Filmmaker: Claude Luyet
Year made: 2007
Length: 5′ 35″
Techniques: hand drawn, cell animation, sand animation, 3D claymation, computer animation, 3D model animation, live action
1 Over the film’s title, we hear an electronic ‘swanee whistle’ sound and then see a vertical shot of an animator’s desk. A line-drawn mouse drops and lands with a bump in the middle of a white sheet of paper. The animator’s hand appears and brushes the mouse away, but it returns and stays, despite being prodded by the animator’s finger, to tiny rhythmic electronic sounds. The animator starts to draw a figure; the film speeds up and a line-drawn cat appears. Another layer of sound begins as the cat and mouse see each other.
2 Zoom to full screen as the cat raises a paw and the mouse turns to run towards the right-hand side of the screen. A conventional left-to-right chase ensues, created by a simple ‘loop’ of drawings and music, until the mouse disappears and the cat screeches to a halt: he’s approaching a closed door. The mouse disappears through a hole at the bottom of the door but the cat has to stop and turn the handle.
3 We see the cat in mid-shot from the other side of the door. The animator’s desk reappears and the animator’s hands start to trace the outlines of the shapes and colour them in blue and buff. A black sheet slipped behind the figures reveals them to be on transparent acetate. The cat looks both ways, runs off to the left and another layer of sound begins. Our point of view swings up to a vertical shot as the cat approaches a window, sees the drop to the street and follows the mouse down. Landing at street level, the mouse runs under a car and across the road, leaving the cat helplessly watching from the pavement. Seen in close-up as it runs along, the mouse dissolves into the pupil of the cat’s eye as it looks to and fro, then runs off to the right.
4 Cut to a high, oblique angle shot of a ‘still life’ scene: window, table, bottle, bowl and jar all throwing sharp black shadows. The mouse runs under the table but the cat jumps over it, smashing the objects. Back to the left-to-right chase, this time with a horizon and shadows. The horizon bends and becomes the edge of a curving yellow sunlit arcade crossed by dark blue shadows. The mouse disappears around the bend and the shadows flicker past as we follow the cat’s point of view into darkness.
5 Two eyes appear in the darkness, swivelling to and fro, up and down, and a scratchy cymbal sound is heard. The animator’s hand appears carrying a plastic tube, and clears the sand in tiny puffs to create glasses around the eyes, and then a cross cat’s face. The mouse whizzes past in the darkness, but the cat can’t see it until he smears a white streak across the screen. The mouse flashes across and the cat rubs away more sand until he can again chase the mouse from left to right along a level line that suddenly ends in mid-air. The cat faces us in consternation before dropping downwards.
6 The falling cat turns into a black smudge of sand before dissolving into a lump of black Plasticene on the animator’s table. The animator starts to mould the Plasticene; then the scene is reframed to show how it is moulded on to an armature and a blue cat figure emerges. In close-up, the cat’s head is nudged by the animator’s finger and the cat comes to life, tries out some movements and starts to look around. He walks to a computer screen, taps on the glass and peers in. He bends his knees and jumps into the screen.
7 Seen from a high angle inside the computer, the cat emerges through the screen as a digital armature. He peers around as our point of view arcs overhead past the fizzing light bulb that illuminates the ‘real’ interior of the computer. The cat peers into the audience’s ‘screen’ before turning back to the screen he came in by, and realises that the animator is still out there, tapping the keyboard. The cat’s mesh body becomes solid and then gets changed to red, green, black and finally blue while he gestures to the animator to desist. The buzzing light finally fails and the computer screen goes dark: the cat jumps on to the ‘sill’ of the screen, peers out, and catches sight of something.
8 The animator has disappeared but the computer mouse left on the table starts to jiggle, and suddenly sprouts eyes and ears. The cat reacts and meows. The mouse tries to get away, but is still attached to the computer by a cable. The cat bangs on the inside of the computer screen in frustration. With one final effort the mouse jerks the USB connection out of the computer. The computer switches off.
The film got made because the Cinematou Festival asked me to make a film demonstrating different animation techniques, while I wanted to make a proper film.
It was important to choose a simple story that referred to the innumerable cat-and-mouse chases in classical animation. We had to have a very precise storyboard that made the links between the different techniques into a believable part of the story.
It was good to have filmmakers around me who were each experts in specific techniques and were prepared to work without financial guarantees.
Things you might notice
•Classical drawn animation allows the animator endless inventive scope and is produced through a process that makes revisions and alterations much easier to achieve than in 3D claymation or sand animation. It also allows for more fluid movement than 3D model animation, but the drawings have to be extremely simple given that each figure must be re-drawn hundreds of times.
• 3D model animation can exploit the uneasiness and fascination of seeing ‘real world’ objects move as though they were alive. (see Fig. 1)
• It is harder to achieve rapid movement in sand animation (see Fig. 2) but it has a unique texture and strangeness that can be exploited for particular kinds of story and mood.
• The addition of colour in cel animation (see Fig. 3) creates heightened realism and depth of field, but is much more complex to make and renders it harder to achieve continuity.
• Computer animation provides the flexibility of hand-drawn animation and the depth of field that can be achieved with colour, but may lack the ‘texture’ of other techniques.
Themes to explore
Relevance for the study of animation: This film can hardly be bettered as an account of different animation techniques, and you might want to use it to return to from time to time as a reminder of what is available to the animator, and perhaps especially as a precursor to children’s own animation work.
Meaning: The film works on two levels: as a history and explanation of the different techniques of animation, and as a cat-chases-mouse story in which, of course, the mouse wins. So you might also want to show it straight through as an entertaining story. This wouldn’t stop you going back to it to consider the techniques as well.
Genre: The film deliberately invokes the themes of classical Hollywood animation such as Felix the Cat (Pat Sullivan/Otto Messmer for Paramount, 1923), Sylvester and Tweety Pie (Frtiz Freleng for Warner Bros, 1947) Tom & Jerry (Hanna and Barbera for MGM, 1960), – and indeed the Roadrunner series (Chuck Jones for Warner Bros, 1948) in which the protagonists are a coyote and a flightless bird but the theme is much the same: bigger animal chases smaller animal and the smaller animal always wins. These films provide some of the purest examples of genre: strictly rule-bound stories in which the characters, narratives and often the settings are always exactly the same, but the means by which the ends are achieved are wildly and ingeniously variable. As a change from demanding total originality in children’s stories, encouraging them to invent generic rules and to tell stories within strict generic boundaries is also an interesting creative challenge.