We were first entranced by Simon Cottee’s gorgeous animation style when we featured his film, The Wedding, way back in 2013. Now, two years later, Mr. Cottee returns with The Duck, a poetic, visually stunning adaptation of Ben Loory’s story of the same name. Armed with Kickstarter backing and additional funding from Screen Australia, Cottee provides more of his signature watercolor style to convey a heartfelt, melancholic narrative. The visuals alone make this film striking—each frame like a painting that you would want to hang over your couch—but, it’s also an emotional journey: a parable for love, loss, and moving on.
The literal events of the film are quite simple. As the plot synopsis suggests our protagonist is a duck who is in love with a rock—an inanimate object that is incapable of loving him back. So, with the help of new friends, he sets out on a journey to throw it off a cliff that may or may not exist.
But, the film is also quite allegorical. You could parse the deeper meaning of the plot in any number of ways. For me personally, I took it as metaphor that one must work through his/her emotional baggage in order to see the opportunities right in front of oneself. In the case of the film, this is centered on the connection between the protagonist and the female duck. With the weight of the rock physically destroyed, he is able to see what was there all along.
The simple idea of a love or obsession towards something that feels unappreciated or impossible and the process of taking any action, whether it good or bad, to free yourself from it.
Cottee puts it far more eloquently. Communicating via e-mail, he writes: “I obviously related to the narrative, and it’s fairy tale qualities make it pretty universal for all of our respective baggage. The simple idea of a love or obsession towards something that feels unappreciated or impossible and the process of taking any action, whether it good or bad, to free yourself from it.”
I’ve already gushed over the visuals of this film quite a bit—but I’m especially taken with the design of the ducks. Their geometric shapes are a wonderful contrast to the beautifully composed, organic landscapes and backgrounds. This is complemented by a highly emotional score by Grammy nominated composer Austin Wintory (the music might be a bit heavy-handed for some…but I was absorbed by it).
Even with support from both the Kickstarter campaign and Screen Australia, the film took quite awhile for Cottee to put together. As he relates, “I used TVPaint animation software and sat in my bedroom for 1.5 years and slowly lost my mind (in a fun way). I had some assistance towards the end with the colouring from my animation buddy Toma Ward and the voice actors were local Brisbane writers, friends and lazily myself.”
Cottee’s 2D animation process is quite intensive—he never reuses a frame of animation and draws full, fresh bodies even for lip sync. I think the hard work shows through, giving The Duck a look and feel that surpasses so many other short animations that have flooded online nowadays.
As for what’s next, Cottee states: “I’m now living in Montreal working with animator Malcolm Sutherland on all kinds of crazy things. I plan on starting my 3rd film next year so I guess I might see you all in another… 3 years or something.” Whatever it is, Mr. Cottee, we’re sure it will be worth the wait.