Monday, September 26, 2011

My Super8 Clips Used in Pop Promo

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from the producer of the music promo video for the new Lana Del Rey track 'Video Games'. After a little negotiation, I have approved use of my clips for use in their production. See the video below and look out for my (very fleeting) shots of American flags, seagulls and the ocean etc.

The clips have been sourced from a roll of Super 8 cine film I shot in 2008 whilst on holiday in California. You can see the whole of my original footage here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Here's a video about Animatti; the animation summer school I was invited to in Alghero Sardinia for a few days back in September 2010. Well, I'm going back to run more workshops there this year, and for a little bit longer this time... More news soon...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Making 3D Letters

In preparation for the animation workshops I'll be running again at the Animatti event in Sardinia very soon, I've been making several three dimensional letter-forms out of folded card.

I first made Illustrator drawings of the letters. I wanted to make 100mm high models based on the upper case letters of the Futura typeface. The Illustrator files would have to include the fold lines and any tabs needed for gluing the models together.
I found it was a good idea to differentiate the fold lines and the cut lines by placing them on different layers in the Illustrator file.
I also found it helpful to colour code these lines differently (Green for folds, red for cut lines).

From Illustrator, I exported the image to my CraftRobo cutting machine. I specified that the layers I had chosen for 'folds' should receive a perforation cut and all of the rest of the lines be treated as cut lines.

I loaded up the CraftRobo carrier sheet with a sheet of 160gsm white card and set the machine going. There's something very satisfying about sending your data to a robot to do all of the tricky work for you...

I could get two letters on each sheet of A4 card and the CraftRobo took around two minutes to cut each sheet.

Folding the letters together is pretty easy (especially with the pre-scored perforated edges for the folds) and it just takes a dab of Pritt stick or similar to glue the tabs together.

Et voila...

I've now made a 'how to' video showing how to make these letters. This video shows how to use Adobe Illustrator to create the letter templates and then a demo of how to cut the letters (with scissors), score the folds then fold and glue the letters.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

11th September 2011

Given today's date, it's pretty easy to recall my whereabouts exactly ten years ago. Though the weeks, months and years since seem mostly seem to blur as one, September 11th 2001 is clearly another kind of date altogether. For what it's worth, (be warned; there is no great insight to be found here) here's my recollection of the events of that day written from the remove of ten years and three and a half thousand miles away from Ground Zero.

I was working in a temporary animation studio set-up in a red brick house in suburban North London. Each day that summer, I would get the WAGN train to Alexandra Palace, climb through leafy Alexandra Park and emerge onto the residential streets of  Muswell Hill. A Los Angeles-based production company had hired a London-domiciled Dutch animation director to make television commercials for the phone company AT&T. So it was that a rented five bedroom Edwardian house on Dukes Avenue had become the unlikely hub of a trans-Atlantic production enterprise. I had established a network of three PCs running Animo software in one of the smaller back bedrooms of the house: from that modest room we would scan, paint and composite every element of five animated television commercials. The larger front bedroom was occupied by our director Michael Dudok de Wit, a couple of his assistants and a video editor (possibly called Matt). we had strung Ethernet cables along the hallways between the rooms and established about ourselves a pleasingly adhoc working space. Downstairs, the front lounge had become a production office whilst the large room to the rear had become the domain of Rufus Dayglo and other animators with their wedge-shaped wooden drawing desks.

Whilst I was trying to fit several layers of mis-aligned scanned drawings together, I had the Guardian website open in another window. The planes had hit already and there was a photo of the skyscrapers on fire. Michael appeared at the doorway to my room with "Have you seen what's happened in New York?". I recall thinking how unlikely such an accident could possibly be. I remembered an old statistical saw I had heard many years earlier about the safety of nuclear power stations. A disaster at a nuclear power station was supposedly as likely as two loaded jumbo jets colliding over Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day. Well, now it seemed that a similarly unlikely occurrence had in fact occurred. I was naively slow to realise that this unfolding disaster was not some chance happening but a deliberate act of terror.

As a well-appointed fully-furnished rented house there was a large-screen TV in one of the rooms. We all gathered around to watch just in time to see the towers collapsing. What did all of this mean?

I recall we had two American colleagues with us, we were working for an American studio, we were working on commercials for an American client. The possibility of a sixth commercial rapidly faded away, just as so much else else did that day.

It seems so very strange now, but I did drift back to that back bedroom and get some work done; we still had a series of delivery deadlines to hit. Perhaps a hollow response but it seemed to be the only thing we could do.

I've had a quick look about on the web and have found couple of the animated commercials we were making in that house in Muswell Hill back in September 2001.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Open Office is dead!

Open Office seems to be dead now. This most useful (and free) Office software seems to have been axed by Oracle and become an 'Apache Incubator Project.' (Whatever that actually means???) Fortunately though, a bunch of developers known as The Document Foundation seem to have revived the project as 'Libre Office.'

Libre Office seems to have all the same apps as Open Office had, and it's still just as good value too. (I.e. it's free to download).
Version 3.4 is available from The Document Foundation website here.

So 'Writer' is still my Word Processor of choice for FREE storyboard layout software.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pictures Of Turkey

Here are a few 'artsy' photos from our recent family holiday in Cirali on the South Coast of Turkey. All of these were taken with my Canon 600D camera, some with the 18-55mm kit lens and many with my new Tokina 11-16mm wide angle zoom ... Keen-eyed readers should be able to spot these ones.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tips for Smashing Storyboards

Well I've had a week of boarding and making animatics for a couple of projects at TANDEM, so it MIGHT be a busy July.

I've evolved a bit of a workflow here that helps me get storyboards and animatics together quickly and without too much fuss. Here's a brief description of my storyboard method...

I always start with really rough thumbnail drawings. It's better to work quickly, explore lots of ideas for different shots etc. and not get hung-up on making beautiful drawings. I usually draw the panels in biro, often working in my fave A5 size notebook: fitting eight of these drawings to a page. So the drawings are usually around 7 x 5 cm in size. I fill pages with these drawings until I've worked through the whole script and planned all of the shots and moves etc.

I then scan these in and save the pages as big jpeg images.

I open the jpegs in Photoshop, then sometimes clean them up a bit or add some shading or colour if need be. (see example illustration above)

Next, I keep the images open in Photoshop but also launch Open Office Writer simultaneously. (Writer is a great free Word Processing application and I've already set up a template that fits 6 story panels to each page.) Using the Photoshop rectangle tool set to 'fixed ratio - 16x9' I select each panel from the large jpeg image and use keyboard short cuts to copy these and paste them straight into the Writer storyboard page.

5: In Writer, I then dupliclate/edit panels, type in all of the text below the panels etc. When this is done, I export the multi-page storyboards as a single .pdf file. Job done.

Here's a storyboard page I made for the 'Little Hands Clapping Film'

And here's (a more colourful one) I made for the 'Our Tragic Universe Film'

I hope to update this post soon with some more details (including animatics) and further examples etc. Hope this is useful to someone out there, please feel free to comment...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Technicolor Cinestyle for Canon DSLRs

I was out shooting some tests with the new Canon 600D DSLR camera this weekend. I'm pitching on a project with an idea to use both the stills and HD movies functions of this camera combined.

I shot the movie tests using the recently-announced Technicolor CineStyle colour profile.

CineStyle is available as a free download for the Canon DSLR users. You install the software to your camera using the Canon Photo Professional software as one of your preference profiles, then shoot your movies using this setting. The results are dull-looking and initially unimpressive; but the theory is that with this setting, there will be much-increased dynamic range retained in the images. The idea here is to shoot the best most versatile footage, then use the increased range to grade it later in post to achieve the desired look.

Here's one of my early test shots. This clip shows (with lots of YouTube compression of course) a clip shot with the Technicolor CineStyle profile... dull and grey looking. The clip was then brought into Adobe After Effects CS3 for some saturation and curves.

Initial tests are positive, I'll hopefully be able to post some further examples and more findings here soon. I've only had this camera since Friday, but I'm hugely impressed with what it can do already.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Top Secret Test

This is a test movie I made and uploaded to YouTube. It's private though, so you can't see it!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

TXT ISLAND on Best of Animation 5 DVD

Well I had a nice birthday surprise yesterday. A big cardboard box couriered to my house with 20 copies of the new 'Best of Animation 5' DVD inside. The compilation is put together by the good people of the Stuttgart animation festival and includes their pick of ten films from the 2010 edition. There are many fine short films to be seen here and TXT ISLAND too! It's a genuine honour to have my bit of work included on this, many thanks again to Andrea and her team in Stuttgart.

Here's the DVD running order, a most international selection of world-class shorts...

'A Family Portrait' dir. Joseph Pierce
'Horn Dog' dir. Bill Plympton
'La dama y la muerte' dir. Javier Recio Gracia
'Logorama' dir. Francois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, Ludovic Houplain
'Love & Theft' dir. Andreas Hykade
'Prayers for Peace' dir. Dustin Grella
'Runaway' dir.Cordell Barker
'Sam’s Hot Dogs' dir. David López Retamero
'TXT Island' dir. Chris Gavin
'YELLOW CAKE' dir. Nick Cross

Monday, May 30, 2011

World's Most Awesomest Police Video (animation)

Well, I've been known to stay up late watching whatever captivating nonsense appears on our Freeview channels. I've noticed a whole genre of police chase action videos. The US ones are especially intriguing, blending a thrill-seeking voyeurism with a moralistic 'crime never pays' narrative. I'm really quite attracted to this idea of TV trying to have its cake and eat it too. Here's my little pastiche/tribute to the genre.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Little Flash Test Thing

Well I snatched a little moment at the end of this royal wedding bank holiday weekend to do a bit of my thing. I genuinely don't know what this is all about, but I sat down with Flash and here's what popped out...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Tragic Universe

Here's the latest short film I have just made for Canongate Books. This movie will be used to promote 'Our Tragic Universe' the new novel by Scarlett Thomas.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Motion Control Rotations

A couple of the many rotating objects I've been shooting for my latest CanonGate Books short film. As described in the earlier post, I'm using a geared down stepper motor which can be controlled from my PC (using a Stepper Bee motor controller card).

My initial plan was to shoot these all these rotations as stop motion, but with motor control and the Canon 550D's HD video recording, I was presented with the opportunity to shoot these as continuous live-action. I set the motor to do just over a full rotation at quite a slow speed, knowing that I'd be able to edit and time remap the footage later... This simple rig works pretty well; super-smooth results and a bunch of time saved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Russians On The Moon

I just love this picture I 'found' on the BBC website. It was Yuri Gagarin Day yesterday, so the BBC website ran an article about what could have been if The Americans hadn't made it to the moon first. I really like how this illustration paints a whole alternate universe, plus it's got that Sci-Fi comic look I'm quite partial to. I'd like to see more of this, but the BBC don't seem to have credited the image. I'd welcome any links to where I can see more of this kind of thing...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Adventures in DIY: Motion Control Rig

For the next stop motion short film I'm currently making for Canongate Books, I found that I needed to shoot accurate rotations of many small three dimensional objects. This seemed like a good application for the geared stepper motor and Stepper Bee controller board that I've had lying around since my long-abandoned DIY film scanning project.

I dug the bits out, rigged up a small stand to hold a bearing and (after a bit of fiddling about with O-rings) the stepper motor drives an 8mm threaded shaft that I can attach my objects to. The stepper motor already enables pretty fine control (it's rate at 1.8 degrees per step) but with the gearing still attached, it actually takes around 700 steps to perform a full rotation.

The AutoStep software that comes with the Stepper Bee card is pretty basic but allows me to set the number of steps and duration of each step.

It all works a treat, I can shoot the rotating objects in single steps (for stop motion shooting) or allow the motor to run continuously at a controlled speed (for live action shooting).

Technically this IS motion control, albeit a simplified single motor rotation-only motion control.
Here's the rig...

DIY Motion Control Rig: Stepper motor drives gears then an o-ring drives 8mm threaded shaft. Note the Stepper Bee card with DC power cable and USB cable to host PC.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Some Little Hands Clapping Models

Here's a little 'behind the scenes' look at some of the paper / card models I made for the 'Little Hands Clapping' film. The visual idea was to make all of the elements appear to be made from the text of the book itself. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Little Hands Clapping

For the last 3 weeks, I've mostly been making this. It's a one minute short film which will be used by publisher Canongate Books to help promote the paperback release of 'Little Hands Clapping' the latest novel from author Dan Rhodes.
I'll possibly blog a little more information about how this was made shortly...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Home Studio

Here's a little glimpse into my home studio set-up for some small scale stop-motion animation work. I'm using the Canon 550d here with Stop Motion Pro; finally a good live view-capable system is in my grasp :) This shoot is lots of quite simple things, small models made from paper etc.
I bought a couple of laboratory-style retort stands yesterday. These have a certain nerd-appeal but are also damn handy as desktop stands, small and versatile and ideal for this mini stop-mo work.
Maybe I'll post a bit more about this work once it's done.