The Demise of the Hound
Rotoscope animation brings the Cúchulainn story into the 21st century. Click Play Video to watch The Demise of the Hound
It's a subject that has been tackled before in the world of motion picture animation - the epic Ulster Cycle and the mythical story of Cúchulainn, the bloodthirsty Hound of Ulster.
Revived in the 7th century by the inquisitive bard Sechan Torpeist, various artists and illustrators have found inspiration in the ancient Celtic text.
In the 1990s Derry artist John McCloskey produced a series of five short, dual-language cartoons following the birth, rise and death of the courageous Celtic warrior, which you can see on the Wean's World section of this website.
But when Belfast artist Chris Lennon got around to creating his own Cúchulainn animation, he decided upon using a little-known techinque to set his story apart.
'The technique is called Rotoscope,' Lennon explains from his Conway Mill studio space in Belfast.
'Basically Rotoscope animation allows the filmmaker to take live action film, cut it up and trace original illustrations over the moving images filmed previously using live actors. It makes the animation very lifelike. It was always something I wanted to do in retelling the story of The Tain.'
The Demise of the Hound is the first part in Lennon's projected six-part series, retelling the story of Cúchulainn's battle against the armies of the mythical Queen Maeve of Connacht. Initially inspired by the McCloskey series, Lennon was determined to create a much darker version of the Cúchulainn epic.
'John McCloskey did the whole Cuchulain story and as a kid I thought it was fantastic. But I wanted to treat the subject in a different manner. From an early age I’ve wanted to do an animated epic, a war film.'
The first animation funded by Northern Ireland Screen, and produced on a budget of £2,500, The Demise of the Hound uses live-action martial arts choreography and a haunting, atmospheric score by Helena Wilson and Colette Lennon to take the Cúchulainn story into much darker cinematic terrain.
'I recruited my friends, Eoin Wilson, Mark Uprichard and Stephen Fraizer, who are martial artists, to choreograph the fight scenes.
'They spent three months choreographing, and once I finally got the approval from the film board we went down to Tyrella, where my friend has a house on the beach, which was just perfect for filming.
'My brother Kenneth, who is a voice actor and who recorded voices for the film along with my sister Collette, helped me to direct the action sequences. Usually it takes about 20 takes to capture an action sequence, but we got it in one. Somersaults, everything. It was great.'
Like many animation methods, Rotoscope is a techinque that requires the artist to spend weeks and months producing individual illustrations. Having written the script, story-boarded and filmed the live action sequences, Lennon knew that post-production would demand the most effort.
'Once I’d got the filming done it took me about two months to cut it all up. I used Adobe Premiere software to take the live action footage, cut it all up into a film strip, then used my light box to draw each movement. It was just cut and paste, cut and paste, forever. You need to have the patience of a saint when you’re doing it, you just try not to think about it.
'When I started drawing, it took me about four months to complete. Usually a good quality animation takes 24 frames a second, that’s 24 individual drawings. In total that equates to about 2,000 drawings, illustrated by hand in my wee studio in the winter, with no heating and very little company.
'But that hasn't put me off. Not at all. I want to keep working. Most people think you’re crazy for doing it, but I just love drawing. Like any artist, the more you draw, the better you get at it. Making this film was a great opportunity for me to get better at what I do.'
Having wrapped on the first instalment of his own Ulster Cycle, Lennon will now take a back seat as the Conway Mill is renovated before beginning work on part two.
With further funding from the Prince's Trust in place, it is Lennon's objective to give other up-and-coming animators and illustrators the opportunity to develop their talents on his Celtic-inspired labour of love.
'There is so much talent in Northern Ireland itself, why shouldn’t there be a studio here that helps people get to where they want to go?
'Even if you’re just out of art college, you’ve done fine art or a design course, immediately you feel that you have to go abroad to make a living. Maybe that’s not what people want. So it would be great if there was something there to urge people on and allow them to get better at what they do.
'I've been talking with the Prince's Trust about setting up my own fully-functioning studio where graduates can come along and work on a project. I want to continue the Cúchulainn story. With that kind of backing, hopefully now I can work on the following films with a bigger budget and employ other animators to do the hard work.'
Visit Chris Lennon's website, Spikey Trousers, for more information on The Demise of the Hound and other projects.