Reminiscences of an animator

The eight houses in the city square were made of cast-off computer-paper boxes and the “city wall’ was built around a framework of rubbish from the computer tape library with modrock, plaster, and as nasty a paint-job as I could manage. Every single item of scenery could be removed so as to allow the sort of camera angle which could have been achieved by my puppets (mostly less than 15 cm tall) but would otherwise have been impossible for me using a camera (on their scale) about ten feet long with a front element more than a yard across.

The insides of the house were covered with “cycloramas” of black frieze paper to give them depth and stop them looking so much like boxes covered with dolls’ wallpaper. In addition, there was one separate “furnished interior” for my ‘narrator’s” house, and the black back of the butcher’s shop could be removed to allow the camera to look out onto the Square from behind the counter.

For tracking/panning/crane shots, I used a Cullman “Macro-Rail-Head” with a big graduated cardboard dial on the crank-handle to ensure that the movement was (fairly) smooth.

I managed to start shooting about five weeks before I was due to go to university, in my front room at home which was completely filled by the set and the 2 step ladders which supported a Dexion lighting gantry (made from a cannibalised cine club rostrum which nobody had ever used!!!) above the “square”.

All went well during-the first twenty-eight hours of shooting. I did not have to do as much re-furbishing of my huge and heavy, white horses (more than a 500g pack of plasticine in each of them!) as I had expected. One nomad did seem determined to get a new nose job every few hours, but I was in time to catch most of those suicidal characters who tried to dash their faces against the chipboard of the square.

People say plasticine figures are less temperamental than real actors but don’t you believe it!

Then I became aware that something was not right. I carried on nervously for another half hour, whereupon I spied a small blue light in the top right hand corner of my viewfinder – and it HURT!

My mother, who was getting a little exasperated by the presence of the set in HER front room was not very happy about my starting all over again just because the film was going to look “a bit yellow” because of some fancy filter or other, but luckily my grandparents agreed to let me carry on in their front room. Thanks to the collapsible set, I was able to move everything down, and set up shop there.

Apart from using their electricity and eating their food, during the next few weeks I was to blow three fuses with my lights and insist on lighting a bon¬fire down their garden at ten o’clock on a dark, rainy night to superimpose on one shot, so they weren’t too put out by my constant presence in their house.

By a miracle of timing I was able to finish shooting at half-past ten at night, the day before I started university, having done nothing else except eat and sleep in between animating since I arrived.

I filmed two sets of titles shortly afterwards and chose the best of the two.

I am now waiting for news from the IAC about how “PUT NOT YOUR TRUST…” as the film is called, from the biblical proverb: Put not your trust in princes. It was shot almost entirely one frame at a time at an average rate of one frame per l½ minutes of shooting time and runs for just over six-minutes at 24 f.p.s. and cost, so far, about £78.

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Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 5 (Summer 1983)