Breakfast with a Blob

Paul Couvella entered two films in the recent ANIMA Festival, one was voted ‘best film’ by the audience and the other chosen by the guest speaker as ‘showing the most promise’. Paul outlines the background to their production.

Towards the end of 1986 I was turned down in my application to West Surrey College of Art & Design, where I had been hoping to study animation. They explained that I was a little too quiet and conservatively dressed to really “fit in”. Undaunted I set about the search for an acceptable alternative with some optimism.

Paul Couvela.

However, after several months of unemployment spent writing to endless colleges, companies and studios, and going to interviews in London, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Ipswich, Hull and elsewhere, my optimism began to wear as thin as the soles of my boots. Eventually I had to yield to fate and take a part time job with Sainsburys, making short films at weekends.

I decided to start with a bit of plasticine animation, since it seemed to be so much less work than doing hundreds of drawings. My lead character was to be a green blob with eyes on stalks, who perambulated around a breakfast table eating everything in sight.

Armed with a tape of suitable background music and a shooting script, I banished my family from the dinning room and Blutacked breakfast utensils to the table. After filming the title and a live-action prologue I began animating the blob on ones and twos, working from the rough timings on my script. As it turned out, they were very rough, and I found myself improvising several seconds here and there to make up the time. The overall length of the film had to be right, since I had no access to editing equipment.

Eventually, battling against tiredness and an increasingly faulty camera shutter, I finished at midnight on the third day.

The Blob from Free Alien Monster poses with the ANIMA trophy.

With the snappy title Free Alien Monster with Every Pack of Rice Crispies, my debut film was entered into numerous amateur film competitions, and rather to my surprise it won several awards, culminating in the one for “Innovation” at this year’s ANIMA festival.

For my next animation epic, I took one of Greig’s Norwegian Dances as an inspiration, and wrote a semi-autobiographical tale about two caterpillars and unrequited lust. In order to calculate the precise timings required, I used a computer program designed by my father. With this revolutionary device, you can listen to a pre-recorded soundtrack and poke a key at important moments, while the computer calculates how many eighteenths of a second (frames) have elapsed between pokes.

I animated this film on paper, using a home-make peg bar and rostrum. The process seemed extremely laborious after the plasticine, so I incorporated as many loops and cycles as I could get away with.

After much thought, I abandoned the attempt to come up with a witty and pertinent title, and called the film Once Upon a Time. I was even more surprised than before when this effort won an award for “Best Film” at ANIMA this year, and another for “Best Animation Entry” at the Surrey Film Festival.

So things are looking up for me now. Even West Surrey College of Art & Design have decided to take me on after all. It was the films rather than the awards that impressed them though; that and the fact I didn’t wear a tie on my second interview.

Drawings from Once Upon a Time.

Printed in Animator Issue 22 (Spring 1988)