Friday, 23 August 2013

interview: Paul Gunson

Animator Paul Gunson contacted me when he spotted my review of the little known British animated feature film Beauty and the Beast produced by a company called Bevanfield. In February 2007, Paul very kindly responded to some e-mailed questions about his work on that film and other shows. He also found some character designs from Beauty and the Beast which he has very kindly allowed me to include here.

What sort of company was Bevanfield, from a business point of view and as somewhere to work?
“Bevanfield was, to say the least, an interesting place to work. I think that the best thing about it was the opportunity it gave every member of staff to try their hand at different things. Secretaries would become writers or producers of different projects, and people such as I would do everything graphic wise. The drawback to this is that there were no permanent senior members of staff to learn from, no-one with greater experience, so it was hard to gain good habits. This situation carried on for the life of the company.

“In addition, in the time when projects were shot onto film, no rushes were ever viewed before the final print was made, so errors crept through, unseen until the final product. In the case of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the animation was post-synched, that is the mouth movements were ‘guessed’ by the director and the actors came in later, trying their best to match up.

“Several of the better character designs didn’t get through for various reasons. In one case, I found out that my design for the main villain in Beauty and the Beast bore more than a passing resemblance to our financier. The designs didn’t come out as well as we’d hoped. This was partly due to the vast range of abilities our outside animators had, the lack of line testing, and indeed our own inexperience. We aimed for Disney, but got King of the Hill instead!

“Budgets were tight, and in a way, this was a self perpetuating problem. Because there was no line tester, the quality and consistency of the animation would not be good. This in turn lead to Bevanfield getting projects with lower and lower budgets.

“After a couple of years, Bevanfield acquired computers, and slimmed down their staff. Drawn animation was still mostly done on the outside, and line tested only when traced onto the computers by hand. The computers helped a great deal as far as the quality of the image and the timing of the animation, although the actual quality of the drawing and lack of in-betweens couldn’t be improved without further members of staff.

“In the mid-’90s, Bevanfield undertook several adaptations of children’s books such as The Owl and the Pussycat and Handa’s Surprise for the BBC. These were very successful, because the animation was simple and so a lot of care could be taken replicating the water colour illustrations. They also made a wonderful infomercial about fire safety for the COI called Moonlighters about two aliens who find a human lighter and burn down their Moon city. We had a terrific animator called Peter Dodd, who put everything into his work, and as a result the finished product was excellent.

“As mentioned earlier, good employers were hard to find. Bevanfield had a good relationship with the BBC for quite a while, and two series were done while I was there. The big problem seemed to be that the lack of money spent on the series meant a huge amount of animation re-use. This was especially jarring when different animators’ work was inter-cut, and often the very good work in an episode was overshadowed by it.

“There were always plenty of bad employers - people who appeared when work was in short supply. They had never been involved in animation before and rarely paid on time. Towards the end, Bevanfield were forced to sell off the rights to previous animation to make good on the gap caused when payment was not made. These were the kinds of people who wanted to make cheap Disney knock-offs to coincide with their film releases, and ultimately they were the death of the company. “

Where/how did these films ever get released or shown? Did anybody ever watch them?
“None of the animation was intended for theatrical release, and I don’t know if anyone really thought of the feature length productions as anything other than a means to make a quick buck. I’ve seen them in pound shops and being given away free with the Daily Mail.

“Tim Forder directed two live action features, both of which had limited cinematic releases. The Mystery of Edwin Drood actually got a Royal Premiere, with Princess Anne turning up.”

What was The Magic Seven and why has it never been completed?
The Magic Seven was an animated project, book-ended with live action, and had big ambitions to be a real force for change in the world. Many top name actors of the early ‘90s affiliated themselves with it.

“The focus of the story was the damage that humans are doing to the planet, and followed the story of Sean, an environmentally unconcerned teenager who gets sucked into a fantasy world. Here he met the Dreaded Deadlies, the personifications of six bad forms of behaviour: littering, wasting electricity, carbon pollution, not recycling, death through disease and weaponry.

“The voice cast was wonderful, but sadly the live action which had been completed years earlier was not well shot, and the script left a lot to be desired. Amazingly, actors such as Michael J Fox and Demi Moore were made to sport ridiculous accents so it was impossible to recognise them.

“We were still determined to do our best with the project, but shortage of staff and ultimately lack of payment caused the project, and our company to bite the dust.”

What is your own background in animation?
“I studied animation at Newport Film School, then spent the best part of a year at Dave Edwards Studio in Cardiff before moving to London. I boarded much of Crapston Villas for Spitting Image and one of Loose Moose’s award winning Pepsi commercials. In addition I’ve worked a lot doing concept drawings for quiz shows. Mostly I’ve been working as a storyboard artist, with occasional design jobs.”

What was Tiny Planets like to work on? [Tiny Planets was TF Simpson's favourite show when he was a baby - MJS]
“I worked on it through a recruitment agency, which took a huge chunk of my pay-cheque, so financially it was a bit of a disaster for me! Each board was supposed to take a week to do, although not one of the boarders I spoke with said they managed to get it done during that time. There were many brilliant people working there, in the pre-production department I worked in, and the animation side of things. Some went on to work for Pixar and ILM.

“In talks with some colleagues, I was told that Bing’s mouthless look was a little controversial. He originally had a mouth, but it was decided that he looked better without, although it caused many problems as far as storytelling. An extra character, Halley was added two thirds through the series to make the whole thing more understandable.

“The management side of it reminded me of Bevanfield at times. There was a sense of quite a lot of time and money being used for baffling reasons, and the marketing never really took off. After Tiny Planets, the company essentially stopped working and never crewed up fully again.”

What are you working on now/recently?
“In the last five years, I worked as the in-house storyboarder of Tiny Planets and as storyboard supervisor on the BBC show Gordon the Garden Gnome. I was also one of the layout artists on Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! and The Secret Show. From August to November last year, I designed illustrations and storyboards for an animated presentation by the chef Heston Blumenthal.”

interview originally posted 4th February 2007

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