‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ is the story of young Vinny Byrne, a fourteen year old boy who found himself fighting for Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising. We caught up with the film’s director, Ben O’Connor at the film’s screening at Bristol Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival to chat about puppetry, digital animation and the practicalities of producing animated work in short timescales.
Can you tell us a little about your background, your production company and how you came to make ‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’?
Myself and my business partner Aoife Noonan started Bowsie Workshop five years ago. I was doing some bits of work on the side and she’d just left her job as an industrial designer. We’d studied on a college course together, so she came in and gave me a hand and the company just started from there. We began making music videos and our first production was in stop-motion. We made four videos in total but quickly realised that no-one was going to pay us to do that!
Fortunately we had lots of other skills such as modelmaking, sculpting, moulding, etc. and found people who would pay us to do that, so that has become the main focus of our business – we design monsters, creatures and visual effects. We work in both practical and digital effects and I would say that about 70% of our work is practical and 30% is digital. It depends on the problem we are solving, for example, instead of building something that is animatronic, we can sometimes produce the equivalent digitally and save our clients time and money.
We’d been working on a lot of horror films and had become a bit tired of splashing blood everywhere. We wanted to go back to our original plan as we’d built a bit of a track record and people knew who we were in the business. So, as it is the 1916 centenary, we applied for some funding to produce the short. Aoife wrote it and I directed it. We get asked to do a lot of gruesome stuff for the horror film industry, the kind of stuff where people look away, and I wanted to produce something that people didn’t have to look away from!
The film uses an interesting combination of real-time rod and string puppetry and digital effects. What led you to use these production approaches?
The funding programme was for film production, so the timescales were not animation timescales. Originally we’d planned the short as stop-motion, however, as the time got tighter and tighter we decided to use puppetry and digital animation to get the shots. So we started breaking things down to find timely solutions, for example, we’d originally planned the eyes as stop-motion but eventually decided to digitally composite the eyes on. I was worried that it might be too weird and creepy but then I saw Chris Lavis’ ‘Madame Tutli Putli’ and thought that it worked, so that became the approach.
There are puppet design features that we didn’t use in the shoot, simply because of time constraints, such as the additional time to change mechanisms. We have some former experience in using puppetry through our visual effects work. For example, we’d used rod puppetry to create a zombie baby that was birthed in a sewer (and we won an award for that also, ‘Most Disturbing Scene of the Year!) For me, however, it was primarily about composition and producing those images by what ever means best suited.
There has been some controversy surrounding the inclusion of real-time puppetry productions in animation programmes at prolific international film festivals. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Yes, I have had this conversation myself with animators. For example, we built all the sets for a stop-motion animated film that screened at the Toronto Film Festival and I had a lot of discussions with the animator there who was adamant that our work was not animation. But we feel we are animating something and bringing it to life. We have to think creatively and ‘animate’ to make our audience believe that something is alive. It’s also three dimensional and manipulated by hand, just as plasticine, but via a different technique. But we all have things we feel strongly about, and that’s fine. So if anyone has any really strong feelings, I’ll leave those with them.
Bowsie Workshop Ltd was formed in 2011 with the aim to create a facility where ideas can be seen through from concept to fabrication all under one roof, with a strong emphasis on craft and artistry. The studio has gained a reputation for their imaginative approach to FX – mixing traditional techniques and the latest industry standard technology. For more information, visit the website: http://www.bowsieworkshop.com