Phill Simmonds’ love affair with drawing and animation began as a child in the Hawkes Bay. Thanks to a mother who was involved in musical theatre, Phill and his brother Jeff were introduced to the magic of theatre “at a very early age. When we were animating we combine sound and pictures and when you put music and images together you have theatre [...]. We also grew up watching Walt Disney movies and always dreamed of animating and making movies ourselves.”
As teenagers the brothers began experimenting with the same frame-by-frame techniques that underlie animation, by using an 8mm camera to create stop frame footage of bottles moving around the back lawn.
In 1978 Phill left home to work as proofreader in Wellington. Later he moved into graphic design and cartoon illustrations. Phill had long wondered how his characters would look if they were moving. After reading up on animation and buying basic animation software, he and his brother created some simple 2D animation for their website. They bought an early version of Flash and began incorporating sound effects for their work, and interactive elements. All their work is hand drawn to achieve an "organic, crafted look", though computers are used to speed up the colouring in and combining of images.
Having seen the work of legendary British stop-motion animators Aardman Studios, in 2002 Phill realised the potential of marrying cartoon characters to unscripted interviews of people telling their own stories. 'Documation', as they called it, offered the chance to capture the naturalism of real conversations, many of them from members of their local Kapiti Coast community. The Simmonds got together a small team to interview locals, and the first first two films to result were shorts Paekakariki - Centre of the Universe and Pearl, Florrie and the Bull. In this period the Simmonds Brothers also applied documation to their first commercial project, for the NZ Immigration Service.
For their next film, music tale The Paselode Story, the duo combined documation with some live-action material. By 2006 the films — and accolades — were flowing freely. The duo netted $28,000 in film supplies after winning the award for 2006 SPADA New Filmmaker of the Year. They also took away a local short film award (Best Film at Show Me Shorts) for A Very Nice Honeymoon, which condensed five generations of family history into 10 minutes. Phill won the award again the following year with Noise Control, a tale of animal angst which includes cameos from Paul Holmes and Carol Hirschfeld. The brothers also produced 50 one-minute episodes of Rasta Rangi, which played — in te reo — on Māori Television.
Further shorts have followed, including campaigns for the Ministry of Health and a partly animated reality series, which debuted on the Stuff.co.nz website. The series chronicled Kapiti band The Volunteers. In a stroke of luck Phill was able to record documentary footage of the band as they developed and practised “literally in my own living room”.
Phill Simmonds is developing a feature-length animated project, based on the campaign of non-violent resistance at Parihaka. Simmonds wrote the script with producer Matthew Horrocks (Accidents).
Simmonds Brothers website. Accessed 14 October 2011
‘INTERVIEW: The brothers grin’ - Onfilm, February 2007