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Animator Dan Parry Talks About His Short 'Lock Horns'

The UK's Channel Four broadcasts Random Acts a short-form strand featuring a mix of dance, drama, spoken word, documentary and animation. The new animated short Lock Horns comes from animator Dann Parry and is hand-painted frame by frame in a traditional style.

The official synopsis describes the film: "Two wrestlers approach each other to battle for male dominance, but soon the fight descends into something even more animalistic as hypermasculinity clashes with desire."

Parry studied animation at UCA Farnham before going on to study at the prestigious Royal College of Art. "I've always been drawn to animation as a way to create strange worlds and narratives as well as the freedom to push ideas that might not be acceptable or even possible to create in live-action " he told us. "I love how expressive I can be in animation, jumping between the abstract and structured story. Filmmaking is a means for me to explore my thoughts and experiences regarding mental health and sexuality; as well as making observations of how others perceive these ideas."

Parry says that he was inspired to make Lock Horns by reading gender theory and sexuality, particularly the writing of Judith Butler, and through his own experiences with toxic masculinity. "Concepts for the short also came from looking at macho culture and, in a broader sense, the desire to be the alpha male, in both human and animal nature", he adds.

"I also wanted to play about with audience expectations and emotional responses. In Lock Horns, I'm exploring when art becomes pornographic, and vice versa, to create an intense mix of eroticism, excitement and discomfort. Further, looking at the relationship between the two fighters and how to engage the audience through experiencing the affections and aggressions with the characters in the film."

Parry says he was interested in the fragility of the male ego and how hypermasculine displays (such as wrestling) can be viewed from an outsider's perspective as homoerotic- "sometimes the very thing it is trying not to be."

The film definitely does play with those boundaries, crossing into some explicit (although simultaneously abstract) sexual imagery. WWE this is definitely not.

The film marked new territory for Parry, who normally works in stop-motion but chose to switch mediums for his latest work. "The animation side of creating the film took a very traditional route where each frame was hand-painted on punched paper, and then scanned and composited on a computer. The animation needed to be very fluid and emotive so painting in gouache was a perfect fit. Gouache allowed me to play about with the roughness of the lines to show the escalating energy of the fight as well as exaggerate the quick movements."

He decided stop motion wouldn't work for this project because audiences tend to perceive it more literally. For this project, he wanted a sense of ambiguity,  and the sense the audience isn't immediately sure what they are looking at. The crude lines obscure the boundaries between sex and violence, so they are not always sure where one ends and the other begins.

The use of colour is also employed to "show the break down between the cold masculine world and the passionate emotional state" Parry says. "The clean, single-colour lines at the beginning of the film reflect the tension between the two men and the hostile social need to remain emotionally distant in their displays of strength. But as the fight becomes more intense and intimate the splashes of colour show the explosions of passion and aggression as the two men break down the boundaries between them. The tensions hinted at with long shots and bursts of colour, until the scuffle descends into a state of sexuality and vividness. Here the rough and swift brushstrokes echo this agitated mood."

Vitally, Parry brought his own life experiences and perspective on sexuality to the film. He says "Identifying as queer I have first hand encountered how strict gender roles and aggressive masculinity can become toxic. Lock Horns gave me a channel to explore themes of sexuality and definitions of manliness."

"Growing up I was often met with criticisms on what it means to be an authentic male: strong, forceful, emotionless, brawny, straight. To deviate from these ideals was seen to be weak. As I found myself drifting further from these definitions and binary stereotypes I couldn't but help observe a conflict and paradox in the displays of hetero-masculinity. Men would compete and grapple with each other to show dominance and assert their straightness, be it in sports or physical disputes. However in trying to declare their manhood and, to a lesser degree, attraction to women they would often be having these intimate and emotional engagements with other men."

"I was scrutinised for not being manly because I was emotional and wanted to be intimate with men. And yet, the displays of manliness from those who criticised was almost comparable in its competitive affection. It was these observations and my reflections of how I fit into gender and perceived binaries that grew into thoughts behind the film"

Check out the film below (warning: contains sexual material).