Saturday, 28 July 2012

Thanks TAAFI

A brief, and very belated, Thank You to Mike and all the folks at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International who helped get The Last Belle onto their festival screens. I only wish I could have been there. And thanks too to all the folk who posted and tweeted such lovely reactions to the film - it means a lot to us.

This has been my first time on the festival circuit and I've been knocked out by the great enthusiasm of both audiences and the volunteers who devote so much time and energy into organising these events. It's very inspiring...

Thursday, 12 July 2012


It's 1987 in London's Camden Town district, and I'm sitting in a studio with a couple of hundred other people, making drawings for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There's the usual noise of countless sheets of animation paper being flipped and flapped, like waves endlessly lapping on a beach, and another noise too: the noise of line-tests being shot. The initial rough line-testing is being done on this production with the relatively new technology of video line-test machines. For each animation drawing to be captured through a video camera a clunking great tape machine winds three quarter inch videotape back 10 seconds, and then runs it forward again until it reaches the correct speed to record a single new frame into the sequence. Then the whole lot rolls back 10 seconds again ready for the 'expose' button to be pressed so it can play forward again to capture the next frame. This is usually a fairly quiet procedure but now and again the volume is turned up on the TV monitor (usually to check how the lip-sync is progressing) and you get to hear a 10 second snatch of the dialogue, probably of Charles Fleischer doing his (deliberately) slightly grating Roger Rabbit voice. With each frame that is grabbed you get to hear the same ten seconds of dialogue, only each time the tape has progressed one frame so that you get one frame less of the dialogue at the beginning and one frame more at the end - followed by the whole thing pre-rolling backwards at greater and greater speed until the voice is not only running backwards but squeaking like a mouse. Then it slows to a low pitched rumble and finally stops. Only when the whole test is shot can you finally see, and hear, the completed piece.

"You gotta help me Eddie! You're my only ch-"
"hc ylno ym er'uo eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooorrrrg"

(rustling noise of drawing being changed)

"ou gotta help me Eddie! You're my only cha-"
"ahc ylno ym er'uo eeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooorrrrg"

(rustling noise of drawing being changed)

"u gotta help me Eddie! You're my only chan-"
"nahc ylno ym er'uo eeeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooorrrg"

Such is the life of a video line-tester in the 1980s on Roger Rabbit, juggling stacks of drawings, stacks of photostats (which reproduce each frame of the live action), all shot backlit on a lightbox which means you have to sit in a semi-dark room all day, listening to Charles Fleischer exclaiming both forwards, backwards, and mostly at the wrong speed. It's a job that takes patience, thoroughness and a damn good sense of humour.

The reason I bring this up now?

Some of you in the UK may well have read in the newspapers of the recent inquest into the death, under very tragic circumstances, of TV fitness presenter Angie Dowds. Way back when she was 18 Angie (then Angie Carroll) landed a job on Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a video line-tester, and she was brilliant at it, on top of being a hugely fun person to be around.

Roger Rabbit was the first professional production I ever worked on and before we all left to go our separate ways I asked some of the people I'd spent time with to sign a drawing of The Rabbit for me as a memento: a range of people who had either inspired me, helped me learn, or simply been good friends, ranging from Director Robert Zemeckis through to studio receptionist Holly Russell. There are only 21 signatures on my little keepsake, and one of them is Angie's.

Such a shame to hear this sad news.

Angie Dowds 1969 - 2011

Monday, 2 July 2012


I had a wonderful flying visit to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where The Last Belle screened in this rather lovely auditorium:

The Cameo Picturehouse in Edinburgh.

And in keeping with the 'Old Mixed With New' philosophy that permeates everything to do with The Last Belle, what could be better than having your film run in the visual splendour of an Edwardian cinema that has recently been kitted out with the latest digital projection and sound equipment? Pure heaven. Or at least it would have been had my rather busy work schedule allowed me to actually attend the screening of my own film... but at least I did get to enjoy some of the other films in the festival, and I took part in a panel discussion on the future of Film vs Digital, and traditional techniques vs cutting edge technology. I'll post more on this talk shortly as the subject seems part of the zeitgeist right now whether you are an independent animator or a large corporation.

In the meantime my thanks to Lucy Lamb (Events Coordinator for Scottish Animation Network) who looked after me so well at the festival, alongside Julia McLean (Chair of the Scottish Animation Network), and Iain Gardner who dreamt up the panel event and expertly moderated our on-stage discussion.

Iain Gardner, Marc David Jacobs, Julia McLean and Lucy Lamb.