As soon as the papers were signed work began in earnest. The complete voice track for the film was recorded in three days. Neither Dame Peggy Ashcroft or Sir John Mills had done voice-overs before. In fact when they walked in for the recording session it was the first time they had met. “You are talking about two very professional, ‘professionals’. They are fantastic. They did the last nine minutes of the film in one take. It is possibly the heaviest part of the story and at the end of the take John Mills said, ‘For Christ sake, I can’t do that again’. There was no need, it was perfect. The whole three days went well with very few retakes,” recalls Turner.
“Prior to the recording session they had both been to see the storyboard. There was a lovely experience when John Mills walked in carrying his brolly and asked to see Mr Coates. As animation people, we are not used to stars and probably expected more flamboyant behaviour. Jimmy Murakami took him over to the storyboard and started explaining it, but he said, ‘No, I will read it.’ And we all stood there like twits for 30 minutes while he went through the complete storyboard on his own. At the end of the 30 minutes he said, ‘It’s fantastic. I’ll do it.’ Then Peggy Ashcroft came in, bless her! She was in a plain coat, no razzamatazz. Again, she went through the storyboard on her own. She asked who was playing Jim and we told her we would like to have John Mills. ‘O.K.,’ she said, and it was done.”
David Bowie sings the title song of the film. He first worked with TVC on the live-action introduction to The Snowman. The original version of The Snowman began with film of Raymond Briggs saying, “It was one of the worst winters I can remember”. In order to sell the programme to an American audience it was decided they would need a star the Americans would recognise. David Bowie heard TVC were looking for someone and wrote to ask if he could be considered. Everyone agreed and a new opening was shot at Perkins studio, a near neighbour to TVC. David Bowie is seen in an attic, wearing a scarf, with snow falling outside.
After the shoot they sat round the table chatting and the subject of the next production was mentioned. Bowie said, “I hate to be presumptuous but would you mind if I recorded some music for When The Wind Blows?” That was before the film was in production. Originally he was going to do the whole score. As it turned out he was so involved with “Labyrinth” and “Absolute Beginners” his contribution was limited to the opening number. The rest of the music was composed by Roger Waters. “Roger wanted us to have music all the way through but it is not that sort of film. After the bomb there is nothing, not even birds twittering, no radio, no aeroplanes flying overhead, everything is utterly dead. The music was only brought in when Jimmy considered it necessary. We have been severely criticised for it but that is the way we feel. We were sorely pressed by Roger Waters, by Genesis and Squeeze to make it into a pop musical,” comments Turner.
There is a live-action sequence at the beginning of the film showing missile carriers and other army equipment on the move. It was not part of the original idea of the film to have this sequence, it arose as the film makers saw the need to substantiate Inn’s gloomy mood when he comes back from the library, having read the pamphlet on nuclear survival. It was decided live-action footage of Greenham Common would have much more impact than animated scenes. There is one memorable image when the camera zooms in on a truck driver who is wearing a Mickey Mouse mask to avoid identification. It is genuine news footage transferred from video, which is why it is so grainy. The sequence shows the film is based on possibilities that actually exist. The viewer cannot pretend it is set a long way in the future or in a science fiction world.
There are also live-action shots of a rocket, submarine and aeroplane. These were models built in a cartoon way and were intended to be symbolic rather than real. They looked threatening enough to convey a message of impending doom. “A little bit of reality was neded to bring home the situation. We got a lot of mileage out of that footage, stills from it were used on the cover of the When The Wind Blows LP record and were also used in a German TV documentary on the making of the film,” says Turner.
At the start of production some test footage was shot with real people in a make-shift shelter. “We wanted to see just how crowded it would be in a shelter made from three doors leant against a wall at an angle of 60 degrees, as described in an official pamphlet on the subject,” explains Turner. “The results demonstrated how silly the shelter was, the two people had to climb over one another to move. We allowed ourselves some artistic licence in the film, Jim and Hilda do move around a bit more freely than they could in reality. The film of the actors was only used as a guide to the look of the action, it was not rotoscoped.”
The decision to use models for the background was made because they wanted to extend the boundaries of animation. “The rendering process developed in The Snowman had given the characters a little roundness, now we wanted to add an extra dimension to the background. The advantage of models over drawn backgrounds was the impression of depth achieved when the camera moved,” says Turner. There was also a financial advantage. “The cost of producing backgrounds by this system is reasonable when compared with painted backgrounds. A background artist can command between £100 and £500 for one background depending on the work and skill involved. Once a model is constructed this system can provide an infinite variety of views of the scene.”