Graham Davidson- How An April Fools Prank Cemented His Animating Future

It's a cold, wet day outside when I am warmly greeted by Graham Davidson and his cat. I am invited inside, offered tea and shown through Graham's creative space which contains several of his oil artworks. As we sit down and he begins to tell me about his career thus far and how an April Fools prank accelerated his career, I know that I am in for an interesting journey.

Journey Begins

Graham’s love of drawing began at the age of 5. However, growing up in the time that he did, being artistic was not seen as a viable career choice. “My high school principal came up to me at the end of year 10 and told me that art is there for people who don’t have any academic ability and that I was wasting my intelligence by pursuing art.  He wasn’t going to allow me to complete my schooling unless I gave up art,” Graham says. Fortunately, he had a supportive mother who backed his decision to pursue his art career.

Leaving school at the age of 15, Graham landed himself a job at an animation studio that at the time was the premier animation company in Sydney. “My principal telling me that I shouldn’t pursue art actually pushed me into a direction that I probably wouldn’t have taken so I made a point of visiting my principal to tell him about my job”.

April Fools Prank Gone Wrong

Graham’s career quickly progressed, largely thanks to an April Fools prank. At 17, although he was keen to become an animator, he was deemed too young and inexperienced. “On April 1st, they sent me up the road to a different animation company. They told me that Gwyn had a situation with the latest Supercrunch Twisties Commercial and they needed my help. I raced up the road immediately”.

Graham raced up the road and offered them help. Initially being sent to help with some cleaning, Gwyn came down to Graham and explained to him that he had been the victim of an April Fools’ Prank. “Gwyn ended up giving me a couple of scenes to animate and told me that if I did a good job, he would use them in the commercial and give me some more work. I went trotting back down to the company I was employed by. They were waiting to laugh at me, so I really enjoyed walking through there with my folder of scenes to animate.”

When Graham finished those scenes and presented them to Gwyn, he was given more to work on. After 2 weeks, the company that Graham was actually working for began to give him animation work too, so his career was quickly excelled thanks to this April Fools prank. At the same time, he became one of the first people in the country to create open shutter animation on a computer-controlled camera. “I was also one of the first to design complex 3D animation,” Graham tells me.

Quick Career Progression

By the time he was in his mid-twenties, Graham had moved on from there and did some freelance work. He then married his first wife, gave up mainstream advertising animation and took up an alternative lifestyle in Bellingen. It changed my perspective. A lot of people up there didn’t want to be productive and work; but I wanted to continue working. I did a lot of brochures, flyers and some freelance commercials”.

He was then offered a job by NBN Television Coffs Harbour to direct and write all the local commercials. Though he had never written or directed a commercial before, he decided to take the leap and accepted the job. After a few years, he was offered a job at NBN Newcastle, as the senior director of the commercial production department.

“I moved to Newcastle and began working for the company, but I soon found it very frustrating. We were even using typewriters instead of computers to write scripts,” says Graham. He realised that before he could move along, he had to create a client base. Having picked up Peach Advertising as a client they one day contacted Graham and told him that if he were to continue working for them he’d have to leave NBN Television. “I left NBN with enough money to pay a month’s mortgage and buy a mobile phone. I didn’t look back from there and took the rocky path of self-employment”.

More recently in regard to creating and directing ads, Graham has worked on the latest Mark Hughes Foundation advertisement. He made use of a green screen and had to work hard for two weeks to configure the pop-up book we see in the ad. “It wasn’t an easy task, but the end result is impressive”.

Creating At Home

After a few years of building up his own production company, Graham married his second wife. Wanting to be at home with his kids while they grew up, he folded up his business and began to work from home, something he had no regrets about.

Graham threw himself into art, creating unique oil paintings. “There is almost a sacred feeling when the first dab of paint hits a fresh canvas. Painting has always been deeply emotional for me which is the reason I tend to be inconsistent with the time I spend on it. It becomes so consuming for me that I end up emotionally drained and need to move on to something else before I pick up a brush again,” Graham says of his painting. Two of his artworks Mona Lisa’s Rodent and Portrait of a Frog, have previously won categories the Maitland Art Prize. These are both on display in his home.

The Hunter Artisan Gallery and CafĂ© hosts life drawing sessions every week and Graham is the facilitator behind this event. He believes that life drawing is the foundation of all visual activity. “I was life drawing as a teenager when I was working as an animator in Sydney. I’ve since taught drawing at TAFE”. Graham is hoping to bring the life drawing sessions into local schools.  

Branching Out As An Author

Always drawing and animating, Graham began to have an urge to write, something which he hopes will be a successful career move for him. “After a failed pilot that I had directed and animated, I came up with an idea based around comic book characters. I wrote up a 20-page back story for it which was all about the U.S splitting the North and South and a nanotech accident leading to an outbreak of mutations”. Although the project did not go ahead, Graham was so interested in the back story that he turned it into a 130 000-word book Fire in the Veins: Genesis of the End.

He published a junior fantasy novel for 7 to 9-year-olds called The Adventures of Chitch-a-ka-mow-wah and Pip the Wonder Dog: Rise of the Shadow People.

 “While I was writing that, I noticed that my daughter who was a prolific reader was struggling to find a novel that had a strong female protagonist. So, I decided to write a series of books that had a strong female protagonist”. That series is The Witches of the Cross-Worlds, set in the 1850’s Blue Mountains. With two books already published in the series, the third book will be released soon.

Graham’s career as a writer has also seen him write a 10,000-word short story for an anthology of retold Fairytales. “I wrote a story called The True Story of Crinkle Mist: Cinderella and the Prince. It was great fun to retell a well-known story”. This helped Graham through a difficult time in his personal life.

Storytime Lane and 2019

He also illustrated 2 picture books with Emily S Smith titled Betty the Yeti’s Disappointing Day and Life is Not Fair When You Are a Chair. Graham works with Emily on a project called Storytime Lane which is a series of storytelling videos. Emily writes the rhyming and humorous story whilst Graham creates the animation, truly bringing storybooks to life. There’s also resources and activities available on the website which has been very successful.

Our interview draws to an end and Graham explains to me that this year he and Emily exhibited at their first Supanova Convention, something he says was an exciting experience and a great opportunity to expand.

As I go to leave our interview, Graham assures me that the rest of 2019 will be busy for him between working on future novels, facilitating the life drawing sessions and his own work. To keep up-to-date with everything that Graham is working on, follow his Facebook or visit his website.

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