In lighting the scene, Oliver strove to create the necessary sense of mystery while bringing out some of the details Lewis had incorporated into the 8'-long set, which included finely crafted gargoyles and other statuary. “The motivating source was the moonlight through the main windows, but I had to hide a number of auxiliary sources in the rafters to pick out the structure of the building. I used the tiny upper windows to throw a rimlight onto the statuary and gargoyles, using 75-watt Altman Micro Ellipses running off Dedolight transformers. There were also smaller, warmer sources, including a 20-watt 12-volt capsule bulb on a stick that I positioned as necessary to give the vicar some warm sidelight, because the bluish moonlight was a bit relentless. I also had a Micro Ellipse pointing through a hole in the peaked roof that backlit the vegetable table and also created a long highlight on the polished flagstone floor, giving some shape.

“Elsewhere in the sequence, I was using 2-inch-square mirrors to highlight relevant bits and pieces because access was so limited, and the Milo only just fit between the roof and the floor. The sequence was a complete nightmare on occasion, and every shot had some fiddle in it somewhere.” He adds wryly, “I had to give the scene a brighter grade than I intended in the DI because there were worries it was too spooky.”

An equally atmospheric night sequence, also directed by Box, gave Riddett an opportunity to make the most of Gothic uplighting, wide-angle framing, and dramatic lightning effects. As a storm rages outside, Victor Quartermaine, who has dubious designs on Lady Tottington’s fortune, visits Hedges at the vicarage to discuss how they might catch the were-rabbit, and the agitated vicar explores his secret cabinet of “black arts,” a cupboard full of witchcraft tomes, garlic-bulb necklaces, silver bullets and other oddities of supernatural lore. In the final shot, the mad Hedges stands in front of his blazing fireplace as the camera tracks back through an archway, through the foyer, out through the front door, and into the rain as the front door slams shut to a well-timed burst of lightning.

“This scene required the use of elements peculiar to stop-frame animation,” says Riddett, who was filming this two-hander during AC’s visit. (See diagram on page 39.) “We needed long exposures, four seconds on some shots, and to get maximum depth of field we were occasionally working at T22 with the puppets positioned very close to the lens, which was often an 18mm. The long exposures meant we could shoot at very low light levels, and that was useful because in some shots, candles were the only source illuminating the characters’ faces.

“It was difficult to light through the vicarage windows partly because they were 2 inches wide, and also because space behind them was limited. For moonlight, we put a Prelude 28/40 gelled with Lee 174 on two of the windows, and for lightning effects, we positioned 2.5K Profiles gelled Lee Primary Blue alongside. That side of the set was by then very crowded, so we had to use a mirror to reflect light from one of the Profiles at the right angle into the set.

“The main sources in the scene are the fireplace, which gives a flickering uplight, and a few candles. The fireplace was open-sided and lit by a 50-watt Micro Ellipse aimed through a gobo on a stepper-motor-controlled track. The gobo extended outside the set, enabling another [50-watt] Micro Ellipse to illuminate the characters with the same flickering effect; one of the Micro Ellipses was gelled Bastard Amber, the other red. Candlelight was partly achieved with a specially built fiber-optic device [illustrated on page 39] that enabled fiber-optic tubes to be positioned just out of frame while remaining rigid and in no danger of burning the animator’s wrists. The flicker was controlled by a transparent disc on a stepper motor that rotated between the off-set light supply and the fiber-optic feed; a wiggly line drawn on the rotating disc broke up the light, creating a controllable and repeatable flicker. The candles in frame were 12-volt Mini PCB bulbs fed from individual transformers and controlled by the animator, who varied them between 10 and 11 volts; in post, these were replaced with real flames.

“A scaffold over the set carried several 50-watt Micro Ellipses that mainly backlit the characters and gave the ‘voodoo cupboard’ some colored effects — these were brought up on a dimmer as the cupboard doors opened. We also fed fiber-optic tubes into the back of the cupboard and filtered them through various gels to give the cupboard a sinister light from within.”

To facilitate the motion-control move that brings the scene to a dramatic end, Lewis designed the 5'-long set with detachable walls and doorways. “The doorways were only about 4 inches wide,” says Riddett. “As the camera tracked back, the doorways could be removed and then slotted back into position and the front door animated shut as the camera appeared to exit the building.”

Several Right Ways

A significant challenge on Were-Rabbit was what one might expect on a 21-month shoot involving two directors, seven cinematographers, 35 units, and a shape-shifting creature: maintaining visual continuity. This is especially critical in stop-motion animation given the time and expense involved in the process. “Everything has to be run very tightly around what’s determined by the editorial department,” says Barnes, whose responsibilities include maintaining Aardman’s in-house post workflow.

The studio’s feature facility puts the editorial, camera, art and model-making departments under one roof, and throughout Were-Rabbit’s shoot, the entire crew of 200, which included 30 animators, screened 35mm dailies in shifts in the small on-site screening room. “We’ve been incredibly lucky to have rushes for the whole shoot,” says Barnes. “It’s great for the cinematographers, and also for the camera assistants and all the other people who are trying to progress in their work. They don’t have to do the job and then wait a year or two to see what the results look like onscreen.” Technicolor in London actually generated two sets of dailies each day. “We maintained one cut-in copy of the entire film for editorial reference, so that all of the given shots could be seen in context on the Steenbeck, and we used the other print for projection,” explains Barnes. “[The latter] was kept as clean as possible and used as the ultimate reference, and we also telecined it to the Avid.” Oliver recalls, “During the course of a morning, Dave and I were typically shuttling between the Avid and the Steenbeck, because if the film hadn’t come back yet we could cut the file from the PVR [Perception Video Recorder, Aardman’s video-assist system] into the Avid to see where we were.

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.