They are having a spectacular period of creative growth and critical acclaim here co-founder Ian Ravenscroft describes how he and fellow filmmaker Louis Hudson broke into the world of animation and online shorts
Many an idle afternoon or lunch break has been passed watching funnies on the internet. Short witty blasts of surrealism and satire, designed to enlighten or amuse, are emailed and tweeted around the office and then forgotten. Well, not always forgotten. Occasionally, the makers of these online titbits are heralded as true artistic talents, given awards and, even more rarely, some cash to make more.
Dice Productions, the long-standing partnership of Ian Ravenscroft and Louis Hudson, is one such filmmaking collaboration. Its short films and animations have gained the attention of Channel 4, BBC, Warner Entertainment and more. Last year, ‘All Consuming Love (Man in a Cat)’, a bizarre and grotesque cartoon starring Kevin Eldon and Josie Long, picked up a score of awards and nominations. This year, ‘Don’t Fear Death’, a twisted black comedy starring Rik Mayall, aired on Channel 4 and is also set to do the awards circuit.
“The starting point was watching a lot of TV and cartoons,” explains 27-year-old Ian Ravenscroft on how he and co-founder Louis Hudson chose their careers. “Louis and I used to watch the same sort of things before we met each other at school.”
The pair were contemporaries of Handsworth Grammar, Birmingham, and their collaboration began with them filling schoolboy sketchbooks with surreal characters and comedy ideas. Ravenscroft emerged as the better writer, while Hudson was the stronger artist. They still use their old books as inspiration to this day, the uninhibited schoolboy humour and grossness shining through in their published work. They draw from a fine tradition of British comedy, from the Two Ronnies and Monty Python through to alternative stand-up and in your face toilet humour like Bottom. One film ‘Lady Mail Man’ a play on words about a hapless man unable to understand his date is a ‘mail lady’ not a ‘male lady’, is reminiscent of the Two Ronnies ‘fork handles’ sketch, albeit with a filthier tone.
Growing up in the nineties there was plenty of good comedy for a young Ravenscroft and Hudson to watch, not discounting a few repeats. “We watched Monty Python and saw Terry Gilliam’s animations and we thought it looked achievable. It didn’t look difficult, we thought ‘we could do that’,” says Ravenscroft. However, it was Hudson who decided that animation was his calling and he headed to Edinburgh University to study it. Meanwhile Ravenscoft moved to Cardiff to read English literature and worked as a journalist for a few years, before returning to Birmingham to work with Chris Unitt at the digital agency Made Media. “I worked for a pharmaceuticals magazine. It was good experience, but it lacked the creative aspect I was looking for. I was then with Chris Unitt at Made, which was great and taught me a lot about social media. I have always tried to mix career with the creative side.”
Soon Hudson also headed home to Brum and Dice Productions, armed with new skills and knowledge, were unleashing their works on to the public via burgeoning social media networks. “It didn’t feel like anything had changed,” says Ravenscroft. “Also YouTube was just getting going and we realised you could make things and then get them out there and people would be able to see it.”
Ravenscroft says Dice is really a collaboration of creative people; the pair work with actors, camera crews and various productions agencies and broadcasters to bring their films out. Hudson manages to work full-time as an animator, although Ravenscroft has to find other projects to pay the bills. “I have been doing this for a long time and know a lot of creative people and very few do it full-time,” he says. “We don’t have the desire to be a studio and to employ people. We are film makers and story tellers.”
But things are rolling nicely for Dice and commissions, albeit with tight budgets, are coming in. “2012 was a really big year for us. We did our first feature length animation and it was the first time we got the licence to do a big project and have control of it,” he says referring to ‘Man in a Cat’.
The pair say they are committed to remain in Birmingham even though many of their clients and collaborators are based in the capital. “It’s a conscious decision. There’s always the draw of London but we are much better off living in Birmingham. We have houses here and the standard of living is better. It’s good to be out of the London bubble. Instead of going to parties, meeting people and following trends we can concentrate on our own stuff. London always seems temporary, Birmingham is a place where you can have home and work.”