Monday, 31 March 2014

Episode Cravendale

Good evening guys and girls. So this is the new Cravendale advert that the Yamination team helped make, of which I was honoured to be a part of. Our involvement was the construction of the house interior (Barry's room and the kitchen), the house exterior (with the water-wheel attached on the side), the bridge and the post box.
This was our first project as a team that has hit the television, and I think the learning curve has been tremendous. Even though Barry rushes through the house, zipping past our hard work, you can still pause and see the detail (regardless of it not being in focus). We are incredibly proud of this and hopefully is will be a springboard for Yamination Studios and future projects.
A few little facts about this advert;
  • that is real milk in the lake and flowing underneath the bridge.
  • Barry is actually a puppet on strings on the close ups
  • I used to have a hair cut just like Barry's new one at the end
  • my favourite biscuit is a chocolate hobnob
  • I'm a Scorpio
  • I like bobble hats, frosty mornings and road trips

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Episode II

It's a little strange for the people of my generation to witness the rebooting of our childhood cartoons for a modern time. In a way, much of the nostalgia can be lost because of how our beloved characters are now portrayed (simply to attract a different audience) in not only the animation style, but within the storyline and aesthetics also. I bring this topic up because of the recent, and upcoming, surge of movies that are based on some of the most beloved cartoon shows from the sixties right up through to the nineties. We've already seen the likes of Scooby Doo and Thunderbirds become live-action films, but because of the reoccurring success of many 'fully' CGI animated films over the last decade studios are not afraid to remain within this creative medium (hmmm but Top Cat flopped?!).
So one of the favoured trends has been to take the cartoon character and place him or her in a live action film as a CGI protagonist. This has been done with Yogi Bear, the Smurfs, Garfield and the aforementioned Scooby Doo. And in all honesty they usually do stink. Now, whether this is down to the script or narrative is not my concern; I personally think it's because of two other factors.

Firstly, these characters were created for various generations who loved them more because television was a child's only technological interaction (aside from video games). The generations of modern day children have popped out into a world of 'I-everything's', whether it's a pad, pod or going for a bloody Wii. Facebook is what children run home to now, not cartoon characters. And so secondly these films with classic 'old school' characters don't seem to have the same nostalgic effect and perhaps aren't as popular. Which is why upcoming films such as Paddington Bear may not do so well (and reasons why Garfield and Yogi flopped). I have no idea why the Smurfs were so successful. Perhaps it was down to the extreme culture adjustment that the narrative took; the little blue critters wound up careering through New York singing pop music and smurfing up my fond memories of mushroom houses. Although, Hank Azaria nailed it as Gargamel.

Basically, what I am saying is that I'm rather dubious about any upcoming films that are based on my childhood characters (even the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie has been heavily criticised). But I have just seen the trailer for Peanuts (Charlie Brown and Snoopy) and it's done in a CGI style that seems to be very withstanding with the comic strip and the eighties animated television series. I think it looks freakin' amazing and very promising. Here is it.

Now here is the trailer for the Paddington Bear film. I really can't be judgemental because we only catch a glimpse of our cuddly hero for a moment, and yet he doesn't look cuddly or friendly at all, let alone partial to a marmalade sandwich. All I'm seeing, at the moment, is a grizzly bear with a hat on hiding in a bag because he's shitting his pants and ruining everybody's post. You can all tell that I'm tired. I'm pretty sure that this film will prove me wrong.

And finally, I am going to show you a trailer that almost made me physically sick. I have already found it hard to cope with Fireman Sam, Postman Pat and Thomas the tank engine becoming CGI programmes, but that isn't the problem with this upcoming film. Based on Postman Pat, this story has taken a narrative tangent that I can't even explain. I have to warn you however, if you watch this... you will not be the same person afterwards. Fact. Oh god, excuse me for a minute.

I am not a happy bunny.

And now I shall continue with what my blog ought to be about... ME (hehe).

It has taken me a fair few years to download my first app. I am now the proud owner of Duolingo; Learning languages completely free, without ads or hidden charges. It's fun, easy, and scientifically proven. So I've been guaranteed some results. As you all know, I am going to be in South America this summer with Lucy, and learning Spanish was something that we felt compelled to do. But in all honesty, if I'd known that this app existed, regardless of the travelling, then I would have gotten involved ages ago.

But one app is quite enough. I have been seduced by the dark side of social media (and my adamant friends) to download 'WhatsApp'. I just can't be bothered with all these notifications about a cock in a sock (that has no reflection on what my friends talk about... or does it?). I get distracted too easily these days anyway. I shunted the back of someone's car with mine because I felt obliged to watch a bloody dog, so with an excess of apps or games on my phone I wouldn't really stand a chance at life.

The production for Pigeon Boy has begun to flow nicely with more sets, props and puppet development. Oscar has a new face and is waiting for his pigeon loft to be completed before his beloved birds can set up abode. Set in London, this tale follows young Oscar (below) and a trio of his favourite pigeons as the consequences of World War II takes its toll on their friendship. This month has been the first time that all of the Yaminators have worked on the Pigeon Boy project and it seems that we all have our roles.

'coo, what's that?'

Yossel and Andy mulling over Oscar 

I have helped Yoss with various sections of the set, including the roof for Oscar's home and the loft door. Working on the past two projects (Cravendale and that popular fizzy drink commercial) as an assistant carpenter has really helped me develop with model making on a larger scale (but still for miniature sets; large/small scale. Or smarge scale, as I so often call it). Ah look, there's Yoss working on the pigeon loft right now.

Everyone in the studio is working to their strengths and after getting incredibly positive feedback from previous work, we have assembled our skills in very much the same way the Avengers did. But we fight the tax break, not aliens. We are, however, incredibly partial to fancy dress.

So to your left you shall see the cunning silhouette of yours truly as Yoss takes some serious photographs of his set. Alas, I cannot live here, but I can sure help the young chap who can. The house is an MDF structure with fast-cast window frames made from silicon moulds and a well trimmed back garden.

The construction of the house has been done in the same way buildings have been made for other stop motion features such as Fantastic Mr Fox and Frankenweenie. And because Yoss has worked on these productions he has shown all of us the industry-standard way of building a set. Which is nice.

My tool box is brimming with delights at the moment. I'm very slowly shifting my 'collectable' nature from toys to tools, which is definitely restoring my manhood. I feel like I need a shed and a van. And a cigar. Ooo, why I have one right here!

However great the temptation may be, never ever buy safety goggles from Poundland.
Would've had better luck with a Kinder Egg.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Episode I

(play me)

I am incredibly sorry for such a late post. I have neglected you once again, so for those who read this and live relatively near Birmingham; find me, and I will buy you a chocolate bar.

Although, these longer periods in between posts might be considered a good thing because it means I'm actually working.


Electric Elkboy was falling. He was plunging towards the ground at such a speed that it was nigh impossible for the reader to foresee a happy ending. It was a struggle to breath and yet, the Elkboy felt comfortably terrified. Realising that these feelings clearly ought to cancel each other out, the Elkboy simply began to plummet without emotion. This only aroused confusion and then curiosity. But by the time he realised these things he was another two thousand feet closer to his untimely death.

The Elkboy begrudged his faithful droid Chester as those impending words of kite flying advice fermented in the back of his mind. Temporarily forgetting his peril, he concentrated all his thoughts into an impressive frown regardless of his lack of audience. Clouds rushed by and the mountain peaks rose fast like the protruding spikes in the palace dungeon from Temple of Doom but, alas, with no Willy to save him this time.

His kite was broken. His luck running out. The question was had he packed the emergency inflatable banana-boat? Because as his great Uncle Waldorf used to say... 'I'm fed up with these bloody elk, but I always make sure I have a banana to go'.

2014 has already given me one heck of a project to work on and the feedback that our team received upon delivery was delightful. Myself, Drew and Yossel drove down to Clapham Road Studios in London to drop off the sets, which we had built and dressed up here in Birmingham, ready for the animators to do their thing. So now we play the waiting game.

The animation workshop that I've been running has taken an exciting new turn, as they're actually beginning to animate! Unfortunately I've recently bailed on them due to a studio opportunity up in Manchester (I shall divulge in a few paragraphs time) so I am willing to accept the grief from my class upon my return. They're all on their half term holiday at the moment, so I am hoping they might forget my absence and do their bloody homework.

I made a Morph for the students to use in their animation principles tests. He was a very simple wire armature covered in red plasticine and took only a couple of hours to finish. I even tweeted a picture and spurred on the club by getting Peter Lord on the scene. Of course, the students knew him as that guy who makes Wallace and Gromit (which isn't entirely true) but I was impressed that they recognised his face. I actually have a funny story to tell which involves a combination of my na├»ve and oblivious mind, a cocktail party at the Encounters Animation Festival and Mr Lord himself. But I shan't tell it. I'm too embarrassed. Unless somebody comments on this blog asking me specifically to embarrass myself!

So Mr Lord tweeted back with some sound advice. I'm very
star-struck right now!

I am back in Manchester working at the Factory TM Studios but not to work on the their current CBBC children's series Strange Hill High. I was actually rather oblivious (as usual) upon my return, because I perched on the outskirts of the Monday morning meeting and people were asking me what on earth are you doing here? So I stood around like a right mook until I was guided into Barbara's office where I was prepped for an upcoming reboot of a classic stop motion series. I whooped with joy! (on the inside, of course... you know, staying professional and all).

So... I'm working on the Clangers! I cannot reveal much so I guess you'll have to wait until the series is released. Stay tuned. 

This week I have been mostly finding out that by adding bicarbonate soda powder to super glue (after applying to joint) it dries instantly.

One of the major events of 2014 will be my trip to South America. Me and Lucy are jetting off in June for over two months to conquer another continent on the list. And what a list we have! Our adventure begins with a cheeky six days in Miama (it was practically on route, so a trip to Universal Studios couldn't go a miss). Then we fly to Columbia and have approximately two months to explore and journey the hundreds of beautiful miles south to Buenos Aires in Argentina.
We have no initial plan but to somehow fit salsa dancing, horse riding and thong wearing into every country we visit. Yes, you read that latter one correctly. Keep an eye out for South American blogging because me and Lucy will be reminding you as often as we possibly can that we'll be adventuring in the sun. You may read in envy.

So I'm unabashedly a comic book fan. I have stacks of old Beano's, Dandy's, Star Wars, DC, Scott Pilgrim and some random anime series. But I was never really into Marvel when I was younger, because I was too transfixed with the epic, and rather dark, Batman animated series. I have managed to watch the 90's X-men and loved it. I'm really intrigued by the back stories of all these characters blah blah. Sorry I was getting bored of writing just then. The moment had evaporated. I'm currently a little under the weather and I'm trying to ease the cogs of my aching mind. So I'm becoming grumpier the more I have to concentrate and yet writing in the present tense seems to be just fine. I'm supping a hot beverage and eating cheesecake RIGHT NOW. But this trailer made me freak out and you'd understand the reason why I wanted to play the track at the start of this blog.
I know nothing of the Guardians of the Galaxy but I think this trailer reassures us that it doesn't bloody matter. Enjoy.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Episode 2013


...*stretches his fingers*

It's taken me over ten days to write this blog so there may be some really hurried sections. Or some really naff sections. For this I can merely bequeath you to enjoy the photographs rather than my grumpy typing. There are sentences in past tense, present tense and stuff all over the bloody shop. It's just been all Thunderbirds are go at the studio in Birmingham.

So I have decided to summarise my 2013 year in a post with as little writing as possible and as many visual aids (stop that) as I can muster. As the new year has already begun, I shall be typing furiously to finish this post, but have immediately jeopardised this by watching the Christmas special of Father Ted.

So fifty five minutes later I can continue. It has certainly been a productive and progressive year for me within the animation industry. I have placed a hat upon my head especially to take it off again to Mr Drew Roper because without the support from him and the studio I know for a fact that I would not be at this level I am at today. I have been at Yamination Studios for close to fifteen months now and the work experience phase is certainly over because we are now taking on projects for clients and other studios. Paid work. I'm getting paid... with money!

Many of my friends might find this concept quite a novelty, especially within the line of work I have been so determined to pursue. This means that I can finally leave my job at the college and regrettably denounce my title as 'dinner man'. I will still run the animation workshops for as long as I possibly can, because after all, we do have a film to make!

So I have a new tool box, new tools and off to indulge even more... perhaps my very own hand drill? The tool box was a kingly gift from Drew and alongside our own personalised desk space it feels like our little art department is truly kitted out and pumping for 2014. We have already begun constructing the sets for this new project, which will take roughly a month to complete (painted, dressed and ready to animate upon). Our head of department Yossel has entrusted me to be the 'chippy' for a lot of the set bases and walls before they are painted and dressed with props. Supposedly the most straightforward of all tasks, it still requires millimetre precision and a keen eye. As I have the eyes of a hawk I felt quite at home.

I apologies. I was having a terribly mad hair day. But
two 45° cuts that are as flush as a tush makes up for it!

I have been getting used to the larger scale tools and machinery to cut the straightest line, such as the festool which is a rotary blade that slides along a rail to cut lengths of wood. I'm cutting 45° angle sections, using a high-pressured nail gun and becoming incredibly protective over my pencils. I think our head of department keeps thieving them. Yes Yoss, that's you!

I have also maintained a great connection with Factory TM studios in Manchester where I have worked in the art department on episodes for the CBBC television series Strange Hill High. It's always a pleasure to experience different studios, particularly in the years following graduation, so I would implore everyone to do so. Be an optimistic pest; email, call up or even turn up with a box of your things to show them what you're capable of. Make sure it's all animation related of course, not a box of socks.

Although with the excess of socks I got this year for Christmas I'd say that's a bloody good idea.

Anyway, here was my 2013...

I'm not even going to pretend to remember this month god damn it.

As you can see, this month was dominated by retro gaming upon discovery of the most amazing 80's and 90's collectable shop at the Custard Factory. They had the Ghostbuster's fire-house for goodness sake! Lucy and I also went skiing for a long weekend in Germany. We had 'snow' problem getting back on the slopes for some mighty fine slalom action.

I sculpted Jemima Puddleduck for my dearest Mother, whilst Bartholomew danced a jig for red-nose day.

I found a suitable stick for hiking with, but was soon thwarted due to scruffy lookin' obstacle.

May was a month of inventions, creations and gadgets. Unfortunately it was also a month of incredible loss upon the animation world. Stop motion legend Ray Harryhausen sadly passed away aged 92. His mythological beasts and creatures shall live on forever in the most beautifully animated films he so skilfully crafted.

I also completed my first freelanced project for a local band called 55 BPM. It was a music video made up of live action mixed with a stop motion character named Pablo.

I sported a worthy pirate hat and Drew had a cheeky little birthday party.

I triumphantly pitched a tent over in Wales whilst my animated E4 sting received over 300 views. Now that is good enough for me even if it wasn't chosen to viral-ate (made up that word) the channel. I rather think the stork needs a spin-off episode. 

I found a lesser stick but it sufficed for another Welsh expedition. I also bought tickets to take Lucy to see the Lion King Musical at the Hippodrome in Birmingham. It still absolutely blew my mind, as I'd already seen it when I was yay-high. Simply beautiful. Go and see it. Now.

I became a part time teacher! *cough* erm actually I have only been knighted with an 'educational support' title, but I am still over the bloody moon! I began an animation workshop for Princethorpe College and it's still going strong today. I also spent some time at the Factory TM studios up in Manchester where I helped on a CBBC programme called Strange Hill High. This is where I met my all time hero, who was being shipped into storage after the series ended and Pat had posted his last letter. I'm pretty certain that I'm not supposed to be showing this photograph online.

This time I sculpted a Minion. I led my first lecture to around 30-40 students (I swear they turned up eventually) and also became a caricature for the Yamination studios' kickstarter project led by Drew. I have sat myself on the top left-hand corner, wearing my bobble hat of course. I really ought to wash it soon.

Me and Lucy were in Croatia for my birthday, so this event sort of strays across the borders of October and November. Either way it was surprisingly hot for this time of year. The Coca Cola can represents the first official job that the studio took on; an advert for the popular fizzy drink. And the first official INVOICE I wrote out for working on this project of which I cannot speak about (but it comes out some time in February!). The kickstarter project raised an amazing £13,872 to help fund the rest of the At-Issue short film.

The high street set had its final re-dress and was firmly agreed to be its finest. And to celebrate the ever-changing, continuously-expanding, noisy and dusty pleasure zone we call Yamination Studios... we had our Christmas party at our local pub. Then went to a gay bar. Standard.

My latest festive sculpt. A super sculpey robin set on a varnished log.

So I shall bid you farewell 2013. And hello to you 2014... do you come here often? Oh yeah I do, and I like to cut wood. Because I am now a carpenter, a joiner, chippy, artisan, woodworker, woodcarver, wood-chuck-man. And with this in mind, I have been comfortably building sets for the upcoming animated Cravendale advert. So watch this space 2014, you maverick renegade. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Episode VIII

Before you scroll any further, I have taken the liberty in choosing a theme song
to play alongside this post whilst you read. This is an audio-visual-mergey-merge experiment.
Hopefully it shall work. Good luck.

Soaring above the Andes flew the Electric Elkboy. He looked glorious. Ever would he gracefully swoop in and out of the rocky peaks and weave over and under the peaky rocks. The kite was holding together incredibly well in the windy conditions, but this did not surprise the Elkboy for he was the creator of The Electro-Kite. To any rambler or yodeller it was simply a flash of awesomeness before their eyes and nothing more. 

But the most cunning addition to this contraption was the conductor set upon the pinnacle of the Electro-Kite. When the Electric Elkboy would spy a thunder storm upon the horizon he would not be thwarted, but fly straight in to it. The conductor would then pick up any bolts of lightening that may strike the Electro-Kite, harnessing the thousands of volts and sending them down to the Elkboy and recharging his powers. Yet another little splash of genius that reflects our hero's inventive skill and rugged good looks.

Then the winds stopped completely. And unfortunately for the Elkboy and his mode of flight, this was rather bad news. Despite the kite's self-proclaimed title of the Electro-Kite, there was no actual supply of electricity that could power the kite when wind was unavailable. The Elkboy was furiously perplexed at this and it took him all of three minutes to come to the conclusion that wind was not a reliable source of kinetic energy. He took a mental note of this, by which point he also noted that he was falling from a height of three thousand feet...

So I've just been working on a Coca Cola advert that I probably shouldn't talk about. I know somebody involved with Star Wars Episode VII of which they really shouldn't talk about. I'm picking my nose but... you know I wouldn't hesitate in keeping that from you. So sit back and relax; this blog post is completely under control. 

The animation club have finished their first draft of the upcoming Untitled Princethorpe College Animated Movie. The story itself is magnificent, albeit a little insane, as far as a narrative is concerned and I was rather impressed. I did, however, have to ask permission from certain teachers due to their controversial interpretation by the students. For any teachers who may read this, I apologise in advance. The only teaser I can give you, however, is this... robot creates monster chases teachers attacked by mutated rabbits with a dinosaur and an epic car chase. You can tell my class lacks the feminine touch. 

A selection of characters created by the team

Me and Mike doing the final touches for the next
next street sequence with Bart. 

Meanwhile, back at Yamination Studios, there has been significant upgrading all over the (work) shop. So after all the pimping up, we can safely say that we can now tackle a lot more larger scale models and sets. No need to cut that rich mahogany with a junior hacksaw... we have a circular saw! And stop sanding with your stubble... how about this belt and/or disc sander.

With the studio fully equipped, the art department team can not only help Drew finish the At-Issue project but also look into the future at what other projects may be on the horizon. One such project I dare not expose too much (as is much of the content of this blog post) but I shall encourage you to take a look at the Facebook page right HERE. It's a very touching story about a young boy and his collection of beloved carrier pigeons. Taking place in London during the period of the second World War, this tale will unfold and reveal that heroes really do come in all shapes and sizes [Crombie, Sarah (2013) Yamination Studios].

So we've all witnessed the wonderment of the new John Lewis advert. And it truly is something special. But I wanted to include this on my post because not many people realise the type of animation it actually is. And I don't blame them. The 2D animation is so incredibly seamless that you would never consider cut-outs would be behind it all. So indulge yourselves in this fine 'making of' video and see the extensive process behind The Bear & the Hare.


I have also returned again to Factory Transmedia in Manchester for some more work in their studios on the television series Strange Hill High. As always I was blown away with the scale of things. By that I mean in miniature proportion, as they're all 45cm high (that is a complete guess by the way, I don't even have a ruler on me for reference). But as the very wise say, it's not the size it's how you use it! And I got the chance to puppeteer one or two of the characters with that piece of wisdom in mind.

Oh! You need to see this new beautifully edited trailer for the upcoming Laika stop motion feature film The Boxtrolls. It gives a bit more insight in to the making of the film as oppose to the narrative. Such an inventive and different angle for a teaser trailer that still captures the awesometacular character design and animation that you come to expect from the quality of these films. Also, the sets look absolutely bloody marvellous. At this moment in time I'm not even bothered about what the story is! It's all about the visuals my friends.
    I don't think it's out until the middle of next year, but I don't mind the wait. I have learned to be patient with upcoming films, especially with the madness that will ensue when 2015 is upon us. I implore you to find a list for the mass of films that will be released that year. I'll try and put things into perspective; next year me and Lucy are going to be travelling around South America for a couple of months. That's our '2014' epic adventure. 2015's epic adventure will be the cinema. Sweet Lincoln's beard I'm not even joking.

I now have a little weekend treat for you guys. But really it's a cunning ploy to gain more stats with my page views. Tell your friends not to look for online gaming sites, oh no, but rather come to this little niche in the t'Internet. Some blogs have paragraphs and images (I realise that this blog may also have such things) but if you know the basics about HTML then why not throw in a Pacman game to keep your followers incredibly happy. Are you happy? I bloody would be. Why are you still reading?? Go and play...!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Episode VII

The Elkboy's mode of transport was not your regular superhero vessel, but more of a special offer tricycle, complete with honky horn and an extended metal frame due to such long and muscular legs. Luckily for the Elkboy (and anybody who saw such an embarrassing sight) it was simply used to get from his lair to the underground runway where a more suitable vehicle was located. Now, normally a runway would suggest some sort of aeronautical ship. But alas, the paperwork for the Elkboy's pilot license was denied after his refusal to declare where his airspace would be upon landing in his lair, resulting in Government suspicion to why this would be. Things escalated and the Electric Elkboy was officially exiled from his British citizenship. 

But what the Government didn't take into consideration was that this particular superhero cared not for paperwork. This particular superhero was already an outcast, so a citizenship meant nothing to him. And so, without completing any legitimate training programme or participating in a flight simulator, the Elkboy flew a craft customised to what little knowledge he had concerning the art of flight; a kite. 

'Chester, have you calculated the flight plan?' asked the Elkboy earnestly, standing determined at the start of the runway. He was clad in a harness, goggles and a helmet sporting a floral design. He looked like a tit. 
   'Yes sir, but with the erratic winds from the west it makes flying the erm *noticeable pause* kite very incalculable.' 
   'What was the first thing I programmed you to do Chester?!' shouted the Elkboy as the blast doors screeched open at the end of the strip, icy gusts streaming in at a phenomenal speed. He unravelled several meters of rope from the bobbin and took a few steps forward. Chester followed, clearly troubled by his masters persistence (although not that clear at all, as he was a dustbin shaped droid with no facial features).
    'Sir you programmed me to aid you in your timeless battle against anything you find remotely annoying and quashing it for breakfast, realising the consequences by lunchtime and amending the situation by supper, whereupon by chance you come across vaguely heroic.'
    'No, the other thing...!'
    'Oh. Right. To pretend that the kite can fly'. 

And with that, the Electric Elkboy sprung forward with such pace and power, launching himself down the runway and dragging the immense kite structure behind him....

I was allowed an early birthday present!

Yes, episode VII... becoming quite the rage at the moment.

So becoming an official member of the co-curricular programme at Princethorpe College was September; having the after-school animation club grow by three members (bringing the grand total to five) was October. I am so proud. But I wrote that sentence last week... and upon reviewing this paragraph I know have SIX members of my animation club! *sheds a tear*

I have to apologise to all who are involved in this post because it was due for release before I departed on my Croatian holiday with Lucy. Therefore a few sections might not make as much sense (probably more on my account) than others. The kickstarter project, for example, has it's final 24 hours as of watch read on and find out about what I'm going on about...

Yamination Studios has launched a kickstarter project to help fund the final stages of the 'At-issue' short film. I think the best way to describe how this works is not via the medium of reading, but through the beautiful accent of our Yam Yam leader Drew Roper. Enjoy...

A few weeks ago my incredibly chirpy tutor from my degree course, Laura Weston, contacted me with a proposition concerning an alumni talk for the animation department at Staffordshire University. This soon escalated and became a lecture in one of the theatres on campus. And in true student fashion, I left the presentation until the last minute! But in all honesty, because I was asked to talk about what I'd been doing since leaving University... well, I knew all of that anyway. There were some handy links that I attached to the notes section of the presentation, so hopefully they will come in useful (including subliminal kickstarter links for our Drew!).

I finally met Stuart Messinger, the new stop motion course leader at my old Uni, who helped me get set up for the talk along with Laura and Daryl Marsh. I am actually writing this after doing the presentation of course (proving my lack-lustered approach to this entire blog entry) so I do hope that the tutors and the students who attended the talk don't think I've forgotten them. It really was a fine morning and even though I was cacking my pants, I ended up feeling pretty darn comfortable in front of you guys. So many thanks for asking me questions and at least pretending to look interested!

So yeah the presentation went rather well. I stood before a lecture hall of 20-30 students and told them that I had a dream. I yabbered on about work experience, part time jobs, side projects, social networking, contacts, show reels and the like... I was originally going to write something more inspiring here before my holiday but due to my absence I'm afraid my mind has become warped with seven days of sun, sea and wine.

So embarrassed. 

This was one of the opening slides I used to show that I'm just a regular
fellow, albeit lacking any vitals. Just call me Wolverine of the puppet world. 

I have to apologise for my lack of commitment to this post. I am sat here in my Superman 'slanket' (I think that's what they're officially called) having withdrawal symptoms over Angry Birds Star Wars and slowly succumbing to the incredibly mellow sounds of a Mr Scruff DJ set (click HERE and go to 1:10:00 and you'll understand why). So I have decided to display some of my favourite snap shots from my Croatian holiday and build myself up for a much more creative, inspirational and interesting blog post next time!

Finally, I have a little treat for those Star Wars fans out there. And it took place in the stunning Croatian coastal resort Astarea Hotel. Each morning at sunrise we would attend the buffet breakfast and eat like kings, where cooking your own toast was somewhat of a curious feat of engineering. This contraption, however, made a rather nostalgic impression upon me as it sounded just like the carbon freeze chamber from the Empire Strikes Back. I shall let you be the judge...


Monday, 16 September 2013

Many thanks to Barry Purves who prompted me to send my CV and contact Factory Transmedia, a studio on the outskirts of Manchester, where the animated series of both Strange Hill High and Toby's Travelling Circus are created (Barry is the director of the latter). I was soon called by the Strange Hill team and was asked whether I fancied a week in the art department. At the time I was trying to pack up a tent whilst flailing in the rain like a confused eel, so I can only hope that I didn't sound too disgruntled when I answered the unknown number. 

'Yes, of course I can come up'... I replied in a bizarre squeaky voice. I was overwhelmed by the opportunity, but determined to end the conversation with a relatively convincing tone of masculinity. So after sounding like Brad Garrett it was confirmed that I would head up to Manchester. 

'Strange Hill High is a children's series for the CBBC created using
animation technique combining puppets, Japanese vinyl
toys and digital effects'.

That's Tim... I know that guy! I got
this from Google images, I swear
I'm not a Strange Hill stalker

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the art department team. It's usually hard to try and fit in when everybody knows that you're just the 'work experience', especially with a close-knit team. And animators are generally renowned to be socially awkward (myself included). This absolutely wasn't the case with the Strange Hill team. I had already met Barbara, head of the art department, who had given me a studio tour prior to my work experience week and she made me feel right at home. Max, Jamie, Saul and Jen all gave me tips on model making, constructing a set and silicon mould making. 

I was even lucky enough to puppeteer one of the characters. And don't worry, I have made note of the scene, episode title, release date, character name etc, so that I will record and give you a complete audio commentary accounting the 6 seconds that I, Tommy Grainger, was on the CBBC channel. 

Near the end of the week I was told by Max and Jamie that we would be putting up the Library Set for the next shot for one of the episodes. And the way these sets were constructed was like a huge Jenga-jigsaw of nuts and bolts accompanied by many cups of tea. We were essentially builders, but without the helmets or other thing that builders are known for. This was an incredible coincidence because only weeks before I'd sent out my CV to the studio, I had stumbled across a 'behind the scenes' PDF of Strange Hill High and the photographs included centred mainly around the Library set. I remember thinking blimey that looks so much fun to work on as I sat there aghast at the sheer size and depth; dimensions that a set dresser couldn't even comprehend. And now I was helping to slot it all together! It was pretty cool. 

I was absolutely blown away when we put the final touches onto the 'high street' set for the At-Issue project, and took a step back. It looked bloody amazing. The team had worked so hard to build this and help Drew create his vision from the concept designs to the table top, so from a team point of view it was fascinating to watch all of our props and models come together. The high street shop names all had their funny puns (Austin Flowers, Abrakebabra), the pavement was chipped, scuffed and dry brushed and all the tiny details such as menus, drain coverings and cigarette butts were carefully placed. Drew had always said that this set would be the one that really grabbed people's attention; well gadzooks! it will do just that. 

This is the released sequence for the Sky Arts documentary where we see Bart rush to his audition (just in case you fine people haven't seen it yet). With the high street set being ultimately the biggest and 'longest' set for this short film, it will be very rewarding to see the quality of animation thus far take place on it. There is still so much work to undergo but with the help of Londoner Solomon Yossel, fresh from his pilgrimage to Birmingham, we have vamped up the workshop to a damn good level. We have the tools, we have the talent! It's Miller time! (bonus points for getting that quote).

The studio has recently had a whole new wave of support. Only last week a councillor from Birmingham City Council was shown around to see what this animated hotspot could offer to the rest of the region. And that's not even an exaggeration. The Custard Factory is housing one hell of an animation studio which is forever growing with local talent and drawing in people from all over the country. All I can say is watch this space (some more. Because I'm pretty sure I've already told you to). Tetley's have watched it and sent us over a thousand teabags in support; the studio brew with excitement. Daler Rowney provided us with boxes of acrylic paints; that was our brush with greatness. And Molotow are sending us a range of spray paints; now these are quite pungent, with a formidable scent. Stings the a good way (quote no. 2!) Which is why we always wear our protective masks!

Shades are essential for extreme spray painting jobs. 

So my animation workshop shall now commence. I have sent forth a wad of posters to be lathered all over the corridors of Princethorpe College, in hope that the attendance for my after school club will be worthy enough to create a short animated film. Because that is essentially what the goal is for the students. I have promised them plasticine, action figures and Lego to practice animating with... *translated* ... I have promised them plasticine, action figures and Lego for us to play with. But on a serious note I do have lesson plans and a breakdown of what this workshop can offer. If I had the chance to do anything like this at high school then I would be all over it! 

So after the introduction workshop I will start a very watered down version of the 'production process' starting with ideas, scripting, character designs, storyboards and going on to modelling, set and prop construction and finally animating. There will be loads of other aspects I shall cover, such as animatics, editing, soundtracks (enter the college's music department) and Foley SFX. Speaking of which, the video below is one of the most amazing pieces I have seen that covers Foley SFX. The video does seem to be slightly over the top, but this was the Eighties so it definitely gets the Tom Thumbs up!