If you weren’t aware of the connection between the UK’s Shipping Forecast and sleepy wind down recordings, perhaps you’ve never listened to the iconic British maritime weather report—or at least not while a little drowsy. But somewhere along the way, the 150 year old national treasure (sometimes dubbed the National Lullaby) got connected with the public’s rampant need for help falling asleep and began popping up in sleep apps like Calm, and the BBC’s podcast: The Sleeping Forecast.

We sat down recently with animator/director Joseph Wallace to ask about his brand film for the Sleeping Forecast, which is essentially the Shipping Forecast read to ambient music, and he dove right in:

“At the end of last year Yoav (Producer and Creative Director) and I made a film for the BBC’s podcast, The Sleeping Forecast…for the Christmas episode they had ‘Ghosts’ actress Charlotte Ritchie reading Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and we made a spooky/festive promo piece which went down well with viewers.

“This summer the Beeb came back to us and asked if we could make a brand film for the podcast that would help audiences get a sense of the show (which is a bit of an ASMR hit with viewers who want to drift off to an aural hug!). The brief was: ‘nautical and nostalgic’ and other than that our lovely Execs were open to our ideas.”

The resulting piece is dynamic and deft, plus sublimely calming to boot—it should almost come with a sleepiness warning itself!

“Yoav and I met whilst doing theatre and I’ve often adopted a stylized, theatrical language in my shorts. For this piece I wanted to emphasize the intimate bubble of getting lost in the podcast’s gentle tones by having a very focused scene with just one character and a few key set elements that, in combination with sound (David Gritzman) and lighting effects (Malcolm Hadley), tell us where we are. So we have a diverse range of characters, settling down to sleep and listening to the podcast on various listening devices.”

Although he wanted to keep the scope focused, there are several unique characters packed in to the short timeframe, each one with a setting full of possible storylines for themselves, partly due to carefully selected details like an afternoon mug of tea or a wilting houseplant. 

“The characters were made by the brilliant Adeena Grubb and Lara Hosking and are simple puppets made from sculpey, wire, fabric and latex based on my designs. The puppets were brought to life by the super talented Steve Warne (Kubo and the Two Strings, Ma Vie de Courgette) who animated ninety percent of the piece and who leant a charm and sensitivity to the character performance.

“The props were made by Lara Hosking and Eve Bannister who are both amazing model makers who have now worked with me on a few projects and really get my aesthetic and how I like things to look. I’m not keen on props and sets being too perfect and clean, I like to see the materials shining through, to see brushstrokes and imperfections and know that this has all been made by hand. With the increase of CGI and AI, we have to embrace the wonky, gestural charm of stop motion more than ever! 

“I wanted to contrast the textural, handmade stop motion puppets and props against a clean canvas, more frequently seen in product photography, so we used colored paper backgrounds for the scenes and color-coded all the set elements to compliment the main tone of the shot.”

Wallace also spoke with us about the challenges of a very compressed timeline (designing the five characters in about the space of a week!) and trying to nail designs ASAP so the puppet builders could start building. “I wanted the characters to be diverse and relatable but also for them to recognizably live within my style. I find it quite easy drawing weathered old men but it’s much more of a challenge to design women and different ethnicities and to create characters that are endearing and authentic and avoid stereotyping in any way. 

“I’m really pleased with how they turned out and Adeena and Lara did a great job at bringing them to life in three-dimensions,” he told us. 

The other significant challenge he faced concerned lighting—which is insanely notable in the short piece.  “It’s important to note that all the lighting effects you see are in-camera, either animated frame-by-frame or with motors via Dragonframe. Our incredible Cinematographer Malcolm Hadley (Frankenweenie, Isle of Dogs, The House) set about finding ways of brining various lighting states to life using a variety of old-school techniques mixed with DMX programming. 

“In the Fisherman shot we used giant reflective rollers to refract a sea-water effect onto the boat and the surface of the stage. In the gardener shot Malcolm rigged layers of tree gobos and then I animated the light 2mm each frame to give the effect of sunlight dappling through swaying trees. 

“In the raver scene we wanted to give the impression of a music festival and a distant stage so Malcolm programmed two LED lamps to pulse on and off and bathe the scene with different colors to the beat of the music. For the couple in bed we had a practical light in the lamp and then moonlight streaming in through the theatrical window frame and in the final shot Malcolm rigged up a tiny bulb into the lighthouse and programmed it so that it gently faded up and down. It’s all subtle stuff but it really brings the scenes to life and gives you a sense of time and place.”

Next up for the director is his current project, a new live action puppet film that is in post-production, which is supported by the British Film Institute. “It’s a fantasy musical!” he said.  “Plus I’ve got a couple of scripts for new shorts (one stop motion and one live action) which I’m hoping to make over the next year. 

“And then I’ve just got back from the Annecy Animation Festival where I’ve been having meetings and finding partners for my debut feature film which will be a stop motion Western aimed at adult audiences. So if any US investors or producers are reading and want to help us develop the feature, please get in touch!” 

Yes please, we second that request, a Joseph Wallace adult stop motion western is something we’d really like to see!

For more on the production, check out the BTS vid below: