Sunday, 13 December 2015

First Term Summary

Here's a convenient showreel of progress made on Alphabet Patch this term (this is not the episode, it is just the different sections that have been animated so far put together):

Although it's great to have such good progress, watching this showreel I identified a number of things I am not happy with. Firstly, the backgrounds are too complicated and still need lots of development - as I have been busy producing and directing I have not spent as much time as I should have on developing the background style. Fortunately I now have a bit of time over the Christmas holiday to remedy this. I am also going to change the composition on a lot of the storyboard, as the scenes with all of the characters in appear cluttered and too zoomed in. Thus I'll be introducing more long shots and a simpler, clearer composition style.
Finally, working closely with my writers I'll be 'streamlining' the script and story. In general we will be simplifying and clarifying the whole episode to avoid long speeches by Paddy and keeping the flow of the episode smooth and fun to watch. There will be a number of character changes, the characters will be more excited to be exploring the outdoors, whilst Paddy will ask the the characters to come up with their own fun solutions to problems instead of just telling everyone what to do.

There's quite a lot of changes to be made but I am sure they will make the episode better. I'm also glad these were picked up now as it gives us time to change things for the better. With careful producing it shouldn't effect our scheduling badly. This whole project has been a steep learning curve as it is so different from what I have done before.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Week 10: It's going well!

As this coming week is the last week of term at university there will be a Christmas screening on Friday in the university cinema for all the students on the animation course. We're hoping to have some good completed animated shots of Alphabet Patch to show as well as lots of interesting pre-production work. So far, everything seems to be going well for us to achieve this aim - in fact we are getting through the shots quicker than I scheduled.

All of the Alphabet Patch crew are now working on assigned shots and delivering some very nice animation. I've been putting together layouts to give to the crew as I assign them their shots, and have created some backgrounds ready for Friday's screening. 

Lots of the backgrounds are close-up backgrounds such as the third one here. It has taken me a little while to get used to the style again as I have not been drawing much recently. I struggled trying to get the background to fit well with the characters and allow them to stand out well.

Producing is taking up a huge amount of my time, but hopefully after a few weeks it will settle down and become more routine. 
For Friday I am working on getting two shots completed - one is more complex than the other and they both involve dialogue.

Here is the simpler shot, I haven't yet done the facial animation nor lip sync. I am hoping to get that finished today as well as the second shot. Tomorrow I would like to have a bit of time to experiment with post production things such as adding flight lines to the ladybird character and compositing the scenes together. 
One of the animators on the project, Aaron Donlon has animated some leaves (designed by Jack) in Adobe Flash to fall down the screen. I will render out the leaf animations separately with a transparent background and alpha channels and then try placing them over some of the animated shots. Hopefully it will add some extra charm and atmosphere to the episode.

Everything is running along quite well, and it's lovely to see the episode start to come alive. I'm very happy with the progress we are making and grateful to have such a hardworking crew - although we must stay on our toes and make sure the good progress continues!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Week 9: good progress!

After several weeks I finally finished constructing and texturing the main characters for Alphabet Patch! This includes creating lots of different mouth, eye and hand shapes for each of the characters for all five angles - front, 3/4 front, side, 3/4 back and back. 
We also had the voice actor for Paddy come into university this week to record his lines, and we're very happy with how he sounds! I was very keen to do some lip sync tests so I used Paddy's voice just to test the lip syncing on all the characters. 
I'm hoping to have another recording session this week with the voice actors for Mrs Beanie and Dotty, and a final session the week after for Tony and Cecil. 

Above is the lip sync test just using Paddy's voice, but testing all of the speaking characters. Below are the complete turnarounds of the main characters with most of their replacement shapes (more shapes will need to be done for particular shots). I haven't had time to export images for Paddy and Mrs Beanie but they are done!
Lead animator for Dotty, Sophie Rippington has also done a great animation test in CelAction using Dotty's completed rig:

They do look quite terrifying with all of their shapes - Tony in particular! He has a special 'ZZZ'  shape as he spends so much time asleep during the episode. Dotty also has replacement wings, and Cecil has replacement 'slimes' which cycle as he moves (see the lip sync test video). Cecil has upright eye stalks as this makes it easier to add a limber to them in CelAction - they can then be rotated.
The original turnarounds where done in Photoshop, neatened up in Illustrator to make sure all the joints were smooth and then textured in Photoshop.

This week I also ran a CelAction training session for my animation crew and created a booklet for them detailing how to working within AP's pipeline and how to animate in CelAction. When I have time, I am hoping to make instructions for the whole pipeline from Photoshop to Illustrator to CelAction as it has taken a long time to figure out and could be useful for others.

For the session I created a test layout for the crew to experiment with and for me to test the pipeline. I will be setting up all the layouts for the animators. Each layout includes; the background or background placeholder; the actors loaded to the correct scale (and with any replacement shapes required for the scene added to their rig); the correct number of frames; any dialogue; and any props.

Above are two example layouts ready for the animators to start work, the props here were designed by Jack. 

Once a week I am meeting with my 'story group' to discuss episode ideas for the series production bible, so I will need to start producing lots of concept art and character designs to illustrate these.

This weekend I am mostly working on producing - so working out which shots are highest priority and a Plan B, and finalizing the pipeline. I'll be printing out big tracking forms for both of the films I am producing - Alphabet Patch and Falling in Love which can be stuck up in the studio for all of the crews to use. AP and FIL have very different pipelines as AP is being done in CelAction and is dialogue-heavy, whilst FIL is a TV Paint animation with no dialogue. I'm finishing off costings for each of the films too, which means looking at the amount of hours work needed vs the amount of crew we have. It'll be nice to have everything organised and ready to go into full-speed production.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Week 8 already?!

A big chunk of this week was taken up finishing my dissertation draft, which I handed in on Friday. The rest of the week was spent working on Adobe Illustrator creating replacement shapes for the Alphabet Patch characters - this means drawing extra mouths (different expressions and lip syncing), hand shapes(waving, holding, climbing etc), eyes (shut, angry, winking etc). I have to draw the replacement shapes for every turnaround angle - so one for the front view, one for the 3/4 front view, side, 3/4 back and back. It's been pretty time-consuming, having taken most of the week and I still haven't finished.
I have also been texturing the characters. It's all getting very repetitive though as I have 6 characters and 5 angles each (Dotty the lady bird has 10 angles as she stands up and also walks on all six legs).

Something different I did this week was the sketch turnaround for the ant character, which I will then give to a crew member to divide up and neaten up in illustrator.

Tomorrow we have an exciting voice recording session with Paddy's voice actor so in next week's blog post I should be able to share some lip sync tests of Paddy with you. I am also running a CelAction class on Wednesday for my crew for which all the rigs need to be complete for them to try out, so again next week I should have lots of animated goodness to show you. 

The last few weeks have been a bit of a struggle as the character construction and rigging is taking much longer than I expected, but the top of the mountain is in sight. Just have to keep going for one more week to get the characters completed. Lead animator for Dotty, Sophie Rippington has begun testing out her rig and doing some animation which I can't wait to see.

In conclusion, hang in for next week's blog post because it will hopefully be chock full of animation tests where the characters finally come alive after weeks of construction, and hopefully I can show some new backgrounds and design work. In the meantime, check out Jack's blog to see some of the props he has designed for Alphabet Patch, and animator Leigh Juggins hopefully will upload some of the animation tests he has done on his blog - these will be used as reference by the CelAction animators.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Week 7: Busy busy

Sorry for the late post this week, I was very busy over the weekend.
This week has mostly been a mix of dissertation writing, creating production documents, neatening up the character turnarounds in illustrator and testing the pipeline for Alphabet Patch.

Producing-wise I have made tracking forms, shot breakdowns, background and prop lists, and costings for the two films I am producing on: Alphabet Patch and Falling in Love.
AP and FIL both have nearly 90 shots each.
I've found Google Drive very useful to create and share these documents with the relevant crews.
Below is a small amount of the shot breakdown I made for AP, it is not yet completed - the editor Sophie Rippington is in the process of filling out the 'duration' and 'sfx' boxes for each shot. The shots are colour-coded to show the level of difficulty of each shot - this may be due to the action or due to the amount of characters in one shot and/or how much lip sync is required. The shot breakdown identifies the shots needed for the animation, the background for each shot, props, which characters are in each shot, VFX, SFX, dialogue etc. This makes it easier for me to divide up my crew's time and to start scheduling how to complete this animation.

Below is part of the tracking form for AP, we have decided to have an lead animator for each character to keep the movement consistent. This form will be filled out as we begin to animate and hopefully will be all green before the deadline.

There's still lots of to plan, I am still working out costing and assigning roles to make sure we have enough crew and time to complete the animations in time. The next big production document that I need to make asap is the schedule, but it is causing me a bit of a headache working out how to do that especially with 90 shots per film.

Besides the dissertation, the other big task this week was preparing the characters in illustrator ready to rig in CelAction. The good news is that so far the pipeline tests have been mostly successful and the rigs are turning out to to be very flexible and lots of movement can be achieved. Hopefully I will have more to post on this next week - I am hoping to make some videos showing how the rigs can be used, as well as some tutorials for my crew members to help them animating.

Throughout the week I have been designing my first business card. I'm hoping to work in children's animated TV so I choose one of my designs that was relevant to this. I was going to put 'CelAction rigger' on the card but was advised that this is quite a niche job that is usually done on the side, hopefully I will get the opportunity to do it someday anyway.

My design, I would love some feedback on this as I haven't sent it off to the printers yet so there is still time to improve it.

Anyway, I'm back to work now :)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Week 6: Reading Week

This week gone was 'Reading Week', a chance to concentrate on researching my dissertation and that's exactly what I did. I feel that I am in a very good place with my dissertation and feeling confident about writing it up over the next two weeks.
Also this week my editor Sophie and I created another draft animatic which we will be presenting to the story group tomorrow. From that there will be some more changes to make (hopefully not too many!) for the next draft.

One thing I didn't get a chance to do this week was cleaning-up the Alphabet Patch characters ready for rigging. I have crew member Aaron Donlon doing some of the characters, and we will spend this coming week finishing them off.

The week after next week (9th November) I aim to begin animating, so I will need to do a shot breakdown of the animatic. As I am producing Jack's film too, I will also be scheduling his animation process. This heralds the start of a more hands-on producer role for me, as previously Jack had been getting on with his preproduction without much prompting. With the advent of a more involved crew, heavier producing will be required to make sure everyone knows what to, when to do it by, and that they do it.

The plan for this week coming is to get to the studio early to work on the characters, then when the studio gets busier in early afternoon to head to the library and work on my dissertation, before heading back to work in the studio again when it is quieter in the evening.

Sorry there are no images for this week's post, it  has mostly been writing and reading. But here is a picture of the pumpkin I carved for Halloween:

Jack's is on the left, mine is on the right 

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.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Third and final year!

"Alphabet Patch is an educational animated TV series for preschool children. It teaches words and encourages an interest in the outdoors. Alphabet Patch follows the adventures of Paddy the garden gnome and his animal friends in their allotment home."

It's full steam ahead on Alphabet Patch this year. I'm spending my final year at Falmouth University directing and producing a pilot episode for Alphabet Patch and a full production bible for the series - with the dream of pitching it professionally.
Alphabet Patch was given the go-ahead yesterday after I pitched it on Friday. Over the summer I developed the project further and created a rough animatic and script.

Above and below: rough animatic frames and their matching 'wow' images that I presented in my pitch

I'm very excited to be working on AP this year, but there is a lot to do. It's going to be animated in CelAction, which sadly isn't popular among third years so I'm hoping there will be second years keen to help with animating.

The pilot is going to be about 5 minutes long with voices, and something that I am really excited about is that I have a musician working with me from the animatic stage to compose music that really fits with the animation.

I'm planning on developing the educational side of AP much more, each episode is based on a different letter of the alphabet and different words are taught in each episode.

Finally, here are the characters that will appear in the pilot episode. I am really excited to see them come to life through animation and to see how they move and interact with their world (considering Cecil the snail has no hands).