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!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Episode VII

When it comes down to it, I tend to blog about animation and the industry that I am currently work in. But everybody loves a tangent.  This blog was originally meant as a guide (albeit a terribly scruffy one) to map the journey from graduation to 'real life' and the job opportunities that one might get via the animation route. There was no intention to preach or instruct graduates that this was the way, but to merely show that I had found a way (very much like the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar). So really, I don't need to blog about anything now. 

We all know that just isn't true. I like writing bollocks too much to cease all this tomfoolery. Of course, I am still working on side projects (something that all creative folk ought to be doing) and taking my sweet ass time in completing any of them. The most ongoing of all is the model I have been constructing based on a Quentin Blake illustration, taken from my favourite Roald Dahl book The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. Here is the current status of things...

It is conceivable to finish this in a day or two. But whether it's my perfectionist attitude to sculpting or my incredible skills of procrastination, it has become clear that something is wrong with me. Super sculpey is brilliant though isn't it? I think I prefer it to Milliput simply because it doesn't bloody crumble when you're shaping it. I think they're both as durable as each other, but I guess it's self preference at the end of the day. So hopefully I can finish sculpting the boy and the monkey lickety split and end this lolly-gagging. I wish people would use more words like that. The strange thing is, they seem to roll off of my tongue... like pandemonium or fan-dabby-dosey. 

So this is Christmas. And what have we done? Well check these out; I've made some name places for the merry feast, so everyone will know where to stick their keister. The gathering is at my Aunty Vals this year and I wanted to do my bit for the day. Again, I have used sculpey for the Christmas critters and attached them to a wooden block alongside some authentic B&M Homestore holly leaves. A very simple idea which didn't take too long (oh god *pants profusely*).

Oh and the painting of Wolverine is still for sale if you want him. Fifty thousand, no less.

One of my favourite 'comedy' stop motion series at the moment is Dinosaur Office. The episodes are short, sweet and full of prehistoric slapstick. The style of crayola sets and props gives less focus on the backgrounds and more on the hilarious animation of the bulbous eyed cast. This is the type of thing I've tried in the past for practising my animation, something simple with focus on the character and not the surroundings. Unfortunately for me, I am about two years out of practice!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Electric Elkboy (continued some more...)

It was understandable for Chester to be concerned about his masters optimistic views on transport, especially due to the absolute lack of any. They needed to get to London, and yet without the knowledge of their whereabouts it would prove to be an interesting point to raise. Chester rolled forward inquisitively, 'may I press you for a solution sir?' 

The Elkboy turned handsomely around and smiled. 'My dear Chester. I have indeed resolved our little pickle, which was, admittedly, something I should have thought of much earlier. You may want to stand, or erm, roll back a tadge my friend.'

Chester bleeped and followed the order. He was used to these elaborate schemes that the Elkboy concocted, becoming continuously intrigued and entertained. And with the Elkboy currently attempting a handstand, it looked like this would be a good one. 

Sure enough, in a vertical manoeuvre, the Electric Elkboy had lifted his body up from the ground with his feet in the air. Certainly an unorthodox posture for a superhero, but he proceeded nonetheless. With eyes tightly closed, he concentrated all his power toward the lightening bolt upon his brow. The dusty terrain surrounding them trembled and shook, groaning with anticipation as the lightning bolt began to glow brighter. Then the Elkboy opened his eyes and looked to the horizon, raising his voice and bellowed into the expanse before him, 'POLAR BEASTS OF THE NORTH I CHOOSE YOU!' A beam of light shot out from the lightning bolt and penetrated the ground beneath him. For a moment there was a pang of utter silence... and then a sonic boom of awesomeness swept across the land. The Elkboy closed his eyes once more, bent his elbows and flipped himself into the air to finally land on his two feet. Most elegantly done, thought the author of this chapter. 

With the silence returned, the two heroes stood side by side as the dust settled. Chester, still full of unanswered questions, bleeped as scrupulously close to a sigh as robotically possible. 'Worry not, my young padawan,' the Elkboy crooned. 'Remember what Treebeard said to the Hobbits; 'don't be hasty'. And we all know what happened after that, don't we?
   'We do sir?'
The Elkboy nodded, 'of course. The trees only bloody won Chester! And carrying the Hobbits at the same time! Now that is TREE-mendous!' 
   'Sir, I am always supportive of your... puns, but your love of the Halflings leaf has clearly slowed your mind.'
   'Points for the quote, points deducted for sounding so negative. I have summoned a little bit of nature to come and carry us to London. Now, they may not be trees, but they sure as hell get the job done!'
   'Very good sir, I never doubted you for a second. Wonderful.' 

As soon as Chester settled down to wait he felt the ground tremble once more. The dust returned but far upon the horizon, where a trail of cloud grew larger and closer towards them. The vibrations felt more like a stampede than an earthquake; it was alive, moving, and hoofs could soon be heard. Then out of the dust cloud bore the head of a proud beast, antlers spurring through the mist, leading a herd of at least twenty more of these magnificent creatures. They were elk, of course. And the Electric Elkboy had called to them from across the globe, for that was the power that he held within his lightning bolt of truth. 

The Elkboy strode up to the herd and held aloft his hand. The thundering elk slowed immediately to a canter and stopped before him, their heavy breath and gentle snorting lingering in the air. The Elkboy placed his hand upon the head of the lead elk and murmured in a strange tongue that Chester had yet to hear from his master, but it was full of calm and gratitude. The Elkboy turned to Chester, 'they have travelled many miles,' he said. 'But they are strong and courageous. I have no doubt that within the hour we shall be riding for London at great speed. First we need to harness them a little, and find a cosy spot for you and I.'
   'As gallant as your beasts of burden are,' Chester queried. 'Are you sure that they know which direction to go?'
   'Of course they do Chester,' scoffed the Elkboy. 'But I'm rather surprised that with all the hi-tech malarkey I installed into your body, that you don't know which direction to go? Do you still have the Tommy-Tommy Sat-Nav function?'
   'Unfortunately, the missile attack on HQ contained a mild EMP and wiped out many of the systems. You were oblivious to this, sir, as you gallivanted off on your... kite...'
   'Do not underestimate the power of the kite Chester!' interrupted the Elkboy. 'It is fully equipped with...'
   '...So I'm afraid that some of my systems were coincidentally tampered with,' continued Chester. 'I adjusted all the power I had to my boosters so as to follow you.'
   'Very well,' said the Elkboy. 'And I am thankful that you did. We shall, however, put all our faith into these glorious steeds and their navigational skills. Now, could you spare a little power to your toboggan settings?' 
   Chester looked perplexed, even for an expressionless droid. 'My what settings?'
   'Search your network old boy, you'll find them,' said the Elkboy, full of confidence. He was busy choreographing the elk into single file and using the cable from the (temporarily unsuccessful) kite to harness them together. If only Santa could see him now, he thought. And with that thought in mind he directed Chester to the back of the herd. 
   'Chester my trusted droid,' he announced proudly. 'You are to become an imperative part of this convoy. ACTIVATE TOBOGGAN SETTINGS!'

Suddenly, Chester's wheels sprang up and folded neatly beneath him and extending in their stead appeared a pair of well carved, well varnished toboggan rungs. As the compartment doors closed, firmly locking the rungs into place, another extension lowered from the droids back. This would soon become the step for the Electric Elkboy to stand upon; for Chester had transformed in to nothing more and nothing less than a fine looking sleigh. 

'Haha!' laughed the Elkboy. 'How d'ya like them apples, Chester?!' 
   'I feel positively mutilated, sir,' the droid replied. 'Are there any other settings that I have yet to discover with an equal level of disgruntled surprise?'
   'Oh come on Chester... this is going to be bloody amazing. Now can you reach the cable and lock it into place? I need to grab my bag.' Chester did as he was told, accepting that his masters excitement was beyond negotiable.
    After some final adjustments, all was ready; the elk were stamping their hooves, the Elkboy had harnessed himself to Chester's body and the cables were taught with the eagerness of departure. All they needed was the call of the wild; that loud eccentric announcement Chester would expect his master to call out to nobody in particular. And sure enough it came...


Chester couldn't help but let his circuit board smile at his masters optimistic views on transport, especially due to the absolute style in which they would travel. And away they went.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Episode VI

Freelancing is a funny business. On occasion I feel like I don't particularly belong anywhere, but then again this is precisely what it's all about, so I won't pretend to be dismayed about the matter. I have the writing tendencies of a drama queen sometimes, so ignore me. But don't! Because you need to read my blog. I do actually enjoy the free aspect of this lancing lark, especially when you get a surprise day off to write the next blog chapter. 

What I've come to realise in these last few months of my progress as a freelancer, is that there is no room for laziness. And I am so lazy! (this is subjective to the people who are not hiring me). But this is not in the work place; I love what I do and will crack on 100% in the studio environment. My problem is at home. As you may have noticed in previous blog posts, I claim it takes 'x' amount of hours or days for me to write a paragraph or the like. This is because of my homely distractions!

Here is a short list of things that cause procrastination:
  • lunch
  • planning lunch
  • rearranging my Star Wars figures
  • watching the Tribe
  • making lists
  • going into town and achieving very little from the list I just made
  • planning dinner
  • making a brew
  • tidying my room
  • writing my blog (controversial I admit, but I really should be looking for work right now!)

When it comes to those little 'home' projects i.e. sculpts, card designs, canvas painting, you can always find a place to sell them. I haven't actually considered online sales for any of my work (on for example), purely because I don't have an extensive range. I have paintings, drawings and models but not nearly enough to set up something significant. But there is a solution! 

Facebook. It's largely full of codswallop and nincompoops. But a midst the chaos is a beacon of Minas Tirith. People are always on Facebook. Friends, family, acquaintances, pets, people you don't like, people who don't like you, people who have met you on that coach ride from Bogota to Lima and can't stop tagging you in photographs of himself standing next to a bus. My point is, it's a good database for an incredibly broad range of potential clients. Post some photos of your work up, Facebookers will like and share so that your skills will transcend to all ends of the Internet. I've managed to sell a few items for chump change, but it's still good practice for the budding freelancer. For example, the image below is of a mural I'm currently painting for my Aunty Val; hopefully she can spread the word! 

One of my odd jobs is painting murals; this one is almost finished!

Another part of freelancing is your title. What do you call yourself? What area of your chosen trade do you specialise in? The latter seems fairly obvious, but I still don't know whether to call myself a model maker, carpenter or a stop motion animator. I assume that I'm all three, yet I can do more. Tommy the multi-artist? Sir Thomas the brave? Mr Grainger the carpenter (who can also sculpt, paint, draw, cook, clean and hang out your cotton socks). I'm still in the process of deciding my freelance title because I will be designing some new business cards in the near future.

I am currently in the process of creating a sidekick for my freelancing adventures. It (none gender specific) is called portfolio and wears a cape, whereas I do not. It's all good and well having an online presence (LinkedIn etc) but I wanted a place for visuals, images, videos, not too much text and yet kept a professional level. It is advantageous to have an online portfolio full of visuals because a) that's what artists do (so what could describe our talent more than actually seeing it) and b) it's much simpler to send a link to a potential client or studio to show what you're capable of. Even now I can say click HERE and you've been transported to a rather fetching site concerning yours truly. 

I realise that my blog is full of images concerning my work... but it also contains images of random animals, holiday snaps and the ever present topic of Star Wars. So perhaps not as professional as I'd quite like. But it means that you guys get to read the real me... find out more in this months issue of Heat with an exclusive look into my wardrobe. 

Speaking of Star Wars it's getting very close to that time of year where it'll be a year until Episode VII The Force Awakens is released. And good lord am I excited. It now has a title, filming has been wrapped and the on-set photographs have kept us all ludicrously engrossed. I do believe (and hope) that there will be a Star Wars teaser trailer before Christmas this year. There must be something for us! 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Electric Elkboy (continued...)

*much time has passed since the last chapter of Electric Elkboy; hopefully the
story will still flow regardless of this lengthy absence*

He was (still) falling...

And unfortunately for Tommy, or as his self acclaimed reputation prefers 'Electric Elboy', there was very little time left between the conscious realisation of having no parachute or inflatable banana and the ever approaching ground. But suddenly, from out of the fiercely chilling and high speed mists there was a familiar, albeit very faint, beeping sound and before the Elkboy could register such familiarity there was an almighty smack. But this slamming sensation was not of soil or grass, but of the clanking of metal. Had he fallen into some sort of recycling centre? Not he! For it was his trusted droid Chester who had caught him as he plummeted to his almost certain doom. 
     "Bravo old chap!" shouted Elkboy as he desperately grasped at the droids ungraspable domed body. They were still hundreds of feet in the air and he admittedly felt far from safe. The Elkboy yelled, struggling for air as well as grip, "now open up your bloody flaps so I can hold onto something!"
     As Chester deployed his aeronautical knowledge, allowing his brave master to finally find a foot hold, the ground drew nearer and the little droids boosters kicked in to slow them down into a perfectly smooth landing. 

The Electric Elkboy jumped off of Chester's back, panting and doubling over as his legs trembled at the sensation of solid ground again. He then proceeded to try and balance out his physical and mental state of mind. Seven minutes later he ceased his over-dramatic gasping to find that Chester had already set up camp. Now, due to the (understandably) small compartments built into the droids body, there really wasn't an awful amount of room; not for conventional camping equipment at any rate. So the Elkboy had devised a cunning array of inflatable outdoor items that, when deflated, could fit rather neatly into said compartments. It was a reoccurring worry, however, that the great Electric Elkboy favoured the inflatable approach to many of his gadgets, but they sufficed all the same. 
     "I cannot believe that I was shot at", fumed he. "Where did you sprout from anyway Chester? I thought you hated flying?"
    Chester retracted the nozzle from a fully inflated stove (complete with propane gas and saucepan set). "Well, after seeing how distraught you were after the incident with the smoothie, I simply wanted to keep a closer eye on you."
     "Ah! A stowaway then?"
   "Merely a guardian angel, sir," Chester conceded. "Besides, it is near impossible to hide upon your, erm, mode of transport."
     "Do not mock my kite Chester! I know full well the capabilities of my inventions, or indeed your feelings upon such matters. So you tailed me then?"
     "I did sir."
     "Very good. I trained you well."

The Elkboy stepped aside to survey the area and Chester returned to the campsite, who begun inflation of a free-standing lamp. He pondered the next course of action as he stood there, legs astride, hands upon hips, gazing into the bleak wilderness before him. Soon his thoughts fled back to that ever-nagging question; who knew the location of his headquarters? That missile attack was clearly meant for him, who else would live in the camels arse of nowhere? And yet, there was another who knew of his ultimate hideout. There was someone who knew, because he had frequently invited her back (to no avail, of course) in an attempt to woo her... by baking his 'the world isn't ready for this' Pizza Pie. 
     Elkboy frowned at the thought. How dare she stand him and his Pizza Pie up. It was irrefutably a taste sensation. Then he remembered the real reason to why he should be frowning... betrayal! But no, surely not by the Emerald Minx. There had been disputes over the years, absolutely, but when they were forced to team up it was consistently a platonic means of adventure and warfare. It was them against the world (or a really bad man). He hadn't seen her for many years now, but as his thoughts strayed deeper into their relationship he began to visualise her beauty. Those gorgeous brown eyes, her incredible smile and those thighs were to die for (which, coincidentally, was one of her famous moves. It was named 'crouching tiger hidden thigh').
     "What would you propose we do now sir?" asked Chester, sidling up beside his master. 
   "What?!" blarped the Elkboy. "Propose? Me? Not until I get recognised for my outstanding cooking!"
      "I'm not sure I follow sir?"
The Elkboy stammered and shook his head. "Think nothing of it my good droid. I was merely daydream... ahem, I mean planning our next move. For move we must, because these lands are unknown to me and they are riddled with evil. I do believe, however, that we have landed on the plains of Limbo, home of the Tribe."
     Chester shifted awkwardly; a rare gesture among droids as one might think it was absurd for a machine to evoke emotional abilities via its limited mobility. But, personified as he was, Chester awkwardly shifted. "With all due respect sir, I am 100% confident that you have completely made that up."
     The Elkboy all but winked at the droid, then leaped onto a nearby rock. His sense of adventure greatly outweighed his sense of logic and reasoning. As the sun gently set over whatever desolation lay before them, a fine and handsome shadow of the Electric Elkboy stretched out to meet whatever may thwart them. "We must travel to London, Chester!"
     "Sorry sir, to London or Chester?"
     "To London! And meet with Hudson, for he will aid us with transport, supplies and information."
    "But sir," exclaimed the droid. "Without sounding prudent, do we not need those three to get to London in the first place?"
The Elkboy stroked his bearded chin and grinned. "Not necessarily."

To be continued...