Martin Cheek stop-frame puppet animation – Page 2

The Portland Bill scripts were storyboarded and then animated to a pre-recorded sound track. Martin explained this was not as restricting as it sounds because there were plenty of pauses in-between which could be varied in length to suit the action. “John was brilliant, if we had ideas we could ring him up and he’d incorporate them in a story. For example when we visited a real lighthouse there was a large area called the turning room. If the light broke down they had to turn the light by hand, which suggested the basis for a story and an opportunity for an interesting set. I passed this idea to John and he used it, which was great because you get feed-back and you feel much more part of the creative process. I think storyboarding is essential but you must not restrict the animators too much, they have got to be allowed to develop character too. Much of the best animation consists of the little actions that are not in the script, those you only think of when you are there animating. There is a brilliant bit in Portland Bill where Ross and Cromarty is handed a package with instructions not to pull the string. Cromarty instinctively reaches for the string then pauses and scratches his head because the shop keeper has turned round. It was done on the spur of the moment and it was a great piece of timing. In a way you can’t script things like that. You time how long it takes for something to be said, for example, ‘Right Cromarty you fetch the rope.’ Say that takes two seconds which is fifty frames. The guy has to turn and look whilst it is being said. You act it out, ‘Right Cromarty…,’ and find the turn takes twelve frames so you pace it all out with some extra business.”

Sets from Portland Bill.

After Portland Bill Martin and Humphrey made a pilot of Noddy in Toyland. One of the national newspapers was supposed to put money into it but they pulled out, so it never got beyond the pilot stage. “On this one Humphrey made all the vehicles, I made the puppets and we made the sets between us. We did the pilot in about four months, just the two of us, which was heavy going. The characters that really worked were the little insects, they were just great to animate and they were so simple that we decided we must do something based on insects ourselves. We did a few other things with FilmFair such as a Lego Fabuland pilot with Gordon Tate, but there were lots of other people working on it too.

Sets, props and puppets from Noddy in Toyland.

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