The design team at Cosgrove Hall – Page 2

Andy Roper

Andy Roper, Chief Storyboard artist/Layout artist talks with Ken Clark.

KC: How long have you been working on The BFG?

AR: We started pre-production work in 1984. There were four of us and our director, Brian Cosgrove, working in a Portakabin standing on a plot of land which is now the studio car park. Now we are in the new building, specially designed for the requirements of animation.

Everyone I have spoken to appears to be very happy here?

Yes it is a very good company. This is my first experience working in animation. I came straight here from a college in Southampton and I find I get on marvellously with everyone. Brian is a friend to us all rather than a boss. I’ve been here four years this July.

And you are now a Storyboard and Layout Artist?

Andy Roper.

Well, originally I answered an advertisement for an animator, but Brian asked me to do backgrounds and I eventually got on to storyboards and layouts and this is where I would like to stay. I really enjoy this type of work. I’ve been able to design a lot of the characters in BFG; the Head of the Army; Head of the Air Force; I did a certain amount of work on the Queen which was rather difficult because although she must ‘read’ as the Queen she had to be easy to animate – it is all too easy to end up with a caricature. We are not publicising the film too much this year, we have other things on the go such as Count Duckula.

The saddest thing is: everyone keeps asking, “Where is Danger-mouse?” It is very popular, unfortunately we have had to stop production for the time being.

I suppose Dangermouse can be re-issued?

Yes, we have a good few hours of TV time. I am quite fond of Dangermouse because I started on that when I arrived here and then spent a further two years on the series. It was hard work though, turning out a 10 minute programme every six weeks. There were three small teams, one background man per team, no layout man, so we would get a storyboard then do all the layouts and the backgrounds. One episode required seventy backgrounds in six weeks. Towards the end of the series we were able to utilize earlier backgrounds either in part or slightly modified. The girls up in the Chapel have boxes of all the re-usable material, if we are asked to do another Dangermouse, Duckula and Alias the Jester backgrounds all have their own distinctive styles. Jester is done in ink, Dangermouse is drawn in crayon, pastels and pencils, and now Duckula is being done with Xeroxed backgrounds. They lay down flat areas of colour tones and then place a cel bearing the line drawing on top. This gives a very graphic appearance to the background. It works very well because we do not hand-ink cels anymore, they are all Xeroxed, and the finished result looks very nice, with a little bit of subtlety here and there. We have cel setups which look great.

Are all the layouts for The BFG finished?

No – we’ve got various sequences left to do – there is one at the end of the film where we intended to use rotoscoping. You see, it is very difficult to match live action to a drawn layout, so we plan them to match the rotoscoped action. Generally we are on schedule, although animation suffered a tragic blow with the death of George Jackson. He was a great loss. He was principally responsible for the animation of The BFG. Brian has had to take over that character in addition to directing the picture. But have no fear, we will get there in the end!

Have other BFG characters been given to individuals to care for?

Jean and Meryl have concentrated on Sophie; Brian and Steve Thomas: The Cosgrove Hall’s involvement with The BFG would have delighted Roald Dahl’s brother Louis had he lived, for he was actively involved in animated film production during and after the last war. How much of your scenario is invention and how much original Dahl?

We have concocted very little. The story begins with a little girl named Sophie who lives in an orphanage. It is the middle of the night. An owl lands and she wakes up, looks out of the window, and sees the huge figure of a Giant in a cape and hood walking down the street. As she watches he pulls out a pipe and blows something through a window. Turning, he sees her, captures her and takes her back to Giantland, where he confines her to a cave. Here she gets to know him and discovers he is not a horrible character who eats little children, he’s actually a big friendly giant who eats Snozzcumbers, revolting decomposing melons, and he drinks stuff called FrobscottIe. The difference between this and lemonade is the bubbles, which travel downward instead of up, thereby encouraging flatulance -farting for the want of a better word though the BFG calls it Whizzpopping.

You are then introduced to the fact he shares this world with nine other giants who are cold blooded killers. They go out every night to eat children and destroy things. The biggest villain of them all is the Fleshlumpeater. He has a deep-down gravelly voice. The BFG is meant to be about 24 feet high, but the Fleshlumpeater is nearer 50 feet. The long and short of it is they go back to Britain. Sophie says they must see the Queen of England. The Queen sends for the Head of the Army and the Head of the Air Force and they unite to form a task force. They fly to Giantland in big helicopters and capture all the giants.

At this point we have altered the story slightly and changed the fight into a big chase sequence involving helicopters. We have made working models of the helicopters, big fibreglass models, which we have shot live-action with the intention of using prints taken from the film as a guide for the animation.

Will this be like the rotoscoping in Lord of the Rings?

No – it’s going to be more refined than Lord of the Rings. For that film they took Xeroxed live-action cels and painted them like cartoon cels. We have used the live-action movements on which to hang our cartooned forms, thereby getting the very best out of rotoscoping. The strange thing is: in the beginning we used the rotoscoped images all the time but then we discovered that Jean and Meryl could do it without reference. Lovely little innocent nuances of expression and movement common to little girls, like holding the hem of their dresses, now that wasn’t rotoscoped. People underestimated the capability of our artists.

That’s excellent! Often human figures do not come over too well in cartoon films.

I would say ours are on a par with, if not better than, much of Disney’s work. Every time we see little bits of line tests it still amazes me that it is people I know who are responsible for it all, especially after experiencing their work for Dangermouse, which was very simple, very basic, and with a lot of talking heads. Have you had the benefit of in-house instruction by past masters of the medium, for example Dick Williams had Art Babbitt along to take a couple of seminars?

We have had experts from Industrial Light and Magic, the Star Wars special effects guys, we had the man responsible for the effects in the Smarties advert, people like that, but not many animators. I think it is something Brian would like to do, the problem is finding top animators with the time to do it.

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