The Vulture – Plasticine Animation Takes Off

 In one scene from “Vulture” in which each of the three characters is filmed on a separate exposure, we see in the far distance a man in red (i.e. an element in the composition that remains on an implied “ground”) watching the vulture – on the same level to start with – spreading his wings and taking off. As he comes to the edge of the frame, a second man comes into the other side, establishing an implied foreground, looking down on the other two characters. He scratches his head and watches the out of shot vulture (i.e. something else non-existent is implied visually) which comes swooping in past him on a dangerous slant, flapping its wings and grasping at him with its talons. The vulture disappears over the top of the implied camera (i.e. the camera passes underneath it). Then the second man turns and appears to walk down towards the level still being proclaimed by the man in red. You try getting plasticine figures to walk downhill – it’s far easier in this case just to crane the camera upwards as he walks away from it. Of course, on each exposure, all areas of the picture not required for movement are covered by a card black mask on the camera to keep everything black, which is moved with the characters, frame by frame, to avoid flare from the back-lighting or any of the room, outside the really very small set, being seen by the camera. A sort of poor mane s travelling matte. And you have to keep a careful note as to where each character is in the frame so that they react together and do not overlap. Having no other reference other than the red man, the audience are forced to see a black space about 6 ft by 5 ft or downright huge if they accept characters as life-size, with a downward sloping surface between the foreground and background, which are solid, and on different levels. In fact, all the movement took place on the same area, about 1 ft square, with the same lights for each character and the vulture that flies from the distant background over the top of the foreground never budged from his black perch.

Does any cel animator want to say that we puppeteers are still “tied down to the ground”, given the advantages in the illusion of perspective you can achieve by moving the camera in relation to a 3D object rather than lust zooming in?

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Printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 9 (Summer 1984)