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The making of Birth of a Notion

This film won a Gold Standard award and a sponsor's award from AKM Music. It shows how they pioneered a computerised approach to traditional cel-animation ... and how much work goes into a soundtrack.

Life is curious isn't it! I have no talent whatsoever as an artist and I'm pretty much a duffer on the computer, yet for the past five years I have had my name attached to three animated films alongside that of Dick Horn.

The first question that members of an audience ask after they have sat through an animated film is "How long did it take?" The second is "How many drawings were made"?

They never ask how it was done. Dick and I spent 18 months making Simple Sisyphus and for me the charm lies in Dick's drawings. There is a comfy 1950's feel about them.

Some of Dick Horn's drawings for 'Simple Sisyphus'. Colin Jones and Dick Horn working on 'Simple Sisyphus'.

We are both long-since retired from full time employment and we both belong to the Orpington Club so it's not surprising that we should collaborate. Our latest effort was Simple Sisyphus and as we were pioneering a new method I thought it would make an interesting story to show how it was done.

Our previous efforts were done by Dick doing his coloured drawings on transparent cels which we captured through a camcorder and which I assembled in the computer using Adobe Premiere as the editing program. Once they were in the right order it was my job to produce the appropriate sounds and add a few effects such as fades and dissolves which is what Premiere is for. The problem is that cels are expensive, they don't take paint very well, they stick together like glue and they attract dust.

An obvious solution would be to use plain white paper and use the computer to make the white paper background transparent, placing them afterwards in the PC as layers on top of each other. We enquired and were told that we would be lucky to get away with more than 3 layers before we hit real trouble. We needed to go up to about seven layers in some scenes, but we tried it and it worked!

The film was quite short, but 4½ minutes of empty sound track is a daunting prospect. Sisyphus pushes a boulder up a mountain in a fierce thunderstorm. The thunder crashes, the rocks grind together and an audible narration is needed on top.

Corrie Jones being goaded into an angry voice by Colin. Still from 'Simple Sisyphus' showing him with the millstone.

We required pigs squealing, birds squawking, a mill stone rolling and worst of all we had to have an angry mother's voice. Curiously enough the professional audio library of angry mothers with incoherent, yet not squeaky, voices is sparse - non-existent in fact! Eventually my son Tim suggested that we use a foreign language.

It so happens that my wife Corrie speaks Dutch. She is a gentle creature with a soft voice, but there have been occasions, within our otherwise flawless marriage, when she has been known to raise her voice. My job was to taunt her into getting angry in Dutch! You'll see it in Birth of a Notion.

Oh yes, the answer to those questions - eighteen months and about five thousand!

- Colin Jones    March 2006

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Page updated on 08 October 2011
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