A knitted dinosaur must completely unravel itself to save the love of its life – by Claire May
Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe’s beautiful animated short film Lost & Found took home Best Short Animation at last year’s AACTA Awards and was shortlisted for this year’s Academy Award. The film shares an adorable yet tragic love story between a knitted dinosaur and fox.
Cinematographer Gerald Thompson was contacted due to his specialised experience as a stop-motion cinematographer. The project was unusual in that it used hand-knitted puppets, rather than the usual clay or silicon.
The look of the short film was worked out between Thompson and co-director Andrew Goldsmith. “He wanted a bit of colour contrast in a dramatic night setting, but not too dark,” says Thompson. “It was then a case of working with the sets and puppets to establish a style that worked. In that sense, there was no specific references. Just a bit of instinct and some trial and error.”
“There was no real alternative at the time,” says the cinematographer when asked about his choice of camera. “Canon DSLRs like 5D and 7D have been the mainstay for stop-motion due to a reliable and consistent implementation of tethered LiveView.”
Thompson explains that the EOS mount is also the most adaptable for mounting vintage manual lenses. “Auto aperture lenses can lead to flicker,” he says. “I mainly used Leica R lenses.”
Shooting days for stop-motion are not anything like live-action shoots. Things happen at their own pace. Setting up lighting and camera for one scene can take from a couple of hours to a whole day. The crew is minimal and everyone has to multi-task.
“Lighting is complicated,” Thompson says. “The animator needs access to the puppet, and the lighting needs to be incredibly stable and locked down so nothing can get bumped.”
On some scenes where there was camera movement, it could take two full days for a set up. Then motion control programming was rehearsed in detail with animator Sam Lewis. “Once things were ready, Lewis could take a couple of days to complete the shot. I would normally clear out and leave him in peace for that part of the process.”
The cinematographer would keep an eye on progress in the studio, since he was working in the same space as the compositing and editing setup. “Seeing the story progress was also important because it gave me cues on how to approach new scenes and maintain continuity,” Thompson explains. “Once everything was locked off, I went through the grade with Goldsmith. My method is to get the look I want in camera as much as possible, referencing back to previously shot scenes.”
Thompson’s favourite scenes are when the animation brings their characters to life in unexpected ways, as well as “when realism and dramatics intersect, neither at the expense of the other.” He tends to worry more about the shots that weren’t so successful, but he won’t say too much about those. “I think in some ways nobody really knew exactly what we would achieve,” says Thompson. “Only that Slabe‘s original characters would come to life and affect audiences emotionally.”
Thompson’s new project is a comedy starring a skeleton. Born in the days of Ray Harryhausen films like Jason and the Argonauts (1963, cinematography by Wilkie Cooper BSC), the skeleton is now struggling to find a place competing with modern CGI. “Perhaps ironic since I often feel the same way,” he concludes. “A technician in the archaic world of stop-motion.”
Gerald Thompson is an award-winning stop-motion cinematographer and motion-control expert.