- 9 March 2023
- 3 minutes
João Gonzalez developed ‘Ice Merchants’, his award winning animation about loss, love and family connection while he was a student at the RCA. He wrote, directed and animated the film, and composed and played piano for the soundtrack. After graduating he worked with production companies Cola Animation and Wild Stream to develop the film for release.
The accolades João has received for ‘Ice Merchants’ are impressive: he is the first Portuguese animation filmmaker to be awarded at Cannes International Film Festival; the first Portuguese filmmaker to receive an Academy Award nomination; and he has won awards at festivals including Melbourne International Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival and Valladolid International Film Festival.
The 14 minute film is about a father and son who live in a vertiginous house attached to the edge of a tall cliff. Every day they jump from the house with a parachute to the village far below where they sell the ice they produce.
Discussing the origins of this narrative, João explained, ‘I always start with an image from my subconscious. In this case, it was the image of this tiny house attached to the tall cliff. I'm interested in picking images, scenarios I think of unconsciously, and using them as metaphors to talk about something that concerns me.’ With ‘Ice Merchants’, the topic João wanted to explore was loss, family connection and rituals, but the environment also became a factor as he worked on the film.
“I'm interested in picking images, scenarios I think of unconsciously, and using them as metaphors to talk about something that concerns me.”MA Animation alumni
‘Making films about certain topics is a bit therapeutic for me, because it makes me learn more about myself and my relationship with a certain topic’ João added. ‘For example, my first film at the RCA, ‘Nestor’, was about a character who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which is something that I also identify with. Making a film that was so OCD at its core actually made me better with my own condition. I do films to be more at peace with the topics that concern me.’
Exploring the surreal
João’s two previous films ‘Nestor’ and ‘The Voyager’ also take place in surreal, solitary settings. João is drawn to animation because it has the ability to create something from scratch, which lends itself to exploring the surreal and the bizarre.
‘One of the advantages it has over live action is that when we're watching an animated film, we're not constantly comparing it to our reality’ he explained. ‘Instead we can understand that it's not literal and it's a metaphor. That allows a huge freedom in terms of topics, and the way you can approach them.’
Discovering creative freedom at the RCA
“They give you all the creative freedom that you need to develop your artistic voice.”MA Animation alumni
Coming to the RCA was a turning point for João. Previously he studied BA multimedia arts at ESMAD University in Porto, Portugal, where he first discovered his passion for animation. While his undergraduate degree was ‘very technical’ he found the RCA was ‘this great place where you can just go crazy’, adding ‘they give you all the creative freedom that you need to develop your artistic voice.’
Alongside this freedom to explore, João also discovered the RCA community, describing it as ‘one of the most fulfilling parts of studying there’. Discussing his fellow animation students, he stated ‘not only were they all amazingly talented people, but they were some of the kindest human beings I've ever met. It was also not a competitive environment at all; we were just always pushing at each other. It was a very healthy environment to be in.’
The success of ‘Ice Merchants’ is testament to the ethos of MA Animation at the RCA, which focuses on nurturing artistic, director-led creative practice. In an environment of experimentation and creativity, built on a foundation of critical thinking and supported by world-class staff and state of the art facilities, students explore aspects of animation and related fields that are of most interest to them.
MA Animation at the RCA provides a collaborative professional environment and community of practice that is equitable, encouraging, convivial, challenging and confidence-building. This enables students to realise their potential and build important working relationships for their future careers.
While ‘Ice Merchants’ began as João’s graduate film at the RCA, it is through support and collaboration with others that it has reached the success it has. The RCA community has a role to play in this. Fellow graduate Lewis Heriz provided additional animation and while alumna Romy Matar contributed to colouring. Ala Nunu, who was a student at the RCA, contributed animation to the film alongside João.