The Little World – Is It the Props?

Are the props on the Aardman sets that things that really make the magic? Or is it the sets themselves…or the characters? I was hard pressed to decide after I studied the exhibits in the Federation Square display recently. They were largely familiar, having been featured in the animation films, but took on a whole new dimension when seen in 3-D.

One item that was new to me was the double-barrelled cannon seen in the heading image. This was from a short that never screened here – Holiday Hot Shots seems to be part of a promotion to encourage local tourism in the UK. The twin barrels, of course, are to fire Wallace and Gromit on holiday. Simple when you think of it, and I would welcome a similar scheme here in Perth to send visitors to Rottnest Island from the mainland. Leighton Beach still has space for a gun emplacement and I’m sure that I could rustle up a crew of eager amateur artillerists – we’d even bring our own powder.

The chicken coop aircraft is from ” Chicken Run “, as is the wardrobe supposedly made from a 250 pound bomb casing. The detail is astounding, even when it is very slightly off beam or a parody of itself.

I have recently seen ” A Matter Of Loaf And Death ” so I can appreciate the forklift with the oven gloves and cosy tea towel seat. To be honest, I could not swear in a court of law that it would not work as a forklift – I know their productions are stop motion animation but still…that forklift was big enough to be run on model electric motors inside and the chain drive looks authentic.

The biggest surprise about the Austin A40 that has featured in ” Loaf And Death ” and ” Curse Of The Were-Rabbit ” was the fact that they cut it apart and reused it with a new back superstructure…and with good cause. The thing is monstrously expensive – the sign near it said all told the works on it were ten grand!

I suppose that equates to model maker’s time and operational time as well as materials, but it certainly puts the average Airfix kit price into perspective. I didn’t feel at all extravagant going into Hearn’s Hobbies and coming out with an armload of plastic kits after that. Not that a grown man of my dignity would spend hours gluing and painting plastic kits, of course…

I wonder what museums pay for architectural and vehicle models these days?

 

 

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The Little World – The Big Bench

Some workbenches are sad places – people sit at them and slave away hour after hour, but never enjoy themselves. It’s the same with desks.  Steaming piles of paper in the in-tray and the telephone ringing constantly…Sometimes it is a distinct relief to slump sideways with a sudden attack…

Not for  the Aardman workers – they may have row after row of eyeballs to make, but there is always the delight of eventually having something real look back at you from the top of the table.

Look at what the workshop has been making for Shaun the Sheep. Note that the ears seem to be plugged in on brass tubing – a sensible design, when you consider what a nuisance it is to clean our own lugs. No more poking Q-tips down the hole and twirling them around – just pop the ear off the head, wash it under a tap, and pop it back on. Vincent Van Gogh was onto something after all.

Aside from the mechanic’s red tool box, plastic fishing box, and the state-of-the-art remnant trays from the English equivalent of Red Dot, I am particularly impressed with the turntable on which the  heads rest. It is sturdy, flexible, and high enough to bring the object being modelled up to the point where you can see it clearly. That, and a good strong Planet lamp is all you need to get started. I have no idea what the two white containers at the right side of the table are – perhaps they hold secret modeller’s formulae…

Note on the hand photo that the rubber moulds are made to be self-registering so that they fit back together without needing a precision box surrounding them. I take it that the square channel in the wrist area is a place where a piece of brass tubing can be laid before the clay or putty is compressed around it. I have no idea what the actual material that forms the flexible hands is made of, but logic tells me that it cannot be too soft or the surface would be a constant nightmare – at the same time it needs to bend and stay bent for the animation movements to take place.

And then it is on to the wardrobe room…and the set…and the magic begins.

Little World modellers who have fixed abodes or workplaces are very lucky indeed – if they have dedicated spaces where works can progress without having to be picked up and put away in time for tea, it is likely to foster a calm sense of achievement and artistry. If they are compelled to work in a drafty shed, or in the corner of the dining room upon sufferance the hobby will be a contest at best and a chore at worst. The milieu is as important as it would be for any artist – painter, sculptor, or chef.

But there is a special tip ‘o the hat to those modellers who are on the road. I remember reading a MODEL RAILROADER magazine in the 80’s with an article about an English pop singer who travelled the US with his band, but carried his workshop and current model project with him to the hotel rooms he stayed in and passed the odd time between shows making HO scale buildings. Very good ones, as it turned out – the article showed that he was a master builder. Sort of knocks the sex and drugs image for a burton, doesn’t it?

 

The Little World – Just Popping Down To The ( Aardman ) Shops…

It’s hard to convey the sense of wonder that a Little World enthusiast gets when they first see a master model. The museum-quality ships at Greenwich, the scratchbuilt aircraft at Duxford, the railway models in the Science Museum or York…they all have an authority and an educational value that can go far beyond even the full-size original objects on display. The great thing about these artifacts is that, unlike the famous works of art in galleries, the popular knowledge of them is limited – you do not have to breast rooms full of tourists to see the tiny little painting – you don’t have to queue for hours to file past some renaissance daub because it is the ‘ famed ‘ daub.

And yet…there can be the same artistry exhibited by modern model makers, and the impact of it can be far greater for the familiarity of it. The fact that it is in 3 dimensions just adds to the charm. Witness the corner greengrocer’s shop set from ” The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit ”

The set is about a metre and a half long on each side – roughly 1/6 to 1/8 size. Correct internal lighting – the Fujifilm X-T10 was set on the 3200 ISO and the white balance was left on auto to sort itself out. What you see is what you saw in the film, albeit in motion and for a brief periods of time. The detail that you can see bears witness to the integrity and sense of dedication for the modellers. It was impossible to look at any corner of the set – even the doorstep with the milk bottle in front of the hairdresser’s shop – without getting the feeling that you were looking at a full-size scene.

The two display cases – tools and kitchen items – are actually mouth-watering to a miniatures worker. But they, and the detail pictures, can induce a terrible feeling of inadequacy in we amateurs – particularly if we are working in smaller scales with bigger fingers – fingers that are frequently covered in glue and/or stuck to the parts that we are actually working on.

Still…If the Aardman people would like a tasty little earner, they might consider compiling  How-To-Do-It videos and discs or making a book about their techniques. I would be first in line at the bookstore for them.

The Little World – Aardman

N0te: last week was grim here on HAW. This week is not  – this week is fun.

This post and several others will be springboarding on the back of real artists – the Aardman animation studios. I’ve been to see an exhibition devoted to their work and methods and I cannot praise them too much.

The exhibition was going on in the ACMI section of the Federation Square Gallery  connected to the NGV in Melbourne. It may venture to your country or your city, and if it does, it is well worth the price of a ticket. I spent a good two hours going back and forth seeing the exhibits.

Aardman are the authors of the Wallace And Gromit series of clay animations as well a numerous advertisements in Great Britain and the Creature Comfort series. As well, they have done Chicken Run, The Pirates, and Shaun The Sheep. All well worth seeing again and again.

The amazing part of this is the scale of the planning, artistry, and props needed to do this sort of animation. It is not tabletop stuff by any means, unless you consider the sets as individual scenes. The scale of most of the models seems to be about 1:6 to 1:4 and the artistic vision and attention to detail is staggering. I don’t think there is a true Little Worlder who would not be delighted to kick over the traces and build Aardman sets for a living.

Bless them, in addition to getting a look at their artistry, the exhibition had a working animation table and lighting setup that showed me clearly how to solve one of my lighting dilemmas in the Little Studio! I could not have been more pleased.

But here is a taster for the week. All Aardman, all the time.

Le Coup – Quatrième Colonne

The social cut is so long-standing as to have gathered a set of rules governing its use. They are as useful today as they were in the 18th and 19th century – people may have cars, computers, and cash these days but they are basically the same inside as they always were. If you doubt this get an old copy of Gray’s Anatomy and a scalpel, but don’t blame me if the police intervene.

a. Le coup absolu is a direct confrontation between two people where one does not acknowledge the other in any way. It can be devastatingly insulting and if seen by others, socially demeaning.

b. This form of cut must be deliberate and obvious to the victim.

c. Gentlemen must never cut a lady.

d. Unmarried ladies are not to cut married ladies.

e. The social cut cannot be employed within military or naval circles. While this is not a rule adhered to entirely, the good of the service requires that all instances of it are either suppressed or addressed.

f. Hosts cannot cut their guests.

g. Cuts cannot be done indiscriminately or for light purpose. They could have serious consequences for both parties – if between equals the cut may provoke a challenge and if between disparate classes it might redound badly. Some social cuts destroy careers and marriages.

There is little enough general society these days – the class system having realigned itself around money rather than birth – and the population having grown so much as to diffuse contact and/or interest. People can get fame or notoriety, but it is rare that enough people focus upon them long enough to grant them real respectability. To get this, one must go into the smaller divisions of organisation – the social club, the hobby group, the sporting association. You might even need to go down as close as the family before you find respect or notice.

Thus the loss of social status that someone who was snubbed might have felt in 1850 does not generally exist now. It might still be operating for someone who has been suspected of a major crime but has escaped conviction – they may find themselves refused entry to the social scene they once frequented. People might avoid them in public. They might find that their careers are blighted. The curse of widespread modern communication and the free interchange of information might also mean that they cannot find rest or respect elsewhere. Mind you, Cain had his problems too…

But snubbing, cutting, and general exercise of hubris may backfire. The story of Beau Brummel’s snubbing by the Prince Regent is well documented in Wikipedia. It notes the reasons why it was done and his rather foolish reaction – judge for yourself when you read it. The Prince Regent was seen as abusing his power and Brummel had enough social steam to ride it out. Of course Brummel’s own lifestyle could never be sustained and he was lost to France and debt…but take it as a lesson to be careful who you cut and why. If you do it unnecessarily you do it wrong.

 

 

 

I Have A First Class Sign

I bought it at York Railway Museum in 1995 – really I did. I did not prise it from a British Rail carriage with a pen knife. Not because of my well-known sense of honesty and scruples – because all the signs were already removed long before I boarded the trains. I had to content myself with cutting out squares of the upholstery.

Rail travel is generally wonderful if you are allowed to sit in a First Class seat – you may have noticed this as well with airplane flights. If you turn left upon entering the cabin door most of your worries and discomforts can be made to disappear – though it must be said that they do not go away cheaply. They take a good deal of your cash with them.

But back to the rails. The British are a classified society and make no bones about it. They’ll analyse you in a second by your clothing and in a nanosecond by your accent and shunt you instantly into a niche in their behavioural structure. You should not be upset by this – it is not discriminatory – they do it to everyone and to themselves. And for the foreigner ( even a Commonwealth foreigner ) there can be some advantages to this. We are given a leeway in appearance and behaviour that they do not allow themselves. We are not expected to come up to their standards ( or down to them, as the case may be ) and we can be left alone to do our own colonial thing most of the time. Thus an Australian in a British Rail first class seat will be tolerated by the other passengers to an extent that a similarly dressed local could not hope for.

If we slum it down to the second-class seats it just feels like the Armadale line on a Saturday night, so there is nothing too strange about that. Actually the clothing on the passengers is pretty similar…they might be the same people.

The nice thing about the First Class seats – compartment or aisle – is that a little man or woman wheels a refreshments trolley through at intervals and you can purchase things. There is no ice for the drinks, but the tea and coffee are cold enough as it is. It’s not exactly a Bunnings sausage sizzle either, as far as food goes, but there is a certain mdf-boardiness about British Rail sandwiches anyway. I think the best analogy is the Bunbury Shell cafe after they have turned off the cabinet heaters…

Do you get there faster in First Class? No, of course not – the train arrives all together. Do you get extra comfort? Marginally. Do you get to feel like a member of the upper classes? Only if you exercise a great deal of imagination.

But it is all worth it.

The Regimental Quick March

I have just been listening to the regimental quick march of the Royal Armoured Regiment –  ” My Boy Willie ” – and find it a fine, bouncing tune. There are scores of these marches for all the regiments of the British Army, and I daresay a number of them have been adopted in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia on a brother-regiment basis.

As well, there are just as many suitable tunes in local styles used by the French, Germans, Russians, etc. All can call forth instant response from old service persons who marched to them.

But what of those of us who have never been called to the colours? Can we have regimental marches as well? I think we can – we just need to be inventive with them. Here’s a list of suggestions…

a. The Husband’s Division Of The Household Brigade…”The Slaves Chorus From Nabucco “.

b. The Teenage Regiment…” Drink Puppy Drink “.

c. The Royal Bank Regiment…” The Debt March “.

d. The 5th Mounted Motorists…any slow march you care for…

e. The Self-Funded Re-Tireurs…” Money, Money , Money “.

f. The Microsoft Technical Support Regiment of India… ” The Rogue’s March “.

g. 101st Airborne Virus Regiment…” Some Like It Hot…And Cold…And Hot…”

h. The Dental Corps…” A Bridge Too Far “.

i. Bill Clinton’s Rangers…” Yankee Doodle “.

f. The Canning Vale Lancers…”Goodness Gracious Me “.

g. Noranda Regiment…” We Are Marching From Pretoria “.

Good marching music need not be martial – good parades need not be military. Australia had a fine tradition in the 50’s and 60’s of all-girl marching societies who took part in civic celebrations and national days. Their outfits were sometimes military, and sometimes millinery. There were 30,000 of them at the peak of the craze.

30,000. That’s 30 regiments. The Australian army couldn’t have found socks for that many men in uniform, let alone rifles, food, or an enemy to shoot at. 30,000 marching girls…it sounds like Heaven from this point in time.

Just dealing with the statistics of the thing is mind-boggling. 30,000 marching girls is 30,000 uniforms and they would all have been hand-sewed and decorated as much as possible. Given 30 buttons per uniform makes it 900,000 buttons sewed on. Plus the three that rolled under the table.

I am glad that the era has passed – I do not think that I could cope right now with the sight of 60,000 thighs flashing up and down in unison. It would be a short path to the grave. Smiling all the while, but. And I doubt that the coffin lid would fit well…