Daily post 09 May 2009 08:56 am

Bridget Thorne – recap

- The key to my studio in the first dozen or so years was the brilliant artist, Bridget Thorne. She was every bit my partner in creating some of the greatest of my films, and I can’t attribute more to her work. With this post, back in March 2006, I gave some small attention to some of the excellent art she’d done for my films. Time to show it off again.


Bridget Thorne has been an extraordinary Art Director and Background painter on quite a few of my favorite films produced within the studio. Here is some of that art.

This painting is a key transition point in Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. The film had a looseness that Bernard Waber‘s original book art had featured. I felt very much at home in Waber’s style, and I think Bridget did as well.

She worked out a color scheme for the film, and we both agreed to
______ (Click image to enlarge) Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (1987) _____.__follow it closely
___________________________________________________________throughout the half hour film for HBO. Liz Seidman lead the character coloring. Bridget, of course, had a strong hand in all those character models, as well.

The scene pictured above follows the introduction of Autumn on “East 88th Street”, and the background brings us full force into it as we get “the girl’s first song” – Mrs. Primm’s report on what it’s like to have a crocodile living in your house.

Ira Sleeps Over was the second children’s book by Bernard Waber that we adapted. This is a very sweet story which involves a sibling rivalry; it focusses on a teddy bear and a sleep-over party. I pulled composer, William Finn, into the film and he wrote some great tunes for it. Prior to doing the script, I gave him the book and asked him to figure out where he would like the songs. In a week he had already written all the songs for the film, and they were brilliant. It turned out he used all the words of the book in his songs, and now I had to find a way of telling the same story using past, present and future tenses, as he did in the songs. It was a good challenge that worked out well and created a fabulous construction for the story.

The style in this book was, if anything, looser than in Lyle. Waber did a lot of his illustration featuring duplicating printing techniques. Lino cut enabled him to repeat decorations throughout the settings. Bridget played with the lino cuts and was able to succesffully duplicate the technique in the backgrounds. In this one bg, at the beginning of the film, the foliage is a good example of this technique, printed over watercolors. The characters are markered paper drawings cut out and pasted to the cel overlays.

The book, like Lyle, featured a lot of white space, so we followed suit. When a book’s been in circulation for over 25 years, you have to realize there’s been a reason for it; find the reason and the heart, and take advantage of it. This use of white space made the actual backgrounds oftentimes little more than abstract shapes of color with a solid object on the screen. Here, for example, we see Ira and his friend, Reggie, playing against a blast of green and a bicycle.

– At the end of the film, Ira and Reggie talk in the dark at the sleep-over. To get the look of the dark Bridget had to come up with something clever. The book resorted to B&W washes of gray and wasn’t very helpful. She came up with some dyes that were used for photo retouching. By quickly painting these lightly onto cel levels with a wide brush, she was able to get translucent cels with the brush strokes imbedded in the color overlays. By placing these overlays over the characters and backgrounds, we got the desired effect that let it feel connected to the very loose style of the film.

-Abel’s Island is one of the few films we did that I treasure for its artwork. Bridget’s work on the backgrounds was, to me, extraordinary. The looseness I love was developed into enormously lush backgrounds using shades of green that I didn’t know could be captured in the delicate watercolors.

This film was a complicated problem that seemed to resolve itself easily and flow onto the screen without much struggle. The book had won a Newberry Award as best children’s writing of its year. It was not a picture book but a novel. The more than 120 pages
(Click image to enlarge) Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (1987) featured fewer than 20 B&W spot drawings by author/illustrator, William Steig. We were on our own with the color.

However, we had adapted Doctor DeSoto and The Amazing Bone as shorter films and could use what we’d learned from Steig on Abel. Bridget topped herself.

Several of the animators gave us more than I could have expected. Doug Compton‘s animation of Abel sculpting his statuary and living in his log was heart rending; Lisa Craft‘s animation of the big pocket watch, the big book and the leaf flying sequences was nothing short of inspired; and John Dilworth‘s animation of the owl fight was harrowing. This was all set up and completed by Tissa David‘s brilliant animation of Abel in the real world with wife, Amanda. She established our character.

– At the end of the film, Abel, who has been separated from his new bride, trapped on an island for over a year, finally gets to come home. He sees Amanda in a park at twilight but decides to hold back. He races on ahead of her to greet her, privately, at home. The park sequence has a busyness as an acute counter to the lonliness we’ve watched for the previous 90% of the half-hour program. Setting it at early evening gave an opportunity for rich, royal colors. Bridget took full advantage of the opening, and underscored it all with a regal green not seen earlier. It was stunning and is one of my favorite backgrounds in the film.

A Child’s Garden of Verses presented new and different problems to explore.
It was a project generated by HBO. Charles Strouse and Thomas Meehan were going to write the book and song score. We met several times trying to discover a way into the book of poems. I’d suggested we use the verses in Robert Louis Stevenson‘s book to illustrate the author’s early childhood.

Stevenson was a sickly boy who was always confined to his dark room. He was not
expected to live long. The only visitor for days on end was his overprotective mother.

For much of the film, we had only the dark, child’s bedroom to explore. Artistically, I asked Bridget to delve deeper into the photgraphic dyes that she had discovered and used so well in Ira Sleeps Over. These dyes would allow us to keep the style, once again, loose while exploring dark areas and brush strokes to simulate the darkness “Robbie” lived in.

For the wallpaper throughout the house, Bridget used real wallpaper which was photostated; scaled down and reshaped to fit the backgrounds. Then watercolor washes colored these backgrounds and overlays were mixed and matched to get the desired results.

I was never quite pleased with this film. The elements that worked well worked really well. Bridget’s work was a highlight. The acting was extraordinarily good. Heidi Stallings performed with an enormous amount of emotion yet barely raised her voice above a whisper. Jonathan Pryce was brilliant as Robert Louis Stevenson, the narrator and even sang a song when asked at the last minute. Gregory Grant as the young “Robbie” was vulnerable, sweet and all we could have hoped for.

However, there was too much of a rush given the delicacy of the piece, and the exterior backrounds done by me for the end of the film are poor. The animation is also hit and miss. Oddly enough, my favorite sequence used little actual animation but intense camera work. Ray Kosarin was the animator in charge of it, and it’s an impressive sequence.

- The Talking Eggs was done for a PBS series called Long Ago & Far Away. It was an adaptation of a Creole Folk Tale which Maxine Fisher updated for me. (Lots of discussion between WGBH, Maxine & me about what distinguishes a Folk Tale from a Fairy Tale. It seriously impacted the story we were telling and I wanted what I wanted and got.)

Bridget chose to use pastels and we searched for a paper that would bring out the most grain. I loved the end result. The characters, to match the look of the Bgs, were xeroxed onto brown kraft paper and colored up from there with prismacolor pencils. This was cut out and pasted to cel.

Danny Glover was the narrator, and we chose to make him an on-screen character appearing intermitently in the film. His narration was recorded on a rush as he stopped off in LA from SF on his way to direct a film in Africa.

There’s a focus in these backgrounds that matches the content and mood of the piece, and it worked wonderfully for my purposes. I always like it when the medium is front and center; I want audiences to know that they’re watching animated drawings, and texture usually helps to do this. Of course, I also want the films to have a strong enough story that the audience gets past the point of knowing, to enter the film. It works some of the time, and I’m in heaven when it does.

Bridget altered the color of the paper on which she was coloring with the chalks, and the different colored papers represented varied moods from sequence to sequence.

Naturally, there were some problems with the chalks under camera. All the fixative in the world didn’t stop the chalks from bleeding onto the cels or platen on the camera. (Lots more cleaning involved than usual.) We heard constantly from our cameraman, Gary Becker. The extra effort was worth it; the look was unique and successful.

3 Responses to “Bridget Thorne – recap”

  1. on 09 May 2009 at 10:32 am 1.Rudy Agresta said …

    Simply stunning!!

  2. on 10 May 2009 at 8:26 am 2.Janet Benn said …

    Thank you for presenting this work as you did. I can now really appreciate what a fantastic artist Bridget is. I had little idea that her work was so varied and innovative. Thanks, Bridget.

  3. on 10 May 2009 at 8:38 am 3.Stephen Macquignon said …

    Rudy if you think they look stunning on this site you should have seen them in person.
    One of the projects that I enjoyed working on with Bridget was “What’s Under My Bed?”
    I can not remember the details of why, just the feeling of a good time is all that remains

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