Animating Paddington

UP for Uni are very excited about the fact that James Hickey, a former University of Portsmouth student, worked on the Paddington movie. Here’s what he has to say about it…

What was your job on the Paddington film?

I was an animator, using 3D Computer Animation software to make Paddington move around.

What did it involve?

Paddington was a fully computer-generated character, which meant placing him into scenes that were shot live-action with real people. We made him move, walk and talk, so that he interacted with the Brown family and became part of the film. The actors would be filmed first with a person standing in to represent Paddington and then we would place Paddington into the scene after, as if he was really there, making him act along with everyone else.

How long did it take and how many animators worked on it?

I worked on the film for a year. In the beginning there were roughly 15-20 animators, but as the production picked up pace the number grew to about 60.

Does the bear’s character affect how he is animated?

Paddington is a child and in the film he comes from darkest Peru. His idea of England came from an explorer and old records. As such, when he arrives he is completely out of his element and doesn’t understand how things work (e.g. a bathroom). Originally, the actor Colin Firth was supposed to voice Paddington and we began animating to his voice. But the director felt Colin sounded too old and so Ben Whishaw took over. Paddington became much younger, so the performance had to be adjusted to match Ben’s voice.

What was your favourite thing about working on the film?

The best part was seeing the bear come to life for the first time. My first shots on the film were in the scene where Paddington destroys the bathroom and climbs up the toilet. Seeing those finished and in the trailer for the first time was very exciting.

What are the best and worst things about your job?

I get to work on exciting projects. Sometimes the hours are long, but they are definitely worth it

What skills are useful for a career in animation?

Drawing is very useful as well as learning to understanding composition, timing and weight.

What advice would you give someone interested in working in animation?

  1. Learn how to draw
  2. Study composition
  3. Learn about timing and spacing

Was going to university useful?

I learned a lot and made a lot of good friends there. University helps you get ready for going out into the world and pursuing your dreams. I don’t think I would have got very far without a university background. Lots of companies and employers insist on a university education and if you want to be successful it certainly helps.

Do you like marmalade sandwiches?

The first time I had a marmalade sandwich was at a cast and crew screening of Paddington; they were giving them away for us to eat. It was tastier than I expected.

James Hickey studied animation at the University of Portsmouth.

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