Award winning director and filmographer, Geoff Dunbar has been animating films since he was twelve years old and is largely self-taught. His official training didn't start until he was eighteen years old at the renowned Film Producers Guild in London England.
Dunbar's debut film "Lautrec" (1974) based on the work of the French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec won the coveted Palme D'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival. His second film "Ubu" (1979) based on Alfred Jarry's notorious 1896 play "Ubu Roi" - won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival - and the attention of Paul McCartney - a longtime admirer of Jarry's work. (Jarry was a proponent of "pataphysics" - which McCartney referenced in the first line of his 1969 Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer.")
To help him actualize his ambitions
in animation, Paul McCartney engaged the services of Geoff Dunbar
to direct "Rupert and the Frog Song" in 1981. The film
began a creative partnership that has endured 23 years.
The collaboration between McCartney and Dunbar has created the music and animation trilogy: "Tropic Island Hum," "Tuesday" and "Rupert and the Frog Song." McCartney is the writer, producer and composer - and contributes many of the character voices. Dunbar directs and oversees a team of 50 to 120 artisans who meticulously labored over several years to create these films in the traditional handcrafted style of animation production.
Jorie Gracen: Paul McCartney has expressed his love of Disney classic animations, which inspired him to create his own animations. Did anyone from Disney ever approach Paul regarding a possible musical collaboration for an animation or an animation project? Did Paul ever approach Disney?
Geoff Dunbar : Not that I know of Jorie. I met Paul probably as you know back in the early '80s. As far as I know there's been no connection in that way. Very possibly they may have approached him. I think it's a very big possibility, because of course his music is so fabulous, it would lend itself to a larger production.
Jorie: Would Paul consider a collaboration with Disney or has he decided to build his own animation empire on the level of Disney or Pixar?
Geoff: Well, it's always been a great dream of Paul's and mine and ours together to make a film that would be on a par with those productions. Although in our own way with our own kind of signatures, it would have our identity. But to build an empire I'm not sure that's the desire. To enjoy the films and to make the films and to you know, use the music, which is so wonderful is really the dream I think.
Jorie: When you put together the "Music and Animation Collection" there were several animations that were left out like "Daumier's Law," "Seaside Woman" and "Oriental Nightfish," the last two of course created by Oscar Grillo. Was there a reason why "Tuesday," "Tropic Island Hum" and "Rupert and the Frog Song" were selected for the collection?
Geoff: I think it was just a nice feeling of balance really that, you know. It was the work that Paul and I had done together. Oscar Grillo worked with Linda McCartney if you remember, and I always worked with Paul. There was no kind of reason to that. It's just how things worked out. In the future they may come out. I haven't heard this, but it seems it maybe quite a natural progression. "Daumier's Law" (1992) is another one that Paul and I did together and again we feel very proud of that. It was very well decorated (awarded) and that possibly would be seen fairly soon I hope.
Jorie: I know it was shown in England on TV.
Geoff: Yes and it won a British Academy Award (BAFTA) and was the Director's Choice at the Cannes Festival. We enjoyed some success with it and also quite a lot of exposure here in the UK. But as I say Linda worked with Oscar, that much I know. Paul and I had our kind of thing going anyway.
Jorie: Was the DVD put together more or less for children?
Geoff: It was the subject matter I think Jorie, because it started with the desire to make "Rupert the Bear," ... a long time ago, which was Paul's and my self's kind of childhood character you know. So it was a very lovely thing to be able to work with Paul to bring this character to life. Predominantly, it's for children, but of course it's lasted for so long. I mean it was created in the 1920's and I think it has of course a great adult following in this country (UK); Rupert Appreciation Societies, etc., Rupert collectors. The old Rupert books go for quite a lot of money these days. So I think leading from that, it's never been a clear kind of vein to produce only for children, but to do it in our way. I think they lend themselves very well to children. I hope so anyway because they are our most critical audience in many ways. No it's really a family view really.
Jorie: A couple of my friends showed their children the DVD and their kid's favorite was "Tropic Island Hum."
Geoff: Oh Wonderful!
Jorie: And the adults love "Tuesday."
Geoff: Yes, (Laughs)
Jorie: My favorite part of "Tuesday" is the turtle swimming in the water. It's so lifelike.
Geoff: It's a lovely sequence that. I like that film a lot but remember David Wiesner, who did the book deserves a lot of credit there for his original concept.
Jorie: You were very faithful.
Geoff: Yes indeed. Well I'm part of that again you know. It's David's book and he deserves that treatment. People like it...
Jorie: It's a great story.
Geoff: Wonderful, wonderful...strange evening somewhere.
Jorie: When pigs fly.
Geoff: (laughs) That's right. Exactly.
Jorie: Can you tell me what happened to the full-length Rupert feature film? Music was written for it and work was done on it in the late '80s. Apparently it got put on the shelf. Does Paul have any intention of finishing the film?
Geoff: Not that I can say really. Originally, "Rupert and the Frog Song" was a pilot. It wasn't really going to be released. It was just a pilot to explore the possibilities for a feature film. The view was, it turned out rather well and then maybe something to be done there. So it was released as a research project and was very successful here.
As to reach feature, I don't think so. I don't know why it was never made. It seemed to be some contractual problem. I think that was problem. Paul and I were very, very keen to go ahead with that. We were talking about it very, very seriously and then something happened, which seems to be a bit of a mystery, which prevented us from doing that. It seemed to be poor old Rupert, who was I don't know, sold to somebody else in most a peculiar way. So I don't know if they were trying to capitalize on the situation, but it was not possible for us to proceed, , which is very, very sad in retrospect. Nevertheless, now of course we have Wirral and Wilhemina and Chief Bison and Froggo, which are very engaging characters and I think that's probably where we would be headed.
Jorie: Is that feature length film going to be based on the children's book "High in the Clouds?"
Geoff: That's a very, very strong possibility.
Jorie: I guess Wirral is going to be the next Bug's Bunny!
Geoff: (laughs) Well if he could be as wonderful and as engaging as Bug's Bunny we would be very, very happy people I'm sure.
Jorie: I think so. Why not?
Geoff: He could be...
Jorie: Mickey Mouse!
Geoff: The next Mickey, the next bug, the next...
Geoff: (laughs) Yeah, whatever it is. I know what you mean. Yes it's a great possibility and a very exciting thought.
Jorie: Is working with a great visionary like Paul difficult because his ideas may be very demanding and unrealistic to the animation process?
Geoff: Occasionally this happens. Maybe it's not possible so we discuss it and it is resolved. But you are absolutely right, he is a great visionary. Our working relationship has developed over the years and I'd like to think we have a good understanding. Sometimes of course, yes it maybe so, but it's not unresolvable. And he, as I said before, is a true professional. He has no problems with taking the right path. He has a great gift for that. He chooses the right path more often than not. I'm impressed by that.
Jorie: Did you have any unexpected challenges during the making of these animations related to Paul's creative input?
Geoff: Occasionally, not totally, what comes to mind...but you know...occasionally yes there were one or two testing times, which would take a little longer or we'd have to redo a few times. Paul is a perfectionist. I'm a perfectionist. So in the general working process yes, there were occasions when it was extremely difficult. But as I say we overcome it in the end. Part of the process.
Jorie: Did you ever say to Paul that something was totally impossible?
Geoff: (laughs hysterically)
Jorie: What was his reaction to that?
Geoff: Well, yes. I mean yeah, if it wasn't right. I'd say "Hey listen. I'm not sure this is right." And Paul would kind of look and you know, raise his eyes up and say, "I can take your point of view, yeah." If he really believed in it he would say, "Listen, I want you to try it." So that would be put through the process, but it would balance out and everyone would be happy.
Jorie: Did Paul provide his own cartoon sketches of characters during the development process?
Geoff: No, not so much the characters, but certainly some of the plots. Paul is very misty with the pencil and he's a great doodler and he would draw and give me his ideas you know, but more in the sense of scene design and story layout rather than character design. I would do the character design and present them to him.
Jorie: You actually created the characters?
Geoff: Yes I designed them. Paul would say, "Listen, I've got an idea for a squirrel called Wirral." And then I would put characters, I mean, quite a lot. And then Paul would take the kind of selection and say, "Hey, maybe we need these trousers a bit like this?" I mean that would be the way it would go.
Jorie: Baggier trousers, right?
Geoff: (laughs) Baggier! Exactly! Exactly it!
Jorie: Paul can be expressive on a comedic level. Did you see a side of Paul you never saw before? Was there a particular funny moment you can describe during the making of any of the animations?
Geoff: Well generally all the time, you know. There was a sense of fun around the productions. And sometimes we would laugh quite hysterically at things we were doing. I can't actually think of one that I could my finger on right now, but I can remember laughing a lot.
Jorie: Did he actually become the character he acted out?
Geoff: Yes! (laughing) Lots of times. It's very
difficult because you'd have to be there to appreciate the comedic
strength of Paul, you know. Quite often he would get up and read
and act how he would see Wirral or Froggo or Chief Bison deliver
his lines or his actions, which of course could become hysterically
funny. But as I say, you would have to (laughs) be there.
Jorie: Why wasn't that filmed?
Geoff: Hahahaha! (laughing)
Jorie: Paul acting out the character and the character doing the same thing he's doing.
Geoff: Well quite often they are.
Jorie: It could be the bloopers!
Geoff: Yes (laughing hysterically) I didn't select those tapes Jorie. You'll have to take to my word for it.
Jorie: Next time get somebody in there to film that!
Geoff: (laughing) I'll get somebody in the archives to have a look.
Jorie: Have the character mimic whatever he's doing. That would be hysterical.
Geoff: (laughing) That would be wonderful wouldn't it?
Jorie: I wanted to ask you about Linda McCartney. How much input did she have in these animations? It was her music that inspired some of the first award winning animations like "Seaside Woman" and "Oriental Nightfish." Do you think she was the driving force behind Paul to create animations for their music? Or was it Paul's idea?
Geoff: I knew Linda and she was very much a part of our team when we started making these films. I have the idea it was Paul's idea to start. I'm not sure about "Seaside Woman" but certainly with "Rupert" and "Tropic" and "Tuesday." They were Paul's because Linda was doing the work with Oscar. I would have to say Linda was very much part of the team in the early days. When we started making "Rupert" all our meetings were the three of us. When I would go to their home in Sussex ... we would sit and have meetings and develop the story line and I have to say they were very happy days.
And then onto "Tropic Island" yes, she was very much part of that. And "Tuesday" was in the process when the great sadness came. It's a bit difficult there. In a way that's the reason why there was a delay in the release of these films.
Jorie: I always thought "Tropic Island Hum" was done last, but it was "Tuesday."
Geoff: "Tuesday" was last. Yeah, 'cause "Tropic Island" we were in the middle of making and were halfway through when Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer and then we pressed on through it. And as you can appreciate... these were very hard times for everyone connected with the family and everybody who makes up the extended family you know. She was a great presence and a great creative lady as you know. So I always had plenty of good comments and she was a great mediator as well.
Jorie: Was the story line for "Tropic" her idea?
Geoff: That may have been so. I couldn't say. My meetings were primarily with Paul on that movie because Linda was busy with other projects. But that may have been so, but I'm not privy to what their discussion might have been when I wasn't there. It was certainly something that was very dear to her heart, so it's quite possible.
Jorie: "Tropic Island Hum" used the hand-drawn process of animation with new computer technology. Does the computer make things easier for animators and can some of the same qualities inherent from hand-drawn animations be implemented on computer? Paul said something in the DVD about how the hand-drawn process can't be done well on the computer.
Geoff: That's a difficult one for me. When "Tropic Island" started, computers were beginning to get quite sophisticated. But we still couldn't get the look that we wanted. Our aim was to make a film that was an homage to the great animators of the '40s and '50s. You know, the great American animators. We'd done Daumier, we'd done Rupert, which was based on an English artist and we wanted just to see how possible that was. So we really had to go with the hand-drawn techniques. We love it for that. And we're proud of it for that.
But when we came to "Tuesday" computers were very sophisticated. So we used the computer to enhance our look and we're very happy with it. Computers do give us--how can I put it?--production muscle if you like, because we can enlarge and reduce characters as we wish. We can repeat them, we can place them in different places, so it is a tremendous bonus. But I think what Paul was meaning was, that it's very, very sad if we have to lose the look of the great movies because they are truly great.
I still adore the three great Disney movies, which I think are "Snow White," "Pinocchio" and "Bambi." There are others that come after, which are sensationally good but those three seem to have a special quality. I think it's a great shame that people should lose that. I think audiences are still able to enjoy it and to appreciate what it is and not only be offered CGI (Common Gateway Interface). I think that's sad. And I adore CGI. I adore the Pixar movies and the Disney movies and "Shrek." I like "Shrek" very much and "Ice Age" I think is an extremely good movie. It's a shame that audiences are deprived of the passion of handcrafted work.
Jorie: I think audiences are excited over new technology and see handcrafted animation as outdated. I'm an artist and I personally love the hand-drawn stuff.
Geoff: Exactly. Jorie it would be like someone saying to you, "Listen Jorie you can't do oil paintings or watercolors anymore." That's ridiculous, you know. What the heck! I believe that drawing is still a great scope for free art. How many great animators have been prior to CGI? With CGI it's very difficult to separate studios because you could actually say "that film was made by that studio, and that film was made by that studio," and you couldn't tell the difference really could you? You know what I'm trying to say? But you could certainly say the drawings of John Hubley are vastly different from the drawings of Chuck Jones or the drawings of Chuck Jones are vastly different from the drawings of Walter Lantz or Tex Avery. There's a sort of individuality to them, which I believe is terribly important. And of course the great films of Walt Disney. It's pretty interesting to think that when Walt's hand was not on the movies they lacked that little je ne sais quoi, you know. It's amazing really.
Jorie: Is it a style or signature of the artist that you think is missing in computerized work? Is it more artificial?
Geoff: Yeah, Exactly! As I say, I'd actually like to think of them, or I'd not like to, but I think of them when I see them more as digital marionettes. This isn't sort of animation pictured in an explosive way or in a motion way, this is more like puppeteering in a way. And very beautiful it is and very well studied, but it doesn't have that... something... it's different isn't it to drawn stuff? But as I say it's staggeringly, pretty impressive, and I think you may have a point there, people warm to it because it's new.
I think over a period of time, when things start to happen... redevelop and animators regroup, there's going to be a great return to drawn stuff. I'm not so sure in the major entertainment industry but certainly in the expressive and artistic side of things.
Jorie: Wasn't "Yellow Submarine" ahead of its time?
Geoff: Yes, well "Yellow Submarine" is to me is a very individual one-off project. I think of course the music is just so totally brilliant and totally awesome you know. But I think for the film as a film, it owes an enormous amount of the total genius of Heinz Edelmann, who brought those extraordinary designs, which have never been recreated really. It's very difficult to do anything in that area without conjuring up thoughts of the "Yellow Submarine." It's a total imprint you know. And as I say it's great. To have had that music and those designs I think it's a great thing.
The animation to me is very simplistic. I suppose it led out of that psychedelic era. There was an American artist, really wonderful, named Peter Max... who was very similar... long-legged characters with you know, flowery kind of costumes and things.
Jorie: Will people viewing the DVD on computer find 'easter eggs' hidden in the program?
Geoff: You have to find them?... little puzzles? There's nothing that I would be able to say that would make that happen.
Jorie: Like Wirral would pop-up and say "hi!"
Geoff: (laughs) I not aware of that I have to say. There's one or two little visual things that are kind of pretty easy to pick up. I won't say what they are.
Jorie: Do you devote all your time now to McCartney projects or do you still work with other people or on your own projects?
Geoff: I'm at the present time Jorie, working
on a theatrical production, which is to animate the movie animals
in (Camille) Saint-Saens "Carnival of the Animals" that
will appear behind a live orchestra. That's what I'm busy with
at the present time, which I'm very, very excited about.
Jorie: I'll look forward to that.
Geoff: Well I hope it will come over to your...
LA or whatever you know. It's in the very early stages but we
just have an idea that this will be a very exciting thing.
And also my talks and meetings continue with Paul of course.
copyright Jorie B. Gracen
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