The Friends Electric director drills down into the detail of how he animated Blyton's gang
Enid Blyton’s quintessentially British quintet, The Famous Five, have been accompanying kids on countless adventures since 1942. And to mark Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy’s 75th anniversary, adam&eveDDB teamed up with Friends Electric and Pete Candeland to take the gang on an unexpected trip across the Great Western Railway network.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with director Pete Candeland to find out more about bringing the colourful world of the Famous Five to life.
LBB> What were your thoughts on the Famous Five before you started this project? Do you feel differently now?
Pete Candeland> I immediately thought of my sister. She was a huge Famous Five fan! She would devour the books! And from this I knew the characters and world of the books well. It made it doubly exciting that I could really do something for her and remember back to those days.
Overall I was thrilled. I started to think of the tone and what appeal we could try and generate and I really wanted to pay dear consideration to the wonderful world Enid Blyton had created. It was very easy to be inspired by this.
LBB> What were your first feelings on the idea from adam&eveDDB?
PC> Simple. I loved it immediately! It was so well considered and made perfect sense. It was beautifully thought out and the pieces effortlessly fit together. Sometimes you receive the opportunity to work on great ideas but sometimes not all the pieces form the same picture and you've got to put great consideration into how to approach the film, reorganize those pieces. With this, the clarity in idea and thought was all done, all the pieces fit together perfectly. It left me, Friends Electric and Electric Theatre Collective just needing to execute with what hopefully looks like the same effortless quality that was presented to us. It was the perfect challenge and I genuinely think we enjoyed every moment of it.
LBB> How did you translate Eileen Soper's original illustrations into the film? How did you strike the balance of emulating the style but creating something original?
PC> Working with existing well-known properties is something I genuinely enjoy. I love a bar that's set high that you've got to reach. I've worked with numerous existing well-known properties and I always believe and express the same thing - you've got to study, study, study. You've got to love it and you've got to spend a ton of time up front learning what it's truly all about and what was at the heart of the original creators. It's a privilege to work on such well-known work and I believe you've got to earn the right to work with it. To earn that right you need to know it as well as the biggest fans (and even the creators, if you can!). And if you learn the language well enough by studying and studying you start to create in that language. The goal is to develop instincts similar to the property’s origins.
That all sounds good but it still doesn't mean you can draw and design like Kristian Antonelli. He is an absolute wonder and his designs for this were absolutely fantastic! We were incredibly lucky to have such a talent work with us and at the end of the day without Kristian this spot could never have emulated those Eileen Soper designs. Huge, huge credit to Kristian. And massive thanks.
Painting Practice and Daniel Cacoualt also fit into that extraordinary realm of being so good at what they do that they can apply their abilities toward any number of techniques and styles. Without these significant contributors and their exceptional talent, we could never of hit the quality of the original paintings.
LBB> What was it like creating an illustration in a visual style that was created by someone else?
PC> As mentioned before, it’s all about developing or expanding on a love for that property. You need to see the beauty in the details and the intricacy that every detail adds up to the vision already given to you. Care for it.
Get Kristian on it, get Painting Practice and Daniel on it and half your work is done.
LBB> Can you explain the printing and photographing technique you used to give the film a unique texture?
PC> We had all these amazing ingredients, the film was looking good and the animators were knocking it out of the park! They created such charming and appealing moments that all added up to the film and it’s structure, working beautifully. We were onto a good thing and enjoying it. Then James Sindle turned up, looked at it and emailed me saying something's missing! He and I had just finished a fully CG animated music video for Riot Games and he had been due a big holiday and time off. When he came back he said he didn't know what it was but something was missing! Then he emailed me a still, he had printed out a frame of the film then scanned it back in. He went to print shops and tried loads of different methods of creating a genuine printed look. And in that one image and that one idea he presented and worked on, he nailed the final layer to the puzzle. We now call it the Sindle method. He along with our technical director, Neil Reilly, then kicked into gear to formulate a way that we could print every frame of the film onto just the right textured paper at just the right size to then photograph each printed frame in just the right way to then be imported back into the system and into the cut.
That one single idea was the equivalent in measure to the contribution of Kristian's drawings, Painting Practice and Daniel’s beautiful backgrounds, and the animators’ stunning and charming work. It sounds simple but there was a great deal of consideration that James and Neil needed to apply to really make that idea work.
As a team effort this group brought together a piece of work where each and every individual contribution made a true difference.
LBB> How did you combine 2D and 3D techniques to create the film?
PC> I've given too much away already but if you've got a 2D team of Daryl Graham and Tim Sanpher combined with compositing leads James Belch and Tane Welham, you’re gonna fall on the good side of the quality fence.
LBB> What do you think were the most important aesthetic decisions to be made in the process?
PC> I think the aesthetics - as accurate and loving of the originals that they are - express the story well, and as mentioned earlier you need all the ingredients to combine well. The most important choice to make this all work is to get the tone of the film right to support all of the visual choices that then follow. The levity, the charm, the appeal, the adventure. These elements are key. Tone and appeal. Appeal in the characters and tone of the overall film to support the wonderful designs from Kristian and Painting Practice, the talent of the team and the inspired idea from James all make you lift your game to make sure it's all presented in the best way possible and to be as appealing as possible.
There's no one choice that stands above the others. Take one influence out and the film doesn't work. That's a good team.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges?
PC> Living up to the expectations of the adam&eveDDB creative team. When you’re working with these guys you know you’re working with the best of the best and I really wanted to be able to deliver on all levels of expectation. Their creative team is an inspiration and they leave you with no doubt that what you need to do, needs to be the best you can make it.
I owe a huge thanks to Ben, Steve and Matt for their accurate and smart insight helping us stay on track and influencing the best out of all of us. Their strong influence, particularly on the story and its execution, was expertly explained and accurate every time.
Each note and contribution of advice was smart, on point and significantly contributed to what we all made.
All in all, it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of a team working at such a high level of expertise in all areas.
Glad it's all done, but had a great time doing it.