|THE ANIMATED EDWIN CARP|
By Joe Tracy
When Richard Haydn published the book "The Journal of Edwin Carp" in 1954, he probably never dreamed that someone would want to make it into an animated short. Yet nearly 50 years later, animator Richard Bazley is turning "The Journal of Edwin Carp" into the animated Edwin Carp.
What is so interesting about a book written in 1954 that would inspire one of the lead animators on The Iron Giant and Disney's Hercules to take time out to turn a book into an animated short?
"The absolute dry humor is what appeals to me," Bazley tells Animation Artist Magazine. "It is classic English 'dead-pan' humor. Being English I was a big fan of BBC Comedies, such as John Cleese's 'Fawlty Towers' and Michael Crawford's 'Some Mothers do 'ave 'em'. This reminded me a lot of these."
"The Journal of Edwin Carp" is a book about the misadventures of the pompous Carp, who manages to turn a simple chore into a humorous escapade.
After securing the rights to turn "The Journal of Edwin Carp" into an animated short, Bazley sought to test the project's potential success by posting a storyboard on iFilm's Website to gain feedback.
"Although iFilm is a bit of a free for all, it does have a lot of exposure," says Bazley. "I just wanted to test out the storyboard, almost like a test screening. It is very English in tone and I wanted the reaction of the American public. Fortunately it seems British humor is very popular in the U.S."
Bazley's efforts led to a critique of his animated short from one of his childhood heroes - film critic Leonard Maltin.
"When I was 10, my mum gave me a book called 'The Disney Films' by Leonard Maltin," says Bazley. "I would pour over this book, never imagining that one day I would become an animator or lead animator at Disney."
Bazley ran into Maltin years later during a presentation at the Los Angeles Film School. He told Maltin about his project, which resulted in the critique on iFilm, giving the animated short a major boost.
"I very much enjoyed this presentation, being a fan of droll English humor," says Maltin, who has spent nearly 20 years as a respected film critic for Entertainment Tonight. "I can't wait to see the filmmaker bring these visuals to life in full animation."
After positive reaction to the project, Bazley had to face a decision on how the film would be animated. He spoke with a couple of major studios about turning it into a feature, but decided to do the project himself as a short to avoid the "painfully slow process" of getting a feature idea turned into a production. It was about this time that he discovered an animation tool that would change everything...
"The most important factor was discovering Macromedia's Flash," says Bazley. "As soon as I had picked up this tool, I knew that I had at last found a way to make this film. I could see immediately from the drawing tool that I could capture his line and animate it effortlessly in space. It was an exciting moment."
Flash was the creative and economical means that put Bazley on the fast track to animating Edwin Carp.
Using a WACOM tablet and a stylus, Bazley was able to capture the exact quality of line style that he wanted. Then, within Flash, he could manipulate the line in ways that would be "impossible" to do traditionally.
Producing animated shorts usually takes more effort than one person can handle. Bazley brought on a few others to give the project the right touch. One of the first was Ray Bengston, who Bazley originally met through a mutual friend. Bengston took on the roles of Producer and Editor for the short.
"Being a small production, we were both wearing a lot of hats," says Bazley. "Ray has a huge amount of experience in the film business. He has worked as a director, actor, and has run many workshops on acting and improv in major studios such as Warner Brothers and DreamQuest Images.
In addition to production and editor duties, Bengston is credited with selecting the perfect background score (a Beethoven selection) for the film. Bazley says that Bengston has a great sense of timing and huge amount of technical knowledge that really lifted the production.
An important aspect to animated the Edwin Carp production was the style of animation. This was an easy decision for Bazley who had been inspired through life by the illustrations of Ronald Searle. In fact, Bazley owns over 80 books that have been illustrated by Searle. "The Journal of Edwin Carp" is one of those books.
Another inspiration to Bazley was Victor Haboush, a veteran Disney artist who was a part of many classic animated features including Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and Lady and the Tramp. Haboush consulted Bazley in style, layout, and editing.
"Richard is creating a highly profession and original piece in 'The Journal of Edwin Carp,'" says Haboush. "He has masterfully captured the Searle style and the English humor and sensibilities. The British wit and whimsy in this film are reminiscent of the likes of Peter Sellers or Alec Guiness in 'The Lavender Hill Mob' and 'The Green Man'. The character Edwin Carp is a sort of English Mr. Magoo or 'stumblebum' and is very entertaining to watch. Richard is a master animator who in my mind has now made the step to director in this classic short film, 'The Journal of Edwin Carp.'"
To enhance the impact, look, and feel of the film, Bazley and Bengston had to select the perfect voice talent for the lead role - Edwin Carp. In this area they were able to secure the talents of Hugh Laurie who played the father in Stuart Little and has starred in many British comedy series like The Black Adder, Jeeves and Wooster, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
"Getting Hugh Laurie to do the voice was another milestone that brought the production to another level," says Bazley. "It is interesting that the author, Richard Haydn, was also an actor and had done performances on the radio and television as his creation, Edwin Carp. I knew his voice from Alice in Wonderland, where he did the voice in a typical uppercrust tone. However, in his rendition of Edwin Carp he gives it a little 'Northern twang,' that is an accent from the North of England. It works well, however I wanted Hugh Laurie not to copy this but to do what he does best and give his interpretation; otherwise it would just be an imitation and not so strong. You hire a particular actor for what they can bring to a part and Hugh Laurie did it beautifully."
The process for voicing was a bit different than traditionally animated feature films. Normally the voices are recorded first then animated to the dialogue. In the case of "The Journal of Edwin Carp," the final voice wasn't recorded until halfway through the production, because the character is doing a narration instead of direct dialogue.
Bazley wanted Laurie to do the part from the beginning, however he knew it could be quite difficult to secure his first choice - a dilemma studios face on a regular basis. After submitting a rough copy of the film and request to Laurie's agent for the part, Bazley says, "it was quite spectacular when I got a call from Hugh Laurie's agent saying that he was interested."
Technology played a big role in recording the part because Bazley was in the US at the time and Laurie was in the UK. The recording was done via an ISDN link with Bazley at The Bakery-Digital Sound and Film studio in Burbank, CA and Laurie at The Sound Company LTD in London.
"The Journal of Edwin Carp" is on schedule to be completed in December 2000. It will open in select theaters in the LA area in order to qualify for a possible "Best Animated Short" Oscar nomination. It will then go on the film festival circuit and finally be released on the Web several months down the road.
How far can "The Journal of Edwin Carp" go?
"I would love to see Edwin Carp become a popular character and to develop more shorts with him," says Bazley. "As the first one is just a day out of his diary, it would be a natural progression to do another day from his journal. Richard Haydn, the original author, has built in a lot of character already into him and I hope that I do it justice and add a little something with the animation."
In setting out to turn the book into an animated short, Bazley had to wear many hats; from director to animator and storyboard illustrator to voice casting. It's a lot to do between animating The Iron Giant and being the lead animator for the character Drix in Warner Brothers upcoming Osmosis Jones animated feature. However, between jobs Bazley has been able to make his vision a reality. Finally, Edwin Carp will jump out of the book and onto the screen.