Computer Arts - - Contents -

Be­hind the scenes of Trunk’s video for Shirley Collins

How Trunk cre­ated hand­crafted pup­pets and a card­board for­est for folk singer Shirley Collins’ lat­est mu­sic video

THE BRIEF Layla Atkin­son

When Domino Records ap­proached us to make a video for Pretty Polly, a track on Shirley Collins’ first new al­bum in 38 years, one key stip­u­la­tion in the brief de­fined not just the look of the video, but the spirit and di­rec­tion of the en­tire project. Shirley re­quested that the video in­cor­po­rate a spe­cial kind of pup­pet called a jig doll. These are wooden dolls that are con­trolled with long sticks and jig about on a vi­brat­ing board. They’ve been pop­u­lar with street en­ter­tain­ers for hun­dreds of years. The dolls suit the song per­fectly be­cause it’s a bal­lad set in Amer­ica around the time of the Rev­o­lu­tion.


My ini­tial thoughts were to shoot the pup­pets in front of a green screen, then add in the back­grounds us­ing Af­ter Ef­fects. But the prospect of sit­ting in a hot room, star­ing at a screen, try­ing to key out pup­pets and then cre­ate ‘hand­made’ art­work in Pho­to­shop wasn’t en­tic­ing. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to the song a few more times I ditched the idea and, in­spired by the tim­bre of Shirley’s voice and the stripped-back mu­sic, de­cided to cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent.

I wanted to use rough card­board and sim­ple draw­ings in­spired by Amer­i­can folk art, com­bined with beau­ti­ful light­ing, to form the video’s aes­thetic hand­writ­ing. I then de­cided to make my life harder still by keep­ing the cam­era locked off at all times, and shoot­ing scenes in real time with no ed­its or cut­aways, so the fi­nal piece would feel more like watch­ing a play than a film.

Shirley Collins and Bart McDon­agh at Domino Records loved the idea. I talked to pho­tog­ra­pher Peter Ell­more, and we de­cided to shoot on film – this too felt within the spirit of the project, and it gives a softer, more for­giv­ing drop-off in the depth of field.

The price of film also meant each scene could be shot only six times, with no chance of see­ing rushes be­fore we dis­man­tled one

set and built the next. I made an an­i­matic that laid out Polly’s story – she’s a young wo­man who falls in love with a US soldier – and worked with stop­mo­tion ex­pert John Harmer, il­lus­tra­tor Jock Mooney and pup­peteer Garry Rut­ter. We gath­ered a small army of peo­ple to build and paint the sets, el­e­ments and pup­pets.


Nearly ev­ery­thing was made from card­board. Each set as the story pro­gresses is made up of four planes form­ing the fore, mid­dle and back­grounds. These were made from huge sheets of card­board that were cut to the right shapes, and then the scenery was painted onto them. The pup­pets them­selves were hand­made from wood and painted by Jock.

Most of the set el­e­ments were de­signed so that they could be moved off-cam­era by our crew to gen­er­ate mo­tion and a sense of ac­tion in the scene, while the pup­pet char­ac­ters were the fo­cal point – danc­ing, run­ning, riding horses and so on. By shift­ing the four planes from right to left, each at a sep­a­rate speed, we cre­ated a charm­ing par­al­lax ef­fect, but it was tricky to achieve.

Even­tu­ally, we used the tempo of the mu­sic to keep time and chore­ographed the slid­ing scenery. Richard Bar­nett, the MD at Trunk an­i­ma­tion han­dled the tim­ing of the move­ment of the set el­e­ments, lit­er­ally call­ing the count dur­ing film­ing in real time. Dur­ing a shot, the back­ground plane might have to travel 4m at

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