Thursday, 15 December 2016

A background

Recently I have been doing a lot of project brainstorming and planning, I've now started drawing some of these ideas out. Above is an experimental background, I like best the hutch but I see lots of areas to improve - I would like to make the image more clearly defined. I hope to have much more development work to upload here soon.

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

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.  


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.

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

- Leonie Isaacs
- Giacomo Ghigo

Vector Artists
- Leonie Isaacs
- Aaron Donlon

- Lois Brown

Sound Designer
- Freddy Houghton-Connell

- Midnight Sparkle
- Leonie Isaacs
- Sophie Rippington

Production Assistant
- Midnight Sparkle

- Sophie Rippington

- Leonie Isaacs

- Leonie Isaacs

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The making of 'Falling in Love'

A short preview clip from 'Falling in Love'

'Falling in Love' is a 2016 animated black comedy short film directed by Giacomo 'Jack' Ghigo and produced by me at Falmouth University. The film took around 8 months to complete (excluding the time Jack spent himself developing his initial idea) and had a crew of 20 students.

Initial schedule
The film was greenlit for production in September 2015 after Jack pitched his idea at the Poly theatre in Falmouth to an audience of animation students and an industry panel. At this stage Jack had a rough outline of the story, character concepts and early draft of the animatic. With the deadline for completion set for May 2016 my initial production schedule was as follows:

This chart relied heavily on loose estimates as I did not yet know how long certain processes would take and how exactly the pipeline would run but it was a helpful starting point. Items such as the script revision and animatic were particularly uncertain as these could potentially require many revisions before the director and lecturers were happy. I was willing to be very flexible with the pre-production stages as long as production could be started a week or two before the Christmas break. The course required that each student film had completed a 'vertical slice' or test shot to show at the pre-Christmas course screening.

Thanks to Jack's hard work on the script and animatic we were ready to move into production a few weeks before Christmas. He was also hard at work creating character turnarounds for the animators to reference. Of course the script and animatic would require further alterations throughout the project but we were confident that these could be worked into production with minimal disruption.

Shot breakdown & costing
Next up for me as a producer was to create a shot breakdown from the animatic.

In total there were over 90 shots in the animatic. You can see on this chart that the crew began to grade the difficulty of each shot to animate. I used this information to put together a costing for the project.

I put this chart together by breaking down the stages of production required (i.e. keyframing, inbetweening, colouring etc) and estimating how long each stage would require. I then calculated how many crew hours we had (most crew were only available one or two days a week) and whether the amount of crew hours covered the amount of hours required. Initially Jack had been confident that him and 2 or 3 other students could work extra hard to complete the film but this 'costing' proved otherwise and prompted us to enlist more 2nd and 1st year students to our crew.

Tracking form
The final chart to create before production started was the tracking form. 

(All green now that production is finished). I updated this chart regularly throughout production to show what was assigned, completed or approved and also if any shots had problems. 

You can see from this chart that many of the shots had multiple stages to go through before being completed - some such as backgrounds could be done out of order but mostly the shots went through the following stages in order: layout > keyframes > clean up on keys > inbetweens > final clean up > colouring > shadowing > vfx. 

Different crew members handled different stages - for example, James White and Leigh Juggins keyframed many of the shots, whilst Jack cleaned up the majority and Dan Bowhay concentrated on colouring. Chris Lewin and Rob Owen did all of the VFX for the film. 
My job as producer was to assign shots and to keep the pipeline running smoothly so that no bottlenecks appeared and that shots were passed correctly between crew members. 

Vertical slice

The vertical slice was a test shot taken from the middle of the film that could be used to check how the pipeline worked which was essential for me to create a more accurate schedule, tracking form and costing. 

Communicating with crew
Crucial to this project were the weekly crew meetings in the animation studio. These meetings helped me to keep track of process and provided a weekly milestone. Jack could provide feedback and see work in progresses. For a more complex project I can see the benefits of having a crew meeting every day. 
We also used Facebook and Google Drive as tools for assigning shots, giving feedback and staying in contact. Partway through the year we received an induction to Shotgun production software which I would try to use next time as it seemed very effective. In general our crew were very reliable and hardworking, often working in the animation studio everyday whereby it was easy to stay in constant contact with them. 
Sound and music
From the beginning Jack was keen to have a strong soundtrack to the film as he felt this had been a failing in previous student animations from Falmouth. Initially he wanted to try recording sounds himself but after meeting a sound design student at Falmouth University - Freddy Houghton-Connell - we realised that it would be much better to make use of his expertise. Freddy was incredibly professional and we arranged multiple briefing and feedback sessions in order to get a great soundtrack. 
Jack managed to enlist a musician from outside the university - Ashleigh Blackledge - who also did an amazing job composing and recording music for the film.

Deadlines and pressure
One of the most effective strategies I found as a producer was to create 'false deadlines' whereby I gave a deadline to crew that was slightly before the real deadline. I also kept the pressure on throughout the project - even when things were going ahead of schedule just in case any unexpected problems arose that would require more time. 
These strategies really worked, so much so that Falling in Love was finished on schedule with spare time to improve shots that Jack wasn't quite happy with and also gave our editor Sophie Rippington ample time to work on the final edit. 

Of course, non of this would have been possible without the hardwork and dedication of the crew, huge thanks to everyone who helped create this film:

- James White
- Leigh Juggins
- Giacomo Ghigo
- Sophie Rippington
- Sam Humphreys
- Luke O'Sullivan
- Thomas Poole
- Robin Neylan-Francis
- Lucie Zix

- Dan Bowhay
- James White
- Leigh Juggins

Shadow Artists
- Emi Morgan
- Katie Wyman
- Giacomo Ghigo
- Prawta Annez
- Sophie Rippington
- James White
- Leigh Juggins

Clean up
- Giacomo Ghigo
- James White
- Leigh Juggins
- Krissy Ewins
- Anni Kaikkonen

Background artists:
- Giacomo Ghigo
- Megan Ryder

- Rob Owen
- Chris Lewin

- Ashleigh Blackledge

Sound Designer
- Freddy Houghton-Connell

- Sophie Rippington

Production Assistant
- Midnight Sparkle

- Leonie Isaacs

- Giacomo Ghigo

The next stage for Falling in Love is the animation and film festival circuit. For this reason we cannot upload the full film online for some time. I've submitted the film to many animation festivals already with the hope that it will be screened to worldwide audiences. I will keep this blog updated with any festival news in this regard! 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Book of Life Nesting Dolls

Group picture of all of my nesting doll sets so far together. Read more about all my nesting doll sets here.

 I started painting this set of nesting dolls last summer but only just finished them this week! The characters are from Jorge R. Gutierrez's amazing film 'The Book of Life', I adore everything about this film - it's well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.
The set took around 2 weeks of actual painting time to make - all the dolls except the largest were finished last summer, however when I went back to university they ended up sitting on a shelf for several months whilst I focused on Alphabet Patch.

The design process was greatly helped by The Book of Life art book which is incredibly detailed and contains so many designs (again, it's well worth getting!).

 From here I created some designs and figured out how they would wrap around the doll shape. For fatter dolls it can be worth creating four designs for each doll as opposed to just a front and back. I really enjoy the challenge of working out how the design will look good from any angle and how the front and back will fit together seamlessly.
The following designs were done in a sketchbook and then coloured digitally.

Before I can start painting the dolls need to be sanded (I buy blank dolls for this, although one day I hope to learn how to make my own). I then sketch out the design roughly and then start painting! I use acrylic paints for this.
The six smallest dolls and about half of the largest were painted within about 2 weeks. I paint the top and bottom parts separately so that they don't get stuck together. I also tend to start with the face and make sure I am happy with that before painting the rest.

With the largest doll La Muerte, I finished painting everything except the flowers, candles, decorative skulls and hat before stopping. The flowers were the most difficult and frustrating part to paint as they were very detailed and also the yellow paint was very translucent and required multiple coats. The longer I left it the more daunting the process seemed.

Above: how La Muerte stayed for most of the year - lacking flowers and decorative details. I also repainted her facial details in yellow later as I felt the black was too stark. When I finally finished painting the dolls this week I then varnished them with 3 coats which took around 2 days including drying time, and volia! Here are some more pictures of the complete set (click to view larger):

And most excitingly, another set of blank nesting dolls arrived yesterday so the process begins all over! Still deciding what designs to do, but hopefully this next set will be completed a lot quicker than The Book of Life ones.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Finished! New showreel

My latest showreel featuring some completed clips from Alphabet Patch.

Alphabet Patch episode A is now finished, complete with lovely music by Lois Brown, a 2nd year music student who stepped in and saved the day after our other musician left the project unexpectedly at the last minute. Sound design was done by Freddy Houghton-Connell, a sound design student at Falmouth, who was super professional and did a great job, check out his website here. Big thanks to everyone else who worked on the episode, including the many voice actors.

As I'm hoping to enter Alphabet Patch into a number of animation festivals and pitching events, I can't upload the whole episode online just yet. Even though the episode is finished, I now have a busy time preparing festival entries, which is both exciting and daunting. As AP has dialogue I need to prepare subtitles for international festivals.
I've also produced a pitch bible to accompany the episode, a few pages of which are shown below:

Monday, 2 May 2016

Nearly finished!!

Alphabet Patch's pilot episode is very nearly finished, with 2 weeks until the deadline I'm mostly just tweaking background and prop designs, and fixing other little problems. I've also started compiling the pitch bible together. We had problems with the musician having to leave the project unexpectedly, however I received amazing support from the other students here to find another musician. Fingers crossed it goes better this time!
 As I have some spare time I'm hoping to give some last minute help to some of the other animated films being made on the course this year.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Alphabet Patch Background Development

I'm working this week to redesign and refine the backgrounds for Alphabet Patch's pilot episode. It's interesting to see how the background designs have changed since the beginning of the project, so here's some examples:

First design: lots of colour and depth but things have a hard time standing out.

Things stand out a bit more but the design is much darker and not in keeping with the atmosphere of the episode.

Lighter, more simple. The leaves are not very nice to look at. 

Close up view: the colours are not quite right and the leaves are quite bland.

Most recent design: making the leaves more interesting and lighter.

Close up view: softer and warmer leaves, more interesting to look at.

I'm happy with the most recent design especially when I look back at how it has developed. As we are getting quite close to the deadline now (1 month to go) this will probably be the final background design style, at least for now. With these backgrounds it has always been tricky making sure the characters stand out well (as they are highly textured) but also keeping the backgrounds themselves looking interesting and colourful.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Latest showreel!

I've updated my showreel again to include some more recent work from Alphabet Patch. See it here!

In other news, I'm meeting with my sound designer later today to see/hear how the sound is going for the episode which I'm very excited about. It's really amazing to start seeing the episode come together. Next month we'll start entering pitching events and film festivals with the episode so there's still lots of work to be done, despite the episode itself being nearly complete.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Nominated for an award

Exciting news, the short animated film I directed and produced last year for RJ Workings entitled 'Home' has been nominated for an award in the 'Cutting Edge' category at the Restorative Awards. I haven't been able to show the whole film online before now but now it is free for you to watch if you like:

I had a great team working with me to animate this film and it was an amazing learning experience which definitely helped me out this year with my producing and directing.
I've dug out an old blog post from when I was developing the original concept for this short, you can see it here

In other news, the pilot episode of Alphabet Patch is nearing completion! I have lots of ideas of where to go with AP after this, including several pitching events and festival screenings. Hopefully within the next month I can upload some more material from the project. 

Also, check out my new website if you have not already, I am really pleased with how it came out and feel much more represented by my website now. 

Friday, 26 February 2016

Animated Shot from Alphabet Patch

This week I animated a fairly long shot for Alphabet Patch, it was a bit more difficult that usual due to the multiple characters and rigs in the scene. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, during the editing stage the timings can be changed slightly to improve it also.
The soundtrack is simply a scratch version to help with timing, in the final edit everything should be in time and different voices will be in place.

In general, AP is plodding along nicely. We made some story changes after receiving feedback from Aardman director Luis Cook, which have improved the episode and we are now focusing more on creating the pitch bible to go alongside this pilot episode. The main difficulty has been deciding on voice actors and this is still open currently. We also need to learn some new recording methods that allow us to record outside the university studio. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

CelAction crew instructions

As promised (albeit a long time ago), I'm uploading the CelAction 'manual' I made for my crew on Alphabet Patch. It's very basic and acted only to help the crew get used to animating CelAction. Alongside this, I also ran a CelAction session to walk the crew through the manual and to introduce them to the different characters and pipeline of Alphabet Patch.

These instructions assume that the crew are starting from a pre-prepared layout given to them by me, so it doesn't cover character construction or rigging (if anyone reading would like a similar manual covering those aspects please let me know!)

Hope someone finds these helpful!

EDIT: Here are the links listed as other helpful online tutorials at the end of the manual:

Monday, 25 January 2016

Weeks 12 & 13

I spent most of Week 12 tying up loose ends in preproduction and rescheduling and by Week 13 I had begun to animate properly for Alphabet Patch. I felt a bit rusty animating to start with, and felt frustrated with the lack of progress. However, by sticking to it I am starting to feel more confident animating again.
I animated a couple of shots this week, one of them involved the character Paddy turning from 3/4 front view to 3/4 back view. This was the first time I had tried doing this with any of the characters but I think it was successful. I shot some reference video to help me animate this shot using Jack as the actor and this proved to be so helpful that I intend on shooting reference for the whole episode. It is harder to create reference for the animal characters but I'll look into some solutions for that.

The animated preview!

Above is the reference video filmed to help animate the shot

In general, everything is going ok on the production. We are waiting for the final voices to be recorded which is holding up production a bit, however as producer I am trying to minimize the delay. I am hoping to have all of the voices recorded by the end of this week - finger crossed.

Oh, and I have now started using Twitter so you can follow @LeoIsaacs if you want, and/or check out my Tumblr

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Bonus: Character construction breakdowns

As I am compiling all of my work from last term ready for assessment, I ended up creating visual breakdowns of the Alphabet Patch characters to show how they are constructed and to display all of the different parts. Each character has five of these - one for the front view; 3/4 front angle view; side view; 3/4 back view and back view. I thought it would be quite interesting to show some of these on my blog, although there are still some extra parts that will be added to the characters this term (such as more replacement hands).

Above is Cecil's front view construction. He has 8 different 'slime' shapes that can be cycled through by the animator when Cecil moves. He also has several different eye shapes for different emotions, and a separate pupil that can be moved freely. The other shapes are his shell, his body, arms, mouth shapes and eye stalks.

Here's Dotty's 3/4 front view, she has wings that can be made either visible or invisible within CelAction depending on whether she is using them or not. There are also two sets of shells, one is 'closed' for when her wings are not visible, and the other set is used when the wings in use. Like the other characters, she has various eye and mouth shapes.

Dotty also has a 'standing-up' character construction for when she is standing up on two legs. She does not fly in this position thus there are no wings.

This is Paddy's 3/4 front view. There are a couple of different replacement hand shapes for him, and more that need to be designed. 

And finally, this is Tony's 3/4 front view. The black lines in the bottom right are his tail, each piece is limbered separately in CelAction to allow the animator to achieve lots of flexibility. His body has a limber that allows him to sit down and crouch. His extra nose is for when he looks upwards, and the Zs are able to be made visible/invisible individually so the animator can create a nice snoring effect.

I've learnt a lot from constructing these characters, and made a lot of mistakes! It's been a long and challenging process learning the different softwares (Illustrator, Photoshop, CelAction) and the pipeline between them but very rewarding and ultimately enjoyable. I'd like to design more exciting CelAction characters using what I have learnt.

Week 11: Happy New Year!

Back to university this week! As the dissertation deadline is next Friday, there are not a lot of crew members free to work much on the animation projects, so I have taken this week to sort everything ready for animation to begin straightaway after the deadline. Having said that, I have been able to assign some shots for animation this week so progress is still happening.

Over the Christmas break I developed the background style for Alphabet Patch which proved to be tricky as all the characters are different colours and textures, and it was hard to get them to stand out from the background. However, eventually I found a design that works.

I also re-storyboarded the whole Alphabet Patch animation to reflect our concerns about things that weren't working. I'm pleased with the new storyboard, I think the episode flows a lot more smoothly and is more entertaining. I then put the storyboard into an animatic and made a terrible scratch track recording of the voices. Hopefully my editor will be able to improve the animatic this week and perfect the timings.

I also recreated the lip-syncing mouths for the CelAction character rigs so that they are a lot more simple. I'm going to test these out today, and they may need some further adjusting.

Due to the new animatic, I need to redo lots of the production stuff such as the tracking form, schedule and costing - so I am sorting that all out this week as well as finalizing the new lip sync shapes and organising the final voice recording sessions. Hopefully I will also be able to get some simple shots animated as well.