Animating Christmas Card Cut-outs

Christmas Card Cut-outs

By Doreen Wood

Last Christmas as I was idly looking at the display of cards draped above the fireplace I wondered what would happen if the Three Wise Men on their camels found themselves on the wrong Christmas card; if, for example, they were to stroll down a Victorian Street complete with stagecoach and snow. Before long, several bizarre ideas had formed, all of which seemed to be possibilities for an animated film, and soon I was on the phone to my friend. “Doris, I’ve got an idea.”

She should have known by now that these words usually land her in for several months of work. But as some people never learn, it wasn’t long before we had persuaded all our friends, relations and colleagues to let us have their Christmas cards. The cards came in by the bag full. We had several sessions sorting them into different categories, robins, stage coaches, scenery etc. and gradually little scenes began to form in our minds. We wrote down all the ideas and listed them under headings such as MICE, WISE MEN, RUNNING GAGS, and gradually a script of sorts took shape. It was, in effect a quest with a beginning and an end. The middle was several little cameos, loosely linked, and with running gags to hold the whole thing together. The sound track would consist mainly of music and sound effects.

Next followed the cutting out. This had to be done very carefully as any mistake would be magnified very much on the big screen. Painstakingly we coloured the cut edges with black felt tip pen to give a neater effect and to make the pieces stand out more clearly from their background.

We made space in our spare bedroom for a coffee table, the corner of which served as our rostrum which we lit with a No. 1 photoflood at one side and a 150 watt photocrescenta at the other. The camera was on a tripod, and apart from the fact that we had to be careful not to knock the legs, this set-up worked reasonably well. We did all the things that you are supposed to do, such as cancel the filter, fit a No. 2 close-up lens to allow us to zoom and screwed in the cable release, fastening it so that it couldn’t inadvertently get ‘in shot’. We planned to take two frames per move¬ment. I should point out here, that apart from a few simple titles our experience with cut outs was small so from now on we were playing it by ear, so to speak.

One of the main difficulties with cut outs is to give the effect of plenty of movement. There is not the flexibility of expressions or stretch and squash that drawings give. We tried to avoid making the characters walk, but one sequence required a policeman to chase a mouse. For the policeman we made up 3 separate cut outs A, B, and C. By moving them the width of the helmet and in the order A,B,C,B, we achieved a comic run.

The mouse was tackled in a different way. He was a fat little fellow with long feet on short legs. We drew and painted 2 legs (complete with feet) and by placing them separately in three positions as we moved the mouse along, we achieved a passable run.

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