Terry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Monty Python Animations: A 1974 How-To Guide

Before he direct­ed such mind-bend­ing mas­ter­pieces as Time Ban­dits, Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, before he became short-hand for a film­mak­er cursed with cos­mi­cal­ly bad luck, before he became the sole Amer­i­can mem­ber of sem­i­nal British com­e­dy group Mon­ty Python, Ter­ry Gilliam made a name for him­self cre­at­ing odd ani­mat­ed bits for the UK series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Gilliam pre­ferred cut-out ani­ma­tion, which involved push­ing bits of paper in front of a cam­era instead of pho­tograph­ing pre-drawn cels. The process allows for more spon­tane­ity than tra­di­tion­al ani­ma­tion along with being com­par­a­tive­ly cheap­er and eas­i­er to do.

Gilliam also pre­ferred to use old pho­tographs and illus­tra­tions to cre­ate sketch­es that were sur­re­al and hilar­i­ous. Think Max Ernst meets Mad Mag­a­zine. For Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus, he cre­at­ed some of the most mem­o­rable moments of a show chock full of mem­o­rable moments: A pram that devours old ladies, a mas­sive cat that men­aces Lon­don, and a mus­tached police offi­cer who pulls open his shirt to reveal the chest of a shape­ly woman. He also cre­at­ed the show’s most icon­ic image, that giant foot dur­ing the title sequence.

On Bob God­frey’s series Do It Your­self Film Ani­ma­tion Show, Gilliam delved into the nuts and bolts of his tech­nique. You can watch it above. Along the way, he sums up his thoughts on the medi­um:

The whole point of ani­ma­tion to me is to tell a sto­ry, make a joke, express an idea. The tech­nique itself doesn’t real­ly mat­ter. What­ev­er works is the thing to use. That’s why I use cut-out. It’s the eas­i­est form of ani­ma­tion I know.

He also notes that the key to cut-out ani­ma­tion is to know its lim­i­ta­tions. Grace­ful, ele­gant move­ment à la Walt Dis­ney is damned near impos­si­ble. Swift, sud­den move­ments, on the oth­er hand, are much sim­pler. That’s why there are far more behead­ings in his seg­ments than ball­room danc­ing. Watch the whole clip. If you are a hard­core Python enthu­si­ast, as I am, it is plea­sure to watch him work. Below find one of his first ani­mat­ed movies, Sto­ry­time, which includes, among oth­er things, the tale of Don the Cock­roach.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ter­ry Gilliam: The Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick (Great Film­mak­er) and Spiel­berg (Less So)

The Mir­a­cle of Flight, the Clas­sic Ear­ly Ani­ma­tion by Ter­ry Gilliam

A Young Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets with Socks, Ten­nis Balls & Oth­er House­hold Goods (1969)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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  • Franz K says:

    Yes very good but unlike so much of your ear­li­er work..which makes me think your com­plet­ly mad like you don’t know what your doing like you lost it boyo like a pup­pet on a string the­o­ryx with no com­mas or full.periods hamm mad­men pigs shoot your­self some in zebra foot wit H2o pis­tols with water no soap maybe a shav­ing brush in your hat…

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