Monday, 26 October 2015

Week 5 - just keep swimming

I don't feel as though I have achieved much this last week, and now this week coming I will need to spend most of my time working on my dissertation so I am little worried about Alphabet Patch grinding to a halt for a week. However, I can't really afford to do that so I will have to be very organised and efficient this week to make sure everything that needs to gets done.

This week I finished the rough turnarounds of all the main five characters.

The next step is to trace these in Illustrator, neaten them up and make sure the joints work smoothly. After that, I will import the shapes back into Photoshop and apply texture. Lastly, I will import them to CelAction and test the rigs to make sure all of the required poses can be achieved before I make any changes. A positive from this week was that I found the help file for CelAction on the uni computers - previously I had been trying to open it wrong - this makes life a lot easier although it is still a little complicated to get my head around.
I have been getting bogged down for the last coupe of weeks with the technical side of the softwares I have been using, thus I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. However, I have figured out almost all the technical stuff now and it's just a matter of keeping going.

I also did some concept work for another third year film - Sweet Tooth directed by Elisabeth Horne. In this film cakes come alive and begin attacking and eating their human oppressors.

I am already quite busy directing and producing Alphabet Patch and producing Falling in Love, so I don't think I will be able to contribute very much to Sweet Tooth but it is very fun to work on.

Finally, Luis Cook from Aardman visited our course this week. He gave some feedback on the Alphabet Patch animatic and suggested simplifying it and also defining the characters more. This week I would also like to rework the animatic and complete another draft of it. Together with my crew, we sat down and worked out what changes we should make to the script and animatic. To define the characters more we tried putting them into everyday situations and imagining how they would all react differently.

So with redoing the animatic, preparing the characters for rigging and my dissertation I have a lot on my plate this week but I'll do my best.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Week 4: Challenging!

This week has been fairly challenging. I finished off the storyboard for Monday and worked with my crew to develop another draft of the script. We then got some feedback on it and made some changes in response to that. From there I have been working on the animatic which I hope to have ready to show to visiting lecturer Luis Cook (a director at Aardman) next week.
Since I'm still busily working now, this blog post will be quite brief.

Here's one of the very rough storyboard pages and below are the rough animatic images. At this stage I am not being to fussy with details but instead trying to create a good flow for the piece and good compositions that work. This part is taking a lot longer than a thought, but my brilliant editor Sophie is working very hard putting them together and adding sounds. The animatic is looking to be quite long currently - around 6 + minutes with a lot off dialogue, so a bit daunting.

The other big task this week has been character turnarounds. I've been struggling a bit with the pipeline for CelAction - I originally intended to create the characters in Photoshop and rig them in CelAction. However, since I am trying to be a bit more fancy with my character rigs than I was last year (i.e. more complex and smoother movement) I decided I needed more precise drawing tools than Photoshop could offer. I thought that CorelDraw would be perfect but my copy is very old and I could not find out whether it was compatible with CelAction. Thus I settled on Illustrator, unfortunately I haven't used this much before so I need to learn it quickly!

My current plan is to do rough turnarounds in Photoshop to work out the general shapes and joints, then to trace these designs in Illustrator. By using vectors I can get smoother and more precise shapes. Next, I will either texture in Illustrator or import the vector shapes back in Photoshop and texture them there. Finally, I can import the characters into CelAction and rig them. There are a number of tests I will perform on each character to check the rig designs are good enough and I anticipate that there will be a lot of corrections and changes to be made.

These are the Photoshop turnarounds. They do not have their full textures, and I still need to do some replacement hands and mouths etc. At this stage I am working out how the characters look from different directions. These designs will be traced in Illustrator and neatened up to have joints that work smoothly. I hope to do a lot of experimentation with Illustrator, Photoshop and CelAction this week, as well as finishing off the animatic to show Luis Cook.

I'm struggling a bit as it is very hard to find in-depth tutorials for CelAction on the internet, and the university version is missing the help file. I have been making do with trial and error (although this is very time-consuming and sometimes frustrating), I have also found two great sources for CelAction tutorials:

If I ever work out how my pipeline works I promise to make some detailed tutorials on how I achieved it for the next lot of struggling students!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Week 3 roundup - new Cecil design and research

This week I redesigned Cecil the snail to have a more usable mouth and arms as before people were getting confused as to whether he was eating or holding items.
Below on the left is the original design, on the right is the first redesign. It looks a little strange that Cecil is smiling so this week I am doing character, expression and turnaround sheets for all the characters to see if any more changes need doing. The third design is with modified colours as I felt Cecil was a bit drab and not too appealing colour wise. His hands take the form of the tentacles that snails have. He is also much more upstanding and able to interact with the world much better.

I also did a lot of research into preschool TV for children and how it can be educational. I read a number of books on the subject and referred to the national curriculum - one of the strongest 'selling' points for Alphabet Patch is it's educational value and also if it is educational for young kids I feel it is more worthwhile for me to make.
I found Shalom Fisch's book 'G is for Growing - 30 Years of Research on Sesame Street' particularly helpful as there is such a strong focus on education in Sesame Street and a lot of research went into making it so.
Some of the other books I read discussed how children actually learn - Naima Browne's 'Young Children's Literacy Development and the Role of Televisual Texts' introduced me to Paulo Freire's 'problem-posing' method of education as opposed to 'banking education'. Problem-posing invites the children to think about their own answers instead of just telling and filling them lots of information. (At this point I am wishing that I could be writing my dissertation on how animation can actually be very effective at aiding children's education if done the right way, because all this research was actually very interesting and I wish I had time to do more).

As a result of reading these books and others I decided that Alphabet Patch should avoid passive viewing and instead encourage the audience to actively engage. Thus, Paddy will ask a lot of questions and there will be opportunity for the audience to shout out the answers - however to avoid awkward silence the child will be able to shout out the answer in time with the other characters.
Each episode will make use of the five senses so that children will learn much more about objects than they would just by looking at a picture book.
Alphabet Patch will involve much more than just teaching letters: numbers; shapes; problem-solving; personal development; society; the world; and more will be included throughout the series. AP will teach how letters and numbers look, how they sound and what words they relate to. Most importantly though, I want to avoid being patronizing and boring - not to include the educational aspects at the expense of fun. AP will be fun for kids to watch and hopefully will provide lots of laughter.

With all this research in mind, my story group and I have been developing the script and have now arrived at a strong draft. I am in the process of storyboarding Episode A, and we will spend the next week developing it further and hopefully creating a rough animatic with a scratch track of the dialogue by the end of the week. The series has become a lot more dialogue-heavy than I originally intended but I am excited for the challenge of this - I have not worked much with sound previously.
The other main task this week is to create turnarounds for all the characters and to rig them up in CelAction ready to start testing and experimenting with

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Busy second week - TV ad competition, Ambassadoring & Alphabet Patch

Sorry that this is such a long post! This week has been very busy! As well as directing and producing Alphabet Patch, I am also producing Jack's short film - Falling in Love (a black comedy about suicide - very different to Alphabet Patch!). 

I spent Saturday working as an ambassador for Falmouth University at their first Open Day of the academic year. Although tiring as it was a very busy event, I always like working as an ambassador on Open Days and UCAS interviews as I get to meet people who are really interested and enthusiastic about the university and in particular - the animation course at Falmouth. Now in my third year I have seen the course improve and evolve every year (the single animation studio has now been expanded to three studios - so much space!) and I'm really proud to show potential students and their parents around the department and to tell them about the course.
Many of the people I have meet at these days have since gone on to become students on the same course as me, which is great to see!

Jack and I working as ambassadors for the Open Day at Falmouth University
This week we were also given a 3 day competition project to create an animatic for a John Lewis-esque Christmas advert. This was in collaboration with the TV students. I learnt a lot from this project, and it was wonderful to have students doing the script writing, sound and editing - us animation students just helped with the ideas and drew the animatic. We had to make a one minute and 30 second version - our group choose to focus on the making of a teddy bear which represented high-quality products and also was heart-warming. This was my first time working officially with Jack, and we found out that we work very well together, which is great considering I am producing for him this year. Our group of 3 animation students and 2 TV students won first price in the competition, but even so it was annoying to have this urgent project to work on whilst we were so keen to start working on our third year films. 





Above: my two favourite animatic sequences that I drew for the TV project

With that competition out of the way we can now start to concentrate on our third year projects.
Over the summer I wrote a script and made an animatic for the pilot episode which I was fairly happy with but it was by no means the finished story. This week James Henry came in to do some tutorials with us concerning scripts. James is a professional writer who has written for Hey Duggee and Shaun the Sheep - hence he was super helpful for Alphabet Patch. He gave me some great advice not just for the pilot episode but also for the whole series in general and the professional pitching process.

I've put together a 'story group' for my project consisting of Sophie Rippington and Midnight Sparkle - who so far have been absolutely wonderful. James Henry suggested that we approach the episode stories with more of a formula - this makes it it easier to write 26+ episodes and also to get different writers to write episodes.

We also decided that Paddy the gnome should have some 'magical powers' - in this case he has a green thumb or green fingers. This means he can make plants grow quickly and the episodes won't just consist of waiting for things to grow. James also suggested that the characters should have a reason to come together every week - so now Paddy and co are looking after a community allotment. They turn up every episode to help maintain the garden and in return they all share in the crops - which often will be baked by Dotty the ladybird into a delicious treat. We can reuse most of the story ideas I came up with over the summer, but will be re-developing them to fit into our new formula.

Alongside story, this week I'll be doing some re-designing of the characters and starting to do turnarounds:
  • Terryl the butterfly has been dropped from the pilot episode, and needs a replacement (although now a minor character)
  • Cecil the snail needs hands! Or at least some method of holding things - this reminds me of when Pixar were designing the cars for Cars and they encountered a similar problem 
  • Tony the cat needs some more legs so he can walk around and not just sit on his bottom all day (although he would love that)
  • Plus a couple more bits and pieces
  • And not forgetting to research for my dissertation (it's about the very interesting topic of Animated Documentary but I will save that till another blog post)
I'm hoping to find some Celaction animators among the 2nd years - I've had a browse through their blogs and highlighted some potential crew members. 2nd years will be pitching their skills to us in a few weeks as well and I'm planning on running some Celaction sessions so they are ready to animate on Alphabet Patch.

Phew! Lots of things to think about, but I'm still very excited about Alphabet Patch and thrilled to have the opportunity to be working on it this year.