Confessions of a claymation artist: An interview with Lee Hardcastle

‘I make claymations that are NOT for children.’ The Leeds born-and-bred filmmaker Lee Hardcastle doesn’t lie. In 2011, the Northern Film School alumnus took to YouTube to showcase his dark, twisted creations; equipped only with a cheap laptop, a digital camera, some malleable clay and ambition by the bloodied bucket load. A few years later, his presence on the online broadcasting platform is as fearsome as the animations themselves, with audiences flocking in their millions to watch his music videos, humorous sketches, short films and movie parodies. Some are hilarious, some are disgusting, some are hyperviolent. All are brilliant.

Tirelessly cultivating an audience online, Lee finally got his big break with the anthology horror film The ABCs of Death. Produced by Drafthouse Films, and in affiliation with Austin’s Fantastic Fest, the omnibus movie sees 26 up and coming genre-film directors bestowed with total creative freedom and a £5,000 budget to each produce a short film that explores one grisly demise. Hardcastle’s ‘T is for Toilet’ short is the best of the bunch; sticking to familiar black comedy tropes, whilst injecting a new source of clayed-up exuberance into the conventional horror genre.

The Frame Loop were lucky enough to catch up with our man Lee to wax lyrical about his fastidious work routine, internet fame and hopes for the filmmaking future.

Luke Richardson: What ignited your interest in claymation as a storytelling medium?

Lee Hardcastle: I had no money or crew to make the videos that I wanted to make, so using stop motion animation as a medium allowed me to chip away at a production in my own time as and when it pleased me.

There’s a DIY aesthetic to your work that recalls the likes of comedy duo Adam & Joe, or even a musician like Daniel Johnston. Do you consider your work to be personal, or has it always been intended for the big audiences you’ve quickly snapped up?

Thanks, Adam & Joe were huge inspirations. The videos I make are purely for the audience, I want to entertain and wow the viewer. I focus on what worked in the last video and then attempt to amplify it in the next video. 

Tell us a little bit about a regular working day in the life of Lee Hardcastle.

I usually dedicate days to writing, storyboarding and planning and then buying materials. Once everything is set and ready to go, I’ll start shooting in a dark room at 6 – 16 hours a day. It depends on if I’m happy with the amount of work I’ve done or if I need to push for deadlines. I listen to the radio while I work and interact with my audience on the social websites inbetween shots.

Some of your biggest YouTube successes have been parodies of classic movies, such as The Evil Dead and Die Hard. How do you decide what sacred cows to joust with?

It’s a mix of two things 1. If I think people will want to see the finished video. 2. If I feel something inside me that excites me to move forward with the project. Those rules applies to all my videos really.

What has the response been like from the filmmakers whose work you have paid homage to? 

Really positive reactions! Which is very cool and an absolute joy for me and makes it all more worth the while. I did make one for Eli Roth’s Hostel which I thought was a clever joke but it back fired because Roth and another director I was poking fun at didn’t really respond with the pat on the back that I expected, which made things horribly awkward.

The release of genre film anthology movie The ABCs of Death will see you catapulted into cinemas worldwide. Do you think there’s a place for claymation on the big screen?

Almost definitely. There’s a bit of confusion what claymation is. ParaNormanCoraline and Frankenweenie are pre-rendered models and puppets, which is fine, but to see a movie made out of clay would be something very special, and I love the reaction ‘T is for Toilet’ gets in the cinema. It’s just bonkers because the video was crudely made by one guy with clay, but audience accept the medium, forgive the flaws and engage in the story without hesitation and go along for the ride.

You’ve been able to do what so many before have tried and failed – use the internet to showcase your art and ignite your career path. What’s the secret to the success?

Don’t invest too much time and energy and money into your masterpeice then bang it online and expect people to flood in their thousands to watch it. It just doesn’t work like that I’m afraid. The secret is to keep producing content, keep pumping, keep throwing shit at the wall and see what sticks. Not everything you do is gonna gel with the internet audience but the stuff that does, take note and work with it.

Quitting your day job and going full-time leads me to believe that you’re not slowing down anytime soon. What’s next for you?

Same old throwing shit at the wall. Raising the bar, trying my damn hardest to blow your mind.

Witness the mordant majesty of Lee’s work yourself! Subscribe to his YouTube video feed and website here. The ABCs of Death is on limited cinema release across the UK from now, and available to rent and purchase from the iTunes store.