Every week this Women’s History Month, we’re sharing interviews with some of the remarkable women behind the creation of Sgt. Stubby and his on-going journey around the world!
To kick off this series, we’ll be profiling Emily Cantrill, producer of Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (or Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero as he’s better known in Emily’s home country of the United Kingdom) and VP of Creative & Marketing for Fun Academy Media Group, Ltd.
A brilliant designer and textile artist from Penzance, Cornwall (on England’s southwestern coast), Emily suddenly found a new use for her considerable artistic skills in the film industry through Sgt. Stubby. In addition to her production duties, she is also the driving force behind Fun Academy’s marketing and social media while also raising two kids!
Creativity runs through the Cantrill household as her husband, Moss Cantrill (best known by his DJ moniker Daytoner), is an accomplished recording artist and performer whose work can be heard as the soundtrack to many of our “Making of a Hero” behind-the-scenes clips and DVD special features.
Hi Emily! First off, how did you get involved in the film industry?
I’ve enjoyed a varied creative career, spending many years working as decorative artist and textile designer for women’s fashion before working as an artist for director Richard Lanni on a couple of his previous projects. I first became involved in the film industry in 2015 when I joined the Fun Academy team. At this time, the medium in which the story of Sgt. Stubby would be depicted was still being decided, so my first role was as a concept and pre-production artist. As the project developed and grew, so did my role within it.
What’s your favorite movie?
I don’t think I could narrow it down to just one. I love a variety of movies from the classics like Dr. Zhivago and Breakfast at Tiffany’s through to quirky independent films. Having 2 young children, I have watched more animated movies than anything else in the last 11 years. I really enjoyed the Ice Age series, but don’t think Toy Story can be beaten! We’re also enjoying introducing them to old favourites like E.T. and Mary Poppins.
What makes a film great to you?
I love the sense of escapism and immersiveness of really great storytelling. Also, having my preconceptions proved wrong. A film that I wasn’t too sure about watching was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I wouldn’t normally choose a film with these actors as leads, but was really pleased I watched it and thought it was great story and a really unique film. I also enjoy movies with a sense of quirkiness and love Wes Anderson, particularly The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Life Aquatic for their sense of comedy, style and artistry.
Who were some of your major influences when you first started out?
Sgt. Stubby is actually the first movie I have worked on. When we were exploring styles for the film, we knew we wanted to stay away from the bright, saturated candy floss colours of the current animations on the market. We wanted to make Sgt. Stubby look relevant to its time in history and honour the fact it is a true story. We looked to people like French comic artist Jacques Tardi for inspiration rather than take our lead from the other animated movies out there.
Before Fun Academy came into my life, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe have always influenced my own design work. I appreciate their attitude and confidence as female artists as well as their beautiful approach to colour and subject matter.
More recently I’ve become an admirer of the work of Norwegian artist, Kristin Vestgard, who now lives close to me in Cornwall and I am lucky enough to be able to get to most of her exhibitions. Although I haven’t practiced as a textile designer for many years, I try keep up to date with current trends in print design. I love the bold work of Marni and Marimekko amongst other designers. This mixture of styles has also impacted on my work as a paper cutter, where I combine graphic florals that were a big part of my designs, with elements of vintage travel posters and locations around me here in Cornwall.
Are there qualities that make a film better for you?
It’s absolutely lovely to come across an unexpected gem. My husband and I recently watched the New Zealand production of Hunt for the Wilderpeople having never previously heard of it, or seen any reviews. It’s a perfect example of a great film – funny, sad and beautifully shot – and completely captivating from start to finish. I think this element of the unexpected makes for a more memorable and better film.
What do you think the biggest surprise about the film industry would be to the general movie-goer?
Having never worked in film or animation before, it has been an incredible learning curve. Making an animated movie is a far lengthier and more complex process than I initially perceived, and I am in awe of the dedication and hard work the fantastic team of over 200 artists and animators put in to create it. The hours of patience and technique that is required, even to make an individual hair move, is incredible.
Do you have a “dream project” that you’d like to work on?
My son is 11 years old and has discovered a passion for comic book writing and character design. He has written a brilliant book full of weird and wonderful characters of his own creation. It would be a dream to make his story into an animated movie. Maybe one day!
What advice can you give to people wanting to get into the film industry?
If the opportunity arises, take it! Just be prepared to be adaptive to the wide range of challenges involved in making a movie.