FILM / Animated success

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The Independent Culture
It's not that Barry Purves was exactly ungrateful for the tiny trailer for Screen Play, his Oscar-nominated film, in the Times Arts Diary, but it could have been couched more tactfully. ''Our cooking may be poor and our weather terrible, but at least we can make a good cartoon,' it said. Cartoon],' Purves harumphs. 'That's the word you try to fight against. You say you're an animator and people ask, 'did you make Dangermouse?' Still, at least it was a mention.

The UK media have been banging on endlessly about Emma Thompson and The Crying Game, but these aren't the only Great British Hopes at the Oscars. There's a good sprinkling, as ever, in the craft categories and even the inevitable Kenneth Branagh is up for an award, as the producer of the short film Swan Song.

But, though no-one seems to have noticed, it's in the animated category that the limeys are present with a vengeance: three out of the five nominees are Brits (the others are Adam from Nick Parks' Aardman Animation and Paul Berry's The Sandman). And, if a Brit brings home the statue, it will be the third time in a row: last year Daniel Greaves won for Manipulation; the year before it was Park, for Creature Comforts. In a hard-pressed national industry, it's one area that's positively booming, perhaps because animation is labour intensive but relatively cheap.

Purves's nomination is for the 11-minute ScreenPlay, an exquisite staging of the Willow Pattern Plate story performed by puppets in the manner of a Japanese kabuki play. Most of it consists of a single, nine-and-a-half minute shot, which took Purves and his team 13 weeks to film.

The bulk of the work takes place in pre-production, preparing the puppets and costumes. 'They start life as plasticene sculptures and at that stage you can play about with noses and ears. But once you start the mould and skeleton you have to get it right - you can't rub them out the way you can with a cel-animation drawing. The puppets for my next project (a version of Rigoletto for Channel 4), which breathe and cry and have full lip-sync, probably cost about pounds 8000 each.'