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Interview with Katrina Hood, Prop and Set Maker on "Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)"

A scene from Edith Piaf in which Ron and Russell Mael venture through the ceiling of the café set (built and painted by Katrina Hood) to attempt to catch the evasive Bird

The little details are the ones that so often go unnoticed by the eyes of a viewer. Yet it is in those very details that the very spirit of art and where the essence beauty are found. Details guide the mood of the viewer, making them to feel and see everything that a piece of art has to offer – in film they often take the shape of costumes and sets and lighting, in paintings and portraits and sculptures they are often the smallest variations of brushstroke and color. The truth of this claim can often be found when the minute details are omitted from a piece of art – when a painting is devoid of color, a portrait of differentiation of subject and light, in a film of detailed costumes and sets – all of which amount to an overwhelming feeling of an unfinished work, or, at the very least, a sense that something quintessentially lacking, whether overtly missing or intangible in nailing down exactly what’s missing. For the production of the music video for American pop band Spark’s song Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me), is was in the crafting of these tiny details that Bristol-based stop motion artist Katrina Hood found herself steadfastly occupied.

Having recently graduated with a BA in animation from the University of the West of England, Bristol, where she made her graduate film, Night Light, a stop motion short about a little girl who wanders of into the woods where she then goes on an adventure (you can find her behind-the-scenes blog documenting the making of Night Light here), Katrina Hood has hit the ground running with working on Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me). On the project she worked to make some of the props for the film – specifically the accordion played by Ron Mael in the music video – as well as constructing and painting the café and the Moulin Rouge sets, and also in crafting the cobbled streets which were made, as the film’s director, Joseph Wallace, describes in the film’s behind-the-scenes video, “For the cobbles, actually, I found these pizza boards which are just, you know, what the pizza comes in when you buy it from the supermarket, and just took the back of a paintbrush and just marked it and then they were painted up.”

The Ron (left) and Russell (right) Mael puppets (created by Roos Mattaar and Joseph Wallace) standing upon the cobblestone set, built by Katrina Hood

As a part of Stop Motion Geek’s ongoing series on the making of Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me), I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Katrina about her work on the project. In our interview, Katrina discusses her process on how this project helped her to foster a passion for fixating on the small details, such as building up color and texture with paint, her advice for animators just starting out, and how she discovered a love for puppetry and animation through somewhat arcane Eastern European puppet animation. You can read our interview below in full.

A.H. Uriah: From the various Edith Piaf behind-the-scenes photos and video, it looks like you were working with some architectural references of the Parisian locations – buildings and streets and, more specifically, the Moulin Rouge – that are featured prominently in the music video. First of all, how did this research contribute to your work in building the elements and essences of Paris that Joseph was interested in exploring in the music video? From there, how did you go about crafting the sets? What were some of the specific materials did you use to craft the sets and props?

Katrina Hood: After chatting with Joseph about the storyboard, it became apparent that as well as a likeness of Paris we wanted to capture a very particular ‘mood’ of the place, Piaf’s Paris. Upon arrival at the studio I noticed that images of buildings and Parisian life were pinned on the walls as visual cues which were great to work from.

The Moulin Rouge set (created by Katrina Hood) can be seen on the right

We used these images as a basis to start with but given creative freedom to play with scale and perspective, we tied all the sets together with a palette of subdued colours which we layered to create texture and the use of recycled materials. The sets were primarily made out of cardboard which is a super versatile material (I’m a believer now – all future sets will be made from this now!) Working with recycled materials can be both challenging and rewarding, it encourages you to look past what it is and get experimental resulting in some fun outcomes. A great example of this from the music video are the recycled pizza foam bases which were intricately carved and painted up to look like street cobbles. I personally really enjoyed the re-using of materials, and I think in this case it lends itself to the sets too, the second hand nature provides a feel of wear/age and authenticity to the worn city streets.

A.H.: I imagine the specificity of Joseph’s vision provided a very particular framework within which you had to work to construct several sets for the stylized Paris cityscape and a few of the props (e.g. Ron Mael’s accordion). I’d love for you to tell us a little about your experience working with Joseph on this project and how his creative vision impacted your work on the video. Also, how did you find your own creative footing and voice while still working within his vision?

KH: Joseph had a very clear and concise vision of the video which is great to work with and made it easy to get on board. With each new set we would discuss its relevance to the story, source some visuals for inspiration and then he would let me take it creatively from there, whilst checking back in now and then to ensure we’re still on track.

The accordion prop, built by Katrina Hood for the Ron Mael puppet

Style wise our way of working is probably quite different to each other. I often fixate on fine details and quirks of set making, Joseph focused on the finished effect and what the camera will pick up, utilising the dressing and lighting to create the drama and detail. This is one of the great perks of working in a small team to one particular ‘vision’ you can experience alternative ways of working. On this project I spent a lot of time building up colour and texture with paint, something admittedly I have skipped over in the past, but I really enjoyed the process on this project and will certainly be something that I will focus on in future projects. In response I would say it is less – how my artistic voice is heard, but rather how well I can adapt it seamlessly to benefit the overall outcome.

The Ron Mael puppet holding the finished accordion prop

The Ron Mael puppet (created by Roos Mattaar and Joseph Wallace) in the final film, holding the accordion prop and standing on cobblestones, built by Katrina Hood

A.H.: What was your greatest takeaway from your animation education at University of the West of England and what experience and lessons did you learn there that you feel would be insightful for the aspiring animators and filmmakers in our readership? Were there any specific resources – books, films, etc. – that you came across while studying animation at university that you found particularly eye-opening and that improved your grasp of the animation medium or that you feel elevated your craft to a “new level”?

KH: Pretty obvious I guess, but it would be to use all the resources available to you, as there are loads, from tutors, technical staff, animation suites and the fabrication centre. One in particular is the A.V. section of the main library. It’s true that you can likely find most things online now, but the A.V library is great for discovering those hidden gems. It was here that my interest for Eastern European puppet animation first grew, I felt really inspired by the work of animators Svankmajer, Jiri Trnka and Bretislav Pojar, who grew up under a strict communist regime, and used their animated shorts as a vehicle for satire and protest. Their work really resonated with me and encouraged me to question the underlying tones in my own work.

Parquet flooring for the café set, built by Katrina Hood

The café set, as seen in the final film. Tables, chairs, and back wall made by Heather Colbert. Parquet flooring, ceiling, and lampshade made by Katrina Hood. 

A.H.: Could you tell us a little about your work in puppetry. In what ways has your experience in the two mediums – puppetry and animation – affected your work in both?

KH: From leaving Uni, I ended up making for live action puppetry. It was the interactive element of puppetry that drew me in, I wanted to explore new ways to engage an audience and this seemed like a natural step. I began by making some large hand-and-rod puppets for a Sheffield pride project then went on to assist on the making for several live-action puppetry shows for companies in Bristol. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of puppeteering…which was scary and reinforced my love to remain backstage!

The Moulin Rouge set, built by Katrina Hood

The Moulin Rouge set (built by Katrina Hood) set during animation

How has puppetry affected my animation work? I guess I took it pretty seriously, I still do now, but puppetry has made me far more playful with my work. There is an air of immediacy with live-action puppetry where you can experience the reaction of the crowd first-hand which is refreshing from the far longer more drawn out process of stop motion.

The Russell Mael puppet (built by Roos Mattaar and Joseph Wallace) sitting atop the Moulin Rouge set, built by Katrina Hood

If you would like to explore more of Katrina’s work, you can do so by visiting her Vimeo channel here.

As I’ve shared in the previous posts about the making of Edith Piaf, one of the best resources you can find in the way of making-of material about the project is the 11-minute behind-the-scenes video which you can find here. The video fuses footage of the real-time making-of process along with footage of Joseph Wallace giving a tour of the animation studio where Edith Piaf was filmed to the brothers who compose the Sparks duo, Ron and Russell Mael.

You can go watch Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me) by going here.

This post is the fourth (and quite possibly the last) of a series of Stop Motion Geek articles documenting the making of Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me). You can go read the previous posts by clicking on the following links for the corresponding articles: this article features our interview with the director of Edith Piaf, Joseph Wallace, this article features our interview with Roos Mattaar, one of the animators as well as a set and puppet maker on the project, and, lastly, this article features our interview with Aiden Whittam, who also animated and constructed sets on the project.

I had a really enjoyable time interacting with many members of the team’s production crew and I would like to thank each and every one of whom with I spoke. For readers of the blog, thank you for sticking with us throughout the journey of these articles. I hope you got as much out of them as I did.

I should mention that I had quite a lot of fun with this structure of interviews – that of several interlinked interviews with each of the members of a production crew – and I think it’s perhaps one of the most insightful ways to accrue knowledge that so few are able to find – what a production is like from every angle, explained by those who worked on every angle of the production. It is a format that I would consider returning to in the near future if I can just find the right project – a tantalizing prospect and a challenge I’m willing to accept, so stay tuned!

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