Thursday, 16 July 2015

Episode IV

Sod off, I've been on holiday.

And now, as I very gradually slouch a little lower in my lazy stupor, I have almost succumbed to day time television; and I'll tell you why. I have just returned from a beautiful and glorious jaunt around parts of Europe, but now realise that I need to jump start my creative mojo. I mean, do you know how long it takes for me to write these bloody things or paint a picture? A day! (this is, however, calculated by adding up all the twenty minute sessions from the past three months). Either way, it's just bananas.

Although, today I did find an inspiring saviour and I'm baffled to why I hadn't listened to it before: the Skwigly Podcast (above). Why am I only discovering it now? Tell me that! I've got 29 episodes to catch up on now, so Come Dine With Me can go f**k itself (no wait! I'll still have it on in the background). The Skwigly website is something that I was aware of but hadn't fully explored, mainly due to my arch nemesis and fully capable distraction YouTube. But these podcasts are really great and I would highly recommend them to anybody who is interested in all things animated.

A perplexed woodpecker

I've decided to pull my finger out (excuse the term) and finally get my British wildlife paintings finished. Admittedly it is hard to distinguish your own style, especially if you want to sell them in a card range for example. I have noticed the surplus in watercolour and fine-liner card designs, usually of quirky animals with flailing limbs, which is why it proves quite the task to be original. But my style has always been the same and I've been meaning to do this for bloody years, so I can't change my stripes now! Here are a few of them...

A ravenous fox

A courageous field mouse

A patient kingfisher

I don't think I will ever understand, or ceased to be surprised at, the career tangents of a model maker and where they might end up next. Duly noted; there are many aspects of model making, however, going from set dressing on Newzoids to constructing mounts at Manchester Museum just simply baffles the mind. It certainly shows that in the majority of cases (and this is by no means a snub) you really don't need a CV or even a degree; it's who you bloody know. And in this case, I know Alan!

It is really great to remain in the model making industry, one way or another, and I do have my good friend Alan to thank for that. He introduced me to John; the sugar-daddy of the workshop at Manchester Museum. He has furthered my skills within the workshop, of which I have been very grateful. So for now I am happy to have that option of working in a non-animation environment, because it's still me making things. 

The job was, in fact, to make mounts for the objects in the collection. These  were made from acrylic sheets and reformed in bespoke ways to fit whatever shape the object in question needed. So for example, the wooden 'mallet' required a couple of padded slots on the mount so that it wouldn't slide off. It was a combination of acrylic rods, holes and bending of the acrylic sheets that allowed us to create each individual mount. 

To bend the acrylic sheets I used a strip heater, which was basically a table fitted hot wire. Levers on the side of this 'table' allowed you to lift and bend the sheet over (to your chosen angle) once it was hot enough. Leave it to set for a few minutes and hey presto! Admittedly it was a repetitive process, but because each mount was so specific to the ancient object it was never tedious. I was the Indiana Jones of the workshop. Yeah, you heard.

The Pharaoh sarcophagus was really the paramount object of the Egyptian collection that needed mine and Johns full attention. To make things doubly problematic, it was in two pieces! Madness ensued. It didn't really, it was relatively straight forward. The folks from conservation (keepers and preservers of all the artefacts within the museum) were very impressed with how the sarcophagus looked upon the mount. It wasn't quite finished before I left, but the acrylic hooks and MDF 'shelves were in place. I was rather pleased with it all. 

The video above, Amaro and Walden's Joyride, was something that the Skwigly podcast actually recommended as they talked about new and upcoming animated shorts. This is such a great idea; the filming alone, in and around the remote control car, is an amazing feat. Then you add in the 2D characters and it just becomes a joyride to watch. 

I was pondering whether I should divulge in to all the incredible panels, trailers and movie news from this years San Diego Comic Con. But I could be here for ages, for there were treats galore! Of course, the highlights were the Batman v Superman trailer and the Suicide Squad trailer. I think there was a pretty sweet Deadpool trailer too, but it's not been released online just yet (not a HD version anyway, just a bumbling iphone version). But there was something rather special from the Star Wars panel. Not only did all the cast members appear, including the legacy trio, to much gusto, but JJ and co premi√®red a reel that showed us a little more from The Force Awakens camp. Take a look guys, it's absolutely bloody marvellous. 

And finally, watch a few episodes of the Clangers because they really are amazing. Factory have done such a spectacular job on sustaining the sentimental value, but also pumped some 21st century knitomation (this will become a word; knitted + animation) into these wonderful characters. Follow the link to BBC iplayer HERE and get involved. Just remember that I made the cotton wool trees!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Episode III

With the Newzoids production under way, I've been auto piloting for quite some time and not necessarily had the energy to do anything creative. I work long hours dammit! The only drawing I've done in the past month has been a caricature of my friend Andy (something for his wedding invitations), of which he piped up with what's wrong with my head? Perhaps the bastard's right. Maybe I am out of practice and need to get my pencil fingers back into gear. Pencil fingers; that's a phrase right? I did paint a glorious watercolour picture of my Aunty Val's house in the countryside for her birthday, but regretfully forgot to take a photograph.... so why on earth should you believe me?! When this production ends and the weeks return to normal for me (I work Friday-Tuesday, giving me a midweek weekend. Confused?) I might begin making props and sets for an animation I have in mind.

It all began when I uncovered an ancient storyboard that I had once drawn up in my years at Staffordshire University. It was Star Wars related, so naturally it received my undivided attention. It takes place on the forest moon of Endor, during the aftermath of the battle, and follows a group of troopers as they rally together and figure out how they were beaten by furry, yet savage, Ewoks. I read it a few times and realised that it did have potential. My original plan was to use the forest set from The Money Tree animation and introduce my Star Wars figures (fully poseable) as the puppets and stars of this short episode. Anyway, I am currently finishing the storyboard and hopefully there might be some progression on the designing front. Or it could all be another elaborate ruse to pay with my Star Wars toys.

I follow various movie news and review channels on YouTube. They're informative, interesting and if you find the right presenters then you're having a right ol' time. Anyway, this one chap Mr Sunday Movies has quite the sense of humour and this might well be one of my favourite videos from him. It also helps that it's animated. And, you know, I'm an animator. And I like that sort of stuff. AND YOU WILL TOO.

I still do watch as much animation as possible. I recently finished the entire series of Star Wars Rebels, which takes place between episodes III and IV, and was incredible. But I think I'm talking about this as a fanboy and perhaps not as an animator enthusiast (but I am one!). For those connoisseurs of majestic animation, I have invested in The Illusionist on DVD. I have only seen clips of this traditionally drawn masterpiece and it does look absolutely stunning. So when I have time, I will sit down with some chocolate hobnobs and a glass of milk and in the words of T-Rex; Get It On.

Stuart Messinger and Suzie Templeton preparing for the talk

I was lucky enough to get invited back to Staffordshire University, not for the oatcakes, but for an audience with Suzie Templeton; inspiring animator and Academy Award winning director for her short film Peter and the Wolf (2006). So, accompanied by my esteemed colleague Daniel James, we drove magnificently towards the city of Stoke-on-Trent to get involved in this privileged event.

If you haven't already seen this rendition of the classic fable, then you're a bloody fool missing out on something rather special. And after listening to Suzie talk about her film, you can begin to understand why it holds up as a quintessential, and very recognisable, piece of stop motion. For instance, her decision to ditch the dialogue (inspired by a Pet Shop Boys concert, accompanied by nothing but striking visuals) allows the music to emote the characters and their relationships with each other. Along with the beautifully huge sets and charming character designs (which was a joint collaboration with a group of younger adults. By which I mean... TEN YEARS OLD!) it still looks and feels bloody marvellous. Check out her website, especially the behind the scenes section on this film as it's truly flabberghasting.

Speaking of awesome things...

I am actually nearing the end of my time on Newzoids; I believe there might be a month left on my contract. So apart from revisiting my epic Star Wars animation (working title being 'epic Star Wars animation') I shall be searching for yet another model making quest. And what shalt thy quest be? Thus far my adventures have been rewarding and full of awesomeness, hopefully they will continue, but when? where? how and why?

Find out, in the next episode of The Adventures of Tom's Thumb...
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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Episode Newzoids

It has recently sprung to the general public's attention that an upcoming show called Newzoids will soon be exploding onto our screens. This is the new satirical puppet show that I have been working on for the past six weeks; an ongoing production for a further six. In my previous post I mentioned a few brief titbits but, understandably, I couldn't reveal too much or else you may begin to read blog posts with a far more depressing and jobless content. But the cat is out of the bag folks! Over the past two weeks the studio has hosted several afternoons where journalists and writers from the likes of Radio Times and Daily Prophet have visited to take photographs and interview the team behind this new television programme. 

This can only mean that the marketing campaign is one hundred percent under way. And luckily for me and my outrageously lazy attitude this fine and sunny afternoon; I can copy and paste to my hearts content. I will, of course, comment a little further when the first episode is out (NEXT WEDNESDAY 15TH APRIL 9PM ITV *phew), but for now, enjoy the paparazzi pizza of articles and trailers alike. 

Katie Hopkins (eeuurgh), Ant, Dec, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

It was my good friend Rob Millard who first brought my attention to the media and one of the several articles that has been written. It was from the Daily Mail's Weekend magazine. Then my own mother found out and took great pride in starting work the following day with 'you know that new puppet show on ITV...' 

George Osborne and David Cameron

Anyway, it seems to be snowballing in the right direction. There is another Daily Mail article online; that's a bit interesting. But this one here, the Standard has got some really cool on-set photographs of the characters, take a gander at those. Katie Hopkins gets prostitute makeover for ITV's new sketch show Newzoids was a favourite title of mine, thank you Metro

In fact I have literally typed in Newzoids in to Google search and copied the URL links. Pfft, talk about lazy writing. And these articles are very similar, so don't read them all. I'm simply getting outrageously overexcited about all of this. It's my first television show that I would have seen from start to finish and hopefully get a name credit at the end! Only one more week to go...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Episode II

I had a rather upsetting realisation this week, that I may not animate again. But this isn't due to lack of interest because that's not true, it's impossible. So I searched my feelings and came to the conclusion that it's simply down to a series of events that began with the clumsy uninstallation of Dragonframe from my laptop. I thought I was updating it, but unfortunately it was for the current version of the stop motion software, not my own, resulting in a jargon filled misunderstanding. Alas, I couldn't save her. She passed away into the Matrix and I was left with nought but a thumbnail upon my desktop that, upon double clicking, would mock me with the following words... I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. I don't even know who Dave is!

Then I lost my Animation Toolkit armature during the final weeks of University. Whether there was a mix up with boxes or some sort of thievery I will never know, but it was a very good (albeit basic) piece of kit to continue with the animation principles.

Pffft so then I had to make my own wired armature and dress him, resulting in a shabby little ragamuffin by the name of George the Knight. He served me well but his movements were limited and when animating a simple walk cycle his posture slowly crippled with every step. Playback was like watching a dishevelling man timelapse.

It may have been this very set where I could have animated upon!

I got offered the chance to animate one of the puppets from Toby's Travelling Circus as I knew Barry Purves, the director of this children's television show. They were nearing the end of the shoot and a couple of sets were available to use. BUT I DIDN'T BECAUSE I AM A BLOODY FOOL. So that was that. I don't know. Maybe I just wasn't destined to animate, which was what one would assume you'd go into after completing an animation course. I enjoyed it, of course, but clearly I enjoyed 'making' things more. Working with props and sets is now my forté. So in that retrospect, I have pondered over the idea of turning part of the basement into a workshop for home projects. Hopefully I could even use part of it for animating! Perhaps it's not as glamorous as it sounds (or looks) as it would be a table with a lamp. But it's dark, out of the way and it is rather a nice lamp.

Now, I realise that I have been bantering about not animating, and I'm sure that you simply cannot get enough. But you're being greedy. So I'll show you a video that has inspired me (five years ago actually!) to animate more in my spare time. This is mainly down to the puppets. I am no armature expert or I'm not wallowing in money - so a good strong puppet to animate with will always be hard to come by. But Zombie Zombie by Simon Gesrel and Xavier Ehretsmann is a damn fine example of using your very own toys *cough* I mean, action figurines purchased merely for the use of their poseable bodies. Sheesh, who buys toys at our age huh? Ha, definitely not me.

I have been very lucky to be a part of the Newzoids team and production. Although it seems to be a slight taboo to make the comparison, it's still best described as a revamped Spitting Image. But there are people who worked on Spitting Image who now play major roles in the upcoming comedy puppet show. Whilst working on set during the shoot, amongst the directors, puppeteers and hilarious sound bytes, you get a general idea of the tone of the show... and good grief is this going to be a hoot!

Click here for the full article from The Guardian

And this series is released in a month! AND people have heard and read about it, which finally gives me solid evidence of something I've worked on. Hopefully I'll even have my first credit. I don't think it's registered how big of a show this could turn out to be. It's an ITV prime time piece of ass. So on Wednesday April 15th at 21:00... tune in and see what I've been up to for the past month (and continuing up to the end of May!). Which, incredibly, will tie in to my prediction of when the new Star Wars trailer will be released. So we're all happy bunnies.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Episode I

So it's finally within our grasp folks; Star Wars episode VII is now on the horizon of 2015 and from what we've seen and heard, it has great potential. I mentioned a while ago about the plethora of films coming out this year, urging myself to set some money aside for the many cinema trips. Well that money has in fact gone. But on a new flat in Manchester! However, the cinemas up north seem to be falling for my permament marker smothered student card trick, expertly hiding the 2011 expiry date, which means I'm already saving money! And a £1.30 discount each time is nothing to be shunned. Although, I have been shunned once by the wise guy behind the Odeon desk in Wrexham, to which I responded, 'oh! How strange, I hadn't noticed that before.' I later commandeered a BoxTrolls cardboard cut out to balance out the injustice. 

It was really nice to see the BoxTrolls nominated for best animation of 2014. Always a victory when  a stop motion film is celebrated and does well at the box (troll) office, because you get the feeling that it's these moments of recognition that sustain the stop motion industry. There was a bit of a snub and hullabaloo within this category (or out of it, I should say) with the exclusion of The Lego Movie. Nobody seems to know the reason for this, because it certainly constitutes as an animated feature with only a small percentage of live action. Animated films need to include at least 75% animation to make it an Oscar contender and The Lego Movie absolutely falls into this category. So why isn't everything awesome? My reaction... HMMPH! Somebody else's reaction? Check out this paper baton waving chap...

So credit where credits due; the Boxtrolls was pretty good and, as I said, it puts stop motion on the map. But I'll tell you this for free (put your money away); Altrincham is the map (and now twinned with Portland, Oregon!). The animation and puppet industry is full on thriving with so many projects in the pipeline I couldn't even tell you. And I can't actually tell you!

So I'll sidestep for a moment. Below is a list of the films I plan on seeing this year, and these are only the highly anticipated ones that have been marketed years in advance; I haven't even considered other release dates. But lets put this into perspective - on average it's about £9. If I intend to see these ten films then we're looking at a lot of pocket money!
  1. Star Wars Episode VII
  2. Avengers Age of Ultron
  3. Antman
  4. Spectre (James Bond)
  5. Jurassic World
  6. The Peanuts Movie
  7. Mad Max: Fury Road
  8. Mission Impossible 5
  9. Inside Out
  10. The Hateful Eight
There are obviously many more, but these films stuck out for me personally, and as they were announced two years ago I've had chance to reforge my student card in expert fashion. I also feel that these films ought to be seen on the big screen, so I intend to not miss the majority of them. Heck, I would even boycott my own birthday party to see Episode VII. That's no lie!

I am actually looking forward to the Peanuts Movie more than most (but not Star Wars!), particularly because the animation style looks so intriguing. I know it's CG but the aesthetics are very beautiful and in keeping with the original 2D comic strip (not that it was important to do so; but it's a nice tip of the hat).

Now, the animation in my neck of the woods is a completely different kettle of fish. The stop motion production of this series is rather epic and has the same visual quality of what you'd expect to see in feature length films. The puppets are made at Mackinnon and Saunders (say no more) and the animators have delivered some tip top performances with them. Perhaps I shouldn't mention this, but at the expense of my dignity and supposed professionalism I digress. One fateful day I made a prop before Christmas that would then be fixed upon the head of a puppet, and at the time it needed to be made lickety split ready for shooting. I mish-mashed various materials together, sprayed sections and glued it all together, haphazardly I might add, and skedaddled with haste to the studio. Ah, lunch time!

Anyway, the shoot was actually delayed until the following Monday. But unbeknownst to me, this gave ample time for some superglue to seep down from the prop and onto the puppets resin head. Oh good grief! However, I was away for the following Monday and Tuesday so I had subsequently avoided the wrath of the titans and come hump day it was safe to emerge. I had never felt like such a bloody plonker. This was most certainly amateur hour for me.


There was a bit of a blast from the past recently; I was tagged in a photograph from the Strange Hill High days of which I worked on from 2013. This was from the Strange Hill magazine that is out at the moment. It generously promotes my jelly making skills, which is always a bonus in this industry!

I haven't animated for years. In fact, the last bit of animating I did was the intro to my show reel (above; which is in much need of a revamp). But I have kept up with my illustrating and painting. That was the great  thing with my stop motion course at University - it opened doors to the industry as a whole but not necessarily just the animation. I've become more of a model maker I guess, with studio experience too, but hopefully I could set up an animation studio (of sorts) in the basement of our new flat and get back in to it. It's dry, spacious and very dark - ideal for animating. Or ideal for a man-cave? I need to get my priorities right on this one. Or permission from Lucy!