It would take an exceptional team to bring the stunning brushstrokes and forms of Del Kathryn Barton’s painted Nightingale collection to life on the screen. Together with Australian filmmaker Brendan Fletcher, Barton enlisted the talents of award-winning post-production house Method Studios to help reawaken the Oscar Wilde classic in stunning moving image form.
Retaining Barton’s feel for the handmade, her bold and vivid colour palette and meticulous sense of detail and texture, Method used a combination of digital and practical stop-motion animation to build the 14-minute film. An extraordinary amalgamation of delicate and beautiful hand-crafted props and contemporary animation techniques, the result is a remarkably ethereal and visceral gesture to the tragic beauty and earnestness of Wilde’s tale.
Del Kathryn Barton: Seeing my paintings start to move and come alive is an exhilarating experience. It's definitely, by the widest margin, the most collaborative process that I've ever experienced. That is very, very rich but at the same time extremely challenging. As the painter, where I'm used to having complete control, there's still a quality of anxiety that I have around that.
Brendan Fletcher: We're taking Del and what I would call Del's magic into a much more challenging and confrontational stage. Animation's not cheap, it's not easy and there's very specialised skills that you need. Del is a really hands on creative person so she likes being ideally with a paintbrush in her hand. She likes being right amongst it and that's the challenge for her is that there's no paintbrush in this case. Having said that there is also a practical element to this film where we are doing not just digital animation but physical, practical animation as well.
Richard Swan: Looking at her work and feeling the detail and the scale of everything, a technique that could pay tribute to that detail but actually live on a screen was one of the number one issues we were looking at at the very beginning.
Liz Ellis: We only had so many of the paintings from the book, so there was a lot that we had to recreate. Obviously Del coming from the fine arts world, being able to understand how she sees things and trying to get inside her head; we were learning each other's language.
Richard: We'd create a still frame from the original sources and assemble them in a way that we felt like it was working really nicely and that would be the starting point.
Chris Breeze: There were a number of months of just testing. What happens if we take this element here and make it move? How does that look? And so we'd just go through that process over and over again and just do different animation styles, different animation techniques, to be able to then come up with the final feel for how the moving imagery would actually be represented on the screen. It's almost like repainting the whole of the bird or the Daughter or the Student again onto a 3-D mesh. The live-action elements are something which Liz then constructed through crafting of paper and texturing and then printing out Del's artwork.
Liz: The Daughter was definitely a combination. I made her dress life-size and then I made her hair, which was attached to a 3-D head and the head was then attached to a 2-D body, a stop frame live-action. She's pretty complex in the sense of a character.
Chris: Because we're using a stop-motion feel and effect, it's more about taking it into an edit, timing it out, which then matches whatever the emotion of the scene is. As soon as you get the professional actors' voices in there it then sparks a new feeling and emotion into the shot. We need to lower that whole tone down because Geoffrey Rush's voice is so low.
Richard: Moving through what originated as a static image in a way that could tell the story and still be true to the images, that was probably the biggest challenge I think. The scale of everything and the detail that we put into it really paid off. The key was this unique feel at the end of it all, that you could look at some of the scenes and you can't work out at what point the handcrafted elements stop and the digital elements start. And especially when it comes to the Nightingale, that was an amazing amalgamation of everything and just in that one character.