Lesley Barnes's graphic-based animation for Belle and Sebastian's Didn't See It Coming

The next single by Glaswegian indie band Belle and Sebastian is Come on Sister, which features a poppy remix of I Didn't See it Coming by Richard X as its 'b-side'. The band asked also-Glasgow-based illustrator and animator Lesley Barnes to create a promo for the song using her trademark 'papercut style'. The result is an exuberent, madcap romp through a world seemingly constructed from the contents of a children's toyroom.

We sat down with Lesley to find out more about how it came to be.

DA: How would you describe your style?

LB: "My style is graphic, colourful and hopefully a little magic. I studied English lit … but I knew I’d always find my way into images."

DA: Your site presents you primarily as an illustrator. How does animation sit alongside this?

LB: ""I actually started as an animator. I think always in the back of my mind I wanted to do animation but it was only really a few years ago that I decided that I really needed to do it. I was working as an intern at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was allowed to take submissions home to watch. I saw lots of short animations and just thought ‘That’s what I want to do'.

"My favourite bit of animating is at the beginning when you are planning it, and at the end when everything is coming togethe. The middle can be frustrating!"

DA: How did you come to work on this?

LB: "Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian got in touch at Christmas to see if I would like to give an animated video a go (I previously did a t-shirt design for the band). Obviously I jumped at the chance. I had a great team in the form of animators Matt Saunders and Bruce A Cameron, without whom the animation would have been a lot less fun.

DA: Was there a brief?

LB: "This was pretty much a dream job, as Sarah left me with an open brief to create whatever I wanted. For this song I pictured 'B' and 'S', a boy and girl happy and in love, but with a kind of ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over this contentment (the events they ‘didn’t see coming’). I also wanted to do something that looked quite sweet but had a bit of a darker unsettling undertone with lots of eyes watching and waiting…

DA: How did you develop the brief or concept into the final piece – both the narrative and the elements/characters within it?

LB: "I tried to keep the look and feel of a children’s book, reflecting the fact that Belle and Sebastian took their name from a French kids book about a boy and his dog. I designed all the characters first as paper puppets.

"I hope the animation hasn’t turned out too ‘twee’ or ‘cute’ -- which is how people have been describing it [those calling it twee may be more affected by Richard X's eurodisco remix job, Ed]. I did want it to have a slightly scary element, but I’m not sure I really succeeded in frightening anyone.

"I also felt that the music and lyrics had the sense of a journey like a train or bike ride, so I presented the narrative as a trip through a magical land via different modes of transport [such as] bikes, trains, ships and airship."

"I wanted there to be an evil ‘presence’ stalking 'B' and 'S' so the moon, the spooky tunnel, the evil train, the wolf, the fish, the vulture and the great bear all had the same face andeyes, and similar design. [It's] almost like they were all one shape-shifting villain."

DA: Were there any particular things you had to do differently to your designs - either technically or just in the way you designed them - for use in animation (as opposed to print artworks)?

LB: "My animation style is usually digitally animated ‘cutouts’, so my illustration work doesn’t have to be altered greatly to be able to move. The characters, for example, were all designed as paper puppets first so they were very easy to animate. I’m a huge fan of Lotte Reiniger's silhouette animations, and I really like the simple graphic style and movement. I would have loved to do the whole video as stop motion but as usual time got in the way.

DA: How did you create the elements and animate them?

LB: "I did a lot of illustrating first. All the characters were drawn in parts ([for the] legs, arms, hands) and were scanned in. Then colour pattern and detail were added in Photoshop. These ‘puppet parts’ were then imported into After Effects where they were put together and animated -- just like you might animate a [real] puppet."

Concept art for the promo

DA: Could you take us through your creative process of one of the sequences in depth please.

LB: "One of the first sequences I thought about was the ship and the fish section. I always liked the ‘flat’ waves that you get in many ‘cutout’ animations but I wanted something different, so I decided to do a sea of spinning circles. This matched the sort of eyes and spins in the rest of the animation.

"By giving the circles a slightly off-center rotation point it meant the spins a sense of movement and buoyancy."

The sea animation was created by Matt Saunders, who jumps in here.

MS: “Lesley's work is incredibly detailed and every shape has its own movement, so when she presented me with the sea section I knew what I was getting myself into: lots of layers and lots of fiddling, as we needed to be able to edit the shapes. Once I was happy with the way everything moved from the characters to the sea and Lesley OK'd the camera, I hit the big render button in the sky.

"Disaster struck about eight times: unexplained glitches kept appearing all over the show. I thought it was the circles overlapping each other, so tried to identify the individual problems by deleting them, but it still kept happening.

"In the end I took each wave section and rendered out [each as a rgb+alpha file] and pieced them back together. I was glad to just animate the fish after this scene."

Check out more of Lesley's videos at vimeo.com/lesleybarnes/videos.

Elsewhere on IDG sites

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