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:


And:


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:


Saturday, 9 May 2020

Road to Wembley: So Far

If you have been following me on the socials (or indeed this blog), then you will know I am attempting to watch a match from each round of the Women's FA Cup, or my 'road to Wembley'. Today is the ninth of May: the day of the final. Right now I would be heading to Wembley Stadium, sun shining, summer well on its way, spirits high. 

Little did I know that back in August while watching Wakefield Trinity vs Farsley Celtic in the extra preliminary round, my journey would be curtailed due to a virus. I would have thought that either weather postponements or public transport mishaps would be the circumstances interrupting my efforts, but life works in strange ways and it turned out it was something quite unimaginable.

I had three rounds left to attend and was quite excited about having got that far, considering it a somewhat difficult challenge with various obstacles. We had secured our places for the what was set to be an exciting quarter final between Leicester City and Manchester City, after Leicester causing an upset in the previous round against Reading. This was the weekend when it all stopped (and rightly so: the safety of the spectators, players and staff should always be paramount), though to say I wasn't disappointed wouldn't be the truth...

If football is able to start again when safe to do so and the cup can continue, then fantastic, though if this seasons FA Cup is left unfinished, I will look back on this journey with fond memories. It has no doubt taken me to some interesting games, grounds and places, some of which I never would have been to if not for the cup. I have visited some really friendly clubs and met some lovely people. I have spent more hours than I care watching games in adverse weather, have spent more money than I should have been allowed to on trains and have exhausted numerous hours researching fixtures and logistics. Though I wouldn't have swapped any of it for the world! If you can excuse a cliche (or if you can't, look away for a moment) football really is more than ninety minutes and the day it returns will be a delight.

You can read all about my journey here.


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Walks With my Camera

Up until a week or so ago, I've not really been taking my camera out on my daily 'socially distanced' walks. I suppose this is because I feel fairly uninspired when walking similar routes each day, in places I somewhat feel overfamiliar with and have photographed time and time again. As I'm sure you know, I also am really passionate about shooting football and shots of my city somehow didn't seem to be cutting it for me. At least not then.

I took it out one day to try and get some nice images of the floodlights at Deepdale Stadium (Preston North End) and actually really enjoyed being out with my camera again. Yes, it wasn't the same as photographing a ground or game, but it was just as enjoyable in a different way. And yes, it did take something football related to get me started- don't judge!


I then decided to take it on future walks and despite me originally feeling taking shots around Preston was something I didn't want to engage it, I actually got a lot out of my trips. I have always loved the variety of architecture in Preston and what better time to really get my camera to know it when there is next to no one around the town centre? I often feel self conscious taking photographs of buildings (I know I shouldn't, but I still do), because sometimes I feel I get strange looks (in reality I probably don't) and even had comments before along the lines of 'what you taking a picture of that for'? I think the more I'm out and about with my camera taking photographs of the things I enjoy, the more this self consciousness will fade away. I hope.


I also find that to extend my photography to taking images of things other than football, will strengthen my overall photographic skills and make me an all round better photographer. 

Alongside images of architecture, I have been taking some imagery of 'the current times', in terms of signs, social distancing measures and rainbows. I don't often share these on my social media, but take these as some sort of record of this time in our lives. Personally, I find this a quite important thing to do and could be really interesting to look back on in the future.



I too have succumbed to photographing the recent blossom. In these times it's so easy to fall down the negativity route, therefore I find it essential to focus some energy and appreciation towards the positives, however small.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Character Design/ Development Continued

As promised/ threatened in my previous post, I stated I would go into more depth about the character style tests I was working on.

I have now completed (well, mostly: more on that later) all four tests. Some of the results I am pleased with, while some not so, though all of which I will expand on.

I wrote about test #1 in the last post, so I won't dwell on that one in too much detail, but I will say that it still stands out as one of my favourites.



I absolutely love the thick outline and that the whole animation comes across really loose and natural. This is opposite to the realistic style I often work in and it goes to show that if you push your comfort zones, you might surprise yourself and come across something you end up really, really liking. I feel this will be a strong contender for use in the final film.

Test #2 was the least inspired of the four. I used the same style outline which I do in a lot of my work, but for some reason a bit thicker, too?! I was mostly playing with the idea about facial recognition and decided to draw lines across the face, instead of having an actual human face. I still like the concept of what I was going for and there is probably room for further exploration here, but the execution of this piece was not it...



Test #3 was, like the first one, all about loosening up again. Moving away from the 'norm' and really trying to push out into something fresh. This was in terms of both the outline and the colour style. I used the charcoal brush for the outline and repeated the lines a couple of times to emphasise the rough edges. Because the outline was fairly jagged, I decided to colour it in, in one block forcing the focus and attention to the outline. It also really plays well with a film about memory, because it is just going for the shape and basic features of the person, rather than adding unnecessary detail in colour. You might not always remember specifics when recalling a memory, but will usually remember who was there and the basics of their actions.



Lastly, test #4. This one I decided to go all out. How very brave of me! I used a different outline in the way of the airbrush and filled in the character using a textured custom brush. I didn't think the fill was working and it was taking absolutely ages, so decided to colour half of it to give a general impression/ proof of concept. I didn't think it especially meant anything either- or at least not in the context of this new film, so it felt slightly pointless carrying on colouring it, so decided to move onto something else productive instead.

I think I had always wanted to try colouring my work in a different manner, rather than just using the fill tool with no texture or thought, though I feel there are much better (and less time consuming) ways of adding texture to a block of colour. One of these ways could be overlaying a texture in After Effects, once you have completed the standard block colour in TV Paint. I have tried this before and it tends to give a satisfying outcome.

Besides the colouring of the piece, the outline was something I thought might not work that well, but actually appeared fine once completed. I'm not sure whether it would work for this film, but I know I now have it as an option for future projects which might need a more rugged outline.


I decided to leave the faces off all because a) it's for a project about memory and b) to save time: it was to try out styles as a whole, rather than a detailed character account of each.

Overall, I thought completing the task was good for my progression and development in terms of styles. It has opened up my mind to trying new ideas and confirmed whether some styles which I have had in the back of mind to try worked or not. It still frustrates me that they don't all look particularly aesthetically pleasing, but that wasn't the idea of the exercise. I wanted to try new things and forced myself to do so, even though I felt tempted at times to just revert back to what I know. Without sounding at risk for being over dramatic, I am a stronger person (or at least in my craft) for completing this. Here's to experimentation and eschewing comfort zones.