Monday, 11 June 2007

All done!

It is finished! The last two weeks were really quite intense, hence the lack of blog updates. I hardly slept in that time but managed to get the animation all finished and then a hardcore team of helpers (made up of Scott Macdonald, James Cox, Steve Ford and Aimee Hibberd) put a hell of a lot of work in to finish the backgrounds, the colouring, the compositing, the sound and the rendering. Some technical issues (thanks to a sneaky NTSC setting in After-Effects) led to us all doing an all-nighter on Wednesday night but then it all came together Thursday morning and much weary celebration was had with tea and cold pizza and people started going to bed. It was around then that I realised that some of the shots had rendered with a strange pixelated effect due to an adjustment layer with the wrong settings. I think my heart made an audibe noise as it sank. I finished re-rendering the last of the shots at about half 6 that evening and was finally able to call the film complete. I then returned to Bristol like a zombie, falling to sleep at every possible moment until I finally found my bed and past out in a very satisfying manner. I have now been sleeping most of the weekend which has been lovely.

There are still some tweaks to the sound I want to make but other then that I am fairly pleased with the outcome, especially for four weeks work. It couldn't have been done with out all the help I had; Scott's CG work was great, James's textures and after-effects shadows were lovely, Aimee's background work was spot on, Angelina's rain was perfect, and thanks to everyone who coloured stuff in as well, which was basically anyone who came through the door with a remote understanding of Flash.

I will post stills and a clip of the film in coming days but right now I am going to go and have a cup of tea.

Breakdown status; Came and went. Wasn't too bad.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

1538 frames to go

Today was a better day thanks to lots of tea. I coloured a few more squares in on the chart which is always satisfying. Angelina Mok also showed me a test she had done of the rain. I think the rain in my film is going to look excellent.

Breakdown status; Bilateral

Monday, 28 May 2007

1756 frames to go

This is it this week. Non stop now until the end. Food is an inconvenience and bed is a necessary evil. I have animated 8 shots so far which sounds good but they are all some of the shortest and simplest shots of the film so it isn't really that much. My weekend was not as productive as I hoped. I worked out that to get all the animation done while leaving enough time at the end for compositing and sound I need to average about 250 frames per day. I decided to aim for 300 per day to provide a safety net. This weekend I barely managed 300 all together. This is not a good thing. I have decided to blame the kitchen for being too much of a distraction (having not had one while staying in Newport during the week) and I think that my progress is going to improve now that I am back on campus with out any comfortable things around me. I have animated two shots so far today so this has made me feel a bit more positive. There is still a lot to do though. There is also the problem today of it being a bank holiday which means that the canteen is not open which means that I have no supply of tea which means I had to buy a cup of tea from the vending machine. It tasted not entirely unlike toilet water, which is not a taste I have actually experienced but I imagine it to be pretty damn unpleasant and pretty damn unpleasant is a phrase I readily apply to the cup of tea which I bought from the vending machine. If only I had a kettle and some milk.

Breakdown status; Critical (no sudden moves, have a medical team on standby)

Thursday, 24 May 2007

2480 frames to go

I said woo out loud today. Although I waited until I was on my own. The cause of the celebration was that I have finally started animating. A mere two weeks in to the four week production. I started simple with the first shot of the cat (shot 4: 69 frames). This is so far all that I have animated which is not very good for a days work but in my defence I did spend the morning cutting up the audio for the individual shots and rendering out updated backgrounds with the new chair that Scott modelled. I also spent some time organising folders to save all the elements in to so that when it comes to rendering frames out and compositing, everything is easy to find. One thing that I have learnt from previous experience is that it helps if everything is easy to find.

So one shot and 69 frames down, 22 shots, 2480 frames and 12 days to go.

*insert expletive here*

Breakdown status; Early stages (care is needed)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Workshop two, final animatic and Tim Rice

Workshop two was more of a success then workshop one I think. I actually did something that resembled a lecture to start with as I explained the way I go about making animatics and how important they are and that they are when you make your film and everything afterwards is just tweaking etc. I then got them working on animatics based on the ideas they came up with in the first workshop. I think I got them thinking about it in the right way.

Then Tim Rice the lyrical knight came through the animation studio on a tour of the uni with various cameras and minions in tow. The workshop had more or less finished by then so we just made ourselves look busy even though we weren't. Tim Rice then watched my film 'John and Karen' and said "I like that one, that was great". Maybe I could put that on the DVD cover; "I liked that one, that was great" Sir Tim Rice, Lyricist. It could go right under "My Mum liked it" Felix Massie, Animation student.

Yesterday I spent ages editing the final dialogue and animatic. Then I watched Blade Runner. Today I spent ages re-editing everything I did yesterday. I have finished now. Here are the second draft of the animatic and the third and (I think and hope) final draft of the animatic;

Second draft

Third (and final) draft

Now that is done I have made a chart ready to colour in and tomorrow I will definitely start animating. WOO!

Breakdown status; Ignorable (if I don't think about it, it is okay)

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Workshop One

Had the first of my two workshops today. It was a moderate success I think. Five people turned up in all which was five more then I was hoping for. I started by showing a selection of animated shorts, a Buster Keaton short and an episode of Paranoia Agent. I failed to give any insight in to any of them but it killed an hour and a half.

I then made a start on the list of activities that I had planned. Reading the scribbles in my notebook I realised that most of them worked better with larger groups of people so I had to scrap a few ideas and settled for two of the easier ones. These I failed to explain adequately and they achieved little more than coexing looks of confusion and disbelief from everyone. At that point I decided it was time for lunch.

The afternoon was better. I moved on to the main part of the workshop I had planned which was developing ideas in a free-flowing kind of way. This involved everyone writing a random word, then swapping the words with each other and writing a sentence with that word. Then in groups of three each of those sentences was turned in to a synopsis for a narrative film. Then a member of each group pitched their three ideas to the members of the other group who then picked one. Each group then developed each of the chosen ideas in to a narrative for a short film which they presented to the other group at the end. Overall it seemed to work and I think people enjoyed it. I'm not sure if they left with any new knowledge but I don't think they lost any either.

Tomorrow will be about animatics. I have a better idea of what I will be doing tomorrow. This is fortunate as we have to look busy for Tim Rice.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Sticky Toffee Dialogue

Today was productive. I recorded the dialogue. Daniel Barker got back to me yesterday and I arranged to record the dialogue with him this evening. This has not happened. What has happened is that I recorded the dialogue myself this morning as what was a contingency plan in case it didn't work out with Daniel. I then decided that what I did seemed to work and I decided to stick with that to save time so I decided not to record Daniel. I am still editing down what I recorded so I do not have a clear idea yet if I made the right decision. I recorded quite a lot; two toffee apples worth, averaging two bites per take. I felt very sick afterwards. I will post the locked-down animatic with final dialogue within the next day or so.

My team is going strong. So far Scott and James have modelled and textured the chair and a crate. Amy has modelled the radio and radiator. Should have a full room ready for rendering soon. Next priority is buildings and rain effects. I am doing my first of two workshops tomorrow. After that I intend to finalise the dialogue and animatic and start animating. When that happens I will say 'woo' out loud. I am also staying on campus until Friday so I can comfortably work in to the evenings (my best working hours) with out fear of being unable to get home.


Sunday, 20 May 2007

Toffee Apples

When items of food are consumed in an animated film it is vital to attain the right level of accuracy when recording the consumption of the food. It would be pointless to record someone chewing rich tea for example when it is ginger nut that is being featured; the crunch would just not have the right acoustic qualities. With this in mind here is a picture of me making toffee apples;

I followed a simple recipe of 250g of brown sugar and 110ml of water with 25g of butter. With no measuring apparatus at hand I guessed the ratios. As you can see from the picture there is a fair bit of smoke, this was around the point at which the fire alarm went off. I question whether a a Teflon coated pan would have been a wiser choice but perhaps not as I may have caused it irreversible damage.

I finally ended up with five apples coated in burnt sugar. They taste absolutely foul but they sound fine and that is what is important.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Some books

Between directing the team, trying to organising the voice record and drinking tea I have been busy making some book cover textures to use on the books on the book shelf in my film. On the list of important things to do this is not at the top. Unfortunately the top is taken up by "Start animating!" and this can not be done until I have recorded the dialogue. As I am leaving the Maya work and most of the texture work to the students I decided that the book covers were a fairly good use of my time. I am not sure how wise this decision was but it is a decision I made. I hope that these books give an insight it to the character, if only a little one. As you will only really see the spines of the books in the film I have included them here for your viewing pleasure;

Go Team!

I officially have a team now. It is small at the moment but I think it will grow. Scott Macdonald and Aimee Hibbard are modelling props in Maya. Scott made a very nice chair which James Cox from the second year made a very nice texture for. Second years Anna Karlberg and Angelina Mok also offered their help yesterday so hopefully I can get them going with some After-effects/Photoshop/sound work next week. Things are starting to pick up. There is still a massive amount to do but there is a team to help do it now so it feels slightly more achievable again.

In other news my two day workshop has been organised for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Having never organised or run any workshops before I am a little bit terrified but I think it will be okay.

I think I may also have found a voice artist! Daniel Barker, the drama student from Bristol got back to me yesterday, he had even already recorded two versions of the script himself which was good of him. They weren't quite what I was looking for but I think with the right direction he can hopefully nail it. To aid this I decided to send him some directions for the next recording;

While I am in directing mode I will do a run through of the script from the point of view of 'Character Motivation'

- When the man rings the operator he is not expecting them to have a number for God but thinks he might give it ago just in case.

- When he asks if they can check he is not angry as he knows it is an odd request but he would like to be sure so his question has a tone of 'sorry for the inconvenience' to it.

- When they say they do have a number for God the man is naturally surprised but not too surprised. He was not expecting them to have the number, but more because he didn't think it would be so readily available; the issue of God having a telephone is within the bounds of his understanding of the world so this is not what prompts the surprise.

- With this opportunity to talk to God now, unexpectedly, available the man jumps at the opportunity to be put straight through, a touch of disbelief and uncertainty in his voice.

- Not really thinking about what he is doing as he waits for God to answer the man takes a big bite of his toffee apple, he loves toffee apples.

- When God answers, although excited the man still sounds casual and friendly but forgets his manners and starts talking with his mouth-full. God comments on this and, slightly apologetic, the man tells him he is just eating a toffee apple. God says he likes toffee apples and the man, pleased that this is the case, agrees that they are good.

- Having agreed on the goodness of toffee apples the man quickly tries to finish his mouthful to talk properly. As he does this God asks him if there is anything he wants as he is quite busy. The man realises he hasn't thought about this and quickly thinks of something to say "Um...yes...yes I do have a question. One question..." with an "um" the man tries to think of a question. This is his opportunity, he is on the phone to God, the God, the creator and knower of all things and he has this chance to ask him any question he likes so best make it a good one... and all that he can think of to ask is "Why can't I lick my elbow?".

- The man is almost immediately disappointed in himself but, as it turns out, God's answer is actually really interesting. The man listens to God's description of the very specific and important reason why the man is unable to lick his elbow and receives a marginally deeper understanding of why things are the way they are. Genuinely impressed the man lets out a wistful sigh that essentially means "Oh, now I see!". God finishes with an example of what would happen if, say, the man could lick his elbow; this sentence is the single most sensible thing the man has has ever heard anyone say. Taken aback by the pure logic of it the man can't help but agree with a "Yes...yes I suppose it would..." The man pauses as he thinks about this revelation for the moment and then, remembering himself, thanks God for the answer.

- God asks the man if there is anything else he can help him with, but it needs to be quick. The man quickly tries to think if there is anything. His mind is blank as far as questions go but he does spot the rain and thinks how nice it would be if it was sunny and he could sit outside on a bench somewhere. He suggests the issue of the rain to God, not wanting to be a bother. The rain almost instantaneously comes to a stop. The man can't believe it, he thanks God like this "Thanks...thankyou...God" He adds the word God at the end of the sentence as he now realises that it actually is the God that he is speaking to. It wasn't that he was doubting it before and the answer to his question made a pretty good case for the actuality of it being God but it was not undeniable proof. The rain is however and it's abrupt end on cue has left the man a little bit speechless.

- With the man unsure of what more to say, God wraps up saying that he really needs to go and he advises the man not to call again as it is a nuisance to just have random questions asked of him, that he has better things to do and that it is not a listed number anyway. "Okay...okay I won't" the man says. God makes a quick comment about the mans hygiene issues and perhaps suggests that he call his sister more often before hanging up. The man puts the phone down and thinks about what just took place and about all the better questions he could have asked God. He takes another bite of his toffee apple.

I hope that that is enough for him to work with. Now is the issue of when to record it. He is unavailable this weekend so the only time I can record it is Monday as I want to start animating on Tuesday evening after my workshop. I haven't had a response yet regarding his availability on Monday so as a contingency I have booked the sound studio at the university to record myself on Monday. If Daniel is unavailable I will just have to use my own version and hope it's okay. Casting is always something I struggle with and I am not very good at it. I think I could have been more organised with it and have sorted it sooner but nothing has been lost yet other than a lot of time that I don't have.

Breakdown status; Speculative (spending a lot of time thinking about the possibility)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Yesterday and today

Not a lot to report for day's 5 and 6. Not many students around due to deadlines so I just did some more scribbling. Two more students have joined the ranks ready to work; Niyaz Saghari will do some compositing once there is some stuff to composite and Mohsen Minouge is going to do some CG modelling and possibly some rain effects. Hopefully I will have a small team of people working with me in E6 from tomorrow, in the mean time I will describe what my film is actually going to be about as I have not done that yet and it might be a useful thing to describe as this blog is about the making of the film.

The film is called 'Operator' and it is about a man who telephone's God and asks him why he can't lick his elbow and God tells him. That's it really. Here is a rough design still...

And here is the first draft of the animatic...

It is poorly voiced by me at the moment but this will be remedied soon. The dilemma is that I can't really make much progress until I have got the final dialogue recorded. As the pace is so reliant on the delivery of the dialogue I can't lock down an edit yet so I can't even start animating the non-dialogue shots. Fortunately I think I may have found a suitable candidate today. A drama student at the University of the West of England in Bristol has shown an interest and I have heard some of his work and he is really good. I have not had direct contact yet, I emailed him today and am just waiting to hear back. I just have to hope he is available and willing to do it. Hopefully I will hear from him tomorrow, if not I will try and track down his telephone number and pester him like a pigeon. If that doesn't work I will find someone else as soon as possible. The last resort is I do it myself but I don't want to resort to that. I need to get the dialogue recorded by next Tuesday at the very latest really.

Breakdown status; Stable but under observation

Monday, 14 May 2007

Day 4 (6 if you include the weekend)

As with most of the blogs I set up (three so far) I have not been very good with the posting part and I have now done four whole days of my animator in residence thing at Newport with out a single post. I have rated this blog more important than my other three blogs and am giving it priority postage. So here is my second post. I will now provide a short account of the past three unaccounted for days of my animation residency;

Day 2 (Thursday): Not having the convenience of getting a lift with James Manning (animation tutor whom I recently discovered lives 2 minutes down the road from me) today I tackled public transport to Newport. Incorrect train times and poor knowledge of bus routes at hand I set about missing everything and arriving in Newport at midday, two and a half hours after leaving Bristol. Fortunatly despite this setback I had a very productive afternoon, managing to start and complete the animatic for my film with rough CG backgrounds, scribbled character and a monotone dialogue read by me. This made me happy so I had an apple. I then went to catch a bus and arrived at the train station with an hour to go before the last train to Bristol. I killed this hour by eating a packet of crisps and some mini-cheddars from the vending machine and reading two chapters of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick. It was half way through a third chapter that I was informed that the last train to Bristol had been cancelled. I went to a friends house and slept on their sofa. It rained heavily.

Day 3 (Friday): I got in really early today, refreshed from lack of sleep and covered in cat hair. After a few cups of tea I made some tweaks to the animatic ready for my presentation to the students in the afternoon. I also made another to-do list, but this one was of things I need the students to do. At 2pm it was time for my presentation in E8. Once most of the students had turned up I made a start by spending 10 minutes pressing buttons on my laptop pretending to look busy. Once I had run out of things to click on I started my presentation proper. This mostly consisted of showing bits and pieces of my work and a few animatics and mumbling away about what was what while leaving out most of the useful information. I then showed my animatic and talked about the film idea; style, method, timeframe etc. I think people liked it and quite a few people showed an interest in helping so that was good to hear. I then had to work out what various people could get on with. I didn't get very far with this so we just arranged for people to come to me in E6 on Monday. I forgot that the third year crit was taking place for a sum of Monday.

(This bit here is the weekend. I had big plans, workwise, for the weekend, but these didn't quite materialise. All I got done was a prop-list and some rubbish character designs)

Day 4 (Monday): I went to the third year crit in the morning. I felt strangely nervous. At the break I had a cup of tea and some flapjack. This is not a noteworthy event but it was very good flapjack, the kind you feel like you should be thanking someones mother for. I had another cup of tea during the second half of the crit and only nearly spilt it once. In the afternoon I gave some CG modelling tasks to my first student helpers (the potentially mispelt Aimee Hibbard and Scott Macdonald from the second year. If I namechack people here it will hopefully help me remember everyone's names when - hopefully - more people are helping me). I then did a bit of Maya organising and started a mock-up design still for the character and background which is looking okay so far I think. I then left to make sure I didn't miss any trains. Not a massively productive day but things should pick up. They need to.

Breakdown status; Safe (moderate stress but at normal and managable levels)

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Back to the old skool

Today was my first day of my one month animation residency at the University of Wales Newport. Within this month I am going to make a short film with help and aid from the students. One month isn't long to make a film of any length (I am aiming for a minute and a half) so this blog will record my gradual breakdown over the next four weeks.

Being an ex student of Newport I was somewhat dissapointed to find that everything was exactly the same size as I remember it.

There isn't much to report for today. I had a cup of tea and then got set up in E6. Maya wasn't installed and I forgot my wacom tablet so I wasn't able to do much other then all the useful schedules and to-do lists that I usually avoid doing and then later wish I did do so that was a good thing.