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.