by Hans ten Cate, Tony Mines, Damian Sur,
and Pete Collier
Tuesday, 14 December 2004
Sure you can re-enact a scene from Monty Python, all you need perhaps
is a plastic raincoat and a stuffed parrot in a cage. Reworking a classic
Monty Python scene using LEGOs or a computer generated alien takes dedication
and an almost maniacal level of patience. Not surprisingly, there are
a number of fans out there who have done this... painstakingly crafting
their favorite Flying Circus or Holy Grail bit into an animated work.
Luckily the Internet, the world's foremost digital showcase, makes it
possible to share these digital creations so that other fans can enjoy
how art begets art. Here are three animations based on the world of
Monty Python, told in the words of their creators...
Owners of the special anniversary edition DVD
of Monty Python and the Holy Grail may already be familiar
with a marvelous short animated film recreating a scene from Holy
Grail entirely with LEGO toys. Tony Mines, of Spite Your Face Productions,
explains the origins of this popular short film.
|A sample scene from the Japanese LEGO
models based on Holy Grail... the full set of photos are
The deal with the Python film started when either Terry Gilliam
or John Goldstone (not sure which) found this great Japanese
website where the guy had made a bunch of LEGO models of scenes
from Holy Grail.
They saw that, and approached LEGO for the possibility of doing
an animation in the same vein, for the Holy Grail DVD. At the time,
Your Face were already in negotiations with LEGO to do some other
animations, and the project just fell into our hands. So basicaly,
we scored the deal off the back of this Japanese guy's hard work.
The turnover on the project was very fast, with the coding date
for the disk in less than a month. I dare not reveal quite how quickly
we made the film, for fear that future clients may expect us to work
that fast ever again - but suffice as to say that it was slightly
less time than God took to make the earth.
The first stage in the process was deciding which scene from
the film to recreate. There was a lot of discussion about it, but
for us, the Camalot sequence was the only real option. The original
film is very textural and visualy rich, but it's also essentialy a
series of sketches and talking heads, not at all suited to dynamic
animation - and that visceral quality is almost impossible to translate
using smooth plastic blocks. All the 'action' scenes in Holy Grail
operate on two basic principles, (a) that fake limbs are funny and
(b) so is copious amounts of gore.
Again, not something that works in plastic, or that LEGO would
particularly allow. The Camalot sequence on the other hand, is not
only lively, but has a logical beginning and end point that makes
it work as a self contained movie.
We began to break down the sequence, watching it over and over,
and turning it into a storyboard. We found to our delight that much
of the original sequence consists of repeated footage or a return
to the same three or four shots. This helped us in terms of budget
and schedule because it meant we could make similar use of loops and
repetition, though I really shouldn't be telling you this stuff.
We also began to break down the geography of the location, so
as to build an accurate set. The DVD has a featurette about the original
locations, which when we eventualy saw it, verified most of our assumptions
about the geography. We even used the same trick of redressing the
same 'alcove' to be two different parts of the room (one with the
minstrels, one with the choir singers).
well as the interior set, we also built a model of the castle exterior,
which we filmed outside as an excuse to sit in the sun all afternoon.
We actually carried said castle to the top of Tumbalum, a mountain
in Wales that overlooks Caerleon - a village many believe to be the
site of the 'real' Camalot. The footage, however, turned out to be
rubbish - and the shot you see in our film is so manipulated that
we needn't have bothered.
Finally we constructed 'likenesses' of the characters using a
mix of existing lego-men parts, and hand-printed labels based on the
tunics in the movie.
SYF get lots of mail from hard-core LEGO fans who want to know
exactly which parts we used for the characters. We generally like
to ignore those sort of questions, but some answers are provided in
our on-site FAQ.
animation process itself was relatively straightforward. A table with
some models on it, a camera, and the painfully laborious process of
moving tiny lego-men by infinitesimal increments, one frame at a time.
The exception to this is a close-up shot of some lego-men's feet 'tap
dancing'. This was filmed in live-action and involved removing the
lego-men's legs, as they cannot inherently 'stomp' each foot independently.
Another thing we are often asked about is how we made the knights
'jump'. This, in most cases, was acheived by supporting the knights
from behind, with the 'back wall' on the table and the camera pointing
down. Most other 'aerial' objects are supported by blu-tack, and the
swinging curtain is lined with poseable wire.
that, is none of your business.
The Python film was very enjoyable to work on, not least because
we at SYF have grown up with the Python team as a huge influence.
Through this film we got to work with the Pythons and put the Python
name to one of our films, plus we got to meet Terry's Jones and Gilliam.
For us it was one big plus. It's been downhill ever since!
For more misinformation visit:
Tony Mines, Director Spite Your Face Productions Ltd.
A few years ago, an animator named Damian Surr
posted a link on alt.fan.monty-python for fans to download a marvelous
piece of animation he did of the Cheese Shop sketch as performed by
two Douglas Adamsian characters generated entirely in CG. Damian intentionally
had not watched the Cheese Shop sketch on TV, so his rendition features
wonderfully fresh facial and body language, lending the sketch a new
I'm always looking at ways to improve my animation. Before I
did the Cheese Emporium sketch, I had only ever animated one small
piece of lip sync (getting the character to speak to the words coming
through the audio), and only really used characters one at a time
in a scene.
I was on the look out for doing something that had lots of rich
dialogue, and some strong character interaction. Finding a sound track
that met the above requirements and was also funny would make the
exercise more enjoyable to work on and the end result more fun to
I had all of that in mind for a couple of weeks and kept my
ears open for the perfect thing, then I listened to one of my Python
CD's and found exactly what I wanted. There were several tracks I'd
love to have done (the 'Argument sketch' springs to mind), but finally
decided on the Cheese Emporium.
Luckily, I'd never seen the sketch on TV at that time. I'd only
heard it on CD, so I didn't have any visuals in my mind to influence
me. I could just use my imagination for the actual animation.
I always used to love catching Python stuff on TV when I was
growing up. I just fit my sense of humour, or maybe it moulded it.
Chicken or Egg? Who knows, it was all just very funny.
Life of Brian has to be one of the best films ever made, and
that just looking at things as they are now. Imagine having the balls
to make that film at the time that they did!
And the universe song in 'The Meaning of Life' (walking out
of the fridge) is the only piece of footage that's ever had me sat
at a video, with the pause and rewind buttons, for about an hour in
order to write down all of the words (obviously, this is in the days
before an internet search would give them all to you in a nano second).
The characters I used were great to work with too. They were
designed for a different project by a group of friends I was working
with at the time.
Unfortunately it was just a one off exercise unless some rich
businessman wants to pay vast quantities of money for me to do more.
I didn't even do the full sketch. I wanted to, but it was too big
a task so I cut out my favourite minute.
I think it was about 6 weeks of pretty intensive work. I animated
the faces first, and then put in all of the body movement. At the
same time, Billy was modelling the outside of the shop that's seen
at the start and I modelled the inside. The animation its self took
the most time, but if the characters hadn't been finished already
then it would have been 8 to 12 weeks I guess.
All done with 3D Studio MAX. I can't remember what I used to
steal .. erm, borrow .. the audio from the CD. The visuals and audio
were then put together using a program called Premier.
Pete Collier is a computer game designer in
England who created this piece of animation for his final year at university.
Imagine a meerkat singing Eric Idle's Penis Song...
I’ve just graduated from the University of Teesside in
sunny Middlesbrough, with a First Class Degree in Computer Games Design,
which mainly consisted of 3d animation work. Anyway the short end
of a long stick is that I’m glad I’m finished and ‘Penis
Song’ was an animation I did in my final year.
When I was finished, to be able to say “Have you seen
my Penis Song” quite legitimately, to otherwise quite serious
people would be worth the effort alone. It seemed a positively Pythonesque
kind of thing to do...so I did it.
Monty Python actually lends itself very well to animation because
it is so full of character. Eric has such a rhythmic, whimsical singing
voice especially in ‘Penis Song’ that it was just begging
to be animated. I’m sure Terry Gilliam must have felt the same.
The inspiration behind the character ‘Burt’ was from
a wildlife documentary on BBC2 at about 3am in the morning on Meerkats.
Meerkats have to be the single greatest creature going and ooze with
personality. Hence Burt was born, a slightly mutated preposterously
ugly Meerkat, but one all the same. He is sensitive about his ears
so I wouldn’t mention it.
I’m a huge fan of the guys, not just the classic stuff,
but the new as well. Michael’s audio books of his travels were
simply excellent. His tales from around the Pacific Rim saved me in
my last job from the treacherous boredom of creating a CG replication
of a Turkish railway station. I was recently really enjoying Eric’s
Greedy Ba$tard Diaries but now I have to wait till 2005 to read the
‘Penis Song’ is the first in what I hope to be a
volley of short ‘n’ quirky animated musical pieces. You
know when you listen to a song and imagine, not Eric Idle singing
it, but a small half Meerkat half big flappy eared green imp like
creature. Well that’s kind of my angle…my next might be
a frisky Gibbon wearing an all in one spandex jump suit singing ‘My
Heart Will Go On’.
Although this all largely depends on whether I can stand (or
sit) in front of this horrible lump of metal much longer and not instead
go and pester Eric to join him on his next tour!
animation itself took about just under 2 weeks. Creating Burt and
setting him up for animation took about the same. From start to finish
it took about 3 weeks. The weird thing is I’ve now listened
to this song, about, say…3 billion times over and over again
trying to get the animation just right and I still adore the song!
Although having every conceivable name for a one eyed trouser snake
engrained in your head, for nigh on a month, doesn’t do your
mental health or indeed those living with you at the time, much good
I used a 3d package called ‘Maya’. A lovely piece
of software that many CG artists swear by, or indeed, at! For the
unacquainted it’s the same package they use to create the majority
of CG work for Lord of the Rings. But please don’t compare Burt
to Gollum, he hates the two-faced git.
See also one of Pete's latest website creations: www.abstractreview.net.
For good measure I couldn't resist mentioning
the fantastic South Park tribute to Monty Python, featuring
the South Park characters re-enacting the Dead Parrot sketch, or the
equivalent considering it is a Dead Kenny.
The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, developed
a cartoon short honoring the comedy troupe's 30th anniversary. The cartoon
aired 9 October 1999 on BBC television where it was part of a special
called "It's the Monty Python Story."
With the permission of the Pythons and Comedy Central, Matt and Trey
spun Monty Python's well-known "Dead Parrot" skit into a short
entitled "The Dead Friend Sketch," starring South Park's
Cartman as John Cleese, Kyle as Michael Palin and Kenny as the parrot.
"We would do anything for the Pythons," Parker and Stone
said in a statement. "We would kill ourselves for them ... We hope
this small piece of animation will suffice."
At the end of the cartoon, the BBC showed Parker and Stone in a small
studio with Terry Gilliam’s actualy mother, Beatrice, hostage
in a chair. They demanded that Gilliam direct an episode of South