Sunday, 27 November 2016

Episode III

If you are looking for an explanation then, alas, I cannot give you one. Where have you been Thomas? The truth is I'm a lazy git. It takes an enormous amount of energy and discipline for me to sit down and write a load of rambling malarkey. But ramble I must. The deal is this; you suffer the amateur hour that will be my unpracticed writing [typing] and I will buy everyone who likes my blog post something nice (and cheap).

There you go; that's my long awaited re-introduction into blogging and it relies heavily on bribary. 

Over seven months have dwindled away since my last entry, whereupon many significant and bothersome events have come to pass. Don't worry friend! I shan't be divulging into anything politial or socioeconomic because, to be quite frank, I barely know the meaning of those words. Besides, that's not exactly what this blog was originaly about; opinions of the real world...who wants those? When you can happily remain in the quintessentially [fucked up] world of animation. I was actually talking to my old tutor Laura Weston at the Manchester Animation Festival about my blogging and where it all began. As much as I'd like to take credit, it was infact part of a course module entitled Futures, where self promotion was the name of the game also. Anyway, lets talk animation folks. ANIMATION.  

The Manchester Animation Festival (MAF) is very young, only turning two this November, but it is attracting people from all across the nation. This year had an additional attraction, being Aardman's 40th anniversary celebration, where Peter Lord and David Sproxton came to recieve their Fellowship Award. Little fun fact for you... the trophy was actually made by model makers at MacKinnon and Saunders.

The Art of Aardman is their new book and I was lucky enough to get it signed! The book is a visual diary; a compilation of storyboards, designs and set photographs covering everything from Morph to Pirates! Unfortunately, the festival (as wonderful as it is) takes place during the week, so it's tricky to attend everything. I only managed to see one programme, which was a series of animated films from around the world. One film, Fox and the Whale, stuck out for me with stunning visuals and very charming characters.


I would definitely suggest that you look out for this spectacular film when it is released. I am rather gutted that I only watched a handful of animation, especially as it seems to have taken a back seat in my busy little life. I haven't sat back and enjoyed a series of short animated films in bloody ages, let alone do anything myself. But wait... I still have an ace up my sleeve because I have successfully reinstalled Dragonframe once again

After wasting valuable time animating my ugmo* face, I did finally get around to practicing the art of stop motion. Regrettably I have lost my ball and socket armature given to me from University (I may have griped before about this) so, naturally, I used my Star Wars models. It was the simplest of set-ups (a table and two pot plants) but it was literally just to get the ball rolling and remember all the bloody buttons. So, bearing that in mind, the video below is one of five snippets that I did animate and export as an MP4 file - they haven't even been properly edited!

It may sound like common sense, but the more skills you aquire from experiences and projects, the more employable you become. I am in no position to preach about what you should or shouldn't do to your presence in the animation world, especially as I'm constantly 'almost' out of a job. It's not a stable industry, I must admit, but if you have a wide spectrum of skills that you can offer, then the same studio could ultimately employ you for a different role. I found myself working in the rigging and puppet maintenance department for the childrens show Twirlywoos and I haven't had any real experience beforehand (I hope nobody from management reads that!). 

There is a new series of the Twirlywoos this upcoming week (28th) on the CBeebies channel, 9:30 each morning. I only started work half way through production so I don't think the first batch of episodes will credit me, but fingers crossed it won't be long until you see me! 

There is a very interesting documentary on Netflix called A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman and it's rather good. I must admit I've only watched about twenty minutes of the hour long programme but by the time you've read this I'm counting on finishing it. This chronology of Aardman's 40 years highlights everything from the original 'Aardman' superhero, Morph and Creature Comforts to the feature films of Chicken Run (my favourite), Flushed Away and Pirates! Not to mention Wallace and Gromit who have, with good reason, become British treasures. 

I'm sculpting again! Albeit a somewhat forced frame of creative mind, it's still something that I'd wanted to get back into for bloody ages. Above is my work desk. It's not messy; just an organised jumble or something along those lines. Sure, Matt has the tidier desk but I can still remember where my tools are. It's the working man's desk! Am I trying too hard to justify this?
   I'm sure Hey Arnold! wouldn't mind a messy desk. He can't see it just yet because I haven't sculpted his eyes, but I'll eventually get there folks. This was just a basic wire armature, drilled and glued into a block of wood using two-part epoxy, then gradually built up with Newplast. I'm hoping to get this little guy done before Christmas but the world is full of distractions. My latest one was a Star Wars Lego AT-ST from the Rogue One range, though it was worth every brick. Speaking of Rogue One... ROGUE ONE! It's out in little over two and a half weeks and with midnight tickets booked, the countdown has never been more exciting! Although I do think that I've seen too many trailers (the International one has even more footage) so I'm going to have to wait. But, as Yoda once said, the boy has no patience. That boy became a Jedi Master.

And finally... here is a beautifully eerie animated film recommended by fellow colleague Stephanie Bolduc (check out her website). Enjoy!

* you recognise the word eh? Lisa Simpson

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Episode II

I had only heard little nuggets concerning Anomolisa but it had all been reletively positive. Animators at work had mentioned it and there were online rumblings of an adult based stop motion film on the horizon. There was also a Channel 4 interview conducted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, where directors and producers (of Anomolisa) Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson described as best they could the logistics behind such a production. I think Krishnan Guru-Murthy wanted to try a different angle, perhaps relating to tax breaks, but it resulted in a very awkward coversation over politics and their thoughts on Trump. It might have been considered a wasted opportunity to plug the film, but behold! A fairly sizeable clip was shown and it looked absolutely bloody marvellous.

And so did the rest of the film. A jolly ol' group of us let our hair down last Friday night to watch Anomolisa at Manchester's Home cinema complex (it's lovely and shiney there) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although the narrative was rather creepy (main character Michael Stone suffers from fregoli syndrome, goes a little loopy and seduces a drunken dame unbeknownst to his bloomin' wife) the animation itself was truly mindblowing. It was intense, but mainly set in a hotel (ha... do you get it... eh?!). 

A favourite moment of mine was when main character Michael has a bit of a mental episode, loses his mind and tries to reconcile in front of the bathroom mirror. As he lifts his hands to his face, gripping his cheeks (as if trying to grip back reality), he begins to pull off his mouth piece. The replaceable mouth piece of the 'ball and socket' puppet that represents Michael. I mean, sheesh, what a way to show his disconnect to whatever universe he is in. Clever girl.

This was a super sculpey model I made for Lucy; Adventure Time toothbrush holder!

The interwebsphere went absolutely bananas last week over a trailer that depicted an upcoming animated film in a very pioneering (and extremely radical) light. Sausage Party, from the creators of Superbad and Pineapple Express (you know the crew), looks and sounds outrageous! *Ahem* and I mean that in a good outrageous way. Excuse me for a moment, but a slight tangent is in order; some words in the English vocabulary truly baffle me. The term 'outrageous' means, as a general term, very bad. But I use it all the time as a bloody positive. Am I wrong? Is vocabulary wrong? Who the hell cares?

The trailer really throws you off guard, simply because for the opening 30 seconds it really looks and feels like an animated film targeted for children. The characters are bubbly, cute and colourful. The music is happy-go-lucky. What could possibly go wrong? 

I have to admit, it does feel like a stroke of genius, but surely this type of thing has been done before? Perhaps not so decorated as a mainstream film would be, but Seth Rogan can't be the first to inject frantic swearing into cute little creatures. Big budget animated films are certainly the juggernauts of the cinematic world (mostly) and are very familiar in tone, narrative and character design. So when you watch a trailer like this, you automatically set your brain into Despicable Me, Ice Age or Wreck it Ralph mode and expect something heart warming and loveable. 

Well not with this bloody one!

Flip the bed does it jar you out of a fuzzy coma and slap you around the face with a hilarious bout of fuck yeahs! I'll be interested to see the marketing campaign and the reactions of parents because it certainly fooled me. Ha! Bloody brilliant.


I don't really have much to report in a model making retrospect, so this is a trailer heavy post I'm afraid. But what trailers! Disney have just released the second trailer for the upcoming live action take on Roald Dahl's BFG and oh boy does it deliver. I grew up with the Brian Cosgrove animated BFG from 1989, which was visually beautiful and had winning voice talents from David Jason and Amanda Root, so when Disney announced a remake for 2016 I was intrigued but not won over... until this second trailer made me feel like a child again. The voices, the tension, the big loafing strides of the BFG, his dream catcher trumpet, Giant Country; it was all there! I was wide eyed and lapping it all up. If they include snozzcumbers then it could potentially be one of my highly aniticipated films of this year. Because I'm a film critic now, you see.

Ah look! Something about props! Unfortunately I have no idea where this came from. It popped up on one of the many stop motion Facebook groups I follow, but it was in Spanish and with no links. Bah I thought, Bah! 

But my goodness look how small and cute and inventive this coffee pot is. I fully applaud anybody who can visualise in such a way, where a household item can be transformed into something completely different. It's a brilliant exercise of the mind. So if anybody knows of a website where this type of model making wisdom is shared, please let me know! It's all instinctive, of course, with small scale prop making, but it's always pretty great to see what the rest of the world is using. 

Anyway, that about wraps up this post. Here is the reason it took so long to write...


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Episode I


This is a very belated Star Wars related (accidentally rhyming with excellent timing) piece of writing. I'm not going to delve into my own review, because I'm not a film critic and I'm certainly not capable of writing anything mildy serious. Instead, I'm going to write a few words as a Star Wars fan, a cinema goer and a twenty nine year old child.

I ******* loved it. I loved the film. I love Star Wars. I bloody love you. I went to the midnight viewing, opening night, with my good friend Daniel James after an evening of blue milk (courtesy of Aunt Beru), the Christmas Special (courtesy of bad taste) and watching the loveable BB-8 patrol the room (simply a courtesy). I was very nervous; I could feel my heart pounding the closer I got to screen 7. I honestly don't think I have ever felt so excited, scared and emotionally drained in such a hypnotic way. 

I have since watched it two more times, bringing the total to thrice. And if the Odeon cinema prices were a little more fanboy friendly it could easily have been double figures. I just found it so rewatchable. There were absolutely loads of easter eggs and nods to the original trilogy; I pointed out, in a flailing fashion, Luke's training remote, a box droid, the hologram chess set, Luke's lightsaber (which actually played a vital role in the film), the Empires' mouse droid, quotes from Obi-wan and Yoda and even a trash compactor reference (eep!). Here is my conclusion in the medium of video...

I've had rather an intense December, regarding Star Wars, due to the convention I attended early on in the month and, of course, the lead up to The Force Awakens. To summarise, I have had more Star Wars toys, costumes, books, comics, badges, limited editions, signed photographs, outtings, tshirts and socks than I did when I was a child. Being twenty nine at the moment, I have the same affiliation with toys in general to the ten year old Thomas. This puts things vaguely into perspective, roughly placing my peak of intelect and maturity at the age of twenty two (second year of University and career driven) and gives me a forecast into how my life might pan out. Thus speaking, I predict that my next peak of responsible obligation will be at the ripe age of forty eight. Here, I made a graph;

Regardless of such extensive calculations, there is certainly a pattern emerging. This is exactly why I'm so lucky to be working in the animation industry; everyone has toys, mascots, models and can quote from Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future and Indiana Jones (to say but a very few). You have to be a man child to work in a place like this!

So proud

So it's 2016 now, hey? Well, shit. I have already eaten several pounds of leftover cheese and not batted a chubby eyelid on exercising. But I have thought about my productivity in a creative sense, especially when I realised that I hadn't used my SLR camera for nion a whole bloody year. So I have a list of things I either need to finish or have wanted to make for god knows how long. Here we go...

  • Stoppit & Tidyup sculpts (paint them!)
  • Bird feeder for Nan and Grandad (assemble it fool!)
  • Millenium Falcon and Tie Fighter Airfix (build, paint, admire)
  • Finn & Jake Adventure Time toothbrush stand (incredibly belated Xmas present for Lucy)
  • Helms Deep model [Warhammer scale] (what? Dream on!)
  • Illustrate and paint my own card range 
  • actually use my digital SLR camera

Ultimately, in light of a new year, one might consider an absolute new venture. And mine is the possibility of working abroad. I've already started to look at other studios in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, some of which are rather big (*cough* LAIKA). This is nothing to do with my current work at Factory because, like Yamination Studios, it has made me the model maker I am today.

I am more than happy to stay here in Manchester, I absolutely love working at Factory, but when you hear that a fellow colleague has had job offers at both LAIKA and WETA Workshop, you can have the tendency to feel outrageously jealous. Jealous of YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE YOU LUCKY BASTARD!!! hehe *grits teeth*.

I haven't been idle. I have begun the ol' CV revamp, showreel updating and googling everything else. But with a new hope comes a phantom menace in the form of a very despairing electronic mail. It was from a chap called Nick from across the pond and from what I gather, the studio is no more...


It sounded very Hollywood; I actually imagined King Theodon's voice when reading Nick's email. But I shall quest on. If anything gives me more ambition in life, it's to keep the stop motion going. Or in true fashion of The Tribe it's to 'Keep The Dream Alive' (Have you seen The Tribe? It used to be on Channel5. It's really amazing, I have the DVD box sets of all five seasons if you want to borrow? I couldn't recommend it enough!).

Speaking of must see television, now that Scream Street has finally hit our screens, I do believe (whilst raising an eyebrow) that I am allowed (looks from left to right) to show a collection of my props and on set photographs! I do have an entire gallery, folders upon folders, but have selected a meagre handful to portray the goings on within the art department of Factory Create. You'll find out in the next blog post whether this has gotten me fired or not.

Yamination Studios. As I forementioned, this place has made me the model maker I am today, which is largely down to Drew Roper and Yossel Simpson. I firmly believe that I have kissed enough ass on this blog concerning these guys, so I'm going to hold back the praise. Sorry gentlemen! But this week was pretty huge for the studio and all those involved with Drew's animated film 'At-Issue'. It only bloody premiered on SkyArts! There is a fantastic article in the Birmingham Mail here which outlines the scale of production from start to finish. It also includes a stirling photograph of the original Yamination crew from days of old, where I am the proud owner of a new name. Tony Grainger anyone?!

There's been a fair few blog posts covering my time at Yaminations, so feel free to peruse. I remember starting out in the studio and helping Drew with the beginings of the 'street set', which is present for the majority of the film. This was back in September 2012 people; well over three years ago!

A few models of mine; and on set in Barts home.

The years have whizzed by since the start of this production, but nothing has gone to waste. From working with Drew, I have been a part of two other animated projects (advertisements for Coca Cola and Cravendale), met a huge amount of talent from within the industry and learnt a very particular set of skills that Liam Neeson would be jealous of. And for that I am eternally grateful.

So wherever I am in 2016, be it Manchester or a Galaxy, far far away... you can always find me on here! Or on Youtube doing things like this...