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Gibbon: Digging Out the Humour in the Taboo

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This duo of animator and director, consisting of Aggelos Papantoniou and Nikhil Markale, finds all the uncomfortable, disturbing, funny and secret parts of life, and illustrates them in film, writes LBB’s Zoe Antonov

Gibbon: Digging Out the Humour in the Taboo

Gibbon - a young team of directors with a subversive catalogue of work have recently signed to Unlisted’s roster, so naturally, we had to get to know them. Aggelos Papantoniou and Nikhil Markale are the two equally talented and outrageously funny halves of what Gibbon has become as an animation duo today. 

As with many creative pairs, these two met at university, as early as orientation day on the animation course that they both studied at RMIT in 2013. “I believe Nikhil was the first classmate I talked to that day and if memory serves me well, after orientation finished we went for a coffee and tried to impress each other with drawings that we kept on our phones,” remembers Aggelos. And this was, of course, the start of a beautiful friendship. As time went on, the two of them grew closer during their studies, with the help of some healthy competition. “After uni, studios would hire us to work on the same jobs and we also started making films together, which eventually led to the creation of Gibbon as a platform to showcase our collaborative projects.” Following this, Gibbon slowly but surely became more like a ‘real’ animation studio, where jobs came directly to the duo and they directed and executed them as a team.


What Gibbon had become didn’t just materialise out of thin air - it was the fruit of hard work and constant back and forth during Nikhil and Aggelos’ time at university. During their course, Nikhil says that the two of them were constantly “trying to come up with ideas and make them during our breaks.” None of these ideas really ever made it to completion, but working on assignments together and making their graduation projects alongside each other helped shape that similar workflow between them that they put to work in Gibbon. “After graduation we finally made our first complete film together, which was Tall Bed.” Tall Bed, if all of you are wondering, is a short animation about a guy engaging in the sinful act of picking his nose on a 40 feet tall bed - we will talk about that later.

Both animators have always been attracted to the uncomfortable and more disturbing aspects of storytelling - those nooks and crannies of a story that make a reader or watcher squirm, but keep them hooked enough to not be able to look away. “Anything that feels a bit taboo gets us pretty excited and we think there’s an inherent humour that comes from people doing the wrong thing and from characters that are flawed,” explains Nikhil. All of this shines through their work, from the earliest efforts to their best and most recent projects. When it comes to inspiration, Gibbon are inspired by their own lives and personal struggles, as well as keeping a close eye on what their families and close friends are going through. “That means we believe gossip is always fertile ground for developing new stories!” 

This is exactly why Gibbon loves to start its characters with a problem - usually something that “stems from a flaw they have within themselves.” “We then use that as a jumping point for a story or a joke we want to tell. Things like jealousy, fear, insecurities and obsessions often seem to make an appearance when we think of stories,” explains Nikhil. When referencing their own lives, they try to draw parallels between them and people that they know around them, and through that unpack behaviours to reveal reasonings behind why people have certain issues. “And all of this is told through a filter of surreal humor, where the point is often not to take whatever flaw a character has too seriously or judge it too harshly. Instead, we want the audience to relate to it and see it in themselves.”

This entire workflow starts from “The Book” - a little notebook that Aggelos keeps with all of their ideas. Whenever they find time to make a film or need to start writing, The Book is usually a point of reference to get them going. In those early stages, they throw around ideas and try to find out the main direction the piece might be going in. Sometimes that can be an exploration of an idea, and other times it can be centred around a visual style, but most of the time, Nikhil says, it is “something they both find funny.” Once that has been put down, they start making boards and animatics. “This is the stage where we see if our vision for the film is working or if a joke is landing. If it doesn’t work in the animatic, we know it’s not going to work when it’s animated.” The rest of the process is where they do the animation, backgrounds, compositing and working with sound all “at more or less the same time,” slowly piecing the film together. “It has become a custom now that a little while after a film or project of ours is released, we debrief and try to evaluate what we did right and wrong and how we can go forward next time to make something better,” tells Nikhil about the final phase of their projects.

One particular film that has caught our eye is ‘Baby Baby’ - which encompasses everything that Gibbon is about. It’s humorous, slightly disturbing, both on the nose and a bit confusing. “The inspiration for the film is from the feelings a man who is not prepared to have children goes through when he is told that he became a father. But it can also be viewed in a literal way, which some people find even funnier,” tells Aggelos. “We made this little film between other jobs and I remember that we spent a lot of time trying to find the voice of the woman on the other side of the line. We asked a few friends to do takes, we paid others on Fiverr, but nothing worked well. Half jokingly I asked my mum to give it a shot and it worked splendidly. The middle aged voice with the strong accent added a whole new dimension to the story - that was a very happy accident.” Drawing these parallels between the personal and the outside, Aggelos and Gibbon are not afraid to create unconventional and sometimes scary storylines. 


One of those is Mrs. Metro - a disturbing story about the lady that makes the announcements in the tube. “Mrs. Metro is indeed disturbing to some and people seem to get all kinds of messages from it,” explains Aggelos “I heard someone was convinced it was an analogy of the Russian revolution, while others think it’s a commentary on how isolated an unkind people have become from being on their phones all the time.” The truth is, however, that the film was not intentionally trying to preach a certain message. What Gibbon were aiming to do with Mrs. Metro was to be able to reach those amplitudes in emotion that make audiences laugh in one second, and freeze from what they’re seeing on screen the next. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions and never do you think, what I’m watching is boring.” Both Mrs. Metro and Baby Baby are works that do make you giggle, but as a viewer you almost are wondering, “should I be laughing at this?”


But then, as we saw in Tall Bed, you have some purely funny concepts that manage to confuse with their lack of any underlying meaning - or maybe open a way for entirely new meanings, that even Aggelos and Nikhil didn’t foresee. “What you see in Tall Bed is a little guy who is indulging in a somewhat shameful and disgusting behaviour while his girlfriend is sleeping. That behaviour being pulling boogers out of his nose, folding them in little t-shirt shapes and storing them in a little drawer that he keeps under his mattress.” This idyllic picture is shockingly interrupted by his girlfriend suddenly moving in her sleep, which makes our main character drop his little drawer of boogers. The camera zooms out to reveal that the drawer has fallen off their 40 feet tall bed. This is a sort of film where you don’t get it, don’t try to get it, will never get it, but love every second of it. “You see, he is lucky. He could keep going on and eventually get caught and who knows, lose his relationship? But now, all that is over - he can go back to sleep and not have to worry about anything. Which he does, right before the credits roll.” Meaning or no, in every project from Gibbon, we see a consistent abundance of themes, that all tie together to tickle audiences in ways that mainstream animation can’t always manage. 


The simple shapes of the characters and flat surfaces make for a nostalgic feel, while the disturbing and confusing twists and turns are exactly your cup of tea if you’re into absurdism. That kind of absurdism that threads the thin line between horror and comedy, making their work pure chaos, or how Aggelos describes it in three short words - “a bit silly.”

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Unlisted, Wed, 15 Jun 2022 15:05:32 GMT