David Jefferson and Geoffrey Mackrill have been behind the scenes of TVC’s latest feature production When The Wind Blows, to reveal the process that enabled model background sets to be combined with drawn animation.
The latest animated feature from TV Cartoons, When The Wind Blows, uses a clever combination of cel animation and model backgrounds. This is not a new idea, Max Fleischer patented a device for combining cel animation with a rotating model background in 1933. However, there are a number of aspects about the system used in When The Wind Blows that make it worthy of closer study.
Model backgrounds are used throughout the film and in many scenes the camera tracks and pans within the model while the drawn characters interact with their surroundings. Thousands of full-colour paper prints were made from the film of the model and these were combined with the cel animation on the animation rostrum. When the camera moved, a different print was used for every frame. The equipment used has been available for many years and the special ingredient in this film was the ‘experience’ of the technicians which enabled them to adapt and use it to create movie magic.
The man who masterminded the technical side of When The Wind Blows is Peter Turner. He was responsible for the quality of the filmed image in all its forms from planning the camera angles on the model shoot, monitoring the work produced by the trace and paint department, the rostrum camera work, overseeing film editing and the grading of the final cinema release print by the labs.
Turner has worked for TV Cartoons for the past fifteen years and has his roots in special effects. “I am not an animator, I have trouble drawing stick men,” says Turner. “I learnt my trade in the special effects department of Pinewood studio, beginning a three year apprenticeship with Rank in 1957. It was there I first met the key people I chose to work on the model shoot of When The Wind Blows.”
The decision to make a film of the Raymond Briggs’ book When The Wind Blows was taken five years ago by John Coates, head of TVC, soon after the completion of The Snowman. (An interview with John Coates was published in Animator issue 16.) TVC have the film rights to many of the Briggs books. They were attracted to When The Wind Blows because it was so dissimilar to The Snowman. There is no dialogue in The Snowman apart from a song during the famous flying sequence. The story of a snowman, who comes to life and befriends a young boy and takes him on a magical flight to the North Pole, is told visually. On the other hand When The Wind Blows is about the effects of a nuclear bomb dropping on London, as seen through the eyes of a middle age couple and it is very wordy, with most of the action set in and around a small house in Sussex.
Production could not begin until working capital had been raised because The Snowman had left TVC several thousand pounds in debt. “We had put every penny we had into it,” explained Turner. “The Snowman was originally going to get a cinema release with Steven Spielberg’s E. T. but because E. T. also has a flying sequence Mr Spielberg decided against it.
“When The Snowman was first shown on Channel 4 TV five years ago very few people saw it, but the following year it was shown on ITV and seen by many more. Now it is a regular Christmas repeat and has become a classic. We didn’t set out to make it a classic, if you did that you would be your own worst critic and spend twenty years on it. The merchandising side is also going well, manufacturers have come out with a new range of toys and goodies this year.