MAGIC PUDDING, THE
LINDSAY INSPIRES ANIMATOR
With the help of an insider, Animation Director Robbert Smit, we go behind the scenes in
bringing The Magic Pudding, a famous Australian children’s classic created by Norman
Lindsay – he had an animator’s soul - to the screen, illustrated by some of the
original drawings that helped create the film.
"If Norman Lindsay were alive today he most probably would have been an
animator!" says Robbert Smit. "Much of his work contained drawings in
progression, illustrations that could easily have been shot in sequence too create moving
pictures. We analysed his work over and over again to gain insight and inspiration for the
seventy eight minute film we were about to embark on at Energee Entertainment."
Morris Gleitzman adapted The Magic Pudding into a screenplay. Additional dialogue
writers, headed by director Karl Zwicky, and story board artists, Steven Dorrick and Danny
Foley elaborated on content. A video-taped story board was then created, "enabling us
to get an overall impression of story flow and dramatic build-up.
"New characters had to be designed. Buncle, a character not featured in The Magic
Pudding book initially started as a human. Collectively we decided that a mean wombat,
closely related to one of the pudding thieves, would make more sense."
Gleitzman wrote 3 drafts of the script, which included creating new characters as well
as the new villain, Buncle (Jack Thompson). Initially Buncle was a human: "It was a
last minute decision to change Buncle into a wombat - it allows Buncle to be nastier and
Possum and Wombat to be the comical villains - the fall guys. In the book they are more
sadistic," says director Karl Zwicky, "and Buncle's rodent offsider - Ginger
(Mary Coustas) also solidified when we made him into a wombat. She's always standing on
Smit’s aim was too capture the Lindsay character in the film. "A style that
would reflect all the charm of his original book, yet make it appealing for a modern
audience. The line work and colours chosen had too remain sympathetic, yet be practical in
a digital domain. The production of The Magic Pudding combined traditional paper drawn
animation with the latest enhanced digital techniques. All 285,000 drawings were scanned
as digital files and then painted on Energee’s proprietary system.
"In general each character or element was animated as a separate level and these
were composited over a background at Energee using the Toons system. Whilst Toons is a
sophisticated animation system it lacks the digital effects grunt of a system like
Inferno. Digital Pictures specifically provided the effects for the key action sequences
at the beginning and end of the film. This amounted to about 12 minutes of material. All
scenes at the beginning and end of the film were treated in some way, from simple
animation enhancements such as adding depth of field, foreground mist, character
reflections or digitally created sunsets to more sophisticated effects, using Maya to
generate 3D clouds and particle animation to create snow drifts for the magic storm
"The largest scene was the explosion at the climax of the film when the pudding
bursts into literally thousands of small puddings that then implode back into a single
pudding. This was done using about twenty individually animated puddings that were then
used as individual particle generators to create an explosion of puddings travelling
through space. These puddings were then attracted back into a single point using an effect
similar to gravity. This scene runs for about twenty seconds and was rendered in two
passes each taking about twelve hours."
Since the book was written as a series of vignettes it necessitated that the script be
adapted as one continuous story. Throughout the script's genesis some of Australia's most
successful screenwriters were brought on to the project to develop the script further.
Greg Haddrick and Harry Cripps worked on the dialogue and action, and Simon Hopkinson
completed the final script polish - all the while preserving the film's G rating.
Adds producer Gerry Travers: "People take the book and its adaptation very
personally and it was a challenge to unshackle the creativity of the book into an animated
Working with such high profile voice actors as Jack Thompson, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush
and John Cleese, made The Magic Pudding a truly international project. Despite attempts to
get the actors together for recordings, busy schedules resulted in hardly any of them
being in the same studio as each other. Recordings were done in Sydney, Melbourne, Los
Angeles, New York, London, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Thessaloniki in Greece - and in some
cases with Karl Zwicky directing over the phone.
It was always planned to have two directors, one to direct the filmmaking process and
post-production, and the other to be mindful of the animation criteria - thus having an
even handed approach and consistency of excellence across the whole film from the very
first storyboard. Robbert Smit was appointed animation director and he began the process
of character drawings and creating the storyboard: "I got excellent ideas and visuals
from the storyboard artists," Smit says. "It was a group of people with such
different talents, and they came up with an incredibly rich product - but animation is
such a complex story that it is difficult to contribute the various elements to the
various people," he says.
Karl Zwicky was brought on as director in October 1997. "I feel like I've been
married to Robbert for 3 years!"
It took 3 months to complete the storyboard, comprising 16 storyboard artists, 8
character designers, 200 characters, over 150 props (pens/hammers/walk stick/spoons and
forks) as well as over 20 versions of the pudding itself. "We actually went through
cooking books and studied them to come up with about 50 varieties of magic puddings,"
Robbert Smit is probably Australia's most experienced animator, but Karl Zwicky started
as a newcomer to the process. "I would love to do animation again, but it takes so
long, and requires such a commitment of time that you have to be absolutely passionate
about the material you chose," he says. "With this, I've been blessed. It's a
great honour to be able to work on a film like this. This is a book that I've lived with
now for more than 30 years... It has the most fantastic set of characters, both written
and drawn, that have adventures that are quite surreal! I think that's what I have always
liked about it - the humour and the lack of sentimentality."
Published: December 14, 2000