When a young animator made a live-action short film about a boy who resurrects his dead dog, his association with Disney came to an end as the dark tale was deemed too scary for children; years later the legendary animation studio rekindled a creative partnership with Tim Burton (Big Fish) which has resulted in a reimagining of Frankenweenie (2012) as a black and white stop-motion animated feature length film in 3D. “It’s quite remarkable how true the animated feature is to the original,” observes Matt Bristowe, the Joint Managing Director of Stereo Conversion for Prime Focus World. “There are key scenes, such as where Sparky gets run over, that play just as they do in the short; it’s nice to see that continuity.” Richard Baker, the Creative Director of Stereo Conversion for Prime Focus World, agrees with his colleague. “Yes, the original live-action film was a reference, and it’s amazing how close to the original some of the shots in the new film are. Also, you can see how the detail and the set design have carried through from the original to the stop-motion version. This story is obviously close to Tim’s heart, and Frankenweenie was a labour of love for him.”
“The biggest challenge, from a production point of view, was probably transitioning our artists seamlessly from Wrath straight into Frankenweenie,” states Matt Bristowe. “These shows are so different in terms of creative content, and the approach to the films was also different. I had to help the artists make this leap without falling behind and hindering the progress of the new show. We overcame the challenge by starting the show early in London during a prep-phase, then taking key supervisors and artists out to India as the Indian artists segued off other projects and onto the new show. We also had the Indian supervisor, Jimmy Phillips, come out to London and spend two months with Richard Baker at the start of the project, to ensure that he had a full understanding of what Richard wanted creatively from the start; he was able to take that back to the Mumbai teams. It’s about first hand communication.” Richard Baker says, “Every scene in every show has its own challenges, but there is no single aspect of Frankenweenie that I would single out. It was an absolute pleasure to work on this movie. The creative control I was given, and the trust placed in me and the PFW team by Tim and Disney, made this process extremely rewarding and creatively fulfilling.” Bristowe remarks, “I’m proud of the whole show. I guess from a production point of view, I’m proud that we delivered such a huge number of shots on time and to the satisfaction of Tim and his team.”
When questioned as to how he sees 3D evolving and whether the technology will become as accepted as colour and sound, Richard Baker answers, “In terms of the filmmakers themselves, I believe 3D is already becoming widely accepted and embraced as a creative tool to be used sympathetically with the sound and the grade; this will only continue. As with visual effects which have developed to the point that they are an integral part of the filmmaking process for many films, 3D is best employed early in the process; when engaged at an early stage as on Frankenweenie, we can collaborate with the director and the filmmaking team to design the shots and ensure that the 3D is in-line with their vision for the film. In terms of the future, the quality of the 3D will keep improving – whether natively captured or converted.” For Matt Bristowe, the technology requires artistic forethought. “The key to me is not to let 3D become a process. You shouldn’t think you can press a button to produce good 3D. It is a creative tool, and there are more and more filmmakers using it as a creative tool. Perhaps this hasn’t come across to the public yet, who see another film in 3D, but there are a gamut of approaches with 3D. Just as you can elicit different responses and emotions for a particular scene through the colour grading, so you can through the 3D. I think that realization of this will take time – but it will become more obvious as more good 3D movies are released.”
Production stills © Disney. All rights reserved. Images courtesy of Disney and Prime Focus World.
Many thanks to Richard Baker and Matt Bristowe for taking the time to be interviewed.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.