Friday, 30 September 2011

Back to Basics.

I've been thinking about photography of late and the process of it. There's so much science behind it that we never see, the aperture, shutter speeds, ISO. So many people spend a bundle on cameras that do all this for them, having no idea what's actually happening when they press shutter release. DSLR owners are often guilty of this themselves, simply setting their two thousand euro camera to Automatic and then calling themselves "photographers". Sure, they might catch and amazing moment that will never be repeated but it still feels somewhat cheap to me. Since I was given my lovely, bog standard Canon last year I've been fascinated with the camera machine itself, the reason I wanted that camera in particular was so that I could learn it from the ground up. I now find myself just wanting to know everything I possibly can about cameras and how they work, how photos happen.

At the top of my shelf sits this; a Phenix DC303N. I picked it up for
around two hundred euro about five years ago when I was dipping my
toes in Fine Art and Photography for my portfolio. It weighs about as much as my car, has a fixed fifty millimeter lens that I don't see myself changing and a viewfinder eyepiece that's only held secure by gravity. I took some nice pictures with it when I was seventeen, including my favourite picture of my mother. It's a camera I never gave enough credit to when I first had it and now I can't help but admire it's charm. Every day when I leave for college it catches my eye and in ways it reminds me of my first days of college, in some ways it reminds me of (if you'll forgive such a shameless cliché), simpler times. I now feel that it's being taken for granted where it sits, like a guitar sitting unplayed. I think it's time to take a little break from my gorgeous, complex little Canon and take the old model out for a spin. I'm gonna pick up a few rolls of film and see what I can get with this. It could all turn out like crap, that's certainly possible, but we'll have some fun along the way and maybe learn a few things about cameras and how they work. Also hoping to pick up a book or two on photography at some stage and start teaching myself some new things. I find my latest pictures are starting to look a little samey so I'm going to need to start mixing it up soon. This is going to be interesting.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

New Film.

I'm working on a new project, which is as of yet unnamed. This is my final film at IADT and possibly the last film that I'll be making all by myself for a long long time. This film is incredibly important as it's going to be the one that gets me my Bachelor's Degree and hopefully get me my first job in the  animation industry. So it's a pretty big deal.

So what am I making? I thought long and hard about that, all summer in fact, maybe even earlier. I had ideas about mutant families and I had ideas about classroom nuclear warfare. When we came back from our collective tastes of freedom, we were given a rather stirring speech by our course coordinator about the position we're in, how important the choices we make are going to be. He asked us to go away and ask ourselves a big question, what do you want from this? I obliged him and sat down on my own with a pad and pen and started writing . . .

What do I want?

A film I can be proud of.
A project I can finish.
Something I can get a job with.
Something colourful.
A film I'll learn from.
A project that's realistic. 
A project I've done all by myself.
A film that'll hold my interest. 
Something that'll get me a Degree.

So I got to thinking about what I want from this film and what I'm capable of doing. I went back to the drawing board with one important word in mind. "Simple". I could attempt to make a ten minute film about the sufferers of the holocaust, all made in 3DS Max. I could even try to sum up the emotional thunderstorm of a love affair through classical hand drawn animation. But I'd fail. Instead, I've decided to write a story about a young boy trying to make himself strong by lifting weights in his bedroom. I haven't got a huge message about love and loss and I don't intend to change people's lives with this. Instead I want to make a nice, tidy film that I can stand over in nine months and if I'm lucky, make some people smile. I made my depressing film last year (you'll see it at some stage) so now, now that I'm in a far better place in my life I want to make something that's just a little more positive. Much of the project itself is still changeable therefore I'm not really gonna bang on about it now. I'll tell you what I know. It's going to be short, like a minute and a half, I'll push it to two minutes if I have to, if I can shave more off it then all the better. As I've said before it's heavily inspired by the works of Birdbox Studio. It's going to be very simple, one character, one setting. It's going to be a gag based slapstick comedy, made in Flash but touched up in After Effects (my days of animating in paper are well over. I've used Flash before but I really want to learn as much as I possibly can about before I go out into the big bad animation world. The story is about a young guy called Kevin. Kev's a good kid who's very successful academically but is very small and weedy. He gets his hands on a set of weightlifting equipment and hilarious disaster ensues. Sounds thin enough at the minute but the foundation is there. I don't want to get into too much detail as of yet because nothing is really locked down and ideas are still hitting me as I type. I've thrown up some concept art to show how I'm developing the character and my basic idea of what I want the setting to look at (I stress how basic it is, just an idea of how I want to stage it and a rough idea of the way colour and texture will be used).

To be perfectly honest I think this is the first time I've ever properly tried to design a character from the ground up. Before I'd generally just draw what I saw in my head and run with it. This, I must point out, is the wrong way to go about things. This time I started out with what I wanted the basic shape of my character to be like. I first had a look at the way Bird Box have their characters constructed, they appear to be just three rectangles of similar size and shape tied together. This got my looking at ways of tying shapes like rectangles, triangles and circles to tease out how a character will look (the right way). So I sketched out a few ways in which I thought the silhouette might look.

After I found a body shape that appealed to me, I started up a new page to further develop it. It's around here I start asking myself "will this animate well? Will this be frustrating? Is it nice to look at?". I also started to give more consideration to proportions. After looking at some great stuff from Headless Productions, I knew that I wanted my character to have big hands with tiny limbs. I tend to automatically try to make things look realistic and I'm trying to move away from that with this, perhaps open up my mind a little more. I've also given Kevin big feet as I want him to have a good sense of balance and gravity. I kinda settled on the shape you see at the top of the image there but one of my lecturers suggested that I add a little more childishness to his silhouette so I'm gonna attempt to maintain the overall construction of him while still knocking off a few years. You can also see here that I started working on his face. This, sadly, is also relatively new territory to me (it sometimes shocks me that I've gotten this far as an animator). I took what basics I knew about constructing the head (thanks Niall) and started working from there. Pretty soon I noticed that the stuff that was working was egg shaped so I started trying to stick with that, the upright egg and the upside down egg. Sounds ridiculous but I need to work with what works for me. Babysteps. I've also started dicking around with faces but I stress that I'm still working on that. At the moment I've gone with the Tintin-esque black dot features and I'm kinda digging that. That said, I'll still experiment with different types because you can't just settle on the first thing that works. While I'm perfectly happy with the design of his face I'm still going to knock out a few experiments to try and improve it or maybe even stumble onto something entirely different.

Just before I pitched I decided to try out a few hair experiments which is something I've never really done with a character. It was actually quite a lot of fun! I looked at Disney characters at first, then moved on to people in my class, and then started looking at old webcam photos of myself (see if you can spot them). Some might say that something as minor as the hair is not important but in a project like this every little detail needs to be considered and experimented with. 

This here is a very basic and quick version of how the world will look, put together in about four minutes in Photoshop. I'm terrible at laying out a background so I'm taking this as an opportunity to improve on this. In this image I'm basically trying to work out the staging of the scene and what I'm actually going to need in the scene. I'm also quickly considering colour (I'll do a proper test once I have the actual layout worked out) and keen eyed viewers will notice the texture to give it a bit more polish. It's not great but it's what I'm going to start with. Better to be at the bottom of a ladder I want to climb than half way up one I don't. 

So that's what we have and that's the next two hundred or so days of my life. What's next? Planning. planning, planning. I've about four weeks to sort out my pre-production book which is essentially where all my decisions will be made. The book will contain my final character designs, layouts, script and all my research, after that it's nothing but animation. That would be fantastic if it wasn't for the feckin' thesis I've to do at the same time! I think I've chosen a good project to work on, manageable. I want this to be a positive experience and so far it has been. Let's get this right this time.  

Monday, 26 September 2011


I'll be honest, I have very little confidence in my abilities as an artist, be it in the application or in terms of my creative process. Because of this I have a bit of a problem with drawing, or at least motivating myself to draw. I tend to avoid it where possible. The real problem is that when you avoid it for so long you start to really lose your hand at it, which further damages confidence. So for the past year or so I haven't really touched pen to paper at all, hence the notable lack of drawn art on this blog of late. But of course this is no way to be for an animator, so as of last week I am back on the oul' drawing wagon. I've started to put together the main character for my latest film (more on that soon), what really makes me happy though is that I'm starting to learn things. I've learned, for the first time really, how to properly construct a character from the inside out rather than just winging it. It's been fun and I hope this sense of . . . correctness continues for as long as possible. Here's a quick shot of some of the design work I've been doing. I'll make a proper post about the film soon, when I have more stuff locked down.

Oh, and sorry for the slightly shoddy writing quality tonight, I'm a bit shattered. Cheers. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


So here we are, time to start a new film. I had ideas, and those ideas weren't too shabby at all. But I've been thinking far too big. Be it fate or coincidence, I attended a lecture were I was told about everyone making films too big last year the morning after watching loads of really simple, really well made animations by a little British studio called Bird Box Studio. I think I now know what to do, go back to the drawing board and think small, like proper small. At the moment I'm thinking one shot, one character, one tiny little story, one layout, one minute-ish. This of course is not going to make anything easier as such, just more manageable, more suited to me and what I'm trying to achieve. I know for a fact if I take on a three minute story with After Effects and bits of Maya then I'll end up with a big mess and a broken psyche. So now, it's time to generate story ideas, and fast. I know what I want from this film and I generally have an idea of how I'd like it to look, I just need to work out what happens. The cogs are turning, just gotta let them do their job. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

More Food.

I'm enjoying this business of taking photos of food. The only problem is that I don't really know if I'm developing it or even if I'm any good at it but I'm kinda digging the little shots I'm getting so I'll keep it going for a while and see if it gets anywhere. Here's some from a trip down the country with friends.