The kitchen as an puppet animation studio – Page 3

        Category: #11 Winter 1984 | Article posted on: March 3, 2010

16mm and Henry King

I was over the moon. I bought an elderly second-hand Bolex; redheads replaced the old theatre lights; I found an out of work engineer camera lighting man who lived near and was willing to come in, fix the lights and camera and then leave me to animate. Working with my first storyboard, I embarked on “Henry King’, the short, poem by Hilaire Belloc. Again I returned to my faithful people who had worked for me since the early theatre days; those who made the clothes, painted the backcloths and made the props and furniture. Wonderful people who have backed me to the hilt and have asked so little in return. They love their crafts and enjoyed doing it. Perhaps it is this that gives the special quality to the sets, always remarked on.

“Henry King’ taught me a lot; I began at last to learn a little about lighting and camera work, now no longer my full responsibility. With a new and more knowledgeable person to come in with me, new ideas came and it was more fun. (My own family, by this time, had returned to school or work and were no longer involved as before.) I learnt something of the art of editing, the pace and the feel and language of a film. But as I learnt the rudiments of each stage I became increasingly aware that each part of making a film is an art in itself and cannot really be done well by one inexperienced person. Each stage had to be done in different places: from Berkshire to Portsmouth to London, thus saving the cost of dubbing theatre and cutting room. When the film was finally cut and the optical print made, I vowed I’d never make another film in such a way, if indeed at all. Was it worth it I asked myself – all that for 4 minutes questionably good animation? However as time passed and that little film did the rounds of the festivals, professional and amateur, I was amazed to find that people actually liked it. I remembered now only the good bits, thinking, well I can do better than that! Suddenly with new enthusiasm I was off again, dreaming, planning “The Burglar”, applying for a grant which could get me going again.

Trying to get a grant, whether It is for the theatre or for a film, is almost as hard work as actually making the thing itself. Budgets, photographs, storyboards, scripts, interviews and endless lucid and well typed letters are some of the headaches necessary. I am no typist nor mathematician, nor particularly lucid, but I am blessed with a husband who is all of these things, so between us we managed. Then there is the awful waiting. Nevertheless whether you get a grant or not, it has forced you to know more clearly what you are doing, how and for how much. If you are lucky enough to get one, you are so encouraged that somebody has faith in you to put money into it, that you start off starry eyed, brimming once more with strength and confidence.

The Burglar

The Burglar.

“The Burglar” had been around in my head and on paper for a long time. Long before, when we had first done “The Detective”, I had thought that these stories would make a good series, and even then, that became my ultimate goal. I had already made out a whole storyboard of “The Burglar” in the old style of having a narrator and keeping faithfully to the story as written. But a series needs a link. I had decided that since many of the stories had appeared in Punch at the time they were written, Mr Punch would be the link. Not the Mr Punch of the puppet show, but Mr Punch the sage, wit, politician, philosopher and poet of an earlier age. The series was to be called Mr Punch’s Personalities (as it was in the old periodicals) but instead of the distinguished people of the day, “The Burglar”, “The Earl”, “The Detective” and the rest would be his personalities. Mr Punch was to be the narrator, seen as on the cover of the old Punches, before you dissolved into the story. The teaser and credits were all based on the old drawings of Mr Punch in his many guises. The Dolphin of the Dolphin Puppeteers (us) was to tow the personality of each story on a raft with Mr Punch coming up behind in his boat, the cover of the old Punch printed on its sail. I was carried away by the whole idea. Then suddenly I came down to earth. Who, I asked myself, reads Punch now? Not many, and certainly not the children who in this country are supposed to be the only audience who watch puppets. I scrapped the whole project and thought again. Eventually I decided to collect the best stories, put them into a modern setting, and weave them round two basic families who lived next door. I cut the narration and rewrote the stories to fit my characters. So The Burglar starts off at the house which belongs to Mr Barraclough. In the next episode (if there is one) Mr Barraclough wants to travel. He hires a man to look after him called Wobblejuice who can change himself into any animal he chooses. In the following one we see Mr and Mrs Barraclough and their friend Arthur Pomegranate having adventures on a magic carpet. Several episodes later they meet and make friends with the neighbours next door.

The thought of these stories, to my mind so original and humorous, which transport you into a gentler world, this is the driving force which makes me go on. I do not animate film for its own sake any more than I puppeteered because I am mad about puppets. The enterprise will have its pleasures and excitements and certainly “The Burglar” was in moments fun to make even with the inevitable amount of trauma. But the beautiful unshattered vision is my real excitement, added to the fact that when a film is made you are never satisfied and think only how miles better the next one will be.

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Printed in Animator Issue 11 (Winter 1984)