Close-Up: A man with a cast of characters at his fingertips

From his cute scenes for Lloyds TSB to the dark Winter Olympics trailer, Marc Craste is a versatile animator.

With a gold Lion from this year's Cannes Advertising Festival and two Bafta awards to his credit, you might think it only a matter of time before Marc Craste extends his career in animation from advertising to full-length feature films.

Indeed, if you add his prodigious output of commercials that make up Lloyds TSB's "for the journey" campaign (25 TV spots over the past three years), you wonder why producers aren't beating a path to the Studio AKA offices in Soho where he works.

Craste's case becomes all the more compelling when you consider the impact of one of his Bafta winners, Jojo In The Stars, a dark and tragic animated short film that proved a career-defining moment for him when it appeared seven years ago. He followed it with Varmints, an eco fable based on Helen Ward's award-winning book.

And don't forget his spectacular trailer for BBC Sport's Vancouver Winter Olympics coverage created in collaboration with Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R that scored at Cannes and Bafta.

With all that going for him, Craste ought to have been pushing at an open door as far as getting into movies is concerned. In fact, the opposite is true."I'd love to do a feature-length animated film because it would be very different to what I've been doing so far," he says. "But it's very difficult to get traction."

The reasons are manifold. For one thing, such films are hugely expensive to make. For another, you must have an idea that will work in an extended format. Craste has had a few concepts buzzing around his brain, but he admits: "Sometimes they just don't have the legs."

This isn't to suggest that he is perpetually frustrated at being unable to break free of advertising's constraints. On the contrary, he believes that such limitations can enhance creativity. And there's no doubt that advertising has given him enormous opportunities to evolve and develop what has been a lifelong passion for animation.

It was ignited, unsurprisingly, by Walt Disney's work. Not, though, by the cavortings of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck but by the mould-breaking Fantasia, which opened up his childhood mind to animation's possibilities.

It certainly helps explain the eclectic nature of Craste's work and his cast of characters that range from violent to cute, enacting stories that can move you to tears as easily as they can make you smile.

"Animation works in advertising because it simplifies things to such an extent that enables it to cut through the clutter," he explains. "It charms people and they respond to it in a different way than to film. It's almost like reverting to childhood."

British-born but with an Australian mother, Craste grew up in Sydney. He left school at 18 determined to earn his living in animation. However, he quickly found what he was doing unfulfilling. "The work wasn't good because the opportunities weren't there," he recalls. "There were just a couple of studios in Sydney turning out mostly Saturday morning TV stuff."

His horizons were broadened when joined up with an animator who had worked in London and got introduced to some UK production house showreels. What he saw convinced him that, after 12 years working in Sydney, it was time to return home. He arrived in London in 1997 and it has been his base ever since.

During that time, he believes animation techniques in advertising have grown ever more sophisticated along with their audiences. Characters like the Cresta bear are now primarily for children as animation explores new territory opened up by the blurring of the old demarcation lines with live action, he says.

The huge range of his output - from the delightful series of TV spots for Orange that helped put Studio AKA on the map to Jojo In The Stars, in which a silver-plated trapeze artist is worshipped from afar by an unnamed figure in a love story with a far from happy ending - makes you wonder about the sources of his inspiration.

Is he, perhaps, melancholic by nature? "Not necessarily, although I wouldn't trust myself to do a knock-about farce," he smiles. He believes much of his influences are drawn from childhood - his own and that of his own two children.

"I watch them growing up and the way they experience things differently," he says. "They help shape my views about what's important."

At the same time, he senses the recurring impact of his boyhood fascination with blockbuster movies like Star Wars. "They have influenced me in ways I wasn't conscious of at the time," he adds. "It's clear to me now that some of the ways of staging things that I use now were inspired by those films I watched as a teenager."

Whether he gets to do a blockbuster of his own remains to be seen: "Of course, I have my commercials work and my short films - and the hope that an idea emerges that will attract the right sort of attention."

DAMON COLLINS ON MARC CRASTE

When we asked Marc to have a look at the Winter Olympics project, we weren't entirely convinced it was up his street.

I figured I knew his "kind of thing" quite well; he and I had spent the previous two years working on the Lloyds TSB "for the journey" campaign, developing a rather charming and colourful world full of backstroking cows and pointy-nosed people.

The Winter Olympics, however, unlike the summer Games, isn't all bright and jolly. People don't hop into sandpits or jump over sticks. They fling themselves head first, 100 miles an hour down frigging great sheets of ice. They chuck themselves off 80-foot drops with nothing but two planks strapped to their feet. The people involved in competitive winter sports are maniacs, clearly. Accordingly, there was no room in our film for whimsy. It called for the kind of malevolent darkness appropriate to such a potentially deadly event.

When we first received Marc's treatment, I had to check whether they'd stuck the wrong name on the top by mistake. After the producer confirmed it wasn't a clerical error, I realised just how little I knew the man who sits opposite me every week down in Berwick Street.

It was clear that this gently spoken, mild-mannered and amazingly talented artist, best known for his light-hearted, quirky take on life, has a dark side. By the aggressive angles and jagged monochromatic sketches, Marc had innately understood what we wanted to achieve and was relishing the opportunity to flex his "moody muscles". He'd gone, I think the technical term is, evil on our ass.

With a miniscule budget and ludicrous timings, he proceeded to craft a visually stunning film.

And he did it all with equanimity. (Surprisingly, bearing in mind his now apparent true character and my rather fastidious notes, I never saw his head spin round once, nor any projectile vomiting hit the wall.)

More than anything, the experience prompted me to re-evaluate my thoughts toward other animators I'd met and worked with over the years.Jerry Hibbert, Paul Vester, Oscar Grillo, John Lasseter. They all seem so nice. But under that charming exterior, who knows what may be lurking? I mean, spending hour upon hour, night after night, just you and a pencil? Anyone could end up like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

- Damon Collins is the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.

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