Mark Flood Animations is a burgeoning independent animators’ group in Glasgow, Scotland. At the helm is Mark Flood, an unsuspecting young filmmaker with a passion and drive that would be inspiring to even the steeliest of hearts.
A relative of actor, Gerard Butler, the love of film was in his blood. Flood was heavily involved in his high school Film Club, where he was known for his love of animation and spot-on impersonations of Goofy, Brain from Boss Cat (1961), Shrek, and US President, Barack Obama.
Along the way, the Film Club was named the Odeon Leicester Square, London, “Film Club of the Year.” Flood was honoured to accept the recognition on behalf of his peers in the presence of screen greats such as; Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Gemma Arterton, Ian McKellen, Sharleen Spiteri, James Corden and Jason Isaacs.
But, at just 14 years old, as his promising career was just beginning to develop, Flood was suddenly rushed to the hospital after suffering a stroke. The affects of the stroke caused him to lose his ability to move, write and speak properly, and he was temporarily bound to a wheelchair as a result. With the damage it caused to his brain, he was told that it would be years before his drawing abilities to returned, if at all.
Voice Over Times reached out to Flood to learn more about how animation helped him pull out from underneath the sheath of a stroke to follow his dreams of becoming a talented animator, voice actor, writer, producer, and director.
VOT: You were just a teen when you suffered a stroke, how did that affect your life? In what way did it shape or change your career?
Flood: A lot of people initially think I’m crazy when I say this, but having a stroke was actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Something like that always makes you appreciate later how lucky you are to have your health and be alive on this world that has so many wonderful things and places in it to be experienced. It also made me realise and appreciate how much films and entertainment can help people feel better.
During the time I was ill, I discovered a fabulous charity called MediCinema, which runs free cinemas in hospitals that the patients can escape to for a good two hours out of the depressing reality of the hospital ward. They can enjoy a film just like they would in a real cinema, while nurses are on standby for any sort of medical emergency. MediCinema played a huge part in helping me realise just how valuable films can be to helping people recover from illness. I’ve made and conceptualized every film since then with this in mind. I now volunteer weekly at the MediCinema in Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow, and it’s a terrific charity I would encourage people to check out. The stroke actually resulted in so many amazing experiences and allowed me to meet wonderful people I may never have encountered and befriended otherwise, so for that I’ll be forever grateful.
VOT: How did you overcome the side effects of the stroke?
Flood: Overcoming the side effects involved daily therapy and exercises with physiotherapists, in order to get my walking, speech and coordination back. The biggest motivation of all to recover was that I wanted more than anything to get my drawing skills back. The stroke had resulted in me being completely unable to draw and write.
One of the scariest moments of it all was when I was first taken into hospital following the stroke. A nurse discovered from a family member that I was an artist, and she asked me to draw her something, which was when I realised I couldn’t even hold the pencil. So as I started to gradually get control of my muscles, I began to draw constantly again, just like I did when I was a kid.
Doctors predicted it could take months for the drawing to come back, but I wasn’t prepared to wait that long so I worked at it and eventually managed to regain the ability in a number of weeks. Of course, being a voice actor as well, I needed to regain my speech and ability to perform different voices. Again, I regained that through practice. I practiced simply by annoying visiting friends and nurses.
Believe it or not, it worked (like) a treat.
VOT: When did you first realize you had a talent for drawing?
Flood: I drew a lot when I was a kid, almost all day every day on every bit of paper I could find. It was my favourite pastime, even though it drove some of my teachers mad, so I sort of taught myself over the years. I always loved cartoons so I used to copy what I saw on screen.
My two older cousins used to lend me their old cassettes of Disney classics like “Fox and the Hound”, “Peter Pan” or “Sword in the Stone” and I kind of used the Monkey See, Monkey Do principle – I learned by copying drawings in films and comics, and by watching behind the scenes footage of the professionals drawing.
At the time I had no idea about jobs and careers, or the animation industry, I just knew that I loved what I was doing. As time went on, lots of my extended family started to really realize that I was getting good at it so they really encouraged me to pursue it. And pursue it I did.
VOT: What (or who) inspired you to become a professional animator?
Flood: I loved animated films all throughout my childhood, but it was only really when I reached the age of about 8 or 9 that I realised you could actually make a living out of it. I saw “Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit” when it came out back in 2005 and I immersed myself in how the filmmakers created it. What I saw and read was so inspiring that I decided “that’s what I’m going to do, no matter what.”
And honestly, since then, I never considered anything else. Not once. I had a week’s work experience a few years ago at a terrific Glasgow animation company called Once Were Farmers, which was founded by a good friend of mine, a lovely guy called Will Adams, and as if I wasn’t sure enough already, my week there only confirmed for me even more that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the films of Don Bluth, and his work like “Secret of NIMH” and “An American Tail” was hugely inspiring to me and was a big part in the decision I made that I was going to fight to bring back hand-drawn animation.
VOT: Why are you an advocate of hand-drawn animation? What makes it a better medium than CGI?
Flood: To me, hand-drawn animation has a charm that CGI will never achieve or replicate, no matter how far the technology advances. Just because computer animation is accelerating so fast does not mean we should forget animation’s roots. People want hand-drawn animation so why aren’t they being given it?
It’s a beautiful art form and it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. There is no reason why the two art forms can’t co-exist. That’s what I’m fighting for – a world where hand-drawn animated films and computer animated films can be produced at the same time, and where people can choose between hand-drawn animated films or computer generated ones when they go to the cinema.
VOT: You’ve been involved in all aspects of animation as a writer, animator, director, producer and voice actor. What appeals to you most about each area of animation?
Flood: Writing is a wonderful way for me to share my imagination and experiences with people while also being able to entertain them. One of the great things about being an independent filmmaker is no one tells you what you can and can’t do, so there’s total creative freedom.
However, whenever I write a script, I feel I have to direct it as I will have a very specific vision in my head of how the film should eventually be seen on screen. If something I wrote was made in someone else’s vision, it would be psychological torture for me. I act as the producer for the same reason really. Animating, of course, incorporates my biggest passion, drawing, into it, as every second on screen requires at least 12 drawings. It means a lot of drawing; most people wouldn’t have the patience, but for me, it’s a huge amount of fun!
Voice acting appeals to me as I’ve always loved to perform as cartoon characters. I love finding and experimenting with different voices to create my own characters, as well as performing as the classic characters I love. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to put up on puppet shows for our classmates, and while it was a lot of fun, it was actually great training. My particular favourite character to mimic was Goofy. I really wish I had some footage of it, I would show it to Bill Farmer (voice of Goofy since 1987); I think it would give him a chuckle.
What really appeals to me about acting just with my voice is that since I’m not particularly comfortable in front of an audience or a camera lens, it’s perfectly suited to me as there’s no one but me, the other actors and the sound engineers so I find it easier in the studio to overcome my shyness and become a fully-fledged lunatic.
VOT: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the field?
Flood: I would advise reading up as much about the film business and your chosen area as possible. Learn as much as you can about how things operate. There’s plenty of books and information online to help you gain all the knowledge you can when you’re starting out. It’s not a good idea to approach well-known or respected people until you know enough about what you’re doing. You only get one chance at a first impression and you don’t want to gain a reputation for being naïve or a hot-head. So don’t be pushy or pleading, or bombard people with messages about your projects.
Remain professional but fun and enthusiastic. It also helps to be a nice person. If you’re a pleasant, likable guy or girl who’s talented and fun to be around, and your project is exciting, chances are people will want to work with you! You also need a sense of humour!
Advice I would give to directors is to stay true to your vision without being controlling. Directors need to guide, not dictate. Actors, more often than not, need guidance. And it’s much more pleasant and comfortable for everyone, either in the studio or on a live-action set, if the director is easy to work with and down-to-earth.
It’s important if you want to emotionally connect with audiences through your film to live your life to the fullest – open yourself to the love of others, experiences and live your life to the fullest. You have painful experiences? Use them. Turn them into something positive and emotionally connect with your audience. Use your experiences to educate and develop your own unique view of the world and share it with others in your films! Be passionate about what you’re doing. Only do it if you love it and see it as a long-term career plan. Chances are in the first few years while you’re getting established, you won’t be making a huge amount of money. People should only do something they don’t earn that much from initially if they love it and want to make a lifelong career out of it!
One bit of advice I really would want to give people is to put yourself out there and forge your own path! Don’t be shy! Don’t wait for somebody else to give you your big break – give yourself your big break! With so many ways to showcase your work yourself these days, there’s nothing stopping you!
Make your own showreel and put it on YouTube, or make your own podcast where you show off your voice acting skills! Promote it on Facebook or Twitter! Prices for all the equipment has also dropped dramatically over the years. Put yourself out there! I’m very glad I took that route. I never waited for somebody to notice me, I made animated films and put them out there into film festivals and that’s how I made a name for myself. There’s nothing to stop you. The only thing stopping you is you!
My final bit of advice – enjoy yourself! Have fun! Most of my time as a filmmaker has been a blast, because I set out for it to be so! It really can be so enjoyable, and you only live once, so don’t be too serious and remember that there are much less preferable jobs out there.
VOT: Are you involved in casting? If so, what advice would you give to someone casting a voice actor?
Flood: I like to be extremely involved in the casting for my films to make sure the character will be as close to my vision as possible. I always advise selecting voices with an uncommon quality to them, so that you can get a unique interpretation of your character that is both fresh and fitting. But the voice must always fit the character perfectly. It’s painful to watch a character that you created on screen talking in a voice that doesn’t suit them. Don’t be afraid if this situation ever arises to re-record the voice with a different actor, but make sure to tell the original voice actor. If they take it badly even when you tried to explain nicely, they’re probably not worth working with anyway. If you’re selecting from a number of voices, it helps to listen to the voices while you have a sketch of the character in front of you, to help you imagine which would be the best fit. But always get the voice right, even if it means you have to reject someone who is asking for the role – even if it’s your best friend!
On that note, don’t use friends as actors – only if they ARE actors. If they are not an experienced or trained actor, their voice acting will sound amateurish and the end result will be unprofessional. It’s also, I feel, slightly insulting to those talented people who are working their backsides off to get their first big break and at that point in their career would probably do a film for nothing simply for the exposure.
Although, having said that, make sure you get along very well with the person you cast, as no personality clashes will make it a more pleasurable experience for both of you. They will also feel more comfortable, meaning you will most likely draw a better performance from them. It’s also, in my experience, preferable to conduct auditions in a room with the people rather than audition over the phone. I have a funny story about phone call auditions but probably best saved for another time.
One final word of advice, bigger does not necessarily mean better! Even though the idea of casting a big-name actor as one of the voices in your film is a lovely one at times, not only do some famous film actors actually make for very bad voice actors but most of the time you will actually get a better performance from those that have more experience with using just their voice, or indeed stage acting, which is great training for voice-over work, due to the heightened reality of both forms of performing.
Big film actors also have incredibly busy schedules that are extremely hard to work around. As unfair as it is, they will most likely consider your project insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And to be honest, most people watching your film don’t really care who is doing the voices anyway – and it’s our jobs as the filmmakers to make sure they don’t think about it!
It should be the characters and the story that keep the audience’s attention, not the celebrities providing the voices! I’ve been enchanted by the idea of casting a big name actor before and you realise that it’s just not necessary to raise a ridiculous amount of money when an experienced voice actor will do a much better job for a much more reasonable price. And if you really desperately want a particular celebrity’s voice, you can probably find a voice actor who can impersonate them perfectly!
VOT: As a director, how do you draw out the best performance from your actors?
Flood: First of all, I think it’s super important to make your actors feel comfortable around you as a person, and that they know their characters inside out. I like to talk to the actor about their character before they record so that they understand the script, the character, and my vision, better. But I also like to give my actors creative freedom. I don’t force them to stick rigidly to the script as very often, the actor’s ad-libs can be even funnier than what was written.
Also, the more the actor understands the action and the desired emotion of the scene, the better their voice performance will be. For this reason, I tend to keep storyboards close by so that I can show the voice actors exactly what will be happening on screen. It’s really a personal call and a matter of opinion if you want to choose someone who is a novice with animation voice-overs, and therefore will give a fresh performance, or someone who is an experienced expert. I always laugh about how it must be an incredibly bizarre process for actors who aren’t familiar with doing voice-overs for animation to come in and do what is required for the first time, as of course not only does the actor need to record the character’s lines, but also the character’s sounds, down to the last yell and grunt.
Recently for example, we had a young actress in the studio called Charly Stakim to voice the main character in our upcoming 30-minute cartoon. She did an absolutely wonderful job, but it was her first time being involved in an animation and I imagine that some of the requests must have been fabulously unusual, like having to grunt or let out muffled yells to make her character sound gagged.
Having done animation for so long, I’ve just become used to doing such strange things over the years that I now accept them as normal and I forget completely how somebody unfamiliar with it might find it peculiar. You sometimes look like ridiculous doing it but the great thing is it’s ultimately so rewarding.
VOT: What are you currently working on? What are your future goals?
Flood: My next animated film is a 30-minute cartoon called “Operation Alley Cat,” which we aim to complete for either Christmas 2014 or early 2015. After that, I will begin work full-time on my first feature film. I also have an Internet series in the early stages, called “World Wide Web” fittingly enough.
The long-term plan is to begin producing at least a couple of feature films at a time. We have a couple of properties we think would make very fun franchises. We have lots of great ideas that I can’t wait to share with the world. My team and I would love to keep working with the same people, voice actors and crew members from “Operation Alley Cat,” on future projects if they’re all up for working with us again. They’ve all been fantastic and a pleasure to work with.
With my voice acting, I’m hoping to make myself a little more known over in the US. There are plenty of things I’d love to be involved in – Disney ADR sessions, Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry and Scooby Doo productions. I’ve always loved mimicking my favourite Looney Tunes characters, like Yosemite Sam, Marvin the Martian, Sylvester the cat, Tasmanian Devil and Foghorn Leghorn so getting an opportunity to voice any of those characters would be wonderful.
Of course, considering I’m Scottish, a dream gig would be Pixar’s possibly in-development sequel to “Brave.” I was actually invited to the European premiere of the first film (showing) in Edinburgh and it’s been one of my favourites ever since. I’ve also heard that a sequel to “Top Cat: The Movie” is in the works – I was a big fan of the first film, so I’d love to voice some its characters, old or new. I’m even up for working with studios like Aardman, Laika or Crest Animation.