Since 2003, Tom Doggart has worked as an Assistant Editor on various feature-length animation projects from Aardman Animations; The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Flushed Away (2006) and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012). With more than a decade of experience, he was asked to join the editorial team once again for ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’, a hilarious stop-motion animated film, based on the Shaun the Sheep television series.
“Initially the whole film had to be put together as storyboards so pre-production started approximately a year before anything was actually shot. This meant that the story team had almost complete free reign over the way the story developed. During the course of Shaun the Sheep Movie, there were in excess of 250,000 individual storyboards drawn.
Almost all of the feature films I’ve worked on started shooting before the end of the film was totally developed. There’s normally a rough idea of how the film ends but the intricacies are only finalized once the rest of the film is almost completely shot. It tends to get a bit intense as the deadline looms for the end of the shoot.
At the peak of production there were up to 20 animators aiming to shoot 2 seconds of animation per day which worked out at 200 seconds per week. As many of the crew had previously worked on the Shaun the Sheep television series, the shoot rate was much faster than that of previous Aardman stop-motion features. On top of this there were camera move and lighting tests to be viewed by the crew, sequences being cut as storyboards, transfer of media to and from the studio floor, delivery to VFX and output for sound production.”
“There’s great satisfaction in manipulating image and sound to generate a mood for the viewer, be it drama, action or comedy. You can become deeply involved in, and direct, the journey of the audience.”
The enormous size of an animated feature film project like Shaun the Sheep Movie, posed a real challenge for Tom and his team. “I am a happy man when I know that all departments have all the material required from editorial to keep the production moving at pace. Over a two to three year production, the Avid project can become pretty weighty; the project size of the Shaun Movie was over 20GB. So it’s important to think ahead and design efficient ways of finding something that may have been created 2 years prior. Avid’s introduction of bin and clip search functions has really helped in that process.
Most of the workstations on Shaun the Sheep were Windows-based, although we also had some older Power Macs available. There are equally good and bad aspects of both systems and it’s really useful to have a mix of platforms. Due to the long shoot time of animated features, we tend not to do any big updates during production to avoid any maintenance down-time. On the Shaun the Sheep Movie we were mostly on version 6.5 despite there being some great features introduced in 7 and 8 that would have been hugely beneficial.”
“The offline edit in feature film production is becoming less relevant, as software and increasing processing power is enabling editorial to be in control of their own DI, VFX and grading, right up to DCP creation.”
“The absolute first thing I map to my keyboard is Zoom Out and In of the timeline to the up and down cursors. The introduction of Select All Right, Left and In to Out was one of the most useful additions to Media Composer, especially for animation editing. Also, with so many storyboards that need to be assembled quickly, being able to select In and Out points in Script Bin View, and then alt-dragging the clips to the timeline to create a sequence, is a massive time saver.
We often use the offline files for theatre previews so we generally use the effects palette to tidy up the shots for the big screen. Most frequently used are: Animatte for simple puppet rig removal, Spectramatte which does a great job for us applying basic keying, and Paint Effect is useful when we need to quickly alter any storyboards.
All of our initial soundtrack has to be made from scratch. Temp effects and score are essential in bringing the static storyboards to life. We have a vast sound effects and score library which helps us really get the right tone for a scene, and also to find the perfect fart sound…”
“Comedy timing is a huge part of our animation. Cutting a scene that makes me laugh as I’m putting it together is one of the best parts of the job.”
Tom points out that after having worked on a film for up to three years and witnessing how every detail has been meticulously discussed, it’s hard to find elements that he would like to change. “Also, I can no longer watch an animated feature film without imagining how the story arc would have developed and the vast amount of story meetings that would have happened to get the film made.”
“Cinema has really taken a leap in the past decade with the reinvention of 3D and the introduction of higher definitions and greater frame rates, so for an Assistant Editor it’s important to understand how this and future technologies will affect the stop-motion animation production. My advice for aspiring assistants is to really understand and keep abreast of the latest software and video technology to get their foot in the door. Also a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail can really help.”