Goblin – a bedroom studio winner – Page 2

Stills from Goblin by Tony James.

I constructed a rostrum from chip-board and wood scraps, which did not look too bad once it had a coat of matt-black emulsion. It had four planes, each with wooden sliding bars and a window of plate glass. The only tool I use well is a hammer, so after a hard days filming, my rostrum would lean against the wardrobe for a rest.

I went about it all the wrong way, abandoning my pre-recorded soundtrack and dope sheets as new ideas popped into my head. Sometimes I would get so carried away I would forget to number the drawings and could not make out their correct order. I watched all the animation I could on television and video and collected quite a library of books on the subject. I soon learned that animation is a very antisocial hobby. Instead of going to the pub at lunch time I could be found tracing my previous night’s drawings onto cel. I was so intoxicated by animation that even if I had known it would take me over four years to complete one film I would not have given it a second thought.

Not that it was all joy. My lack of drawing skills caused many a despairing moment. A-two minute reel that had taken me a week to film came back underexposed, another with the registration pegs showing. There was also the late night session when I was filming a very involved shot which included moving three layers of background at different speeds, trucking in the camera, altering focus between shots and changing cels. Half way through I fell asleep and awoke two hours later unable to remember if I had pressed the shutter release.

As the months turned to years my drawing improved, as did my rostrum. I constructed a more solid set-up and bought a professional disc. The platen was made from a do-it-yourself article in Animator magazine – no more Cellotape.

After working on the film for so long I was unable to judge what, if anything, I had achieved. I gave the first showing to my family, who were, predictably, full of praise. However, colleagues were obviously expecting Tom and Jerry. After all, cartoons were supposed to be funny, weren’t they?

I entered it for the BBC Showreel 88 competition and two months later a telephone call informed me I was one of twenty finalists. Even if I did not win a prize an excerpt from my film would be shown on the programme. A film crew came to my house and shot an interview which was to be shown together with the clip on BBC2 TV. At the awards ceremony, taped at the Watershead Arts Centre in Bristol I still did not think I would win a prize. The show began and the monitors flickered on around the theatre. There was my animation as part of the title sequence for the programme. That was a marvellous moment. To think something I had created was to be part of a TV programme and seen all over the country was prize enough. As it happened, I came joint second and won a thousand pounds. The local paper did me proud with a double page spread about Goblin including several stills from the film and a picture of me in my bedroom ‘studio’ with the caption “The bedroom Disney”.

Recently I was invited to take part in a BBC2 documentary The Animators directed by Rob Harrington. This went out in November ‘89 to coincide with the Bristol Animation Festival. I was very proud to be seen in the company of so many respected professionals.

My film won the Movie Maker Ten Best competition and was shown together with the runners up at Kodak’s headquarters in Hemel Hempstead. I received a cheque for a hundred pounds worth of film, tape and CD’s. Unfortunately it seems that I shall have the dubious honour of being the last Ten Best winner as the magazine which promoted it has gone out of business.

During November HTV came to tape an episode for Rolf’s Cartoon Club at my home. As my film was made with my young niece Sarah in mind the producer, Doug Wilcox, thought it would be nice to have her answer the door to Rolf Harris in the film when he called to see the ‘studio’. Rolf Harris soon put everyone at their ease and the interview was a joy. His love of the medium is obvious. He told me that he only wished that he had learned more about animation when he was a young man. We were invited to the HTV studios the following week to see Rolf in action on segments of another episode and spent time in the control room and on the studio floor.

All this because of 2,359 sheets of acetate, 47 watercolour backgrounds and four of the most rewarding years of my life – so far. Finally, I have started on a new film, a scary version of the King Midas story.

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Printed in Animator Issue 28 (Autumn 1991)