Adam Elliot feature - Mary and Max
Mary and Max (2009)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 15 Jul 2014

The Crown Prince of Plasticine: Adam Elliot

Craft Exhibition Film Interview
ACMI X colourful wall

Mike Childs

Former ACMI Visitor Services Officer

We spoke to Adam Elliot about winning an Oscar and put to him some of the most frequently asked questions from our visitors.

Once described as the "Crown Prince of Plasticine", Melbourne-based animator Adam Elliot has won many awards over his career. However, the 2003 Short Film (Animation) Academy Award for his 22 minute film Harvie Krumpet is a highlight.

Mike Childs: Your Oscar has lived at Screen Worlds for many years since you won it for Harvie Krumpet. Why did you give us the chance to display your prize?

Adam Elliot: Well, two reasons. At the time, I didn’t have house and contents insurance and the Oscar’s worth quite a lot of money apparently. It just wasn’t safe in my little tiny flat. It’s also the first Australian film fully financed by the taxpayer to have won an Oscar. As an entirely public-funded film, we thought it only fair that the Oscar go on permanent display so visitors can come in and see their little bit of Oscar that they helped fund.

I still occasionally pop in to visit him. If you look at Oscar, he’s a naked bald man and so is Harvie Krumpet in the film so…

MC: Yes, they make a great pair! How often do you visit Harvie and Oscar?

AE: I haven’t visited for a while but I know that ACMI look after them and the public love to come and see them. I have enough memories in my head. To me it’s a bit like returning to the scene of a car accident… it’s still a moment in my life which was quite a shock. But a lot of fond memories come flooding back too… it’s a good car accident. I try not to think about what happened all those years ago, but it’s nice to re-visit them every now and then to remind me.

MC: What went through your mind when they called your name at the Oscars ceremony?

AE: My producer Melanie (Coombs) was probably a little bit more cognitive about the whole process. I really had convinced myself internally that we had no chance, but I think Melanie was a little bit more confident. To be honest, I was very numb and don’t remember much at all. It all happened so quick and being the underdog – even my mother said we weren’t going to win.

MC: So little faith!

AE: Oh we all had little faith. I mean we were up against Disney, Pixar and Fox Studios, so we were definitely a long shot. But we surprised even ourselves.

Adam Elliot - Mary and Max - Onya Mazagine.jpg

MC: Your Oscar shares a room with Cate Blanchett’s Oscar for The Aviator. Has it ever crossed your mind that the two Oscars might hook up and make mischief when all the visitors have gone home?

AE: Well, all Oscars are identical, but I don’t know whether mine’s worth as much as Cate’s. But nevertheless I’d like to think that my little naked man and Cate’s little naked man have a little dance together. I’ve met Cate a few times and she’s a lovely person. I’m sure all sorts of shenanigans happen when the lights are turned off at ACMI.

MC: Having collaborated with us on the fantastic Mary and Max: The Exhibition, we would like to know what’s next for Adam Elliot – a full length animation or more short films?

AE: Good question. I never try to worry too much about length. For me, it’s quality not quantity. I’ve just finished writing my new film and it could go either way at this stage. It has a lot to do with how much money I get from investors. Features are more challenging and there’s more expectation and pressure on you, but I still love the short format.

MC: Do you have any advice for would-be animators who are inspired by your Oscar-winning success?

AE: Well the secret to winning an Oscar is to actually not try to win an Oscar. Forget about awards and festivals and focus on your story. Harvie Krumpet was written on 24 bits of A4 paper. I did about a dozen or so drafts. Without a polished script you’ll never have a good film and you’ll never win awards. So focus on the story because story is paramount.

And it doesn’t matter how much money you can gather either. Harvie’s budget was miniscule compared to Disney, Pixar and Fox’s. We always said that our budget is what those studios would have spent on catering. So it just proves that a good story well told will always triumph.

– Mike Childs, Visitor Services Officer, ACMI