Animation fans may have considered Channel 4’s screening of Lost and Found on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day 2008 as a highlight of their festive viewing. This 25 minute animation, bringing Oliver Jeffer’s award winning children’s book to life, was adapted and directed by Philip Hunt, Creative Director of award winning animation company, Studio AKA.
Our Arts and Media students packed the Henry Mitchell Hall on 10th November to enjoy a special viewing of Lost and Found and to hear Philip explain the intricacies of how the film was made. Throughout the talk, Philip showed stills and clips showing the work at different stages of production as ideas were tried out, discarded, or amended.
Philip introduced the audience to his work with the briefest mention of his career and influences. Philip showed some stills from his degree work which was very dark in content, followed by more stills from his MA portfolio at the RCA “When I was in my twenties and studying animation my work was very different. The most important thing I want you to know is that what you are doing now is not what you will be doing in twenty years time. The worst thing anyone can do to you as a creative person is to pigeonhole you.”
Philip explained that in his twenties he made a short film called Ah Pook is Here based on recordings from William Burroughs. During his thirties and to date he has concentrated until recently on commercials, for instance the current Lloyds Bank commercials. ”Lost and Found was the first children’s film I have done. Visually it is quite different from the thirty-two page picture book. It was one of Oliver’s first books, drawn in pencil and watercolour. In the books that followed he modified the doll. You can read the book in five minutes so we had to expand for a 25 minute film. We took liberties with the story and created extra content, working with Oliver to see what we could do.
We approached it by asking ‘what would it be like to put it on stage?’ We took this basic premise and then re-imagined it for a large piece. We went in a very different direction from Oliver’s style. The character had two sticky legs and no neck – not good in 3D. We made subtle changes, adding a neck and hair to come up with a 3D character. We then made a test film to convince people we could make it.” Philip showed the audience this test film, Testing the Water, which gave fascinating insights into how the character developed over the process.
“We changed the music and went through a lot of development work so that the character could act. A lot of time was spent on the mouth thought he hair was abandoned and the hat kept on throughout the film. The key question was would people still recognise the same character as in the book? I did market research on my kids. I also used my kids in developing the film, as the interaction between my nine year old and four year old replicates that of the boy and the penguin. Whenever we made the boy and the penguin walk we always had problems in timing as the penguin was always playing catch up but then this actually worked in our favour in building the characters.
Everything starts with drawing. We had a very small crew and one member, Armadine, was a recent graduate from a French animation school. Oliver’s drawings and our ideas had to be translated and the colour drawn in, right down to the leaves on the street. The script adaptation itself took two weeks, then detailed story boarding with three or four of us drawing reams of pictures as we went through the scenes. Although rough, this gave a feel for how long the film would be and camera angles et cetera. This was then tightened up as you need clarity to explain it to a team of thirty plus.
Despite my background in model animation the storm was enormously difficult as we had no experience of animating sea. Communications and screen grabs were sent back and forth between animators overseas and Oliver in New York daily. It was like having twelve or thirteen daily meetings going on, and corrections were made from the broad stuff to finicky details. The animation took three months but texturising, rendering and lighting took an enormous amount of time.
Observation is a great problem solver. We had a strange model with a large head and when we were struggling with showing the boy waking up; I caught my son asleep on the sofa and used that position for the sleeping puppet.
Oliver was the person I wanted to like the film most of all. It would have been unbearable to destroy something very precious to him. I kept him involved in what we were doing, and better still got him involved in the project by having him redraw certain elements. These little details like book covers, paintings et cetera gave continuity between the book and the film.”