Robert Duncan on losing sleep because of his Jumblies thingy…

In about 1963 I got really fascinated by the nonsense poems of Edward Lear – you know, the Owl and the Pussycat, the Dong with a Luminous Nose, his non-rude limericks…and especially The Jumblies. They went to sea in a sieve they did…

Jumblies Promo still

Still image from the Jumblies video – click to watch (in new tab/window)

Because of a lack of career, and mainly complete idleness, I decided to put my energies into something else apart from chatting up women down the high street, and make an animated film. This was before the days of computers, and there was no alternative but to do exactly what Walt Disney was doing rather well with his three hundred animators, and draw the thing frame by frame.

Carefully painted backgrounds and loads of cellophane (or cells) painted on the back with slow drying poster colour. At twenty five of these per second it looked like becoming a long job, but I persevered and finally ended up with enough of my Jumblies translation to last at least forty seconds. My big mistake was filming the thing frame by frame on a mate’s 8mm movie camera. This cutting edge equipment was fine for him to be seen showing off on water skis in some far-flung bay, but wasn’t exactly of, let’s say, Wallace and Gromit standard.

But to see my rather indifferent cartoons springing to life on my pinned up sheet was enough to get me dragging round every long suffering friend to view the production.

A spilt glass of cider into the box that contained my life’s work, the cells, was enough to send me back to peacefully spending my mornings in bed, with occasional appearances to demand bacon and eggs, cider or Clearasil.

But the memory of the Jumblies stuck, and about the middle of last year I suddenly realised I could still recite it verbatim. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and found myself waking up in the middle of the night planning how it should be filmed to the full satisfaction of Mr Lear. On holiday I bought a notebook and started on a storyboard to recreate this masterpiece of the nineteenth century. This time I turned down the notion of thousands of cells, and proceeded to develop a mix-and-match series of visual ideas to tell the timeless story in my current style.

My friend and associate Alan Fenemore, who has shown remarkable patience with me during our frequent speed animation productions, was only too happy to become involved – even when I told him there would never be any money in it, and it was a labour of love. The piece was to be four minutes long, and would be in what I laughingly called mixed media.

Day one, and I arrived at the studio with all my watercolour equipment, determined that this should be the way to go. Now Alan is a very patient man, and he dutifully filmed all my early efforts to get a painty look that we were both happy with. I could waste paragraphs on this, but it’s probably more succinct to say that it just didn’t work. It was wet, splodgy and reflective – and a very uneasy start to the project.

Deep in the night I realised that pastels were probably the way to go, and called in at my local art shop on the way to Alan’s studio for our second day of creative madness. I was beginning to think this probably wouldn’t work either, but then I sketched out a rather good stormy background. Alan filmed this on a static camera from above, and also caught the action on a handheld mini-camera. This nice piece of film ended up as the pre-title intro to the final piece. But my problems weren’t over. As a professional cartoonist I knew myself well enough to know that I couldn’t produce really good stuff without my hand leaning on the surface I was drawing on. Result? I started to smear the pastels on my background when I added the figures and the inevitable sieve.

So, to cut a long story short if it’s not too late, it was all about fixative and waiting ages before it was dry enough to draw on. Alan was still practising his legendary patience, but I couldn’t help thinking that this could start wearing a little thin. I had colour copies made of my pastel background and then drew my detail as Alan kept filming. I used markers, pencils, crayons, Pentel sign pens (my pen of choice since the sixties) and even a Biro.
By this time we had collected a load of footage, mostly useless (or repetitive) and we had probably only got to the end of the first verse of the poem.


Watch what I’m on about: