by Baird Media

The success of Ruby & Roach can largely be attributed to its animation. That, however, is only part of the story: it is also the choice of animation style. The selection of the stop-motion method is brave. For the uninitiated, stop-frame or stop-motion animation is very similar to the way in which early animated films were made. For example, Disney’s Bambi took more than a million individual drawings to make the feature film. Modern stop motion animation involves arranging – and sometimes creating – physical objects. These are photographed and the still images played back, at speed, to create the illusion of movement. 

Various bits and pieces of paper to make up the body of Ruby in the Abyss South Africa animated film Ruby & Roach

For this film, the decision to use stop motion animation was a shared one. It shaped the essence of both the film and the story, says animator and co-director, Erentia Bedeker. The medium – paper cut outs – limits how emotion is conveyed because that, and movement, generally, are limited to gross body actions and the characters’ eyes.  

Animation and Direction Mixed

The two apparently distinct functions, animation and direction, seem to merge in the making of this film. In their gestation, Bedeker describes the characters as taking on lives of their own so that in the process “they became directors and I’m just the animator moving them.”  The little girl who appears only at the end of the film, she says, “just popped out of the paper and came alive”. That entire scene was just a single shot. “I had nothing to do with it,” she laughs.  

The various expressions of the main characters are all in the eyes, of which there are various versions in the Abyss South Africa animated film Ruby & Roach

Damned eyebrows

Unlike Ruby who, it seems, “caused a lot of trouble”. The pink paper elephant’s eyebrows are a central motif in the film. They are important for conveying the mixed emotions associated with rejection, sadness and kindness.  

During a series of shots, Ruby’s eyebrows consistently came unstuck so that those “damned” eyebrows developed a life of their own. This was the inspiration for the endearing habit of picking them up and putting them back, or Roach’s gently touching Ruby’s eyebrows back into position.

While Ruby was troublesome – Bedeker’s  description – it was the single seagull that was her greatest challenge. She notes that most of the directorial decisions took place during storyboarding, i.e. the types of shots in relation to action, their composition, layering, and finally animation. The script had called for a flock of seagulls. It was evident that using stop motion animation and paper cut outs, this would have been an impossible feat. The flock became a solitary gull which still became Bedeker’s biggest test. Like Disney’s team, she researched the bird’s flight before starting work. 

Making a seagull fly is not as easy as it seems in the Abyss South Africa animated film Ruby & Roach

Making Paper Move

Once done, the only way to see that cut outs would actually move as intended, was to shoot the sequence. That meant that all the cut outs had to be finished. And the sequence shot. Bedeker postponed shooting for a week.  

Just that solitary gull’s landing and settling on the pile of rubbish, alongside Ruby and Roach, involved 84 cut outs and 84 shots:  one frame for each.  

All for five seconds on screen.  

This perfectly illustrates the technical intricacy of the film’s animation which took some eighteen months.