Interview: Theo ScottWe talk to the creator of Cuties
Theo Scott discusses Cuties: his kaleidoscopic, five-minute romp through all of human history - even the bits that haven’t happened yet.
Solitary, poor, nasty, cute(ish) and short. So goes life in the state of nature in Cuties - the award-winning animation from North East-based filmmaker Theo Scott, which launched online in November 2023.
Over the course of a chaotic five minutes, the film follows the fate of the Cuties: a species of habitually homicidal, doughy automatons who live - and die - at the mercy of their baser instincts. From their first steps on dry land, to the formation of organised religion, the industrial revolution and an imagined, digitally-disembodied future, the Cuties navigate a bleak proxy of human history with a fixed, vacant grin.
Supported by Film Hub North with BFI NETWORK Short Film Funding, Cuties began a stellar festival run in 2021 with appearances at industry heavy-hitters Sitges Film Festival and Manchester Animation Festival. Over the next two years, selections followed at festivals from Annecy to Adelaide, with local stops including London Short Film Festival, Leeds International Film Festival and Dublin International Film Festival.
With the film now finally available to audiences online, we caught up with Scott to chat about Cuties' incredible journey, his inspirations - from the Bayeux Tapestry to theoretical physics - and what his Nanna makes of all of this.
What sparked the idea for Cuties?
The film was inspired partly by the Bayeux Tapestry and how we as a species can reduce our vast history into pictorial, sequential narratives.
I had been drawing piles of dead, faceless bodies, and one morning I thought it would be funny to give them all the same gormless expression. My girlfriend started calling them ‘the Cuties’ and it seemed like the perfect name for a species of weak-willed pillow people.
How did you research the historical events and various theories that the film explores?
Throughout pre-production, we listened to a bunch of history podcasts and a few talks on consciousness - mostly by Roger Penrose, Stuart Hammerof and Leonard Susskind. Although, I am not educated enough to regurgitate the concepts back to you now.
I think I discovered more by chatting through ideas with friends, over cups of tea.
What was the pre-production process like?
Pre-production began with covering my walls with a scribbled timeline of humanity's greatest hits. I then created an animatic with a runtime of 12 minutes, which we whittled down to a more affordable 5.
The design of the world was all rendered in pencil. I wanted to contrast the detailed background with the characters’ vacant, flat design - this was an allusion to the Cuties’ actions being solely dictated by their surroundings. I also thought it would be fun to see whether we could create a relatable character with no discerning features or silhouette.
Has your approach to filmmaking changed since your earlier shorts?
I still love finding a nook between classical animation crafts and modern production technologies. My biggest change has probably been in my approach to the animatic, to keep feeding it and letting it breathe throughout pre-production. Also to never underestimate the comfort found in a well-crafted, colour-coded gantt chart.
How has the audience reaction been?
Surreal and heartwarming. Watching your film amongst an audience of strangers is a unique feeling.
My favourite reaction was probably from my Nanna, Mavis, who was initially shocked we had spent a year making a 5-minute short, but afterwards assured me that it was indeed “lovely.”
What else have you been working on?
I had poured a lot of my efforts into developing a script and animation tests for the BFI Short Form Animation Fund. The piece was called OUIJIBOARDS. It was a love letter to the montage form of skate films. And I was particularly excited about our process of utilising real skate footage, 3D tracking and partial rotoscope to create dynamic shots with a real sense of weight behind them.
Unfortunately, the project didn't proceed to production due to the fund’s closure. I've since shifted focus to exploring and developing new ideas.
What other animations should we check out?
The route to finding the weird stuff is keeping an eye out for festival selections. Some shorts that spring to mind are:
- Ding - by Malte Stein
- Under the skin, the bark - by Franck Dion
- Other Half - by Lina Kalcheva
- The Rift - by Oliver Lescot
- Hench Girl Summer - by Beatriz Ribeiro
- O Black Hole! - by Renee Zhan
- Puparia - by Shingo Tamagawa
- Wastopia - by Qianhui Yu
- The Clockwork Elves - by Nick Cross
If cartoons aren't your thing, then you are possibly of the sombre sort and should view this list as a prescription.
Cuties was supported by Film Hub North with BFI NETWORK Short Film Funding.