We speak to the animators who turned the Python reading his autobiography into a stereo 3D biopic feature film featuring 17 different animation styles from stop-motion to cutout CG.
In the heart of creative East London, down some back streets and inside what looks like the old garage attachment on the side of big old house lies Made Visual Studio, a multi-disciplinary creative agency who were the animation producers of the exhuberent biopic A Liar’s Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.
As you step inside the studio, the first thing that comes to mind is that you’ve found, what Monty Python fans would surely perceive to be, their Holy Grail.
Besides boasting high-tech editing equipment behind every corner, Made Visual somehow also feels like a shrine to “the dead one” from Monty Python. Paraphernalia from the legendary comedic troupe is all around – photographs, creative slogans, movie posters and pages upon pages of beautiful art depicting Chapman and the rest of Pythons decorate the walls.
Directed by Bill ‘son of Terry’ Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett, the feature film is entirely animated by 14 companies using 17 different animation styles, with styles ranging from CG to claymation, and oil on glass to cel animation. Those taking part included Superfad and Mr and Mrs (both interviewed on other pages of this feature), Arthurcox, Beakus, Cake, Not to Scale, Peepshow Collective, and Trunk.
The biopic has as its base audio recordings of Graham Chapman narrating his memoir A Liar’s Autobiography: Volume VI from just before he died in 1989, with all the additional characters from Graham’s life voiced by the rest of the Pythons – John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Michael Palin – who recorded their parts specifically for the project last year.
“What we were trying to do had never been done before,” says Made Visual’s co-founder and director Justin Weyers. “The only example of this has been the [boundary-breaking BBC] animated series Monkey Dust, which had merged animation styles.”
“David Sherlock, Graham’s partner, gave his blessing to the project. He came in and talked about his life, showing us memorabilia such as personal items belonging to Graham, as well as items from the films Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
On top of this, the filmmakers wanted the film to be in stereoscopic 3D.
“When we first started this project, we had no idea how to make stereoscopic animation,” Justin says. “We spent three months researching on the Internet how to convert the footage into stereoscopic 3D, even finding out how films like Avatar were made.”
In order to find the many animation styles they needed, Justin contacted 90 companies and met 55 of them in person. 30 companies eventually sent in pitches based on different parts of the script and eventually 14 of them were chosen to come on board.
“I’ve never done a project as big as this before and we didn’t know if it was going to work,” says Justin. “There was one director assigned to about three companies and I acted as the buffer between the directors Bill Jones, Ben Timlett and Jeff Simpson and the animators, vetting storyboards from each company, sitting down with the animators in each company and discussing the scenes.”
Once the styles were selected, Made Visual then had to train all the companies in how to animate in stereoscopic, collate all the animation, edit it together in After Effects and Premiere, and correct stereoscopic mistakes.
“We created a stereoscopic bible for them to consult and learn from and we put on ‘tech days’, where the companies were trained in how to use the software,” says Justin. “We talked to Adobe and they were really encouraging, sponsoring us with copies of the Creative Suite 5.5 for each company.”
Sound designer Andre Jacquemin, who helped record and co-produced countless Monty Python albums and their films since 1969, was brought on to do the sound for A Liar’s Autobiography. He added in effects from 40 years’ worth of audio recordings of Chapman smoking, to make the narration sound more realistic.
The final result was three hours of footage that had to be cut down to just 90 minutes. But what did the Pythons think?
“They loved it,” says Justin. “Terry Gilliam usually always hates 3D, but he loved the use of 3D in the film and came to tell me so, which was really great to hear from him.
“Michael Palin said that it’s great that Graham has the opportunity to abuse people again, as he used to enjoy doing that in pubs.”
Next page: Superfad discusses animating A Liar's Autobiography's Scarborough sequence – plus watch it in its entirety