The housing that Jerry built

Cohn Pain tells how the film Animation My Way encouraged him to try his hand at cartoon animation. This led to his recent production about sub-standard housing.

Cohn Pain.

I bought my first cine camera when my first son was born 27 years ago. It was not until I joined the Whitehall Cine Society that I really took the craft seriously, and then only be¬cause I had been persuaded to put a film (which I thought was quite good) into the annual competition. The judge was the legendary George Sewell. He slated it: ‘The longest 5 minute film I have ever seen’. In¬stead of putting me off, it made me determined to try to do better. It was the best tonic I could have ever had. I was therefore very thrilled when one of my films was awarded the runner up for the George Sewell Trophy in last years Surrey Film Festival (and selected to represent the South East Region in the Mer¬maid Competition in Edinburgh).

When I joined WCS, Dick Bran-don was the Chairman. He had made several animated films as well as a how-to-do-it film titled Animation My Way (I understand a copy of it should still be somewhere in the depths of the IAC library). It was Dick who led me into economic animation, no peg boards or punched paper or cels just standard sized sheets pushed against two slats of wood, at right angles to each other. Two drawing pins at the top or bottom and one at the mid point on one side works equally as well! Be¬sides speed, another advantage of this system is that when using multi¬ple cels one can slip out one move¬ment cel and replace it with another without having to lift the upper ones off the pegs.

My own Standard 8 camera did not have a single frame facility and so Dick Brandon kindly lent me his over one weekend. With only an idea, and no artwork ready, I made my first drawn animation film that weekend! The material cost (apart from film and pens) was 20p for an off-cut of plastic covered chipboard. Without knowing if the exposure or focus was correct, I drew my “a” to “z” images on the plastic, wiping away previous lines, adding new ones. After the title “abc” and the first “a” I didn’t bother to go back to the rest of the alphabet (I reckoned most people know it). The “a” turned into an apple, then a ball, cat, dog, and so on until the zip opened to reveal… The End. The completed film was accomplished in one weekend, was a bit basic, but won several awards.

Animation is time consuming and I also enjoy making other types of film. Besides The Housing That Jerry Built, I had nine other films ‘on the go in 1984. 1 am therefore a little lazy and look for repetition in the use of artwork.

Some time ago I had seen a cartoon by Hellman in the Architects Journal and thought it called for animation. The wording builds up like the jingle “There’s a hole in my bucket”. The first line is repeated and a new sentence added to each verse. In this case the “housing” comes up 11 times (there¬fore the same drawing will do), the “mould” is mentioned 9 times and the “damp” 8 times (the series of drawings showing the dripping con¬densation could be repeated eight times). Most of the characters are seen several times and there was only need to alter expressions or add the odd hand or Tee Square at the appropriate time.

I didn’t get down to starting the artwork for this film until I went into hospital for a minor operation in May 1984. In the day prior to the op I developed the characters and started to animate them by leaning my sheets of paper on the window and drawing. The nurses thought me a very strange patient!

When I returned home the artwork was completed on my light box and the narration recorded. I could then settle down to the timing, prior to shooting. Getting the timing right was not easy, and it is still not quite right!

The spoken word is on tape but I found it difficult to establish the exact second each sentence started as some sentences were only a second or two long. The next decision to make was on the number of frames to shoot of each drawing, usually 2, 3, or 4.

The characters were of different shapes and sizes. It was by putting all the outlines on one sheet of paper that enabled me to define the “field” needed for the whole film.

Whilst it only took a concentrated evening session to shoot all the artwork it would not have been possible without a helper alongside to count the number of shots taken and mark them off on my “planning sheet”. When my youngest son David had to go out for a short while at 11 pm I tended to go haywire – had I taken a particular shot or not? – had I marked off the shot on the master sheet or not? However, although we started at about 6 pm, we finished at 12.41 am.

The film came back from proces¬sing, it was sent to Cresta Electronics of Radlett for striping and when it returned the narration fitted reason¬ably well. I decided to add my mouthed “trumpet” rendition of Home Sweet Home throughout the film. Audiences must be grateful that they can’t hear much of it under the narration as I could only remember a couple of bars of the tune so it is a bit repetitive to say the least!

What next? I am probably like most animators and do not want to be scooped. That is why you won’t see me entering the storyboard com¬petition unless it is a film I’ve already made or never intend shooting. I find we all jealously guard the ideas or story boards we have for our next productions. I have three or four ideas in mind, including one drawn on film, but when will I be able to find the time with those other nine to finish off?

One thing is for certain, with the continuing support of my wife Mu and family, there will be more Cohn (Col) and (e) Mu – Colemu Cine -films in the future.

Drawings from The Housing that Jerry Built.

Printed in Animator Issue 14 (Winter 1985)