Raising Monty Python’s Graham Chapman from the Dead…in 3-D
In for a Penny, In for a Pound
Justin spent over two years on the film, supervising the entire animation production, working in-between the directors, who had never made a fully animated feature, and the production houses. Providing a kind of buffer.
As Justin described the dynamic, “I knew on this kind of project the animators would be working on this at 3 in the morning, pulling their hair out, as animators tend to do. But they were doing it for the love of it. This project was a lot about love.” As he explained, it was a “tremendous collaboration between the directors, myself, the animation teams, Adobe and evangelists brought in to teach people how to work in stereo. Visually I was the support structure that tied all the companies’ animation productions together.”
One of his first production missions was to create a Graham Chapman bible, to ensure scene-to-scene continuity, since every company was working in a different style on different parts of the film. According to Justin, “We weren’t sure if the animation would work jumping from style to style. What we really didn’t want to have happen was for the audience to sit down and say, ‘Oh, we just saw a short film festival.’ This character bible was an important part of making the film. We needed to ensure consistency. What Graham looked like as a boy, as a middle aged man, all the way to what he possibly could be now. It had things like what kind of tobacco he liked to smoke. Was the pipe always lit? His mother would always wear the same clothes. She’d always have glasses.”
Next, with the audio script and bible in hand, Justin contacted every animator and animation house he ever wanted to work with. He cold called them all, saying he had a feature project and was looking for people to get involved. Around 60 were interested. He talked to big companies with lots of money and independent animators just out of college working in their mom’s kitchen. One moment, he was talking to a 20 year old kid, the next moment, executive producers at Framestore.
Ultimately, he interviewed 55 companies. From there, he sat with the directors, looked at show reels, trying to match up styles and sensibilities. Initially they wanted seven different styles, 10-12 minutes each. They discussed how to modify so many well established workflows to mesh with the pipeline needs of the production. They received a considerable amount of feedback and story notes. Justin quipped, “Someone wrote back that they thought the content was quite vile. That was pretty funny.”
In the end, companies were asked to pitch which scenes they wanted to animate. Justin shared with them the entire script so they could pitch work on sections different from what the filmmaking team initially thought they’d best fit with. They received a huge number of storyboards. After some deliberations, they made their final decisions - the initial list of 90 companies was now whittled down to the 14 who would make the film.
Production began in earnest with a gathering of all the participants at Made Visual Studio’s facility, 75 people in all. They spent the first part of the morning going through the bible. Then, someone from each studio stood up and pitched their particular piece. Everyone got a good idea of how their sections would fit into the final film. That took half a day. Then the directors got up and spoke to everyone about their vision, what they loved about the project, what their motivations were. Then, David Sherlock, Graham’s partner stood up and talked about their personal relationship. As Justin describes it, “The day was just lovely.”
Many days would follow that weren’t necessarily quite so lovely. Justin and his studio took on one of the scenes themselves, so, as Justin put it, “They could share the experience alongside everyone else in trying to figure out exactly what the director’s wanted.” Typically, the first half of his day was spent animating, the second half getting up to speed and setting up the procedures and processes for the stereoscopic production. Throughout it all, he was the film’s on-call troubleshooter for anything that might go wrong. He continued, “If animators had a problem, they called me for technical support. I was often at one of their studios at 11 pm at night, working through some After Effects problem.”