DJ: Did you manage to hold the focus between the cutouts and the background?
NL: On a wide shot, yes. On a tight shot, no, but that worked in our favour because it is easier to read an image when the background is out of focus, and we were quite pleased with that. We shot it all on video rather than on film so we had the opportunity of seeing it instantly. You probably know that EOS make a video controller that controls U-matic. We brought one when we started Catalyst three years ago. When you start shooting video line tests you realise it would be nice to do the camera moves as well. Eventually we ended up with a computer controlled rostrum so we could shoot the camera moves. The next logical step was to upgrade from U-matic to One-inch. When we got the go ahead with this particular job we brought a single frame facility One-inch machine. It was an absolute Godsend because we could see exactly what we were doing while we were doing it. We only had two-and-a-half months to produce forty minutes of material and if we had been shooting it all on film I don’t think we could have done it. Several re-shoots were avoided by the fact that while the artwork is still on the stand, and you haven’t moved the camera, you can play back the scene for checking. When artwork is produced hurriedly, you often get a painting error. For example, the worst is when you have something like striped pants, and the stripes suddenly twist. They might be red and yellow and the red stripes become yellow and vice versa. When you are checking through the cels it is difficult to spot. The first time you see it might be when you have shot the film. If that happens you have to re-shoot the whole scene. When you shoot on video you are able to play it back instantly and spot any problems, then rectify them without having to re-shoot the entire scene. You can just drop that one frame in, which is great. That said, it is not the be-all and end-all. There are things you can’t do, you can’t shoot transparent shadows, and you can’t shoot backlit glowing things.
DJ: You can’t double expose then?
NL; No. The only way you can do that is by complicated post production techniques. If the camera can’t see it then you can’t record it on video tape unless you use a second camera and quite sophisticated vision mixing while you record. In practice it probably isn’t feasible. The alternative approach is complex post-production. You might decide to shoot the shadows separately and regard them as a semi-transparent matte over the top of the scene. This is fine, but the saving made by shooting on videotape is eliminated because post production techniques are both time consuming and expensive, so there is no point. For something like this series simple video is an absolute bonus. Double exposure was totally unnecessary, the important thing was whether the jokes came across. Often, jokes come across best when you keep things simple and bold.
DJ: What age group is the series aimed at?
NL. Over ten. Under tens may not like their heroes being pastiched as much, although they may love it. When I played it to my two nephews it was a real eye-opener to find out what they liked and what they didn’t like, but overall it went down very well indeed. Some of the things we thought were tremendously successful got very little reaction from the kids while others where we had thought “Oh no, I’m not too happy with that,” turned out to be the ones they were laughing at. Obviously we’ve got a lot to learn when it comes to comedy.
This article is illustrated by artwork from a Catalyst production Switzers “Santa Bears”, a TV commercial which runs for 30 seconds. It shows how the production was developed from the storyboard (above), through to the final drawings (on the following pages).