A couple of days ago I watched the first new episode of the Clangers for many decades. Suspicious, to say the least, of any reboot for classic children’s shows from my childhood. I have to admit, I didn’t actively hate this one. When I first watched it though, I was convinced that they were cgi as the knitting doesn’t look quite right. I have the dubious privilege of having a degree in knitting (well Constructed Textiles to be exact) and I first believed that the knitting was a texture map wrapped around a cgi model, but on further research and a second viewing it is just that it is far too neat. The shaping and sewing up are done far too well, with the increasing done using a fancy knitting into the back of the stitch from the row below that Mrs Firmin had never heard of. I also suspect that the armatures are too fancy compared to the Meccano and wooden block sub-frames used in the original series. Everything moves too smoothly and there are none of the strings and other details that made the original series feel so real. Whilst the actual animation is stop motion, everything else looks like its either been done or fixed in post. Also, the penny whistle voices aren’t distorted enough and the soundtrack sounds far too similar to that of the Nintendo game Pikmin. Whilst I think a new generation of little children will love it, I couldn’t help feel that there is something missing. Actually, it turned out that something was added. People. There were far too many people involved now, the first series had ridiculously short end credits, Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and Mrs Firmin (who did the knitting). This new series has multiple episodes produced at once, with a strings of people, animating, editing, scoring, knitters, prop makers, ya de ya de ya deh… And this is where it went wrong as usual. Necessity, as the old saying goes, is the mother of invention. Postgate and Firmlin, under the title Smallfilms, learnt on the job using whatever was to hand and whatever got the job done. From real time filming with magnets, through to building stop motion camera rigs with home built timing mechanism made from Meccano. They filmed their first stop motions in black and white, in daylight in Postgate’s back garden a side affect of which being that the grass of the lawn would dance eerily as they moved back and forth to minutely adjust each character model. Whenever I can, I go and visit the original Clangers in Canterbury Museum, my main port of call though is Bagpus around the corner. There is a strange aura that emanates from Bagpus Bagpus, the fat, furry, catpus. The nearest I can get to describing this is how one might have felt in the middle ages from being in the presence of a holy relic, a saint’s finger or a piece of Christ’s true cross. The love of millions of children, all poured into one (not so) soft toy. Excepting for Mother Clanger, who had to be replaced when the original one was stolen, there is only one Bagpus, there was only one of each Clanger, Not so now… I had a lovely conversation yesterday about the perils of letting go of full artistic control. It has been suggested by many people that I farm out the production of what I do to an intern or three even farm out the colouring-in books to a publisher that would do the job “properly”. The problem with doing things properly, efficiently, economically, whatever, is that the charm goes with it. That feeling that a human has scratched their head over how to do a thing without the fanciest equipment, the best software or unlimited opportunities to re-do something or conversely that the dead hands of accountants, lawyers, marketing consultants and other ‘experts’ are steering the ship rather than person the who came up with the idea in the first place. But without all that ‘help’ things take longer and less is done, 13 episodes in the case of the original Bagpus series and 27 of The Clangers, but what less is is definitely worth more.
Did someone drop a clanger?