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!

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