From humble beginnings dunking a custard cream in a cup of tea, I now find myself a year and a half later stumbling around the streets of London. Well, when I say me, I mean my alter ego and that of 30 other animators; The Pirate Captain.
"Too much ambient noise in the studio ruins lives…" That’s a sign I made to keep the camera department quiet - it didn’t work, and the camera department’s "Ukulele club" is multiplying! As animators we get used to a certain amount of background noise. Normally it’s little snippets of dialogue from the film playing over and over again. On any given shot in the film, we might hear the same clip several hundred times - always viewing and reviewing the shot as it grows frame by frame. So we all know the voice cast very well. Add to that the sounds of a busy studio; runners moving sets and building units, set dressers constructing scenes, and motion control operators driving huge camera cranes from one studio to another.
Today I spent 30 minutes looking on the floor for an eyelid (this happens surprisingly often). And when you realise how small they are - you can understand why it takes so long.
Now as soon as I see one fall to the floor I listen really carefully and just sometimes I can locate it with my ears! We’ve even tried painting the eyelids with UV pens, but they always end up facing the wrong way.
In the Live Action Video unit (used for reference) Peter Lord steers me towards the Camera as we rehearse the next shot. In this scene the Pirate Captain is being guided by Darwin and Mr Bobo through the London Streets after a late night celebrating.
Here is a snapshot of an animators eye view – you can see the reference footage on my computer screen with Pete and I – we like to get into character as much as possible and the pirate hat is a great help! I use a programme called stop motion pro to grab the frames and review the motion.
Animating is a slow process, but it’s even slower when you animate a character who has spent some time in a pub. When I started this particular sequence it was midsummer. Not the best time of year to be animating a scene entirely at night… Now as we approach winter there is only one shot remaining to animate. It’s taken 3 long months for the Captain and Darwin amble down the cobbled street and into a side alley. And when you watch it in the cinema it’ll be over in ninety seconds. It might seem like a very strange thing for a crew of 200 people to do with their summer, but for us the job satisfaction comes from knowing that when you watch this film you care about these little puppets as if they were real actors. That’s what we hope anyway.
Here is a panorama from where I’m standing. The set I’m working on is very detailed. Tall buildings loom impressively over a cobbled Victorian street. Miniature posters cling to the sandy brickwork. Small lights loom above my head and are dotted around the set. I’m at one end of the street with my computer and desk (which holds some of the 200 different mouth shapes I need). The camera, recording every movement, is high above attached to a motorised crane.
And in the middle of all of this, the stars of the show are balanced mid step and totally motionless… And with that, I’d better get back to it - they won’t animate themselves!
Will Becher, Lead Animator