Swept Away

The team be­hind the two Gruf­falo spe­cials de­liv­ers another fam­ily gem, the charm­ing CG-an­i­mated spe­cial Room on the Broom. by Ramin Za­hed

Animation Magazine - - Content -

The team be­hind the two Gruf­falo spe­cials de­liv­ers another fam­ily gem, the charm­ing CG-an­i­mated spe­cial Room on the Broom. by Ramin Za­hed

Tlead is not the typ­i­cal cute lit­tle girl or beau­ti­ful princess,

but a trav­el­ling mid­dle- aged witch, who ex­plores the

world and helps oth­ers. That’s the kind of char­ac­ter I want

hey say it’s silly to ar­gue with suc­cess. Af­ter pro­duc­ing two fan­tas­tic CGan­i­mated chil­dren’s spe­cial based on chil­dren’s books, Michael Rose and Martin Pope are re­peat­ing their recipe for ex­cel­lence. The duo, who gave us the award-win­ning TV spe­cials The Gruf­falo and The Gruf­falo’s Child, both of which were show­ered with awards and praise from crit­ics, are be­hind this year’s beau­ti­ful adap­ta­tion of Ju­lia Don­ald­son and Axel Sch­ef­fler’s pop­u­lar book Room on the Broom.

Pro­duced by the ta­lented team at Ger­many’s Stu­dio Soi, the spe­cial first pre­miered on BBC One as part of its Christ­mas pro­gram­ming last year and also aired on Sprout in the U.S. in Oc­to­ber (en­cor­ing on Nov. 29 and Dec. 7). Now the short, which is also out on DVD, is get­ting a the­atri­cal run in the U.S. to qual­ify it for an An­i­mated Short Os­car con­sid­er­a­tion.

Di­rected by Max Lang, who also led 2009’s Os­car-nom­i­nated The Gruf­falo, and Jan Lachauer, the short tells the story of a kind witch (voiced by Gil­lian An­der­son) who in­vites a ridicu­lous num­ber of an­i­mals to join her on her broom, and is even­tu­ally re­warded for her good deeds. The largely Bri­tish cast also in­cludes Rob Bry­don as the put-upon Witch’s Cat, Martin Clunes as the Dog, Sally Hawkins as the Bird, David Wal­liams as the Frog, Ti­mothy Spall as the Dragon and Si­mon Pegg as the nar­ra­tor.

Rose and Pope, who also col­lab­o­rated on Os­car-nom­i­nated fea­ture Chico & Rita, de­cided to bring the project to an­i­ma­tion around the be­gin­ning of 2011. Rose says he loved the world cre­ated by Ju­lia Don­ald­son and Axel Sch­ef­fler and had a feel­ing this fol­low-up to The Gruf­falo would also work well as a one-off spe­cial.

“I love the story and the char­ac­ters, and I be­lieve this story is a com­plete jour­ney, as op­posed to The Gruf­falo, which was a bit more ab­stract,” says Rose dur­ing a brief in­ter­view at last month’s con­tent mar­ket MIPCOM. “The witch in the story is a very pos­i­tive char­ac­ter. There’s al­ways room for one more on her broom: She wants to help out, and fi­nally, in her hour of need, ev­ery­one comes to save her. The un­der­ly­ing mes­sage is that what you give is what you get. Of course, the au­thor, Ju­lia, would hate me for say­ing this, be­cause she is ir­rev­er­ent and says that she doesn’t do mes­sages! But that’s the truth.”

Rose praises the visu­ally stun­ning work of di­rec­tor Max Lang and re­cent Ger­man Fil­makademie Baden-Wurt­tem­berg grad Jan Lachauer, who worked a crew of about 40 at Stu­dio Soi to flesh out the story based on a 32-page pic­ture book. “The book was the real foun­da­tion for the project, and we didn’t add any ad­di­tional dia­log, but Max was able to add a lot of back­story to the char­ac­ters and re­ally de­velop the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cat and the witch,” ex­plains Rose. The TV spe­cial fol­lows the nar­ra­tive of the book

“As a di­rec­tor and a fa­ther, I’m most proud that our fe­male

very closely. That’s why in or­der to ex­pand the con­tent, the cre­ative team fo­cused com­pletely on the char­ac­ters—how each one’s per­son­al­ity influences the group dy­namic on the broom, how they re­act to each other and how they grow to­gether as a fam­ily. Also play­ing a cru­cial role is the mu­sic, which was com­posed by another Gruf­falo vet­eran, René Aubry, in Paris.

Once again, the an­i­ma­tors used minia­ture sets to cre­ate a 3D feel and pro­vide a rich, tac­tile qual­ity to the back­drops. “This time, how­ever, the minia­ture sets were built in a much smaller scale, since we had to cre­ate a wide range of vast land­scapes and not just parts of one for­est,” ex­plains Lang through an e-mail ex­change. “Be­cause of the smaller scale of the sets, the depth of field was very shal­low, and we of­ten had to take over 10 pic­tures to cre­ate a sim­ple back­ground im­age. The in­di­vid­ual pic­tures each had a dif­fer­ent fo­cus, and were then dig­i­tally stacked to cre­ate the look of the film.”

A team of up to 40 peo­ple worked on the short’s an­i­ma­tion: The mod­el­ing and an­i­ma­tion were done in Au­todesk Maya, while de­tails and tex­tures were added in Mud­box. The ren­der­ing was mostly done in Sof­tim­age the team

— Max Lang, di­rec­tor, Room on the Broom

my daugh­ter to grow up with!”

used Com­bus­tion for com­posit­ing.

Over­all, the an­i­ma­tion tasks proved to be a lot more chal­leng­ing than the pre­vi­ous an­i­mated spe­cials. “An­i­ma­tion-wise we have a lot more char­ac­ters on screen at the same time, and they were not only in­ter­act­ing with each other con­stantly, but also fly­ing on a wob­bly broom­stick that af­fects all of their move­ments and vice versa,” notes Lang. “Re­gard­ing the sets, most of The Gruf­falo takes place in the woods, which means that the back­grounds are fairly cov­ered with bushes or tree trunks. In Room on the Broom we were con­fronted with open space, which was a whole new chal­lenge for the set-builders and matte-pain­ters. And then there are count­less vis­ual ef­fects, to cre­ate the weather and the mag­i­cal el­e­ments. It wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble to sim­u­late all of those so lots of the ef­fects are ac­tu­ally hand drawn.”

Both Rose and Lang are very pleased with the per­for­mance of their charm­ing Hal­loween tale all over the world. They are quick to give credit to their ex­cel­lent team that ex­ceeded their ex­pec­ta­tions. Lang says he’s es­pe­cially proud of Room on the Broom’s un­usual star: “As a di­rec­tor and a fa­ther, I’m most proud that our fe­male lead is not the typ­i­cal cute lit­tle girl or beau­ti­ful princess, but a trav­el­ling mid­dle-aged witch, who ex­plores the world and helps oth­ers. That’s the kind of char­ac­ter I want my daugh­ter to grow up with!” Let’s hope au­di­ences will fall un­der the spell of this un­usual tale for many Hal­loweens to come.

Room on the Broom is cur­rently avail­able on DVD (NCir­cle, $9.99) and will en­core on Sprout in the U.S. on Nov. 29 and Dec 7. Room on the Broom apps ($4.99) are also avail­able through the App Store, Google and Ama­zon.

Max Lang Michael Rose

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