We’ve heard from Barry Leith about all the pre-production that went into The Wombles and now it’s time to find out just how he animated the little fellows. Following on from Ivor Wood’s animation of the first series, he handed the reins over to Barry for the last few and the second series.
Now days the animation industry is so used to recording the voiceover before animating but Ivor was not of this school of thought and chose to take a very different approach to production. “All the sound was put on after the event. Usually you have the soundtrack first, but there was no lip-sync involved in The Wombles. We’d have the script, Uncle Bulgaria saying ‘Hello Wombles, wheres my copy of the Times’ and I’d have those lines written down and a stopwatch. You’d know the voices, so that’d be 20 frames for ‘Hello’ then 3 seconds for the next bit.. We’d animate by pre-judging roughly how long it took, knowing the nature of the delivery of the voices, and then Bernard Cribbins would fill it in afterwards.” The nature of Bernard’s add lib narration was a real favourite of both Barry and Ivor and as strange as this process may seem today it was so routine to them both. Especially for Ivor who’s previous productions had relied so heavily on the make do and mend, highly collaborative process.
With no dialogue and no dope sheets to animate to just how did things ever get so polished and how did they plan the scenes? “We didn’t have time to mark [dope sheets], it wasn’t don’t look at the quality, but you were against the lock all the time. We used to rely more on matchstick man type storyboards. Close up, long shots, zoom shots whatever and you’d have the basic script dialogue underneath. The type was on double space so it’s on those gaps that you’d do your timings and pace it out. So we used to work mainly off storyboards, not so much for framing but for the dialogue. Once you start filming you think a close up isn’t right, we need a medium shot or pan across to the other character. So you still had bits of freedom there to do that with. It was never that tight.”
This animation process worked like a charm but that wasn’t to say that there weren’t a few slip ups along the way. “There was one one lovely scene that Tomsk was in, with about three other Wombles sort of doing their thing. Tomsk was standing there from the scene some time ago and I’m animating away and I go ‘Oh **** Tomsk isn’t supposed to be here! I need him in the next scene, in a totally different part of the burrow!’ .What can I do? I’m about 5 seconds in to animating this scene and I’ve got another 10 seconds to go… and its a long scene. Im not starting again, so from somewhere he got a comb out and combed his hair and as he’s combing he starts side stepping off screen. Stepping off and out the side of the frame. I think it’s in the first series I really can’t remember. When Woodsy was looking at the rushes he was like ‘Whats he doing?’ ‘I forgot Ivor so I was getting him off the screen so he could re-appear at the right time.'[Oops].
“So you just develop ways and means of doing things. Certainly when you’re doing that sort of programming, a 5 minute episode would take 9 days to animate, that was it. Sometimes you’d only have 2-3 puppets in it but occasionally you’d had all 7 of the buggers. If you’d got 6-7 of them in the same scene you’re thinking what do I do with them all!” Well lucky for us all Barry and Ivor found a way to make them all move in the charming and characteristic way that we all love, however trying the little ‘buggers’ were.
Sadly that wraps up Barry Leith’s trip down memory lane divulging stories from the making of The Wombles. If you missed any of the the 3-parter then follow the links below. Barry had lots more stories to tell about The Wombles and his time animating Paddington so stay tuned for more.
Scripting The Wombles – https://ivorwood.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/scripting-the-wombles-by-animator-barry-leith/
[All quotes are from Barry Leith]