“We used to have wombats in the house and possums on top of the fridge and little baby kangaroos in the living room – then we’d go to the zoo to do things like feed monkeys. It was so magical, it’s unreal,” recalls Darcy Prendergast.
The director, who is one of the founders of Melbourne-based directing collective Oh Yeah Wow, which recently joined the Passion Pictures roster, has one of the wildest origin stories ever. And we really do mean wild.
Raised by a zookeeper father and an artist mother – who would turn her hand to a new medium every few weeks – Darcy was never going to be an accountant. His father would come home with tales of wrestling pythons. His mother would mosaic the outside of the family home, create elaborate pots and pepper the garden with sculptures.
That experience imbued Darcy with an unshakeable faith in creativity and the drive to follow his dreams however tough things got. “They made that conscious decision to do what they loved. I didn’t grow up in a very rich family in terms of finances, but they were amazing in that they said focus on what you love. Put all your eggs in one basket. You only got one life, you might as well give it a crack.”
It was animation, and Claymation specifically, that captured Darcy’s own heart. This passion manifested itself during high school, when he met Seamus Spilsbury, a fellow stop motion enthusiast two years Darcy’s junior. As the pair were noodling and nerding about with plasticine, they had little idea how important that relationship would become – Seamus would eventually co-found Oh Yeah Wow with Darcy.
Wax Tailor feat Aloe Blacc- Time To Go from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
For each of them, the attraction to clay-based animation was rooted in unusual childhood experiences.
“Seamus and I both have our own origin stories for that. Mine was: ‘I was given the sex talk with plasticine genitalia’. That’s how my dad decided to have that chat with me. His sculpting skills left a lot to be desired, may I just say,” laughs Darcy. “With Seamus, we both grew up in poorer families here in Australia and Seamus couldn’t afford Star Wars figurines, so he made his own.”
A few years after high school, the pair hooked up when Darcy needed to borrow Seamus’s ute [that’s ‘utility vehicle’ for the non-Australians]. Unfortunately the ute picked up a parking fine, eating up half of the $1,000 budget – so Darcy persuaded Seamus to help him finish the rest of the project.
Gotye: Easy Way Out from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
The pair made their name on painstaking animated music videos – break out projects included a stop motion knitted octopus slithering round Melbourne for the Wax Tailor feat. Aloe Blacc track Time to Go and the Gotye promo Easy Way Out. These were tough projects – stop motion is always time consuming, particularly when it’s crafted with Oh Yeah Wow’s care and ambition. The Gotye promo took nine months and the Aloe Blacc video, which saw four animators work solidly for three months, was so complex that one animator quit after one day on the job.
Though their first love was stop-motion, the pair realised that if they were going to survive they would need to broaden their scope and skillset. “The evolution took a sharp right-hand turn when we realised we were finding it hard to make a regular income from music videos, especially in Australia, and that Claymation was going to kill us,” recalls Darcy.
At that time things were so tough that Darcy was living in a small attic he’d built into the ceiling of his warehouse workshop – he was careful to hide it from the prying eyes of the landlord. That experience became particularly difficult when he saw that the carefully crafted videos that he and Seamus had poured themselves into were being ripped off by brands and bigger bands. It’s why these days Darcy isn’t big on ‘referencing’ other work and artists and prefers a purer approach to creativity.
“I lived there for five years while we built the business to get to the point that it could function. So it hurt so much when someone ripped you off because you’re living that life. You can’t afford rent. I could barely afford rent for the business, let alone having a real-person house, so it was like ‘Christ! This hurts! These guys are being paid ridiculous amounts of money and they could have reached out to us’,” he says. “It hurt to have all your artwork and creativity lifted like that which is why I strive for originality in what we do.”
Uber - Discover A New Way To Move from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
The big break into the world of commercials came with a music video for a band called The Paper Kites. It saw the directors photograph 350 people and edit the photos together, giving the appearance of flickering, constantly shifting face as it sang.
The Paper Kites: Young from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
“It went gangbusters. We had had a few hits but that was the one that lent itself to the commercial world and almost immediately we were flown to London to shoot a Coke commercial that was sadly never released,” says Darcy. “That was the one that seemingly elevated us, and we had production companies come to us, trying to sign us. We certainly stepped into a bold new world.”
Milka: The Snack That Makes You Dream from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
Since then the pair have worked on brands like Uber, Vodafone, Tele2 and Coca-Cola – using everything from live action and choreography to puppetry and VFX. And there are still plenty of music videos and personal projects too. Notable mentions include the music video ‘Being’ for artist Millington – it’s a love story between a young woman and a parasite that is all too familiar.
Millington - Being from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
Recently they’ve been developing a kids’ cartoon series called Monsters' Playground – watch this space on that one. And Darcy, as well as writing a feature, has been working on a ground-breaking short documentary. There’s so much going on that one wonders how he manages to fit it all in.
“I’m the kind of person who loves creating so, so much. I don’t want any down time at all – I want to keep making stuff back to back. I have an insatiable thirst to make art. I have to be using my hands. I don’t stop. I draw on my iPad, paint on canvases. it’s an itch I had to scratch,” he says, his enthusiasm radiating from his Melbourne studio to our London office. “I haven’t been diagnosed but I’m pretty sure I have ADHD. I bounce around a lot and I operate at a very high frequency. I have just learned to work around it and work with that strength. That’s the way I see it anyway. I bake it into my work. I’m always so inspired.”
The documentary, Stranger Beasts is a film about his father, who at one point worked as a lion and tiger keeper at a safari park. Any spare moment, Darcy is making models or stencils or heading out with a camera to shoot snippets for the film.
TELE 2 - Basketball from Oh Yeah Wow on Vimeo.
“That’s the thing - I really shouldn’t be alive. Dad should have been killed multiple times. He was only 17 and 18 when he was working at that park – he was just a young boy hopped up on testosterone and stupidity… by my father’s own admission!” explains Darcy.
The film will use only animation techniques that were available in the 70s and 80s. Things like stop motion, 2D, light painting. It will combine archive footage with interviews with Darcy’s father, shot on 16mm to match the feel of the older elements. It’s a deeply personal project that Darcy says will illuminate the sad, darker side of Bacchus Marsh Safari Park, as well as the wonder and thrill.
“I’d like to think that when it lands it will be like nothing you’ve seen in the documentary space. I really want it to make an impact,” says Darcy of his ambition – aware that it’s a lot to pour into a single short. But it’s a fitting tribute to his parents, particularly his dad, who imbued Darcy with the sense of wonder and magic that has fuelled his career as a filmmaker. It’s going to be a strange and beautiful tribute to the man who gave him his spark.