I think this is about my 8th test in total for uncoupling so far, and points that need to be attented to now also include:
  • more of a POP with the removal of the machine its not very apparent at the moment
  • little leg swings look good! very pleased with them!

Guess what inspired this bit of doodling? (Hint: one of the best games out this year)

Anyway, its something I'd like to finish and colour once I have a few of these other bits of work finished and handed in.
A trip to Birmingham University small museum and fossil collection brought a whole new kind of life drawing to us, instead of having soft fleshy forms and drapery to portray, it was geology and textured bones and fossils. One small monkey skeleton caught my attention in particular and I was quite pleased with how it turned out.

The soft flowing shapes of bone are fascinating, forming such distinct structures and shapes. Being obviously organic yet such structural items is a wonderful contrast to draw.

This next one I completed in fine liner, to remove the possibility of being able to correct it, and tried it on a much warmer colour of paper to try and give it a bit of texture as well.

There were a few more, but nothing I really thought to be noteworthy, but they're in my sketchbook if you'd like a look.
Progress has been a lot slower than I would have liked this week due to sorting out car accident repairs and insurance (boring), becoming a recent uncle (exciting), chasing after missing post (aggravating) and a heavy stinking cold (snottifying). Anyway, enough with the excuses and onto the things I have done.

First of all, a bit of tinkering on Maya and Mudbox as they came in the post at last, made a little submarine which I was quite pleased with but I'm sure I went the entirely long winded way of muddling my way through it to get there, some studying and tutorials required I think.

Next, in preparation of the stop motion module coming up after Christmas (any excuse really) I had a bit of a go at doing some sculpting, even if it was fairly simple. Just wanted to get used to this nice oil based clay I bought, but it takes a lot of working as it has to be warm before it becomes soft, so quite time consuming, but fun nonetheless.

And onto the main event, got some further key-framing sorted for this 11-second audio clip animation. Wasn't terribly pleased with the first part of it I posted earlier, so ideally would like to get this bit right first time so that I can go back and re-do or make some changes to it, but time isn't on my side. Will have to pull my finger out and do the best I can.

Sorry about the less than great quality, vimeo didn't want to play ball so had to use blogger video.
  • looks like a robot - too rigid and smooth - needs some more ease in and ease out
  • lipsyncing is mostly ok one or two tweaks could do with being done
  • should have had the head bob down on the shoulder shrug to emphasise more
  • better lighting when filming for the final one, needs to be brighter
If anyone else has any suggestions please let me know!!

This motion picture by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli tells the tale of a young girl lost in a fantasy land of spirits, trying to rescue her parents, but interwoven with several smaller stories of a faceless being, a dragon/spirit of a river, and a pair of twin witches. This is a real fantasy tale, masterfully told, and presented in a very traditional way, with only minor elements of computers being used for 3D sequences.
What really stood out for me in this was the design of each of the characters, each one incredibly unique, and although this is still a animated 'cartoon' at heart, the story and cast are definitely aimed at adults as well, and would even be frightening for younger children. From Yubaba, the power hungry and visually aggressive witch, to the much more sinister form of No-Face, I know that if I'd seen this when I was much younger, the no-face monster would have given me the heebie-jeebies.
Overall an absolutely stunning film, and has definitely inspired me to seek out more Studio Ghibli films, I know its about time I did as I've had more than enough recommendations to see them.

Another quick test of the first part of this, still very choppy needs a lot more frames putting in also here are a few things that I need to implement:
  • make the shoulder raise/shrug more visible, exaggerate it more
  • add watery eyes
  • add tear roll
To get a good handle on this sound clip project I'm breaking the entire clip down into three separate chunks. The first is the first scene with the upset scientist girl, the second is the first half the second scene up until the monkey starts his jump off the table, and the third is as the monkey lands until the end of the scene. Bearing in mind, if I have time I want to add in a quick pan on the outside of the medical facility before the sound clip starts if that's possible, as well as the monkey walking off at the end, but these are all add-ons if i finish the main bulk of the piece in plenty of time. I feel these would nicely frame the rest of the animation without intruding upon it.
This is just a quick test for the first part of the uncoupling animation, testing that I'm getting all the timing right for my movements and some of the lip syncing. Feedback welcome please!
Based off a recorded interview John Lennon (of the Beatles) had with a 14 year old boy after he blagged his way into his hotel, this animation is all about showing the visual movement of thoughts in this young boys head, as all these ideas and opinions were being fed into his mind. This very literal way of portraying these ideas, shows a very simple way of getting information across to people, and very much conveys the way a child's mind works.

This simple way of visually expressing ideas and emotion is something to bear in mind when producing my own, as it’s a very effective medium in the right situations.
Here is a very simple animatic completed for the planning of my sound clip project. An animatic is a usually simple animation (but can just be stills) to help with timing a piece, as well as getting a more visual idea of what a piece may look like without investing a lot of time and effort to do it.
Some other example of animatics I have found, maybe not quite as complex as the one for Pixar's The Incredibles (as seen on their website) is this one for the video beneath it.
This is a very simple animatic, doodle on a lined writing pad by the look of it, but nevertheless gets the message across of what they are going for, and helps plan the timing if the beats and poses, even if that's sometimes with notes in the margins of the doodles. This is what animatics are about - conveying the main points of the animation as simply and quickly as possible.

Yep, that underneath is my bed, and between them are my sketchbooks and a few frames of animation.

For this sound clip animation project, we are looking at effectively planning and possibly lip-syncing and animation, and so we are welcomed to the world of dope-sheets. Simply a table that allows you to plan elements of an animation, from dialogue to the different layers/subjects, on a frame-by-frame timescale. It is always on a 24fps scale, and if you are animating on singles (12fps) you simply work only on the odds (1,3,5,7 etc). I have kept mine relatively simple for now with just the basic planning for major gestures on there along with the timing of the dialogue on the sound clip.
Dope-sheets go hand in hand with story-boarding, which is a more visual breakdown of what happens in the animation with key-frames shown and further notes made. Again, I have kept mine as loose as I could, while still getting in all the elements I wanted in the animation, to allow myself to tinker with it as it progresses.
A few further pieces of life drawing, concentrating again on moving models and quick sketching, as well as looking at foreshortening. I think I need to start using some other mediums and colours etc. Get a bit more experimental. Overall though, quite pleased with them, apart from maybe the longer one which just doesn't seem to work in the tonal aspects, maybe a bit of an inconsistent techniques used when producing the tones?
Feedback welcome as always.
A quick post to get a video online I recorded of the wonderful amateur dramatics of Ashton, helpfully acting out the first half of my sound clip, to help with the lip syncing as well as reactions and movements to this kind of situation in a female perspective.

Cheers Ashton!
This is just a little video I found called Good Vibrations by French animator Jérémy Clapin, if you haven't already seen it, its only four minutes long, so give it a watch,  I thought it was a beautifully told little story with an original art style and great moral message; don't just be a gawker, actually do something when you see something you can change!
Drawing this little animation did not take long, neither did colouring it in on photoshop. But it drove me to distraction trying to make it into a gif with a transparent background. But at least I've learnt something from doing it now: I don't like making animated gifs.
This is just a preliminary test of how the two voices in this video could be lip synced, I followed Arun's example and decided to lip sync myself along to the two voices, but now think I actually need something similar to the characters themselves to do it. Obtaining a lip syncing monkey might be difficult but I can at least find a lovely lady willing to act out the part of the sultry scientist. Volunteers welcome!
Just a few early character deisgn pages for my next project, a piece where we are all given a 10-second sound clip to animate something of our choosing too, and this can include lip syncing if we have  the time/inclination.
Still in a fairly early brainstorming stage, even though I have picked the clip ill be using now:

"Are you trying to say you're jilting me?"
"Well that's a very heavy word, that's a very heavy word. Lets just say we're uncoupling"

Open Shorts 2
The Hidden Life of the Burrowing Owl (Mike Roush)
This mix of more traditional animation along with real-life backgrounds and a documentary-style voice over was original and like nothing I'd really seen before, yet reminded me of all the Saturday morning cartoons I used to watch when I was younger. Quite a simple story with a twist at the end for a laugh, but to me the actual animal like movement of the owl scampering about and flapping its wings and behaving in a very natural way is what I liked. You could tell the movement of these kinds of birds had been studied well and used to great effect in this piece. The combination of this realistic movement, but cunning cartoon intelligence made for a wonderful character and story, and great fun to watch.

Touché (Trevor Hardy)
A comical and funny stop-motion animation about a cat teasing a dog in a car who then gets his comeuppance. This one made me laugh out loud, with wonderful characters and hilarious sudden punchline that caught me off-guard. I think what can be learned from this is that a lovely tactile design and feel to the animation, along with a lighthearted comical twist can be a really great combination for a funny short. Everyone likes to see a bully get their just desserts.

Post! (Christian Asmussen)
This interwoven tapestry of stories in a small town suspended above a industrial metropolis is beautifully told and animated. It showed me that character designs can be very simple and yet still be expressive when animated well. Also, that a complicated collection of small stories can be shown in a relatively short space of time with the right visual clues and planning. A simple but beautifully told account of a small community's daily life and interactions with each other.

The Brothers McLeod: A Personal View
The Brothers McLeod shared some of their taste in animation as to what had inspired them. Although some of the pieces were not to my tastes and a little too troubling or bleak (Dog and Puppet Boy), many of them were inspirational and a great insight as to the direction that they are heading in animation, and real eye openers for myself. These are three of the animations they showed that really caught my attention and I felt have inspired me in one way or another since:

Feed The Kitty (Chuck Jones)
From one of the undisputed masters of animation, this short tugs on the heartstrings and has had itself pariodied in modern movies such as Monsters Inc from Pixar. The character designs are classic and wonderful to watch, bringing back all my childhood memories of waiting for all the other "rubbish" cartoons to end so that I could watch some Warner Bros and other ones similar to this! The animation is beautiful and fluid and the expressions and gestural forms of the characters are perfect but not overdone.
Cartoons like this are exactly the reason I wanted to get into animation, and I guess I'm a bit of a sucker for the classics (for a good reason - nothing seems to have come close since).

Lapsus (Juan Pablo Zaramella)
This simple but fun animation brought some relatively plain (but good) design to life with an expressive character and unique style. However, I feel the sound wasn't really needed in it and it would have been still a good piece in silence.

A Town Called Panic, 'The Card Thieves' (Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier)
This fun and irreverent story is full of lighthearted humor and very fast-paced and always keeps you guessing as to what happens next. The crude stop motion style and the comical voices worked well together and was getting laughs from all of the audience. Everything was kept colorful and bright throughout and there was never a dull moment and I think its a shining example of originality in both humour and design in the animation world.

Studio Spotlight: ArthurCox

Sarah Cox, the co-founder of ArthurCox Studios was available for questions and advice in this next forum, while being interviewed by one of the brothers McLeod.
Here are a few of the points raised and I realised from observing their discussions:
  •  Style over subject matter? - No, the two are interlinked throughout the entirety of the project.
  • The importance of keeping a sketchbook about at all times to note down ideas and make sure you never forget a good idea.
  • That animation is a series of skills combined, and some people are naturally better at some areas than others, and therefore its right to use your strengths as best you can.
  • Sarah had spent some time teaching, and I feel this could be a similar pathway for myself in the future. I think learning animation helps with this greatly as it is a large skill-set and enables you to deal with a wide range of opinions, styles and techniques.
  • Animation can be used to explore less glamorous subjects and ideas, and powerfully by using emotion to express them, and this in turn can get difficult subjects across to a multitude of otherwise taxing audiences.
The Surprise Demise of Francis Cooper's Mother was a short produced by ArthurCox and stood out to me, and really made me pay attention.
The intriguing mixed up plots and nature of the stories, along with each ones message of cherishing life and moving past regret was something that struck a chord with me as I have always felt animation has the power to reach and help people, and should be a way of showing people other outlooks on life they may not have considered.

Open Shorts 3

The third set of open shorts of the festival was a little bit of a disappointment as none really stuck out for me, with them being too experimental and meaningless in my eyes, or just too depressing and macabre.
While I may have found out what kinds of animation and work I wasn't so keen on, I also found a love of vibrant, unique and meaningful animation, and many fresh new ideas and inspirations to take away with me, as well as a much deeper understanding for the more commercial world of animation, thanks to the professionals in the forums and talks, and what I hope to achieve from my degree.

I'll definitely be going again next year.

With the festival finally started at 9:30 Friday morning, it was good to see and mingle with the turnout and meet some like-minded individuals, from the Bostin Heroes stall to other students from around the area. The first event kicked off at 9:45 with the first set of open shorts.

Open Shorts 1

Out of the 13 shorts shown, I feel that only three of them really caught my admiration, however it was interesting to see all of them, and the many different styles and techniques used to produce them, as well as the underlying feelings and emotions trying to be portrayed for each, whether lighthearted and fun, or heavy and threatening. I feel I'm much more drawn to more active and solid animation rather than the more conceptual and experimental. I like to see established appealing design over something too insubstantial and tentative.

Hot Dog (Bill Plympton)
Having known of and been a fan of Bill Plympton's work for a while now, even if only intermittently, I knew I was in for a treat with his name on the line up, and it did not disappoint. Similar to another animation he had done 'Guard Dog' and with his very recognisable style throughout. This unique style always reminds me of a more tactile version of Ren and Stimpy, with its sometimes crude humor and massive over-exaggerations and extreme camera angles, but with the medium with which it is produced giving it almost another dimension and texture.

The Astronomer's Dream (Malcolm Sutherland)
This surreal and strange journey into a daydream of an astronomer tells an intriguing story of a figure traveling about in a strange living craft in search of a special food, but always being unsatisfied in a vicious cycle, before ending up destroying everything he sees.
Is this a metaphor for the ever more disposable nature of our world with that fact all the rubbish we produce will have to eventually be re-consumed by us, or else face destroying everything we have? This is how I chose to interpret it, with the main figure being a representation of the human species as a whole, always hungry to consume and acting on impulse. Its easy to read into it in a number of ways but this is what predominantly stuck out for me.
The actual look and feel of the animation was that of loneliness and hunger, but far from macabre due to the vibrant colours and cartoon-like style. It was this clash that became ever more apparent as the  story progressed, with the figure growing larger and more winkled, haggard and ravenous with each lust consumed. This desperation and visible ruin (ever more apparent with a bandaged arm, from gnawing, as a result of his ever increasing hunger) contrasts deeply with the vibrant childlike softness of the design of the characters ad backgrounds.

Escale (Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec)
This short was a beautifully told story in a very illustrative style which I feel suited the mood of the piece perfectly with its watery colours and warm tones in the tavern. Unique character designs and its heart-warming style combined with its saddening story made it feel like an old established story that I should have already heard and known, and I know I won't forget.

Looking at Sound: Hearing Animation

Several panel members from various backgrounds (a teacher of sound design and animation, a freelance producer and others) had gathered to discuss the importance and use of sound in animation. Several of the points raised were:
  • Sound has been important in animation since its very early days with silent films accompanied by a small orchestra.
  • Sound is integral and can be half of the structure of the film sometimes.
  • Are the dynamics of the dialogue, or the musicality of a piece going to have the most hold over the animation?
  • When an animation is planned, sound is usually one of the first things laid out and the rest built around its structure.
  • Care must be taken over IP issues and copyright when using music as some artists will refuse rights have their work edited and tampered with to suit your needs. Care is to be taken and don't take anything for granted to avoid legal issues.
  • Animators are inherently mathematical due to the amount of counting usually required, and this can help with the structuring of sound within a piece.
  • Sound is one of the strongest ways to set the sound or mood in an animation, from deep bass frequencies making people uncomfortable to real world sounds helping the immersion in settings.
  • Sound can tell the story off-screen of what is happening merely with implications and suggestions.

We then saw a few shorts which made use of the sound in each in various ways. In the Adventures of Jeff (the Ozzy with no cozzy!) nearly all of the structure was based around the written speech of the piece and following a very fast linear mood throughout. There was no variation in the mood of the piece as it was a fairly linear comedic animation. Whereas in the Pearce Sisters, there is only a tiny amount of dialogue (one brief muffled line) and most of the story is told through its emotion and feel that the sounds cast, from the howling wind to the shrieking gulls.

Studio Spotlight: Axis Animation

Axis Animation has produced work for internationally known projects such as Colin Mcrae:Dirt, Rogue Warrior and Killzone 2, and Richard Scott, a co-founder of the company gave us an insight into the animation industry. He didn't approach animation through Higher education and was originall trained in graphic design. From there he went into photo-retouching and then starting a small three-man business before moving into the videogame industry, and now has around 35 people on his team.

One of the things he stressed about employment in the industry is that companies will look for creative ability over technical knowledge, that is to say that its more important to have a creative outlook and mindset, as learning software/etc later on can be taught much more easily than vice versa.

Richard also had a valuable insight into a question asked on the previous day's panel: Is it better to be a Jack-of-all-trades or a specialist in one area?

"You have to be a multi-faceted specialist" 
Which I think boils down to this: make sure you can do all of the basic technical aspects of animation, from sound design to editing and more, but choose an area to really specialise in so that you're a valuable asset in that field.

Animation in the West Midlands: A Snapshot

For the start of the Flip festival there was a small opening event at Millenium Point, Birmingham, which consisted of a small panel of professionals from the animation industry speaking about the state of animation in the West Midlands region.  It started with some statistics gathered about the animation industry here, and although some of the facts given were proven dubious by other panel members, it was interesting hearing many aspects of the industry put into a more graphical form.

The games industry is much larger than the 'animation' industry with about 1,600 in the west midlands alone, with as few as 500-odd registered animators on the west midlands animation forum, many of which are students. The education system that I'm a part of is currently turning out 2,000+ animation students per year, which we found out is far far more than the amount of work available. This explains why there is so much competition for work, and also leads to the question:

Is it better to be a Jack-of-all-trades or a specialist in one area?

Specialism gets you noticed and wanted by larger companies, and makes sure you are called upon when you're needed (provided you're what they're looking for and good enough!). However it's not enough alone to be able to survive on (most of the time). I think the best option would be to find a middle-ground between the two and just make sure you're noticed, and unique.

Going back to the state of animation in the Midlands, its seems a lot of the panelists think that the region is losing talent to companies abroad due to tax breaks and other incentives to move. I have seen and heard this before; during my brief stint as a games tester at Microsoft Game Studios / Rareware, I had heard about how so much of the gaming industry is moving to places such as Canada purely for tax loopholes and benefits. I think this government could be doing a lot more to encourage rising talent in these creative industries to stay here and raise the UK's profile as a hotbed of fresh creative expertise.

A few other tidbits I picked up were:
  • Don't sell to advertising agencies, it's futile - they will coming looking for you if you're wanted
  • The noted pay for an animator falls between £29k and £31k, but could be substantially lower
  • Most new work is gained through networking and word of mouth so its always wise to have a thick book of contacts
  • There is a lot of 'speculate to accumulate' when it comes to doing free work to gain work

I think the biggest thing I learnt from this was that I have to expect to do unpaid work when trying to pitch work to companies. I knew this would be a requirement to a certain extent having already worked freelance in other areas for some time now, but the amount of work that must be undertaken in order to possibly secure work is quite daunting.
To conclude the 6 week/20second animation project (for now) I produced the short "Rocketman" after a long and experimental production pipeline. This being the first time I had produced any animation to this timescale and length, everything was a case of trial and error if I couldn't find the information online or in any books. This was a great way to learn though, and I feel I have learnt much from the experience.

Things learnt:
  • fully understanding pose-to-pose animation combined with straight-ahead to complete a sequence
  • the phases of the walk cycle and a deeper understanding of it
  • using stretch and squash appropriately 
  • working to a deadline and planning a project around it

How I feel about the 'Final' piece
The animation as a whole did exactly what I wanted it to, with minor exceptions of an imperfect run cycle. The simple black and white style worked well with the wobbly lines, and simple character expressing and anticipating what was going on well I feel. I like how I chose to leave it open ended so that I can continue with it in my own time in the future.

Working through a production pipeline, following through with brainstorms, research, development and story-boarding before producing a final animation, and learning and correcting as I went along, helped me learn a massive amount and really get a feel for the production of hand drawn animations. It'll be interesting to see everyone elses projects and the different techniques and styles used. 

From the first brainstorm to storyboarding, these are a few excerpts from my reflective visual journal for the 10-20 second animation project which culminated in the production of my short, "Rocketman".

These pages of scribbles and notes were vital to working out where and how the animation was going, from planning to altering errors.

The first brainstorm, gathering ideas and starting to form a direction for the project.

Looking at character designs and form inspiration for the main story and character.

Keeping certain principals and ideas in mind during further production of the piece, as well as setting out goals and aims.

Looking at the technical disciplines that I must learn from and accomplish.
Storyboarding the animation, a critical stage in process, working out the timing, placement and layout of items and subjects in the animation.

Much more work had gone into the production of the final animation, please see my sketchbook for more of it, plus a great amount of it was planned on guide sheets and on the actual animation pages in pencil before it was all inked up and finalised.