Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Episode IV A New Project

Lets get right into it, shall we? I've been lucky enough to learn more about ball and socket armatures since working with the Twirlywoo puppets for MacKinnon and Saunders. And when I rejoined the team at Scream Street back in January, I was stationed in the puppet maintanence department, which gave me the perfect opportunity to continue learning about these armatures and begin work on my very own*. I could finally combine my soldering skills with my character design in a very raw creation that would eventually become Old Man Prickles (TBC - however, as I did not revise this choice over the subsequent months, I soon became rather fond if it). 

* if you ever get the chance to work for a different department (be it rigging, puppet maintenance or costumes etc) then it's really worth taking. Working in a studio environment, where there is a certain amount of added pressure, will be the best place to learn a new skill, even if you're a complete newb.

Scream Street was to finish in April, so I had a few months to use the workshop facilities, buy in materials and plan out the armature. Luckily, I am quite a laidback and re-usable kind of chap, so I chose a character design from my University years. This not only saved me a little time, but I'd already created a walk cycle (albeit a very crude 2D one) of which I knew would match the character of Old Man Prickles and what I wanted from this particular armature.

Tall and lanky, stooped and old. I guess as far as criteria is concerned, this was it. I already knew that building the armature was my priority where the character design could potentially change depending on the final outcome (dimensions, posture etc). Remember, this was my first attempt at making one... I could (most certainly) bugger it up!

Puppet Maintenance for Scream Street

So it began with learning more about the armatures from MacKinnon and Saunders, the legendary puppet making company who supplied the puppets for Scream Street. The dimensions I was imagining to use matched up rather well with the scale and size of the children characters; approx 300mm high, slender and elongated figures and a slightly enlarged head. The difference, however, is that I'd use this scale for a grown adult sized character, being Old Man Prickles

I drew up some blue prints, taking some inspiration from the layouts of the Scream Street armatures, and started to cut 3/5mm steel rodding to fit these dimensions. The picture below shows how important the original drawing of Old Man Prickles was, because I was constantly referring back to it. Ultimately he ended up being 10mm taller, but hey who's counting?

The beginnings of my armature

Casting the hands was relatively straight forward due to the practice of making endless replacement hands for the Scream Street puppets. They are a silicone cast, poured into a hard resin mould. The hand paddles were made from plate steel with armature wire (1mm) for the fingers. To strengthen the 'skeleton' of the hand use cotton to weave in and out of the wire fingers and wrap with tights. A blob of two-part epoxy is then dabbed on each fingertip to stop the fraying of the wire.


I won't go through the entire assembling process because it would take a mighty long time. Plus, I feel that an air of mystery always surrounds the construction of an armature so I shall honour this by distracting you with a completely unrelated video...

The armature has a rigging point, which accepts 3/16" round bar or a bullet that can then attach to extra rigging (dumbells etc). This K&S tube runs adjacent to the hips, providing access for the rig when the character does a walk cycle (for example) across screen. So far he has a pretty well balanced body, so the rigging point might only be needed for mid-air tomfoolery. I have made a silicone mould for the head sculpt I made out of super sculpey. No need to bake the sculpey for a mould, as it can be removed quite easily (depending on shape and small features such as ears) and possibly used again. 

Just to give you an idea of my rigging job, whilst on Twirlywoos, check out this photograph below where animator Timon is setting up the puppets for his next shot. The long overhead bar is home to (usually) four carriages, each with a drop-down that also has a smaller carriage on. Upon these carriages is a rigging point, allowing more bars and joints to be attached and finally reach the puppet itself. It's basically like a giant K'NEX kit (remember that?!).

Each carriage can be wound in tiny increments, allowing the animator to lift the puppet off the 'ground' for movements such as jumping, falling and dancing (where tie-downs or magnets might not quite do the job). Anyway, this is why it's always handy to fit a rigging point into any puppet armature that you make. Just in case they learn to fly.

THUS comes an end to my vague step by step guide to building an armature. I apologies that it's not too detailed, but this is stage 1 of many and I have already rambled the whiskers off a walrus. I shall continue this guide on my next blog post, where I will begin to clad the puppet and make his poseable moustache, woof!

As far as I know, this is still on Netflix. Most definitely worth a watch folks.

I went to see the French-Swiss stop motion feature My Life as a Courgette (zucchini for those yanks) at the Home complex in Manchester. It was absolutely wonderful. It follows a very linear storyline, but the attention to emotional detail and the beautiful subtleties in its animation are what make it so great. The character design is very interesting, almost as if they were drawn by the children who star in this film, yet it works in this vibrant and quirky world because each individual has a very different backstory. The entire design and style actually reminded me of A Town Called Panic, another succesful French production, with visuals that are unique but heartwarmingly colourful.
    I would urge anybody with feelings to go and watch this film. Being an independant film it might be a little harder to track down, but lo! for it is well worth the chase. There is a very positive review from the Guardian that may help sway your mind if my meager words have not. Alas, I fear my writing is becoming unpracticed and full of nonsense. I am so glad the world of animation has taken me in to shelter amongst other nonsensical folk. 

Anyway, I can feel myself pootling along with no direction, so I shall bid you farewell and continue on my current project. It's a sculpting and model making adventure using old logs from the forest. They've dried out now, so it's time to branch out with my creative flare and varnish them. Progress shall be posted next time, you lucky buggers. CIAO!

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Average Tom Perspective

(this is all a working progress, still not finished, read with a pinch of salt)

Before I begin, I want to outline a disclaimer of sorts. Depending on how you percieve this particular blog post and what you take from it, remember that it's just me, Tommy Grainger, your friendly neighbourhood rambler. But this time, I'm hoping that my ramblings might actually stand for something.
   I have never prided myself as politically intellectual or even generally intellectual, because my knowledge either comes from hard work playing with puppets and plasticine or purely by accident. But over the past year I have been piecing together and subconsciously storing items of concern that have really rattled my cage. This is information gathered from the many outlets that we subject ourselves to in the 21st century (more than we deserve) and therefore even I cannot guarantee its validity. Enter the disclaimer; whatever I write, whether you agree or not, is based off of information that I cannot assure you is 100% correct. But this seems to be the going rate for expressing your opinion, especially recently, so you may take it with a pinch of salt.

The views I'm going to express in this post are a culmination of things that have built up over time (predominately after the Brexit result) but I guess have been dwelling in the chasms of my mind all along. I don't mean to offend anybody or wish to change your mind about these issues, but I thought it might be interesting to write down all the thoughts from an 'average joe' perspective. It would be prudent of me to try establish a moral high ground with what I discuss because I am a culprit of some of these arguments too (for example, I check my phone far more often than I should check my body for abnormalities).
   It is hard to know where to begin, and there is no order of preference with the topics I choose to write about; they each harbour their own pros and cons on different levels. So whether it's a refreshing new point of view, a load of waffle full of naivety or I simply need to get with the times, I welcome you all to The Average Tom Perspective.

In the beginning there was a bang, some trees and a river to play in. Add a ball, a stick and some of your scallywag friends and you consider yourself a king. These were the days of evermore, where growing up was a natural experience because you learned your lesson by falling off a rope swing. And we got on just fine. 

I am going to hypothesize heavily here, but along came the 1980s, where the video game console was fast becoming a mainstream phenomena and an eclipse of what the future might hold. Thus began a transition to present day that nobody could really anticipate. Sure I'm being dramatic; children still play outdoors with sticks and graze their knees on pavements, but if you imagine the acceleration of technology from the eighties (I'm using this decade as a commonground variable) over the subsequent thirty seven years to today - it's an astonishing short period of time for such development. Can we even comprehend what hi-tech gadget might be attached to our faces in another thirty seven years time?
   And I cannot act like I'm not impressed. I truly am. But has anybody stopped to think whether this might be considered unnatural? As mindblowing as our technological advances are, can it be stunting our instinctive, physical and social growth? Are we even human anymore?

I strongly feel that the machines have already won and we are now slaves to a technological strategy that has played us for the addictive, greedy fools we are. The scene in Shaun of the Dead where an alleyway of teens are zombiefied to their screens sums it up for me. Nobody walks anywhere now. Nobody looks at anything. Nobody smiles at you in the street because they're all preoccupied with replying immediately to that photograph of hummus with a kitten in it. I know we are a nation of apologists, but I draw the line when I bump into somebody because their square eyes are not looking where they're going. 

I sat in a pub in Stratford with my fiance Lucy, sipping some fine ales, when a family of five entered and sat across from us. Almost immediately the three children (without saying a word) unpocketed their iphones and were engaged in their own agendas, whether it be messaging, playing games or streaming the next keyboard cat. I watched the parents for a moment, both sat in an accepting silence with their drinks, and felt an immense pang of sadness. 
   Now, this is dangerously close to becoming nosey neighbour material so I didn't want to judge. I also fear that this blog might become misconstrude as the ravings of some mad man. I don't know this family? Who am I to even comment? My point is, the scenario looked a very depressing (yet realistic) portrayal of modern day.

I am not dismissing the use of phones or pads because they are bloody useful; especially in this day and age. Within a heartbeat I can open up my Google Maps application and know exactly where I am and where I need to go. My Mum is still, to this day,  flabberghasted with Google Streetview. So I completely advocate technology and it's capabilities but I think the moral of the story is (and I promise you that I won't summarise like this for every topic) that there is a time and a place.
   Phone technology is truly a revolution in how we cope with daily life. Whether it's online shopping, online banking, sending important files via the almighty cloud (in seconds) or facetiming people on the other side of the world, you have to admit how impressive it has become. But how easy do we want our lives to be? If everything can be commanded by a touch of a screen then where do we physically stand in this world? And I mean that in the most literally sense possible; I mean, you can control your entire house from the comfort of your sofa.

Side note:- 
I have just realised that throughout my ramblings about being in front of a screen all day, I have done a good two hour stint on my laptop in my local coffee shop. And it's a gorgeous day. I want that ball and stick to play with!

Is it appropriate for children to be using such technology from the age of (and I heard this recently) two? Two years old. Good grief that doesn't sit well with me.

But to address the point, the reason why I feel so strongly over the matter is that 

It's not the experiences you gain that are true to yourselves - it becomes 1984 where everyone is learning from the same screen. Drones.

The Brexit issue, voting, a divided country. Migration seems to be a type of scapegoat.. it angers me how people are using this as an excuse to coin the term 'make Britain great again'
WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A NATION BUILT UP ON IMMIGRATION. Are people too ignorant and stupid to recognise this? Even the people I speak to, who are feel that immigration is an issue, don't realise that the companies they work for are only successful because of the valued input from foreign employees. This is undisputed fact. I've looked up several large UK companies and read that much of their development and success is down to engineers, technicians, researchers from all over Europe and the world. WTF?!

Seriously, what is wrong with people?! I actually hate people.

Government - political leaders who constantly lie and change their minds - Theresa May

The Daily Mail - this newspaper (amongst others) outright offends me and is scum

Immigration - it's not an issue, GB is built up on immigration.

Social Media, articles on Facebook, headlines giving false news (or easily misconstrued at a glance). Too much information at our fingertips
'Social media is a better slave than a master' meaning that if you're in control of it, then it can be useful. But if you are constantly reacting to every notification, then you become the slave.
Just because you have the opportunity to say something online... does it necessarily mean that you should?
We are becoming so involved with our phones that we check them every 5 minutes. Even I am a culprit and I admit that I check my emails or Facebook far more often than I need to. But twenty years ago, we were using landlines and sending more letters. What will happen in another twenty years. The speed of our technological consumption and how our minds are evolving into the screen is a very scary concept. It's like an episode of Black Mirror. In fact there is an episode

Peoples opinions on social media - comment sections (YouTube), status updates; do we really care or need this? People are becoming too vocal and petty. Online bullying.
This has grown increasingly with the lenient boundaries and consequences over social media and what people are allowed to be 'vocal' about. Freedom of speech is just as much a gift as it is a curse; think about all the protests, speeches, debates and marches that have shaped the course of history, whether for good or evil. However, people in the 21st century voice their opinions over petty little details that don't need addressing simply because they can and never stop to think whether they should.

Photographing EVERYTHING - food, ourselves (invokes vanity and more online stalking - snapchat)

Public forums, Facebook groups for a local community - people posting photographs about 'problems' that do not concern them whatsoever and then complaining about them

Each day we get told something different e.g. 'doing this will keep you healthier than that' 'eat this because it prolongs life' 'this will 43% more likely give you cancer' - fuck off! Life has always been simple enough to know what to eat and how much exercise you need for a healthy balanced life style, this was before the internet and all this bloody research. People follow the media so much these days that they will suddenly change their routine if it means they can (theoretically) avoid being fat etc

What I am truly afraid of (and you can consider this a prediction) is the pure aggression, seen on both sides of the political argument, continuing to escalate until it becomes a part of us. And when I say 'argument' I mean to cover all bases here, whether it's a referendum, general or local election or even a routine debate. To put things into perspective, Brexit and the 2017 general election (May vs Corbyn) are prime examples and I will use these to support my point.  

In the aftermath of the general election, where a hung Parliament was reached (I'm writing this the day after voting, so we're far from a strong and stable answer), it was considered to be yet another messy campaign very similar to Brexit. Nobody knows what's going to happen, the nation is torn in two and the media are revelling. 

Thus begins my fear. The media. Newspaper tabloids, broadsheets, advertisements, social media; anything that we experience on a daily basis where some sort of news headline is given. I can't believe it has taken me this long to notice the absolute poison that courses through the writing in various articles across the UK. 
    It would be naive of me to think that this is a new thing. Newspapers have always backed their chosen party, or their chosen benefactor, and written in favour of them. That's why we have different sources, right? 

But shouldn't they still be relatively partial? 

I feel that the 'headline' alone has done far more damage to the public eye than any words from a backtracking and corrupt politician. Especially in this modern society, where information is seconds away, a headline can be the difference between a lovely morning and wanting to throttle somebody. These aggressive headlines filters down through various outlets to the reader who would normally skim them (because we don't like to read things thoroughly, do we?!) and make up their own conclusion in a matter of seconds before reaching the next article. This is just the way things are, heck, even I'm accountable for such a lazy approach to finding out the daily qualms. 
    The media will exploit this. Fake news, abrupt and