“The tone and pacing were meant to be kept a bit dry and restrained, in line with the other BBC Knowledge spots,” says Peckfold, “and we wanted to keep the visual pacing consistent and clever to match that as well.”
To imbue the film with a photorealism that juxtaposes with the jerkiness of stop-motion, Pecknold wanted to create as much of it as possible in-camera. He says that the use of stop-motion also “worked well for the amount of time we had, as well as the type of design we were shooting for.”
For shots that were too complicated or time-consuming to do in-camera, Pecknold used After Effects.
“We wanted to keep as much in camera as possible, although that wasn’t necessarily possible, because of the wide shots with multiple faces,” he says, “but we did shoot as much as we could in-camera – treating the small shooting stage like a large diorama, and compositing as much as we could in-frame.”
This led to its own challenges, as Pecknold then had to spend two weeks removing the rigging in After Effects.
Pecknold shot the spot with a Nikon D90, which was connected to a computer running the Dragon Stop Motion software. Dragon allows the animator to control the camera’s settings – including adjusting exposure, ISO, while balance and so on – before capture.
The software can also play back previous shots for comparison, and Pecknold could draw markers on screen for positioning – which he says was useful for shots such as the pencil zipping away into the distance.
Pecknold then sequenced the stills in After Effects, and edited them in Final Cut Pro, with footage colour-corrected in Quantel Q-Color.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the challenges, Pecknold is proud of the finished result.
“Of course it would have been nice to have more time,” he says “but that’s rarely the case. It was a great project that we were happy to be a part of.”
You can visit the Grandchildren website at bygrandchildren.com.
Stop-motion is back in vogue
Stop-motion filmmaking has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently, with two major feature films on the Oscar shortlists this year – Fantastic Mr Fox and Coraline – and a raft of new shows on children’s TV.
Grandchildren’s Sean Pecknold puts stop-motion popularity down to its low cost of entry for creatives – all that’s needed to begin is an inexpensive digital SLR and some editing software.
He believes it’s a backlash: “It’s a reaction to the massive amount of computer-generated animation that exists in entertainment. Stop-motion is still relatively low-tech: any technology that exists for it just makes clicking the shutter a bit easier, you’re still getting in and moving things with your hands, and building sets, and characters – and that’s gratifying for animators and directors.”
Stop-motion isn’t suitable for all projects, though.
“It depends on what kind of story you’re trying to tell. I’m not sure Up would have worked so well as a stop-motion film, nor Fantastic Mr. Fox as a CG one. But they are both really great films. I don’t think it’s necessarily a trend that will fade away at some point. It will evolve and adapt, but the fundamentals will always work for certain projects and stories.”