On Saturday afternoon, the IGN Theater at New York Comic Con hosted a panel dedicated to A Liar’s Autobiography, an upcoming 3-D animated feature film based on the life of the late Graham Chapman, one sixth of the famed British comedy troupe Monty Python. Attending the panel were filmmakers Bill Jones, Ben Timlett, and Jeff Simpson, with Superfad animators Andrew Johnston and Sean Dougherty joining later. Troma Studios President and Co-Founder Lloyd Kaufman served as a genial panel moderator, while Chapman himself joined the panel as a cardboard cutout at the end of the table.
Several lovely ladies provided content advisories before the panel began (click thumbnails to enlarge):
Jones and Timlett had already spent a year finishing the “Almost the Truth” documentary about the Pythons when Simpson approached them with an idea of doing one on Graham Chapman in particular. While the two didn’t want to return to documentaries so soon, they were on board for an unorthodox biopic when tapes surfaced of Chapman reading the text of his A Liar’s Autobiography. The film will use the audio recordings (assembled with the help of Chapman’s ex-partner David Sherlock and numerous Python collectors and fans) as a soundtrack for animated sequences, with the remaining parts played by almost all of the remaining Python members. The finished film will incorporate 17 different styles of animation from 15 different studios. The panelists joked that they opted for this “because it’s cheap,” but added that it was nice to try something that switched styles in this way. During the Q&A, they also added that Python’s resident animator Terry Gilliam was working in visual collage styles at the cutting edge of animation for the 1960’s, and the film is a stab at doing the same with 21st century animation techniques. Gilliam himself declined the filmmakers’ offer to produce new animated material for the movie, though, leading to explicit instructions to the animation studios not to do “Gilliam-esque” animation.
Several stills from different studios were shown on screen, and they were as radically different as stop-motion (with some puppets carved from wood), hand-drawn animation, CGI, and an innovative and striking oil-paint on glass technique which will be done in 3-D for the first time for this film. In addition to the stills, attendees were treated to two sequences from the film: the first showing what unfolded when Chapman’s father discovered Chapman’s reading material on a family trip, and the other depicting a low-point in Chapman’s life with a big musical number of “Sit on My Face” (which was hilariously transgressive and in questionable taste, so it fits right into the Python oeuvre and the audience loved it).
The easiest Python to recruit for the project was Terry Jones, since he’s Bill Jones’ father, and Michael Palin quickly came on board as well. Jones plays Chapman’s mother, while Palin plays university professors and Chapman’s father. Terry Gilliam plays an assortment of characters, and initially faced his studio sessions with trepidation since he was almost never in front of the camera when he was with the Pythons. His fears were unfounded, and the filmmakers joked that he has a bright future as a voice-over actor in front of him. John Cleese had to be tracked down while he was writing a book in St. Lucia, and was directed remotely from a studio in there via Skype; the panelists joked that he didn’t need much direction since he plays himself in the film. The only Python who is not participating is Eric Idle, who couldn’t work it into his schedule, but the filmmakers said he has a way of popping up so it’s still a possibility that he’ll join before the film is released.
The panel ended with the entire crowd singing a verse of “Sit on My Face” karaoke style as the words were projected on the massive screens in the IGN Theater. No, really — there’s film taken by Jeff Simpson on the A Liar’s Autobiography Facebook page.
A Liar’s Autobiography is scheduled for release in early 2012.