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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 February 2008, 13:01 GMT
Animator's tough trail to Oscars
By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News in Los Angeles

"The idea of doing Peter The Wolf wasn't actually mine," says Suzie Templeton, the British animator nominated for an Oscar for her reworking of Sergei Prokofiev's classic children's tale.

"It is so well known, and so well loved, that I would never, ever have thought of tackling it."

Suzie Templeton
Suzie Templeton uses animation to tackle "sensitive issues"
It was, in fact, conductor Mark Stephenson, of London's Philharmonia Orchestra, who approached Suzie about making the film about a boy who just wants to explore the other side of his grandfather's locked fence.

He was looking for an animation to play alongside his orchestra's performance of Prokofiev's 1936 composition, instead of the traditional narrator.

Five years and $2m (1m) later, the 29 minute-long film - accompanied by the orchestra - premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in front of 6,000 people.

But while the debut in September 2006 was an "amazing" experience, writing the film was less of a picnic, explains Templeton.

"Writing to music meant the script was incredibly difficult to write- For me, it felt like writing backwards.

Still from Peter and the Wolf
Her film accompanies Prokofiev's score
"Normally you have a concept and it all grows from that one place, it find its own shape, but a piece of music like that has its own complex shape already.

"Prokofiev's story is actually very simple, which is great in a performance with a narrator, because so much is left to the imagination.

"But in a visual piece everything needs to be told, and you don't want to fill it with just padding. Everything needs to make sense and have meaning.

"It was the hardest thing I have ever written in my life."

Sitting in the lobby of her Beverly Hills hotel, just days before the Oscar ceremony, it is perhaps easy to forget how difficult the project was.

Would she have embarked on the film if she had known how long it would take?

Duck and Peter
Peter meets animals including a duck on his adventure
"Probably not," she laughs, "I don't regret it for a moment, but I wouldn't have taken it on if I'd known."

But challenges are not something Templeton has shied away from since taking up the art form in her late 20s.

After joining art college to enhance her model-making skills, which she did for a hobby, she admits she "fell in love" with stop-motion animation.

At a time when the medium seemed to be becoming deeply unfashionable, thanks to films like Toy Story from Pixar, she faced some opposition.

"People said to me: 'Oh, you shouldn't do that, it's a dying art, you should get into CGI'," she says.

"But stop frame is just a medium like any other medium. It's like saying painting is a dying art or something. It's crazy.

Bafta win

"And it is a beautiful medium to work in, and you can produce some beautiful work."

Visually stunning, yes, but in her career Templeton has also used animation to tackle deep issues.

Her short film Dog, about a grieving young boy who longs for reassurance about how his mother died, won a Bafta in 2002.

The result is a beautiful example of how subtlety can convey gut-wrenching emotions.

"I think animation lends itself really, really well to tackling sensitive issues," explains the animator.

'Pack a punch'

"People are disarmed by animation. With live action people are more wary - as a viewer you are on your guard - but maybe we trust animation more because it is traditionally seen as a medium for children.

"I do know that you can really pack such a punch with animation."

Just two of the nominated films in the best animated short picture category at Sunday's Academy Awards are made with stop-motion animation, the other being Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski's surrealist Madame Tutli-Putli.

The others - Meme les Pigeons Vont au Paradis, I Met the Walrus, and My Love - are all CGI.

Despite the apparent dominance of CGI, Templeton believes the stop-motion industry is thriving.

'Go for it'

"At the moment it is really healthy," she says.

"There is a lot of activity - they are about to shoot Fantastic Mr Fox in London - and of course there is the success of Corpse Bride and Wallace and Gromit."

Next for Templeton is an adaptation of Lauren Child's book That Pesky Rat. After that she has her sights set on bigger things.

"That Pesky Rat is something I can do pretty much on my own and get back into the swing of things after such a big production," she explains.

"But after that I would really love to make a big feature film. I just want to really, really go for it."

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