Setting the Scene

They gave the go ahead and I decided it was worth starting afresh on the scenery. I made three models for the street. The main one was a flat view of the houses over the road, then two models with forced perspective showing views to the left and right.
I used two sheets of hardboard five feet by three feet. One sheet formed the background and the other the road surface. I started by giving them a coat of white primer. This not only seals the surface, it also makes it easy to see any drawing that you do for the layout. I used paint that dried to a mat finish because gloss paint could cause problems with glare when it comes to lighting the set. I used emulsion paint for the areas of light colour. I had a tin of white and added small amounts of Plaka paint to make a range of pastel shades. I used Plaka paint for the strong colours.

The scene was of a row of shops which the hamster puppets have to cross over to. I took the design from a photograph found in a magazine. I find I get much better results working from a photo than just trying to make up a scene from memory. I painted in shadows to give the background depth. When I lit the set I placed the key light so that the shadows cast tied in with the shadows on the painted background.

The road was painted in such a way that when viewed from the camera position it looked as though the curb on the far side stepped up. Also the cracks in the pavement were drawn slightly in perspective so that the road looked wider than it really was.

A new car was made out of wood. This played an important part in the film, it knocked one of the hamsters down. I found that I could get a much better finish using wood plus some aluminum sheet to make the mud guards. The wheels were discs cut from plywood and painted to look the part.

I made a couple of other cars from flat card. These were nailed on a block of wood to keep them upright. They were used as passing traffic and as they were only on the screen a couple of seconds at a time there wasn’t time for the viewer to register that they were not proper models.

The two models showing side views were about two feet wide and two feet deep. When they were used the hamster was shown in big close up. I found those good fun to work on because it was creating an optical illusion. All the horizontal lines go of to a point at the horizon as in a perspective drawing. The road also slopes up to the horizon.

The interior sets for the film were made much smaller than the exterior one because the side walls masked the edges of the set. I worked out the scale by presuming that my tallest puppet was six feet high and made the set in proportion to that. The tallest puppet was one foot high so that gave a scale of one in six.

The walls of the interior sets were made of hardboard. I found that if I gave the rough side a coat of paint it looked just like anaglypta wall paper. I used a thick piece of wood for the floor and nailed the hardboard walls to this.

Furniture for the film was made from odds and ends of wood. The chairs had hardboard seats and wooden rods for the legs. The kitchen units and cooker were blocks of wood covered with white card to give a good finish. I used plates and cups from a dolls tea set and a cereal packet was made by cutting a picture from a magazine advert and pasting it on card.

One scene took place in a bread shop. I made model bread and cakes from a wood based modeling compound. This dried up to just the right texture for bread. It was then painted the appropriate colours.

In a scene at the end of the film Henry hamster is in hospital having been knocked down by a car. Jane hamster comes to visit him, bringing the usual bunch of flowers. I decided that I could get away with real flowers if I picked small ones. The scene took a couple of hours to film and all seemed to be working well. When the finished film was projected we saw that the flowers opened up like the ones you see in time lapse photography due to the heat of the lamps.

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