Saturday, 30 November 2013

Episode VIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selection of characters created by the team

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, 4 November 2013

Episode VII

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

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

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

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

I was allowed an early birthday present!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So embarrassed. 

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

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

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

Monday, 16 September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shades are essential for extreme spray painting jobs. 

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

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

Friday, 13 September 2013

Episode VI

Phew! I always knew that August and September would be incredibly busy months for me, but this is outrageous! I have been actually turning down projects to pursue studio experience and the like. But regardless of the bigger picture, I still think projects like a music video can be far-fetched (with the exception of 55 BPM When the Transient Happens) simply because of my limited home studio. Nonetheless, I am forever grateful, and flattered, that people have asked if I wanted to front an animated campaign. In fact, my good friend David Ward asked if I could animate a short 'fitness' clip to help promote the social media side of a leisure centre. I think I might get Barney involved with that one, he's been doing sod all for months...

Finding a free day to actually animate is the problem at the moment as I usually have to catch up with paper work, finish sculpting, illustrating and also rearranging my Star Wars figurines (I'm totally joking)...(but not really). I will hopefully make some 'fitness' props soon and get Barney to pump up the jam because he's gained quite a cotton wool belly upon him. So these might include some weights to sculpt the guns and a treadmill branded THE TRAVELATOR (mwuhahaha). 

So I've had time to relax, but not really to regain my strength. The weekends that I've had free have been spent in a tent and drinking copious volumes of cider. This is what Beacons Festival in Leeds consisted of and took me a good few days to fully recover. But seeing bands like Bonobo and Django Django made it absolutely worth it. 

This is me catching Ant Man as he parachutes from
the S.H.I.E.L.D Helipad. Nice

There was a fine Jazz festival in the Brecon Beacons back in July and it was bloody amazing. I hadn't been to this festival since I was about yay high, so it was nice to visit this part of Wales and get my jazzy groove on once more. One band in particular caught my attention, not only because of their fully orchestrated toe-tapping jazzathon, but because of the array of characters in this 25 piece ensemble. Wonderbrass play a huge variety of instruments but each member of the band also brings their own personality, look and style to the table. This got my creative juices tingling, so I have emailed the band and proposed a few ideas.

In these early stages I have only managed to get as far as illustrating some caricatures of the members, but have informed them that I am (no pun intended) a one man band so an animated episode or music video might be something for the new year. 

I'm sculpting and painting
a Minion. Couldn't resist

I have always been a fan of the character found in the Roald Dahl books. I remember being just as excited to see 'illustrated by Quentin Blake' and would even skip the pages in search of the next drawing (but of course, Mr Dahl, I returned to read it from the beginning). One of my favourite stories is The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me where a young boy stumbles across an old sweet shop occupied by a giraffe, pelican and a monkey who are the jovial proprietors of the 'ladderless window cleaning company'.

I have taken it upon myself to build a diorama of one of the scenes (which is actually the scene I described above). I have had to improvise with the design of the roof but I do think it's in-keeping with the style of Blake. So all the shop needs now is a set of windows, a drain pipe and some extensive dry brushing. Then I can begin sculpting the characters! Clearly Quentin Blake's illustrative style is unique and looks marvellous on page, but by creating 3D miniatures of these drawings will undoubtedly be quite a task. It was a very delicate process to recreate the three animals on my wall as a mural, and that was in 2D. But I am up for the challenge. 

Contrary to popular belief, I do not work as a dinner man (any more!). I am a hospitality 'agent', which means that I am the James Bond of pouring tea and coffee. But now, I feel like I've been promoted within the ranks of Princethorpe College and have become a contracted extra-curriculum activities worker. I don't think I can say teacher, but I do teach an animation workshop... and I am allowed in the staff room now... fuck it I'm a teacher!

I can use these characters right?!

He's up for sale if you want him...?!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Enter Emerald Minx

8 years ago…

The snow-capped plains of the northern hemisphere glistened before him as he stood magnificently, guarding his flock and watching the pale yellow sunrise. Tommy closed his eyes and breathed in the cold fresh air, soothing his throat like a menthol lozinger, and yet this man was as fit as a fiddle. The herd of elk plodded slowly about him seeking what little grass this terrain had to offer. Tommy leant heavily upon his crook, admiring the scene. Unfortunately the icy permafrost disagreed with the extra weight and sent the crook flying out of the Elkboy’s grasp. Curses! cried Tommy, flailing like a goon as he landed in the crisp layer of snow.
Suddenly the sunlight was shrouded by a gathering mist, which soon became plumes of dark cloud massing upon the horizon. As the menacing cloud swirled closer it reminded Tommy of only one film where (in the following moments) a huge space craft would pierce the darkness and centre its laser cannon over the nearest landmark. But today wasn’t the 4th of July and the only local landmark was a wizened old tree that Tommy had grown rather fond of.

He picked himself up out of the snow, whistled to his flock and the frightened beasts trotted towards the tree where they tried desperately to hide behind the skinny trunk. Tommy took a moment to chuckle at how ridiculous his herd of elk looked, but not too loud; elk still have feelings after all. Tommy turned to face the approaching darkness, the lightning bolt upon his brow shining brightly. Although nobody was there to witness him, the Elkboy struck a gallant pose only Captain America could rival (and he didn’t even exist in this Universe). The wind blew strong and the thunder rumbled to a deafening level.

And then she landed.

The snow erupted beautifully as this mysterious woman touched down with such force, elegantly executed, and taking her turn to strike a pose (as if Arnie himself had been sent from the future). This was a woman though, with a curvy figure and dark flowing hair. She wasn’t even naked. Tommy was slightly disappointed, but then her entrance had most certainly given her brownie points. Electricity flickered off her and a perfectly spherical crater lay beneath her as she remained knelt to the ground, melting the snow around her. She has undoubtedly had some kind of effect on the ecosystem around here, Tommy thought as he gazed up at the unnaturally purple haze pulsating from the rumbling clouds.
Without looking up she spoke. Are you the one they call Elkboy?
Tommy nodded in approval; his reputation had totally preceded him. He then realised that this crouching temptress hadn’t seen his handsome head gesture and replied as masculine as he could.
I am
The stooping she-devil fired back, and do you possess the legendary lightning bolt of Magnus the Moose?
Tommy frowned and clenched his fists, I do indeed. What came you by such knowledge? He paused to repeat the question in his head… yes of course it makes sense he thought. 

Only a handful of people once knew the ancient line of arctic beasts, blessed with supernatural powers yet choosing to lead a sheltered life. Who would ask about such peaceful (albeit well trained in the martial arts) beings? Especially concerning the lightning bolt now hovering beautifully above his brow.
Then we have nothing more to discuss. 
The hidden dragon exploded into action and leapt forward, upper-cutting the Elkboy in one instantaneous stroke. Tommy’s body flew backwards and slid across the icy mantle, his herd of elk watching helplessly as their glorious leader was KO’d before them. Tommy rolled over in the snow and looked up, breathing heavily and rubbing his jaw. Damn that was rather painful he thought, cricking his neck and readjusting his blurred vision in time to see a sexy looking silhouette striding towards him.

Tommy lifted himself up and stepped forth with more readiness this time. The girl hesitated in her approach, perhaps in surprise at the resilience her victim held, but most likely because of his strapping appearance (which would impede any assassination attempt). However, Tommy was too furious to notice such a subtle motion and sent forth a beam of electricity from his lightning bolt. The beam hit the girl in the chest and sent her hurtling up into the air. Tommy stood his ground and watched the girl’s aerial acrobatics as she corrected her flailing and landed a hundred metres away.

Then they charged at each other. A game of chicken, with enough stubborn egotistical power to blow a hole through the Earth. As they got closer the ground shook beneath them and the dark clouds descended even lower. They met in a chaotic explosion, causing the skies above to flash brightly and the planet to shift three degrees to the left. As the light equalised it revealed a crack in the ground so large it could be seen from space, with Tommy lying on one side and his female slayer on the other.

The girl was the first to show signs of movement, turning her head gently and squinting to pinpoint her victim. There he lay. Face down in a smouldering heap of rock and ice, steam and electricity flickering about him.
You have proven to be quite the opponent she croaked; forcing what little energy she had to further taunt the Elkboy.
And you have proven… Tommy gasped, that I still have the ability to kick ass and put on a fine show for my elk.
I do not entertain. I am here for one purpose and if I need to destroy you then so be it.
Tommy picked himself up and looked across the precipice. Who are you?
I am your demise. Now hand me the lightning bolt or meet your doom.
I am finding you incredibly attractive, even with your mild threats of my death. How about we sit down and talk about all this, maybe over a bottle of merlot?
The girl lowered her head, faltering in her demeanour. You are pathetic. She looked up, determination in her gaze, now I will end you. She leapt over the abyss and pinned Tommy to the ground (in a rather sexual pose, much to Tommy’s delight regardless of the imminent danger he was in). Tommy looked deep into her poisonous eyes as she held down both his hands, straddling him as her grip tightened. Why do you want my lightning bolt? Who sent you?
The girl trembled with anger, it matters not. This is a mere task that I have been asked to carry out. And I shall see it through for my master. You don’t need to perish, hand over the bolt and I will spare your life.
You don’t know what this bolt is, do you?
That is irrelevant. Now, will you cooperate?
Tommy leant forward as much as he could, inches away from the girl’s face.  You don’t have to do this. He could smell her sweet fragrance and couldn’t help but feel sorry for the girl who was about to annihilate him. She stared back at him and suddenly, deep within, there was a feeling of confusion. Her expression changed and her eyes saddened.
I must obey my master. Her grip loosened.
Then I’ll see you in hell! Tommy thrust his arms out of her clutches and seized her body by the waist. At this touch, he was able to feel her slender figure and immediately thought of naughty things which did not bode well. The girl snapped out of her uncertainty and punched Tommy across the face. She shimmied, reluctantly, out of his sensual grasp and back flipped over the ravine.
Until next time… Elkboy
Tell me your name, mysterious warrior who can’t do her job properly, shouted Tommy.
The girl laughed and knelt to the ground once more. The clouds gathered over her and the landscape rumbled with thunderous clamour. I will return to finish the job. You will not see me coming.
I could definitely imagine you coming, thought Tommy, chortling to himself.
I am the Emerald Minx and you are Electric Elkboy… but not for long.
Tommy shielded his eyes from the flying debris as the girl was lifted into the sky by the violent wind she must have summoned. Lightning flashed and the clouds blackened as the sassy villainess rose elegantly and was soon lost in the depths of this unreasonable weather.
Tommy sat there in awe, wondering what the hell just happened. He looked behind him and saw his herd of elk still attempting to hide behind the tree (which had now blown over). 

Tommy smiled at them
Well chaps, looks like we’ve got a spot of training to do. I’d better put some clothes on

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Episode V (and a half) E4 esting

So after three nights of animating (due to no efficient method of blocking out natural light I chose to animate after nightfall for consistency; much like the Dark Knight of animation) and one outrageous nudge of the camera, taking me over twenty minutes to correct, I have finished the E4 esting animation clip. For something that is only ten seconds long it sure was a taxing process, but I am blaming the overly warm conditions of my room (being in the attic) as it seems to accommodate its own micro climate. 

For those of you who are unsure what an 'esting' is then follow the link HERE to see a series of short animated clips that make up that odd vacuum between advert and programme. 

I must admit that I was not overly happy with the green screen element. The chromo key wasn't as crisp as I had hoped but that would be down to the lighting of the green screen background (which I don't think was consistent). I really need to get myself some dedolights and realise that bed side lamps just don't cut it any more.

Anyway... here is the animation. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Episode V

Through the settling mists of the explosion, surrounded by falling debris, red hot embers and chaotic sound effects, a gallant figure strode into view. He was tall with a confident step, seemingly heedless to the destruction that had so recently transpired within his secret lair (although, a 'mountain retreat' was his preferred expression). With each step his outline became more prominent and amidst the spiralling smoke a silhouette was formed. But this was no ordinary form of man. Above his brow there was an odd shape, floating freely from the rest of his body; a lightening bolt. Sharing the same head-space was another strange outline that could only be described as a set of antlers. This was no mere man. 

This was Electric Elkboy.

The newly installed blast doors had shielded much of the impact, yet it had not masked the fury that burned in the Elkboy's eyes. He wrenched open one of the bent doors (which was much easier than first considered, toppling the Elkboy off balance). He looked around... nope, nobody saw that he thought with a smug grin as he stepped into the sunlight. 

Chester, his faithful droid, was unable to pass the wreckage due to a poorly equipped front wheel so raised his robotic voice a little louder. 'Sir, we were hit by a homing missile from nearly 2000 miles away. The odds of successfully hitting our front door is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one!'
     'Never tell me the odds,' replied the Elkboy, cursing his unyielding decision to install Star Wars quotes into Chester's hard drive, but applauding himself for knowing the line that followed.
      'Sir, it was impossible for anybody to know of our location,' Chester was adamant in his investigation. 'I spent weeks hiding our tracks and disguising our transmitter signals. I even initiated a series...'
      'Chester! Calm down my son.' Elkboy liked to pretend that Chester was his illegitimate love child who needed burping now and again (forgetting the fact that he was a droid). 'Have you had your afternoon nap? I think all this excitement has frazzled your circuits, lets charge you up!' Chester's mechanical arms dropped in defeat and followed his master as he sprung back over the rubble.

As the little droid hummed quietly in the corner of the kitchen, the Elkboy scooped dollops of ice cream to join the custard creams he'd already piled into a blender. As it whirred merrily upon the expensive kitchen counter, Elkboy looked across at Chester and pondered over the information he had blurted out earlier. It certainly was incredible odds to target his front door from such a distance. And who could possibly have known about his mountain retreat? The Elkboy forgot about his smoothie and frowned, emphasising his concentration and even extending so far as to scratch an antler. Suddenly his lightening bolt quivered with realisation. He slammed his fist hard onto the kitchen top, knocking over the blender, but too bamboozled with his lackadaisical behaviour to even notice (but secretly he had noticed and was rather miffed at this delicious spillage). 

There was another who knew about his whereabouts. He had let it slip after letting his guard down merely weeks ago. The Elkboy sighed at his weakness. It was the Emerald Minx. 

With the At-Issue project (almost) coming to a close, it has been all Thunderbirds are go in the art department. The sets are coming on amazingly, and some of the props are so bloody realistic that the only possibly explanation to the awesome detail is a shrink ray. The SkyArts documentary was aired a few weeks ago and all of us minions managed to get some face time (or in my case, bobble hat time). It was put together very well and really captured the essence of the studio in under 10 minutes. It was also very handy to finally put some visuals to the hard work we've all been doing, especially to those folk who have no idea what stop motion is. Speaking of which, Sarah and myself were asked to animate on the film itself, which was such a great feeling because Drew trusts us to have a go with Bart (the puppet). My first shot was a flow of coffee being poured over a bowl of corn flakes. This was only 24 frames but it took me so long to literally get into the 'flow' of animating. 

There was another three shots I animated with Bart, including a lot more character movement, and the introduction of a window. And I shall leave you hanging on that one folks... you'll see the film soon enough!

Drew's birthday not only brought about a fine party, but also a
very smart and tidy looking workshop!

Here is something I have 'bin' making for the high street set

I have been working on an E4 'e-sting' animation for the 2013 competition and have just discovered that the deadline is the end of July. So I had better get a bloody move on because I haven't even finished the set. I have gone with a Serengeti scene, after choosing the 'African' themed 10 second music clip from the E4 page; there were about 8 to pick from and this one sounded the grooviest (with respect to African music of course). The main character for the animation short will be a hippo, who wallows quite coolly in a mud hole, whilst in the background a mysterious stork plays a gentle riff on an electric guitar. 

The time lapse was just a trial run through After Effects, and isn't the most fluent of films due to the tripod getting constantly knocked by my big goofy feet. The E4 logo, however, was done with a little more dedication through the same software. I am such a newbie to Adobe After Effects and have followed YouTube tutorials to the letter; it's one of those 'practice makes perfect' scenarios, which incidentally worked with Photoshop for me. I painted the clouds using water-colour and was originally going to animate them over a painted sunset background, similar to the style of card cut-outs used for early South Park episodes. 

After working at Princethorpe College for near enough two years (ridiculous, I know) I have managed to climb the ladder and find myself becoming an 'almost teacher'. Now, I haven't decided whether my career will follow the teaching path just yet but I figured it would be silly to pass up the opportunity. I had already sent a proposal to the heads of faculty and am now in cahoots with the 'extra curriculum activities' folk who organise after school clubs. So once again I shall be donning the padded elbows and tottering off to make gloriously silly films with as much plasticine that can be spared. 

I think it will be a temporary contract to see how it all pans out, but the college seems really excited about the potential these workshops can offer. They have already begun to plan an Oscars evening, where the films made in the art department (primarily live action) will be screened and judged. So I need to teach my budding little animators some serious skills to win this star-studded event. 

Wendy can fix it?

Raa Raa and Ooo Ooo (I haven't made those up,
they are actually their real character names!)

Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry (#MOSI - for you avid tweeters out there) have got a fine exhibition telling the story of Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove. Click the word Chorlton for more informative information. It was such a wonderful niche of an exhibition, which seemed fitting that within the extensive mass of industrial works at the museum, this one room was dedicated to a forever smaller industry class. Barry Purves also made an appearance on screen, sharing his experiences in the stop motion industry and giving sound advice on the most natural ways to animate a puppet. 

So this concludes another blog post from yours truly. Coming up in episode six...

  • the finished E4 sting animation
  • the next instalment to the thrilling Electric Elkboy saga
  • my ultimate decision whether or not to become a teacher
  • George the Knight revisited 
  • and Tommy's guide to fashion and maintaining a cool image (starting, of course, with the Hawaiian shirt) 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Episode IV

Perhaps it was the creation of such a grand feat of design built in the side of an impassable cliff face. Perhaps it was the fine threading and comfortable lining that the skin tight uniform had to offer. Perhaps it was none of these things and was actually down to the ridiculous set of antlers sticking out of the side of his head; whatever the reason, the Elkboy felt impelled to drink his brew at the entrance of his magnificent lair, where he was gifted with a heroic but meaningful stance that struck fear into his enemies and admiration from himself. 

There was a strong wind. The Elkboy grinned with a smug approval at this and recalled the vindaloo dinner the previous night. As the two red suns gently set below the Jenga mountains the ambience was suddenly interrupted by a clumsy hullabaloo from inside. The Elkboy swivelled around, spilling tea over his new outfit (muttering in dismay) but with a stealthy posture that demanded an explanation. 

Unfortunately for the Elkboy, as this was record timing for such alertness and seemed a waste of such a performance, it was only his faithful droid servant Chester. A tray of custard creams lay strewn on the floor and a bucket shaped robot began to frantically pick them up with its mechanical arms. 
       "Chester you swine!" bellowed Elkboy, relaxing his body but quick to rescue the flailing biscuits. "I've just had this floor buffered with wax. Simply impossible to pick up all of these crumbs!"
        "Sorry Sir," Chester's monotonous voice, resembling (but not replicating) William Daniels, the voice of Knightrider's KITT. He did not sound as sleek, however, and with as much authority as a badger on a zebra crossing. "It's this new set of blast doors you've had installed. It leaves a raised edge that proves formidable for the set of wheels you built for me."
          "Do not doubt my engineering skills Chester," the Elkboy turned back to face the sunset, doubting his engineering skills. "Now take these damaged baked goods to the kitchen. I have plans for them later."

As Chester rolled away, the Elkboy rubbed his hands together in a plotting fashion, thinking of the custard cream smoothie he would cunningly devise soon enough. The two blazing suns were still prominent on the horizon, and as the Elkboy leant heavily on one leg he clicked his fingers twice. The sound activated music system switched on to the play the Force Theme score from episode IV A New Hope. The Elkboy gazed into the distance, a confident, handsome expression upon his face. Suddenly the harmonic moment was disrupted once again, but instead of hearing Chester's unapologetic sounding apology the Elkboy froze as he heard something a lot less remorseful...


Right then, back to the formalities. I wanted to begin by thanking a couple people for their hand in the music video I animated for local Birmingham duo 55 BPM. Uncredited but unforgotten, thank you to Drew Roper who forwarded the project to me after speaking with Charlotte Rose and Lydia Pickering (of 55 BPM). And thank you to Laura Morgan who helped with the camera work and making sure Pablo stayed on his feet. 

I have decided to revamp my CV once again. I feel that with the terrific experience Drew has given me at Yamination Studios I could hopefully take the next step into the stop motion industry. Don't worry Drew! this isn't an elegy, I'm not buggering off. The At-Issue project is by far the most exciting project I have worked on and has really given Birmingham, not to mention the West Midlands, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to home-grown talent. So the CV needs an update regardless, ummm, maybe by trying a different format? I do like creating comic strips that relate to the situation at hand (job hunting in this case) so I might draw up something using my handsome alter ego Electric Elkboy. I did create a short comic strip at University that I thought might look good on the ol' CV so it could be along the same lines as that.

I think my next comic strip would be better as it will have cunning,
master-of-disguise superhero Electric Elkboy.

I saw this video posted up on Twitter and wanted to share it once again. It's another one of those rare occasions to see the model making crew behind a stop motion production and the fact that it was a  Spongebob episode clearly elevated my interest. 

After watching the Spongebob animation I was reminded of a video that Drew had posted recently, involving another acclaimed 2D character. This guy is equally as successful when portrayed as a puppet as he is when scurrying around as a cartoon in Bedrock. Yes, Fred Flintstone has now become a stop motion phenomenon. The first time I saw my favourite cartoon characters become successful puppets was with the series of animated shorts by Robot Chicken, entertaining me immensely. I think the charming nature of stop motion is so overwhelming that applying it to anything 2 dimensional will only make you love the character even more. Because it's something real, that you can see and touch (boom, Jurassic Park quote - spared no expense!). So you can imagine how amazing it would be if you were helping to create the sets, build the props and sculpt some of televisions most beloved characters. These worlds can be real!

I undertook my second animation workshop at the Heritage Motor Centre this week and have come away with one undeniable truth (of which I need to reiterate to my fellow teaching buddies at the college I work at)... Teachers must be hard as nails. I had a moderately small group of eleven padawans, ranging from eight years old to fifteen, and I was verging on a nervous breakdown after lunch. I'm only joking, I think I managed the group rather well but there were moments where I lost control of the group and they didn't respect my authoritaaa.
          But I now know the reason to this (and it's a highly valid one). It's because I thought it was all incredibly hilarious. It felt relatively natural to sit them all down and commence with a few activities such as designing your own character, drawing up storyboards and finally modelling their characters. I wore my checked shirt with the brown elbow pads, blazer and brown leather shoes*, so immediately I felt at home because, to me, this was like fancy dress. And I was dressed like a teacher. I hope that doesn't come across as odd or disturbing, especially when there are children involved, but I can honestly say that it helped me act like an educator (albeit with a stereotypical appearance).

*this is an outrageous lie. They are not leather, but a tacky substitute that has been flaking off for months

One of the clips that had I decided to show the children was from The Trap Door. A splendid blast from the past, although I am certain none of them knew what it was. The strong (west country?) accent of Berk was what threw them I believe, especially with phrases like 'oh globbits' and 'corr sniff that'. I used this clip to exemplify how a simple looking character can still give a good performance and entertain the audience. Berk is essentially a blue blob of plasticine with stumpy limbs and a pair of cut-out eyes. Perfect! I thought. Even I can teach that. Little did I know the alternative use of small balls of plasticine. It was like a bloody paint-ball game.

There were some really interesting animations despite the madness. And I was amazed at the potential, given the age group. One chap, Sam, who was in fact a mute, communicated amazingly well through his knowledge of animation and photography. He was fully aware of shutter speed, frames per second, editing software, the animation principles and even flabbergasted me with a focus pull between two objects. This guy is in year 8. I am in year 21 (academically speaking, but don't quote me on that) and still fresh from learning these things. When I look back at my years at Southam College it's hard to comprehend the level we worked at in the art department compared to the level of students today. Their access to media related subjects is so readily available, via apps, Ipads and camera phones, that anybody can dabble in animation, photography, film and editing. Boggles the mind!

This clean and organised room barely lasted the morning. I think they're
still scraping off plasticine from the ceiling.

This was Sam's animation. Very unfortunate to 
stop him at this stage, as he had much more
to offer. 

The workshop itself could do with a lot of tweaking, but with a bit more planning and possibly another colleague of mine to help out I think it could be a very successful activities day. I have often thought about becoming a teacher, however, I don't think the stop motion workshop is enough to justify this. I may need to offer a broader range of skills. But hey! early days, I need to establish myself as a stop motion animator first. I might have a go at the E4 E stings competition for 2013 and get back to some plasticine animating.