On a good day they would shoot 100 feet of film, or about one minute of screen time. Sometimes it was much less, depending on the complexity of the shot. They were working one frame at a time and, apart from a couple of feet run-off at the start of a roll to get into a safe area, the shooting ratio was one-to-one. Without actors to make mistakes, everything was usable.
The process is more complicated than it sounds because if for instance a character has to lift a cup, the cup starts as a model and becomes a drawing when it is picked up. The model cup had to be rendered to match the drawn version. The transformation is made by removing the cup from the model set at the appropriate moment and adding it to the cels. All carefully planned before shooting begins.
“There has to be a logical order to the shooting, with each sequence set up and shot in a pre-determined way,” says Friswell. “If there is any deviation the whole thing falls apart very quickly. When you further consider the preparation time, you have to make the working atmosphere light-hearted otherwise there is no way you can maintain the necessary degree of concentration for a day, let alone ten weeks. Some shots could take up to an hour-and-a-half or two hours.”
Cameraman Ron Crees had the responsibility of actually pressing the exposure button. “He aged considerably during the shoot,” joked Turner. “He would take the nod from Ken who had over-all responsibility. Ken determined the calculations for the speed of the tracks and pans in advance. In live-action the concentration is intense throughout the take but when shooting stop motion, as we were, the time is considerably extended. Even a door opening can distract you. There were days when we had the phones cut off in the studio because even that could blow a shot.
“Everyone on the crew worked as a team. Camera operator Ron Crees is a cameraman and director in his own right but his background is in special effects, so his mentality was absolutely in tune. You need someone who is aware of the requirements of single-frame work. If they are unable to adjust to the pace they could become a hindrance rather than an asset. It is a question of team work. Although most shots were achieved in one take, we would establish the camera position at the beginning and end of each shot, and the moves between the two plotted and followed exactly.”
The whole set was built on a turntable with an eight foot square base centred on a twelve-inch milling head as a pivot. It could turn very accurately and was often used for pans instead of moving the camera.
The rooms of the model house were approximately two-and-a-half feet square which presented a problem with panning and tilting the camera, as Friswell explained: “Some heads will pan and tilt on the nodal point of the camera, but they pivot in the centre like a quadrant. This makes the head bulky at the front and difficult to move within the model. We discussed this with a very good engineer, Vic Hardent, who designed a head on an extension plate to fit on our equipment.
We have standard studio effects equipment consisting of a horizontal rostrum with a camera carriage which moves north, south, east and west as well as forward. He added a five-foot jib arm to this and a head with a pivot and tilt device right at the front. It was lined up with the nodal point of the lens and when the camera was tilted or panned it was equivalent to turning your head. This allowed us to go into the model very, very low. The base plate skimmed about half-an-inch above the floor, putting the lens centre right for the eye line of the characters at that scale. When we panned we did not get an arc, we got a proper turn.”
Near the beginning of the film is a track right up the hall. It comprises 320 photographs shot on single-frame. The hall was about eight inches wide and they were running with about a quarter-of-an-inch clearance either side of the base-plate.
The whole film was shot using standard lenses, a snorkel or periscope lens was not required at any point. “The snorkel lens has many advantages but it has the disadvantage of having all the equipment over the top looking down on the set,” says Friswell. “The other problem is stability, which is only as good as the rig. A good snorkel rig is really big and strong and working at that scale there is no room for that size of camera carriage. On the other hand, if you are doing single-frame work without a heavy rig the camera will move slightly, and this is accentuated because you are extending whatever movement there is down to the bottom of the snorkel.”
They used a 25mm lens for many of the shots, which gave the rooms the perspective of a normal size living room. “I came up with what I thought were some very difficult moves for Ken, and there was only one he could not achieve. We could not have achieved it with a snorkel lens either,” said Turner.