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The making of Hugo and the Runaway Stories

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Hugo and the Runaway Stories by Norman Lilley got a 4-star award at BIAFF 2009.

I was pleasantly surprised ...

It was very gratifying, firstly to get the Animation shield at the Surrey Film Video Festival, and then to get a four-star rating at the BIAFF for Hugo and the Runaway Stories, because it was only started as a bit of fun to keep myself and my son, Chris, ticking along following the ‘heavy’ animation work on The Messenger, the last of our ‘Above & Beyond’ trilogy. (See Norman's account of making that - here.)

Hugo is our grandson and when my wife, Sandra, and I were in Cyprus with him we tended to make up stories ‘on the hoof’, as it were. Walking among fallen olives, I kicked one along the ground and started a story about an olive who got fed up with just hanging around with all the others, and set off on his own – but he got so far that he was too exhausted to either go on or go back. Then I realised that Hugo was waiting to see what happened next and I had (untypically) gone blank, so I said to Sandra “What happened then, grandma?”

Still from 'Hugo and the Runaway Stories'.
Still from 'Hugo and the Runaway Stories'. Quick as a medium-paced flash, Sandra said “Er…well, the tree snuggled into the ground and later grew up to be a big tree himself and made plenty of olives for everybody”. Musing on this as a way to amuse Hugo on film, the idea came to me that they would go and seek a story because they had lost some from a book… and that was that.

A sort of rotoscoping

The technique was the one I always use now, a sort of ‘rotoscoping’ I suppose. Backgrounds usually start off with a photograph, but I ‘artwork’ them into what I want, usually putting a black line round the edge to give it a more ‘drawn’ look. Faces and moving bodies are usually sequenced, but not from moving footage but a series of poses by a helpful model. In Hugo’s case the pictures nearly all came first; the ones where he was ‘being silly’ and pulling faces often led to bending the story to fit the expressions. In the Hugo story in particular, I just used the photo heads of him, me and Sandra without treatment, as large heads on cartoon bodies – slapdash, really.

Photograph of Hugo in real life.

Rotoscoping is the process of tracing a frame of normal live film to make a simplified or amended drawn image of it.

When many frames are processed this way a movie scene results. The scene may be a special effect like flames added to live action or -as here - a cartoon version of the live action.

The method was developed by animation pioneer Max Fleischer. Nowadays computer programs help with the technique.

A shot from 'Hugo and the Runaway Stories' showing Hugo rotoscoped.

I do the story and the artwork and Chris sticks them all together and makes them do what I want, and researches, creates and applies narration and sound effects, using Adobe Premiere. I have now sat for hours watching him do this, and I still have hardly a clue as to how he does it. I wrote the song, he played it and we both sang it. I should add that I lifted the 'runaway' characters from one of Hugo's storybooks so that he would recognise them - I adapted them but I did not create them myself.

When finished, I regarded it as a family and friends thing – sort of animated version of ‘baby on the lawn’ - of no interest to anyone who did not know Hugo and/or me. I was pleasantly surprised otherwise.

- Norman Lilley

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Page updated on 06 October 2011
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