Francis Vose is a puppet animation director. David Jefferson spoke to him on the set of Creepy Crawlies.
Creepy Crawlies is a new series about seven insects that live at the bottom of the garden. They find things we would regard as rubbish, but they see it differently. For example in one episode a conker comes thwacking out of the sky and they think it is a space ship and are frightened of it. In another, they might find a drawing pin and think it is a seesaw or an umbrella. The stories show how they react to such things.
The animation team is lead by director, Francis Vose, Rachel and Loyd are animators and Mark and Bryan are the cameramen. Vose is given the script and he breaks down each scene into shots. “I decide what will happen within each shot. I put the focus on whatever is the most important thing, trying to make it as much fun for the kids as possible,” says Vose.
He works out the shots in storyboard form, giving the animators and cameramen pictures so they can see how he visualizes them. “When the time comes for directing the storyboard reminds me of my decisions,” comments Vose.
In many ways directing puppet animation is like directing a live-action film except it is a very slow process. Time is a limiting factor on this series so the director has to be aware of what can be achieved by the animators. “If I were to ask them to do involved animation we would run out of time,” says Vose. “We are on a ten day turn around.”
In ten days they animate a ten minute episode. “Sixty seconds a day is a lot to ask, but that is my responsibility. The animators will do as much as they can, but if I am asking them to do the impossible then obviously I am only going to get three or four seconds. But I get my whip out occasionally,” adds Vose laughing.
The Creepy Crawlies set is unusual in that it is circular in design and can be viewed from all sides. The whole thing is on wheels and can be rotated. This gives depth within a shot because all the available studio space can be given over to the one large set. It also saves space by being able to revolve any side towards the camera. There is a large curved backdrop painted to resemble grass and weeds. That can be moved on a circular overhead track. They also use a small portable backdrop to give more flexibility. All the stories start on the sundial, then the insects wander off elsewhere and the crew revolve the set to follow.
Clever use is made of lighting to bring out the features. A large spider’s web made from clear plastic rods looks rather simply put together but when it is viewed from the camera position it glows with backlight. In fact the whole set seems a lot more realistic through the camera viewfinder.
The set tops are made from sheets of perforated metal. A puppet such as the ladybird has feet made of metal and they put pot magnets underneath the set top below the puppet’s feet. The puppet is held firmly and the fixing device is hidden from view. The surface of the set is paper tissue stuck to the metal with watered down wood glue. When the glue is dry the set is painted. This one was sprayed and then textured with a sponge dipped in paint, dried off slightly and then dabbed on to get the required effect.
Each magnet is strong enough to hold the puppet upright while one foot is off the ground. The ladybird’s leg has three little ball joints and a hinge joint at the toe. When she walks she can bend her toe joint so that she looks as if she is walking properly instead of flat-footed. It gives a more natural look to the walk. She has hinged wings as well because she pops into shot as though she has flown in.
Another of the characters is a snail. He is slightly different because he doesn’t have to walk, he slides everywhere. There is a pot magnet in the centre of his body and smaller magnets in the tail. There are two empty holes on the underside of the snail.
“We took two magnets out because we found they produced too much resistance,” explains Vose. “You can move him quite nicely now but if there is a lot of resistance he appears to jerk across the set. When he is moving along his shell rocks to give him a bit more of a movement.”
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