When a puppet starts wearing out the animators tell the workshop who make anther one. They can take off the snail’s shell and put it on a new body.
A lot of thought is given to the way the puppets move. The shape of the snail dictates the way it moves whereas the others are more human in shape. “The walk can be used to build up their character,” says Vose. “After doing ten episodes we have established the way various puppets react. At first we were trying all sorts of things. The beetle is the muscle-man of the garden, the others run to him when they want someone to lift things. We’ve given him a little bounce in his walk, it adds an air of confidence. He is a bit of a ‘Rocky’ character – he thinks he is, anyway! Instead of bringing his foot straight forward it is four frames up, and then down and back up again. We don’t actually take the foot right to the bottom, we take it almost to the bottom and then back up a second time which gives him that little bounce. His shoulders bounce as well.”
They have developed different walks for the other characters. There is a caterpillar with two walking sticks, and seven legs. “He is a really old and weary character,” says Vose. “ It took us a long time to work out how to animate his walk, he has three legs on each side of his body and one at the back, and you think – my god, what’s happening?” Vose laughs.
The two animators have the task of remembering which legs they have moved. They try to cheat him as much as possible by setting up a shot that doesn’t require him to do too much walking, but he can do his gestures with his walking sticks. “We’ve made him more of a stationary character. It would be boring if you had to watch him plod across the set for any length of time. It is quite a pacey show. Within its ten minutes we have around a hundred to a hundred and ten shots, and it is chop, chop, chop,” says Vose.
There is a spider puppet who is lowered onto the set as if she is on a thread. This is actually a rod because of the scale of the puppets. A motor in the roof above the spider is operated from a control box. Pressing one button takes the spider across the set on an overhead track while another lowers it to the surface of the set. There is a ruler mounted alongside the rod holding the spider. If she comes down in a long shot she will be moved one section, which is about half-an-inch, in two frames. For a close-up, because of the speed she is going, she would be moved half of one section so that she is nicely paced.
“She hovers above the set,” explains Vose. “When she comes down, her legs are moving. She has eight legs, when the front two are going in the ones behind them will be going out, the third pair will be doing what the front ones are doing and the rear pair will copy the second. So, although you have only to think of two things at once, when she comes down into shot it looks as though her legs are full of movement.”
Paul Nicholas is doing the narration as well as all the individual voices on Creepy Crawlies. They shoot to a pre-recorded sound track. Nicholas records the script which is then edited into a ten-minute episode. The sound track is charted on bar sheets as a guide for animation. “It is marked word for word. Whereas with Wind in the Willows, because it is lip synced, it’s reduced to vowels. For our series the mouths don’t move, it is a mime, on Wind it is a talk. So our bar sheets do not need to be as intricate. They have two months in which to complete an episode whereas we have two weeks,” says Vose.
Working without lip movements makes it important to give the characters bits of business to indicate which one is talking. This movement is based on their personalities, the snail, for example, is quite a pompous character and the ladybird is quite a shy little one, so his voice will be more aggressive than hers. The animators will listen to the tape and Vose will act it out the way he thinks it should be done. Then the animators give their ideas. They dramatize the action to get the feel of it.
Vose will say: “I think she should come forward and be quite cute.” The animators show him what they think and ask, “What if we do that?” and then they analyse the movement in their own minds.
“Say it is a twelve second shot, she might come forward and then back, and sort of listen to what he is saying, and perhaps move forward just a little bit more. It is slow motion acting really, dead slow motion,” says Vose.
Other directors may work differently, but for Vose acting out a scene is easier than explaining verbally. He believes it is better for the animators, because by watching him act, they have other ideas to improve the end result. “It is interesting, because if I acted something for Rachel and then acted the same thing to Loyd, they would interpret it totally differently since each animator is different,” comments Vose. “You can always tell which animator has done what. The pleasing part of this job is seeing an animator working a puppet in a totally different way even though the character is still there.”
Vose started at Cosgrove Hall as an animator. He studied animation while he was at Wolverhampton College, mostly by working on his own films. “I was excited about animation and I wanted to come here, because I had been to this studio on an open day about five years ago and decided I really wanted to do it,” explains Vose. “At college I was doing everything, writing the stories, building the sets, making the puppets, animating and the thing I liked the best, directing.”
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Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)