Voyage into the unknown

How Robin Joseph took his film to the Oscar shortlist

Robin Joseph (Animation ’05) grew up in a small village in India where no one talked about animation. Then, in 2018, his film Fox and the Whale, was shortlisted for an Oscar. Earlier this year, Joseph visited Sheridan and told students about his journey making the animated short film.

Robin Joseph

I started working on the first images of Fox and the Whale in 2009, after I took a trip to Salt Spring Island and Victoria. It was my first time visiting the Pacific Coast and the feeling of those places really stayed with me.

I continued work as a freelance designer. The nature of freelance is often to be on multiple projects at any given time. There is a severe lack of predictability. In 2014 I had the chance to spend six months focused on a large production. This really helped made me realize how much you can get done with a singular focus. This experience really cemented my decision to work on Fox and the Whale full time. I took 16 months out from all commercial work and worked on the short film from early 2015 through 2016. There was a lot that was scary about leaving work to do this self-financed, personal project.

“I found myself at the favourable end of chance and luck, moving forward purely due to the goodwill and generosity of others.”

One of the sequences that took the longest was the end sequence in the Whale Boneyard. Technically, it is the least complex scene, but what made it hard was getting the idea of bones across convincingly. It took a while to really get the paintings and backgrounds right. On a brief visit to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, I stumbled into the room where the BlueWhale skeleton was mounted. My girlfriend, Kim (who was also the character animator on the shortfilm) spotted this on our way out from another exhibit. It was a total happy accident. I spent the next few hours studying and taking enough reference. That really became my jumping-off point for the final (solution for) the background paintings.

Sound design was another one of the big challenges on the short film. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I lost the sound designer I planned to work with. The film was complete at this point and I couldn’t push the festival dates, so I decided to attempt the final sound design. I was severely short on budget to afford a sound library and studio monitors to do the final mix. Through a lot of luck and good fortune, the amazing director Mark Osborne connected me to his friend and veteran sound designer Tim Nielsen. Tim liked the film but was busy on a few different productions. But since Tim is such a gem of a human being, he surprised me by sending a massive sound library of his field recordings for use in the short. I sourced most of the final sound design from the Raw files Tim loaned me. I found myself at the favourable end of chance and luck, moving forward purely due to the goodwill and generosity of others.

Watch Fox and the Whale online at

This talk has been edited for length and clarity.