I’m on the train just now, heading for London (I should mention, in case you don’t know, that our animation studios are in Bristol a hundred miles to the west). So going to London is like an exciting day out for me – an exciting day out in which I’ll spend all day in a windowless studio and maybe get a sandwich from Pret a Manger if I’m lucky.
Anyway, it’s not a tourist trip - - no no. Strictly business. I’m off to record the wonderful and talented Mister Hugh Grant, who plays the Pirate Captain! And the equally wonderfully talented Ms. Imelda Staunton who plays Queen Victoria.
Yes, this is my opportunity – and they’re few and far between in animation – my opportunity to grab a little show-biz glamour by mingling with the stars, swapping yarns (over a sandwich) – and of course trying to capture the very best of their acting talent for the movie.
In animated films, the voice always comes before the picture. Before that of course there’s the little matter of the script, but script-writing for animation is a whole other topic of conversation.
Let’s say you’ve got your script, you’re ready to start shooting the film: the first thing you need is the voice-performance. Most of the visual performance, the character and the emotion that comes across on screen is derived from the actors’ voice. Choosing a random line from the script: the Pirate Captain is going to say, “I’ve had enough of piracy, I’m hanging up my cutlass.” How does he say that? He sounds pretty resigned, but is he really? Does he mean it? Is he fishing for a reaction? Is he self-dramatising to get sympathy? And if he ¬does mean it, does he say it in a small defeated voice, or with a sigh, or with forced cheerfulness as if he thinks it’s a good idea? Or as if he couldn’t care less?
The way the actor performs the line, totally leads the way that the animator will perform it later.
Now today I’m very lucky – and very delighted – to have two actors actually together, playing off each other as they perform a scene. Common sense tells you that every recording session should be this way – that’s the way most films / theatre / radio is done. Oddly, in animation, you very often end up recording actors separately and assembling a scene in an edit suite after the event.
OK back to Hugh and Imelda. Today they’re really putting the finishing touches to the Pirate Captain and the Queen. We’ve already recorded most of their roles. Basically they have a considerable comedy/action showdown at the end of the movie and we haven’t recorded that yet. Like actors in any sort of film, they’ll do various takes (they may possibly say I ask for too many). There are always embarrassing moments when you realize that, for example, you’ve asked Hugh Grant to read the line “And?” in excess of 40 times. That is a little embarrassing.
My real job - apart from winding the actors up - is to make sure they know exactly the emotion and energy of the scene in question. Their job is to be lively, brilliant, funny, surprising, sincere … and everything else I ask of them. It’s a cliché, but absolutely true, these actors – all of them – bring the film to life. They’re the burst of elemental energy that makes the script suddenly spark into life, burst the leather straps holding it down, jump up off the operating table and then run out into the world outside wreaking havoc. (Apologies for ridiculously contrived metaphor there).
Anyway, enough of this guff. I should be preparing for the session, not sitting here driveling.