The Pirates! from Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animation Host Media Preview Day

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THE PIRATES! Band of Misfits, a Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures and Aardman Animation film, recently hosted a Media Day Sneak Peek at Culver City Studios in Culver City, California.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits, directed by Aardman's Co-Owner and Creative Director Peter Lord, tells the tale of the greatest swashbuckling crew to ever sail . . . .well, as much as Captain Pirate, voiced by Hugh Grant, would like all to believe, that, of course, is not the fable this film will tell.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits weaves a tale of a rag tag band of pirate hopefuls, a crew with deep desires to be the best Pirates to ever sail the seven seas and with that assist their beloved leader, finally, in winning the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. A distinction that has somehow eluded the less than successful, although highly adventurous,  Captain Pirate and been wrongly awarded to arch nemesis Black Bellamy voiced by Jeremy Piven and sultry Cutlass Liz voiced by Salma Hayek.

Rounding out the crew and characters,  Imelda Staunton voices the diabolical Queen Victoria, Martin Freeman voices Pirate with a Scarf, David Tennant voices a young upstart scientist Charles Darwin, Russell Tovey voices the Albino Pirate and Ashley Jensen voices the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate.

Co-directed by Jeff Newitt and Executive Produced by Carla Shelley, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is adapted from the book The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe.

In addition to the Sneak Peek, that included select clips of the March release as well as behind-the-scenes footage, set design and production stills, the Media event included roundtable interviews with Ian Whitlock, Head Animator and Director Peter Lord.

The interview session with Head Animator Ian Whitlock began an overview of his particular role and introduction to the detailing work with a unique display of facial molds necessary for animated characters to reflect realism.

During his introduction he mentioned an animator’s duties in production, as the definition of an animator, has changed in as much as it goes beyond the standard conceptual definition to include assisting with pre-production, building molds, set positioning, building and assisting with rehearsal and productions shoots.

Janet Walker:  When you said that a director would keep you on a particular sequence. Does that mean just creating [building the animated character] or does that mean, like we saw in the clips, where you were also on the set?

Ian Whitlock: On the set really with the sequences. An animator would have a sequence given to them in more the early days because that’s how it was split up into different things. Obviously think in the opening clip, in the Tavern, there’s a lot of shots to be done and obviously one animator couldn’t do all the shots. So somebody was shooting around the table with the crew and did there are all those shots in there. Someone else did the Captain stood up reacting to things when he was talking to Black Bellamy. So someone was doing Black Bellamy.

Generally, it’s to stop people bouncing around unit to unit because obviously all those areas are set up in different units throughout studios and there are four different studios as well within the building. So you wouldn’t want someone going from one studio to the next studio creating shot it’s just impossible to do. So it’s better to keep everyone together on one sequence as much as you can.

Janet Walker: And then creating all the facial expression [molds] and they props that you use on the animation. Was that also part of what you would do or was that someone on the back side?

Ian Whitlock: We had RP lip sync animators who basically would go through the dialogue before us. They would make a selection of the mouth [molds] based on whatever the break down was because there was a connective break down on all the lines, the dialogue. They’d be working on that months in advance provided they’ve got the lines that come in. When the animator gets to the shot they go in and sit down with the RP animator and check what they’ve done and they may have slightly different input from the director at the height the performance should be. It may sound like someone’s happy but they may want it kind of with a frown on the face, they may want all the mouths dropped, and then the animator would work with the RP animator to pick the final set.

The final set would come down in a box like this, (lifting up a plain cardboard box with square cardboard dividers) this would just be one character and you’d have a dope sheet [legend]telling you what frame to put one mouth[mold] and you’d replace it as you go along.

Below is an excerpt of my interview with Director Peter Lord.

Janet Walker: Was the experience of making the film different than you thought it would?

Peter Lord: Um. As it went along, as it got confidence in itself, in its style of filmmaking, it became more and more enjoyable the further it went on.  It was a very, I what I was in for, I knew I was in for climbing a bloody red mountain which it surely is. I found the new technology very freeing and liberating, and delightful. I loved the way I could just give the responsibility to someone else. I could do my bit and with some of the shots and just leave it with these brilliant professionals, confident that they would bring it in looking better than I could dream. And that’s lovely. And by the way, that applies to animated films as well. Sometimes, you’re tired and you think well, and you just say, “make it funny” and they do! That’s the lovely thing.

Janet Walker: What was your memorable moment from working on the film?

Peter Lord: Wow. Ok. I think when the ship came into the studio. When the ship came in! (laughing).  So the ship was an iconic object at the heart of the film. In its shape and character’s design it encompassed the Pirate Captains character. It wasn’t just a prop it was like a living thing. As a piece of sculpture, a piece of art, it was absolutely joy interesting.

On the day it came into the studio, I had been down to the workshop where it was being made, and looked at it in its unfinished form and it looked pretty good and marks throughout and sails are hanging up all the ropes and the rigging is everywhere. Everywhere you look it is brilliantly done! Everywhere you look, the roof made of beaten lead, there were rotten timber that was clearly 200 years old, that had been eaten by worms and barnacles, there was rust where iron bands had rusted, there were frayed ropes, there were jokey things like a life ring, pirates don’t have life rings, but there was one there. It was such an inspiring thing.  You kind of felt, rightly, just looking the audience would be happy to look at this thing doing nothing, just floating around.

Janet Walker: So how intimating was this project for you?

Peter Lord: It’s intimidating only in scale, only in scale. The people at SONY were very encouraging about the way it was going. That’s nice. That’s how it supposed to be. They saw an outline which contained lots of the spirit of the thing. They loved the outline. They saw a draft, the third for fourth draft, they loved the draft.  In due course time, they saw the story reel, they loved the story reel. So, because they were behind it I felt luck, I felt somehow, that somehow this film had its own voice, its own comic voice early on. And that gave me great confidence. Whatever it is that someone’s got, I kept steering it.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens March 2012.

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