Bringing Paddington to Life
One of the most important decisions made by the filmmakers was that of the
voice of Paddington. Anyone who has grown up with the stories or the various
television incarnations of these classic tales will have their own opinion of
just how a young Peruvian bear, who has learnt English from listening to
gramophone records, should sound. It was a difficult task - but one with a very
By the spring of 2014, acclaimed British actor Colin Firth had been working
on the project for some time. He had been involved during preproduction,
rehearsing with the actors and in the early stages of post production he had
gone into the recording studio to give his voice to several scenes. However,
during those first months of post-production, director Paul King and Firth came
to a difficult decision. King takes up the story: "It was a gradual realisation,
on both sides really, that during the course of creating the bear, which took
many, many months, that Colin's voice simply did not fit. We all realised that
Paddington required a lighter and younger voice - not quite so tall, dark and
handsome!" Thus, it was decided - "over a cup of tea and a marmalade sandwich"
as Paul puts it
- that Colin would graciously and agreeably step away from the project.
The search for a voice for Paddington took several weeks and many of the
country's finest acting talent read for the iconic role. In a rather traditional
approach and perhaps taking his lead from Paddington himself, King wrote to the
young British stage and screen actor Ben Whishaw, to ask if he would like to
read for the role, having been an admirer of his work for many years. After one
reading with Ben, Paul admits "I found myself hearing his voice whenever I
thought of the bear".
"There's an 'otherness' to Ben's voice" he continues, "Paddington has learnt
English from listening to old records on the gramophone, so has a somewhat
old-fashioned, 'proper' accent, but at the same time, there's a lovely sort of
woolly, furry quality which Ben brings to it." It no doubt helps that Whishaw is
such an accomplished actor - able to lose himself in the moment and utterly
inhabit a character - be it human or ursine.
Paul and Ben spent many weeks recording the voice of Paddington and dedicated
a great deal of time to collectively 'finding' the bear in his full incarnation,
as the animated character simultaneously took shape and finally came so vividly
A Bear is Born
Paddington Bear is a character instantly recognisable by his battered red
hat, his blue duffle coat and his quirky smile - and this iconic look was
preserved by the filmmakers. As Rosie Alison confirms, "The original Peggy
Fortnum illustrations from the late 1950s were definitely our key inspiration.
We looked to combine these beautiful line drawings with references to real bear
cubs. Our wonderful team at Framestore was then able to bridge the gap between
the two, imaginatively and sympathetically. But there were a great many drawings
and concepts along the way!"
Paul King continues, "Peggy Fortnum's Paddington looks much more like a real
bear cub than later versions and is, to my mind, all the more appealing for it.
Her Paddington has much more of a bear's
snout, he's more slender (than later versions) and to me felt much more like a
bear cub than a teddy bear - in fact, like a slightly scruffy urchin." As Paul
has admitted, Oliver Twist was a strong influence when developing the script and
this reference point continued to be a visual inspiration for the overall 'look'
of the bear.
The process of 'creating' Paddington was, as one might expect, tremendously
collaborative. This computer-generated and wholly animated bear - standing at
3'6" without his hat and 3'9" with it on - needed to exist in a real world,
alongside real people and places and this involved the vision and skills of
many. The director, the producers, a team of 500 animators, compositors and VFX
crew, as well as the more 'traditional' departments of Costume, Set and Lighting
Design all played a significant part in bringing the bear to life.
Every detail of the way Paddington looks, speaks and moves is of paramount
importance if an audience is to successfully engage with him. Andy Kind (VFX and
CG Supervisor) and Pablo Grillo, (Animation Director), along with the huge VFX
team at Framestore, have been responsible for creating such fantastical
characters as Dobby the House Elf and the Hippogriffs in the HARRY POTTER
series. Andy found working on PADDINGTON more challenging than anything he had
every worked on. "Designing a wholly computer-generated character is always very
tricky - Paddington is entirely CGI and a very physical character, and how he
interacts with the 'real world' is incredibly important in helping us believe in
him - getting it right, down to the little details of the wind ruffling his fur,
or his tummy wobbling as he walks, is crucial to making him entirely realistic
within his environment."
King cannot praise the huge team of collaborators highly enough; "There's a
sense that because this kind of work is all done on computers, there's no
artistry involved - but on the contrary, it's created by extraordinarily
talented artists, who hand-finish every single frame. The precise angle of an
eyebrow or the way the light glints off his eye at a certain moment can make or
break a shot, and each of them go through literally hundreds and hundreds of
revisions before we are all satisfied. It's enormously labour-intensive work
which cannot be undertaken without a huge amount of love and dedication - I
think the results have been quite extraordinary."
Naturally, a great many elements came in to play in creating a 21st century
Paddington, which would be loyal to Bond's imagination and also to Fortnum's
earliest drawings, though at the same time contemporary and infinitely more
'real'. Animation Director Pablo Grillo and his team at Framestore found the
simplicity of Paddington's original style - a battered hat and a duffle coat - a
great help in building on the origins of the character.
Input from the film's costume designer - the Oscar-winning Lindy Hemming -
was also key, particularly if she had any plans to play with this iconic look.
Says Lindy, "From the beginning I tried to approach it as if Paddington was a
real character, because he is of course - and as a known character, he came with
obvious demands and some pressure to get him just right. But I have to say, the
same questions come in to play as for any character - for example, where has
that hat come from? How well does it fit him and how does he wear it when he
Interestingly, the decision was made by the filmmakers not to give Paddington
Wellington boots - perhaps one of the most recognisable elements of his look
over the years. The boots were actually introduced for the purposes of allowing
the Paddington teddy bears to stand on their own two feet! It's worth noting
however that the obligatory marmalade sandwich - on hand for emergencies - does
remain firmly under Paddington's hat.
As with Gary Williamson's production design, Hemming's costumes continued to
explore the thematic use of colour, helping to anchor characters and their
choices. "From the very beginning we
knew Paddington's primary colours were to be 'blue' (for the duffle coat) and
'red' (for the hat) and this is then linked to those he meets and the influence
he has on them - particularly Mr. and Mrs. Brown. You start to weave these
colours into their stories and into the children's, too, to illustrate aspects
and traits of their parents within them." Paddington's influence on those he
meets and the impact he has on the Brown family in particular is fascinating
when explored via this use of colour and clothing. For example, uptight Mr
Brown, who we initially meet in a very formal grey suit and blue tie, begins to
wear a little more red and a more relaxed structure to his clothing as he warms
to Paddington and re-kindles his relationship with his wife.
With Paddington's distinctive look in place, King and Grillo worked
extensively in pre-production as well as on set to begin to establish the way
that Paddington would move. Working with the wonderful physical theatre
performer, Javier Marzan, and with Cal McCrystal, the acclaimed theatre and
comedy director - they filmed references for each scene that would be used by
the animators to help define Paddington's movement. To most effectively place
this living, breathing, tumbling Paddington within his environment, a 'stuffed
bear' model was created by Nick Dudman, which was used as a lighting reference
for the VFX team, capturing the way Paddington's fur caught the light as he
interacted with 'real' performers and his tangible surroundings.
As Grillo explains, "This film is an opportunity to generate a great comedy
character - in the vein of Jacques Tati or Buster Keaton" and the VFX team had
great fun marrying the character's inherent comedic charm with something
childlike, not to mention bear-like. Agrees Paul King - "There's something
completely ageless about Paddington - it seems to me he is part eight year old
and part eighty - that's what's so charming about him: that he has the manners
of a grown up, slightly out of his time and the enthusiasm of a rambunctious
The intention is that with PADDINGTON, the classic touches of humour and the
display of good manners which define this Peruvian hero for so many readers,
will be fully realised for a new generation. As Heyman is keen to point out,
"It's a contemporary story, using the most contemporary technology and we are
creating our very own Paddington Bear, but our PADDINGTON is strongly in the
spirit of what has come before". Indeed, there are reassuringly familiar touches
throughout the film and several of the comic mishaps will be instantly
recognisable to those generations that devoured Bond's stories as children -
with a few modern twists thrown in for a new generation.
At the heart of the film however is a story that's entirely ageless. As Rosie
Alison points out, "Paddington is really the quintessential refugee and Paul has
woven in all sorts of other echoes of the immigrant story. So we've very much
got a portrait of London as this tolerant city where people are welcomed and can
be different and still fit in and it's a journey we take with Paddington. It's a
story about compassion, tolerance, empathy...and Paddington Bear sits very much in
that tradition because it's about the kindness of strangers and being open to
understanding others". Perhaps Paul King best sums up the message of the film,
as we see a somewhat disconnected family take in a stranger and have their lives
upturned, then altered for the better: "Bad for their plumbing, good for their
hearts - that's our tag line!"
And what of Michael Bond's thoughts on this big screen debut for his little
bear? On the enduring appeal of Paddington for new generations and a modern
audience, he explains "Over the years the world has speeded up, but Paddington
still does everything at his own pace and people are envious of that - they love
his optimism and enjoy his own peculiar logic." He continues, "Paddington has
been an important part of our family for almost sixty years now, and although he
is well able to take care of himself, he is a very small bear and it's a big
world out there..." Having been fully involved in the process of making PADDINGTON
over the last few years, the author is thrilled with the results.
"Ben Whishaw's voice marries extremely well with the character of Paddington.
Bears are said to fall on their feet and it is certainly true in Paddington's
very first film. The expertise of the Producers and Director, coupled with the
warmth of the welcome he has received from all around, cast and technicians
alike, has been so real and unsparing...it is infectious!"
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