The idea to animate Leunig’s famous characters came from long-time Leunig fans Actor Bryan Brown and LA based feature film director, Roger Donaldson, who thought that Leunig’s lifetime of work should be brought to the screen. Together with Andrew Horne and Deborah Szapiro of Freerange Animation and the talent of documentary filmmakers Katey and David Grusovin, they set about to explore the world of Leunig.
Everyone seems to have a Leunig favourite character, whether it’s Leunig’s small, wide-eyed creature with a huge nose; a naked angel, wingless, ageless and genderless; an innocent messenger-fool; Mr Curly with a large perky curl rising frond-like from his head, or Vasco Pyjama, the brave searcher who left all that was understood and safe to circumnavigate his own world. “I have developed a deep affection for my abiding characters and symbols, they nourish me greatly…I respect their integrity and eccentric ways to an absurd degree. They appear off the end of the pen, at that wondrous point of connection and delight, and place themselves freely in my drawings. They ask for things and do what they will. They surprise, disturb and inspire me. I observe them with bemusement and respect. I let them be and eventually I hear what they are telling me” “In the silence let us listen to our heart”. “I think from the time I could open my eyes I was aware that there seemed to be something else going on amongst those around me which was not talked about … there was another truth. Its as if I want to run up to people on the street and say ‘Look, I feel this; do you feel this too?”
The delicate yet immensely powerful drawings of Michael Leunig formed the script and the philosophical and artistic guide to animating Leunig’s work. The creative team embarked on the project with the clear intention of remaining true to the simplicity, naivety and beauty of Leunig’s line. From the beginning it was quite clear that Leunig’s work should not be taken into the flat, bright world of ‘Toons’. Leunig’s work evokes particular moods and it was decided that model animation with it’s filmic approach gave the animators the ability to play with light and texture to recreate the mood of each piece. It provided the medium for the detail and richeness that Leunig’s images encompass. The team collaborated with Leunig to develop a design approach. This was then translated by the director into colour storyboards accompanied with notes for the model makers and Director of Photography according to the complexity of the shot required.
Freerange Animation’s model makers and puppet makers employed layered watercolour effects, building from light to dark, and created highly textured backgrounds, settings and props to endow the appropriate tactile and textural qualities needed in order to “play” with light and shade. In animation, whilst voice-over performance is incredibly important, the director and the animator are the physical actors. Each puppet is moved frame by frame at 25 movements per second – this equates to 1,500 movements for every minute of animation. Each sequence is acted out by the director and animator before going into a shot, the actions and emotions of each scene then conveyed to the screen through the animators handling of the puppets’ movements.
The result of this ambitious project is a series of fifty 1 minute animations made possible through the production of a one hour documentary, which looks at Leunig’s themes through the animating of his work. Leunig’s work is above all enduring, both as a means of entertainment and in its potency as social commentary. Leunig’s intellectual and artistic influence has been considerable and he is widely regarded as one of the leading creative minds in Australia today.
New Town Films is a boutique film and television production company, started by actor Bryan Brown in 1983, With the simple philosophy 'If you own it, They can't tell you that you can't be in it.'