The stop motion sequence for Bunny & the Bull is one of the happiest & most rewarding memories in my career. This was mostly down to the fantastic working atmosphere created by the animation director Maria Manton. We worked to exhaustion, but she made it such a positive experience that we were proud to give her our best. Sadly we lost Maria this past May 2020. This page is dedicated to her.
Thank you so much Maria xxx
The grande finale of feature film Bunny & the Bull featured a fantasy bullfight with a bull made entirely out of metal household items. The live action was shot in advance leaving our small team at Slinky Pictures to make the stop motion bull believably interact with actor Simon Farnaby.
It was shot in Clapham Road Studios ‘Bargain Basement’ over 2 weeks of very long days & nights. The hope was to shoot around 2 minutes of photo realistic bull animation but we knew this was too much to do in the time available & had to find ways we could reuse parts of the animation for multiple shots.
& we must have done alright, Ray Harryhausen saw the sequence & I was invited to his house for coffee to discuss the techniques we used!
Below is the live action sequence for the Bunny & the Bull’s finale bull fight as it was first shown to me. The bull is represented by a big white dot for reference of where it’s intended to be! The movie’s Director Paul King & his live action team had little to no experience with stop motion so shot this without being sure how the animation would interact with their footage. At the end of the clip you’ll see a mock-up metal bull made out of scrap bicycles which they used as a stand in for framing the camera. It had no moving parts & was very heavy – they genuinely thought we may be able to use it as the animation puppet!
The puppet was made by Gill Simpson who specialized in metal sculptures of horses. Our brief of how it should look was pretty open, but the main stipulation was that it should be made of metal items within the apartment of the main character Stephen (played by Edward Hogg). In the storyline, many of the scenes are flashbacks from the memory of Stephen, thus a lot of artistic license was used in how he reinterprets events.
Animation Director Maria Manton guided the majority of how the bull would be conceived. A few of the stipulations she made included knives for horns, glowing light bulbs for eyes, an electric cable tail, angle poised lamp foot & swinging egg whisks for testicles!
These stills are taken from the camera lens capturing our animation frames. The 1st shot shows me contemplating before we began the shoot. I knew I had an epic challenge ahead to get the amount of footage done within a very short time frame, plus the animation needed to be photo realistic. It was daunting, & there was no time to test the puppet, but I was excited by the challenge.
In the 2nd photo, I’m half way through shoot having a breather whilst I solder a broken part of the bull back in place! It was going to need a lot of TLC to patch it back together throughout the shoot!
Below is the very first test compositing of the animated bull upon the live action background video. For both the animation team & movie director Paul King it gave a chance to visualize how it would look & get a sense of whether the bull was the right scale in relation to actor Simon Farnaby.
You can see the bull has no shadow at this point. The shadow was achieved by taking the animated silhouette of the bull, turning it to lie flat across the ground & warping the shape depending on the direction of the source of light. The shadows hooves had to contact the bulls hooves when he was contacting the ground. This was a huge amount of work for our compositors Rob Ward & John Taylor who were in the room next door putting everything together as each new frame was taken! They did so many clever tweaks using After Effects to help the bull slot seamlessly into his environment. Some of the flaws in my animation they were also able to correct to save me losing precious time on set.
At the end of the day there was a huge amount of animation to do in a very limited time. Four legged animals are time consuming & the photo realistic movement required was expected to be around 2 seconds per day (moved on every frame to match the live action). We had 2 weeks to do as close to 2 minutes of footage as possible & the numbers were not in my favour! I knew that I was going into a marathon involving extremely long nights & weekends. We used many shots more (mirrored horizontally in places) so I needed to make certain parts work for more than one moment in the sequence. The shot where he circles around Simon was shot with 2 cameras, one from the side & one in a bird’s eye view above. It wasn’t easy making the bull’s animation work from two completely different angles – his positioning had to be very carefully controlled!
Another complication was that when the actor Simon Farnaby was filmed, he didn’t really know how big the Bull would be & it’s capabilities. He moved his red cloth very low to the ground, which forced me to put the Bulls head uncomfortably low. When the Bull is supposed to U-turn around Simon, guided by the red cloth, Simon rotated on the spot pretty fast. There’s no way that a sprinting bull could simply U-turn around him with it’s bulky weight & charging momentum. I had to somehow make it believable & natural looking, but no sprinting bull can turn like that!
& perhaps it was the sleep depreciation, but a funny thing happened with how the Bull looked to camera… with his head too low, he started to look like a labrador, too upright, like a horse, too low on his legs, like a rat, or seen from above like a dragon! In fact when he circles around Simon & his bum faced camera, the metal iron on his rear end caught the light – it looked like a chicken’s beak, whilst his big thighs & thin calves resembled drumstick chicken legs! I was forever trying to keep the look & feel of a powerful bull but there was a lot of learning how to best achieve this from the puppet as I went along!
I want to give a huge thank you to Ryan Goodwin-Smith from Slinky Pictures who gave the whole shoot huge moral support. He was there for me throughout as I battled exhaustion & all manner of complications along the way. It was a long 2 weeks making amazing great friends & coming together for something we all believed in.
I took the last frames around 6am on a Sunday morning & had to dash to the airport for my next job! The Bull was battered & in need of a substantial repair job. He been pushed into many extreme positions & metal parts were increasingly falling off & temporarily glued back in place. In the last days his entire shoulder became separated as we limped together to the finish line. Broken & battered, Maria loving wrapped him up ready for restoration & I believe he eventually became a cherished Prize Bull atop her mantelpiece!
Director: Paul King
Animation Production Company: Slinky Pictures
Animation Director: Maria Manton
Stop motion Animator & Bullfighter: Tim Allen
Animation Director of Photography: Matt Day
After Effects: Rob Ward & John Taylor
Production Assistant: Ryan Goodwin Smith
Puppet Makers: Artem – Gill Simpson & Bob Thorne