Tim Reckart Talks Head Over Heels
DS: Did you write a script? Did you storyboard? What did you have to work from when you began animating?
TR: Well, I started with an outline. The [story’s] beginning was obvious. I knew the premise that led to the obvious ending. But, there needed to be some way for them [the couple] to come together. So the big push for the story process was how do you get them there? We hashed that out mostly through storyboarding and the animatic, which was a very long process. I think four months. That’s not that long but, you know, it’s only a ten minute film. We went through several drafts, just continually honing the story, trying to get it as short as we could. The other difficult thing was trying to tell the story without using any dialogue. A lot of what we spent time doing was finding visual ways to express various story points. That’s why we did writing and storyboarding rather than a script.
DS: You spent five months building sets and props. How long did it take to animate the film?
TR: Six months of animation. We overlapped with the end of the set build, because once they were finished with the main room we took it into the shooting studio and started animating. We animated for six months, from July to December that year.
DS: Did you do all the animation yourself?
TR: Well, for the most part, I animated. I took two weeks off at one point. We brought in a friend of a friend who has been doing work up in Manchester on various stop-frame TV series. He came in and I had a short vacation.
DS: Looking back on the production, what would you say were the main challenges you faced?
TR: The main challenge was getting the story told precisely, without using words. We came up with one solution in the film that I’m really happy with how it worked…the wedding photo that you see does a lot of work for us…that was a great solution we came up with. It showed that the couple used to be together, but they aren’t now. It also assists the plot by showing that they can argue without having to use words. When they rotate the photo so that it faces their away, it tells us that they disagree about which way is up.
Other challenges were the continual stop-motion production issues. Having a puppet fall apart in the middle of a shot or bumping your elbow on something in the middle of a shot and having to start all over. That always happens.
One thing that I definitely wanted to get right and in the end I was very pleased that we did, was trying to strike the right tone with the film. It starts out as a film about conflict. It begins as a film about a marriage that is really not working. But, you don’t want to say, “Hey, welcome to the film, we are going to be talking about dysfunctional marriage!” So trying to find a way to show these two characters had fallen into a rut with their relationship but still have the tone be fun, that the whole visual metaphor should be fun, that was a difficult balancing act. I think it really came through with the performance of the puppets. The characters are a little bit older, where they have this ornery attitude. It isn’t that they dislike each other but that they know how to push each other’s buttons. Ultimately we toed the line there and managed to make it work. But that was a real challenge.
DS: Had you done any significant stop-motion work prior to making this film? What is your background?
TR: Well, I had done other exercises leading up to this graduation film at the NFTS [National Film and Television School in England] and I did a few solo projects while I was at Harvard. But this was the first film where I directed a crew. This is definitely the first real production that got a full year of my time. But I have been lucky to have some industry experience which was really helpful. I’ve done a couple work placements at Aardman. It was interesting because when you’re just there for a couple of weeks, they aren’t going to give you a shot at animating. They’ve got their crew of animators. But I learned so much having lunch with those guys. I remember having lunch once when one of them explained to me how they animate “snap.” I always struggled with getting it [stop-motion animation] quite as snappy as I wanted. Ian Whitlock, who animated on The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and was animating on The Pirates! at the time, he walked me through it. He was talking about the moment when Wallace opens up the piggy bank in The Wrong Trousers, how that was the moment when Nick Park taught him how to animate “snap.” I used that lesson throughout the animation process.