The Little World – No, It’s The Sets

I have a confession. I build model dioramas. I build model stage sets. I build model photography layouts. I talk about them to other people, even if they patently do not want to listen. In short…

I’m a sets maniac. I setually harass people. I have a sets addiction. And I’m shameless.*

So are the Ardman people. The key to the success of all their productions may well be the milieu – the sets that surround the animated characters. And the key to the sets is the detail. The recent exhibition placed the actual layouts that had been used for production before us in plastic protective cases, but fortunately lit them well enough that the sets fiends amongst us could slaver and tremble as we looked them over.

And what a focus. As you can tell from study of the pictures, the model makers have seen a great deal of English kitchens – every detail in the thing is real. Perhaps a little rounder or a little exaggerated for effect, but the overall ensemble is completely authentic. Look at the British electricity plug – the AGA cooker – the cabinets. You could cook in this set.

You could also send out for Chinese, as the menu on the notice board indicates. You can wash up with the Furry Liquid detergent…though it looks as if there are a few things that would benefit from soaking first…and the whole ensemble is as uncomfortable and inefficient as a proper British kitchen should be.

The real pièce de resistance is the dirt and dilapidation – the whole set could have been made neater and tidier – the walls could have been flat and the door could have been freshly painted and the cooker could have been clean…and we would not have been able to connect half as much as we can to this kitchen. The great artists see the most and the greatest artists reproduce what they see remorselessly.

*Actually, I have a book of plans for small  suburban houses of the 1940’s that I only show to ” special ” visitors, and then only if the window shades are drawn. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…

 

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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?

 

 

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?

 

Yo Ho Ho In The Little World

It’s a little hard to ignore a pirate ship when it literally towers over you. That’s the main working model ship for the Aardman pirate movie seen at the recent exhibition. No half-made device – not a rough adaptation of a Revell kit. That is solid shipbuilding…I think when it has done with the world travels of the art galleries that it should have a place in Greenwich Maritime Museum in London. It might be a parody, but it is more authentic than most display vessels.

The exhibition was glorious in that it led the viewer through the entire working procedure that Aardman use for ideas – from rough pencil sketchs through story boards to rather large scene drawings made with as much care as any artist’s finished canvas. Then on to the benches and the model makers. Surprisingly, some characters and concepts carry through perfectly from the initial pencil sketches – and some are trimmed ruthlessly…but not until they have been worked up a long way. I can only imagine that their creators fight each other in staff meetings to have their creations live and breathe.

The main actors in any of these productions need to be made and remade to change position thousands of times – changed and distorted would be more accurate. The armature upon which clay, plastic, and fabric is posed seems to be modifications of standard devices available in the industry with flexible but lockable joints places pretty much where real creatures also bend. ” Standard ” hardly applies to the were-rabbit, but nothing fazes Aardman. I should think they are the darlings and saviours of small engineering supply houses in their town.

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.

The Little World – The Warm Orgasm Of Cleaning Up

Think what you will about the pride of accomplishment and possession that grips a modeller during their time in the workshop  – I say there is no thrill to equal that of cleaning the place up after completing a project. And in some cases it does not even have to be after successfully finishing something…sometimes just the act of getting free of the whole wretched mess is reward enough.

I don’t know what kind of modeller you are, or in what direction your work has taken you. Nor what sort of workshop and tools you have. I don’t even know whether you are a neat and tidy person in yourself or a wallowing hog. Wherever you fit in the spectrum from surgical cleanliness to cow pies on the counter, you will have gotten to the same point at sometime in your career – you’ve finished the last thing possible on your model and put it carefully up on the shelf for posterity.

Now look around. Does it look like a minimalist living room or does it look like Stalingrad? Can you see the floor? Can you see the walls? Is the paint on the ceiling? is the paint on the cat? Is the cat on the ceiling? Whatever – it is time to recover the place and get ready for the next idea.

Find the tools. You will not find them all the first time you look. You may not find some of them no matter how hard you look. Accept an attrition rate of drill bits and tiny hand tools during the best projects. If you have lost the bandsaw or the air compressor, however, check that the workshop locks are still present.

Then start to pick up the off-cuts from whatever you were using. Are any of them still useful? Save them in special boxes that you can throw out in a year when you realise you were wrong. Or save them for 35-40 years and discover that you were right.

Are there any half-used tins of paint? If so, tip them all unto a bucket and paint the back porch with the result. It will either be flat grey or a salmon colour, depending upon whether you are a good moral person or a pervert. The neighbours will know by looking at the porch.

Collect all the parts that you find on the floor that skittered out of your hand or the bench vise as you were making them. Regard these as the working models of the parts that you then had to remake when you were unable to find the first ones on the floor. Throw them in the bin and curse them.

Clean the bench top. Possibly with a broom, possibly with a cloth. Possibly with fire. Just get it back to a semblance of flatness as you will be building your next project on there and it is no good trying to get things in plumb if you are sitting on old glue blobs.

Sharpen the pencils and cap the marker pens. Try the old ones out to see if they are dry enough yet to throw out. Hammer the ruler flat again.

Clean the paintbrushes by rinsing them in the appropriate thinner, working the bristles carefully. Rinse them, shape them so that they have a straight edge, and then throw them into the bin. They sell better brushes than you have just ditched in packets of five for three dollars.

Gather all the sprues, boxes, unused decal sheets, instructions, and spare parts from the kit that you have just finished – note that fully 3/4 of what you paid for at the hobby shop is still in the box and is now totally useless. Go to the hobby shop tomorrow and ask for 3/4 of your money back. Tomorrow will be a special day for you…

And finally, vacuum the floor and benches. No matter how clean you got it before, this final step will suck up the final detail part that you could not find on the sprue ( you’ll see it clearly just before it shoots up the vacuum nozzle ) and make for hours of fun as you sift through the dust bag to find it. We can supply a book of words to say while you look, but don’t let the kiddies read it.

The Little World – It All Ends Up As Grey Or Brown

Little World builders – as opposed to Little World collectors – generally end up with a more muted palette for their art.

By that I mean, as they are painting and weathering things, initial toy-like colours that can be put on models in a factory are dulled down and authentic colours get painted on plastic assembly kits from the start. Of course this generalisation goes to the winds when it comes to plastic model car kits and hot rod customisers but otherwise it holds.

I weather some of my die-cast models to fit my own Little World, and I use thinned versions of matte paints and varnishes to do so. It is amazing what a thin coat of acrylic dust can do to bring a shelf model to life. The structures that are built in various scales also benefit from sprayed dirt and dripped ( acrylic wash ) corrosion.

But it need not be so. You really have to look into your own soul and discover what rings your bell. You might be the person who dearly loves Disney colours on your models and would be sad and dispirited if they all had to look used. If that is the case, paint them as well as you can, but keep to the bright colours that please you. It is your Little World after all, and you may be a cheery as you want to be.

For the grubby brigade, we soon discover that whatever we do, the world gets dirtier. It does so with brown dust or grey dust – and there are very few other colours of weathering. Oh, the wet portions of the Little World may get mouldy, which can be somewhat green, but you’ll rarely see blue, red, or yellow as a predominant wash. Of course small plumes of industrial contamination can run to vile colours for specific highlights…but you are always still better off with a dark wash of grunge.

I have even seen instances of people using real dirt and degradation to weather their models, and there is certainly something to be said for the uneven nature of nature as it erodes and fouls things. If you can point it in the right direction you need not buy bottles of Tamiya acrylics for $ 5 each. Just don’t wipe your eyes after handling the model…