Wire We Here

Technical Details:

completed November, 1994
12min 30 sec.
mono (on film; stereo on tape)

Notes from Doug:

This whole Pipe Cleaner thing started because I wanted to get back into making films on my own again. I had started out making these strange science fiction-like films as a teenager, and I was determined to go into special effects. One of the films I made was "The Moon...According to Higgins" which required some clay animation for the aliens, along with the normal amount of live action and effects work. Not allowing my lack of knowledge about animation to stop me, I plowed ahead, and eventually I used this film as a sample of my work to get a job as animator at Will Vinton Studios in 1983.

Flash forward to February, 1992. Up to this point I really had no idea what I was going to do for a film, only that I wanted to make one. I was getting antsy. Sure, I'd been working on projects for Will Vinton Studios, but that's a long way from creating a work that expresses your own creative desires, and I hadn't made a film of my own since I started working there. Then one Saturday morning I sat up in bed with the idea of this pipe cleaner world firmly in my head. Did I dream it? Maybe; I can't tell anymore. All I know is that I got up (it must have been about 5:30 in the morning) and wrote for the next 3 hours, making notes that would eventually become the first Pipe Cleaner film. About 60% of the final film came from that writing binge. That afternoon I went down to the local craft store and bought some pipecleaners and began to experiment with the design of the two characters I would need. And then I suddenly remembered that my Grandmother used to make Christmas displays using pipecleaner people and cotton for snow, some yarn for scarves and clothing and a piece of mirror for a small lake to skate on. Maybe that is where the original idea came from!

By March 92' the sets were designed and so I gathered a few people at my house who were interested in helping on the film and we built and painted most of the main street set that I continue to use. My original plan was to get as many people as possible to help animate on this short 5 minute film (how was I to know at that time that it would expand to twelve and a half minutes?!) and try to finish it by the fall.

Well, we did finish it in the fall. The fall of 94'. In between was a series of script changes and endless days shooting and many retakes; by the summer of 93' I was ready to abandon the film, thinking it would never amount to anything worth showing. But for some reason I pushed on. I ended up doing most of the animation; Kyle Bell also did a sizable chunk by completing most of the sequence in the street set. It became too difficult to have people come over to the house and shoot, though some did like Kyle, Tracy Larson and Tim Tanner. Another thing we tried was shooting the interior of the house scenes in Webster Colcord's basement; he completed 2 shots and Matt Izakson did one as well before that set was moved back to my house.

The script went through a number of revisions; nobody liked my original ending of having Dad tumble off the table and yell back, "I've fallen and I can't get up!". And my original title wasn't working as well. "Who's in Charge?" just didn't have the right ring to it. Then one day I was talking to Jamie Haggerty about the music for the film (he also built the track and pan-and-tilt head I used) and he said he just saw a Russian film that used wire animation. Feeling that someone may have beaten me to the punch I asked him what it was called, and he answered, "'Wire We Here'". It took him a while to convince me that he had made up that title, but I loved it so much I used it (with his permission).

By March of 94' I had been working on this film off and on for 2 years and I wanted it done. I got up early one morning to work on the longest shot in the show...where Dad is telling Junior about his quest for the creator while in the background the animator enters the studio and is shocked to see his creations moving on their own, and he pushes his nose right up to them. It is also the most technically difficult shot in the film. Though the stop-motion sequences were filmed in 16mm, the scene with John Ashlee-Pratt as the animator was shot live-action using his 35mm camera. I then rear-projected that scene onto a special screen with my animated characters in front of it, advancing the projector one frame at a time as I shot each frame of film. I was about half-way through this 1200+ frame shot when I felt the house shake; no, it was more like a rolling motion. It took me a moment before I realized an earthquake had hit! What else could go wrong?! Obviously the shot was ruined, but I went ahead and finished it anyway, with that sick feeling in my stomach that I would have to throw the whole thing away. To my amazement, the shot worked! I had secured all the parts well enough that nothing shifted during the quake.

Shooting wrapped that summer, and by October the music and sound were completed. Scott Sundholm had been editing the film as we went along. The first print arrived in November, and then I started the nerve-wracking process of sending it to film festivals. To my great surprise, it was very well received, and placed well in a number of festivals. By that time I was starting to dabble in computer animation, and an idea came to me about a cute little digital dog. So I carefully packed all the "Wire We Here" sets away, secure in the knowledge that I would never make another pipe cleaner film again.