Films made during the war years helped sharpen the intellect. In order to explain, to educate or to inform it was necessary to acquire in the short term a degree of knowledgeable expertise concerning the subject on the drawing board. From naval manoeuvres, fighting fires, growing your own vegetables, war on waste, post-war explanations re. political intentions, to mathematics, language lessons, philosophy, geology, biology – the list is endless. In this branch of animation one never stops learning. The film content must be accurate and it is this degree of preciseness which schools and educates the film-maker.
John is ready to admit the influence this has had on his thinking but confesses, “I have a major fault – indeed, I’m sure I have many – but this flaw to my work I discovered during the making of Animal Farm. From it’s commencement it was like travelling down a long dark tunnel with no light at the end, and when at last a faint flicker could be seen, I raced to emerge into the light of a new day.
“The task involved about eighteen sequences and I wished George Orwell had had either the time or the cognisance to reconsider his final draft before sending it to his publishers. If he had, the dramatic emphasis might have been better placed in the storyline. In the event the finished film adaptation took both Orwell and Louis de Rochemont by surprise. Rochemont had not been prepared for the visual experience. Aware only of the written word and the effect this had had on him, he was unprepared for another’s interpretation. Yet, he confessed to being delighted with the outcome.” But John had quite unexpected reservations.
He realized that fault could be found in the unnecessary degree of importance he had paid to details at the expense of the complete picture. Seeing the final edited print made him aware of the total scheme of things first and foremost, while the details were not consciously noticed. He regards this as a fundamental fault in his conceptual thinking, a fault he has now noticed in his latest work Light of the World. “I’m still doing it,” he apologises, “and so I have to admit it is a fault, one that I must try to overcome.”
The premiere of Light of the World – Part 1, took place at BAFTA HIQ off Piccadilly Circus on St. Patricks Day. TVS pronounced their delight and satisfaction with John’s initial production which is the first of three parts illustrating the Holy Bible. Each part is designed to stand alone, but the intention is to edit them into one feature-length production.
Talking about the film at a recent BKSTS meeting he compared traditional and electronic techniques:
“If you are a producer of animated films, the problem of what method to use for a particular animated project is constantly under consideration. There are many, but here, the two major methods will be spotlighted. One – the traditional stop motion cel animation. Two – computer animation. They don’t mix. At least not until now. They are like oil and water or water and oil. The functions are also different and so are their capabilities.
“Cel animation, as a rule, is utilized for exaggerated characters and quick action and is a springboard of imagination and fantasy. Computer animation excels itself in super-realism, in textural brilliance, in tonal rendering and in flying objects in 3-D space. The first, as a rule is photographed stop frame on a rostrum camera on optical film, the latter onto videotape. They don’t like each other. There’s not much love lost either between the traditional cel animators and the computer animators working with graphical computers. For a long time I have tried to be a marriage councillor and try to combine the best of both methods.
“This year an opportunity offered itself through a project for TVS, Great Britain and Sampaolo Audiovisual, Rome, Italy. The title of the project is The Light of the World, a half hour long thing on television and a long short for the cinemas. It tells the story of Christ’s birth and it starts with Genesis, starting with Botticelli’s painted version of young Jesus, which gradually evolves into a computerized version of the creation of space then the world. On the way there is some time-lapse photography of live action flowers attempting to convey God’s creative powers, then back again to hand drawn animation for the creation of man and woman.
“Briefly, here is a short description of the hand animation process: the idea, script, storyboard, timing of the action, record sound (dialogue, music and effects), layout, animate, tracing, painting, backgrounds, photography, edit, mix the picture and sound, neg cut, optical answer print. Fifteen major functions.
“May I pinpoint the fact that the first period of activity: idea, script, storyboard, timing of the action, recording of the sound, in fact five out of the fifteen major steps in a project are similar whether it is hand animated or computer processed.
“A number of professionals and others in visual communication believe that computer animation is simpler than hand animation. It is not. It is far, far more complex. Many would call it a monster with a permanent growth which does not appear to stop.
“The option of choice is extremely wide, systems are varied from simple micro computers to complex turnkey systems combining software and hardware. From two dimensional wire frame systems to the Encore HLD controls for the latest in three dimensional graphical editing systems.
“For a simple individual like myself it is far too much, which is why I took refuge in the Spitfire Computer Studio where, with Miss Julie Watkins, a computer specialist, we sorted out the technical problems bearing in mind that the objective was as smooth a mix between the methods as possible. This meant, for instance, that for the soft objects like water, which hand animation cannot do well we chose a two dimensional colour cycling effect painted one still frame to define a palette, made the colour cycle and taped the action to integrate with the other scenes later.
“For the growing green leaf I was after an effect of realism, hoping that the audiences would practically smell this object. The shade was achieved by texture mapping. For the star shot I hoped that it would roll up as a carpet leaving behind a blazing sun. It was a 3-D job on a Mirage. Since then Spitfire have installed a Harry which I am sure would have done it better.
“Throughout the film there were a number of hand animated shots on 35 millimetre optical stock transferred onto one inch tape which were taken into the computer for light and ray effects. There is no way hand animation can compete with such soft effects like shading, transparency and soft textures of light which the computer is able to achieve.
“It is not the first time that I have fallen victim to this huge divide between optical and magnetic systems and possibly not the last. In the meantime, since both are available at a price and will be here for a very long time, one should make an effort to get the maximum artistic potential of both. It is a challenge to all of us in this industry.”