Chris Walsh knows a thing or two about stop motion animation. As a filmmaker and production studio owner, he’s contributed to internationally broadcast TV programs like Henry’s World, What It’s Like Being Alone, and A Very Barry Christmas. Walsh is also the brainchild behind — and instructor of — Canada’s foremost college-level courses on the topic, offered at Sheridan. He’s mentored hundreds of up and coming animators, including some who have gone on to work on Oscar-nominated films like Paranorman and The Boxtrolls.
Given this background, it’s no wonder that Walsh’s work caught the attention of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Early in 2014, NID invited Walsh to offer a course on stop motion animation as part of the School’s open elective series that invites leading experts from around the world to work with NID students.
Above: Watch the Small Red Ball short film
While at NID, Walsh met Dhiman Sengupta, a teacher in NID’s animation program and Chief Coordinator of the open elective programs. Walsh and Sengupta quickly connected on their shared passion for animation and began looking for ways to continue working together once Walsh returned to Canada.
The pair settled on a long-distance, collaborative animation project that would see students from both schools create a short film called Small Red Ball. The hero in the film, in this case the ball, attempts to get the film’s main characters – a man in Canada and a woman in India, to break away from their electronic devices to notice each other.
Small red ball is filmed using the craft of stop motion puppet animation called pixillation. Unlike traditional stop motion films, in which the characters are made of clay or other materials, pixillation uses humans as the puppets. Every slight move an actor makes is photographed, one frame at a time, and then played rapidly in sequence to create the appearance of live action. An added benefit is that the technique allows inanimate objects to seemingly come to life.
“The characters’ reactions, eye levels and timing all had to synchronize without affecting the naturalism of the performance” – Chris Walsh
Walsh and Sengupta developed the storyline over Skype and email, with storyboard sketches being sent between the two countries and lots of iterative brainstorming sessions. Sengupta also composed the film’s soundtrack, initially as a lark, but Walsh’s appreciation and enthusiasm for the piece convinced him to retain it.
The pair had a long list of talented students eager to take part in the project. Several challenges arose, including “dealing with the complex organizing of the shots,” said Walsh. “The main shot features a ball that smashes against the side of the frame, effectively sliding the NID scene onto the same screen as the Sheridan one. There were so many elements that had to work together visually.”
Another challenge was matching the scenes filmed in India with those shot in Canada, since they’d be shown side by side on the screen. “The characters’ reactions, eye levels and timing all had to synchronize without affecting the naturalism of the performance” said Walsh.
All in all, the three minute-long film is composed of over 4,000 still frame photos, shot over a period of five months. A total of 30 students worked on the film, as animators, technical assistants, camera assistants, as general production crew, and of course, as actors.
The pair now has the enjoyable task of sharing their results with the rest of the world. “We’re so pleased that two animators from different countries and cultures could meet, dream up a story, send the project back and forth, bring on a crew of talented students to help and learn, and get it all to work,” said Sengupta. “That the end result could be an effective and charming little animated tale makes our success even sweeter.”
“That the end result could be an effective and charming little animated tale makes our success even sweeter” – Dhiman Sengupta
While no firm plans are in place for a sequel, Walsh and Sengupta hope to work together again in the future, especially knowing that sometimes, all that it takes for two renowned institutions to come together can be something as simple as a small red ball.
Pictured at top of page: Chris Walsh (middle) helping students prepare for filming
Written by: Christine Szustaczek, Director of Communications and External Relations at Sheridan.