Saturday, 24 August 2019

I Don't Like Cricket

...I love it. A post about cricket, what else is there to call it, right?! Yes, my sense of humour really is that bad. Shall we get on with the blog post now?

I said in a previous post I'm making a series of small animations at the moment and I have now finished my next one and this time it's all about cricket.

I started on another animal animation, but it just wasn't going to plan and I didn't have the will to finish it. This is because I didn't want to potentially waste time to finish a clip which might not look very good when done, especially with how long animation takes. I was looking on my computer for any other video clips I had hanging around and came across some cricket footage I shot around 2009, for a project I made in college. And no, I will not be sharing that here, as it will most probably embarrass my brother who is in it! Oh and the fact that I shot it on a compact digital camera against a terribly lit green screen.

As it's quite a summer of cricket (Men's World Cup, Women's Ashes, Men's Ashes and all the usual county stuff) it felt right to rehash the footage and make something new out of it. It was around 2012 where I already had my first attempt at animating said footage, though as it doesn't reflect my current skill level, I wanted to see what I could do with it now.

A still from the previous cricket video I made in 2012
When I went into this project, I had no idea what it was going to turn out like, but I knew I wanted to make it fast paced, eye catching and like something I've never made before. When I say I had no idea what it was going to turn out like, I mean I didn't have a storyboard or anything and had little idea of the styles I would use throughout the animation. These came as I was animating it and the raw animations were really only the basis of the full animation, as it all came together in the edit.

The final piece used a number of different rotoscope styles, along with various other effects and techniques which I combined in Premiere Pro. As there are so many styles, I will go through them piece by piece and say what worked/ what didn't work etc. and so on:

Before the animation starts, there is a split second of a 'movie countdown', which I made a number of years ago for another project. I thought when I put this animation together, it was still looking too 'clean' and wasn't especially jelling, so I decided to intersperse this countdown throughout. It was a bit of a risky move for me, because I was worried it might look a bit cheesy/ tacky. Even after deciding to keep it in and after uploading it to various destinations on the internet, I still had my doubts, despite all good feedback. Now I quite like it and think the video would look somewhat empty without it.

After the countdown cuts out, we are left with this film strip style clip. I wasn't sure what to do with this section, as the animation style (silhouette and white detail line) was fairly basic. It wasn't looking good filling the full screen, so decided to make three of them and stack them up like so. This was also to relate to a clip later on in the video. I really like how I found an effective solution here and it's definitely something I've never used before in any of my own projects. It's also in keeping with the old film style, which is a constant throughout the video, as you will soon see. 

The next section I decided to give a '3D' look by adding a coloured 'shadow' on either side of the figure. I left the background just white here, but perhaps I could have added some TV style 'scan' lines or a slight fuzz, to make it look a little less plain. I do quite like the white though, as the rest of the video is quite busy and mainly uses black backgrounds, so it provides a nice contrast.

If you can see past the number and film grain here, I did this section in a sort of comic book style, by shading the shadow, with a silhouette behind. I then inverted the colours. I like how this turned out and I think it was the right choice to use this effect on this shot. This is because it's a fairly tight shot in terms of framing, so I wanted something a little more than a silhouette to display some detail. I think this was achieved here.

I thought of this section before the beginning section where there are three clips stacked vertically, though this time they are horizontal. I decided to have them going side by side, because the motion of the bowler is going across the screen. The earlier shot where they're on top of each other, is because the movement of the shot is panning upwards. I added a blurred out version of the bowler clip behind as well here, because the background was definitely much too plain for my liking. This really emphasised the clip, as the three squares are quite small on screen, too.

Before I made the outline offset, this clip was looking rather plain and a little flat. I was looking on Premiere Pro for any suitable effects and came across this and decided to settle on it. I can't remember what it's called now! Maybe it's a warp effect.

I was trying to find more variants to create the figure without getting too repetitive. I thought I could do some kind of cross over between the comic book inking style earlier on and the standard silhouette I've used quite a lot throughout. Leg pads are very iconic to cricket, so decided to highlight these in this way and nothing else. This is definitely one of my favourite clips in terms of aesthetics.

I repeated the batsman play his shot to emphasise it. I thought it would make the video appear even faster and more eye catching, than if I just had him play his shot once and that was that. I feel that doing this was a good choice, as it created the effect I wanted to achieve. For this section of the repeat, I used three outlines all in bright colours, with some extra streaks to highlight the movement at various points. These are the yellow and red marks you can see top right in the above image. As you will see when watching the video, these streaks are constants throughout. They not only give the video some extra pace and dimension, but also because the video is made up of so many different styles, they essentially tie the video together.

Here I used a silhouette, with a different outline. Instead of using the regular ink brush I often use in TVPaint, I used the oil brush. This brush provides a vast difference in line thickness, ranging from extremely thin and barely noticeable to very thick, almost like a highlighter pen. I don't often use this brush because I'm unsure whether I like it, but it really works in this shot, so it's definitely a brush I will remember to use in the future.

The penultimate shot was a simple silhouette flash, where I inverted the image negative across three frames. It definitely comes in the right place in the video and is a contrast to the shots either side.

I felt this last shot against a plain black background wasn't really doing much and really thought it could do with a little extra 'something'. I had also used it previously, so didn't want the final piece to end up looking too repetitive. I was just messing around on Premiere to see what effects I could use and came across this broken up image effect. This was after me messing around with the parameters, of course! I like how it's not just a plain silhouette behind it, or a plain red background, but it is actually the outline of the figure, which moves as the figure moves. It does look perhaps a little dated, but I also think it did what I was needing it to do to round off the video nicely.

I found this exercise to be really useful in a number of ways. Mainly, it was fun to experiment so much, push my comfort zones and force me out of the usual styles I like to work in and find 'safe'. It goes to show that when you do change what you're used to, it doesn't always work out in a negative way, but often very positive and even if the end result isn't what you wanted, then at least you gave it a go. I always think that if you don't try anything new, then you're never going to progress and develop- this can be in anything, not just creative work. I'm often bad for doing this, because I don't like things going wrong, though recently I have been making myself try new things (in life) and new ways of creating things (in work) and feel I'm often better for having done those.

Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome, because of a) how it looks and b) my attitude towards creating the piece, as described in the previous paragraph. It achieved what I wanted it to- eye catching and different to my usual style, but still in keeping with the techniques I like to use (rotoscope and analogue film). I also like how I used a quite experimental approach to the edit, by using numerous effects in Premiere Pro, to give it more dimensions. I'm often cautious to do this sort of thing, but I feel it paid off. This is something I will take forward into future projects.

Obviously the piece isn't perfect, because nothing ever is and there are still some things I'm unsure about, such as whether I should have done more with the backgrounds. I also cut out a shot, as it just wasn't working. It wasn't in keeping with the rest of the styles in the video and whatever I did to it, it just looked out of place, so I cut it. Anyway, I feel this piece is somewhat a new start or the start of something new and I hope I can progress my work further and more confidently.

Here is the full clip:

Monday, 19 August 2019

Road to Wembley #1

...with a difference: the Women's FA Cup.

As most of you may know if you follow me on social media, I enjoy watching football played by both men and women at all different levels, though mostly non-league. Basically, if there's a game on and I can get to it, I'll watch it! The level/ step in the pyramid and gender does not bother me.

I'm deciding to do my Road to Wembley for the women's version of the competition, because it's not so much of a common thing to do for the women's game, considering it being completed repeatedly by spectators of the men's cup.

Despite it feeling more of an attainable challenge then the men's (tickets will be cheaper and easier to obtain in the latter rounds), it presents other challenges such as the amount of teams (300) in the competition, compared to the men's 736. This will inevitably make it difficult in some rounds to find a game near where I'm based (Preston, Lancashire), without it costing an absolute fortune on the train.

Since 'getting into football' just a couple of years ago, I quickly decided the FA Cup is my favourite and most exciting competition. I love the idea of the 'big' teams getting drawn against 'small' teams and the notion of the non-league teams coming out on top. Despite the league teams in the men's competition often not fielding their strongest side making these 'giant killings' less of a spectacle, the concept is still there and gives the non-league clubs some satisfaction, I'm sure!

I will write a blog entry about each round and my rules for it to 'count' is that I have to go to one from each round, whether that be the main date or a replay fixture. I'm sure throughout the season there will be things I have to commit to on a Sunday which I can't get out of, therefore disallowing me to attend the main fixture day.

Round dates
The first round already posed a slight problem, because the nearest one to me was postponed (Mossley Hill) and the second nearest to me was in Fitzwilliam, a small mining village near Hemsworth, a modest 62 miles away. It's also the birthplace of English cricketing legend Geoffrey Boycott. This was the tie I chose and there I set off on my 2.5 hour trip into Yorkshire to watch Wakefield Trinity LFC take on fellow Yorkshire contestants Farsley Celtic LFC, in this extra preliminary round of the cup.

The trains were unnervingly on time and the travel felt like it had gone much too smoothly for my liking. On the train, it costs £14.25 for a day return with a 26-30 railcard. Without a card it would cost around £21. I got the the MDC Stadium (also home to Hemsworth Minors Welfare FC) about thirty minutes before kick off. I like to have time to spare to take in the ground, take some photographs, soak up the atmosphere and look for good vantage points for photo opportunities throughout the game.

The entry fee was a charity donation and despite being unsure what the charity was, I paid my dues and entered. With the ground being in a place so small and for an extra preliminary round on the Women's FA Cup, I thought that there would be about forty spectators. How wrong I was as I set foot into the ground: it was bustling, with a great atmosphere. The attendance on the club's Twitter feed was later announced as 171. A great start to the competitive season.

Even Terry the Terrier made an appearance!
I found a spot near the half way line, just in front of the clubhouse and changing rooms, which is on the left as you walk in. I always like to get some pictures from this angle, because it's usually opposite the dugouts and often makes for a good photo (in my opinion). Most of the crowd were congregated here, too. I watched about twenty minutes from there and then started on my slow half lap clockwise around the ground.

The ground is railed off with hard standing on all four sides. There's a seated stand on the opposite long side, next to a neat looking dugout boasting brand new Wakefield Trinity LFC signage- which at first before arriving, from my Google image search, I thought was another stand. One of the ends behind the goal was lined with trees, the other backed onto Hemsworth Cricket Club. You could see the pavilion and scoreboard from the ground, too.

The seated stand

The crowd along the side with clubhouse/ bar
The cricket pavilion/ scoreboard behind the ground
The game kicked off in a timely manner and I was a little concerned for the hosts when Farsley scored in the second minute. Despite this early lead, Wakefield only conceded two more, both of which were in the first half. In the second half, the possession equalled out and Wakefield created several chances, though unfortunately failed to get anything passed Farsley's defence or keeper. This resulted in Wakefield's hopes of Wembley being delayed until next season.

The view from the entrance side
Overall, a good choice of game and ground for my first of my Road to Wembley mission. It was well worth the travel and Wakefield Trinity LFC seemed like it had something really good going for it as a club, with a great community spirit. You wouldn't have thought it was their first ever competitive fixture either, as there was some great play within the team against the more established Farsley Celtic. I'm sure Trinity will continue to develop and grow in the future and I hope to visit again at a later date.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Totes Amaze Bags | Sewing

For some reason I have started sewing again. I'm unsure as to why I suddenly had the urge to do so, though it's something I'm really enjoying and is a change from being sat behind either a computer animating or behind a camera photographing.

I've sewn a lot throughout my life and have always been quite competent at it. I like the idea of that it just starts with a few bit of fabric and thread, though if you put the components together in a certain way, then something useful comes from it.

It was in 2016 (I think) that I purchased a lot of blank tote bags, which were on offer at Hobbycraft. I had always intended to do something with them, though only ever got as far as making some felt appliqué decoration for them, but not actually sewing them on. 

Rewind a couple of months and I was feeling in a bit of a slump, due to a number of reasons which I won't be going into detail about in this post, though long story short, I wasn't feeling up to doing any animation or 'proper' work. As said previously, sewing is something I've always gone back to at various stages of my life and it felt at that time it was something I wanted to pick up again. I had a look on the internet for inspiration to see if there were any small projects I could take on and I decided that a pencil case would be the perfect project to get me started. After all I have a niece who starts primary school in September, so I could give her a handmade pencil case as a gift.

I don't have a sewing machine, so everything I do is hand stitched. I'm not sure if I'd want a sewing machine anyway. I know it makes the process faster, but I like hand sewing as it's relaxing and it doesn't cost much money apart from thread and needles, which are super cheap anyway. Also, as sewing is a bit of a sporadic hobby for me, I wouldn't want a large machine clogging up space in my house if it will only get used every now and again.

I'm really pleased with the result, especially because I've never really sewn lining or a zip in anything before and decided to go against a simple pencil case pattern, but a boxy design instead. My only really qualm with it, is that I feel it's a little too big, but aside from that I'm quite happy with it. It would be nice to do more of the same...

Since making that, I wanted to continue making things from fabric, which brings me to me and my tote bags:

I really like working in this style, as I think they make aesthetic outcomes. I have tried to use bright colours in both the threads and felt, so they stand out and are eye catching. I've chosen fairly simple, but effective (or at least I like to think so) designs, such as a cat, leaves and a Russian doll for now, though hope to expand my designs in the future. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them all once done, though I could potentially sell them on Etsy or give them to friends and family as birthday or Christmas (feels too early to be saying that) gifts.

As I'm now just sewing the appliqué parts I've pre-made on the bags, I can't wait until I start making new ones to sew on. I don't want to start any new ones yet though, before I've sewn all of the ones I made a few years ago on. I have a terrible habit of starting things and not finishing them, so I'm kind of making myself complete them before moving on! 

Elephant Animation

While waiting to start work on my next animated short film, I have decided to work on a number of rotoscope test pieces to develop various styles and see which one(s) I'd like to work in, in the future. Rotoscope is a very versatile medium and effective original results can be created under a wealth of different styles and techniques. This is really exciting as I love to experiment in my work, so any opportunity I get to push what I do further, is a good thing.

I filmed some clips of animals at Cologne Zoo back in March and thought that these would make for appropriate testing grounds! It would also save me from more terrible acting and allow me to work with something other to people- I don't often animate animals.

I started with this clip of an adult elephant. Specifying adult, because one of the other clips is of a baby or younger elephant. I don't know much about animals, but clearly one is younger than the other! Anyway, biology(?) aside and onto the animation:

I decided to play it semi-safe and go for a style I've used before, but already know I'd like to develop further. I chose a style which doesn't use a full black 'cartoon' outline, but only the inner lines, with a silhouette completing the rest of the image. I wanted to develop this style for a number of reasons: a) doing a full outline and full colour takes a lot longer, especially if I'm working on my own and b) in real life not everything a has a black outline around it! 

I used this style in my short film Cardigan's Corner Shop and as you can see, it works well here (or at least it does in my opinion):

When I say it 'works well', I mean you can still tell what the objects or person is in the animation, without the need of an outline to enhance it. I also think it works with the elephant clip as there really isn't much of a point in adding an outline, as it's quite clear as to what it is. If it was just a silhouette without the inner detail lines maybe it would be a little unclear, but the inner lines separate the detail and features of the animal and I think we all know what we are looking at.

To colour it I used a block textured colour, made out of painted paper which I scanned in and made into an image sequence. This was because when I was drawing the inner lines, I was looking at the elephant's skin and it was really textured. I thought it would enhance the animation if I decided to carry this texture through into the final piece. I definitely think it adds to the animation and gives it an extra layer of depth. I'd like to work more with textures going forward.

With the background, I decided to have an experiment in After Effects, to see if anything struck me as a) something which would complement the elephant and b) something I've not used before. This was because I feel it's good to try new things and force myself out of my comfort zone. There are ways which I often work in and confidently know achieve the effect I'd like them to, but if you always use the same techniques, your work may risk end up looking quite 'same-y'. You also never know by trying out a new technique, you may find one you really like, but would have never thought to use before.

For this, I ended up with some bubbles, against a textured (yes, more texture) background, which I had scanned in:

Bubbles After Effects render, no texture
Final render, composited in Premiere pro
As the bubbles were mainly made up with an effect on After Effects with a bit of extra parameter tweaking, I'm not sure if it's the most creative solution I've ever come up with, though I feel it is effective for this clip. The pink contrasts nicely against the grey and black of the elephant and the idea of bubbles is also a contrast in terms of weight and density, compared to the heavy animal in the foreground. I'd be less happy with my choice of background if I'd have just used it straight out of After Effects, though I made it my own in Premiere Pro and I think I can just about get away with it!

Overall, I'm happy with the piece and think it's a great start to a series of small clips which are there to push my skills further. I think there are a couple of ideas used here which I'd like to progress and explore, being the textured background and the use of animating without an outer line. It was also a bit of fun to try making an animation which isn't human centred, which is what I usually produce. I'd like to animate more animals in the future- looks like another trip to the zoo is in order- unless anyone wants to let me animate your cat ;)

Some of what I listened to when making this animation:
Ed Sheeran - No.6 Collaborations Project
Test Match Special
Kermode and Mayo's Film Review (a number of episodes)
Feeder - Pushing the Senses

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Latest Animation Test Clips

Even though progress feels fairly slow in the last couple of months, looking back, I have actually achieved more than I think in terms of animated output. I usually think if I've not got a new clip each week to put on my animation Instagram account, then I'm 'falling behind', not producing enough work, procrastinating too much or having too much 'fun' doing other things.

When I look back at the work I have produced since June, this is not actually the case: I completed a short animated film in collaboration with my friend Alan Livesey, carried out some concept work for future short films, applied to various funding schemes, got rejected from various funding schemes, filmed and edited some freelance work for a company which now features on the Argos website and completed two short animation tests, these of which I will discuss in more detail throughout this post. When I list it all out, it seems I have actually achieved a fair amount. I needn't be so self critical.

Concept work for a future animation
Both test pieces are mixed media, each combining my favourite methods to work in: rotoscope animation and 16mm film. I should probably do a post on rotoscope animation, actually. Anyway, I've been developing my work in both techniques since around 2011 and really want to explore ways in which they can further be combined. I've already carried out some work where I've paired the two, though nothing as explicit as in these tests, especially the second one.

The first (above) was actually using cine film as the main background, though the concept stays relevant of linking rotoscope animation with an analogue backing. I also added some patterns as an extra layer, because that's what this piece required.

The second one (below) I left the 16mm background raw (no extra layer of pattern), to see how it would work against the rotoscope animation and weigh up whether it had any legs to go further and work as a longer, fuller piece.

What I especially wanted to get out of the tests, was a contrast between the texture of the analogue footage and the smoothness and perhaps contemporary look of the character animation. In the second one this was definitely achieved and I am now looking for ways where I can shape this method into something more complete or narrative driven, as I think it has potential to go somewhere. I also really like how it turned out aesthetically, so it enhances my yearning to continue to develop this technique.

It also worked in the first one, though the extra layer of pattern made it cluttered and messy. I suppose it all depends on the look I really want to achieve for the final result and what the animation will say or be about. Both styles clearly have their uses and it's just a case of teasing out a story or purpose in each.

Despite both of these clips being created for funding applications, both of which were rejected, I don't look back on these as a waste of time, but more the opposite. The funding applications gave me a deadline and motivation to carry out creating the clips, with the end result being something that I am extremely happy with and something to put in my showreel and of course, on my social media channels. That's not to say I am not frustrated or annoyed with being rejected as an artist, though it's something I can't change, so I suppose I have to do that monotonous task of looking for the positives in the things which aren't so positive, so I don't feel so bad about said things!