Published: 20:29 EDT, 7 December 2012 | Updated: 05:16 EDT, 13 December 2012>
For many families, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs has become as much a part of Christmas as mince pies.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the film — featuring the iconic Walking In The Air flying sequence — the team behind it have made a sequel, The Snowman And The Snowdog, to be screened on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve.
Here, we bring you an exclusive preview — without spoiling all the surprises — revealing the painstaking care that goes into every frame...
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A boy called Billy moves into the house where James — the boy from the original Snowman — used to live. His adventure starts when he finds a box of James’s old toys under the floorboards in his room. Director Hilary Audus admits she did consider making Billy the son of James — but thought it would be too cheesy
Inside the box of toys, Billy discovers a picture of a boy, around his age, standing next to a snowman. He also finds a hat and a scarf. Viewers will notice that Billy has no TV or computer in his room. Indeed, no modern gadgetry is featured at all throughout the 24-minute feature. This was done deliberately in order to make the film timeless and lend it an old-fashioned charm
On Christmas Eve, copying the propped-up photograph, Billy builds his own snowman. Unlike modern computer-generated animation, The Snowman And The Snowdog is drawn by hand, a process that required 77 artists. Each second is made up of 12 frames and took up to 30 hours to complete. The background changes for every shot rather than the conventional technique of moving characters over a static backdrop
As well as building a snowman, Billy also makes a snowdog in the likeness of his pet that has just died. Raymond Briggs, famously, does not like traditional happy endings, and all his children’s books have featured death or loss of friendship in some form. He gave his blessing to the sequel on the understanding it would not be too sentimental
At midnight, Billy is awoken by a ‘woofing’ noise and looks out of his bedroom window to see the snowman and snowdog smiling up at him. As well as re-using the original snowman’s scarf and hat, there are other nods to the first film throughout the sequel. For example, eagle-eyed viewers will spot fleeting glimpses of the motorbike ridden by James and his Snowman, tucked away in the garage
Billy rushes into the garden to see the snowman and snowdog have come to life. So laborious was the whole process that The Snowman And The Snowdog took over a year to make, since it was possible to produce only five seconds of animation a week. Assistant director Robin Shaw says: ‘This technique involves an awful lot of work but it allows you to have sweeping camera work which gives it that unique magic’
Flying high over the rooftops, the snowman and the snowdog take Billy on his adventure. Like the original, the new film is wordless apart from the song during the flying sequence. Composer Ilan Eshkeri decided not to emulate Aled Jones’s Walking In The Air. Instead he teamed up with Andy Burrows from rock band Razorlight to produce a poppy number called Light The Night
Billy flies over the London skyline — which has changed considerably since the original. The new film features the London Eye and the City’s Gherkin building, as well as traditional landmarks such as Big Ben and the Oxo Tower. The Crystal Palace transmitting station even gets a look in
Eventually they arrive at the North Pole, where snowmen from all over the world have gathered for their annual party. These scenes resulted from some of the most time-consuming artwork. In total, the film’s artists worked their way through 200,000 pieces of paper and 5,000 pencils. Anybody wishing to see the drawings will be able to do so at an exhibition next year
The snowman competes in the annual Snowman's Downhill Race and the snowdog and Billy take part, too
With dawn breaking, the snowman flies Billy and snowdog back home. There was concern that today’s young audience, raised on a diet of high-tech animation such as Toy Story, Shrek and Avatar, would not enjoy the simple hand-drawn style. But test audiences were enthusiastic. They loved having to use their imaginations to interpret the movie
At the end of his magical adventure, Billy bids farewell to the snowman and takes the snowdog inside to sleep on his bed. But will they be there when he wakes?
VIDEO: Watch the trailer for The Snowman and The Snowdog here...