Visit to FilmFair Animation Studios
AT THE END OF AN ALLEYWAY IN A TURNING OFF LONDON’S BAKER STREET LIE THE STUDIOS OF FILMFAIR. DAVID JEFFERSON WENT THERE TO MEET PROFESSIONAL PUPPET ANIMATOR BARRY LEITH. THE FOLLOWING WAS TRANSCRIBED FROM A TAPED INTERVIEW WITH BARRY WHO WAS WORKING ON A SERIES OF PADDINGTON BEAR FILMS.
Director of animation Barry Leith.
A lot of the rules of cartoon apply to three dimensional work and I was doing cartoons for two and a half years. You have to adapt it slightly because it’s a different media.
TV series work has always been double framed, to move the puppets on single frames wouldn’t double the time, it would treble it because you’ve got to be a lot more delicate. In fact there are very few people who ask for TV commercials to be single framed. The only time you have got to be careful with double framing is when you are combining it with live action because then the different sorts of movement become very apparent. Lets say you had a live action human running with an animated monster chasing him and you did it in double frames, you might be able to keep it in perfect rhythm but there would be something about the movement that wasn’t right and that’s because one is in double frames and one is in singles.
I don’t work with a camera operator. It’s not a question of being a bad delegator but if you have got an operator and they screw up a movement on the camera it gives you a kick.
Once the camera is set up all you’ve got to do is press the button. The camera is worked from a remote release which can be a foot switch or a hand switch. If it’s on the floor you end up pacing yourself out like a bowler at cricket in so far as once he has got his mark he is away, he runs up to the wicket, bowls the ball and that’s it, but after a while, when he has been doing it all afternoon and you have a long shot of the cricket pitch you can see the footprints in the grass.
Very rarely will I put the button in front of the camera because you might cast a bit of a shadow on the table, you might even be standing in front of the lens. I always keep the button behind the camera so that I have got to walk back and so am clear of everything. You usually find that you do your animation there, walk three paces here, take your frame, three paces back, you just go on and on, some¬times I leave the button on the floor and on one of the paces I walk on it.
If I know the scenes going to be five seconds and the puppet has got to say part of a sentence then I suppose experience tells me that he can scratch his nose at the same time as he is talking, take a pace here or a pace backwards if it fits the dialogue and the character. There is nothing worse than the puppet just standing there and chat, chat, chat and turning the head and nothing else.
You haven’t got a moving mouth on Paddington so you have to use the rest of the body. With the type of eyes he has you can’t blink them, there are no eyeballs to look from side to side or if he is bored to look at the sky, so you have to do it in other ways, such as with the hands. With a puppet like that the hands are very important; you have to use a lot of gesturing. As far as timing it out goes I can only be very glib and say experience does it for you. You know when you are doing too much; you know when you’re not doing enough.
As regards timing a camera move, I start by putting the counter back to zero. To do a tracking shot the whole animation table slides horizontally. Panning the camera sends you through your focus and the movement becomes circular in motion. If you lock the camera on and move the table you get a nice straight run. The table top is on wooden tramlines which have been heavily coated with wax. We normally put a piece of wood between the end of the table and the wall and mark up the divisions of the moves on it and have a pointer on the table top. You can number them off so that if you do get stuck in a corner and say did I take it or didn’t I, if your pointer is on number fifteen and your camera is on number fifteen you have taken it.