When asked, Toby Pritchard says he is an Illustrator, but that's for simplicity, as his work is somewhere between illustration and film; using hand-built 3D models and animation to direct his narratives rather than more traditional drawings. Toby elaborates, ‘I could never decide on a particular drawing style, so each project was completely different than the last, so when the opportunity came to try out making puppets, it was something I seemed to grasp fairly quickly, and allowed me to express myself without having to think about being too consistent. Plus I’ve always been interested in photography, and this way of working allows me to use my puppets as actors and models in any narratives’.
When working, Toby always starts with the character. He says, ‘I find it more interesting to create a character first and then figure out what world they live in, as opposed to creating something to fit an already existing narrative.’ This leads to often rather emotionally driven work in elegant, almost ethereal worlds that leave the focus on the character and their story. The way the character comes to life guides the story.
In a project based on The Lost Sheep by William J Webb, the whole narrative of the film was inspired by the character design. ‘One part of my drawings and models were dark and depressing, compared to others that were more vibrant and fun. The story I decided to go with was about someone full of colour in a town that was all in black and white, and how they became isolated and ultimately evicted by the town’s people, only to be saved later by someone just as black and white.’
Toby’s work is very emotionally led and that comes a lot from the subject’s he chooses to work with, ‘that way I can really put my heart and soul into the project and bring up narratives and issues that interest me.’ In the Lost Sheep inspired film, ‘the message I hoped to get across is that people shouldn’t be judged just on the way they look, and not to be put in the same category as someone else because they are the same colour.’
The tactile nature of his work is also no accident, ‘My work is heavily centred around the idea of materiality and using specific materials to evoke a response from an audience. So when it comes to making a puppet, I will go through a selection of fabrics that I think will help bring the puppet and its personality alive.’ The very physical world that the character inhabits is left minimal leaving a lot of room for the character’s emotion. It is the physical nature of Toby’s work that stands out amongst cartoon and computer animation and gives that emotional impact.