Wes Wood is the founder of Animation Toolkit, the world’s largest suppliers of armatures for stop motion animation, and the Cosgrove Hall Archive, which was known for producing classic children’s animations such as Noddy, Danger Mouse, The BFG, Count Duckula, Oakie Doke, Little Robots and more. He started his career at Mackinnon and Saunders, working on projects like The Corpse Bride and is now at the forefront of stop motion animation tech, working with 3D printing.
He kindly took the time to answer a few questions.
What do you love about animation?
From as early as I remember I was inspired by Animation and had a dream of being the next Walt Disney! Looney Tunes really inspired my passion, then the early films that Aardman came out with like ‘A Grand Day Out’, got me completely hooked. Stop motion became an absolute love because it was accessible to me. I wasn’t a great drawer, but I realised with Lego, I had an animation kit at my fingertips to practice my stop motion techniques.
What animators inspire you now?
I think the animator that has inspired me most recently is Mike Mort. It’s amazing what Mike has achieved over the last couple of years. ‘Raging Balls [Of Steel Justice]’ his short, is amazing and I’ve never seen anything like that coming out of Britain. His humour, cinematography, animation and puppet making skills are phenomenal. Mike Mort is the guy. He raised the finance for his new film ‘Night of the Trampires‘ which goes to show that anything is possible.
What was it like working on Mackinnon and Saunders?
I was lucky really because Mackinnon and Saunders were making puppets for ‘The Corpse Bride’ and were recruiting for staff and I landed an amazing opportunity to work on puppet maintenance. It was a great grounding in the world of Armatures/Puppets and it involved replacing hands and heads, fixing broken armatures for characters such as ‘Postman Pat’, ‘Little Robots’ and ‘Engie Benjy’. It was a 3-year crash course in stop-motion and springboarded my career.
What was it like working at Cosgrove Hall?
Cosgrove Hall and many of its now iconic shows played a massive part in my life. I particularly loved ‘Count Duckula’ and so when I landed a job there flying around the world, developing new intellectual property and selling to international broadcasters, was a dream come true. I loved every minute of it.
How did you get involved in the Cosgrove Hall archive?
After my contract ended at Cosgrove Hall (recession hit the kids’ TV market hard), I went to work for CITV. One day I was walking through the Granada Television studios and in a loading bay, I spotted that there was a massive collection of boxes and I immediately recognised a couple of objects. ITV owned Cosgrove Hall, so it dawned on me that this was what was left of the animation house after it sadly ceased trading. I was shocked to find it just sitting there being left, so after many about 12 months of speaking to the powers that be and putting a case today, I was made the legal custodian of the archive. I could not let it go into the bin and thought it was important we found a home for it here in Manchester, playing true to its roots and the animation community which still exists here.
About 18 months later I met up with a guy called Ricard at Waterside Arts Centre and he shared my passion for animation and the preservation of such a wonderful collection. He said he’d like to house the collection in Arts Centre and so that started this new phase of documenting and restoring the complete collection, which has been done in partnership with The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts Council.
We are now looking forward to 2019 and want to take the collection on tour. A new personal project of mine is crafting the concept on the very preliminary stages of what will be the Animation Experience. This will be a visitor attraction in Manchester where people can come and look at the archive and get immersed in the world of animation – celebrating the art and craft of animation.
What made you start Animation Toolkit?
It began at university. I realised there wasn’t a kit available to make an armature and my thoughts started to form. I had sketches and ideas but nothing in stone. So, after finishing at Cosgrove Hall, I started to develop my kit, initially soldering parts in the garage, which I sold on eBay. I was making so much in the garage I just couldn’t cope with the demand for kits. Fast forward a fair few years and we now have 10 factories that make animation parts for us across the globe. I would consider us the largest manufacturer of animation armatures in the world. It’s a bit of a dream come true. It snowballed. I didn’t think it would be as successful as it is. We are currently making over 100 thousand kits and parts (in their various arrangements) a year and it’s continuing to grow.
What do you love about British animation and what are some of the difficulties?
Some of the best animation comes out of the UK. It’s not just traditional 2D cell animation but also Flash styled animation, CGI and stop motion. It all compliments each other. The best examples I see in animation now are in advertising. The biggest challenge for animation is the money. Animation is very expensive to make, and you need someone with deep pockets to believe in your idea – which is why it’s so prevalent in advertising. Aldi’s ‘Kevin the Carrot’, John Lewis’ ‘Moz the Monster’ and the BBC’s ‘The Supporting Act’ Christmas campaigns last year all wonderful.
What do you think the future of animation will be like?
Specifically, in stop-motion the latest development is in 3D printing. Animation Toolkit is printing en-mass as an alternative to injection moulding. This comes with its own challenges – the expense and quality being high factors in mass production and short runs. We’ve now got to a stage where we’re past PLA and sandstone finishes. We can comfortably print in a super high resolution with no residual ‘print lines’ what so ever.
To better that, we’ve been working on a project recently with stop-motion and motion-capture and how they can be interlinked – which creates some fascinating animation in a unique style. You can overlay any character that you want, and it will look like a stop motion animation, all you need to use is an armature. A similar technique has been implemented in some beta video games. It’s an interesting take on a traditional art.
If you could repair one character from the Cosgrove Hall archive what would it be?
‘Truckers’ is a Terry Pratchett and Cosgrove Hall collaboration. It was a one-off series of short films which made one complete film. Unfortunately, those puppets didn’t stand the test of time through years of neglect. They are probably some of the puppets in the worse condition that we have in the collection but are worth saving. We can’t restore a puppet at present as its costly, but what we would like to do is digitally restore the puppet. With the help of Manchester Metropolitan Uni, we are going to 3D scan the puppet then digitally restored it. Truckers is a lost gem, a favourite of mine and it would be a delight to see the puppets resurrected in some way.