Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The making of 'Alphabet Patch'

Preview clip from Alphabet Patch 

This year I had the amazing opportunity to direct my own animated project as part of my final year on the Animation & VFX degree course at Falmouth University. I first started developing my idea 'Alphabet Patch' in second year. It's a preschool TV pilot episode animated in CelAction and with a distinctive aesthetic design. Prior to this project I had no experience with the preschool genre so the whole experience has been a steep but very rewarding learning curve. 
In September 2015 I had the chance to pitch Alphabet Patch to an audience of students and an industry panel. Happily AP was greenlit for production and I began to build a crew of animation students to help complete the episode by May 2016.

Script & Storyboard
First of all the script and storyboard needed to be developed to a strong enough position for production to start. I had spent the summer creating a script and storyboard however this was soon scrapped and I began over. At this point I researched the genre more thoroughly, watching existing preschool episodes over and over. Writer James Henry was of huge help during this time and throughout the project as he was experienced writing on Hey Duggee and Shaun the Sheep. 
I soon realised that storyboarding for preschool was also different than what I've done before, layouts needed to be simpler and more readable for a young audience.
Looking back, this is the stage that I would like to have improved most but as I only had 9 months to complete the whole project I couldn't spend as much as time as I wanted here. Because of my self doubt over the script I had to accommodate several changes to the storyboard and script throughout the project which is something was sure to I factor in when making schedules. 

Creating the characters


There are 6 characters in the pilot episode and each one needed a turnaround (see above) which then needed to be broken down into separate parts that could be reconstructed for animation (see below) - this included creating extra parts such as different hands and expressions. I created these in Photoshop and Illustrator. It was challenging learning each of the software also how they worked together as a pipeline - i.e. making sure I was building and exporting files in the most efficient format. Also challenging was getting my head around how exactly the characters could move fluidly and in three dimensions. Read more about character construction for AP here


Producing
Whilst producing AP I also worked as a producer for a 2D TVPaint short animation called 'Falling in Love' I could reuse many of the production documents I created for FIL with AP and vice versa, however there were some key differences. FIL had a crew of around 20, whilst AP was a much smaller operation with under 10 crew members and only 5 regular animators. The pipelines were also very different - FIL required many stages for keying, clean up and inbetweening etc, whilst AP was a cutout production which didn't require cleanup. Some shots were passed between animators so that individual animators could focus on one particular character - for example, Leigh Juggins did the majority of animation for Beanie the chicken and Sophie Rippington was the lead animator for Dotty the ladybird.
I think that time management is one of my strengths as both FIL and AP were completed ahead of schedule with extra time to make improvements.  

Crew

As the crew for AP was so small I stopped having weekly crew meetings and instead just spoke to the animators on a daily basis at the studio. I spent time at the end of every week preparing the scene files ready to be handed out to the crew on Monday morning and also checked that everything was running on schedule.
At the beginning of the project I put together a CelAction training session which offered a chance for the crew members to catch up on CelAction, be introduced to the AP rigs and also the AP pipeline. This was a great opportunity to solve any pipeline issues and to check that it worked across multiple computers.
I was lucky enough to have some very hardworking and talented animators working on AP.

Animation
Prior to working on AP I was not a hugely confident animator, however it became clear that due to a shortage of crew I would have to commit myself to developing my skills. This was challenging and to begin with was very difficult, however the use of reference videos greatly helped as did talking to the other animators to see how they worked. CelAction can be a very fluid and fun program to work with once you get used to it. I especially like animating in a cut out style as there is a lot of scope to be innovative with the character's movement instead of being limited. When designing and animating the characters I was greatly inspired by the preschool series 'Abadas' as the animation is so fluid and an amazing example of the type of movement that can be achieved in CelAction.

Dialogue & Lipsync
AP was unusual as a student animation at Falmouth as it included extensive dialogue from multiple characters with lipsync.

I was quite daunted at using dialogue but I recieved lots of help, particularly from Falmouth Uni sound technician Richard Butler who was kind enough to spend time showing us how to set up and use the reocrding studio. The other issue was finding voice actors. I ended up recording many different versions of the voices (plus due to script changes, many more over).
Getting voices recorded in time was a big worry but thanks to a false deadline I set myself it was sorted in time. Because the voices were recorded at the end of the animation process I went back through almost all of the shots and added in lip sync after. This was not the most effective way to do it but I ended up with little choice.

Music & Sound
I was lucky enough to have a sound design student volunteer to work on AP - Freddy Houghton-Connell. I'm really pleased with how well the sound works on the episode and I would recommend the next year of animation students to look to the sound design course for help.
Music was another issue for the episode. I had originally contacted a musician and she agreed to work from September developing music, however I let this slip and by April we still had no music complete. At this point I looked elsewhere to find music and again, found the answer at Falmouth Uni. This time Lois Brown who studied on the music course. Lois really took the time to understand what was required and how music was used in preschool, and as a result I was really happy with the music she created.

What's next?
Now that the episode is complete I have started submitting it to various animation festivals all around the world and I am also looking into pitching opportunities in order to develop and make a full series one day. I have not yet uploaded the full episode online, however I will keep this blog updated with preview clips and details as to where the episode may be screened.
And finally, a big thank you to all of the crew that helped bring AP to life:

Voice Actors
Dotty the ladybird - Nelly Wason
Cecil the snail - Katie Wyman
Paddy the gnome - Leigh Juggins
Tony the cat - Ryan Orgill
Beanie the chicken - Giacomo Ghigo

Voice Recordists
- Dan Bowhay
- Giacomo Ghigo
- Abi Wason

Lead Animators
- Aaron Donlon
- Leonie Isaacs
- Leigh Juggins
- Elitsa Nedyalkova
- Sophie Rippington

Assistant Animators
- Holly Herbert
- Connor Schrader
- Olly Street
- Ellie Walsh

Designers
- Leonie Isaacs
- Giacomo Ghigo

Vector Artists
- Leonie Isaacs
- Aaron Donlon

Musician
- Lois Brown

Sound Designer
- Freddy Houghton-Connell

Writers
- Midnight Sparkle
- Leonie Isaacs
- Sophie Rippington

Production Assistant
- Midnight Sparkle

Editor
- Sophie Rippington

Producer
- Leonie Isaacs

Director
- Leonie Isaacs

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