“I had the camera mechanism dated by a competent camera technician, the movement was made in 1914 and the gate in 1916,” says Friswell. It was converted to single-frame work many years ago. So, although it is old its mileage is disproportionate to its age. It is a rack-over Mitchell, in other words it does not have a reflex viewfinder, you rack the whole body away from the lens to look through the viewing system. This was standard practice in those days with this type of camera.
They started filming the model backgrounds in June 1985. “Originally it was going to take six weeks, but we had a break after five weeks because we were all going completely bananas,” recalls Turner. “Then we carried on for another five weeks. I have never worked with a more closely-knit crew than over those ten weeks. The nine of us were the happiest bunch of idiots you ever met. Even after the nasty bit concerning the bomb we still found the progression of it very satisfying. For ten weeks we worked as a family.
“The film needed a great deal of concentration and was very heavy going. Fortunately there was an ideal atmosphere for this type of production due to Mary Evans, director and producer for ‘The Film Company’. Mary not only ensured that the welfare of the crew was attended to, but also as producer, maintained a good working relationship with TVC during the model background shoot.”
The idea to use colour photographs, rather than opticals, to combine backgrounds with the cel animation came about as a result of discussions between Turner and Friswell at the early planning stages of the film. “I was seriously thinking of going the optical way but the small budget made us look at a print system,” explains Turner.
“The nice thing about the paper print system is the cels can be shot on any rostrum camera. You are not restricted to one field size as you are on an aerial image camera. You can track and pan whenever you like, there is no optical barrier.
“Having decided on paper prints, Ken and I were then concerned with finding the best exposure to enable the labs to give us the kind of print we required. We had to produce a good quality negative to hold maximum highlight and shadow detail when printed on paper. There is a world of difference between the theory and the fact and a week was spent equating the facts with the theory,” says Turner.
When the camera moved they used a new print for each frame. There were two main
problems with this approach. The first was colour control. If you have a 250 frame track, and that track is reproduced on 250 paper prints you need accurate control over them, otherwise the colours could fluctuate enough to spoil the shot. The other problem concerned registration, and to achieve this, the photographs needed to be held on pins in the same way as animation cels.
“We had to find a stills technician with expertise and knowledge in that particular field. Fortunately an old friend, Martin Clarke-Smith knew of such a person. Martin Howard had the qualifications we desired and turned out to be an absolute gem in his handling of the paper-print side; like everyone else on the crew, he was a dedicated, professional person and without his aid we would have found ourselves in a real quandary,” says Turner.
“The print enlarger was built by Wilf Irwin, a fantastic design engineer who has been in the business many years. I brought Wilf and Martin together and told them my requirements. I wanted the availability of a pin-register camera gate with the adaptability of the DeVere enlarger head. Wilf made a prototype machine based on a Bell & Howell camera gate and it worked well. It is important to have the same type of gate on both the taking camera and the paper print enlarger. If film is shot with four pin register and printed with three-pin register there will never be totally accurate registration.
“Not only was the film held by pin-register as it was printed but the paper was gripped in an animation punch while it was exposed. That way you ensured perfect registration.
“We shot on negative stock and got a rush print back every day. The print was frame numbered so we could list the frames to be turned into paper prints. We retrieved the negative from the film lab and sent it to Martin to make the paper prints.”
The print paper was on a roll which was fed through the punch. Prints-on-a- roll are better than individual sheets which may get muddled during processing. After processing the roll the prints were numbered before they were cut apart. 17,000 prints were made in all. Special black and white prints of exactly the same size were made through a halftone screen so they could be reproduced on a photocopier. These cheap copies were used by the animators as a positional guide and it did not matter if someone put their teacup on them.
The colour prints were not as expensive as might be thought because bulk printing brings the price down. One 12 by 10 inch print may cost £8 at a photographic shop but they were paying under £2 a print. If that still sounds expensive weigh it against the alternatives. On aerial image work 35mm inter-positive film would be around £1.50 a foot (16 frames) and inter-negative material would also be needed. Add to that the cost of optical shooting and it begins to make the print system look economical, especially if you have a static scene where one print could be used throughout. One print could do the same job as fifteen feet of inter-pos, which would be more like twenty-five by the time you have shot a slate at the start. Then you must add fifteen feet of inter-negative at the same price.
“Other people have used prints with less success because they did not control everything as thoroughly as we did,” claims Turner. “The paper prints are only one part – the system is a total concept. In order to get the right sort of print the sets have to be lit correctly, and this is where Ken’s experience in the field of model work and special effects proved invaluable.
“While we were shooting we included some frames of an exposure wedge on every roll. As we got our rushes back we would look down and pick out the ideal frame, so Martin knew exactly the kind of print we were aiming for.”