni was with Special Problems, the directing duo of Campbell Hooper and Joel Kefali. They worked across live action and animation. There was a lot of experimentation and exploration, which partly came from both of them being self-taught in animation. The two years I spent there was extremely formative in how I approach my work and work with people.
LBB> Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time? Any current obsessions?
Robert> The occult, float tanks, rom-coms and pineapple on everything.