Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tim Watts on Margaret Thatcher, puppets, and Spitting Image

Tim Watts is an animator, designer and director whose film work includes The Corpse Bride, Arthur Christmas and Rise of The Guardians. He is currently working at DreamWorks in Los Angeles. FLIP asked him to talk a little about the making of the Margaret Thatcher puppet at Spitting Image back in the 1980s.

FLIP: You worked at Spitting Image during its heydey in the 1980s. Tell us about how it worked, and how you helped to create the Thatcher puppet.

Tim: Before they created Spitting Image, Peter Fluck and Roger Law did many plasticine caricatures of Margaret Thatcher, which were published in print. These caricatures were very successful but they were only seen from the one angle that the model was to be photographed from. Thus, in profile, the Prime Minister’s nose could be hugely distended – this worked very well with Thatcher since it resonated with her strident character. The caricaturist Gerald Scarfe of course took this even further, making her into a huge sharp nose that looked like a knife blade.

However, for Spitting Image, Thatcher was one of the main characters, with a great deal of air time; and she had to be able to give a convincing performance. The huge beak approach just didn't seem to work so well since, seen from a three-quarter angle, her distant eye simply became obscured from view. Whilst this was fine for more minor characters such as Barry Manilow, who was all nose (and indeed played the piano with his nose), we needed something more controlled for Mrs Thatcher.

Also, Thatcher has a fairly small mouth - which in caricature tended to become even smaller. This was good for caricatures, but not so good for the puppets. The most successful puppets were generally of people who had larger fleshy mouths, such as The Queen - or Walter Matthau, for example.

I haven't seen the Thatcher puppet for a good long while but, looking at the clips on YouTube, I thought it came out pretty well.

Of course, the success of the puppet was hugely helped by the brilliant vocal talent of Steve Nallon, who played Mrs T.

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