On September 22nd I presented a 25sec animation test featuring a St. Trinian's schoolgirl to the creator of those classic British characters, Ronald Searle himself. Searle has had a few bad experiences when it comes to animation -his drawing style is extremely difficult to adapt and apart from a few short pieces of animation done by Ivor Woods in the 70s, he hasn't been impressed by many attempts. Nevertheless, I thought I'd give this a go and am so very happy to report that he approved! He even commented that it was the best he’d seen since Ivor: a truly wonderful compliment.
The original St. Trinian's cartoons are spot gags featuring the terrible killer schoolgirls and their teachers at the notorious, albeit fictional, boarding school. They commit murder, blackmail and extraordinary naughtiness against the backdrop of a supposedly more innocent era - 1945 to 1952.
There isn’t a story. Searle’s anarchic humor works as a single image – not obviously lending itself to animation. Therefore, I picked one of the cartoons and added a little lead-up story.
Matt Jones and I boarded a sequence which was originally longer than 25 seconds and involved a massive crowd scene in the St. Trinian’s dormitory. But I decided to keep it simple - it was meant to be a test after all. Based on the boards, I drew the layouts and posed the shots on 8s and 12s. The wonderful animation is by Sandro Cleuzo, who animated the first shot and Boris Hiestand, who animated the rest.
My job was to keep the whole project in the Searle universe. I drew the BGs onto frosted cel, each one five times to give the environments a slight boil. I then drew the character animation onto frosted cel with a mapping nib and black ink, trying to keep it as loose as possible whilst putting the characters on 'Searle' model. The animation is mostly on ones and I managed to get through 40-50 drawings per day. Helene Leroux, a very talented young French artist, traced the last shot. Loose lines further produced the ‘boil’ effect, which goes well with the Searle style.
The drawings were then scanned and composited by Michael Schlingmann in After Effects. Michael figured out a complex system of mixes to keep the multiple background drawings alive and in style with the lively lines of the animation drawings. We added a mix of existing music to the edit, hoping the composers won't mind since this is not a commercial project. The little film was great fun to put together - a welcome opportunity to remember those dusty 2D animation skills.
Maybe there will be more one day...