I ask Peter how talented young people can train to become model animators.
“Well, we do have students here but I couldn’t claim to be doing much training. It is easy to say I believe in it but it is difficult to put into practice. We get students in quite a lot, but as far as I can see, because of the way the business works I wouldn’t say we were training them particularly. I think we are giving them work experience, and I hope, introducing them to some of the options, because they may not be aware of the various jobs in the business. In fact there are scores of distinct disciplines, so in that sense it is an education. And I know that just to be in a working environment is helpful.
“I guess people come for two reasons. Some come because they are already good animators, they are obviously more directly useful to us. And others because they are still doing their foundation year and just want work experience. Realistically, there is the hope that someone is going to come along and be the right person to train up. Unfortunately there is nowhere in the animation process for someone who doesn’t animate rather well. You can more easily put someone on making models for animation. There aren’t that many techniques and if, say, they are good sculptors, they can quite quickly sculpt for animation. But animation is the tricky part. You have to have an instinct for movement as well as a model maker’s ability.”
At the time of my visit Peter was preparing to animate a commercial for Cadbury’s cream eggs. A character was set up on a stand in front the camera. I asked Peter how easy was it to animate a character designed and modelled by other people. “In the past I would often make the models myself. You get a bit precious about that but in this case someone else has made them. I assume they are going to animate properly and it is quite fun to be working with someone else’s design. That isn’t the way I design a character at all so it is quite a challenge in a way. I know what will happen. By the end of the shot it will look a lot more like one of my characters than it does now.”
I wondered if they had a stand-by model in case the original suffered a change. “We don’t, although we probably should. We have a photo of him in the state he is now so we do have a reference point, but you can model it away from that and then find you have lost it.”
On the set was a VHS video camera which they had been using to film each other acting out various movements. “This is a slight departure, and is just as an experiment,” explains Peter. “I wanted to record us live and then try and animate to match it. For example if I am animating this puppet, I’ll record myself saying his line, improvise some action and try and copy it with the puppet.
“We have never done it before and as an animator I don’t like the idea but I am interested to see if the effect is a bit different, which I think it will be. You tend to end up with the same performance as an animator, as an actor would. If you are Brian Blessed, for example, whoever you are playing, however good you are it is always Brian Blessed, evidently, because he acts a certain way. And although he can vary it, and the best actors may be able to vary it a lot, you can’t totally get away from it. So with animation I can’t totally get away from the way I would normally do it. If I have got somebody else filmed live and I try to copy that quite accurately I hope it might end up with a significantly different performance. It is just an experiment.”