Funny, complex ‘Pirates’ hides animation seams 

Peter Lord plays with dolls.

The English animator, recently in The City to promote his wonderful, hilarious new stop-motion film “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” carries a black case with three figures inside: a pirate captain, a monkey and a dodo bird named Polly.

Lord seems particularly taken with Polly. “She’s built like a football and doesn’t have much movement, but she’s very expressive,” he says.

Lord, who produced the famous “Wallace & Gromit” films, co-directed “Chicken Run” and crafted two Oscar-nominated short films, makes his full-fledged feature directorial debut on “The Pirates,” opening Friday.

Hugh Grant provides the voice of the Pirate Captain, a much-loved scourge of the high seas — famous for “Ham Night” aboard his ship — who wants nothing more than to win Pirate of the Year.

Lord oversaw an astoundingly complex production that involved hundreds of artists and workers, lasted about five years and turned out a mind-numbing six seconds of film per day.

“It isn’t about patience for us,” he says, explaining that animators have simply adapted to the pace. “Every animated film takes the same amount of time.”

Early on in the production, Lord met with actors, including Grant and Martin Freeman, to record their dialogue. When he ran into Freeman a few years later, he learned that since that interaction, the actor had done two films, a TV series and a West End play. Lord comments, “He said to me, ‘Oh, you’re still working on that?’”

Computer animation in the film was used mostly on mountains and clouds in the background, and the rolling waves beneath a hand-built pirate ship.

It was important for the production to look handmade, but without having seams show. Lord says, “It’s a fine line that we thought about all the time.”

One small crew was in charge of a shot of the ship bucking on the waves. They used stop-motion to film the movement of a huge model ship, scanned those images into a computer, generated the sky and water around the ship, and then replaced the computer ship with the images of a real one.

Gently holding Polly as he talks, Lord demonstrates how pieces can be removed and replaced to change her expression.

It’s clear she has become a sentimental keepsake. “She’s been handled so much,” Lord says thoughtfully, “I don’t want her to break.”

 

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Starring Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant
Written by Gideon Defoe
Directed by Peter Lord
Rated PG
Length 1 hour 28 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bio:
Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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