It made a refreshing change from tinsel-clad sprites and magical reindeer. Alongside staple fare such as The Snowman, a fresh lynchpin of Channel 4’s 2006 Christmas schedule was Suzie Templeton’s deliciously dark adaptation of Peter and the Wolf. An unsettling psychological study of a baleful-eyed boy and his lupine alter-ego, it used stop-motion puppetry with a mythical intensity that felt faithful to the yarn’s Eastern European roots.
“I thought it would take about a year. It took five,” reveals Suzie of her Bafta-winning opus. “Three years to raise the money, two years to write the script, and a year to make it. It turned into a massive production. I went from working on my own in a basement to working in Poland with a team of 100 people, communicating through a translator.”
Like so many before her, Suzie started her animation career at Farnham College. It was her second degree, and she was 29 when the course began: “I always felt that being older was in my favour,” she reflects. “I had to set higher standards; be braver and naughtier.” So she threw herself into her first stop-frame film, Stanley – spending many months crafting sets, models and puppets.
It was all going beautifully until the first day on set. “I thought, ‘Shit, what do I do now?’ I don’t know how to animate.’ So I just made it up as I went along, as we all do.” Suzie recounts her first, and last, walk cycle: “The character kept getting lower and lower to the ground,” she giggles. “So I just cut out all the walk cycles. In fact, I’ve never done a walk cycle since. I got away with it.”
Stanley was more than just a stepping-stone. Once complete, Suzie was so proud of her student project that she sent it out to over 100 festivals, and they didn’t just accept it into the programme – it started winning awards. Surfing on success and optimistic for her future as an animator, she went straight from Farnham into the Royal College of Art and vowed to widen her skills-base.
“Caroline Leaf came and gave a talk, and I thought I’d try sand animation – but it was just impossible,” she says of her self-confessedly “hopeless” first dabble in a new technique. “I thought I’d try something else, but I just wasn’t good at anything else. I went back and did another stop-motion film in my second year called Dog. It’s really, really dark.”
Signaling the birth of a unique style that initially made producers wary of disturbing their audience, but would eventually win her the Peter and the Wolf commission, Dog sprang from a disturbing episode that her ex-boyfriend’s father had had with his pet: “The vet messed it up, and it was awful,” recalls Suzie. “This grew out of that.”
And the fact that the stop-motion studio at the Royal College was in a dark basement with no radio signal could only add spice to the new style. “Someone lent me a Tom Waites tape: The Black Rider,” she adds. “That’s the only tape I had. Somehow, I think, the Black Rider is in that film.”
Suzie took part in 4Talent‘s Inspiration Session on Animation in Birmingham, May 2007
© Nick Carson 2007. First published in Issue 7 of TEN4 magazine