When we started making Hidden Heroes we had lots of discussions about how to tell the story.
Some of the key decisions we made were:
- We all wanted to make sure we did justice to such an epic and emotive story.
- Choosing to animate the film. Our original plan had been to use actors and make full size sets.
- Deciding to make the whole film using black and white painted models. The one colour element allowed would be the letters posted between the main characters.
- Focusing on the letters as a way of limiting the scope of the story. We realised that this would still allow the film to show so many aspects of the ‘apparatus of war’.
The team then progressed to sketching characters, scenes and drawing storyboards. Some members of the group shot short animation tests with rough paper models and puppets. These animations helped us to get an idea of how characters, props and the camera might move.
We then created an animatic. This combined all our ideas with a temporary soundtrack so we could see how sound would work with the images.
Our animatic test is below. You will see that there are lots of ideas and shots that did end up in the finished film. When we watched it, it helped us see what sequences still needed fleshing out.
How the film would begin took along time to pin down. One early idea had it starting with shots of pens dipping in ink to write the letters.
Another idea was to start it like the British war film A Matter of Life and Death.
Then I happened to watch Casablanca three days before we started filming. It begins with a fast talking voice over, that propels the audience into story. A variation on this is what starts Hidden Heroes.
When it came time to shoot the film, the amount of time we had spent planning scenes paid off. We didn’t waste too much time working shots out, we had already done that. Instead we used the time to make the animation in the shots as good as we could. We only had time to do most shots once as the time we had to film everything was only three half-term days.
We only built what the camera would see from set angles.
We used black bin bags to represent the sea. To make the letters look like they were sinking under water, we layered cellophane over them.