Chapter 25: In And Out Of The Woods
When I look at a book I am going to adapt, I have to imagine it coming to life. I have to look at the illustrations, and try to imagine how those specific illustrations would move, how I imagine the book illustrator would have wanted them to move. In the first place, we undertake to adapt only those books which seem to "want" to be animated. Certainly, some illustrations in books are so perfect in their composition and in the complete statement they make, that they should be left alone. But I know from my experience, and working with many, many book illustrators, that they very often wished their pictures could move; they often use graphic devices to strongly suggest movement. Those are the illustrations and the books we choose to animate.
In my documentary film I showed that one of my first Weston Woods films, DRUMMER HOFF, was adapted from a book with woodcut illustrations. That suggested a stiff, wooden kind of movement. Later, I adapted a book by the German artist Helme Heine, who works in water colors; a totally different problem, suggesting a more fluid type of motion... Leon & Diane Dillon's illustrations for Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears were painted with an airbrush. Those two styles were immensely difficult to animate with fidelity in the era before computer imaging...
I am in effect a translator, translating a story and illustrations from book language into film language!
Every little book takes us a very long time to transform into a film. I usually work on each one for an average of one-and-a-half years. It is also quite likely that the illustrators took a long time to make the books. We are working in a very rarefied art and craft that is difficult to maintain economically, so we have to be sure that what we are doing will be good enough to last long enough to recoup the expense and effort involved. We can only afford to adapt the very best children's books published - the books that will stay in print.
The basic market for our Weston Woods films has been schools and libraries. Our goal is always to be as faithful to the books as possible, and as I said in my movie, to draw children to the books, to guide them to see more in the books, and to love them more. Since I made that documentary film a potentially very large new market has been opened to us, in the form of video-cassettes for the home. We hope to give enlightened parents something of higher quality for their children's home story hours.
I said it was a potentially large new market. The market is huge, but we have to face the fact that it is not huge for us. We are a great long way from our competition, the virtual Niagara of jazzily animated junk available at cheap prices in supermarkets and video stores everywhere in the West. We cannot compete with the prices they sell the stuff for, nor with the physical amount of it, mainly ground out in Southeast Asia.
I think there is a parallel in contrasting the high quality books we adapt, and the cheap kiddie books that fill those same supermarket shelves. We are not likely to reach the mass audiences we might dream of with our carefully crafted work, which takes such a long time and much effort and care to produce. That's why I used the phrase "enlightened parents." There are parents out there who can distinguish between junk and worthwhile material for their children, but unfortunately they are still in the minority. We have to start with those people; find ways to directly reach them as well as the teachers and librarians we have depended upon so far to present this material to children.
Modern merchandising methods can help us. We would like to package book and video versions together as units. From this base we may be able to raise the standards, to "enlighten" more parents, and thus to raise the demand for children's literature of genuine value."
G.D. FILMS PRODUCED FOR WESTON WOODS FROM 1968 TO 2008
SIM series (Stimulation, Imagination, Motivation):
MR. KOUMAL, series of 9 short ironic vignettes
MIME OVER MATTER, live-action pantomime with Ladislav Fialka
THE GIANTS, black comedy; the futility of revenge.