The polar bear playing the star role as a taxi driver probably isn’t getting union scale since the “curtain” on the production is a black paper napkin from the adjacent cafe that’s one of the few remaining places still open to gather during the day. Then again, his stunt car is a paper cutout and he’s being filmed by an iPad where the role of “key grip” is being performed by scotch tape.
But neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor the threat of the coronavirus prevents the polar performer from the swift completion of his appointed rounds in the Longyearbyen Library’s “book taxi” being used to bring material to locals unable to borrow them normally due to the virus crisis. The seven-minute feature of his literary heroics debuted on Wednesday on the library’s Facebook page, the sequel to the first stop-animaton short filmed by the library’s two staff in the latest of several projects intended to keep themselves and their “customers” busy during the weeks most local public facilities are closed.
Among the activities is a virtual children’s storytime, but a problem arose because copyright restrictions means the actual book and illustrations often can’t be used, said Marie Mæland, the assistant librarian.
“I thought this is a good time to learn animation,” she said. “I learned how to draw the Svalbard animals by doing the good ol’ Google ‘how to draw.'”
They grabbed a quick app for the iPad – “splurging” on the deluxe version for 60 kroner to get extra sound effects and such – and with the aid of a few handy items within arm’s reach at the reception desk had a full-fledged (or at least fledgling) studio.
The first animation is a classic old fairy tale about a pancake trying to escape a variety of animals trying to eat it. But instead of farm animals common elsewhere such as chickens and ducks, a variety of land and sea creatures native to Svalbard are hoping to feed on the flapjack.
“In the original its eaten by a pig who says ‘You’re trying to get across the river? Climb onto my snout – that’s safe,'” Mæland said. “Here it’s a seal because it also ends up floating on all of its fat.”
Oh, and instead of a river, it’s trying to get across the channel to the mountains on the opposite side of Longyearbyen.
Mæland and head librarian Elin Anita Olsrud are thinking about doing “The Three Billygoats Gruff” as their next animated tale (substituting reindeer for billygoats), but that depends on how long the library remains closed. Olsrud said about 800 books are checked out, about half via the book taxi (it makes deliveries from 3-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with requests due by 2 p.m. the day of delivery), which may mean quite a backlog of books whenever the lockdown ends.
“There will be a lot of people and a lot of books to clear away,” Mæland said.