I think that history is always most interesting when seen through the eyes of those who were making it. This film – a personal project – is based on a report from an officer in the Royal Flying Corps who had been given the job researching the uses of aircraft in war. The report was mode in 1914, when this was still a very new idea and aeroplanes had hardly yet been used in war at all. Dropping bombs on targets, defending shipping from attack, firing at other aircraft and communicating with a ground station by radio were all still very much theoretical concepts. The foresight shown in the report about how important these things would soon become is striking, as is the idea that war with Germany was imminent and inevitable.
I thought this would be a perfect subject for a demo film for a whiteboard-type technique with a more illustrative style than most.
Whiteboard animation is still a very popular form of explainer video for clients because of its clarity, cost-effectiveness and relatively quick production time, but most of the services available are very similar in style and approach so I’ve been working on something that I hope will be a little bit different – one which incorporates character animation into the narrative.
The film I’m working on is called “How Animated Cartoons are Made”. The sample below will tell you that it’s not altogether serious – it’s intended as a demonstration of a style and technique, rather than having any educational value of its own!
Another loop I made years ago for Newcastle’s Discovery Museum. I like the ‘paper’ look so I’ve left in all the little ink smudges and creases rather than clean them up as i did for the actual installation. Drawing them on paper wasn’t so much a creative choice on the original project – it was the best hardware I had at the time!
Another one from the Discovery Museum. I tried to make these animated loops look longer than they actually are. If you follow one character through the whole routine he takes about ten seconds to walk on, haul the next guy up, get helped up himself, then help the next guy up then fall off, but the whole loop is only 34 drawings. I’ve re-scanned these from the original paper drawings, which is why you can see the paper texture – I left that in because I like the look. I think there’s something a bit more magical about animation that’s happening in the real world, such as on sheet of paper, rather than totally within a computer.
One of my first animation jobs was to create some loops for an interactive educational facility at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. Each of about twelve animations would reflect a particular educational theme – this one being geography. I was already a bit old-fashioned by doing all my artwork on paper but, come to think of it, it was a museum, so why not? I still have the drawings so I thought I’d pull them out and give them a makeover (by kind permission of the museum). I think they make pretty good GIFs.
I made this little film about a so-called Grammar Nazi seeking to educate the public partly because I didn’t have any personal projects made in CelAction, an animation program I’ve been using in the TV industry for 15 years. In recent years CelAction been used for “Simon’s Cat” and “Mr Bean” and “Peppa Pig”. The benefit of CelAction over traditional drawn animation is that it uses cutout animation, meaning each part of the character only has to be drawn once, instead of up to 25 times for every second of screen time. CelAction has become a far more sophisticated program in recent years, to the extent that a complex character with many parts can be made indistinguishable from drawn animation. However such characters need such an investment of time at the design and rigging stage that they are only commercially viable for large scale tv and film productions, not individual short films. The CelAction character in this film (the man speaking) is relatively basic but serves the purposes of this film.
The other animation (ie Glum Eric and everything else on the man’s screen) is traditional drawn animation – albeit pretty basic! – created using TVPaint software.
Another reason for making this film was to experiment with educational animation, something I’d like to be more involved in.
When I was studying animation at Southampton, Bob Godfrey used to come down to teach once a week. I knew Bob’s name from the TV series “Roobarb and Custard”, which aired on BBC1 when I was about eight, and later learnt that he was a legendary creator of animated shorts, mostly slightly risque ones that were generally shown in front of ‘Carry On’ films. Bob was the embodiment of the ‘less is more’ school of animation – if you can make your point , or tell your story, just as effectively with fewer or simpler drawings, then do it that way. Don’t make work for yourself.
Bob saw a film I’d made in my first semester called “Advice for Hamsters” and gave me his card. Once I’d finished studying he gave me my first job, on a satirical series called “Margaret Thatcher: Where Am I Now?”, written by Steve Bell.
One of the key lessons I took from Bob was the importance – and delicacy – of timing. I’d animate a scene that needed to be funny, but for some reason wasn’t quite working. He’d check it, play it a few times, then tell me to add or remove a few frames – often only two or three – then suddenly the scene would be funny.
As well as being a legendary animator, Bob was a legendary character. I’ve tried to capture some of that in a little tribute film. Here’s a trailer. The film itself in currently being submitted to festivals, so I can’t show the whole thing yet.
For my birthday a couple of months ago, my friend Sam Wooldridge bought me a Dr Who Lego kit. I hadn’t played with Lego since I was about 12 so I was overdue to revisit it. As if that wasn’t justification enough, I thought I’d take the opportunity to make a little timelapse film. Lego is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be – I think if they’d had these kits when I was a kid, I’d have stuck with it a bit longer.
This took about four hours to shoot, plus setting up the camera and lights, changing the memory cards and camera batteries and so on. The camera was set to shoot once every two seconds, and took 5,450 exposures. I added a bit of stop-motion animation at the end just for fun.
I used the wrong piece in the Tardis console a couple of times, which is why I have to take it apart again later on, and was left with a few pieces at the end so either there were some extra ones or I made a few other mistakes. Let me know if you spot any.
Here’s an animated infographic I did several years ago as part of a project for Sound Ideas Media of Northumberland, aimed at encouraging school kids to consider factory work as a career option. (Someone has to do it!) At the time it was part of an interactive Flash feature but here I’ve reworked it as an animated GIF.
And here’s a cynical attempt to cash in on a current movie. This one’s too big to display on this page so you need to click on the image.
We’re moving house shortly and I made this little GIF animation today to illustrate the announcement on Facebook. Notice how the house is always the right way up after every 90 degree turn – a little ‘trompe l’oiel’ that saved me doing four times as much animation!
A bit of fun. I asked for a random word on Facebook, to use as the basis for an animated GIF. The first response was ‘interception’. This was created in TVPaint – a great program that seems to have become the industry standard for traditional-style animation in recent years. It’ a lot of fun to use – it has a great variety of pencils and brushes and unlike many programs (eg Painter, Photoshop) that have animation as a feature but not as their ‘raison d’etre’, TVPaint is designed as a dedicated animation tool. I started learning it as an alternative to Flash and Toon Boom as I thought it would allow me to experiment with more interesting visual styles, but now I use it more than any other program. It also works brilliantly in conjuction with CelAction, either as a tool for building cut-out characters or as away of adding extra touches and effects to otherwise finished animation.
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