Suzie Templeton is an award-winning writer and director, specialising in stop motion animation. Known for her Oscar-winning film Peter and the Wolf, Suzie takes us into a world filled with beauty and emotion. Her vulnerable characters are honestely depicted and although visually shown as puppets, they are unbelievably human.
In October 2008 Suzie Templeton joined the roster of animation directors at Tandem Films. Jessica Allan spoke to Suzie to find out more.
Your adaptation of Peter and the Wolf won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film last year. I think it's charm comes from the exquisite model making and decision to make it a stop motion animation. What drew you to using this medium and where did the idea for the film come from?
The models are indeed exquisite. They were made by the wonderful artists and model-makers at Se-ma-for Studios in Lodz, Poland. I wanted to make the film in stop-motion right from the start. It is the medium I love the most and have the most experience in. The idea to make a new film version of Peter and the Wolf came from Hugh Welchman, (then a recent production graduate from the National Film School in the UK), and Mark Stephenson, a conductor. Had they not suggested it I don't think I would have chosen something so well-known and well-loved, and more importantly, a piece that exists so brilliantly in its own form without need of visual representation. I did always have reservations about portraying the work in a visual medium because I always thought that it was exactly the absence of visual representation which made the piece so powerful.
Tell us a little bit about the set? How big was it, and how much of it was created using the computer?
The set was gigantic. It was designed by Jane Morton, the English production designer, who used Maya as one of her tools. It was made in Poland by the Polish production designer Marek Skrobecki. It was all made by hand.
Your two films Stanley and Dog are very different from Peter and the Wolf. They seem to be based more on personal issues and in particluar issues in the home, and human relationships. You touch on different emotions, such as lust, anger and sadness. What messages are you trying to convey through your films, or should I say hidden messages?
I always work with layers of meaning in my films that are there to be explored by the viewer. If I was able to communicate them in writing I wouldn't go to the trouble of making the films!
What materials did you use to makes your models?
The puppets are made with traditional ball and socket and wire armatures in foam latex bodies. The animal fur is ordinary fake fur expertly laid in small pieces onto the bodies. The human hair is various types of animal hair such as llama wool. The human skin is made of silicone. The clothes are made of real cloth.
It amazes me how you are able to capture such emotion through the eyes of your models, especially in your film Dog. Is there a special technique you use to do this?
The eyes are very important to me to convey emotion. The eyes in both Dog and Peter and the Wolf are ordinary painted plastic beads. I use glycerine to make the eye surface wet and sometimes animate the glycerine itself. But mainly the illusion of life is achieved by subtle movements and acting.
The animals in your films are very realistic. Did you study real life animals to capture their movements?
Yes, I filmed crows, runner ducks and fat cats as reference for the animators. I also spent a couple of days at a wolf sanctuary to study wolf behaviour and movement. I would have loved to send the animators to the same place, but unfortunately the budget would not stretch to that. I would have loved them to have the same experience as I had, really feeling the spirit of the wolves first hand. I assumed before I met the wolves that they would be very similar to dogs, but they are very different indeed, in spirit and movement, and I would have loved for this to come across in my film.
Are your characters based on people you know, or are they purely imaginary?
I am inspired of course by events and people in my life and my own experience. Some characters might be based physically on real people, but that is as far as it goes.
What are you working on now?
I am writing a feature, working on a fun, small short and i'm open to commercial work.