skellingtons queen vic

My initial concept for The Skellingtons of Wellington was based on the thrum of horse hooves. I imagined horses being ridden over the sharp hills of New Zealand’s capital city by a bony tribe (The Skellingtons). I envisioned a fanfare of horns, and banners fluttering in the night air.  And so the world of The Skellingtons of Wellington started to come to life…  

The characters introduced themselves… Sledgehammer Sue, Rawiri Black, and the mysterious Headless Horseman. Although the verses were a bit scary (starting on a minor chord), I knew children would sing along with the rousing chorus (major chords), and become the feisty Skellingtons themselves.

The Vision Comes To Life

I sent a demo of the song to my friends and musical conspirators at Plan 9.  When I turned up a couple of weeks later, Steve Roche had replaced my urgent rhythm track of thrumming fingers with timpani drums and real horse hooves. And he played a real trumpet in place of my hummed horn line. This immediately added depth to the Skellington story. 

I asked Janet Roddick to sing lead. Her crystal clear (operatically trained) voice and dramatic, queenly demeanour led to us casting Queen Victoria as the narrator of the tale.  Friends joined in singing the chorus, giving the feel of a motley crew of Skellingtons.

The song was so strong and evocative I knew it would work well as an animated music video. As soon as I saw the work of illustrator Catty Flores, I knew she was the right person.  Catty is from Madrid and married to a New Zealander. She was based in Auckland for a few months before heading back to Europe. Her work is appealing and edgy, using colour and shadow to create depth. I generally work with people I know. So approaching a complete stranger with only a small budget was a little daunting, but Catty was charming.  She checked out our previous music clips and promptly said yes.  

At the base of Mount Victoria in downtown Wellington, there is a portly statue of an older Queen Victoria. She’s wearing a dour expression and hefty bustle. We decided to bring her life as the main character.  Sledgehammer Sue evolved into a piratical lass, dangerous and cheeky; Rawiri Black became a cross between old-time Maori as portrayed in Charles Goldie’s paintings and contemporary activists. 

And the Skellingtons’ Headless Horseman? 

I racked my brains for someone who would look good with or without a head. History won the day, and we went with Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. Also the victor of the Battle of Waterloo and after whom Wellington was named. Portraits of the man showed him resplendent in a high collared red uniform, complete with gold braiding.  Perfect.

Catty drew up all the characters plus a couple of backgrounds, then flew off to the northern hemisphere. It was left to animator/director Ruth Templer and I to bring the Skellingtons to life.

Ruth has single-handedly animated several clips for Fatcat & Fishface, and also fleaBITE.  The first was The Wreck of the Diddley (another popular skeletal video), followed by Nightclub and Hair.

 We added a whole new visual element to the Skellingtons world… a map showing all the clans in New Zealand. There were the Picton Nose Pickers, Taranaki Terrors, Coromandel Cut Throats, Kaikoura Kannibals and Ghouls of Greymouth. And they all lived and competed in The Stink South and Nasty North Islands.

The Skellingtons of Wellington was included in the NZ International Film Festival programme (Animation for Kids). We noticed that our credits, (just Catty,  Ruth and I) were noticeably shorter than other animated shorts from Russia, France and Canada.

It’s a huge job making an animation on a shoestring and always takes about a year longer than planned. So a thousand thanks to Ruth Templer and Catty Flores. And also to NZ on AIR who came to the party near the end.

Who knows where the adventures of The Skellingtons of Wellington will lead us?