A fascinating trawl through the life of Graham Chapman, A Liar’s Autobiography brings to life the late Monty Python star, using a plethora of animators and audio recordings made by Chapman shortly before he died in 1989. With 14 companies animating 17 different segments, a feature-length project with so many diverse styles had never been produced before.
Speaking in his Hoxton office, the film’s animation producer, Justin Weyers, talks to movieScope’s James Mottram about how he helped the film’s trio of directors – Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett – marshal this pioneering piece.
How did A Liar’s Autobiography come about?
One of the directors, Jeff Simpson, he always wanted to do something on Graham Chapman. He had an idea about doing a talking-heads documentary. He went to see [Chapman’s long-time companion] David Sherlock, to see if there was any information about him, and find something else that hasn’t been released. And David said, ‘Well, there are always the tapes [of the audio recordings].’ And that led him onto an idea.
How did your role work?
I was the buffer between the directors and all the animation companies. We had to create a nice family for everyone to get to know each other. We created some ‘bibles’, like a visual bible, of Graham through the years, so there was some consistency. So when you saw the film, he always had a pipe or his mum always wore the same clothes.
How did you choose your animators?
I approached 90 different companies, initially, and then went back and forth. I did a call-out through a couple of websites – one called Motionographer, another called Stash Media – animation community websites. It was a call of interest, to see who’d be interested. I literally approached everyone I wanted to work for, from big post-houses in Soho like Framestore all the way down to a graduate I saw last year at Kingston University. I even spoke to Seth MacFarlane! He was doing Ted. I spoke to him. I phoned one office, and I was put through to another, and the next thing I know I was speaking to him; he was on set. He said, ‘Look, I read it. It sounds fucking fascinating! But I’m dedicated to my film right now.’
Can you give us an example of how diverse the input was?
Literally, we went from one guy in his room in Oxford, called Steven Lall, who did the Eton section, to Süperfad, in New York, and they had a team of 45-50 people. Then it goes in our segment, ‘Biggles’, which took three of us, and then it was the Sigmund Freud and Cameron Diaz sequence, and that was done around the corner in a stop-motion studio, with a load of young graduates. It was completely different companies.
What made you choose a segment to animate?
For a couple of reasons; one, I wanted to know what it was like to be told what to do by the directors. And also, secondly, the only way you learn is on the job. I had to do a stereoscopic development workflow [for the 3D], so as we were learning ours, I could share that with everybody else.
This is an excerpt from an exclusive interview with Justin Weyers published in movieScope 32 (Jan/Feb 2013). A Liar’s Autobiography is now on general release in the UK, and you can read our review here.