VOD Spotlight: “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”: a ship-to-shore-up operation

Working on a stop-motion animation film like The Pirates! Band of Misfits presents its own brand of troubles. One major problem the filmmakers encountered on this particular set was the fact that the action was to take place largely at sea, but they were to shoot in a studio setting — which meant they had to devise themselves water. “How do we make the pirate ship sail with no water?” Morgan Roe, the mechanical engineer on the film, asked at the time. “It may be shocking, but ships don’t just rock. They rock, they roll, and they rise and fall; they undulate and billow, and move about in characteristic yet unpredictable ways. … One solution was to just ‘do it in camera’ as we say on set. This involves moving the camera during the shot which can make the ship look like its moving when in fact it’s stationary; however, creating a camera move to make the ship’s movement look natural is challenging and time-consuming. Also, as the ship is stationary, then the shadows in the scene, which would normally move, are also stationary.”

Roe and the Pirates! team eventually worked out a sort of a hybrid solution. “I designed and built a rig which could rock and roll, rise and fall as well as track forwards and back,” he recalls. “[It] allows the ship to tilt and roll up to 10 degrees from horizontal; now this may not sound much but standing next to it at this angle had me sweating. Although I’m confident it’s not going to topple, it still worries me. Yet it looks pretty awesome!”

Unfortunately, while the ship may have looked awesome, it was also awesome in size, at least for those on the Pirates! crew who had to manage it. Shot runner Tom Wright remembers one predicament they faced rather well: “While the ship itself is a marvel of model-making and has been dressed wonderfully, it’s also a complete behemoth, weighing about a ton and requiring wheels to move it about,” he says. “I also estimate the price of it to be in the thousands, which played heavily on my mind as I and several other crew members attempted to wheel it slowly through some remarkably narrow corridors. After barely managing to navigate it round a number of improbably tight corners without bits of it falling off, we finally reached the double doors to the last studio … only to find it wouldn’t fit, because the mast was too big. With a dogged refusal to go back the way we came but with no way of actually fitting the ship through the door, we did the next best thing instead. We got a saw and cut a hole in the doorframe. Success!”

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is available starting Aug. 28 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.


Photo: © 2012  Columbia TriStar Marketing Group