The fifth installment of Barry Purves' production diary as he chronicles producing a series of animated shorts for Channel 4. An Animation World Magazine exclusive.
Editor's Note: Lumps, warts and all, for eight months Barry Purves will share his personal production diary with us for his current project with Channel 4, tentatively titled Here's A How de do. This film will take a look at three men: Gilbert, Sullivan and Richard D'Oyly Carte. D'Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and formed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas for 100 years. While the trio worked together for roughly 25 years, their relationship was strained at best. How will the production of their story go? All we can do is read along monthly and find out...
So totally tired already. I don't get to sit down all day really. We are going to have a series of work experience people in over the next few weeks which will help with the more time consuming and laborious jobs, but it's a bit pathetic that we have to rely on these people to crew our shoot. The puppets appeared in fine voice, vibrating beautifully, lips all aquiver, as they hit a high note. Unfortunately, we had the usual problem of these puppets, of the neck rubber popping out of the collars. This did get sorted out, but there will still be a few frames with nasty goings on in the neck area. My mind is so full of G & S stuff that I have no space for anything else, and keep losing important things like my camera or a check. Or is this just age... My Japanese friend in Hamamatsu City, Saemi, is always finding amazingly relevant things to send me. Today I received a poster for "Warship Pinafore." Saemi is going to see it next month, so I can't wait to hear what she thinks. I wonder how such Western music sounds to Eastern ears, or will they orchestrate it accordingly?
A mammoth 13 seconds has left me exhausted, and way behind with all the other work that needs to be done for the coming episodes. I should do at least two hours a night after shooting, but I really am too drained.
I think it was a good day - after a rather bland shot of Carte yesterday, Gilbert suddenly did a gesture that was beautifully timed, concise and spoke volumes. That does not happen often, and should the rushes be faulty, I would not be able to repeat it. Work-related things not to do with filming keep demanding my attention, but I cannot give it. I must be so focused otherwise this film will not happen (or am I using this obsession with the filming to shirk other responsibilities - I hope not). There's a few problems with the puppets, with mouth cavities coming unstuck (it's those high notes that literally put too much strain on the mouth), and the white paint getting grubby. Sadly, there is little time/money for maintenance, but we'll see what we can do.
Five shots and 11 seconds and still not enough for our schedule - this is too much. I think I'm probably frustrating Jean-Marc as he does like to know exactly where each puppet will be on which precise frame. Sadly, I don't work like that. Oh yes, of course, I've spent months planning every move, and exactly how much plot must be got across in each shot, but when I start, the puppets lead me in various directions. If a pose is looking good I might decide to make the most of it, and sacrifice another pose. Of all animation, puppets have some spontaneity to them. My animation, within certain guidelines, is quite organic. I'm not very good at repeating shots as they would never turn out the same. I gather on the Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach films, each shot had a couple of rehearsals and so forth - I'd find that hard. My animation does have a lot of rough edges and is pretty raw, but it certainly has this spontaneous energy. Of course, I would love to lose those raw edges... Most people are down at Cardiff for the Animation Festival. I've never felt too comfortable at that festival, or is it sour grapes because I have never been asked to do anything by the big festival at home? Sour grapes definitely!!!
An epic shot involving two camera movements, and the chaps moving but being very low-key. The slow movements really are so much harder to control. I still find it difficult to let a puppet just sit there.
A bit of a setback however. We got our third set of rushes back, and just trying to get to see them on the Steenbeck was like an over elaborate episode of Mission: Impossible. Seeing these rushes and the ones from earlier this week for the first time was a little disappointing. They are really too dark and gloomy. We can't reshoot them, but I think I can make it work. Poor Jean-Marc is very upset - it's not his fault, maybe I've given him too many directions. It's clear, however, that trying to scrimp on important things like being able to see the rushes on a regular basis is dangerous. There's no doubt that this problem could have been spotted earlier and a lot of angst avoided. There was also one reshoot due to accidentally leaving on a working light (this is necessary because the recording device we have cannot cope with our light levels). This really is filmmaking with my hands tied. I am exasperated from being told that we can't afford it! I felt the film slipping away tonight.
In to work to do the reshoot of Gilbert looking haughty. It was not as good second time round of course. Also we set the new lighting state and did the shot with the change. I hope I am not making matters worse now. I should have made use of the fact that D'Oyly Carte introduced, for the first time, electricity into theatres. I could have had him, as he did before the first performance of Patience, holding a light bulb. This could explain the sudden lighting change. Hopefully, I have made it work. All this is because we are so stuck for cash that we cannot send off rushes frequently enough, let alone look at them. Part of me really would like to give up all this nonsense and just go and work for a big company where I am a small cog in a large machine. OK, so I would not do my own films, but already this film is running away from how I saw it due to the lack of sufficient back-up. This may be my fault for not spelling everything out. I assume people know how to do certain obvious things. Heard lots of anecdotes from Cardiff, especially about my mad stalker who was embarrassing everyone. Animation attracts people who are crazy about the stuff, and people who are just crazy. I've asked some people with responsible positions, and some whom I work with, what films they had liked at the festival: "Oh, we didn't see any films, we just got pissed!" Say no more.
Got the required footage out, but sadly no inspired animation. I don't get a break between shots as there's so much to do with the camera and all. I keep finding myself in front of the ready shot and thinking, "Oh yes, now what am I doing?"
Had a visit from a very sprightly Heather Kenyon, on a whirlwind trip of the Manchester animation community. There is a surprising amount of us up here. In terms of the story, Gilbert and Sullivan are currently being persuaded to work together thanks to a large handful of cash, and some rather basic clumsy animation. The puppets could already do with a good overhaul. They are exhausted and they are not the only ones.
Last day of the month, and months do not come more stressful than this. Fortunately, the rushes were great this morning. The new lighting looks just right and we can see every detail of the puppets. (They did have a quick hair and make-up job this morning; so particular, like actors!) We were down to our last chocolate biscuit this morning, but fortunately glamorous Karen breezed in with bags full of goodies. It's so easy to forget to eat, but she keeps an eye on us.
We are well past two minutes now, but were slowed down today by setting up a complicated Pepper's Ghost effect of Carte conjuring up the image of the Savoy theatre. If I'm being honest we could have probably done it by simply bringing up the lights on a flat piece of artwork. But by shooting it through a piece of glass, I hope to make it a little insubstantial. It would really work if I had time to walk one of the characters behind the 'vision' - but I don't have time. I can't think of "what ifs." Peter Dodd is with us for a few days on work experience, and has thrown himself into it with gusto. With him speaking Danish on the phone, and Jean-Marc French, we are pretty international. I'm still anxious to see it all cut together, but all those people who gathered round the Steenbeck this morning thought something exciting was happening. Let's hope so. Sue said that this was clearly one of my films. I think that was a compliment. Nick, the designer, called in for the first time in a few weeks, and I was pleased he was pleased.
We cut the rushes together last night on the Steenbeck and guess what? It works. We haven't laid the music to it yet, but it charges along, with a good rhythm, and we have found enough ways to make a single bed look interesting. Some of the colors are quite glorious. Some of the animation could be a little more refined, but it's quite bold and witty. A good chat to Clare Kitson today, bringing her up to date with encouraging news of the film. I suggested a new title to her: Gilbert and Sullivan - The Very Models. It hints at G & S as well as animation, and some sort of standards. She quite likes this, but we are both amazed that we are still having these conversations. Out of rather drastic compromise, came a piece of rather funny business. Our camera was not able to cope with a move I was trying to do (unfortunately, we are basically stuck with one axis only), so I had to divide the shot of all of them going through their vaudevillian-type handshaking routine, into two parts. Trying to find a reason for the cut, as I have to do, I came up with a fresh piece of humor. There, you never know, necessity really is the mother of invention. This change, of course, led to some wasted time and a late night, but it was worth it. There is pressure on me from certain sources to keep these diaries free of criticism, in case I present the wrong image. The wrong image would be to present filmmaking as an easy, stress-free occupation. These diaries are not an advertisement for me, my ego, or any personal grudges. Hopefully, they may suggest to anyone approaching animation for the first time just how complex the whole process is. To those already animating, there may be a touch of, "Thank heavens - I'm not the only one!" I hope too, that they show how much work, dedication and passion has to go into a film. I really hope (how many times can I use this word) that these are of some use first, and interest, second. I find it therapeutic. I've kept a diary for 35 years and never missed a day. Now those ones are honest!!!
After working so late last night, I was not really prepared for the shots today, and did some less than wonderful animation. Well, I'll just have to live with that. As I had my hands on the puppets, I had that awful feeling, the equivalent of stage fright, where I did not know what I was doing. I was just moving limbs for the sake of moving something. I'd not had time to think it through. However, the music carries it off. My old students came to watch for a bit today. I could see them looking out for all the points I'd instilled in them.
Karen's and my birthday today. There were numerous visitors to the set. I've come away with some huge bunches of flowers. Sadly, I do not have my mother's talent for flower arranging. Such wonderful smells filled the studio.
My last birthday was spent in Seattle at the Masters of Animation week-end, giving a talk with, amongst others, Ray Harryhausen and Henry Selick. That was a real thrill, though I honestly felt the cuckoo in the nest.
Sandra Dugdale, our soprano, also came to the set today. It must have been odd for her to hear her voice coming out of Gilbert's mouth. We were slowed down by the costume changes, but suddenly there is Gilbert dressed as Sir Joseph, Carte as Dick Deadeye and Sullivan a very fetching Little Buttercup. They look wonderful, particularly Gilbert. I adore costumes so much. I love the textures and detail and what they can say about character, but, heavens, they do make life difficult. Hats make the head so hard to turn, as there suddenly becomes nowhere to hold, and dresses, well, they are the worst. This is one of the reasons why my Achilles puppets were naked. They were a joy to work with - real hand to hand (and buttock!) contact. Direct communication. I've yet to see a convincing costume, especially period costume, with CG. I'm sure I'll be eating my words soon though. I'm sad that this sequence (if that is so sing derry down derry) has seen the puppets not being as agile as I, or the music, would have liked, but there are those schedules...However, the music has lifted us all so much. This music just explodes with joy, energy and warmth. It is also so infectious that we all left singing and smiling.
Having spent yesterday being battered senseless on every (well, nearly every) roller coaster in Blackpool with my sister and her boys, I was a little tender this morning, and could not get going too easily at work. Still a day away from the puppets worked wonders. Rushes back today. We still have not been able to cut them together however. A token glare from somewhere on one frame is causing a problem. How it is there for only one frame I don't know, but I know I chose the worst shot possible for it to appear on. I can't reshoot it, as it was the shot of Sullivan changing into Little Buttercup, and that was a nightmare. I'll see if I can snip one frame out, but this could ruin the already rushed animation and put the lip synch out.
We spent the day setting up for the epic transformation into Pinafore. It explodes with light, but the shot will not betray the amount of work that has gone into it. I hope it finishes this episode with a good, satisfying cadenza. We were, of course, handicapped by not having enough lights to go from one lighting state to another, but ingenuity has won out; a good bit of effing and blinding also helped us get there. It looks great but we've not shot a frame today and that's not great.
A good day with an epic shot. I even managed some reasonable animation. I got a little ratty as the concentration required to sustain such a complicated shot as the transformation into Pinafore is enormous. The slightest change of my rhythm can put me off, and one duff frame...Fortunately, I had an assistant today, one of my ex students. That relieved a lot of pressure. I can't now brag that I have animated everything in all my films.
Here's a dilemma: a colleague has been asking me for reference books about a particular subject, as he is trying to get a film off the ground. With the help of Cosgrove Hall, he probably will. Unfortunately, I feel mighty possessive about this particular subject, as the principal character is my alter-ago. I have been trying to get a film made about him for nearly two decades. This character is so right for one of my films, and I would hate to see someone get there before me and blow my chances. Do I lend the books? Well, who knows. I may not even be animating after this film. I have been asked to direct a play in Moscow about a Jewish violinist. I do not have much in common there, but if animation is not giving me the chance to do what I want, i.e. work with a certain caliber of artists and materials, with a decent schedule, maybe this is another option.
I could hardly move after the rigors of yesterday's very taxing epic shot. It still looks quite good on the video. There was another long shot for me today; 13 seconds of talking heads. After all the singing and orchestra, mere speech sounded a little dull and flat, however witty, "What never? No never. What never? Well hardly ever," was. Not my favorite shot, but it tells a bit of plot. I did struggle to get through it, and was sad that my animation was little more than head and flappy wrist acting. One day, I would love an easier schedule to see what I really am capable of.
I've just been to see Love and Death on Long Island and loved every second of it. Gently paced, and very witty. The director Richard, a friend of mine, kept cutting away to objects and other seemingly irrelevant things. The effect was tremendous. With my animation I'm always scared to cut away from the characters, as every second is so valuable. Also, the early films I worked on were full of ghastly static close-ups of books about to be picked up, or door knobs about to be turned. Hideous stuff, and since then I've been frightened of such close-ups.
No filming today, and I can hear the tick tock of the schedule screaming in my ears. However we had to cut Episode One together. I had to see that the lip synch was working and that there were enough frames. Guess what? It was and there were! More than that, it's not a bad three-minute little film. There's quite a few visual peaks, and a few moments I'm enjoying watching again. The story seems clear. Well, there's this man in bed, and two other men come along who don't seem too keen on each other. The first man offers the others some money, and they get writing. Then, a huge boat comes along and they all dance around. Perfectly clear. It says Gilbert and Sullivan to me. There's masses of work to do on the grading to get the colors consistent, and quite a few sound effects and grunts and groans to add to help things along, but one thing is clear. It has energy, which is so often lacking in puppet animation. It does look rich, and so what if there are a few cheesy moments - in the context of things, it works. I like their horn-pipe very much. It was so simple but fits the music perfectly. There is always such a thrill for me, when some visuals make me listen to the music in a new way, and vice versa.
This rough editing took most of the day, and we had to strike Pinafore and get back to the normal state. We were just getting there, when the camera tripod keeled over, and broke a wooden leg. A bit of a disaster really, plus it is sad to think of all the things that tripod must have witnessed, only to end up in a small studio in Moss Side. Oh, the glamour of filmmaking. On to Episode Two, with a new confidence, knowing that what I'm doing will work.
New camera legs, and a new episode. There's been a lot of marvelous feedback from the few people I showed Episode One to yesterday. Mark Hall was, in particular, bubbling away about it. I'd certainly like to go back to Cosgrove Hall, if the project was right. Ironically, today Channel Five was showing my episode of Wind in the Willows where Toad performs The Pirates of Penzance in his gardens - the wheel comes full circle.
Poor Jean-Marc is having real problems with the simplicity of the equipment available to him. Just a simple track back becomes a nightmare, reframing and refocusing as we go, and that ain't easy with what we have. A track we did today had a definite dip in it as our floor is hardly straight. Fortunately, it matched a swooping phrase in the music and seems to work. The music carries everything along with it. In today's shot, all 13 seconds of it, I tried to bring out the complex rhythm with the animation. My head was ready to explode, but I so enjoy listening to the music a frame at a time, and hearing how it is constructed, how phrases become questions, and then answers. It is all mathematics basically, but it is so satisfying to have the patterns unraveled before me. I think, well I hope, that all I have done on this film so far respects Sullivan's music and Gilbert's words. Even after hearing a section three hundred times, as I have today, there is something so right about the words and the music, that I still do not tire of them.
Two good shots, and one absolutely dire one, but there we go. One of the good ones saw me animating the melody, and also the counterpoint tune underneath. The two different rhythms were doing my head in. Just as it was going quite well, it all went slightly wrong, and some of the music on the barsheet was way out. So there was a bit of swearing by me, and some quick thinking on my feet. Hopefully, I have saved the shot of the three men signing the contracts, but it was not as I had intended. Rye Hannah is with us on work experience this week and has been a great help. I feel that to some extent, I am on show with my every move being scrutinized. All these work experience people aren't exactly taking notes, but with whatever reputation I have, I feel I have to be on my best behavior and not take too many shortcuts. Still, it is very flattering to have them wanting to watch me. It must be so boring!!!
A good day, with a decent amount of footage, and some interesting animation. Gilbert is now off pontificating about his own merits. I think this is going to be quite a musical episode. Part of me is wishing that I had the courage to film it like a music video, or like Bob Fosse in Cabaret, with fast cutting, and close-ups of hands being flicked out. This would totally drag G & S screaming into the new millennium, but I don't think it would be fair to them. Hopefully, what I am doing is bringing out the structure of the words and music. Besides there is too much plot to get across. There is nothing in these films for the sake of simply liking the music. Every note has been chosen because it says something about their lives, their work, or relationship. In such short films, I can't go off into plotless choreographic fantasies. There, I've talked myself out of that one! I wish I had someone that knew what I was trying to do, as intimately as I do. I need someone at the early stages to bounce ideas off. I fear I am now obsessed with this film. Everything revolves around it. I was even playing The Gondoliers in the car.
Did a complicated piece of choreography with Gilbert, that didn't quite come off, but still it's not too bad. Dance in animation is such an odd thing. It very rarely works. The whole thing about dance when you see it live is that you know the dancers are conquering gravity; we are aware of the effort involved to make a jump so high with so much grace. If you remove the element of gravity, as in an animated film, dance suddenly looks rather contrived. Too often animators rotoscope dancers, and that looks awful, as the timing is all wrong. Animators need to emphasize the pose and the weight, but that can even make the dance rather odd. A good thirteen seconds was done. Though, on a couple of moments, I suddenly looked at the characters and thought, 'I don't know what to do with you.' A bit of a nightmare, but as soon as I started I found a reason for everything. Gilbert has now done his solo, and, boy, is he glad to get rid of that clumsy large music score. Props do get in the way, as do costumes. What a joy it was to have the naked puppets in Achilles. I could really control those.
Trevor Nunn's production of Oklahoma! opened at the National Theatre last night to rave reviews. I get so excited when old war-horses like this are reinvented as though we have never had to sit through them before. From all accounts it is visually ravishing and he has brought out the drama and psychology of the piece. I would love the chance to get my hands on a dusty work that has been ruined by countless amateur performances. I'm often asked about my influences, and I think I'm expected to say George Pal or Harryhausen (and yes, of course, I've been influenced by them and admire them enormously), but I have to say that the biggest influences on my work have come from the theatre, especially Trevor Nunn's legendary Nicholas Nickleby. Something really clicked with me. I can honestly say that it changed my life. A great work of art was made accessible, exciting and so damn fresh. That's what I would like to do, thank you. It is about time that Gilbert and Sullivan were given this dusting down, and maybe Mike Leigh's film about them next year will have this effect. I don't think my film will have any effect as so few people will get to see it.
Rather too many visitors today but it was good to see Paul Berry. We sat chatting away about animation, bubbling with mutual respect. We still have not really worked together after knowing each other for 15 years. I think we would be a good combination, though I think he would find it hard to work at my pace and with my budgets now. He was amazed at the lack of staff and equipment with which we are doing this film. (I've just seen his huge cheese commercial. Wow!!!) Paul is used to features and the luxuries of commercials.
Twelve seconds a day is a real killer. I was rushing a bit today, and not thinking clearly. To save time the Wandering Minstrel sequence is being shot out of order, and I hate this, as all flow is disrupted. Incidentally, my horoscope for the day said that I must recognize that I urgently need to have a little time to think. Imagine you are trying to write a poem, it said, while the neighbors are having a noisy party. How true, how true...
A fax from a big studio in America got me intrigued and excited and flattered, but I have not been able to act on it yet.
We were feeling a little smug (which is tempting fate) as we have managed a whole minute of film this week, and are subsequently, totally shattered. I then made the mistake of playing the complete soundtrack. It went on forever and ever. What we have done seems only a minute fraction.
I do not know how I am going to film another 11 minutes in only 11 weeks. The puppets and costumes are already in need of repair and new skins, but to take them off set means the camera stops rolling. (Although, I hesitate to call an animation camera's action "rolling." It is more of a spasmodic twitching.)
As I was busy with Sullivan, both Jean-Marc and Rye fell asleep in the heat of the studio. Seeing them nod off, I quickly made Gilbert nod off as he sat behind Sullivan. Clearly, Gilbert is not impressed with Sullivan's music.
Not much inspired animation otherwise, but I'm still smiling at one gesture with Sullivan yesterday, that totally encapsulated the essence of a conductor and composer - very simple and clear, and above all, musical.
A good set of rushes, reasonable animation (film is so forgiving), and lit cleanly and consistently. We only get one sneak look at them, as we are still waiting for the Steenbeck promised us months ago (as well as a capable video recorder, but heigh ho...). Nor have I been able to cut them together to see it they fit the music, as we are allowed access to an editor only at the end of an episode. Yes, I do sound disgruntled. Still, it was good to see such a long chunk of animation.
A long static shot today, so I was left to get on with it. Jean-Marc still had energy in the evening and was disappointed that I did not want to carry on. I don't think he realizes the hours of work I have to do every night, so that I can walk into the studio and keep everything going without losing any time. It's now after midnight as I write this about what I have to do tomorrow, but it's taken a good few hours of pacing 'round my room (much to the amusement of the cats).
We have a new work experience lady today, Lucie, who though only 18, showed an enthusiasm and interest that I've not seen in many her age. Plus, she'd seen Oklahoma! on Saturday. It certainly does sound so exciting and innovative, and not a gingham frock anywhere. I love things that break years of convention. The dream is danced by the same actress who plays Laurie all night! There is no dancer specifically for the dream sequence...she is one and the same for the first time! Of course, it makes sense, but then this is Trevor Nunn who said, "Why should Peter Pan be played by a woman?' and changed that ludicrous convention. Good on you, Trevor.
Worked like crazy today, with some 14 seconds done. Some quite energetic stuff of Gilbert and Sullivan shouting at each other, with poor Carte caught in the middle. I must be careful that I do not rely too heavily on pointing and other cheap mime tricks, otherwise it will end up looking like a bad production of Giselle, where they mime for hours instead of getting on and dancing.
I've hopefully organized for the puppets to have an overhaul at the weekend, as they are showing the strain. I can't take them off set without stopping the filming, as they are all in nearly every shot. They do need a good clean and touch-up, with all their joints pulled straight. Gilbert did this flamboyant gesture today, showing his palm in close-up - yikes!!! His fingers were somewhat rough, and worn away, so I quickly developed the gesture into something else, and happily, it worked.
I'm pleased with this sequence of "Conceive me if you can" - as it really does follow the musical structure beautifully, as well as telling the story clearly.
We nearly lost our Lucie last night, due to a potentially unpleasant situation as she waited for a bus. Such is the tone of our neighborhood, and such is the glamour of the movies. She seems okay today.
The characters spent the whole day running or walking around today, which slowed me down enormously, and I didn't enjoy filming at all. I need these puppets overhauled (I need me to be overhauled), but I think that is just an excuse, as I've never been very good at walking. Everything ends up as more of a hobble, and I watch the characters slowly getting shorter and shorter as their joints get twisted. Walking and running around does, however, liven up the film to no end, especially when it fits the music (not so today). We have just started the Gavotte from The Gondoliers, and it is a slow piece - how difficult are slow pieces! The slightest wobble seems so obvious. I might have to rethink this sequence through the night, as I can't afford the time to do so much walking around. I'll find a way of giving the impression they are walking around...But look at the clock. It's already nearly midnight. Curses. Good job I don't have a life or anything normal like a relationship.
I don't know what happened to me today, but I fell off the high wire. I went through the animator's equivalent of an actor dying on stage. I looked at the puppets, and didn't seem to know them, let alone know what I was doing. I had started this Gavotte sequence with high hopes, and could see it clearly in my head. But three slowly dancing figures having spasms... Eventually, at least a dozen seconds into it, I threw up my hands and abandoned it. Gilbert and Sullivan are now watching Carte walk around, as they bitch to each other. It actually works for the story, but is not as exciting as I had hoped. The ability to make every shot interesting left me, and I experienced some terror of not being able to come up with anything. I suppose there must be some still moments, but I do not like having too many shots of talking heads, nor do I like having to change a sequence that's been in my head for months. Anyway, I climbed back on the high wire, having no back-up of course. I'm working blind.
I hate to be seen to have faltered, but the pressure of the shoot, the worries about related things away from the studio (and there are lots of those), the constant battle with technology, or the lack of it, and the necessity of being creatively one hundred percent the whole time is difficult. It's not un-enjoyable, but it is difficult, and it overwhelmed me today. This really has to be the last film I animate on. There are so many better animators than me, and to do everything is just too much. Hopefully, this hiccup has gone, and I'll be fresh tomorrow. Otherwise, there will be some serious soul-searching.
Now a third of the way through, and we were all on a downer today. As I always do, equating it to theatre, I suppose we've reached that stage in a long run where we've lost sight of things a bit, and are in awe of the time still to come. This will pass. We were all a bit tetchy, but we must get on with it. So we don't have the best equipment or largest crew or best facilities, that is our lot, but we are doing pretty damn well with what we have. I did have to laugh at one point today, where everything that could had conspired against me getting any footage out did - puppets falling to pieces, me falling to pieces, the camera falling to pieces, but hey, there's another 11 seconds. All this insecurity of course, will not show on film. I watched the footage so far with a visitor, and saw it through his eyes. It does work, and charges along. It is an odd film without a doubt, and I do make certain assumptions - mainly that people are concentrating and don't miss a note or frame. I think I'm disappointed that I have not pushed the movement and some design elements to their extreme. However, it would not work to dress Little Buttercup like a mobile supermarket, which is, in effect, what she is, if no-one knows who Buttercup is to begin with. Dare I assume that most of the audience are aware of Gilbert and Sullivan at least? I would have liked more dance in this film, and I know I could be capable of complex and witty dance, but it is that time curse again. I do have to go for the short cuts sadly.
Had my hair cut for the first time since February. What a few months these have been, and how cathartic it was to have the hair cut. Getting rid of so much by association. We were all, thankfully, refreshed by a weekend away from the now rather stuffy and smelly set. The puppets are a little cleaner, but I'm not sure I was particularly inspired today. I can't blame the music or anything. It's just a rather quiet sequence before the energy of the Mikado sequence. It looks dull now but will work in context. It's dull really because I got myself trapped with a bit of clumsy business with some papers. Carte is waving a music sheet from Patience and I suddenly remembered when at the age of 12 or 13, I won a G & S crossword puzzle with this clue "What is needed when cine tape gets muddled?" - Patience. Was I really into G & S so early? I did see my very first G & S opera when I was eight. All a bit frightening in what that says about me. Had a good chat to the conductor of Showboat, David A., about things ranging from Wagner to Miss Saigon's helicopters. I may not be able to talk about current affairs but I can certainly hold my own when it comes to the arts. Sadly, animation is too often seen, not by David though, as a quaint impostor in such circles.
Nineteen exhausting seconds, which left me with bleeding feet from all the pacing up and down, and rather more worryingly, some blind spots in my vision from facing bright lights at close proximity for nearly thirteen hours. The remedy for this I found was sitting on the toilet quietly with a T-shirt over my head. I was worried when I couldn't see my bar sheets. Perhaps someone could invent a pair of blinkers for me. What a long and busy day. I got to the end of this gavotte and I'm afraid it's a rather dull scene. However, it works as a breather before the burst of color and movement that will hopefully be the Mikado. This is so true of a lot of animation - when I do a move it sometimes looks too extreme, but it's only when I've gone past it several frames, that it suddenly makes sense. You do need to look at the larger scheme of things. We've got a lovely university drama student, Ellen, with us this week. She didn't stay with us for the length of this epic shot, as she had to make a fake pregnant belly for a play. I'm glad I don't live in the real world.
A good day, with 13 more seconds thrown out, but look at the state of me. I'm wrecked. Everyday like this is a marathon. Thirteen hours at the studio without sitting down, and two hours work back home, leaves me eventually with five to sleep. That is not enough, but, hey, today has been manic, but fun. Three, not so little maids arrived from school, and are now charging around the set at great speed. The contrast with last week's gavotte makes absolute sense now. The enormous amount of detailed work that Wyn and I did in those early days of trying to find the right shape and pacing in each episode really works. Well, Wyn knows what he's doing, though I have a sneaking suspicion he does not quite have the passion for G & S that I do. I hope it's not long before he and I are bent over another music score, discussing the structure of such and such a phrase.
We left the studio skipping (in spite of the bleeding feet again), as this music bubbles along with wit and good humor (Mr. Gilbert's words) as does, I think, the film. Dressed in their ravishing and witty kimonos the three men make a striking image. Episode Two is about to finish with a bang (though I'm not sure that's the right musical expression). To all the students I've ever taught, I apologize now. I'm afraid I pushed these puppets, as there was no way I could animate the legs under those kimonos. So I slid them round the set at manic speed, but in the context of excited, young, clichéd Japanese "maids," it looks allright. The music will carry it.
For all our 13 hours work, we only managed seven seconds - an action-packed seven seconds though.
I've just crawled home, my poor legs giving way under me. We had the added hurdle of enormous heat today, as we transformed into the Mikado scene. It is bright and colorful. I've probably gone through over four liters of juice, and still I'm dehydrated.
Anyway, I had a good phone call from Clare, with some thankfully, positive feedback. Her comments were helpful and constructive. I am hopeless with people who burst in and give thoughtless and unconsidered opinions, especially when we are at this stage. I do snap then. Anyway, I'm thrilled (and relieved) that Clare likes it so far. I wanted to show down the phone, the scene before me of the three chaps in frocks. It does look gorgeous, though the transformation was not exactly as I planned it (well, perhaps I had not had time to plan it enough), and I'm afraid the animation is as rough as anything I've done, but it is full of movement.
After three very late nights, we all had a bit of a downer today, probably because we have no energy left. There was a lot of tension and we were all snappy. Then the sight of three Victorian gentlemen, dressed in dazzlingly colored kimonos somewhat punctuates the atmosphere.
Rather too many visitors saw me animating one shot on automatic pilot. I don't want to discourage visitors, as people do find it interesting and students particularly get a thrill out of watching us in action as I did when I had the chance to watch any filming years ago. It's also quite good to get some unbiased comments about the film. But I do feel I'm on show and have to go through the whole routine. I looked at the shot afterwards and it was allright. The three men were laughing at each other in their kimonos, but Gilbert's wrist got twisted the wrong way, as his gesture became, unfortunately, one of an insulting limp wrist kind. Not what I had intended at all.
Production stills are causing some concern just now. As always we do not have the time to set up things for the express purpose of a still, so they have to be snatched when I feel it looks right, but then the huge camera is in the way, and we can't get what is seen through the view finder. When we get them back, they are lacking the strength of pose of whatever we've seen on film.
I'm sitting here late on Friday with my head swimming. It has been a long week, but the number of hours worked is not necessarily relevant to the quality of the work. That, under these circumstances, is simply how long it takes.
It all looks quite rosy as I have my hand wrapped around Gilbert, but there are so many rumblings elsewhere that I either don't know how to sort out or do not have the time, but (as we sing in the next episode), "Oh don't the days seem lank and long, when all goes right and nothing goes wrong, and isn't your life extremely flat with nothing whatever to grumble at." That's one of my favorite quotes, so pardon me if I keep quoting it. But dammit, G & S had enormous ups and downs, and their work was good, and that really is all that matters.
Read Barry's previous monthly diaries in Animation World Magazine, starting with the June, 1998 issue.
Barry Purves is a Manchester-based filmmaker. Through his production company, Bare Boards Productions, he has directed several stop-motion animated films and commercials, including Next, Screen Play, Rigoletto and Achilles.