Wing it

First-time director Gary Chapman hopes his film about courageous World War II carrier pigeons proves that the British can produce animated movies as well as the Americans, says Nick Smurthwaite

Finding a visual language for the film was not straightforward. ‘We could have stylised the hell out if, treated it like a Chuck Jones cartoon, but I preferred to make the equipment – jeeps, Halifax bombs, army architecture – look like real equipment,’ says Chapman.

‘We had to find subtle and imaginative ways to introduce colour because kids like colour and the army isn’t known for its flamboyant colours,’ he adds. ‘We didn’t have the luxury or palette of the barrier reef in Finding Nemo. Greens and browns are anathema to cartoon-makers, but I think we managed to introduce enough colour without betraying the darker elements of the story.’

Chapman is also justly proud of the innovative feather software that was developed by his team. Consisting of some 100 000 feathers, it enables each pigeon to show off their plumage. While Chapman was not directly employed on CGI himself, he made it his business to know what the software was capable of.

Now that it’s all over, Chapman will be returning to Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past 14 years. ‘There is a degree of sadness, having lived with Valiant for so long,’ he says. ‘But it will be good to work on some things of my own. I haven’t had an original idea for four years and Valiant was so all-consuming it sapped me of my creative juices. By the end I just wanted to take off on my Harley and get roaring drunk.’

While Chapman disappears, other creatives will be kept on the Vanguard payroll for a new CGI production, Happy Never After, soon to get under way in Toronto. Others hope to find employment with a new cartoon feature being developed at Ealing Studios by the computer games company DigiGuys.

Will Valiant establish the UK on the animation scene? ‘One film is hardly going to blow the US market out of the water,’ says Chapman, ‘but at least we’ve proved that it can be done and it can be done well in the UK with predominantly British talent.’ m

Valiant opens nationwide on 25 March

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