Director Johnny Kelly talks D&AD through his top six materials used to produce ‘Back To The Start’, the double Yellow Pencil winning animation for Chipotle.
Artem are a model-making company that specialise in astounding physical effects for films like X-Men and Tomb Raider, but also puppets like these. They made all the characters for ‘Back to the Start’ from scratch using a range of materials.
There is a crucial moment halfway through the film where we see the farmer up close, and I wanted him to look delicate and vulnerable. In order to feel explicitly handmade, Artem kindly painted things less perfectly than they usually would, using thick brush strokes.
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We’re very lucky at Nexus in that we have a full-time 3D studio chock-full of animators. Mostly they are producing fancy high-end CGI animation for the likes of Honda, Coca-Cola or Intel, but sometimes if I’m lucky I am able to rope them into helping pre-visualise a shoot.
The technical director here, Mark Davies, created a very detailed animatic which allowed us to plan out the entire film in fine detail. Because he had already modeled the farmer character virtually, we were able to then pass this file over to Artem who printed his head on their 3D printer in ABS which is a type of plastic. This was then molded and cast so they could reproduce identical duplicates. I’m not very good at designing voluptuous ladies so wife has the exact same design, but with a bun on the back of her head.
We used a huge amount of this stuff – flock – to create the grass texture you see throughout the film. It involves covering the tabletop surface with glue, and then sprinkling it on by hand just like the glass dust.
We didn’t want it to feel as evenly-coated as a train set landscape, so Graham mixed the flock with other materials (including paprika) to create worn patches here and there.
The puppets can’t stand up on their own because of their tiny legs. Gary Faulker is a professional model rigger, and created these iron counterweights specifically for the film.
These are all removed in post production. Lead can also be used but can be a tricky material to get a hold of in large quantities – recently I was looking for weights for a project and ended up having to go to a fishing shop in Croydon to buy sinkers.
We needed to create a vat of growth hormonal fluid for one section of the film. Liquid is notoriously difficult to simulate with stop motion animation and I made this trickier by asking for bubbles to be floating in the fluid.
Graham used plastic balls for the bubbles, but to find a liquid with the right consistency to allow them to float was more of a challenge. He and his team tried hair gel, hand sanitiser and a few other options before hitting on KY Jelly at about 10pm on Friday night, just before we were due to shoot the sequence. Luckily the nearby 24hour Sainsburys was open and well stocked so he was able to bring back a basket-load.
The film is loosely structured around the four seasons, and because everything goes wrong in winter it was important that this part felt a little bleak. Having loose snow around isn’t great for stop motion animation (if things aren’t glued or screwed down they will invariably hop around from frame to frame), however our stellar production designer Graham Staughton and his team had the idea of glueing down glass dust.
This process is hazardous to say the least – a layer of PVA glue goes down, followed by repeated sprinkling of this fine dust. The guys wear masks for this – if you weren’t you could risk breathing in glass particles (not a good thing). The surface is then vacuumed to remove any loose crystals. On a slightly nerdy note, there was a lovely unexpected effect when the camera moved around these because each crystal catches and reflects the light in a different way.
Article originally posted on D&AD.com