Animators working on The Snowman and the Snowdog. It was all hand drawn
Published: 20 December, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
IT'S a risky business taking on an established classic. On the plus side there’s plenty of interest. But that just makes everything worse if the remake or sequel turns out to be a dud.
Which is why the people behind The Snowman and the Snowdog, a sequel to Raymond Briggs’s seasonal classic The Snowman, will have their fingers crossed when it is broadcast on Christmas Eve.
The Snowman has aired every Christmas for 30 years. Aled Jones’s cover recording of Walking in the Air – in the film the song was sung by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty – has also been a Christmas perennial since 1982.
There’s something about the cosy hand-drawn figures and the story of a boy who is whisked away to a snowman’s party – an enduring tale of life and loss – that touches both adults and children.
Taking it on is a bit “intimidating” says Ruth Fielding of Lupus Films, in Upper Street, which has made The Snowman and the Snowdog.
“We have had to be true to the original film and not damage the legacy of the last 30 years. The way we were able to do that was to make it truthfully, with love and hard work, and worry about every element and frame.”
This has meant hand-drawing every frame rather than use computers, and making sure that Raymond Briggs, 78, the creator of The Snowman, was happy.
“He’s been involved all the way through the process,” Ruth continues. “He had to give his approval to the script and sign off on the story board and design. He’s even come in and seen the completed film, which we finished at the end of November. He said it was ‘triffic’.”
The original film saw a boy’s snowman come to life, fly him away to a snowman party at the North Pole, and then melting in the morning.
In the sequel, written by Hilary Audus, a boy is mourning the death of his dog when he discovers a scarf hidden under the floorboards.
It is printed with snowmen, and inspires the boy to build a new snowman and snowdog outside. The dog has a satsuma for a nose and odd socks for ears. The two again magically come to life and whisk the boy to the snowman’s convention at the North Pole.
Ruth explains that she her business partner Camilla Deakin came up with the idea two years ago. When they pitched it to Jay Hunt, creative director of Channel 4, as a way of marking the broadcaster’s 30th anniversary this year she “fell off her chair” with enthusiasm.
So much so that the funding – £2million – has allowed the half-hour film to be made entirely at the Upper Street studios.
“We’ve been well-funded by Channel 4 so we’re fortunate to have our artists for this film in-house,” says Ruth, who started her career as an assistant director at the King’s Head theatre in Islington. “It took a year to make. Ninety-four people were involved, 77 of whom were artists drawing by hand. It wasn’t done in the same way as the original. We used pencil and paper, whereas the original was made with cells.
“We have done some hand-drawn films before. We’ve done a number of Christmas specials. Most recently we did a film called The Hive, which was CGI. We’ve been able to make this film in our own studios. With something like The Hive, which is a co-production with Disney Junior, a lot of the work was done in India.”
The Snowman is as famous for its centrepiece song – Walking in the Air – as for its animation. Lupus films have not shied away from music either. It features two news songs written by Andy Burrows and composed by Ilan Eshkeri.
“It’s not the same type of music,” Ruth explains. “It’s a new film and so there is new music. There are songs, and one during a flying sequence. We are nervous. All you can do is your best and make the best film you can. We’ve put a lot of hard work into the film.”
She is confident that the story is a beautiful one. “Hopefully people will still be watching it in 30 years.”
• The Snowman and the Snowdog will be screened at 8pm on December 24, on Channel 4.