No small feat

Martin Freeman is the voice of Stick Man (above).
Martin Freeman is the voice of Stick Man (above).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ORANGE EYES LIMITED 2015
Martin Freeman (above) is the voice of Stick Man.
Martin Freeman (above) is the voice of Stick Man.

A-list British talents voice the characters in the film adaptation of children's picture book Stick Man

Martin Freeman, whose most famous roles as Watson in Sherlock and Bilbo in The Hobbit are smaller men with great inner strength, was the first choice to voice Stick Man, the titular hero of a popular children's picture book.

Jeroen Jaspaert, director of the animated adaptation of the story, says: "Martin has the sense of the small man in the background, who actually has a lot of strength and becomes the hero in the end because of it."

It also helps that the actor is a big fan of the book by author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler - the duo behind the award-winning The Gruffalo - and reads it to his two young children often.

A moving story about Stick Man who is mistaken for a stick, abused and taken far away from his wife and three children, it won Best Use Of Sound and Best Voice Performance at the British Animation Awards this year.

It will have its Asian premiere at the Singapore International Children's Film Festival on Sunday.

Jaspaert says it was great to work with Freeman, who is joined in the voice cast by other A-list British talents such as comedienne Jennifer Saunders as the narrator and Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville as Santa Claus.

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"He obviously had read Stick Man a lot to his children and had his own interpretation of the character. He would try to give a variety to each take, ranging from comical to more poignant."

The making of the film, which had a £2 million (S$4.02 million) budget and took about 11/2 years to complete, was a tedious process.

As the animation team worked in Capetown, South Africa, while Jaspaert was based in London, they communicated over e-mail and Skype. To make sure they were on the same page, both parties acted out scenes for each other over Skype.

Once, in order to accurately animate a scene where a swan uses Stick Man to make its nest, the team duct-taped one of the animators down onto a table to observe how he would try to free himself.

"The animation team didn't know me yet, so (acting scenes out) was a good way to loosen up with each other," the 38-year-old Belgian director tells The Straits Times.

He also visited Donaldson and Scheffler on various occasions to consult them on some scenes. While Donaldson was happy with the end product, there were some parts Jaspaert corrected after hearing her input.

In the 30-minute film, when Stick Man sees Santa stuck in the chimney, Jaspaert originally depicted Stick Man as reluctant to help free Santa because of all the mistreatment he had received before.

"Julia took us back to the core of (Stick Man's) character, that if he sees someone in need, he won't hesitate to help," says Jaspaert.

Stick Man will be screened at the children's film festival, now in its sixth year, alongside other short films such as Taiwanese film Rice Ball's Little Mallet and Rita And Crocodile from Denmark.

But the film is more than just for children, says Jaspaert.

"It strikes a chord with adults as well. It's about a father who gets separated from his family and is trying to get home."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'No small feat'. Print Edition | Subscribe