“Lighting continuity is a huge issue,” continues Oliver. “Even though Dave and I have worked together long enough to know what each other is doing, we’re sometimes shooting one scene on up to 10 sets at once, and it’s all got to cut together.” Because the were-rabbit transforms as the sun goes down and the moon comes up, the cinematographers often had to match not just continuity of light, but continuity of changing light. “And we were shooting out of sequence,” notes Oliver, “so we had to know exactly which point in the transformation we were filming.”
He and Riddett counted on fellow cinematographers MacCormack, Smith, Reed, Copping and Hogg, most of whom have freelanced at Aardman for years, to find their own ways of being true to the house style. “If we were all given the same scene to light, we’d light it differently, but the results would all still be within the look of Wallace & Gromit, strangely,” says Oliver. “The look isn’t so prescribed that there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.” After a pause, he laughs, “No, there’s a wrong way to do it. But there are several right ways.” After breaking down the logistics of a given scene with the directors, he and Riddett determined who should shoot it. “That cinematographer would either take it over completely, or Dave or I might kick it off and then hand it over,” says Oliver. “Directing another cinematographer how to light something is like using a very long stick. We chose the others because we knew they could be trusted to run with it, and also because they’re of the right frame of mind that if they got something wrong, we could say, ‘Actually, we need to rethink this,’ and they’d be fine about it.”
Critical to maintaining consistency across multiple sets and cinematographers is having reliable, cross-compatible camera gear, and Aardman helped ensure this prior to Chicken Run by installing its own motors in its fleet of Mitchell BNCs. “Every camera and every motor is completely interchangeable, as is every lens,” says Barnes. “In the event of a problem with one, or the need to duplicate equipment across two sets, we can take any item out and substitute it for the same, and everything will work together.” Because of flicker problems Barnes and his colleagues had seen on previous animation projects, Aardman’s cameras were designed to run with a single shutter blade.
“Historically, animation has been shot on some pretty bodged-together stuff that wasn’t designed for animation the cameras weren’t innately light-tight, for a start,” says Oliver. “What we’ve had since Chicken Run is something we haven’t had for the rest of our career: equipment that’s entirely trustworthy. With that, your whole mindset changes. I can count on the fingers of one hand the shots we lost on both [Chicken Run and Were-Rabbit] because of camera problems.” Barnes points out that such incidents impact more than the schedule: “[Technical problems] affect the animator’s morale enormously. We can’t afford to have them animating and wondering whether the shot will survive.”
The Big Finish
Were-Rabbit’s action-packed finale takes place at night at the Tottington estate, whose front lawn has been transformed into a fairground for the Giant Vegetable Competition. The sequence was shot across a dozen sets, and during AC’s visit, Oliver was filming a Milo motion-control move that would track the were-rabbit as it tunneled across the lawn toward some angry townsfolk who have congregated near Tottington Hall. Beneath the set, assistant art director Andy Brown was prepping the mound of dirt that would signify the were-rabbit’s tunneling; the animator would eventually animate the dirt along a pre-formed trench to suggest the creature’s movement.
“We had to design a lighting strategy that would work across all the sets on which the fairground scene was shot,” says Oliver. “The rides, sideshows, vegetable stand, and the edge of the house were covered in strands of tiny 12-volt practicals; there were 25,000 of them across all the fairground sets, and about 4,500 on this set alone. [See diagram on page 41.] These gave a sense of depth and shape to the sets and provided some fill, but they also motivated the light on the townspeople, which was provided by a number of 12-volt 50-watt Micro Ellipses rigged at ground level; regardless of which way we were looking, these units were always used to provide warm back- or rimlight on the characters. On very large sets, I sometimes used Strand 16/30 Profiles farther away, running them at 50 to 70 percent; these were usually gelled with 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 CTB or Bastard Amber. The characters were front-filled with a gentle blue light, Micro Ellipses gelled with Lee 174 and 1⁄2 Opal diffusion; for tracking shots, these lights were sometimes mounted on the motion-control rig. To create an ambient nighttime wash, we mounted 4-foot, 4-tube Kino Flos gelled with varying levels of CTB high in the grid over the set.
“We made the house windows glow by bouncing Micro Ellipses off the interior walls. As for the conservatory on the roof, we always liked the way the greenhouse looked in Minority Report, and we aimed for that same strange pinky/peach color in the conservatory throughout the film. I’m not sure how they did it, but we used pale lavender gels and ran the lamps at 70 percent.”
The finale includes a chase along the rooftops of Tottington Hall with the fairground in the background, and the filmmakers had to wait until most of the picture had been completed in order to have enough stage space and fairground props to construct a single, massive set for the background plates. “The set was complete with false-perspective trees and hills receding into the distance, and it was usable for backgrounds looking in any direction because it was practically self-illuminating, thanks to the fairground lights,” says Riddett. “A simple rearrangement of fairground rides was enough to create a different view when required.