Monday, 6 July 2020

Watercolour Test

As a continuation of my recent character style tests, I decided to meander away from the look I had been developing to something completely different.


Following on from my previous post on this topic, I carried out a further two pieces (see videos below) and felt I had completed what I wanted to achieve with that specific look. If I carried on with similar clips, then I wouldn't have been honing my craft further or pushing my comfort zones. The whole point of me doing these tests is to look at new and different ways of doing things, rather than stick to what I already know. For once I decided to be true to my word! In animation I sometimes struggle to do this, because each short clip takes so long and I don't want to waste time on something which may or may not 'work'. Early this year I realised that my work wasn't really progressing further in terms of aesthetics and differentiation, so the only way I could change my situation was to bite the bullet and go for it. If it doesn't work, I know not to use that style again and if it does, then great, I have a new style to use! In fact, I pretty much wrote the same in a post in April, though I have jumped up another level since.

Something I haven't tried before is watercolour, so I decided to go ahead and create something using that. TVPaint has a fantastic selection of watercolour style brushes which I took full advantage of when creating this piece. As I have been doing recently, I used a piece of footage off my new favourite stock footage site Pexels: 'the World's first inclusive free stock photo and video library'. I love the variety of clips on their site and they are more inclusive and diverse than other stock sites. This is honestly not a sponsored post!

It took a little time to work out what thickness brush stroke to use for the outlines. Watercolour possesses different properties than the solid brush tool I usually use, so it did take a little trial and error. I ended using a 20% thickness with pressure sensitivity, which enabled me to get flowing, realistic lines.

It also took some time to work out how to colour her. I wasn't sure whether I was going to use watercolour for this, or something else. Again, after trial and error, I decided to go ahead with colouring her with watercolour, achieving a full watercoloured look. I think this was the right choice, as I do love the outcome. As the outlines, to choose the right brush thickness for the colouring was a little difficult. If I used a small size, it would end up looking rather blotchy or 'bitty', a look which I really didn't want. Too big and it would have been hard to colour without the brush jumping outside the lines (the watercolour ones tend to be quite jittery). I ended up using a mixture of sizes: a first 'pass' with a larger brush to cover the majority without going too close to the edges, followed by a series of smaller sizes, working my way up to a neat edge.

This 3.8 second clip took twelve and a half hours to complete. I would say that despite being very pleased with this style (and happy that I tried it), it is definitely more time consuming than using a block fill to colour it in. I coloured each frame separately which is why it took so long. I can think of a couple of work arounds, though whether they will achieve a similarly authentic look, I'm yet to find out.

You can watch the video below:

Saturday, 4 July 2020


'54(.)9' is my most recent film commission. It explores the 54.9 square miles of Preston in 549 photographs, celebrating it's architecture. It was one of 24 micro commissions commissioned by Something's Brewing, for it's 'Prestoning' online exhibition. This will feed in to the ongoing 12 year cultural strategy for Preston.

The brief was to create a response to the word 'Prestoning'. It was a term invented during a previous strategy meeting to reflect the unique nature of the city of Preston. After juggling a couple of ideas which reflected both this word and my sensibilities as an artist, I came up with the above idea which uses both moving image and photography: media which I create the majority of my work in. The architecture within Preston is distinct and crosses a variety of styles: from the neoclassical to brutalist and everything in between and beyond. I very much admire the architecture in the city and felt I wanted to create a project which showcases and celebrates it.

I took the term 'Prestoning' in a number of ways whilst conceptualising the project. Firstly, in terms of the content: if you haven't heard about Preston Bus Station by now, then have you even heard about anything?! Jokes aside, with buildings such as the Bus Station and Kennington Primary School 'Bubble' classroom, Preston is home to some architectural (and grade II listed) delights.

Kennington Primary School 'Bubble'

Preston Bus Station

Alongside content, my approach to the project reflected 'Prestoning', too: I was ambitions, creative, took risks and did something a little different. These are all attributes which makes the way that Preston does things, special. That's what also makes Preston a great place to live in. I should know: I've been here for ten years now- some 'stop gap' eh?!

As someone who takes a lot of photographs, I must admit I thought the project would be a lot easier. I didn't think 549 photographs sounded much when I was writing the commission proposal and thought I'd be able to knock them all out in a couple of days! Oh, how wrong I was. I think it's because I'm so use to photographing sports events (or events in general) where you can take anything between 200-900 images in one sitting (usually at the lower end of the scale, mind). Whereas for this, I had to locate and take each shot specifically, in a style which would be congruent with the rest of the project. It also rained a lot towards the end of the project, limiting the days I actually could take photographs on.

Another thing which limited my photograph taking time window, was that I needed to do some trips with my boyfriend and therefore needed to not only work around his work schedule, but also wait for a day where the lighting was good enough i.e. not overcast/ gloomy! This was because when out on my own taking photographs, I often receive comments off men. When my boyfriend is there, these comments do not happen and I feel free and able to take photographs where I please. Yes, I ignore the comments or try and laugh them off to avoid conflict/ further discussion, but it's genuinely frustrating that I can't focus on the project fully as I have to also 'be on my guard' when out and about. That's all I'll say on this matter for now as it probably deserves a post of it's own, but if you are a man who makes comments at women who you don't know, then please STOP. It's not enjoyable. Go home.

Besides the above, the project was a fun (albeit ambitious) one to take on. As a hashtag 'architecture lover' it was great to really explore and take a detailed look at the buildings, textures, patterns and colours in the place I live. I knew I had always liked the architecture here hence starting the project, but didn't expect to find so many beautiful and unique buildings if I just looked up.

I have put together a Flickr album of seventy or so images which I especially liked. You can check that out by clicking here.

You can watch '54(.)9' below:

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Windrush Day 2020

Some images from the important and significant 'Raising the Flag' event in Preston 22/6/20 for Windrush Day.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Style Development

In a recent post I discussed my process of creating a short clip using a 'new' (to me) realistic, less 2D style. Since, I have made a second, developing on the previous one in various ways. This is that video:

Again, I used footage from Pexels. The main points I wanted to improve upon from the first one, was a) the line thickness and b) how real it looked. I also wanted to speed up the process. I'll start with that.

As described in more detail in the previous post the process is to use TVPaint for the outlines and colouring, then use Photoshop to 'cartoonify' the original footage, which sits below the TVPaint coloured layers which I then blend together. Finally, composite in Premiere Pro.

Last time when I took the layers into Photoshop, after cartoonifying (definitely a word) them I used the pen tool to cut around the figure on each layer. All 83 of them. This was so the footage would directly match both the outline and colour layers from TVPaint. I did this, because at the time I couldn't use After Effects to use a mask, as when I brought in the PNG sequences, the amount of frames was coming in at a reduced 60 something, rather than the 83 frames the sequence contained. I couldn't work out how to solve this straight away, as I wanted to get the clip finished and 'published'. This resulted in me manually cutting around each one.

After a break and a little bit of help from my good friend Google, I found the solution. It turned out that After Effects was bringing in the PNG sequences at 30fps, rather than the 24fps my film was in. I had to just right click on each sequence and 'interpret footage', setting each to the preferred frame rate of 24. Hopefully this might help someone else out if you're too struggling with the same problem! This then enabled me to make a mask so I didn't have to cut out each frame, therefore speeding up the process.

In the previous video, I felt the black outline was too thick for the full length character shot. I used a 3% line thickness with pressure variation, drawing at 100% zoom. Looking back, I probably should have used a reduced brush size, such as 2% or less. As this one was a mid shot, rather than a long shot (in terms of shot size), I did actually keep with the 3% brush, but I felt like this was the correct choice as it doesn't look too thin or thick. Going forward, I will use 3% for this size, thicker for closer and thinner for something more full length.

Lastly, I said I felt the previous one was a bit too realistic looking, especially when watching it on a small screen like a phone. As I didn't want it to become too realistic, for this clip I turned the opacity down just enough so the pattern on her shirt came through, along with highlights/ shadows on her face and torso, though not enough for it to lose it's animated aesthetic. I feel the result of this clip is much stronger than the previous one.

Going forward, I would still like to develop this style and see what other ways I can push it in. As ever, watch this space for more of similar! Any questions or comments, drop them below :)

Monday, 15 June 2020

Black Lives Matter

Some images from Preston's Black Lives Matter protest 14/6/20. Link to some resources/ ways to help HERE.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

New Way of Colouring

Being as I apparently can't stop working(!), I have completed *yet another* rotoscope test clip. Well what else am I to do when there is no football to photograph eh? I've always been one for constantly improving my style and learning new techniques, so here I present you with 'Woman Walking Down Steps':

Sorry, should have mentioned the spoiler alert in the title!

This clip came about, because I wanted to add more depth to my animations in terms of colour. If you are familiar with my style then you will know that I usually keep the look of them very 2D and simplistic, with little to no shadow or lighting on the characters. This is usually a time constraint issue rather than a stylistic choice, though has inadvertently developed into a style over time.

I was having a bit of an experiment with ways to add shadow to each frame, though didn't want to draw the highlights, low lights and mid tones separately on each image. Or I would still be doing that and probably not stop doing that until some time in the future where I will have grey hair and have probably lost interest in said shading! Nothing was really working that well or displaying the effect I wanted, until whilst re-watching the greatest animated series of all time (don't @ me) 'Undone', I had some inspiration.

As you can see in the above trailer, the outlines are drawn like I would usually outline an image, though how the characters are coloured is very painterly. I didn't want to replicate this exactly, because it's not my place to do so and would be plagiaristic, but I decided to do my own version of this effect. I thought that I could 'cartoonify' (totally not a real word, but whatever) the original footage, add my outlines to said footage, cut around the layers, composite and voila, I would have a nicely rendered animation.

That sounds wayyy simpler than it actually was, so I'll take you through the steps I took to create it. Firstly, I drew around each frame in TVPaint, like I normally would when animating:

I then made a separate 'colour' layer:

I exported each of those layers separately into PNG sequences, plus exported another sequence of the original footage. These original footage layers are the ones which I imported in to Photoshop. For each of the 83 frames in Photoshop, I added a number filters to make the image appear like a cartoon. First, I added an Oil Paint effect, followed by Paint Daubs, Angled Strokes and Sponge, altering the parameters of each. I then added the outlines to each layer and used to pen tool to cut around the subject (took approximately three minutes for each). I repeated this 83 times and then removed the outline layers:

As this test wasn't especially about the background, but more about the character, I just quickly drew some colourful step layers in TVPaint and exported those, too. I wanted to have something in the background, but didn't want it to be overbearing or excessively time consuming, so these colourful blocks would suffice. I then imported all four PNG sequences in to Premier Pro. Outlines at the top, the plain colour layer second, followed by the cartooned original footage layers and finally the steps.

I used a 50% opacity on the plain colour sequence, so it blended just enough with the cartooned layer, leaving enough of each to show through. I tweaked the brightness, contrast and curves on the cartooned layer, so it would look even less realistic.

As a first test, I feel I achieved almost what I wanted and it does definitely give my animated work a less 2D look, with texture and shadow. I probably could have upped the contrast further, to enhance this, as I think the outcome appears a little too realistic still. I also wish I had used a thinner outline. All of these improvements can be applied and I am well on the way to achieving a look not only which I am happy with, but also has a feasible workflow. I think colouring the characters like this adds a lot more depth to them and is a style which I want to take into future projects. Footage is from Pexels. If you have any further Q's, then just drop them below and I'll try and answer!

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Testing the Water

I am the animation director of a short film which is currently in it's development stages. The project involves a lot of water. In every scene. And of varying types: sea, swimming pool, bath (and others). Despite the project being in it's early stages, I felt it was (and is) important to experiment or test how to portray the water and also how to produce it, as water is notoriously difficult to animate. I like a challenge! There are also numerous ways of creating animated water and wanted to settle on an aesthetic myself and the team are happy with, before shooting the assets to animate. This is because the way I choose to animate the water might affect how we shoot the film.

I have animated water previously, though in very limited ways:


The second (above) being more of an impressionistic/ abstract take. I have never animated it for more that one scene though and definitely not as a prominent feature of the film, like the one I am currently working on.

Obviously as it's a 2D animation, the water doesn't need to be extremely accurate or realistic: I'm not trying to recreate water in a photorealistic fashion. What I do want to do though, is illustrate it in a way where it's not distracting to the viewer and fits within the animation style and feel of the film.

For this attempt, I wanted to practise with a quite basic shot, so I used my hand in my bathroom sink (welcome to the glamorous world of animation):

I used TV Paint to drawn the hand, which comprised of two elements: the hand over the water layer and the hand under the water layer. Between the two layers will then sit a blue fill layer, representing the water.

Hand over water
Hand under water

With the hand over water layer, I used a 3% line thickness and on the hand under layer, I used a slightly thinner, 2.5% line. This was because a less 'heavy' line would give a stronger appearance of it being under water. I like to think this translated well in the finished piece.

I wanted the background to be a sea bed, so created a sand effect in Photoshop, coupled by a slight blur and vignette effect when brought it into After Effects, which I used to composite the elements:

To make the water look slightly more realistic, I added a fractal noise:

Then a tritone effect:

And finally CC glass, which gives it an extra shine:

I feel it mostly achieves what I want it to, though there is definitely room for improvement- perhaps I could tone down the fractal noise, so it doesn't look so obviously generated by After Effects. I would have also liked to have added some ripples as the hand moves through the water, otherwise it looks a little odd. I did add a shine to it in TV Paint, which does emphasise the hand movement, but I still think more can be done.

Watch this space for more tests in the next few months!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Together | Fragmented

'Together | Fragmented' is my latest short film. It is an animated documentary exploring the changes we are facing amidst the current Covid-19 pandemic.

It is the first complete work I've made this year.

I got the idea for it around March when the virus really started to take effect on our daily lives, with social distancing measures implemented and travel restrictions put in place. As a filmmaker and artist, I felt compelled to respond to what was going on by creating an animation documenting it. This is a life changing historical event and I didn't really know how else to respond than besides creating something to process my feelings.

When I started the project, I didn't know quite how the finished piece might look or the direction it would take, though I did know I wanted to include everything which we do differently now and how different day to day activities look under this new regime. My partner and I shot quite a lot of footage for me to rotoscope, based on some rough ideas I sketched out and wanted to include. Some came quite naturally, such as tape and signs in supermarkets, socially distant queuing and washing hands, though some took a bit more thought. Some didn't make the final cut, even after I had animated it, as they just didn't look right.

Initial ideas

When I had about seventy seconds of animated clips, I decided that that was enough: I felt anymore and it would risk appearing repetitive and I was finding it hard to come up with new ideas for scenes which weren't close to any of the ones I had already done. I wanted to get the film to last ninety seconds, so would need to come up with around twenty more seconds. My initial idea to fill this gap was to include various virus related 'buzz words', such as 'unprecedented', 'lockdown', 'infections' and so on in between each animated clip. I tried this out on a small section and was quite happy with the result, but I felt it was lacking meaning. After a day or two away from the project, I came up with the idea that I could ask friends and family to record their thoughts on the current situation, which I could then add to the film and animate their words in between the rotoscoped sections.

I was surprised that I had the number of responses I did and was really pleased that people were willing to contribute with really thoughtful material (and a banjo)! As animated/ experimental documentary is an avenue I want to continue to explore, this was a perfect way of directing a project under that genre.

Hands is a motif I like to include in my films and there are a fair amount of them in 'Together | Fragmented', though I wanted to make it different to my previous short narrative film 'Nothing New' which is purely just hands! This would allow me to open my mind to other ways of visualising things and allow for a more diverse portfolio/ showreel in terms of what I'm capable of animating. Looking at the end product, I think this was a wise decision.

Through the process of making this film, I have had all the usual doubts in regard to whether it's 'good enough' or if it's too 'naive' or 'obvious', though despite this I am really pleased with it. I think the voices juxtaposed with the visuals give it a lot of depth and I think the style of the animation works well with the subject matter. I think I have inputted a good amount of creative ideas, so it doesn't come across naively, whilst making a piece of work which is current and significant.

I think I could develop this into a longer piece somewhere down the line, as I feel it's a quite effective amalgamation of techniques. This has definitely given me further proof that animation and documentary are a good combination and further contributed to my ambition to create something on a larger scale in a similar fashion.

I know I've already written a fair bit here and I'm sure you're all super keen to watch the film, though I would like to talk a little about stylistic choices and the visual look of it. If you are familiar with my work, then you might have gathered that I enjoy a hand drawn or analogue aesthetic, as opposed to a polished or smooth computerised style. I think this is mainly down to the way I was brought up and my background in fine art. I have always seen film as an extension of that and since moving my practise further towards animation/ experimental film during studying film production at university, it has emphasised this way of using moving image as another artistic medium.

I enjoy experimenting with different techniques, textures and colours and in 'Together | Fragmented' it is no different. If I made the film with my hands, then I want this to come across in the outcome by having each line 'breathing' or 'boiling'. Perhaps this won't work for every film I make, as it might not suit the subject matter, but as this is a very human centred film, I feel it does.

I used a thick outline for the animations, which is aside from a thin one I have used up until this point. I was experimenting with various styles some time ago for another project and tried using a thicker line: I immediately liked the result. I wanted to use it in this project right away! Again, it might not be suitable for every project, but as I wanted this one to be as 'handmade' as possible, I think the choice of line thickness reflects that.

So, where can I watch the film? I hear you ask. Ah yes, just click here!

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Nothing New

'Nothing New' is the title of mine and collaborator Alan Livesey's animated short which we completed in July 2019. I have known Alan for about nine years, though this is our first collaboration. He is a talented writer and director and hopefully this will be the first of many films we make as a creative partnership. As it happens, we are working on another project together at the moment.

This blog post comes as a result of having recently cut together a super short teaser trailer type thing, so we had a moving clip of the film to show. Due to the virus, it's UK festival premiere has been postponed, but we both wanted something for our websites which was more than just a still image, but didn't want to display the film in full. A teaser trailer was the best way to go about this.

Life in 2019 was quite chaotic for me on a personal level, so ended up making just this one film. Despite the lack of quantity in terms of my creative output, I feel this was a great project to have completed on numerous levels, especially in the fact that it was a collaboration (more on that later). I also managed to complete a lot of animation 'test clips', really exploring and pushing my style- something I continue to do when not working on a major project. Always great for my showreel, too!

This film actually started off as just some test pieces. Rewind: I have an Instagram page for my animation production company and I like to post at least once post a week on there, because you know if you don't post regularly you lose engagement and all that. I don't often care too much for posting on a super frequent basis, as I feel like being present in real life is more meaningful to me than losing myself in algorithms and engagement. If I did that, then I would cut down the time I spend on creativity, though I understand this is the 21st century and having social media and web presence is pretty much essential. Anyway, rambling here, back to the main point: I decided to rotoscope some shots of hands as an exercise in style and development. I then started to consider more carefully what I wanted to include in each scene and realised there was a theme going on: the clips were all 'mundane', every day type activities, or at least, mostly. The less mundane ones didn't make the final cut, like picking up a pizza slice. There is nothing mundane about that!

Once I had a fair amount of clips, I was talking about the project with Alan and asked whether he would like to have a look at it and if he might have a script for a voice over in mind. Our conversation continued and it revealed that a theme we would both like to explore through our films would be existentialism. We are normal though, I promise! Anyway, a bit of back and forth with script drafts, we had 'Nothing New': a story of a woman who discusses what life means to her in a voicemail message, after quitting her routine driven job. Alan was also responsible for casting our wonderful voice actress Janelle, amongst directing her on the day of the shoot.

I'm so pleased how the film turned out and without collaborating with Alan, the film would not have been the film it is- it would probably still just be a load of these test clips sitting around on my computer and Instagram page. I don't often collaborate with people as various 'group film' projects during my education put me off that. I think those don't 
always work out, as you are often grouped together by a lecturer and placed with people who might not necessarily share the same creative values as yourself. Others in the group might have visions of creating huge blockbusters with explosions and guns, whereas you might have visions of creating something more understated and character driven. I'm pleased that I have found someone I can collaborate with though, as the film was much better for it and we both got something positive out of the experience.

The film is very short, clocking in at just ninety seconds- made with the DepicT competition (make a film lasting ninety seconds or under) in mind, run annually alongside Bristol Encounters Festival. I like to try and enter it each year, as it's a project I can just about manage with no budget and often working solo. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful, though we were accepted for international competition at Cardiff Animation Festival, which was fantastic news as I loved the festival when I attended in 2018. Sadly (and correctly), it was postponed due to you know what, but it will be screened at the rescheduled festival, which I can't wait for!

The aspect ratio of the film is square (1:1), because as the test clips were originally intended to be screened only on social media where a square video works better than a rectangle 16:9 (or slimmer). This is because a square video appears larger on a mobile device as it fills up the screen equally both vertically and horizontally. You probably know that I like experimenting in my work (unless you have only just stumbled upon this blog, then hello and welcome, by the way) and experimenting with an aspect ratio was a continuation of that. I liked using it for this film and it definitely suited it, though for our current collaboration we are developing, it is going to be in standard 16:9. I am also working on another short, again a little ninety-seconder for same competition and this one is a 4:3 (academy) aspect ratio. I just like to try them all, really!

Without further ado, here is the teaser:

Saturday, 16 May 2020

New Showreel

I finally updated my showreel- yay (insert applause)! The last time I updated it was October last year and since I've created a few new strong pieces of work. I like to update it a couple of times each year (depending how much new work I make) and felt like it needed a bit of a refresher. So, without further ado, here it is: