Bristol-based animator William Child has turned comedian Tim Key's poems into brilliantly bizarre claymation films. We caught up with him to hear how they were made.
Most poetry tries to communicate something profound about the human experience, perhaps a feeling so abstract that the verse requires multiple readings to fully understand. Then there are the poems of comedian Tim Key, which defy convention by telling absurd stories about cups of tea infused with meat, pub pests and sunburns gone wrong.
These poems have recently been released in a new book called Chapters, and to celebrate its launch, William Child from animation studio Gravy Mercedes has turned three into suitably surreal claymation films.
For long-time fan William, the collaboration was something of a dream come true. Having previously imagined how he would visualise Tim's poems, he seized the opportunity to float the idea when the comedian performed in Bristol.
"He came into the bar afterwards, and we got chatting, then he visited my studio the next day where I ran him through my thoughts on the project," William tells Creative Boom. "Thankfully, he was really into the idea, and we finally made it happen this summer to promote his new book!"
The pair sound well-matched, as Tim let William control the animation and direction of the three short films he produced. "His work is so packed with detailed, absurdist imagery that I felt like I could already see the films in my head," William explains.
"I could basically just try and represent the content of the poems visually in a fairly literal way, so they were the best guidance I could hope for. The content and pacing were already provided by the performance of the poems, so it was mainly a case of matching up to that."
Part of the appeal of Tim's poems is how they are based on real-world situations like a pub or at home. And it's this contrast to the crazy swerves they make which made William think they'd be a good fit for his animation style. "I think my style reflects this absurdity pretty well; the set builds are fairly realistic rather than fantastical.
"The plasticine characters are also pretty 'human' feeling as opposed to being more cartoonish, but at the same time, everything is exaggerated and surreal. I feel like the fact that claymation employs real light hitting real objects helps in this regard, too. It feels like more conventional live-action filmmaking but with a bizarre twist."
William typically makes animations for music videos and commercials, so working with pre-recorded poetry was something of a change of pace. "Though figuring out the pacing is vital in those kinds of projects, too, it was even more acute here as I had to keep up with Tim's performance of the poems and pretty much go shot-for-line.
"I was also focusing on getting more nuance and personality into the performance of my plasticine puppets, as I felt the content of the poems demanded it. It was really fun to adapt my style to working in this way."
Anyone who's ever worked with claymation will tell you it can be a laborious, time-consuming process. Each frame results from tiny adjustments, meaning that even a few seconds can take hours, if not days, to shoot. Fortunately for William, though, Tim's poems helped to streamline everything.
"As each film takes place in one set with a fairly minimal amount of characters, the films were fairly quick to produce in claymation terms," he reveals. "I'd say from starting the set/character build to finishing the final edit; these films came in at about a week each to create."
The result is a charming trio of wacky films, each working together brilliantly with Tim's narration. But for William, the highlight was getting to work with Tim himself. "It was mainly just a huge honour to collaborate with someone I've been such a big fan of for a long time," he says.
"I've followed Tim's work for years and always felt like we could make something really cool together, so I'm delighted to have had the opportunity. The format and style of Tim's poetry and the imagery they create allow them to make these compact, tight short films with ludicrous yet strangely recognisable scenarios, so they're great fun to create. I really hope we get a chance to make more!"