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‘Project Chapman’ on ‘Project Chapman’

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As you may know by now, an incredible fifteen companies have banded together to create the Graham Chapman feature film “A Liar’s Autobiography”. With such a huge, varied mix of styles, and all presented in 3D (a first for many of the companies involved), Made Visual’s ‘Project Chapman’ was bound to produce a crazy, eclectic look.

It’s such a massive, unique, special, one-of-its-kind-project, that surely the only people who know the best areas to probe are those who are actually involved in it.

With that in mind I have chased up, nagged, pleaded and corralled each of the fifteen companies and directors involved with Project Chapman to come up with one question to pose each other. It was a bitch of an undertaking to put this interview together. I give you Project “Project Chapman”.

From Made Visual to Arthur Cox: What’s been the hardest part of the process so far?

The hardest part of the process so far has been creating 2D animation within a 3D Stereoscopic world. Our background artists are having to create the backgrounds in 2D and each different asset has to be on a separate layer so that it works in 3D, which means that there’s a lot of imagining how it will work in 3D and trying to prepare for that before we actually put it into 3D. As none of us have ever worked in Stereoscopic 3D before, every member of the team is having to multi-task like this, whether it’s the compositor putting all of the images into After Effects or the directors having to think in both 2D and 3D at the same time. With the limited budget and tight schedule, it’s been an ongoing challenge of how to make it both achievable and good at the same time.

A For Animation

From Arthur Cox to A for Animation: How do you feel the 3D element is going to enhance your musical number?

In the cinema our dancing penis puppets will, unfortunately, really burst off the screen. They’ll come to life, make your eyes pop out or poke them out, whichever happens to come first. We can’t apologise enough.

From A for Animation to Asylum Films: On the fruit scale of fun, how much fun are you having?

A good question, we always appreciate any attempt to bring fruit into our otherwise lasagne sandwich fuelled, underground existence. As is always the case with stopmotion there are ups and downs. Seeing that first 3D rendered frame set us off probably around Breadfruit, a flying start as I’m sure you’ll appreciate. However there are always Banana peel moments that test you and when our lead character “ducked” out of focus at the end of a 3 hour shot we literally Plumed the depths of despair to deep Damson. The trick is to pick yourselves up and reignite the Passion (fruit). By the end of the first week, with all shots on schedule the giddy fun heights of Kumkwat had been achieved. As an average I’d say we achieve a steady Guava but the Cherry on the cake has to be seeing all our hard work come to life – one of the most fun jobs we’ve been involved in.

From Asylum Films to Beakus: As fellow animation geeks who spend their days in darkened rooms eating biscuits and drinking cups of tea how did you go about researching and recreating LA party scenes which we know nothing about?

Beakus

We prefer to think of ourselves as nerds, but I’ll accept geek … However, we don’t have curtains so lighting can be an issue, and tea just doesn’t cut the mustard with us – coffee is our preferred toxin (we have a mini-bar bottle of Whisky on stand-by but the whole studio has amazingly refrained so far). It’s true we didn’t know much about the LA Party scene of the late 70’s, early 80’s, but drink and drugs (and their effects) are something our recent RCA graduate directors do have in common with the period. If anything, ‘animation’ is now our drug of choice, though strangely Graham didn’t abuse that one whilst in LA… (He left that to Terry Gilliam, ha ha!). On a practical note we’ve had much guidance from one of the film’s directors Jeff Simpson and a book called ‘A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll’…

From Beakus to Cake: We wish there was more time to work collaboratively, and play collaboratively on this project. Do you like working alone, or in a crowd?

Yes, would be nice get more involved with the other teams as we also like collaborative work. We like work in a small crowd, but crowd can mean problem sometimes. More people more fun!!

From Cake to Mr & Mrs Smith: We think your work is really sexy and hot, but can you tell us more about Mrs Smith and maybe a telephone number?

Mrs Smith is a very gentle, beautiful lady despite her tattooed face and lack of teeth. She is not interested in exchanging numbers as she is a taken woman. However, it seems Mr Smith is away this weekend and she would love to discuss any “other” queries you might have in the car park by the bowling alley tonight.

Not To Scale

From Mr & Mrs Smith to Not To Scale: We find your advertisements to be very strong and colourful, which leads me to the OBVIOUS question, who is your favourite pro-wrestler and why?

Mr and Mrs Smith – Thank you for your interesting and pertinent question. Regarding sport, I could talk to you for hours on the subject of Preston North End but am afraid to say that I have very little interest in wrestling. If pressed into a decision however, it is likely I would opt for someone from the golden age of British wrestling regularly showcased on ITV’s World of Sport. Perhaps an athlete in the mould of Pat Roach or Kendo Nagasaki. Either way, I’m sure you will agree that at least people used to genuinely hurt themselves in this form of the sport unlike the pantomime involved with present day WWF.

Not to Scale attempted to organise a tag team wrestling tournament during a recent project, pairing Richard ‘Rich’ Moss with nts’ Head of Technical Excellence; Luke Allen. This event is still to come to fruition.

Peep Show

From Not To Scale to Peepshow: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Any regrets?

Yes. Always. But in regards to this project, no. It has been an enormously steep learning curve getting our heads around the stereoscopic 3D aspect of the film and trying to animate the characters in a different way to how we would normally approach them – and it has taken a lot longer than we anticipated – but we are really happy with the end result. We would of course do it all differently given the opportunity again.

Sherbet

From Peepshow to Sherbet: With all projects there is one part or scene that becomes a lot more complicated than you could have ever imagined when you submitted your written treatment. Ours was having tea pour out of the eye sockets of a severed head. Which bit was your bête noire?

The Freud scene proved to be very challenging as we had never shot any stop motion in stereoscopic before. Although we only had to animate one character in one set, the process of shooting the entire film twice but from two different angles meant we had to be aware of a whole new set of technical issues that we would not normally have to deal with. Plus Cameron Diaz’s voice is so soothing its very hard not to lulled into a deep sleep while animating.

Steven Lall

From Sherbet to Steven Lall: Graham appears throughout the film in many different forms and at many different stages throughout his life, is there anything you did in terms of animation or design to give him your own personal touch?

I always try to keep my work personal which can be a natural process with 2D hand drawn animation. My drawings can take on my own personality without me even having to think about it.

The film being in Stereoscopic forced me to think in new ways. I have still drawn and painted all the elements but have animated it using a multiplain cutout technique which means I can explore 3D space while maintaining my 2D hand drawn personal touch. It’s been an experimental experience both creatively and technically.

I’m also ambitious when it comes to camera moves. The scene is driven heavily by music, which is always a good excuse for an epic camera move.

Superfad

From Steven Lall to Superfad: A majority of animated stereoscopic feature films have narratives and characters targeted for young audiences. With the adult nature of this film what factors did you consider when designing your characters?

This was our one chance at being able to design a character with full frontal nudity, yet we didn’t! Our section involves Graham interacting with his parents in a car. Our characters are in the seated position for just about all of the sequence so our opportunities to dial in some ‘adult humor’ were limited to the upper-half of the characters’ torsos. We gave Dad a gin blossom nose to explain his tendencies to ‘hit the sauce’. We gave Mum some very large glasses to protect her eyes from the harsh realities of life. Probably more indicative of injecting some adult humor was our design of a shot featuring Dad and a landscape of breasts. This allowed for us to invent new terminology when critiquing our own work. Comments like “we’ve got to FEEL the nipple and SEE the bounce!” were terms we’d never used before.

Treat Studios

From Superfad to Treat: As with any detail such as sound, color, composition, etc, the use of stereoscopic technology can run the risk of being overdone. Considering that your work is charmingly simple and 2-dimensional, do you find that adding the stereoscopic effect to your work adds effect or removes effect to the final result? Did you find yourself/yourselves modifying any of your story as you reviewed the effect

We thought about the 3-D whilst storyboarding and tried not get carried away with spraying, poking or jousting stuff out the screen. We tried to use it the same way as we’d any normal tool such as colour, line or composition, to convay an emotion or a feeling we’d want for a scene. Saying all that, there is a section that we decided to go more wild on which uses 3-D more experimentally, (the bit with the vomit) as I think that’s what stereoscopic stuff needs. At the moment its still largely used as a gimic and people need to just mess around with it because you can make some really weird stuff happen to your eyes if you do.

From Treat to Tundra: 3-D films will rise and fall, like the ever changing tide, ebbing and flowing, gushing into nooks, cranny holes and blast ports to boot! Tickling the bare, salty ankles of old man cinema as he strokes his beard of silver screens, a swear word belches from his mouth as the tide recedes, only to leave the earth baron, flat, two dimensional. So what would a 4-D film look like?

In 4D – imagine – we would be able to stroke Grahams buttocks, smell his sweat and share a gin & tonic and talk about the good old days….

Trunk

From Tundra to Trunk: 5 days until final delivery and we’ve run out of matches to keep our eyes open – how do you cope?

We cope by snacking on Schmackos and supping on an old bottle of Whiskey we have in the studio. (Schmackos are dog biscuits, I don’t understand why we eat them, it’s just become a studio trend, or is it just me? Damn it I don’t know anymore, sleep, we all need sleep man!)

With loads of thanks to…

Made Visual Studio Justin Weyers, ArthurCox Kaia Rose, A for Animation Jane Davies, Asylum Films Phil Vanier, Beakus Steve Smith, Cake Thiago Maia, Mr & Mrs Smith Susie Jones – Not To Scale Kelly Ford & Chris Ketchell, Peepshow Peter Mellor, Sherbet Sarah Essam, Steve Lall, Superfad Geraint Owen, Treat Studios Matt Layzell, Tundra Espen Haslene, Trunk Richard Barnett.

“A Liar’s Autobiography” will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this Saturday 8th, 9:45pm EDT. It’s UK premiere will be at the BFI London Film Festival on October 16th, 9:30pm GMT.
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by Alex Collier

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