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, as a program for cut-out animation, each part of the character only has to be drawn once, instead of being drawn for each individual frame of animation. It’s then moved around onscreen in the style of a jointed cardboard figure. 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. Also, a preoccupation with correct English might be seen as pedantic but I do think it’s important. Poor English language skill, either written or verbal, leads to poor communication and then confusion. For instance, there was a short-lived poster in the London Underground a few years ago showing a photo of an unattended bag on a train seat. The text read “Don’t touch, check with other passengers, inform station staff, or call 999.” The punctuation gave the poster the opposite message to that intended. Not good, when it is intended to save lives.
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.
A little while ago I came across an old sketchbook I had when I was about six. It was mostly full of incoherent scribbles, but with a few more-or-less finished drawings. Somewhere online, I’d seen some paintings done by a mother and daughter… the child had done the initial drawing then the mother added her own interpretation with the colour, but following her daughter’s lines exactly. I thought it would be interesting to do the same but with old drawings. What I got from this, I think, was an insight into my childhood imagination and also some refreshing practice at a new – or old- style of painting. Some friends have suggested I should animate these, so perhaps that’s the next step. (Click on the image to see more.)
Just occasionally, I suffer from migraines. I had my first one when I was 22, and thought I was going blind. I’d always thought a migraine was just a headache – no-one had ever mentioned those weird light patterns that obscure your vision. A few weeks ago I had one and it struck me that I’d never seem one depicted. I did a bit of searching and found a few pictures and animations but none of them really looked the way I saw them, so I thought I’d give it a try. I think this is pretty successful. If you’re not familiar with the experience (you’ve never lived!), with me it begins with a flickering sliver of distortion just below the centre of vision, which blossoms over half an hour or so into the c-shaped pattern shown here. After that it expands and moves outwards until it disappears off the edge of the field of vision. At that point I get a headache which last for an hour or so. It’s not too ghastly, it’s just inconvenient more than anything else as you can’t read or drive or do much else that requires clear vision while it’s going on. Fortunately I only get these once every year or two, and if I have the right medication handy I can avoid the whole thing as soon as I see it coming on. To get the accurate effect, look at the vanishing point in the image. (As the aura appears in your peripheral vision, you can never look directly at it.)
Unlikely as it sounds, corporate projects often present the most interesting creative challenges. I animated this short film in TVPaint software for financial services company PwC, through London-based creative agency The Moment. Although the scriptwriting and concept work was done by the client and agency, they were very receptive to my input from an animator’s perspective and a pleasure to work with throughout. Although I love working on TV and film projects where I can spend all my time animating and honing my core skills, it’s great to alternate that with projects like this where I also get to design and storyboard the whole film.
Here’s a short film for Sport Scotland I worked on earlier this year – partly traditional frame by frame animation, computer-composited whiteboard animation. Visuals are all my own work except for the drawing hand. This was produced by Joseph Atkinson.
I wasn’t too pleased to find that a few of my old paperbacks were being eaten by bookworms, but was fascinated to notice that the trails they make as they bore their way through the pages work as a flip-book – one in which the pattern isn’t a creative recreation of life but an analogue record of life itself. It would be amazing to make a whole film from book damage of this type, but I expect it’s hard to find worm-eaten books that haven’t been thrown away!