Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Animation Apprentice Founder Alex Williams Talks About His Design Work on Paddington Bear

Paddington Bear comes to the big screen in November
Animation Apprentice Founder Alex Williams was an early contributor of design work for Paddington, the new feature film about the much-loved bear created over 50 years ago by author Michael Bond. We asked Alex to talk about what he did on the film, which will be released in theatres on November 28, and how he managed to work on a major motion picture while teaching at Animation Apprentice.

Story panel for Paddington by Alex Williams

AA: How did you manage to work on Paddington while working at Animation Apprentice?

Alex: Well, the short answer is: I didn't. In fact I worked on Paddington some years ago, while I was working at Cinesite, one of the big London visual effects houses. At that time the director Paul King was still trying to put the finance together for his film, but he had secured the rights from the author Michael Bond, and he had a script, which we were told was sticking very closely to the original character in the books.

So, what King needed from Cinesite was visual development, some help to get the look and feel of the movie right. I was working on Marmaduke at the time, but I was asked to help out by doing some sketches of Paddington, to try and get a feeling for what he might look like in the movie.

AA: What sort of thing did you do?

Alex: In the books, Paddington comes from "Darkest Peru". In effect, he is an immigrant who doesn't understand the world he is now inhabiting. He is guileless, utterly without malice, but leaves an endless trail of destruction behind him. So my job was to try to capture this innocence, and show Paddington as this cute adorable bear who unknowingly causes disaster.  I did lots of design work and also some story panels, which then got worked up into matte paintings by the very talented 2D paint department at Cinesite.

AA: How did you get started?

Alex: I started by referencing the original illustrations done by Peggy Fortnum, and later by other artists. I also used stills from the 1970s TV series as reference. In the TV series, Paddington is much younger, just a toddler really. He has this really cute walk where he sort of leans backwards and waddles along. The TV series made him even more tiny and cute than he had been in the books. One question was - how old should he be? Should he be young and childlike, or a bit older? Finding that sweet spot is a long process.

I also did some expression sheets, to explore how Paddington might look if he was angry, sad or happy - or indeed expressing any kind of human emotion. How do you express human emotion in a bear? This is especially tricky in a CG movie, where you have to strike a balance between cartoony cuteness and photorealism. A CG bear like Paddington is a blend of realism and anthropomorphism, but where you strike the balance is really the hard bit. The devil is always in the detail.

AA: So what happened? Did Cinesite get the job?

Alex: No. You won't see Cinesite in the film credits,  or me for that matter. This happens all the time in the visual effects business. VFX houses like Cinesite have to pitch for work every day, often spending a lot of time and money in the process.

In the end, the job went to FrameStore, who are of course one of the finest VFX houses in the world. And they did an excellent job.

Paddington is being released in theatres in the UK on November 28.

To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link. For more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films.  Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business. Also see our post about freelancers and taxes

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