Billy Whiskers: The Mystery of the Misplaced Trowel is a short film written and produced by Tentacle Media in the UK. The film follows the adventures of Billy, a cat with a purpose, who plays a hard nosed detective with a horticultural mystery on his paws.

Animator and director James Wilkinson explains the backstory this way: “The concept for Billy Whiskers came about because I’d been developing a system to use Servos and an Arduino to control the lip syncing on a stop motion puppet. Once I’d gotten the system to show some signs of life I knew I wanted to write a story that could put it to the test. So Billy Whiskers was born, a one character, one location, murder mystery action adventure.”

For Wilkinson, the production process was an experimental one more ways than just the lip syncing. “The entire armature for Billy was 3d printed on a budget FDM printer and the sets were life sized,” he tells us. “We built a moco rig specifically for the project and only 6 people worked on the entire film (including the voice actor).”

“There were a number of challenges (apart from lack of any budget!),” he continues. “The most unexpected was the weather. We had an unusually cold winter and the studio is unheated. The water supply froze and we had snow blowing inside the studio. I found myself animating with everything covered apart from my fingers, which went numb after a few hours, making precise movements quite difficult. On top of this the extreme temperature change in the lights made the bulbs blow constantly!”

We’re glad to hear that with so many natural roadblocks, at least the software was not an additional one. “Dragonframe worked perfectly as usual, I find myself using new features I didn’t know existed with every project. This was my first experience with motion control and I was surprised how easy it was to connect Dragonframe up to an Arduino and get some stepper motors moving.”

For more behind the scenes information and images, you can visit the Billy Whiskers blog.