Richard Swarbrick Goes Back to Basics with Ronaldo
With its sprints, tricks, dives and sweeps, football (when you filter out the fans and egotistical millionaires) really is quite balletic. Had Edgar Degas been alive and painting today, he may well have substituted his graceful dancers with strikers and midfielders. That’s why they’re the perfect subject for director Richard Swarbrick, whose painterly style lends itself to the movement and motion of the beautiful game. He’s previously created films about Wayne Rooney (for The Sun) and Lionel Messi, but for his recent ode to Cristiano Ronaldo he’s taken his work into the real world for a stop motion journey that took him from Manchester to Madrid. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Richard to find out more.
LBB> What was the brief like and what appealed to you? And who did you work with on it – was there an agency involved or was it Copa90 who got in touch?
RS> Copa90 got in touch with me with a view to making a Cristiano Ronaldo animation to coincide with his anticipated Ballon D’or award.
My animation style focuses purely on the footballing action so we wanted to find a way to add broader themes such as culture, geography and football fandom in order to make a film that would be relevant to their audience.
I worked in close collaboration with Tom Mallion from Copa90 who used to work with me here at Hotspur & Argyle. I approached Tom with an initial concept to paint the frames sequentially in sketchbooks then photograph them hand-held ‘stop-motion style' on the streets. I did a few tests, shot with an iPhone camera, then Tom devised a technique using a chest mounted GoPro which gave us a wide enough angle and allowed us to shoot video as well as stills.
LBB> What was it like taking your signature animation style into the real world?
RS> Shooting it was a lot of fun. Tom had good knowledge of the locations and was able to map out the route before we shot anything. He knew we needed to include as many landmarks from each city as possible, but most importantly the landmarks had to resonate with Ronaldo’s fans; for example in Madrid we filmed in Plaza de Cibeles, as this is where Real Madrid hold all their victory parades.
LBB> How did you decide which famous Cristiano Ronaldo moments to include in the film?
RS> We went through a lot of footage and tried to choose clips that would look good in animation form whilst coming up with an edit that would best highlight Ronaldo’s career. We wanted to include his international career and his days at Sporting Lisbon but unfortunately time wouldn’t allow for a trip to Portugal.
LBB> The film takes you from Manchester to Madrid – why was that idea of a physical journey important to the project?
RS> Tom took my initial idea to take the sketchbook around the streets and developed it into a bigger concept. His idea was to go on a journey following Ronaldo’s career which would give the film a structure and an added layer of storytelling.
LBB> How long did production take and were there any particular production challenges you faced?
RS> Apart from the Manchester weather (we spent a lot of time sheltering from the rain) the biggest challenge was to get all the frames painted in time. It took about four weeks to paint the 1100 frames (in 24 sketchpads) and three days to shoot the film.
The animation is rotoscoped from live action footage and the paintings were created using biro, charcoal, pastel crayons, chalk, watercolour and Tip-ex.
LBB> This loose but painterly style has become something of a calling card for you, with the Wayne Rooney Sun ad and the 2012 Lionel Messi film – how did this project move things on for you?
RS> This project has been a progression for me but at the same time I was going back to my roots. It was a bit of a throwback to my art school days where I used to paint the frames in a sketchbook and photograph them on a rostrum camera.
I’m best known for my painterly style but I also do a lot of stop-motion work and I love using traditional animation techniques so it was great to combine the two.
LBB> Why is football such a rich subject to animate?
RS> Football is rich with vivid colours giving it a graphic sensibility and the fast movement, passion, and balletic movement make it an ideal subject to animate. There is also an architecture and design to the formations and styles adopted by the teams which has a natural and attractive symmetry.