Raising Monty Python’s Graham Chapman from the Dead…in 3-D
After talking to Justin Weyers for just two minutes, you begin to sense how daunting a task producing the animation for A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman must have been – and how truly enjoyable a project it must have been as well. His passion for the film is infectious and his depiction of the unique challenges faced is even funnier and more interesting given his dry Aussie delivery and sense of humor.
Weyers, co-founder and director for multi-disciplinary creative agency Made Visual Studio, was the point person for integrating the collaborative work of 14 animation production studios working on 17 different scenes under the guidance of three directors who’d never made an animated feature. Making matters even more complicated and difficult was that fact that none of the studios had much if any experience working in stereoscopic 3-D. Sounds like a BBC sitcom.
No two pipelines were the same. The animation styles were different, the budget was tiny, the source material was, let’s just say, quite odd. However, bringing the last and most highly personal work of Arthur, King of the Britains, to the screen, 23 years after his death, using his own recorded voice, with an assembly of brilliant if slightly askew animators (primarily British companies, only one from the US) was just too good an opportunity for anyone to pass up.
All Great Journeys Begin with a Single Step…Or a Silly Walk
As Justin tells the story, he had worked with two of the film’s directors, Bill Jones (son of Python’s Terry Jones) and Ben Timlett as a key animator on their six-part documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth - Lawyers Cut. Soon thereafter they joined forces with Jeff Simpson, the film’s third director, who was attached to Graham Chapman’s audio tapes and was looking to see if a feature-film project was even feasible. After some discussion, and a funding commitment from EPIX, it was decided that an animated feature film could be the answer.
The tapes were edited down from the original three hours into something reasonable for a feature film. Fellow Pythons John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam were brought in to voice additional characters. An audio script robust enough to share with potential animators finally emerged.
Animating Graham’s crazy variety of characters with different styles made perfect sense. His life was very colorful. The filmmakers could have gone with only one animation house but it would have taken far too long to produce. They liked the idea of using a wide variety of styles.
There has been some criticism that the film didn’t delve more into Graham Chapman’s life, that it wasn’t more of a documentary. According to Justin, “You walk out of the film thinking, ‘Do I know Graham? Is that him?’And that’s probably how he’d want you to feel.” More to the point, that’s exactly what the filmmakers did not want to do – make another documentary on Monty Python. Whenever they weren’t sure where to turn within the story, they kept going back to Graham’s book. This film is based on this book. His partner David, who loved the finished film, said that on Graham’s deathbed, he told him “Don’t tell them anything.” He kept his private life quiet. He was openly gay and secretly an alcoholic. The other Pythons didn’t know the extent of his drinking problem until halfway through Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ultimately, the film is about Graham Chapman, in his words. His book captured the way he wanted to tell his story and the film is true to that telling.
One example Justin shared illustrates how much effort went into capturing Graham’s essence. As he explained, “In this film, every single noise that came out of Graham Chapman was real Graham Chapman. Every cough, every pipe puff. Andre Jacquemin, who did all the sound, was the original guy who did all the Monty Python sounds on all the early records in the 60s. He went through all his records, his entire archive and pulled out everything he had from Graham Chapman. Everything he said, every ‘Uhuh’ or ‘Ahem.’ That degree of effort and underlying tone really speaks to what was so wonderful about this film.”
While the film has obvious appeal because of the Monty Python name and the Graham Chapman angle, the film also represents a rather groundbreaking integration of animated segments, done by different houses, in 3-D, that has never been done before.