Stop-motion Wonderland from ‘Robin Robin’, Aardman’s first musical

Just in time for the holidays, Aardman Animations released Robin robin, their very first stop-motion musical featuring a goofy, lyrical little bird who desperately wants to be a devious mouse.

For Daniel Ojari and Michael Please, the creators of the special, the music was not only a fun part of the production process, but it was also, according to Ojari, “a very expressive part of the storytelling”.

“We loved the backing of a musical to express Robin’s journey throughout the film, as he’s a noisy bird that lives with a family of silent mice,” says Ojari, who co-directed with Please . “We used the idea that she loved to sing and that she had her own song to sing, but that didn’t quite fit the stealthiness of these mice. She tries to be like them and sneak her song along, but it doesn’t work. And after her trip, the resolution is that she finds out where her song goes, where she fits and fits with her and has a newfound confidence in her melody. Weaving these analogies and lyrics through the film was a really great and extra dimension of storytelling that we hadn’t used before.

Now streaming on Netflix, the animated Christmas story from the Oscar-winning studio known for Shaun the sheep and Chicken coop stars Christophe robin‘s Bronte Carmichael as a young bird named Robin, raised by a family of mice who make a living by stealing treats from the homes of humans. Despite Robin’s best efforts, she can’t seem to stop singing or flapping her wings, uncontrollably bumping into things that call attention to herself and her family of hungry mice. Eventually, Robin’s repeated failures to sneak up on his feet results in almost no house for the mice to steal.

To prove that she is a real mouse and atone for her mistakes, Robin sets out on her own to steal one of the last available houses. While meeting other bird friends along the way who agree to help him, Robin also manages to make an enemy of the local cat, voiced by the famous Gillian Anderson.

The film is a textile winter wonderland of tiny animal houses, furnished in shiny trinkets pulled from the trash, along with larger-than-life views of worn-out home kitchens and sheds, designed to project the mystery of the larger human world. , which, of course, would be held in awe by a small robin bird.

“What’s exciting about stop-motion is that you can create these little worlds,” Ojari notes, “and you can play with the scale and feel the camera is right in these tiny little worlds. This is how we wanted the world to feel from Robin’s perspective. We figured that if you’re a creature a few inches tall, you’re going to see the world from a really different perspective. A few bushes for Robin might be like a forest. So exploring and designing the world from that perspective was a really fun and exciting endeavor. “

“Especially when they’re in the human world,” Please adds. “Like in the kitchen, for example. All of our main puppets are built at 170% normal scales, so they are just under twice the normal size. And so when we built the kitchen world, everything was built at that 170% scale. We would go inside and feel like tiny people with huge kitchen countertops and all those huge spoons and cups and teapots. We got to feel what it is to be at Robin’s scale and feel how intimidating and amazing the world would be.

These intimidating yet amazing worlds were built based on illustrations by Canadian illustrator Matthew Forsythe, the film’s production designer. “We’ve been huge fans of his work for many years, so we were delighted to see him join us on the project,” Please note. “Matt has an incredibly rich, textured world that he builds into his paintings, so we were really working to translate the look of it into a 3D world.”

He continues, “Translating artwork into 3D worlds is a big part of how we’ve worked over the years in terms of our approach to stop-motion filmmaking. We always start from a very graphic illustration model and then we integrate it into this dynamic 3D world, often building sets for the cameras so that they feel like they are put together like illustrations. Working with Matt’s production design was fantastic in that we could take these bold silhouettes and shapes and then find ways to richly texture them in a stop-motion world.

It was also the first time that Aardman had used felt to produce his characters.

“We focused a lot on the outline and silhouette of the characters,” Ojari explains. “We wanted them to be really distinct and very different from each other. There is a big theme of the difference in the film and how the differences working together make a result richer. Matt was brilliant in creating these really distinct, hopefully very recognizable characters who felt very different from each other.

But the event with all the details involved in creating felt puppets and elaborate, captivating environments, the biggest challenge according to Please and Ojari was to incorporate music into all the quick-witted moments, and the Aardman facial expressions – and stop-motion as a whole – is known for. All musical numbers for the film were composed by Please Ben’s brother and sister-in-law Beth Porter, also known as The Bookshop Band.

“The choreography on the musical side of the film took a lot of planning and that meant that obviously we had to have the songs and song lyrics fully understood before filming it,” Ojari explains. “We just tried to integrate the idea of ​​the rhythm of the music and the different melodies played into the action. You’ll see, throughout the movie, in the musical scenes, that even all the seemingly accidental things like Robin spilling a cup of tea and things like that, they’re all to the beat of the music.

From creating the animatic to creating the puppets and sets, to filming and releasing the finished product, creating a stop-motion animation is a notoriously laborious, laborious and time-consuming process. Adding choreographed musical numbers to the mix makes this workload even more difficult. Still, Ojari and Please say the best part of the stop-motion, while tedious, is the opportunity for spontaneity, and the music also made the playful parts of the production all the more fun.

“The humor, timing and nuance of these performances come from a lot of different places,” Please explains. “One of the things we do between the animatic and the shooting is filming a live reference. So there’s a version of the movie that’s all Dan and I take on all the roles of the characters, filming us and composing us in the background. We then send it back to editing and discuss it with the animators on set. And the animators will often add their own contribution. “

“You can have ideas when you are there [on set] and try to integrate them into the performance, ”Ojari adds. “I think that’s the nature of stop-motion. It’s a slow process, but it allows for many ideas. And that’s a big part of the process that we love, being able to enrich every scene and shoot with as much as you can possibly think of. Being on the set and in this environment where you can see something like a spoon and ask yourself, “Oh, what if she steps on it here and makes it throw over there? It’s basically like playing with toys all day.

While Please likens the stop-motion filming process to a “highly controlled game,” he says the biggest difference and reward, compared to 2D or 3D, is that the result is an album of all ideas. gathered by members of the entire production team. “Stop-motion also has a purpose, and you can’t manipulate it indefinitely, which is very refreshing,” Please explains.

Ojari adds, “With stop-motion you usually have a chance to film it, so it’s like a live performance. And we love that element because you can plan as much as you want and fine-tune all the little details, but that’s ultimately about what happens on shoot day. You get that spontaneity and those little mistakes that you didn’t anticipate that come out in the finished product and make it even richer. And it was a really fun job to have the shot of so many of these scenes built around music and rhythm.

In their world of imaginary and fabric toys, the filmmakers say Robin robin also boosted their enthusiasm to create more stop-motion musicals. Please affirm that “of course we would like to do more. Ojari adds, “Maybe it’s because we have young families ourselves.” When you have small children you sing to them and the stuff they watch often involves a lot of songs. So, as a parent of young children, music is so much more a part of your life and your identity. And I think that has definitely found its place in our work. And that’s another reason to keep doing it.

Victoria Davis photo

Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She has reported on many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.