Saturday, 22 December 2012

Episode X-mas

Unlike me to go a month without posting an update; perhaps I'm losing my touch OR I have been so productive that I couldn't possibly make time! That's right folks it is the latter and it's all been positive news since FLIP Festival (which was a great opportunity for networking). I have been approached with various project proposals to either work with a team or undertake as a freelance animator (again it is the latter that I am most excited about). But before I divulge into these projects I can finally, and triumphantly, show you the animation I helped with after spending a week in Canterbury with the Animate and Create team. It was for the Shepherd Neame Brewery (Bishops Finger anyone?) as part of their 'Merry Christmas' advertising campaign. I helped cut out the characters and back them with the book text design, although I did design and make the backdrop of trees in the opening sequence (05:00) and the candles/food on the table for the grand feast. I created a mouse run-cycle, which I had only recently noticed was used eighteen seconds into the animation (bottom left by the chaps feet); that really made me smile because I'd forgotten how tiny it was to cut out, thus went unnoticed for the first few viewings.

A slightly more natural source for a 'light box'.
It was great to see the production as a finished piece, especially as there was a tight schedule and masses of scrap paper. But getting involved with Dan Richards and the team was a truly fantastic experience and I am very grateful that they contacted me about the work experience. Becoming involved with productions like this has really given me a positive mental attitude (pma!) for 2013. If I could take on a few more projects for myself and become established as a freelancing animator then I am hoping that the only way is up.
      I have already been asked to help in another Sky Arts funded animation in the New Year, depending on the outcome of the application, which would be great because it would be a fairly local production at the Lighthouse in Wolverhampton. Victoria Fellows is an experienced director, animator and writer of whom I had the pleasure of acquainting at the FLIP Festival back in November. I have kept in contact and luckily (as with many opportunities in this industry) she remembered me, my bobble hat and my animated urge to find a bloody job. I cannot reveal the nature of the project, due to confidentiality and also because of its early development, but I can say that it's a topic I have never been involved in before, in any creative fashion. I am very excited to get stuck in. I wish Vicky all the best for this application, fingers crossed that they recognise a damn good project. 

Myself, Jonathan Wallace, Drew Roper, Laura Morgan and Michael Price with scarves on.

Speaking of damn good projects and the Sky Arts channel, I am delighted to present scarf entrepreneur (and award winning animator/director) Drew Roper. I have mentioned this chap throughout my recent posts but I have decided to dedicate a little more than a few words to such a top bloke. When I first visited Yamination Studios I was, of course, slightly daunted. I had left the University 'bubble' and was now stepping up to the next level of pursuing my animation career. But there was nothing daunting about it. Drew is a very charming, chatty, down to earth guy and made me (and all of the work experience folk I can imagine) feel right at home. My studio is your studio he told us on several occasions, and before long I had already made an organised mess (classic trait of the stop motion animator) and brought in my own supply of Poundland's finest chicken noodle soup.
      Drew's project is something I have admired from the start. Not only for the brilliant and well thought out plot, but also for his vision and the great lengths he goes to achieve this. I have not known anybody to work as hard as Drew Roper does. He travels far and wide, sleeps very little, works extraordinarily long hours in the studio at the Custard Factory and still manages to maintain a strong (social and business) connection with his clients, producer, fellow animators across the globe, work experience minions and his lovely girlfriend Amy. He even has time to make a ParaNorman outfit and take us out for a drink on a Friday evening. This guy!

Hopefully, after all that butt kissing, I will finally be allowed a glass of water ;-) 

I shall hope to return to the Custard Factory very soon to continue work on the sets and props, which are really taking shape with the help of Laura (who has made some damn fine café chairs). But for the present I have undertaken a new animation project. Drew was very kind to give my details to photographer and soundscapist Charlotte Rose, who wanted an animated music video for her new project '55 BPM' and the track when the transient happens. It is incredibly ambient with soft trumpets and beautiful vocals to create quite a powerful and melodic track. So the video must mirror this emotion, with a character we can empathise with and a story/journey that captures Charlotte's music. I have followed an idea that Charlotte had concerning the story, tweaked it slightly, then continued to storyboard for the past week.

These are a few ideas, yet nothing here is a final design. I like to keep sketching out characters until there is a wide range to choose from. It could even be a combination of two or three characters.
      The image on the left shows the general size of the character (as he gazes out of a window) whilst the image on the right captures the simplicity, although with too much of a human element to him.

I want to keep the focus on the eyes, as they will play a big role in the characters development and communication with the audience. Although this is a music video and there is no dialogue, the eyes can still connect and reveal much of the characters emotion whether he/she can talk or not. This little fellow on the left is aspiring towards the final design, yet I think much more work needs to be done. 
      So I won't give too much away but as you can see 2013 is already looking very busy. I have been asked to run an animation workshop for the Heritage Motor Museum in Gaydon during the May bank holiday (and throughout the summer holidays as part of a drop-in sessions workshop). This is a great opportunity to familiarise the public with the stop motion technique and get them involved in various activities. 
      The workshop would be aimed at a younger generation and would, of course, have to tie in with the motor centre. I have some car related exercises already in motion, just need a little more planning (Jim Parkyn has given me a little advice!).

I was worried, for a time, that becoming tied up with all this work experience and dashing up and down the country would effect my practical skills as a model maker. I have only made the odd sculpt since graduation, so modelling my Aunty's pet dog from a photograph would truly put my skills to the test. It was for my Uncle as a present (sculpted on commission) and only managed to receive the photographs twelve days before Christmas day. Forget the partridge and the rest of those damn birds, I needed a Jack Russell!

So this is Tilly the dog.
This photograph showed a good angle of the animal, so I used this as the basis of the sculpt. I started with the standard wire skeleton base (being a neck, spine and four legs) glues together with the  trusted, albeit smelly, adhesive known as 2-part Epoxy resin. It is incredibly strong when constructing a model using materials such as steel wire, foam resin or light wood; ideal for a 6" tall plasticine model.
And this is also Tilly the dog.
      After sculpting the shape of the dog (as seen in the image below) I had the ridiculous notion to give it hair. Now, with a sculpt like this you can go two ways; a smooth model with little detail, concentrating on the posture of the subject, or the full hog with every bloody hair and freckle. I went full hog and never looked back.
      I think it will look better with the added detail. I just never like to over embellish these models. I did originally plan to use super sculpey, bake it, paint it and it's all hunky-dory but with the copious amount of so called white Newplast (it's grey, it's fucking grey) I decided to crack on with a good bit of plasticine. Jobs a good 'un. 

For those who missed my Alan the Stegosaurus animation, well, here it is.

2013 will be the true beginnings of my freelancing career. There are many more projects on the horizon but with all the Christmas jazz everything seems to go on standstill. But for me, it's been bloody marvellous. I have been in Manchester for the week working on storyboards and doodling (basically I have gatecrashed my girlfriend's flat with boxes of art supplies and sketchbooks). Lucy introduced me to It's a Wonderful Life and I loved it. I constantly feel much guilt at all the great films I should have seen and this was no exception, but now I can tick it off the long list. This link will take you to the full colour version on Youtube but if you are not a Scrooge (unlike me) then I urge you to invest in the DVD. 
      Another great film I have recently seen, and did so as soon as physically possible, was the first of The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey. I watched the 24 fps version and got completely lost in the wonders that Middle-earth will always give you. Yes, it was a long film, but who cares? It needed the build up and added scenes to emphasize the enormity of the quest. It was not unlike The Fellowship of the Ring where the quest really begins after the council of Elrond, but I do not like to compare these films to Peter Jacksons first Middle-earth trilogy. I have read many reviews concerning the slow start, the scenes that were clearly extended to pad out the trilogy, the lack of character development and also the bizarre experience of the 48 fps BUT HEAR THIS critical minion... it's not over until the fat Hobbit sings. Unlike The Lord of the Rings (being 6 books), The Hobbit is one book, therefore the act of creating a trilogy of films is to include all of the story elements from one but across three parts. Character development surely begins after you find out more about that person, which might not be until you are half way through the book. So the build up from the first film was necessary as it maintains a good ratio of story structure. I think the second film will focus more on the Dwarves, after Gandalf leaves them to trudge through the dangers of Mirkwood, which could possibly be the character development 'part'. 
      Having said that, Tolkien only gave four or five of the Dwarves a more pivotal role in the book. But I shall not go into the details of the book as I would most certainly get carried away with descriptions of scenes and what didn't happen in the book etc. Ha! I'm doing it already. I need to watch it in 48 fps. I want to see what all the fuss is about. 

I shall take it down a notch and end this merry post now. Here is a painting of the Good King himself.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Episode XVII

I was lost beyond words in my previous post. My ability to think straight was barred by the iron fist of corporate Disney as they took over something that meant a great deal to me. I shouldn't sound too negative, however, because fans should praise the fact that Lucas will not write and direct another Star Wars film. But there is a lingering thought that troubles me; Disney's franchise over Star Wars (SW) could lead to SW Princesses or SW babies (cartoons and nappies), which will destroy this galaxy once and for all. I am still open minded about this fiasco and haven't quite had time to really ponder the outcome. All I know is that there is a great disturbance and I have three letters for you: WTF.

I had recently volunteered to help out with the FLIP Festival in Wolverhampton, which would also be my  first time visiting the festival. After receiving news that The Money Tree would screen here it felt like I needed to attend, regardless of the volunteer opportunity. It had been confirmed that I would work my assigned shifts over the weekend at FLIP (which would entail ticket collecting, direction pointing and advice giving). This was a great chance to mingle with other volunteers and watch the animation screenings at the Lighthouse venue, the home of FLIP animation festival. Unfortunately I was unable to view our animation on the Saturday evening, but I heard it had a warm reception from the crowd. I was particularly interested in meeting up with Jim Parkyn, lead model maker from Aardman, for a chat after his seminar that afternoon. Luckily I found my opportune moment and conversed merrily (as you would do with Jim as he's a very jolly guy. In fact, I would not hesitate to cast him as Tom Bombadil in any upcoming Tolkien adaptation). He reassured me that I am doing the right thing when looking for a studio job, as the key word (echoed from his talk from earlier) is patience. I quote the Guinness slogan good things come to those who wait. And there have been some very good developments in these recent times concerning 'good things'.

Jim signing my Flip programme (FUCK YEAH).

The bee was FLIP's chosen logo for the 2012 festival
The volunteering itself was a fantastic experience. Just the sheer involvement alone was enough to confirm my ever wandering thoughts that this is where I want to be. Animation is my calling. The more people I meet and talk to, concerning this art genre, the more enthralled I become and wonder why I hadn't pursued it earlier. I met up with Gareth Hirst once again (after our encounter in Bristol) and carried out our volunteer duties as promoters of the FLIP campaign. This entailed the two of us to stand outside in the freezing cold holding up shoddy cardboard signs and directing the occasional festival goer towards their venue. One of these venues was an interesting little cubbyhole down a mysterious alleyway and behind a vast padlocked gate; this was the shop around the corner. After successfully aiding a few groups to their destinations, Gareth and myself decided to call it a day and investigate the mysterious alleyway and what role it had at FLIP. We met Sam Groves inside (events programmer for FLIP and Flatpack festival) who was screening a collection of animations. This was the Metamorphosis screening and included a much anticipated (and my favourite out of all that were screened)  short film called The Making of Long Bird. 

Nothing is revealed from within room 214 mwuhaha!
After a productive few weeks, revolving around experiencing the studio environment and extreme networking, I feel that I am very close to forging a completely new CV and self promotion. Especially with references from Drew Roper, Flip festival and the team at Animate and Create. October and November have indeed been the most jam packed months I've had for a while. I feel like I am on countless mini-pilgrimages that take me all over the country. But this is exactly what I want to do, unless I do manage to settle down with a career at a studio. And with my ever growing experience at hand I don't see why (in the not so distant future) this cannot happen for me. I think I need to finish a couple of animations at home and add them to my show reel and then I shall be ready to apply for jobs again. I have got three short animations that could be done (if I animate relentlessly) in the next few months; Barney gets a virus (animatic on previous blog entry), Steve and Alan (the awkwardly placed dinosaurs) and Zabrina the Zebra. Although the problem with one of these animations is with the aesthetical appearance of a certain Serengeti mammal. After listening to Jim Parkyn talk at FLIP festival I took away a vital piece of information that highlighted 'what not to animate' (in Aardman's eyes). These were fire, water and zebras. I was actually flabbergasted upon hearing this. I thought it was a general rule to avoid animating water or fire with the stop motion technique, but the zebra preference did baffle me. It has something to do with the appearance it has on camera, where the black and white stripes seem to prevent a good clean image for the character.

I thought the test animation I animated a couple of months ago (here) wasn't too bad and managed to capture the zebra fairly efficiently. I think the main focus would be to alter the lighting; this animation has an incredibly yellow tint to it - perhaps I hadn't changed to camera settings to natural light capture.

So I shall move swiftly on to the job at hand. I have spent the week helping out at the Animate and Create studios with their paper cut out animation project for an ale advert. I don't know much about the advertisement or what ale company, but I do know that this animation has been a lot of fun to assemble. The sets have been coming together really nicely this week (although they have been since before my arrival on Monday) and with all the paper people and tiny props being created, it has been a wonderful environment to work in, albeit a little tedious at times. With each individual person needing a book page stuck to one side and labelled, it has been a lengthy process. The picture below gives a better idea of the 'book page' design, rather than my attempts to explain.

A selection of the cut out props I have designed or attached wire stands to. 

I am writing this from the self acclaimed comfort of a dimly lit room in the Bat and Ball bed and breakfast in Canterbury. I really like the town (even if I have only ever seen it after sun down), but this room could do with a spruce of the 21st Century. I have one channel, which is either a darts championship or a dodgy Channel 5 film, curtains from the 60's and no kettle (just a large supply of pot noodles and cuppa soups). But it is cosy and cheap; besides, I am in the studio for nine hours of the day. I have really enjoyed my time here and would kindly thank Dan Richards, Liu Batchelor and Stuart Clark for getting me involved and being very hospitable. The project looks amazing and I wish them the best of luck when they begin to animate next week.

Since working at the FLIP festival and these studios, being a little older than most students or volunteers, I have been asked to give advice or help with various animation tasks. This is something I cannot get my head around; not because I can't give said advice, but simply because I don't deem myself worthy to teach (well, not just yet anyway). I have considered becoming a teacher and have even spoken to the burser of the college I work at; he wants to see my CV before emitting me to the art department. I'm just scared of showing him my shoddy excuse for a 'professional' resume, especially after he declared his tendency to rip even the most qualified applicants apart.

This new found sense of responsibility led me to look through my old animation folders and see what gold I could dig up that would help not only the younger animated generations, but also me! When I left University and began to animate at home, I felt like I had to begin again. Re-learn the basics and principles that we took for granted (unlearn what you have learned - Yoda, Episode V). Whilst perusing these folders I stumbled across one of my favourite walk cycles I drew from my first year at Staffordshire University, and will remain the most accurate (apart from image 2; the chap shouldn't be leaning that far back).

It is basic principles like this that will retain any budding animators ability to succeed in this industry. I admit that I am out of practice with some of these exercises, walk cycles included, but luckily I was able to get some advice from Barry Purves after I showed him a clip of a recent walk cycle I animated with Barney. I also have Drew Roper to seek advice from and also the other work experience guys, Laura and Michael. Blimey, there are endless names I could list off. But I would get carried away and too excited. I think it's time for a lie down.

And then it's time to clean my teeth.

And then eat some cheese, ignoring the fact that I have just brushed my teeth, so as to have another whacky and unpredictable dream.

I shall keep you posted.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Episode VII?

One image sprung to mind when reading the news of Disney's takeover. So I used a bit of Photoshop...

I cannot deliver my usual ramblings today. I was planning on writing a prologue to the FLIP animation festival I am involved in tomorrow and Saturday. But my mind is elsewhere. There has been a disturbance in the force of which I need to meditate upon, as I haven't weighed up the pros and cons yet. I speak of the audacious manoeuvre where the Lucasfilm franchise and stocks has been bought by the ever growing Empire of Disney. I am well and truly lost for words. So whilst I sit here, not typing, below are a couple of videos that are currently aiding the conflict and debate going on in my Jedi orientated mind. May the Mouse, *splutters* erm I mean, the Force be with you.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Episode XV

A relatively speedy follow up to my previous post, but with the end of the world approaching I felt impelled to write some more. It has been 16 months since graduation, 34 months of being single (I now have a beautiful girlfriend, Lucy) and within 8 months the release of three stop motion films. I have got three major animation projects under my wing, another feature film in development with my colleague John Fox, a music video to direct and edit and also the work experience Drew Roper has so kindly offered me. It is all happening now, in such a short space of time. I had almost a year of doing nothing! Excitement like this can send a guy over the edge.

For one thing I need to move out of my legendary attic studio. Living in this house with my older female room mate (who incidentally shares the same surname as me) is fine, but I feel that this low-rent bubble is hindering my motivation. I had decided many years ago that I would never live and work in Warwickshire, so I'm worried that if I remain in this comfort zone of the Shire I would lose my inspiration to animate, regardless of the sizeable room I have.

So in retrospect to the fleeting string of events occurring in these last few months, it has actually been very healthy for my animated life style. For instance, finding out that The Money Tree was part of the FLIP Festival programme was yet another step up this ladder of career-seeking mayhem. I am volunteering at this festival so I'm not sure whether I can see our film on the big screen again, but that's what Encounters was all about. I feel like a (Z-listed) celebrity now; the premier and after (boat) party was in Bristol. In fact, I wouldn't have even known of our films inclusion in FLIP had it not been for Daniel James. He swooped in with a heroic text to inform me of such crucial information (he really is a top bloke, follow him I urge you).

I have been recently working on my own project (one of the three majors I mentioned earlier) with the working title 'Barney gets a virus', where our hero loses his temper via the everyday disruptions that a computer has to offer. I have added to the set used in The Money Tree animation (mainly the inclusion of a computer desk) and moved things around to give Barney a slightly more expanded universe. I have been storyboarding and animating various scenes, finally compiling them and adding SFX to produce an animatic of which helps create visual meaning to this story I wanted to tell. It is a very simple idea, but applying the accentuation of animation with a bit of slapstick has always been a winning combination for even the most basic of story lines. I have posted a video of the animatic (part one) below for an exclusive screening that cannot be found anywhere else online. The question is; are you worthy?

As it states above, this is only part one. Well, I wasn't going to reveal the entire story now, was I? However, I have left the story open for possibilities. Even I am unsure what Barney might do to get his computer performing again. Immediately I had thought of a mixture of styles involving hints of Wile E. Coyote (and his Acme supplies), Pib & Pog and a brilliant CG animated short called Fly; the overreacting actions of the man is how I picture Barney behaving towards his malfunctioning computer. 

The Mortal Kombat animation, I have introduced on various occasions, was something that began around 18 months ago back in Stoke-on-Trent. My house mate, Steven Cummings, and I wanted to create a masterpiece of a film. We had already directed the Stoke Force series but wanted to establish something using the artistic skills we possess; animation, illustration, visual effects and concept art. So here we are after all this time, training and preparation, (perhaps slacking in places on my behalf) and ready for the next stage. As this animation is based on our actual selves (in jazzy shorts and head bands) we needed to bulk up. And this is where I feel the slacking has occurred, unfortunately, for me. 

Alas, this is another project I can reveal very little about at this stage. I can give a few sneak previews to what might go down in the animation. We have just recently photographed the next catalogue of moves for the animation. Each move sequence is made up of 4-6 frames (simulating the animation style associated with the original Mortal Kombat game) and there were approximately 30 moves. Not only that, but we had to repeat the photographing process for three levels of blood and bruises, i.e. apply scars and wounds to our bodies and photograph all 30 moves again. The final count was over 1000 photographs each. And now we both have the monotonous procedure of cutting around each character, save as a PNG file and store them as individual frames to eventually piece together as an animation. The things we do eh?

My character is represented with the blue stick man; Steve as
the red. This is a trial storyboard to see the basic layout of
move combinations and where the other character needs to be.

We only had red and black acrylic paint as our make up supplies but we didn't think we did a bad job. But, visually, this was not our major concern because the animation will be so fast paced that noticing the shoddy paint job would hopefully be unnoticeable. Our major concern was making sure that we had every 'move' photographed, labelled and sorted into folders so that when our character needs to walk forward, jump and kick then we can go straight into the folders marked walking, jumping and kicking and find the frames we need. It did get a little tedious but when you think about the final product then it will always motivate you.

Besides, it is always fun painting all this on yourself. A word of warning though; don't actually use acrylic paint. It takes bloody ages to scrub off and I am convinced there are still red patches upon my back (not from the scrubbing, but paint I could not reach!).

So here is a lovely little trinket I found in a charity shop. It will, of course, be a minor prop in the upcoming George the Knight film (of which I am currently storyboarding). This medieval trunk may get a face time of only 5 seconds but for three pounds Stirling, it was quite the find. I was thinking it might hold George's armour before he suits up to hunt the Dragon.

I have made full use of my expensive Ikea table and set it at a 45 degree angle; thus propelling my drawings up into my face. This does not only look more professional but will also prevent that blasted gay cat from walking all over my work. Although, this resulted in him scrambling for balance and scratching through one of the pages. I was furious and threw a box at him.

George is the third of the major projects at hand. I have been waltzing about from one animation to the next when really I ought to finish one and then concentrate on the next. But then again, I like this ongoing chaotic approach to creativity. It not only reflects the 'organised mess' that is my room, but also allows for spontaneous adjustments. For example, I was hesitating on a sequence with Barney and his computer, so instead of forcing the idea I left it and continued with the plot synopsis for George (bearing in mind I had Barney's story aloof in my mind). Five minutes later the solution came to me. Keeping all these projects open and accessible lets my mind wander for a while and eventually finds a conclusion. I'm not suggesting that I should prolong every animation just to wait for an answer (blimey, I feel like a Jedi artist). Okay, I have just discovered the point where I should stop typing. It's now.

P.s. Want to know what really annoyed me this week? Check this out HERE

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

That episode after Bristol Encounters...

As soon as the fast-ticket collecting machine at Coventry railway station declared my booking confirmation was invalid and that it was near impossible to retrieve my E-ticket before my train departed, I stood there aghast and muttered some ungodly curses (much to the disgust of some nosey old biddy who clearly drives too slowly). What a perfect way to start my pilgrimage to the animation capital of the country. I almost made the decision to drive down to Bristol and began flailing between the platform and the bus stop, looking for somebody to slap me and say, Tom, you are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity. Now just buy another ticket you fucking eejit. Luckily enough it was the plasticine man inside my head who said this. I decided to worry about the additional £50 I forked out after the Encounters Festival and concentrate on getting to the afternoon screenings. Thus began my least favourite train ride ever. 

Bit of blue for the dads; my second Encounters goody bag. 

On arrival, the beauty of Bristol immediately made me forget about the palaver with the ticket. I have been to the Encounters festival before in 2010 (inspiring the beginnings of this blog) and knew my way around. I headed straight for the Watershed to retrieve my pass and hurry to the Aardman Retrospective: Early Years Claymation.

I immediately regretted the photograph choice after receiving my pass.

There were two films from the Early Years that stood out for me (of which I hadn't seen before) because the timing and the flow of the claymation was so beautifully done. They were part of a conversation series that included Down & Out and Early Bird. These were created by David Sproxton and Peter Lord in the late 70s and early 80s before Nick Park joined Aardman and were based on recordings from public places (obviously leading onto the Creature Comfort series). Later on that evening I was privileged to see Aardman In Conversation, where David and Peter talked about how they covered their eyes whilst making these recordings. This was because they didn't want to be influenced by what they saw but rather what they heard to help create their characters; but also because they were incredibly shy whilst going about with a microphone. The video below is of Early Bird (1983) and I just enjoy the pace and humour of the animation with even the smallest of detail that gives the presenter so much more attitude. For example; excuse me, a little frog in the throat there.

Alas, I was unable to find a video clip of Down & Out but I stumbled across another conversational piece called On Probation. The characters are of the same style and capture the behaviour of each individual perfectly. Essentially, what I am trying to put across is the sheer beauty of these early years. Imagine just having a desk or a garden shed with a couple of lamps and a lump of plasticine: that is how a lot of these animations started off as, and I find that incredibly inspiring.

Daniel and myself. The short guy in the middle claims
that he works for Aardman Animations?

I am very proud to present the Encounters official programme. It not only sits presidentially upon my desk but also right here in this exquisitely positioned image. May I attract your attention to the caricature sketch upon the cover? It is none other than Peter Lord's drawing of the iconic Morph accompanied magnificently with its creators signature. This makes me a very happy bunny. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the three heroes of stop motion (Sproxton, Lord and Park) talk about their legacy in front of hundreds of adhering fans, film makers and animators. To see highlights of this event and of the Aardman's involvement in the Bristol Festival follow this link right HERE.

I spoke with Nick Park about motivation and how we all pretty much start off in a bedroom studio (it was at University where Nick began A Grand Day Out) to create that one good animation. At the end of the day, it's down to determination and getting noticed. It could even be just one beautifully animated 'scene' that does it.

To conclude a terrific Aardman themed couple of days, Daniel and I trekked across the vast plains of the Bristol docklands to take a look at the exterior of the Aardman Studios. This was more of a passing fancy with the longing of being inside. We stood in its radiance for a while. Then I rang the bell. And the pearly gates opened....

These fine fellows need no introduction...

Issuing my business cards and DVD promotional packs was something I did a lot more this time, whereas last time I was a little hesitant due to the chosen image on the front of my old business card. It was a frightfully possessed rastafarian toilet attendant, not very welcoming for anybody to behold. So the exchanging of cards was in force, when attending the after party aboard the Under the Stars boat. Many directors, producers, film-makers, animators and the like were here creating such a buzz that reflected the stop motion focal point of the world. It was also an opportunity to assemble the Twitter crew that had been massing over the past six months, giving us the chance to meet and greet fellow animators who were still at University, graduates, freelancers and the like. It was here where I met up with Gareth Hirst, Tim Allen and Drew Roper amongst many others. Even Sam Fell, director of Paranorman, had stopped by for a few drinks. This really was the boat to be on.

Speaking of Paranorman, there was a screening that took place in Bristol especially for the festival goers; and with Sam Fell giving a guest speech on the making of the film, it really was a fantastic way to be introduced to another great stop motion feature film. The room was alive with excited animators. And if the screening itself had been up to scratch (the sound and picture quality was much to be desired) then it could have easily been the best cinema experience I have ever attended. To have the entire cinema packed with enthusiasts is really a once in a lifetime experience. When I went to watch Pirates! I was alone and it was very surreal. I thoroughly enjoyed the film but I had nobody to turn to and say gadzooks what a film! There was only a disgruntled family in the foreground and the cinema attendant (who I believe was sent to check upon my status because I clearly looked like a child abductor). On a lighter note, check out the below!

Nick Park drew this and signed it. I shall
treasure it forever.

This fine piece of rocket stands tall
at approx 1200mm 
I made Gromit at the animation workshop
and I have to say... very proud

The Arnolfini building was home to not only a fine selection of sets and models (the rocket from A Grand Day Out included) but also to a Saturday morning workshop hosted by Aardman lead model maker Jim Parkyn. I went to investigate. The Aardman Kids Animation Workshop welcomed Daniel and myself as we claimed that gatecrashing the younger generation was part of the Animator's survival kit. We are big kids after all.

To top off a great morning I managed to pillage a souvenir; an official sculpting tool from the Aardman studio. I was smitten. And so this brings me very near to the end of my Encounters edition, which has taken a little longer than expected to finish. I shall, of course, tell you the reasons why in another blog entry.

In fact, I shall follow up almost immediately with the next post because it all ties in with my most recent happenings. And due to the rapid pace these current weeks have bequeathed me (adjacent to my absent mind) it would be beneficial for me to jot down anything productive and animation related. Not that I would forget an evening with Barry Purves, drinking tea and eating carrot cake (I shall indulge in the following chapter).

A couple more things to coax you back to the next episode... The Money Tree in FLIP Festival, work experience with Drew Roper, Barney comes to life and a Mortal Kombat animation preview. So thanks for stopping by. You stay classy Great Britain.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

That episode before Bristol Encounters...

I have decided to create a two-part post, where the 'before and after' scenario will hopefully give you guys a full chronicle of this years Bristol Encounters Festival. As you may well know, our animation was successfully submitted and now proudly sits amongst many International competitors on the programme page of the website. It all seems a little daunting because you immediately start criticising your own animation and compare it to others; I have already noted the length of our animation (being one of the shortest). And yet, I recall the 2010 festival where one film screened a run time of 13 seconds and that went down very well. We have been placed in the category named 'Tooth and Claw' with another ten films and the description for this group is as followed:

An outstanding collection of films featuring mammals and strange beasts. Whether the creature is endowed with human traits or the story explores the uses of animals, one thing is for sure: there’s nothing more appealing than a set of singing teeth... 

This is a befitting portrayal of our animation, although there is an underlying meaning that May (head director) wanted to depict. It is a greed related moral story, but poor Barney had no real chance in understanding this from those 'paw-print' warning letters he received. I have uploaded The Money Tree animation once again for those who may not have seen it or to refresh the memories of those who have.

Saving the best until second from last.

In preparation for this festival (where there will be guests such as Nick Park, Peter Lord, David Sproxton, Sam Fell and Paul Bush) I have reprinted my business cards and also have a collection of my CVDs ready to take with me on this animation pilgrimage. Because I still believe in chance meetings. I believe that one extraordinary moment amongst such talented and inspiring people could change the course of anybody's future. It amazes me how encouraging the people involved in this festival are, where the exchange of business cards is not a polite gesture but a genuine request to contact them for nothing less than a jovial conversation.

On a slightly different note, if you are wondering where you can design your own badges to pin upon your attire then wonder no more! I have found a terrific website that is very easy to use and delivers your product within three days. I have designed a few badges for the Money Tree crew as we mingle through the crowds in Bristol hoping to attract some attention. I did consider designing some t-shirts, but alas, time is of the essence and all my money is going towards accommodation. Henceforth, I settled with the 'badger badges' due to the cheaper nature (but I still think they look bloody marvellous).

It's 3 for 2 so snap this offer up ASAP!

The Goon, Mugsaloney and Zee. The guy at the front was selected as the 'official' entry. 

I stumbled upon something rather interesting not so long ago; a Dark Horse Comic competition. This was advertised briefly on Twitter, so I have to praise this networking buddy of mine once again. People  sometimes undermined social networking websites and think they are just a fad, when really it has become one of the most useful tools for freelancers, studios and University alumni. I 'follow' hundreds of people and studios involved with animation, film and creative arts, and they all offer so much to whoever is listening (or reading in this case). I have constant access to information, advice & tips, video links, websites, new releases, film reviews, workshops, events & exhibitions, images and so forth.  And the most important factor within this fountain of knowledge is that you can interact with these people quite easily and they will happily message you back! So don't knock it until you've tried it my fellow Internet chumps. 

Aside from 'tweeting' you with more of my ramblings I must return to my original topic concerning this DC competition. The drawing above was my entry, however, it was only meant to be one character design (but I just kept on drawing!) as it was based on some vagabond named The Goon. It was a 'revamp' type of competition, i.e. a fresh design for an existing character. So fingers crossed for some feedback. Failing that it has certainly rekindled my love for character development and design (so I ought to keep up the sketching).

Event: Creamfields. 

Location: Daresbury, Cheshire

Resembles: Dagobah

Quote? And I thought they smelled bad on the outside (General Solo talks about tents).
Not much I can say could suggest this festival was aesthetically pleasing to the eye. In fact, the only time there was a blink of sunshine was when my fellow ravers and I were blind drunk and failed to remember the essence of warmth. We partied hard on the Saturday night to Alesso and Avicci and arose the following morning to a sloppy soup of mud, piss and shit (the latter two were for effect). We decided a hasty retreat was necessary.

I have decided to wind down this post and leave you with something positive, albeit a little haphazard. Zabrina the Zebra has been mentioned many times and only appeared once or twice on my blog, therefore, I have included a test animation that was perhaps based around camera angles, lighting and mouth pieces more so than thoroughly animating the puppet. It is not a long test, but hopefully it will set the mood for any upcoming animations starring Zabrina.

These are my last two paragraphs concluding my thoughts on Bristol and what this festival has to offer. I have already booked my train, hostel and extra tickets (due to popularity) such as the Aardman in conversation gala event where Park, Lord and Sproxton all take to the stage and enlighten us with, let's face it, absolutely anything they wanted to say! There is also an Aardman 'Early Years' event I would like to see which begins two hours after my train arrives. So no dilly-dallying for me as it was many of these animations from the 80's and 90's that inspired me as a child (to name a few; My Baby Just Cares For Me, Adam and The Wrong Trousers).

Many of the contacts I follow on Twitter are travelling to Bristol, namely graduates from all over the United Kingdom, my team from Staffordshire University, and prestigious freelance animators such as Drew Roper and Gareth Hirst. So this is a really big opportunity to brush shoulders and talk to hundreds of people within this wonderful industry, so I am incredibly excited. There will also be a screening of the new Paranorman animated film. A theatre full of animation enthusiasts, watching a stop motion feature... this can only end BRILLIANTLY!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Episode XII

Frodo Who the f**k is this chap? Pippin Oh just some blockheaded drunkard from Hardbottle

I think I'm finally on the road where the term it'll pay off in the end has significant relevance. Not in a literal sense as my financial issues are far from being settled, but metaphorically; where playing the waiting game has now begun rewarding me for my patience. This month especially I have felt incredibly uplifted by upcoming events and networking with people connected to these events (all animation related of course). I feel that my current status as an animator is steadily growing with every message I send, every piece of feedback I receive or the comments concerning my work. Every opportunity I am given is graciously accepted. I just need to focus and channel all this productive feeling into productive ACTION!

I have managed to secure a work experience placement in Birmingham's arts and media quarter, known as the Custard Factory, at a studio called Yaminations. Founded by Drew Roper in 2009, Yamination Studios specifies in stop motion and is known for such animation shorts as The History of Denim and Dougie. It was actually by great chance that my uncle Alan bumped into Drew a while back. They spoke of model making and engraving (my uncle works in the jewellery trade and was actually commissioned by Holland & Holland to produce a range of silver plated shotgun replicas - shown below) and soon Drew spoke of his stop motion studio in Birmingham. Thus, my over excited uncle grasped this chance and introduced me (without my attendance, which is quite some feat) as a fellow animator caught up in the economic clamour of post student life.

I took a few photographs for my uncle's portfolio
So this was my opportune moment. A window into the animation world and a bizarre, yet relevant, opening story to why I was emailing him in the first place; Dear Mr Roper, I believe you met my uncle a few weeks ago. Surely this must be rewarded with a job at your studio? Of course, the sensible side of me decided to address Drew with a less accosting message and just have a conventional chin-wag.

After a few cheerful emails it was arranged for me to visit the Yaminations Studio in the Custard Factory where Drew told me about his upcoming project (which sounds incredible) and went through the story of his main character. He was storyboarding when I arrived so I was lucky enough to take a gander at the visual aspects of the project; camera angles, the positioning of characters etc. Storyboarding is very important and I admit that I do not always go through this process with some of my animation shorts. This is because a lot of the time I get too excited about an idea I have the urge to animate straight away. The pilot episode of George the Knight was only half storyboarded, and I didn't strictly keep to that script either. So I am hoping that I shall not make any mistakes for George II and also for Zabrina the zebra. These shall be carefully drawn up (I shall look into downloading Storyboard Pro) and eventually become a couple more episodes of nonsense.

But I like nonsense. People who know me will understand that I thrive upon it.

Going briefly back to the work experience chapter - I start in early September for a few weeks. And boy am I excited!

Zabrina pouts as she rejects the idea of children keeping her as a pet. 

Ah yes, the much awaited project involving Zabrina the zebra has finally landed. And, I am a little embarrassed to say, that it is rather late in production as the task was appointed to me nigh on 14 months ago. Myself, Alex Young and May Jowdh were even on the Signal 1 breakfast show to confirm our commitment to helping promote Blackbrooks Zoo with the creations of these animation shorts. In true Creature Comforts fashion, we each chose an animal from the list and were given the vox pop of that character (who was impersonated by a random schmuck) to henceforth animate said animal. Alex worked with the peacock I believe, whilst May  animated and edited together her Kentucky the Penguin short and has been the only member of the group to succeed in the venture.

It's hard to see, but the front vinyl is renamed Kinda 'Kinky' by The Kinks.

I couldn't resist the inclusion of animation related gossip.

As you can see, the production has stepped up a gear very recently. The set was completed today (where I put my foot down on extra props, otherwise I would be here forever. Miniature yellow post-it notes were the final straw). The image above is my work space for stage 2#. Stage 1# is still in mid shot for Barney and his computer troubled episode. George just has to wait. 

Attention to detail; there are notes on that clipboard!

So my plan of action is to animate Zabrina using my own vocal devices and leave the official interview element out of it for now. Possibly because of the irrelevance of such a film; it has been well over a year. For all I know, Blackbrooks Zoo could of easily been closed down and all the animals shipped off to Madagascar.

This summer has been over shadowed by the epic conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. And rightly so, even with the ongoing criticism that it wasn't up to its predecessor The Dark Knight (which I completely understand) but in all fairness, that was a one man show. As a neutral, TDKR might not seem as good because it focuses on more characters and has to develop them, as well as keeping the emotional bonds between the originals (Bale, Oldman, Caine and Freeman). But with these originals this film also has to see how their journey through these three films draws to an end. It's a big ask for one film to deliver, but it does so in such a strong manner that I think it's a contender for being the best. 

The Dark Knight was perfect because of the performance of Heath Ledger and everybody respects this. But if we break down TDKR and think of the air time for each of the many characters to perform and empathise with then I would say it's equally as impressive. When it comes to a series of films and introducing new characters they will always be compared to the acting of the original cast and whether they fit in or not. I found that the performances of Joseph Gorden-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway was spot on for the Batman Universe Nolan has created and gave just as strong a character presence as the iconic Joker. It still makes me smile when I hear people insisting that there will be a fourth film because of the 'cliffhanger' ending concerning the scene *spoiler alert* where the informally named Robin discovers the Bat cave. No! This is not a money making franchise like the Saw, American Pie and the Fast and Furious films (amongst many others). 

People simply do not understand the concept of a decent ending that 'could' give the prospect of further stories to be told, and yet essentially do not need to be told. Especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. There are hundreds of tales revolving around Batman, Superman and the rest. And we all saw what happened the last time a Robin was introduced to a Batman film. The ending of TDKR was merely a salute to the Boy Wonder, Nightwing, or even a future Batman (because as the Dark Knight himself states... 'Batman could be anybody'). The ending was not hinting another Batman and Robin film. So sit down and stop flailing your arms. By the way, here is a great documentary on the evolution of the Batmobile. Just click HERE.

Overshadowed, perhaps. Underestimated, never! Step aside CGI and enter the wonders of stop motion (although CGI still plays a role in such films, so remain in the vicinity, but a little lower in the heirachy). Because there are two films crafted to awe inspire the world once again reflecting the hard work and glorious skills of stop motion animators. ParaNorman (from the studios who brought us Coraline) is out now, so I had better get on it. Any takers? And Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. Both look gorgeous from the production photographs and film trailers I have seen. These films represent the beauty and determination of this industry and will continue to inspire me as I quest to become a part of them. 

I have also been watching some vintage Aardman films and one in particular will always stand out for me because it is the driving force and visionary influence for George the Knight. The performance of each puppet and the important concept of action speaks louder than words gives this animation a really beautiful level of communication. It's bloody marvellous!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Episode XI

So July has been a month of good news and countless propositions for me. Some have been honourable with a multitude of career prospects, whilst some have a more personal touch and giving me titles such as The Godfather and 'that guy who filmed our wedding'. Either way, even without getting the job down in Kent for the Animate and Create Studios, I deem it a productive month for networking and getting that little bit closer to freelancing glory. I shall talk about the interview later, however, because I have an incredible announcement to make. I was told by The Man not to promote this until the 23rd July, which has obviously been and gone, but I have literally just this moment uncovered the online festival programme with the line-up so I have no qualms whatsoever in confirming that The Money Tree animated film has been accepted into the Bristol Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival

Yes, the final major project I was involved in (alongside three of my esteemed animator colleagues) has been chosen for this international competition after I thought it would be a sin to not even submit it. I hadn't watched The Money Tree for many months and upon revisiting Barney and his abnormally colossus woodland friends I was still grinning in admiration at our work. 

Inserting this image somehow makes it feel official

The festival opens near the end of September (18th-23rd) and I shall most definitely be attending. I was planning on going beforehand and now I guess I would be a fool indeed to not go at all. If you are having difficulty in believing that our film has been entered then this link HERE will take you to the listings for this years line up (permission to feel smug?). 

So that is the ultimate news I have to offer from this blog entry. I am afraid that everything else will be overshadowed by the opening two paragraphs, so feel free to retire after I finish this sentance; unless I decide to keep writing (I could do this but I am prone to good grammer). Damn it. 

The video above is an exclusive preview of my next animation which does in fact involve Barney, the star of The Money Tree. There is no sound, but at this stage I just wanted to get some feedback possibly? I got some fantastic advice from Barry Purves on how to prevent the puppet from leaning forward too much during a walk cycle, as this is a constant problem with self built wire armatures. I have unfortunately (and most annoyingly) lost my Animation Supplies standard armature, which would normally cost £79.99 but we were given one from Staffordshire University for free. Constructing your own armature has many benefits, most of which concerns the scale of your production (sets, props etc) but to have a stronger one with actual joints very rarely gives you any hassle when animating a walk cycle. Barney has actually been a very sound puppet to work with. His detachable head (with removable mouth pieces) is still in great condition and I have only needed to make one extra set of hands during the 18 months of his existence. Although I must confess; the wire armature you see in the sequence above is actually that of George the Knight, minus his bulbous head. 

My animation table is set up once again, alongside some humble lighting and new 'office suite' for our hero Barney.

So I mentioned earlier about this month being filled with 'propositions' or opportunities perhaps. I have been talking to multi-award winning animator Drew Roper and have been invited to visit his studios in Birmingham. Not only that, there is also a chance to become part of a work experience programme that he is running in August, which is bloody soon, so I shall have to keep my eyes open on that one. 

Another recent proposition was only today, when I received a phone call off Daniel Waterman (director for animation production company Carse & Waterman). He asked if I wanted to help with their animated music video for the new single by British pop artist Mr Hudson. I have to admit that I struggled to acknowledge the name but I understand that he has worked with Jay-Z and is in fact signed up to rapper/producer Kanye West. To be involved in something like this would really be something spectacular, so I should hopefully be meeting with Dan this Thursday in London for a chat and model making session. 

I have also been asked by my (ex) boss to return to the College for work. However, not as the undeclared title of dinner man, but with the more respectable role of 'hospitality agent'. My friends have assured me that such a title only exists to lure me back (knowing full well that I would be enticed by the title 'agent'). What can I say? these dinner ladies know me!

As you can see, my sculpt of Danny from The Bash Street Kids has been completed and mounted. I have to say at this point that charity shops are ideal for shiny wooden bowls or boxes, which can then be turned into stands for such models as this. I managed to finish painting him the day before my interview at Animate and Create Studios in Kent, as I had decided to take this sculpt, as well as Fender and Leonardo, with me to hopefully impress the panel. So with them carefully boxed up I ventured off down the long road to the coastal town of Whitstable.

The interview was in two parts. An official talk with the panel from the studio (of whom I recognised from the website after my thorough research of the company) and a 45 minute animation test with two characters they chose. The questioning I got from the panel was rather hard work to answer, as I had not been in an interview situation for over three, perhaps even four years. I had a suit on and I was sweating buckets. How embarrassing. They were impressed with my plans of moving to Bristol (as part of my five-year-plan) and my obsession with sending my show reels to California, as it seems to be one of the bustling places to be for budding young animators. 

I wish I had recorded the animation I did with their armatures. I left my mobile phone in the car to prevent any likelihood of an untimely phone call during the interview. But that aside, I managed to create a 5 second long animation within the time frame and still had time to role my sleeves back down and do my tie up again. I played it back for the panel a few times and they seemed to really enjoy it. 

But alas, I did not get the job. I did however reach the final 6 out of 70 applicants and therefore have been proposed (such an over used word in this post!) to being a freelance animator for their studio. This may not be an immediate or official position but I shall definitely be informed of any projects that could need an extra pair of hands to help.

Upon recieving the email confirming that I would not be joining the team, I decided to double my efforts with other animation studios and send out more of my CVD show-reels. The video above is a new addition to the DVD: it is a slideshow of my illustrations, sculpts and other pieces that are not part of an animation, but I wanted to show the studio. It captures that classic blend of images fading in and out, with hand picked royalty free music playing merrily in the background. I do hope you enjoy it. 

I have recently added a few more pictures and projects to my Tumblr account, as it seemed a little forlorn and weary due to the lack of attention I was giving it. I quickly apologised and now, like my LinkedIn account, it is back on track for thorough online networking. For a look at some more of my work just in pictures (as oppose to reading through these exceptionally long blog entries) then follow the link HERE. If you would prefer a slightly more professional online connection to me then follow my LinkedIn and I promise I will be sensible. 

Part of my Hobbit range of illustrations, of which can be found on my tumblr profile on the page 'out of this world'.

And finally I shall leave you with three more images to peruse upon. They make up a three page storyboard that I sketched out a couple of weeks ago. It could be an animation in the making, but it really is only a short and sweet idea involving some adorable little kamikaze birds. The idea was to capture that moment, before and after, when a bird decides that it needs to fly across the road and only when you are moments away from hitting it. I would really appreciate some feedback because I never really know whether these ideas are  good or whether they have the humour I was trying to portray. 

They are three very psychotic birds; but they need to be due to the circumstances. I really wanted to exaggerate the facial expressions to the point of being abnormal. I am already sculpting Pete from the 'breathes heavily' scene because I just love the determination on his little face as he builds himself up to dive off the branch. 

Anyway, after such a vast collection of stories and media I shall sign off now and leave you guys to mull over this calm and substantially normal Tuesday evening. Yes, I am actually a Godfather to my best friend's baby Mila Rose. Or rather The Godfather (I do love adding titles to my ever growing fantasy CV, which also includes Bachelor of the Arts and Jedi ). And yes, I am filming the wedding of my good friend Steve. Good luck mate!

And finally, go and watch The Dark Knight Rises. I am still on a cinematic high due to the awesometacular finale of what is, without doubt, the best comic book trilogy ever made. Unless The Avengers can top it? We'll see...