It's an ordinary, everyday scene, children relaxing at home, enjoying their pets. But look again - there are five animals and two children in that one room. This is no ordinary household, and capturing such a moment of domestic tranquility on film took many hours of planning and preparation.
For Stamp Collecting Month in October, Canada Post has released these four domestic rate (49¢) stamps to celebrate the importance of family pets in the lives of Canadians. Individually, each stamp shows an animal at home, two of them cuddling up with the children. But put the stamps together in a pane of four and they become panes of glass, forming a window through which we view the complete scene, all the children and pets in one room.
The picture looks so effortless that it's possible to imagine it was photographed that way, in one shot. When asked if that could have been done, photographer Marc Montplaisir laughs, "Forget it!" Positioning so many animals and children together in a small space would have been asking for trouble. Instead, designer Isabelle Toussaint prepared a set that served as a common background for each of the four stamp scenes, and Montplaisir shot each scene separately. The four best photographs were then pieced together to make a seamless -composite image.
"We wanted these stamps to have a friendly, family feeling, so I designed a cozy domestic scene and used bright, primary colours that would especially appeal to children," says Toussaint. The design began as a detailed layout on the computer, indicating the furniture required for the set, the position of each animal and child, and the precise shape of each stamp.
The design concept of windows in a pane was proposed by Danielle Trottier, Design Manager at Canada Post. "Because the stamps are die-cut, we could accommodate these unusual shapes," she notes. And the curves provide a comforting sense of warmth and enclosure that's appropriate for this family scene.
When it came time to build an actual set from her design, Toussaint paid particular attention to dimensions, choosing small-scale furniture so the animals wouldn't disappear in the upholstery. Meanwhile, animals and trainer were selected and scheduled, and children were auditioned. The boy and girl were both between 4 and 5 years old and look as though they could be brother and sister, but most importantly, they both demonstrated an ease with animals during the audition.
"Everything was very well planned, so the day of the shoot went extremely well," says Montplaisir. For each scene he shot multiple photos, while the camera remained stationary on a tripod. "The fish was easy - as it swam around the bowl, I just waited for a good pass," he says. "I was worried about the cats, because they sometimes have minds of their own, but they just lay there, watching. The rabbit was a bit nervous and tried to skitter away, but the floor was too slippery for him. The dog was a bit more difficult, because he was excited - he kept wiggling and lifting his head off the floor."
In the end, though, all the preparation paid off. "It was a really fun shoot, and it went much more smoothly than expected," the photographer adds. "The kids were terrific, and so were the animals."
Montplaisir shot with digital film, but found that very little digital enhancement was required. The fish and its bowl were enlarged to make them more visible. Then, the puzzle was assembled. "We chose the best picture for each scene, and re-united the four parts of the image on the computer," says Toussaint.
The final product will catch the attention of children across the country during Stamp Collecting Month. Every October, postal -administrations around the world celebrate Stamp Month with special releases that promote the fun of stamp -collecting as a hobby. The themes of these stamps are designed to appeal to children, to encourage them to begin a stamp collection of their own. Canada Post marks Stamp Month each year in various other ways, too, through special presentations offered to schools and classroom resources for teachers.
Any kid will tell you just how important pets are to them, their families and their friends. A 2001 survey* found that there were over 5 million dogs and over 7 million cats in this country. Households with a pet spend over $500 a year on them, and over half of pet-owners buy a gift for their animal friends at Christmas.
Clearly, pets are members of the family for many people. In her first stamp design for Canada Post, Toussaint has beautifully captured this emotional bond, with a touching glimpse into the lives of Canadians at home.
* According to "Paws & Claws," an Ipsos-Reid Survey conducted in March 2001, as cited by the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For more information see the SPCA website at http://www.spca.com.