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Just ask Bob

Head over to the Encounters Festival at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol between 20-22 September and you'll be able to see the animation director Darren Walsh making stop motion animation, live. Known for his work on the Compare the Meerkat and Sony Bravia TV commercials, as well as the Angry Kid TV series, he'll be bringing a character called Bob to life.

Bob may look a bit like the horror puppet Chucky, but is based on the voice of a real London geezer - one of the faces from back in the '60s - who was recorded sharing his wisdom by Dave Anderson of animation studio 12foot6. The studio invited Walsh to put a face to the voice, and he then worked with the model makers at ScaryCat to produce 60 masks and facial sections that cover the range of expressions and lip motions that Bob can articulate.

Originally Walsh was thinking of Alan Ford, the veteran London actor who appeared in Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but felt that was a bit clichd. In the end, he acquired a photo of the man Bob is based on. "I worked from that one angle. I’d not met Bob so I only had the recording to work from but his voice gave me a sense of the kind of person I would be dealing with. I always make small maquettes to work out the character look. He’s abit more bulbous than I’d hoped but I had to fit a real head inside. Them’s the blows," says Walsh.

The unique element of the process is that even though it's stop-motion a live actor will be wearing the mask. Alongside recordings of the character talking about sport, heaven, pain, death and charity, Walsh will change parts of the mask for each frame as Bob's lips move and his expressions change. It's a painstaking process not only for the model Russ Hague - who is a triathlete, and must sit still for hours on end as the mask is repeatedly changed - but also for Walsh who rushes around the studio swapping different foreheads, noses, lips and so forth, activating the camera with each change.

"I don’t have a good reason to do it this way, it’s just a great way to make a film," Walsh continues. "Even though there’s a ton of planning before each shot the outcome is always a surprise. I think people can see the work that has gone into it even though they might not know how the hell it’s done. It’s also way quicker than any other technique so you get quick results and need very little post."

After the sequences have been captured with a green screen background, the pub setting is dropped in behind. "Stop motion is the best and most satisfying way to work. It’s tough to learn but and, if you stick with it, you will constantly surprise yourself," says Walsh. "If you're setting out I recommend getting a good, cheap animation program like Dragonframe, and just start off moving simple objects around. Just amuse yourself and don’t worry about the audience just yet."

You can see Darren Walsh's demonstrations free at the Arnolfini Gallery.