Family Portrait by Joseph Pierce Family Portrait by Joseph Pierce

An ongoing weekly series in which we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

This week’s subject is British filmmaker Joseph Pierce, whose darkly comic and surreal work unearths the often absurd and dark spots in human behavior.

In a sentence: Pierce is one of the few animators to use the rotoscope technique to exquisitely blend live action and animation to reflect a distorted, fractured, and bizarre world littered with complex, broken, and lonely souls.

Where to start: A Family Portrait (2010). There’s always something false about family portraits and professional photos in general. They’re you, yet not you. They block out all the assorted conflicts and cracks within a family dynamic. Pierce, with an expert use of rotoscope, shows us a family falling apart during a portrait session. A blisteringly savage tragicomedy.

What to watch next: The Pub (2012). Seen through the eyes of a barmaid, Pierce’s trippy monochrome approach serves up nightmarish slices of assorted customers’ lives inside a local pub.

Other key works: Stand Up (2008). A comedian’s stand-up performance goes horribly wrong.

Influences: Paula Rego, Thomas Vinterberg (and the Dogme 95 movement), Richard Pryor

Says: “I’ve always wanted to draw but can’t really draw, um… well. So I cheated and traced over the top. I soon realized this was incredibly boring until I started exaggerating and distorting. From there, yeah it was quite organic. I tend not to script the ‘animated’ elements too heavily and really take inspiration from the live-action frame in front of me. For me it is a happy medium between the reality of live-action and the surreal nature of animation.”

Currently working on: Pierce recently finished Scale (2022), an adaptation of a story by Will Self about a drug addicted father obsessed with highway planning.

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Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is the artistic director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the author of numerous books about animated films.

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