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John Weldon

Overview of work

John Weldon

John Weldon’s storytelling ability, technical prowess and inventiveness place him in the first rank of animators worldwide. Never one to avoid controversy, he loves to wrestle with important themes in his work, ranging from issues of personal identity to questions of ethics and morality. A believer in the individual over a system that he often finds corrupt or too conservative, Weldon has consistently made work that is satirical and darkly humorous.

<strong><em>Livraison spéciale</em></strong> (1984). © NFB<strong><em>Real Inside</em></strong> (1977). © NFB
Livraison spéciale (1984). © NFBReal Inside (1977). © NFB

Weldon rose to prominence with Special Delivery, a black comedy involving death, infidelity and the Postal Union. In the course of an intricately developed plot, a dead body is found and moved twice, many laws are broken and new identities created. The humour is built around conjecture, with various individuals dealing with the facts as they—incorrectly—perceive them. Weldon’s sly imaginative story won him great acclaim, including an Academy Award.

His next major film, Real Inside, was a brilliant experiment that dealt with one of Weldon’s favourite themes, the question of identity. A combination of live action and animation, the tale revolves around a cartoon character, Buck Boom, who has decided to quit show biz and join the business world. His interview with Mr. Mudgin, a personnel director played by the actor Colin Fox, is all about stereotypes. Boom has to convince Mudgin that he’s “real inside,” and wants to join an actuary firm—ironically, the “boring job” that Weldon rejected for the Film Board.

<strong><em>Of Dice and Men</em></strong> (1988). © NFB<strong><em>The Hungry Squid</em></strong> (2002). © NFB
Of Dice and Men (1988). © NFBThe Hungry Squid (2002). © NFB

Technically, Real Inside was a huge challenge; Weldon’s assistant Dave Burgess had to match lines, frame by frame, with the live action, which had been shot in a sound studio over a week. In order to move objects on Mudgin’s desk, producer David Verrall lay on the floor and manipulated material with wire. Every gesture by Fox had to be exact for the film to be effective.

Although Real Inside was a technical triumph, Weldon moved away from the creation of pieces that take many years to execute. Placing his faith and abilities in computers, he decided to take “the pain out of animation. People used to compare the process to making a pyramid. I didn’t want to use thousands of hours of labour to make a film.”

For his first computer based film, Of Dice and Men, Weldon used his background in mathematics to help him write code so that he could harness an MS-DOS program from Texas Instruments. Three years later, in 1991, Weldon decided to “get rid of art and use a ragged technique to match my voice” for The Lump, a musical animated piece, which he wrote, sang songs and directed. His producer, Marcy Page, coined the phrase “recyclomation” to describe Weldon’s evolving style. He would paint backdrops, use rags and render material using Mac After Effects and Photoshop.

By the time he made The Hungry Squid, Weldon was ready to tackle puppet animation, while mixing and matching all of his other styles. Using puppets designed by Lilian Kruip filled with aquarium grains, a very light material, Weldon shot characters individually, set against black backgrounds, with matted-in photos. The puppets could be placed on the ground, making the animation direction far easier to achieve. A dark but hilarious film about a girl who triumphs against adversity despite being ignored by her parents and misunderstood by the school system, The Hungry Squid won a Genie award in 2003.

Throughout John Weldon’s career, he has been fascinated by scientific thought and moral philosophy. He’s a rationalist in an age of fundamentalism. In To Be, one of his most personal films, Weldon uses the science fiction notion of a teleporter to speculate whether human beings have souls, and if so, whether a copy of an original would be possessed of a creature’s individual spirit. Heady stuff, but so is much of Weldon’s work. At bottom, John Weldon’s art is based on his critical evaluation of the world. It’s made his oeuvre unique: he combines innovative techniques and witty scenarios to provoke thought about the way we are today.

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