Frankenweenie may be one of Tim Burton’s most personal films, with young Victor Frankenstein’s lesser known hobby being making short home movies with his reanimated dog, Sparky, but that doesn’t mean the master of the macabre is adverse to surrendering the lab keys once in a while, to let others have a go at filling test tubes and reanimating his creations.
“It was actually a very pleasurable thing to do, rather than an intimidating thing to do,” explains Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride animator Mark Waring in an exclusive interview with SciFiNow. The animation supervisor-turned-director’s all-new three minute short film Captain Sparky Vs The Flying Saucers, included on the recent DVD and Blu-ray release, is a loving homage to Plan 9-style low budget fun, all UFOs on string and wobbling camera work.
“I loved the idea that there would be extra films,” Waring continues” during Frankenweenie there was a short film, but idea he’d made others was a nice concept and it would be great if there were more of them. We had the idea of doing genre films – Captain Sparky’s the space one, the actual film itself has a monster one, and we were playing around with the idea of if we did another it would be a cowboy one.”
Thought Captain Sparky’s follow-up – if an opportunity comes along to make one – would probably be a spaghetti Western, it’s not Waring’s first choice. Sadly, though, another stop-motion horror/comedy beat Team Burton to the punch.
“I was initially going to say a zombie thing,” Waring laments, “but that’s already been done with ParaNorman that sort of came out just before Frankenweenie along that same sort of idea.
“I quite like the idea of having a cowboy theme – we did think about it, having a shoot out, the goodies versus the baddies, and bringing back E Gore [voiced by Atticus Shaffer] and Mr Whiskers as the baddies in the black hats. That would have been quite a nice one. I quite like idea of the monster movie thing that was touched upon in the film itself, I think it’s a nice sort of device and it could be something that you could develop a bit further. The classic Godzilla-type of thing!”
The challenge wasn’t the concept though, it was finding time and resources to do it amid the business of a feature film, and in getting the film-within-a-film aspect right. Captain Sparky V The Flying Saucers, for all its cosmic pretensions, has to feel like one of “those classic B-movie type films that a boy has made.
“You know, I’ve done that,” Waring continues, “I had a Super-8 camera, and I made films when I was a kid, so it was quite resonant, that whole idea.”
Did the director dig out his own vintage follies for inspiration?
“I don’t even know if they exist!” he laughs. “But if they do exist they’re in a cupboard somewhere, in a box!
“But imagine how to do something on a professional level that looks amateurish – the trick was trying to work out how to do that without making a bad film by putting loads of mistakes in it,” he adds, “because people would have been watching it going, ‘That’s terrible, why have they done that!’ So the trick was to try and put little bits in it that suggest this has been badly made – so with the flying saucers, we deliberately had them on string and his hand was coming into shot holding something on a stick, really clunky animation to try and make it look like it’s a badly animated film. We were always aware of trying to do something badly but do it well.”
As for finding the time during the labour-intensive process of a stop-frame feature film, the sheer necessity of space and manpower meant that Captain Sparky Vs The Flying Saucers only became a reality toward the end of the production.
“It was probably something that was mooted at an earlier stage, it sort of came together towards the end of the shoot. The script came from [Frankenweenie co-producer] Derek Frey – Tim’s sort of assistant who looks after quite a lot of his stuff – he came up with the script idea, and we sort of ran with it and sort of developed it from that.
“So when I got involved as a director, we sort of passed a few ideas backwards and forwards, and I sort of proposed storyboard ideas and some additional bits – the bits I was saying, how to get in those bad moments, the bad bits of animation and stuff that he’s done and put those into the mix. Over a period of time, when we knew the main shoot was finishing in the studio, we’d have some space… it was a bit tricky because as we finished the film, the studio sort of collapses around the film. So we expand into the space as we shoot, gradually taking on crews in the big push to the finish, and then it sort of collapses down, losing people and stages, so as it was happening we knew that those people would become available and space would become available to shoot the short.
“That made it a priorty – ‘OK, we’ve got these people, we’ve got this amount of time to shoot it, we can shoot that shot here, that shot there, we can make it work’. So it sort of came out of one thing and into another – I don’t think we could have actually done it at the same time. We just wouldn’t have had enough facilities really. Even though the idea was maybe floating around, it only really came together at the end when we knew we could make it work.”
Lightening never strikes twice, to quote a tired old cliche, but given it’s necessary for both Victor Frankenstein and Mark Wharing’s experiments, we better start praying for storms if we want to see Sparky return in the Wild West…