Technical side of Paddington

After the success of Michael Bond and Ivor Wood’s first venture ‘The Herbs’, it was only a matter of time before another spark was ignited. After The Herbs Ivor moved to London with FilmFair and created the most successful British animation to that date, The Wombles. As the first series drew to a close he handed animation duties over to animator Barry Leith, focusing his attention on a new project, animating Paddington Bear.

Ivor was not one to rest on his laurels and was always seeking a new challenge, wanting to continually push boundaries. After approaching Michael Bond with his concept for Paddington they decided to go full steam ahead with Michael expressing his pleasure in a letter to the Head of Children’s programmes at the BBC, Monica Simms that Ivor had “come up with a very exciting and visually effective way of presenting the Paddington stories”

Lighting Paddington. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

Lighting Paddington. Image sourced from Animator Mag, Winter 1982

The technique as many will be aware was revolutionary within children’s programmes and commercial animation as a whole. Having 2D paper cut outs for 90% of the show with only Paddington and his personal objects being created as 3D models, the production method was ambitious and risky, having never been attempted within such tight production schedules and budgets. In many ways it was economical in that the sets could be quickly created and changed but aesthetics such as the lighting and the marrying of 2D and 3D was to be a tough technical challenge for all involved. We can see it in the image above how there were lots of bright white card layers to light correctly. Having this abundance of reflective 2D layers made it a great challenge to create the right depth and shadows. Once more Ivor knew it was going to be difficult but as always was looking at the end result, knowing that it would be entirely worth it in the end. Animator on the second series and specials, Barry Leith goes on to explain the image in an article for Animator Mag, winter 1982, “I wouldn’t say I was the best lighting cameraman in the world. I use things such as cut out shapes in front of a lamp to make the lighting look more interesting. It looks like the sun coming through trees rather than being splashed with light“.

Paddington and the Brown family. Image sourced from www.paddington.com

Paddington and the Brown family. Image sourced from http://www.paddington.com

This technical and artistic challenge wasn’t to show off the talents of Ivor and the team at FilmFair but was an ingenious aesthetic choice to express Paddingtons character. From the moment we meet him he is an outsider, sent from Peru by his Aunt Lucy and in need of being looked after. To all those around him he is different. It is therefore a clever decision by Ivor to make Paddington the only 3D character within the show. This, from the get go, reveals him as a singularity, an oddity, helping us all to sympathise with his endless misunderstandings and calamities. And obviously he’s a teddy bear at heart so it’s great to have him looking cuddly.

Paddington must have felt like a risk for all involved from Graham Clutterbuck at FilmFair, Monica Simms at the BBC and Michael Bond himself after a run of failings bringing Paddington to the screen.The unwavering and ambitious Ivor Wood was not deterred and along with his infectious optimism and backing of all those around him he created a programme that not only surpassed all other screen incarnations of Paddington but perhaps created one of the most definitive characterisations of the famed bear from Peru.

Quotes taken from the following sources:
Letter from Michael Bond to Monica Simms, 31st January 1974. BBC Written Archives
Barry Leith interview by David Jefferson for Animator Mag, Winter 1982
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