WAMG Interview: Mark Waring – FRANKENWEENIE Animation Director
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman January 7th, 2013
After studying Animation at the prestigious West Surrey College of Art and Design, Mark Waring began his professional career at the animation company Filmfair in the early 1990’s. Here he quickly rose through the ranks to become Lead Animator and then Director on many of their stop-frame children’s series and specials. A period of freelance Directing and Animating work gained the attention of London commercials orientated production houses, and lead to Mark being signed to the directors roster of, among others, Bermuda Shorts and Tandem Films. Through these production companies Mark directed and animated on various commercials, promos and short films with such clients as General Motors, Wrigley’s and MacDonald’s. During this period he also spent time working abroad with various International companies. With the resurgence of the stop-frame format in feature film production, 2004 saw Mark join the crew as a Lead Animator on Tim Burton’s CORPSE BRIDE. This was followed in 2007 with Mark taking the role as Animation Supervisor on the Wes Anderson directed feature THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Both of these features were Oscar nominated. Currently living in London, Mark’s latest project was serving as Animation Supervisor on Tim Burton’s stop-frame feature FRANKENWEENIE. This was followed by Mark helming in the role as Director on the Frankenweenie Blu-ray short film ‘Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers’, which can be found as an extra on the FRANKENWEENIE DVD.
Mark Waring took the time to speak to We Are Movie Geeks.
We Are Movie Geeks: Congratulations on FRANKENWEENIE. I took my daughters to see it and we loved it.
Mark Waring: Oh good, thanks.
WAMG: Did you grow up a fan of stop-motion animation?
MW: I was always interested on those things. Whenever there was something with stop-motion on TV I would always watch it, but it was never something that I thought I would end up doing. I was always interested in art and design and films as well but it wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to animation through a course. It was then I realized that this was what I wanted to do. It was design, art, sculpting, film, all combined and it was something I could do for a living. Then I started studying the history of animation and thought this was really wanted I wanted to do.
WAMG: I saw where you had recently participated in a panel discussion on Ray Harryhausen.
MW: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of those. Tony Dawson, who’s written four or five books on Harryhausen, runs the Ray Harryhausen Foundation, invited me to do that. Ray has never thrown anything away. He’s kept everything he’s created throughout his whole life right down to models he made when he was twelve. There’s a whole history and archive there and Tony is helping him look after that. He’s got me involved in various talks and panel discussions. Harryhausen has been such an influence and has helped me so much in my art. He was a pioneer and his techniques are still relevant. We still reference his monster characters. The animators all get together and look at his films and study what he did and how he worked.
WAMG: What are the key differences between what Harryhausen was doing decades ago and what you are doing with a project like FRANKENWEENIE?
MW: Technically it’s exactly the same. It’s basically down to, as an animator, you’re standing in front of a puppet that got an armature inside and you’ve got to bring it to life. Turn it into something that’s moving in a believable, if not necessarily realistic, way. You have to give it emotion, which I think is what Ray Harryhausen did best. He made them angry, or frightened, or whatever they were and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve obviously got more technology around us now.
WAMG: And more people. Harryhausen pretty much did everything on his own.
MW: Absolutely. He did all of that on his own. He made the puppets. His dad helped make the armatures. His mom helped make the costumes, but he shot it and did virtually everything on his own. With the technology we have now, we can check our work, which he couldn’t do. We can walk away, have a cup of tea, look at it, and come back and fix anything. He had none of that, he worked blind. He had no references whatsoever. Sometimes what we do is have our animators work blind like Harryhausen did, just for practice, to kind of get into the swing of it. It’s tricky. Harryhausen developed these metal pointers that he could measure exactly how far he moved, or would need to move, say one of the Hydra’s seven heads. We still use that tool today, in spite of all the technology at our disposal.
WAMG: Did you grow up a fan of monster movies?
MW: Sort of, yeah. If anything like that came on the TV, I would watch it. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing but over here, in the UK, those sort of things weren’t really shown on TV like they were in America, but it was definitely something I was interested in.
WAMG: I noticed in FRANKENWEENIE Victor’s parents are at one point watching HORROR OF DRACULA with Christopher Lee on their TV. Who’s idea was that?
MW: Oh, I’m sure that was Tim Burton’s choice. After all, FRANKENWEENIE is Tim Burton’s childhood. Victor and Sparky are Tim and his dog. That’s what he based everything on, the whole idea of a boy and his dog and what that meant to him, he just packs FRANKENWEENIE with his world and I suppose HORROR OF DRACULA is just a film Tim remembers fondly from his childhood and that’s why he chose to include it.
WAMG: Did Tim Burton give you much creative leeway with FRANKENWEENIE, or was it strictly storyboarded?
MW: He was involved a lot, especially in the early development stages. All of the character designs come straight out of his sketchbooks. We’d worked together in the past and all of the inspiration comes through him. I think the storyboarding style as well. The early stages of the process set the tone and the film shows that. There’s very little in the film that doesn’t have his fingerprints all over it. That said, he’s very open to suggestions. He likes to surround himself with people who know him so a lot of the crew from THE CORPSE BRIDE also worked on FRANKENWEENIE.
WAMG: How many animators worked on FRANKENWEENIE?
MW: I guess around thirty. There are different levels of animators. We have four or five lead animators, then fifteen or so who are crafting every day doing their work. After that there’s a team of assistants who animate as well. Some are good at intimate character work, some are broader at animating the broader action scenes. So we mix and match and steer people towards their strengths.
WAMG: I remember when Tim Burton made MARS ATTACKS fifteen years ago and wanted to use stop motion, but decided he could make CGI look more like what he had in mind. Why do you think he went back to old school stop motion for CORPSE BRIDE and FRANKENWEENIE?
MW: I think partly stop motion is a physical thing, it’s a tactile thing. You can see the work that’s gone into it. I would have loved for MARS ATTACKS to have been stop motion. When I first heard about the film I thought it would be the perfect homage to ’50s sci-fi and B movies and flying saucers and all those things. It would have been perfect if they’d gone down that route. They had originally wanted to do it as stop motion. They had brought some puppet people in and had made armatures and I think it was quite last minute that they actually pulled the plug and went with CGI. They may have been worried about the time it was going to take with deadlines or whatever and I think if they would have gone that way, it would have been fantastic. There’s a magic to the art of stop motion that CGI just doesn’t have. It doesn’t mean that CGI is wrong or that one style is better than the other, I just think with stop motion you better see the craft on display.
WAMG: Had you seen the FRANKENWEENIE from the ’80s before you got involved with this project?
MW: Oh yes, we used that film as a reference for so many of the shots, but obviously the story has been fleshed out much more. I think it had its own mood and momentum but the feel of that short is what we were going for.
WAMG: There’s a short on the Blu-ray release of FRANKENWEENIE titled ‘Sparky vs the Flying Saucer’. What can you tell me about that?
MW: Well, I directed it and it was great to have the opportunity to do that. In the film itself, Victor is showing making a little film, a home movie with Sparky acting as a giant monster and the idea behind ‘Sparky vs the Flying Saucers’ is that this is another film that Victor has made with Sparky, and perhaps he has made a whole series of these films that he can show to his parents. This one is a Mars Attacks type of thing really with space aliens and Sparky in a space suit and all.
WAMG: Was this Tim Burton’s story?
MW: It was from Tim’s idea but the actual script itself was by Derek Frank who is Tim’s assistant and he and I discussed the idea and we fleshed it out with the storyboarders and made this little film. We made it towards the end of the shoot and thought about maybe tagging it on to the end of the film but it’s now on the DVD.
WAMG: Do you see possibly making some more Sparky shorts?
MW: I’d love to. I love the concept that there could be more of these films featuring Sparky hidden away in Victor’s attic. Who knows? I think we created a lovely world. Maybe we could make more shorts, perhaps a cowboy film or any classic film genres.
WAMG: What’s next for Mark Waring?
MW: I would love to work on more features. I’d love to work with Tim again. I love the stop motion format. In the meantime though I’m working on commercials in London and keeping busy.
WAMG: Good luck with your future projects and thanks for talking to We Are Movie Geeks.
MW: Thank you.