Ceri Watling (Woolly Monster) interview

In our search for the seasoned pro and the newcome alike, we now come to Woolly Monster maker Ceri Watling.

1. We have decided to write your interview since we discovered that your accent is a bit dark and mysterious. So, we will start easy. What tools do you have access to?

Dark and mysterious? Tee hee, I’ve never heard a Lancashire accent described like that before! My accent isn’t really that far removed from Wallace (of W&G) and nobody could ever accuse him of sounding dark or mysterious.
I have access to all the basics – hacksaw, a screwdriver and socket set, a hot glue gun, a variety of g-clamps, pliers and wirecutters and a battery power-drill. I also have a very helpful boyfriend who builds swimming pools for a living and has access to pretty much every type of power tool you can imagine.
I have a Panasonic NV-GS330 3ccd camcorder and a PC laptop.

2. You have made clay puppets, and latex and cloth ones. What are your thoughts on each method?

Clay is great for making quick, cheap puppets which is why I started with it. Why spend a fortune on making your first puppets if you don’t know whether you’re going to enjoy animating? It also allows you to morph the shape of your puppets during animation. The problems with clay is that it gets dirty if you aren’t careful, it softens under hot lights and it is very easy to damage or squish the puppet out of shape.
I like the latex build-up method because it’s basically painting in 3D, and it allows you to make pretty realistic looking hands and eyelids easily. It can be very time consuming waiting for the layers to dry if you have a cold workshop though.
My real passion is making crocheted puppets (you’ll all get to see some very soon, I promise). The great thing about crochet is that, unlike knitting, you can make pretty much any 3D shape you want as a single piece of crochet. You can also crochet different yarns together to get an wide range of surface textures and colours. It allows you a great deal of freedom when designing a puppet, although it’s very difficult to make a woolly puppet look evil or serious.

3. Have you seen any animation lately that you really liked? And why?

I saw Nick Hilligoss’s L’Animateur for the first time a few months ago which is totally inspiring, but also very intimidating because of the sheer amount of work and talent that went into it.
I really like the short animations Terry Ibele (Mozen) does. They inspired me to start making stop-motion animations myself because they made me realise that it is possible to make quality animations with no budget.
There are two really interesting thesis films I’ve seen recently too, No Exit by Ian Roach which is really stylishly done, and Judder by Emily Baxter which is a fascinating concept brilliantly executed.

4. You seem to be doing pretty well with lip sync. What do you consider your biggest weakness?

Facial expressions and body language. I have trouble recognising and interpreting facial expressions and gestures in real life, and I also have trouble making appropriate facial expressions myself (think Data from Star Trek). If I need to do any animation in future which involves subtle displays of emotion I will find it very difficult.

5. What kind of goals do you have in this craft?

A career in stop-motion animation hopefully. Start at the bottom, work my way up. I also might apply for the three month animation development course at UWE in Bristol if I can save enough money for course fees.
Eventually I’d like to make an educational stop-motion film about the world through the eyes of a high-functioning autistic. In the past I’ve done presentations for the NHS and an autism specialist has suggested I write a book, but I think a stop-motion animation could convey much more.

6. So far, have you found finding parts locally pretty easy or have you had some difficulties?

I buy most of my tools and materials from either the DIY and craft stalls on Bolton market, local ‘everything for £1’ shops (great for cheap tools, artificial plants and random stuff that can be made into props), and Hobbycraft and B&Q. Things I can’t buy locally, like armature wire and vintage meccano, I buy online.

7. You have started now, and made a couple of shorts, what words of wisdom would you give to a complete beginner that is getting started?

When you are first starting don’t delay making your first animation or be put off because you think you need expensive materials and equipment. Buy yourself some coloured clay from a craft shop or toy store, get hold of a cheap webcam and get animating. That way you’ll be learning straight away.
There’s loads of great free software on the web. I use MonkeyJam (framegrabber), JLipSync (software for working out lip-syncing) and Audacity (sound editing). I learned everything I needed to know to get started in the Handbook here and on Lio’s StopMotionWorks site.

8. You also have an art background and formal training, how do you plan to utilize this in your animation?

I utilize it every day. My degree is in illustration, so that helps with visual composition, character and set design and digital image manipulation. I already had all the craft skills needed for stop-motion – painting, sculpting, textiles and needlework, constructing things from found objects, working with all kinds of materials – which made getting started a lot easier.
I’m also a trained artist-blacksmith, although I’m a little rusty (sorry, that was terrible, you are entitled to groan). I have experience working with mild steel, copper, brass and aluminium and I know how to do most types of welding. I don’t have any facilities or tools for metalwork at the moment but the skills will come in handy for puppet fabrication (and possible employment) in the future.

9. What do you gain the most from being on the forum with 6000 other animators?

Advice and constructive criticism from animators with more experience, plus getting to see other people’s work.
Oh, and reassurance that I haven’t gone crazy. There a 6000 other people out there making stop-motion animations in their bedrooms/garages/studios so either we are all mad (entirely possible) or standing in a dark room moving puppets a tiny bit at a time is perfectly healthy…

10. Write and answer your own last question.

What are your favourite examples of stop-motion animation?

Britain has a long tradition of making quality stop-motion animation series for children’s tv. From my own childhood I remember Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine and Fireman Sam, but my favourite was always Bagpuss – a sleepy pink and cream striped cat who lived in a shop with some musical mice and a wooden woodpecker. From before my time, but by the same writer (Oliver Postgate) there was the wonderful The Clangers – pink knitted mice who lived on the moon with their friend the soup dragon. They definitely aren’t the slickest stop-motion animation you’ll ever see but that doesn’t matter because they are so full of heart and imagination.
If you decide to look for Bagpuss or The Clangers on youtube, beware of the many versions that have been less than hilariously re-dubbed. Make sure you take the time to find the original episodes, they are worth it

Thanks Ceri.

4 responses to “Ceri Watling (Woolly Monster) interview

  1. I’m always here to give a hand……spare crochet hook, etc


  2. castlegardener

    Suedotty, Thanks for the comment. I’ll pass that on to Ceri. 😉


  3. Haha, I only just noticed the comment by Suedotty – she’s my MUM! She must have been googling me. Thanks mum, you’ve just landed yourself the job of unpaid assistant puppet maker 🙂


  4. Nice read, its great to hear how other animators are progressing.
    I love the crocheted look of your puppets, it’s so unique.
    Also, its nice to hear that I inspired you to make clay animations yourself!

    And Fireman Sam was the hero next door in my childhood too ;), although I’m not too sure about Thomas the Tank Engine…


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