Inspired by the theatricality of puppetry, Magic Light Pictures delivers a varied yet coherent ensemble of characters for the Oscar-nominated CG-animated short that is true in essence to Blake’s designs.
Based on the book written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, the multiple award-winning Revolting Rhymes was directed by Oscar nominees Jakob Schuh (The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer (Room on the Broom), co-directed by Bin Han To and produced by Magic Light Pictures’ Martin Pope and Michael Rose (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, Chico and Rita).
Revolting Rhymes interweaves Dahl’s retellings of classic fairy tales with playful twists and surprising endings. With an all-star voice cast including Dominic West, David Walliams, Rob Brydon, Tamsin Greig, Bertie Carvel, Rose Leslie, Bel Powley, Gemma Chan and Isaac Hempstead Wright, the animation for the two-part holiday special commissioned by BBC1 was created at Magic Light’s Berlin studio and Triggerfish Animation Studios in Cape Town.
Nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film alongside MoPA short Garden Party, Pixar’s Lou, the stop-motion Negative Space, and Glen Keane’s Dear Basketball, Revolting Rhymes has delighted audiences around the world since receiving the Cristal for best TV Production at Annecy 2017.
Early on in the project, Schuh and Lachauer met at a Munich café located in front of an old puppet-theater museum, where they became inspired by the collection of puppets and stages. “We were discussing the look of the film and how we wanted to go for something different, visually, than in our previous films for Magic Light,” Lachauer says. “We discussed our mutual interest in theatre and stage design, and decided to use the opportunity to and visit said collection of puppets and marionette-stages which we both only remembered faintly from our childhood.”
“The puppets with their carved surfaces and -- just as important -- the old marionette stages and their simple, flat, beautifully rendered layered stage props, there was just a ton of inspiration in that place,” Schuh adds. “Those beautifully twisted old puppets seemed the perfect three-dimensional analogy to Blake’s twisted linework. The many, many photos we took on that day became and stayed one of our main guidelines for the modeling and texturing of both characters and sets.”
Adapting Blake’s illustrations to a CG environment presented its own set of unique challenges for the filmmakers. “There were three main challenges regarding the character design,” Schuh recounts, “The first was to find a visual adaptation of Quentin Blake’s iconic artwork. To try and really copy Quentin’s actual style, his fantastic, loose, expressive linework, we never felt that would be a great idea. But we did want to stay true to his characters, their basic shapes. Here the solution was the aforementioned visit to the puppet museum.
“The second challenge was the sheer number of very different characters in the book, most of which Quentin takes immense liberties with from page to page. They look quite different each time, each illustration lovelier than the one before. The character designer Uwe Heidschoetter, myself and a few other artists had to find a shape-language that allowed us to arrive a varied but coherent ensemble of designs, true in essence to Blake’s designs. Also they had to be modellable in a condensed timeframe. Really focusing on the boldness in some of Blake’s shapes was key here, not getting bogged down in details where none are needed.
“The last challenge was that there’s three characters in our film that travel between the framing story and the fairytale world. These worlds have a very different set of rules, design-wise. But we didn’t have the time to build two different sets of models for each of these characters. So we had to find tricks in the design to make these three characters feel right in both worlds.”