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