Making the Legend of Bolster

LEW COOPER’S FILM ‘THE LEGEND OF BOLSTER’ WAS ONE OF THIS YEAR’S MOVIE MAKER TEN BEST FILMS. HE TELLS US ABOUT ITS PRODUCTION.

Since taking up movie-making I’ve always had an interest in animation. I have dabbled in most types, usually in short experimental attempts. All the completed animated films I’ve made have been made with puppets of some form. The problem here is that you need an area which can be set aside for your film making. In this way, you can leave everything set up, and do the odd bit of filming when you can spare the time. I’ve recently moved house, and had not organised my ‘filming space’. I like to have a film underway all the time, so I decided to make a movie using drawings these can be made anywhere. I had never tried cels. To be frank the cost put me off. I’ve started some films and then lost interest. I suppose most film makers do this. It’s not to bad with plasticine puppets, they can be broken up and used in another film. But if I did this with cels it would cost me far more. So I compromised and started work on a ‘paper animation’. By this I mean one where the drawings are made on plain white paper.

Obviously the backgrounds are a problem here. You have to draw them on every sheet of paper, so they have to be very simple. I’ve seen many films made this way, and they work very well. I started making a film called BEACH BOY, it was to run about five minutes. I had done about two minutes, and filmed it to see how the animation was working. The drawings were made in pencil, cleaned up with a rubber, and then painted using watercolours. I then painted in the outlines of the figures with black ink on top of the watercolour. This gave a good clean line. The film looked pretty good, and I immediately regretted not using cels. It would have been improved if it had the detailed backgrounds you can provide when using cels. I was disappointed and it began to look like I would have yet another unfinished project on my hands.

I’m a member of a film club – Southern Sound and Cine at Chichester. We were looking for an entry for the North v South Competition run by John Wright of Movie Maker magazine. It was an Inter-Club competition, the theme was Beauty and the Beast. I had an idea which fitted perfectly, It was about a giant, Bolster, who gets his come-uppance from a beautiful woman. I’d intended to make THE LEGEND OF BOLSTER with plasticine, but didn’t have room for the complicated sets required. It seemed that as a cel production, it would make a good club project.

When I get an idea for a film, I rarely make written notes. I usually make a few drawings of the key scenes, and. keep them in an ‘ideas’ folder. I took these drawings along to the club, and we discussed my idea. The members liked it and offered lots of help.

We considered having different people doing the backgrounds and some of the cels, but decided there would probably be a clash of drawing style. I would do the drawings and backgrounds and club members would ink and paint the cels. Bill Glue would compile the sound track. At this enthusiastic meeting it became glaringly obvious that cel films are an ideal club project. We agreed on the script arid the thing was underway’.

Having committed myself, I immediately began to have doubts. I had not made a ccl film before How long would it take? How many drawings wore needed? There was a deadline on the competition, would the film be ready in time? Many niggling thoughts crept into my rnind. Would the enthusiasm shown at the club wilt under the weight of hundreds of drawings to paint? This film would be about eight minutes long, wasn’t that too big a bite for a first attempt at cel animation? I knew what to do but that isn’t the same as doing it.

I summoned up all my reserves of blind ignorance, and cast these doubts aside. The only way you can really learn anything, is to do it. So I blundered on into the project.

I knew I should really make a ‘dope sheet’. This would give a breakdown of the film, showing cel details, backgrounds required, sound effects etc. But I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I wasn’t sufficiently disciplined. Too much organisation before I start means I probably won’t start. I had in my minds eye a very clear picture of how the film would look; I had already chosen the music before I made the first drawing. So I made the film in strict running order, timing each sequence as I went.

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