Beowulf in Plasticine – cameras might fly – Page 2

The next step in camera movement after this is to liberate the camera from its earthly existence altogether, and give it wings. This is achieved mind-bogglingly-well in the many adverts and title-sequences on television which now use sophisticated 3D computer animation: the Indesit advert, and the absolutely outstanding new title-sequence for Weekend World are the best that come to mind. The trouble is, when you try this with normal cine-camera lenses, even if you can supply the necessary camera movement (I use my old Cullmann macro-rail head, which had to be repaired after Feud) your film is probably going to look very jerky indeed if you move ‘fast’. The movements I wanted to follow in the dragon-fight were to be violent – to say the least! I think I found a reasonable answer in an old Eumig aspheric wide-angle attachment which I picked up at a photographic shop for two pounds, a year or so ago. I haven’t got a Eumig, but it works fine when I sellotape it onto the front of my Sankyo sound camera, which, luckily, does have a single-frame release. Not only does this fitting dramatically exaggerate any movement towards or away from it, it also seems to smooth out even the most violent of camera movements (well, almost), and gives you a colossal depth of field to play with.

Puppets from the film Feud.

In the actual dragon-fight sequence, I used all these properties to add dramatic emphasis to the ‘state of play’: while Beowulf was doing well, and responsible for most of the movement, he was the ‘static’ element in frame, the dragon’s ‘choreography’ being secondary to his. He was also very close to the camera, so he appeared relatively large. But at a few frames’ ‘notice’, it was easy to catch the dragon with the frame-line, and let him ‘drag it off on his own: to switch from Beowulf to the dragon as the dominant ‘static’ picture element, the camera being moved as much as necessary to minimise his movement within the frame.

The frame-sketches were made by taking still photographs of Feud from a TV screen during a video showing and projecting the negatives onto paper with a slide-projector.

The first picture shows the first meeting’ of the rivals: Both Beowulf and the dragon are fairly large in the frame, as they begin to size each other up. The camera is down by Beowulfs feet, so both puppets appear large and strong, although the boar-statue on Beowulf’s helmet dominates the dragon.

The second picture shows the extent to which the Beowulf puppet leans back before letting the dragon have it with his ancestral sword: the tip of the sword was actually touching the lens when the frame that the picture is traced from was taken. Beowulf is confident, so he occupies a large part of the picture. The boar on his helmet, a symbol of virility etc. for many centuries after Beowulf, eventually directly opposes the dragon, who hardly seems any larger within the picture than the boar, as he is much further away. The camera is much higher up: the set has ‘moved’ up into the space previously occupied by the sky. We are now almost looking down on the huge reptile!

A little bit later, when things are not going well for the King, the dragon is closer, much more menacing, and larger. But Beowulf is in the process of dealing the mighty blow which will break his sword over the dragon’s nose, so the camera shoots up at him. His sword has plenty of sky in which to to glisten. Then…

Picture Four: after the sword breaks and Beowulf appears to be defenceless, both the dragon and the camera rear up together: Beowulf has lost dominance both in the battle and in the composition of the picture, so we look down with the dragon on his misfortune. As you might expect, for the conclusion of this shot, the dragon is very definitely the ‘static’ element as he and the camera lunge forward to grab Beowulf by the neck!!!

This really does come into its own on a big screen – almost like those films taken on big dippers!

Feud has so far been shown out of competition in the Leicester and Brussels International Super 8 festivals, as well as in the Best of Gemriac programme at the IAC’s AGM in Stratford. It received a silver medal in the European Amateur Film Circle’s festival in Munster, West Germany in 1985, as well as the ‘best animated film’ trophy there, and the ‘best use of sound’ trophy at the CEMRIAC festival in Derby, 1985.

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Printed in Animator Issue 15 (Spring 1986)