BFI London Film Festival Report from the Frankenweenie Press Conference + Presentation Masterclass

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I shall save my full thoughts on the film Frankenweenie for my general review. This feature shall be devoted to a description of the press conference for the film and the behind the scenes animation masterclass presentation on the day of Frankenweenie’s Gala premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.

After the press screening of the film, a question and answer session took place at the Cornithian Hotel. On the table at the front where filmmakers and actors were to sit, figures of the film characters had been placed by each name so they looked out onto the audience.

The session was hosted by Chris Hewitt, who welcomed into the room were director Tim Burton, actors Martin Short (voice of ‘Mr. Walsh / Toshiaki / Mr. Bergermeister / Bob / Mr. Curtis), Catherine O’Hara (voice of Susan Frankenstein / Gym Teacher / Weird Girl) and Martin Landau (voice of Mr. Rzykruski) and producers Allison Abbate and Don Hahn.

During the start of the press junket, Tim Burton explained the reason for making Frankenweenie – a film he described as a ‘real memory piece’ – using stop motion animation. He had previously shot the film in live action, but he said the thought of seeing the story brought to life in stop motion in black and white and presented in 3D inspired him to start work on it as a full length animated feature film

Throughout the questions put to them, the enthusiasm from actors Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Martin Landau about the project was obvious. They spoke in depth about creating the characters through voices and pictures of who they would be playing. Martin Short described the process as ‘an ideal working situation for an actor’, as Burton would cultivate a ‘collaborative’ approach to filmmaking and ‘hone and refine’ the ideas people came up with.

I asked Tim Burton if he had any thoughts about why cinemas are currently seeing a lot of dark and macabre animated films at the moment (in the space of a few weeks we’ve had Paranorman, Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania). He said he didn’t know where the trend was coming from, but added that although people always describe his films “dark”, he himself has never thought of them as dark.

The topic shifted off Frankenweenie when Veteran actor Martin Landau was asked to comment on his time working with Alfred Hitchcock (he was in North by Northwest), and he provided a humorous description of his experience working with the master of suspense, and jokingly said ‘he certainly did not make advances towards me’.

After the press conference, a privileged number of people (I was delighted to be one of them!) were taken to a presentation by the animators behind Frankenweenie. Trey Thomas (Animation Director) and Ian Mackinnon and Pete Saunders (Puppet Makers), who were sat behind a wondrous display of puppets from the film, talked us through the methods, designs and ideas that went into making the world of Frankenweenie come to life.

They started by explaining to us how the characters were originally conceived. They said Tim Burton was a very specific artist, and oversaw the making of the models and puppets. Sketches of the characters were first created using Plasticine, which helped the animators establish the ‘broad strokes the cast’, and work out the dynamics of the characters (for example, how the family would look sitting together in their home).

The men were asked what challenges they encountered during the production process, and they all agreed that hair on the puppets’ heads was at some points an issue. When filmed under high contrast lighting, the characters’ hair would be a mess of lights and wouldn’t photograph clearly.

Production secrets (well, sort of secrets) were revealed when, after emphasising the importance of how the film was made using stop-motion, not CGI, they confessed to having to using computer effects for the invisible fish scenes in the film (see the film and you’ll understand why they needed to be CGI). They said that if they had tried to use puppets like they had in the rest of the film, they would have had to digitise them so much in postproduction, they might has well just use computers from the start.

Throughout the day, I was struck by the amount of work and years of painstaking production that had gone into making the movie. The cast and filmmakers all seemed entirely devoted to the various aspects of the film, and seemed to value the experience as something unique; a combination I should imagine comes from working with both Tim Burton and stop-motion animation.

Although I said at the start that I would try to keep my views on the film as a whole to my main review, I can’t help but say how much I enjoyed it, and the opportunity to see how it was created was truly marvellous.

If you wish to see some of the amazing puppets and designs from the film, the BFI London Film Festival is hosting The Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition of props, sets and puppets from 17-21 October at London Southbank. The exhibition is free to the public.

Frankenweenie (2012), directed  by Tim Burton, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate PG. It is released in cinemas on October 17. 

Images: Tim Burton – Image.net/Getty Images. Frankenweenie still courtesy of Disney Enterprises/Image.net. Models photo – Barnaby Walter 2012.

 

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

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