Article for The American Motion Picture Society - 2005

Asked to write 500 words on how I made The Diet.

The Diet was shot with two Bolexes on 16mm film. Old fashioned? Certainly, and it is not until all the filming is finished and transferred to video that I am  back to present technology.

There are many stages before I can start animating. First, I write the script. Then the voices of three friends who speak for all the puppet characters, are recorded.

I must now break down every second of dialogue into frames.This I do on a picsinc, winding the tape through frame by frame noting on my dope sheet the number of frames to each word. This enables me to animate the puppets’ mouths in lipsinc to the dialogue.

The puppets are like a troupe of actors with the advantage they can't answer back and without complaint, work impossibly long hours. Against this, they are a cumbersome lot and in spite of their weighted feet tend to fall about like drunken sailors.  As The Diet is the twelfth episode in a kind of puppet soap, eight of  the puppets have regular roles. The rest take on new characters and must be re-painted, re-wigged and very probably have a complete sex change.

Most of the props for both interior and exterior sets are there from previous episodes. Anything needed specifically for The Diet like the stethescope or benches for the cafe scene I ask craftsmen (found at craft fairs) to make. To put a set up takes one to several days. The interior ones may need shelves to fix, pictures and curtains to hang and so on. If doors are open or windows present I must put up extra adjoining sets. In the exterior sets roads, fences, trees and flowers and anything movable must be nailed or stuck down. Compared to the interior sets the lighting for these is extensive, with layers of light from the background of sky, trees and buildings to my puppets in the foreground.
Once I have worked out  how I can make things work and cheat my way round my limitations I draw on my storyboard what I want the camera in each shot to show, adding a note of the camera angles, lenses used and the light meter reading. If I want a C.U. at the same time as the main action I use both cameras. I then rehearse all the puppets’ moves until I’m confident I can animate them. All  their movements must be converted from real to animated time. So with a stop watch I do all their movements in real time, then do the sums to get it into frames. (Multiply each second of real time by 25.)

One more  job before I can start to animate. Everything I might touch by mistake while animating  must be stuck firmly down. This includes chairs, tables and of course every single thing on them. The Diet, with its endless plates of food, meant a lot of sticking. Even so, the rushes showed several little cakes (impossible to stick) dancing on their plates.

Now at last I can start to animate. Four seconds of animation may take me one hour or more. If, as in the “Stay Young  Classes”, I have to move ten puppets every 1/25th of a second it will take longer. Isn’t that crazy? Who’d be an animator?
When at last all the filming is finished  my son will edit it and the film comes to life. Then we put in the music and the sound effects and at last we have a film. Too late now  to see how  much better I could have made it.
(Tana Fletcher September 05)