Animating Africa United

by Dave Allen | | Category: Features | Permalink

Popular kids road movie Africa United is currently riding high in the UK top 10 thanks to a good reception from audiences and critics alike, but it may come as a surprise that part of the film was animated in the West Midlands.

Based in Stoke-on-Trent, Carse & Waterman animated an already critically acclaimed, stop-motion dream sequence of the film, in which three children trek across Africa to try and get to the World Cup opening ceremony in South Africa. Intrigued, we quizzed AFWM member Gary Carse from Carse & Waterman about their involvement in this high-profile project.

Can you describe your studio's involvement in Africa United?

We started working on the Africa United film during the post-production stages. We were asked to do the stop-motion animation scenes, which appear in the lead character's dream/imagination sequences, which they'd knick-named 'Dudu-Vision'.Once finished our main job, we were then asked if we would recommend a method of animating a set of new characters, 'the footballers' — which were to be included in Dudu-Vision, (a cardboard cut-out football team). The director wanted a 'hand crafted' look throughout the sequences, so we did a few animation tests using different methods.

Our results using stop-frame were less than satisfactory, so we turned to our computers instead. Using high-resolution photographs of the puppets we'd been working with, we were able to make a very convincing CG puppet, which matched well with the other stop-motion animation. As a quality test we didn't immediately tell the director how we'd done it, to see if they would or notice.

When they responded with no complaints, we realised it was going to work (we confessed in the end of course!). What was meant to be a quick, one week job, turned into a three week project, the first two spent in their London studios, then finishing off the CGI characters back on our computers in Stoke.

How did the work come about?

The job came about through a long-term contact, who is very highly regarded in the London advertisement industry. We've worked on stop-motion commercial projects there before, so when it was decided that there would be stop-motion animation in the feature film, we were the first choice. I was phoned up two weeks prior, e-mailed the briefs and had job confirmation shortly afterwards.

What's the background to the company, and what do you specialise in?

Our company originated at university, between myself, business partner Daniel, and a group of skilled artists we'd met there. After several successful projects we realised a business opportunity lay here for us. It took a lot of consideration before we concluded that both of us were in life for the experience, so whatever happened, we couldn't lose.

Since then, we have built a strong team to support us and have not looked back so far. I'd say we originated in stop-motion, but now specialise and have a full pipeline set up in Computer Animation. When it comes to preferred methods, as far as we're concerned, animation is animation, our tools don't matter, it's the hands we put them in that does!

How are you looking to take the studio forward over the next few years?

Our aims are to build strong connections in the commercial industry to help our studio stand up high and stable for the long-term. At the same time, we do not want to get lost in the commercial industry and forget about our own creativity — as many industry friends have warned us.

It shouldn't just be about cranking in money (despite that being very necessary!), if we were not in this with our hearts, I think we would have fallen by now. Certainly at 3am on a Sunday morning, our feelings towards the job can turn bitter. But the gradual progression over time keeps our eyes focused, which obviously explains why we're in love with animation! …Get it!?

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