I wanted to do a collective piece on all the ‘Making Of’ panel talks that were a part of the Manchester Animation Festival 2018, bringing together all the information and skills that went into creating each of these wonderful films seen above.
The image of Becca’s Bunch caught my eye immediately when I first saw it in the diary for Manchester Animation Festival 2018, this colourful kids animation that looks like it is both digital and stop motion. I was intrigued to say the least.
For this making of panel talk we were joined by part of Nick U.K Programming Team, Lynsey O’Callaghan. Director and CCO of JAM Media, Alan Shannon. Co Creator of Becca’s Bunch and Head of Development at JAM Media, Chris Dicker. And special guest Jess Grieves.
JAM Media was created by three friends and they started creating Becca’s Bunch back in 2012 with the start of an idea. The studio knew they wanted a strong female, but not the princess sort, inspired by Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton & Faris, 2006). [which I personally deem as one of my favourites, so of course can see the inspiration – if you haven’t seen this film I would definitely recommend you do!] However the biggest inspiration that steered this story was Fear of Flying (Finnegan, 2012), a beautiful short with about an adorable little stop motion puppet bird with a less adorable ending, or so I am told. Conor Finnegan was then bought on board with the team as Becca became like a sister character to his original short star.
There were of course a quite a few changes and developments made for this kids TV show as it went back and forth through distribution companies, finally working with Nickelodeon. I liked hearing about the little things, such as the original name they were using during the story development was Peckles but when Hello Kitty came out with a Peckles character this was then changed a few times until the final title of Becca’s Bunch was decided upon. JAM Media knew they wanted to create well defined characters that they would know exactly how they would respond in each different situation. Becca lives for adventure, Russel is an easily lead and always hungry squirrel, Sylvia came in late as the youngest character and Pedro is the nervous worm who questions everything. They also made sure to not have adults talk down to them as that was not an image they would want to portray in their program. They also went through a few writers in the beginning and decided on the writing couple Shane and Amy, who had previously worked with the BBC, and took to the new Children’s TV challenge incredibly well.
They had decided to go with US Voices for the program, Noa Fae voicing Becca, a fun filled leader of these kids, each of which embodied the characters. They were themselves when recording rather than acting. The only problem they ran into was the boys voices dropping as they do around that age, although they all survived the all the initial recordings the boy who voices Pedro’s voice dropped after last record so they will have to re-cast for promos.
The animation itself was created with beautiful puppets [made in Factory, Altrincham] in handmade sets, just like an animation with around 4000 props. However the interesting part of the visuals on this show is that they chose to film the puppets on rods live in the sets, as though an actual puppet show, bouncing and rotating on their rigs. Then having the characters limbs and facial expressions added in post through Computer Generation [CG].
They would then track all the animation in post to get the CG parts added into these. Testing throughout, then running it all through the usual steps of Rig Removal, adding shade and lighting and final touch ups of the scene to create the greatest visuals possible in the final film. JAM Media said how the tracking method and software was the most important part to make the CG and Stop Motion elements work together
The stage of pre-production was said to have taken roughly 6 months at JAM Media, with animation being roughly 1 year and post-production also around 1 year. The textile feature of Stop Motion mixed with the tactile and boundless CG elements added over it gave Becca’s Bunch it’s
look that makes it so successful a children’s TV show. Certainly one to keep an eye out for!
The Highway Rat
For this Making Of session we were joined by Jeroen Jaspaert, director from Magic Light Pictures on 2017’s Christmas TV Short they released, The Highway Rat. For this film they made sure to follow the book, another wonderful children’s book by Julia Donaldson [writer of many of the well known previous films with this studio such as The Gruffalo and Stick Man]. The budget of which came from BBC as the UK’s distribution company. In story development they turned the 5 minute book into a 30 minute short by making the few illustrations from the book into lots of action.
For the character development they try to give all the characters a good deal of time, so they all look the best they can. They would gather lots of reference images such as the stances of highway men and their expressive hats to get a lifelike feel for the elements that make up the characters. From these they would produce turnarounds of the characters and ‘attitude’ sketches with emotion to better understand how they would act while designing them. Take the Highway Rat himself, he is mischievous but not outright scary, as this would show negatively to kids. Some would be then be made into sculpted maquettes, making sure that they work in the physical 3D before replicating this in CG through such modelling programs as Z Brush. Each style was modeled out, such as highway rat and baker rat. These would then be coloured, texture, shaded and lit to make realistic final models before animating. I found it really interesting how they replicated their ‘handmade’ stop motion feel that Magic Light Pictures films have always had [which I actually wrote a little about in my dissertation during the final year of my degree – which I may post some when soon?]. For this short however they painted in imperfections to make it more real, adding in thumb prints for example so that you get this wonderful handmade feel throughout the film.
When it came to the sets Magic Light Pictures went through a similar process as with the characters, collecting reference images first of such places as highlands as well as examples of miniature sets so that they can replicate the same painting styles of these. They would of course make sure to keep the scale the same with the characters as it all needs to be accurate. There was a great level of meticulousness to this as the sets had many props that the characters used, some of which were only on screen for a few seconds and they all went through the same level of work to make them.
The sets were put together into final layouts with cameras put straight in to create shot tests and work out any kinks that may be in the sets before they animate them. That is a great deal of colour development too, using colour scripts to see that the tone of the film flows throughout the story and depicts the story’s emotions. Using a references in a mood board – Starting green lush that turn orange and darker as the Highway Rat changes too. With rock bottom moment being all grey and with only colour being this almost sci-fi coloured alien slime green. And of course the New World at the end of the short using new bright colours.
Animatic > Pre-Vis > Rough CG Form > Animation Tests > Blocking > Polished > Final
As briefly mentioned before the modeled characters would go through rigorous animation tests to capture how each of them would walk for example [these could then be used for reference by the animators later on, strengthening the continuity of the different animators]. Acting out shots too for a real life reference. The animation would then be blocked out, polished and then final product, all of which would be 12fps except running horse scenes. The characters were also animated as are rather than using cartoon style stretches and exaggerations, expressing these through performance instead, in keeping with the original illustrations of Julia Donaldson’s books. After which the film would go through some post-production work, lighting and adding last edits.
Magic Light Pictures has a wonderful legacy of creating these beautiful family animations of children’s books. And this short The Highway Rat is no exception.
Isle of Dogs
For this panel talk on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs we were joined by Head of Painting in the Art Department Roy Bell and one of the Key Animators Tim Allen. If you haven’t heard of Isle of Dogs, where have you been?? But you can find more on the film and some of the beautiful sets in my Blog Post about The Store X’s Isle of Dogs Exhibition here, also keep an eye open for my Review of the film, coming soon.
Roy Bell worked on Isle of Dogs for about 27 months starting with maquettes the department would light these for different moods, exploring different materials [such as metals, rusts and fabrics] under lighting too. Wes has a very specific look and style to his films, using lots of forced perspective with small textures back and bigger textures front. They would also need to test the durability of the materials they use, to make sure the parts would survive long enough for a whole shoot and the re-shoots. Of course there will be accidents and breaks and this would be when the ‘hospital’ teams come in to fix things.
The colour palette is also important in Wes’s films so testing is an important stage to get the final decisions off the director before going further. Painters would make a material look like something else, give it the texture it needs to look like rock for example, set dressers would add in little earth parts after such as the plants in cracks. A very important skills that is used throughout a Painting Department job is that of painting a wood texture, as this was done throughout sets on this job.
It is also important to be able to replicate something exactly and be able to tidy up rig holes as these would be plastered over and re-painted when removed. But of course making sure to keep to the right scale, making the miniatures [whether they are the small, medium or large size puppets] look realistic in scale so as not to offset a scene for the viewers. There is this really great contrast between the looks of the City and Trash Island, emphasizing their separations as the City is kept clean and crisps in colours whereas the Trash Island is much more earthly in textures and colourings.
Tim Allen then went through his work in the Animation Department of Isle of Dogs. Starting with the processes they went through, Animatic > Test shot (for feedback from Wes) > Specific position, poses > Blocking. In this production cardboard cut out maquettes would be used to tryout the sizes in the shot Structured beat to beat.
Tim showed breakdowns of some of his main shots, one being the Poisoned Sushi Scene where we see a sushi chef making a sushi dinner, with one tiny added piece of poisoned wasabi on one of the pieces. We were shown how the shot was re-worked with Wes’s feedback; having delicate holds, quick moves and centre shots he would send specific positions and faces to be reviewed.
I also liked hearing about the little tips and tricks they used to animated certain parts in the film, such as a rig was used to create the cloud fighting elements, Hair jell and cling film used to create the whirlpools and Glycerine used to create tears on the puppets. These are all neat little tricks that I would love to experiment with in my own work.
Overall this was a wonderful little look behind how Isle of Dogs was made from the experts themselves. And a great lesson in how to create such special shots in a Stop Motion Animation.
These Making Of Panel Talks at the Manchester Animation Festival 2018 have been really insightful into the World of these Animated Films, and equally inspirational. I love to learn about what goes into making such successful films and I hope you have all enjoyed reading about these too, come back next week to read about the Classic Filmmakers Barry Purves and Smallfilms at Manchester Animation Festival 2018!