Animating Christmas Card Cut-outs

Other movements were made by cutting off heads so that they would nod or move from side to side or up and down on long necks. We cut an arm of a small violinist and detached his bow so that he could make the authentic movements, and cut off his foot so that he could tin, out the rhythm. In fact we took every opportunity to mutilate our characters — all in the cause of animation. It was often necessary to stick on patches so, for example when the violinist moved his arm, his coat showed underneath. We cut to close tips whenever practicable and got a certain amount of facial expression by making our characters blink. We made eyelids which were put over the open eyes for 4 frames and then removed. One flirty ‘go-go mouse’ was made to flutter her eyelashes in a provocative way by using half eyelids.

A similar method was used to make the carol singers open and shut their mouths. We thought that lip synch was beyond our capabilities so we compromised by choosing a ‘curly’ carol where the words are “Glo-o-o-ria’. This putting on of eyes and mouths was quite fiddly, even with tweezers. In an effort to simplify this, we prepared cels with eyelids and mouths positioned so that we could pop them on and off when necessary. The setting looked very attractive with salt ‘snow’ on the trees and on the ground, but we didn’t realise the amount of static that was in the cels. When we got to within an inch of the scene the ‘snow’ suddenly rose up and covered the cel with salt.

The scenes were mock-ups of the pictures on the Christmas cards. One of them was a desert of fine real sand over which the camels were supposed to glide majestically. At this stage we were moving the pieces with our fingers and each time we moved them we left an indentation in the sand. The effect on the screen was of camels walking in the steps of a yeti. For our replay of this scene we moved the camels with tweezers, being careful not to touch the sand in front of them. This was better but very tricky to do. In subsequent scenes we abandoned the sand, using instead a sheet of fine sandpaper, cut into a few curved pieces, re-assembled on a blue back¬ground and embellished with a cut out palm tree.

I would suggest that the cut out animator’s best friend is his Blu-tack. It anchors the background to the rostrum, the scenery to the background, and secures the characters, helping to keep the movement smooth. It also holds the characters flat, as they tend to curl under the heat of the lights and with handling. It was necessary to keep the various cut out pieces in clearly identified packets, having a separate one for the very tiny ones, the robins and suchlike, and even then we spent quite a bit of time searching the carpet for a stray leg or an eyelid.

In time, with patience and in spite of frustrations we eventually completed the filming and passed it over to Doris’s husband, Sid, who devised and laid the sound track that brought the film to life.

There will probably be short cuts to reduce the work involved in making this type of animated film, but Doris has warned me not to have another idea – not for a while at any rate!

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Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 7 (Winter 1983)