Tom: I studied Fine Art (Painting) at Wimbledon School of Art and spent three or four years afterwards doing various jobs to pay the bills as well as putting on a few shows in and around
London. I've been working full-time as an art teacher and running an art department over the last four years but have continued to produce art work as well as doing some open studio
exhibitions. My work has mainly been commissioned portraiture. I still paint people but have stopped taking on commissions for the time being because of the limited time I have.
Martin: Where did the idea of making an animation to promote the book come from?
Tom: I'd been running a local community art project the previous year and the theme had been stop-motion animation, so it was a medium I'd been experimenting with already. I've always loved the animations of Ray Harryhausen - in particular the famous fighting skeletons scene from Jason and the Argonauts. So animation was something that I'd always wanted to try, and I think it was my mother who suggested it might be fun to do an animation to promote
Niedermayer & Hart.
Tom: The cat and mouse theme immediately conjured-up a sort of Tom and Jerry rivalry - the idea is that the book (because there's only one copy) is compulsive reading and unputdownable - they both want to get their hands on it.
Martin: Art imitating life then!
Tom: You hope!
Martin: Alright, carry on!
Martin: How long does it take to make each animation, start to finish?
Tom: After making the figures and the initial set-building and painting, and making the tiny props for the characters to use, I suppose the first two (A Gripping Tail and The Purr-fect Crime) took about two whole days, to shoot the scenes and then to edit everything together before adding sound effects, music and all the titles and credits. The third instalment took longer - more like four days - because of a few more complicated and fiddly bits that were involved.
Martin: What kind of software did you use to make the films?
Tom: A Gripping Tail was made with a piece of software called ZU-3D on a PC, but the second and third were made with i-Stop Motion on the Mac. There's not much difference between the picture quality of the animations but I found i-Stop Motion easier to use and there were more options when it came to the post-production.
Martin: How did you do the sound effects, voices etc?
Tom: I recorded all of the sound effects myself, straight into the computer, with the exception of the music tracks (although you can hear my ukulele and some singing in the animations). I spent quite a bit of time recording and re-recording sounds whilst sitting on the sofa, watching clips over and over again. Sometimes I had to overlap several sound effects in order to get it right. It's the kind of thing you need to have a bit of privacy for - anyone except for my girlfriend that heard me making snoring-cat sounds and little mouse noises would think I'd gone barmy.
Martin: Most people don't know you like I do!
Tom: Thanks, Dad.
Martin: Would you like to do more animations in the future, or have you had enough of messing around with plasticine?
Tom: I'd like to do some more in the
future but my main priority right now is my painting.
Tom: I made a large watercolour painting of Valle Crucis in North Wales for the main image and for this I had to work from a composite image which I made using photos of the abbey taken in summer along with winter photos taken a few years ago in Kent when we had a heavy snowfall. When I was happy with the finished piece I scanned the painting into the computer. I used Photoshop to set up the dimensions for the front and back covers as well as the spine allowing extra space for what the printers call "bleed" and for crop marks. I added in the text and after a lot of adjustments the file was sent off to the printer. We had to do one extra tweak after seeing the first proof, but in the end I was really happy with the result.
Martin: So, what are you working on at the moment?
Tom: I've just completed a portrait which I've been working on for some time. The actual time that I've spent on it probably only amounts to a few weeks work, but over the same period I've worked on various commissions and generally been very busy with my day job, so it's a great feeling to finally get it finished. I've also got a few more paintings in the pipeline which I'm looking forward to working on.
Martin: Thanks very much, Tom - both for taking part in this interview and for all the help you've given me with the book. Without your help the finished product most certainly wouldn't have had such a professional look. I know I'm probably biased but I think it's a lovely book to look at and hold - a real thing of beauty.
Please take a look at Tom's website at www.tomjohnsonart.com