After  recently taking home the Dendy Award from Sydney Film Festival, the short Australian animation Nullarbor is definitely starting to turn some heads. Born from the minds of Directors Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarel, Nullarbor follows the journey of young Bernie and his older rival, Waddy, across the scenic desert plains of Australia’s Nullarbor.




Currently in its worldwide festival run, Nullarbor is screening at this years MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival). This now Oscar accredited short is sure to impress the most heartened cinema patron, so make sure to lock it in! At T-Squat we were lucky enough to grab an interview with Nullarbor’s creative heads, Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarel.


Where did the concept for the narrative come from?

PAT: The narrative was born out of a combination of personal experience, and the stories and photographs of our friends ‘coming of age’ road trips. Like all stories it is both autobiographical and in no way autobiographical.

AL: A great many men share the experience of roadtrip misadventure and conflict with strangers born of simple misunderstandings. The narrative I think is a familiar but extreme example of a story many of us will still tell, and thankfully, can now laugh at.


Tell me more about the title characters Bernie and Waddy, any family members/friends that these characters may be based on?

PAT: If I am really honest there is a lot of me in Bernie, and the character’s look was based on Bernard Witcher who designed the cars and the sets for Nullarbor. Waddy’s design was loosely based on Al’s grandfather.

AL: Ultimately though we were interested in looking at two men who at opposite ends of life but who could almost be the same person. Their conflict is born out of their similarities.

PAT: The young man sees his future in the old man and the old man sees the folly of his youth in the young man.

AL: The character designs happened very quickly. After seeing photos of Bernie Witcher, I noted his similarity to a friend of my own (we’ll call him Pete) who himself closely mirrors the impatient and reactive temperament of the character. It was with him in mind that the original sketches were created. Having been brought up in country NSW, the older man is simply an amalgam of a great many laconic, weather-beaten working men I’ve met through the years. There is a passing resemblance to my grandfather in Waddy’s features yes, but that was unintentional.


As co-directing a short animation, how did the dynamic between you work?

PAT: Al and I were pretty much on the same page in most instance. There was always this feeling that we had the best interest of the story at hearts. Al and I would arrive at solution that was better than the one that we would have come up with if either of us had free reign on our own.

AL: When we clicked we clicked and when we clashed something better would come out of it. Pat begins where I end, and vice versa. We have a great working partnership and our skills complement each other.





What are your backgrounds in animation?

PAT: I am very luck to have grown up in a family of animators and live action directors and have been exposed to film as a medium for story from a very young age. I started out as a production coordinator, but I originally trained as a musician at the VCA. I made the jump from producer to animator/director because I have always preferred working creatively and I love working with story.

AL: Despite starting out in comics, I’ve worked in the games industry for 17 years. I’ve worked in all breeds of character design, game animation, and written and directed quite a few in-game cinematic sequences, in genres ranging from sci-fi to sports simulations. It was through collaborating on two such pieces with Pat that we really clicked as a team.

PAT: Al came from comic art and games design background but he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film and a passion for storytelling that makes makes him a really interesting filmmaker. I love working with Al and I love his character designs, they have this appeal and familiarity to them that you don’t see in many artists work.

AL: We have a very similar sense of humour.


How did the creation and then editing process go? Any hiccups along the way?

PAT: Where do we start? There are always problems and it is a constant process of refining and developing. I think next time round we would like to make some more conscious choices about tone and humour. The hardest part was landing the ending, we went through about five different scenarios before we settled on the current one.

AL: When you’re working with such a desperately tight budget that you really have to let a lot of stuff go, simply because refining something that could be better will stall the production just enough to see you fall short of the finish line. It was like being on an ailing plane, low on fuel, stripping out and tossing everything but the rivets, just to stay on course. But we made it.


What have been the best moments along the way?

PAT: Picking up the award for best animation in Sydney Film Festival would have to be right up there. You tell yourself that awards don’t matter but it’s really lovely to have your work validated by your peers. The thing I love most about the process is how much you learn.

AL: Through living with the film for so long, watching every moment of it so very many times, I think I became entirely unaware of its charm. After the reception we received at Annecy, and of course the award at SFF, it was a truly edifying experience to find that the audience was reacting with the same enthusiasm as we had for the story at the start.


With a Sydney Dendy Award under your belt already, what expectations do you have for MIFF and beyond?

PAT: No expectations, while it would be fabulous to win an award in our home town, the Sydney Dendy Award and the Palm Springs Award are tremendous honours. Of course the ultimate goal is to get nominated for an Oscar, but really it’s just great to see the film screened in so many countries and have people take an interest in what we do.

AL: It’s difficult not to get excited when I think of the term ‘Oscar Accreditation’, but really all I want is for Pat and I to keep making films. This is the dream, isn’t it?


Where does Nullarbor short go from here?

PAT: We have planned a two year festival run for Nullarbor and we just want to give it as much exposure as possible.

KAT (producer): We’ve sold the film to TV channels in France, Switzerland and South Africa; secured a theatrical release in France as well as Worldwide distribution through one of the leading shorts distributors – Shorts International. So it’ll be available on iTunes and all kinds of other places soon.

AL: We really want people to see the film.


Any projects planned in the future? Maybe a full length Nullarbor feature?

PAT: So glad you asked, yes we are hoping to make a feature version of Nullarbor. The working title is ’90 Mile Straight’ and we are currently well underway with character designs and a treatment, think ‘Pulp Fiction’ meets ‘The Incredibles’.

AL: And hopefully, this next one will be even better!


Words: Matthew Cohen

Tags: animation, award, dendy, film, MIFF, nullarbor, oscar, short

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