Thursday, 18 August 2011

INTERVIEW: Mark Waring at Empire Big Screen

I’m turning this introduction upside down a little, by opening with a brief background to the iconic screen animator and inventor of animation technique Dynamation; Ray Harryhausen. I attended Empire’s Big Screen (the magazine’s virgin three-day event celebrating all things filmic) with a leap in my heart when I spotted that there was to be a panel dedicated to the celebration of this man. I grew up with white knuckles watching Jason ward off the sword wielding Skeleton’s and followed every silent fatalistic footstep Harry Hamlin took evading Medusa’s stony gaze in Clash of the Titans (1981). Even now watching the films again, I chuckle with delight when I discover Doctor Who’s Tom Baker moonlighting as an evil sorcerer in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973).

This nonagenarian was responsible for no less than 16 feature films, and like one of his monsters, his influence spiders off into a web of notoriety inspiring the likes of Steven Spielberg to James Cameron, with some of the most magical creature creations ever seen on screen. All with personality and character; the magic that truly brought these stop-frame models to life, made the viewer believe what they were seeing could actually be real, in some far flung corner of the world that many of the characters ventured to.

It was at this panel where I met marvellous model-manipulator Mark Waring. Mark was a guest speaker on stage, citing Harryhausen as an inspiration in his very successful career as an animator. Here is my interview with him post-panel...

GG: I’m here at the Empire Big Screen with Mark Waring, welcome! We’ve just been to the ‘Ray Harryhausen: A celebration’ panel, where you were one of the guest speakers. How are you today first of all?

Mark in awe of Harryhausen's
Skeleton model from
Jason & the Argonauts
Mark: Very well, I’ve got the day off today to come and do this talk.

GG: And I do believe you’re currently working on Tim Burton’s new animation Frankenweenie?

Mark: Yes that’s right, a new stop-frame animation. We’re currently shooting and have been for the last year, with about another three months to shoot. But yes, it’ll be coming out next summer, based on (Tim Burton’s) short film that was done very early 80s I believe, with Disney. A live action short film, I think it was his first ever live-action film. He always wanted to make it as a stop-frame feature, but they only allowed him a budget to do it as a live action film so he made it as a live action film. Now he’s finally got the chance to make it as he intended.

GG: So minor development hell, but it’s come to fruition now?

Mark: Yeah I suppose, I think it’s probably one of those things having done a major blockbuster with Alice In Wonderland, they’re (Disney) allowing him a little bit of freedom, to have a play with something he’s always wanted to do; which is his love of stop-frame.

GG:  And of course you are the Animation Supervisor on this film, so what is your actual input into this film that we’ll hopefully be seeing on our screens in 2012?

Mark: I actually animate as well, but my initial involvement on the film was working with the puppet development as they have to be built ahead of time before we actually shoot. Working with the puppet people to work out characters, how they were going to move, working out the development of the personalities the characters were going to have, and then building an animation team; hiring people, training people up to actually animate. We have about 25 animators on Frankenweenie.

GG: Is that typical for a film of this scale?

Mark: Yes, in order to make the film in the time we need to do it in, which is just over a year, that’s the sort of team of people you need to achieve this. We’re shooting an average of two seconds per day, per animator; so it’s quite a slow process.

GG: Very slow, but have you actually had many dealings with Tim Burton himself? Does he pop into the studio and give you guidance, or are you pretty much free reign at the moment from storyboards?

Mark: He was in at an early stage. He’s actually filming Dark Shadows,  a feature film, at the moment, so he’s  very much involved with that. Prior to that he was spending a lot of time with us; coming over to the studio, two or three times a week. Just developing the basic structure of the film; getting the storyboards right, working with the art director on the film style, the character development, all  of that side of it. So he gets all that sort of stuff ready, sets those wheels in motion and then he’s gone off to do Dark Shadows, which once finished, I’m sure he’ll come back and re-join us for the post-production on Frankenweenie.

GG: What have worked on prior to this?

Mark: Prior to this I was the Animation Supervisor on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Wes Anderson feature film, and before that it was Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, which was the last stop-frame animation he did.

GG:  I see, so you’re very much in that vein of filmmaking, is the surreal side of life your preference?

Mark: (Laughter) Hmm I suppose so, that’s what I do;  the stop-frame side of animation. The hands on approach rather than sitting at a desk and drawing or working on a computer – I find that amazing. But it’s the actual physicality of handling puppets, standing in a set under hot lights; all those elements makes filmmaking for me, rather than a sort of second hand approach which is through a computer screen or something like that.

GG: I believe you are here tomorrow as well is that right?

Mark: Yes it’s a two day event so I’m just here for a second day talking about Ray Harryhausen and his influence on me and other people in the industry.

GG: What else are you hoping to see? Are there any other guests you have your eye on that you’d like to meet?

Mark: Not really, I haven’t really had a god look round yet so I’ll have a look around today and see what’s going there is; it looks like there is a lot of interesting stuff going on.

GG: Yes it’s a huge venue, lots of different screenings and market stalls to head to. Thank you so much for your time Mark and good luck with the rest of the film and whichever project you endeavour to take on next!

NB: This interview must not be used anywhere without credit or my permission. 


To find out more about Mark, pop along to his website. Who knew of the sock-perfumed underworld of a pool table?
Frankenweenie is set for a UK cinema release of October 5th, 2012.

    'Ray Harryhausen: A celebration' panel at Empire Big Screen 2011
    Left to right: Animator Barry Purves (Next, Rupert the Bear), Mark Waring, Caroline Munro (Bond Girl Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me, Margiana in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), Tony Dalton.
    Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
    Geek Girl, Updated at: 13:03

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