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!

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