Thursday, 30 April 2009

Colour palettes

The colours I use in a film are always really important to me. In animation everything is made from scratch, and choosing the palette is like being your own cinematographer with total control over every aspect of light, shade and weather patterns. Not that we're meglomaniacal control freaks or anything...

I like to restrict my colour palette, and because I work digitally I will choose the palette in the software package that I'm making the work in and then stick to it.

In The Beloved Ones I chose browns, oranges and burnt yellows, with lots of scanned materials. In An Eyeful of Sound so much of the visuals are dictated by the responses of the synaesthetic subjects that it is kind of more vital to have an overarching consistency, to stop the film from running away with itself.

Anyway, Adam (the composer) and I decided to divide the film into three distinct sections which have different moods and pacing. The palette therefore is actually three seperate but (hopefully) complementary palettes, each of which describes a different aspect of synaesthesia. The images here are a still from The Beloved Ones (2007) and a scan of my sketch book reference of the colour palettes when I was toying with ideas of how to do it.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Must write to do list...

This morning I am slightly over-caffeinated*, and with this burst of manic energy comes the need to write lists. A student at Wolverhampton Uni showed me some software called 'todolist' (from abstract spoon software, click on title above for link), with which you can organise your project.

It looks fab, and the kind of thing that I'm sure would be invaluable besides making me feel very smug and sorted. It's colour coded! And includes percentages!

The only trouble is I know I will now spend the whole day filling the thing out and not actually getting on with any work...

* does a triple espresso still count as one coffee a day?

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Compositing V. animation

Compositing packages are a brilliant tool for animators. You can build a digital multi-plane, introduce cameras and lights into a 3D space and key frame objects filters and effects. You can layer, polish and generally improve your animation, or even animate within the package to a certain degree.

Buu-u-u-t... Recently I’ve been pulling apart some of my composited scenes in frustration, and going back to old school animation to re-do the scene. There’s a visual integrity about animating the work that beats many motion paths or key framed movements into a cocked hat.

The benefit to doing this (I’m working hard at finding the benefit but I have my patented sunny disposition to uphold) is that having played with lots of different shot designs in Motion I have a very clear idea of what I want to achieve in the newly animated shot. And I can recycle many elements of the original composition whilst giving it the visual advantage of frame by frame animation.

I guess the upshot of this is: the better you learn a software package the more you realise its tricks and cheats, and the less you want your work to be tricksy and cheaty.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Spring cleaned brain

I went down to Plymouth this week to give a talk to students at the College of Art there. I studied down at Exeter Uni so it was quite weird going down to my old stomping ground (ish) as an established artist to give advice - gulp.

Seemed very odd but the students were great and I met up with my lovely friends Abi and Cath who are based down there. Cathy is an animator and Abi an artist who also does art therapy. It was great to catch up, drink wine and generally neglect my film for two days.

However, doing talks always focuses my thoughts really well, it’s like a huge group therapy where you put your own work under the microscope and have to explain it to a group of strangers - like pitching to a whole room. I came back with my brain spring cleaned and a sketchbook full of lists, notes and instructions to self which I will act upon…. on Monday.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


There are a couple of animation competitions coming up; Depict! (part of the Encounters Short Film Festival) and The Great Animation Challenge, organised by Animation Forum West Midlands and Flip Animation Festival. Both are open to anyone and both ask you to make a film to their specific criteria - Depict! is a film in 90 seconds or less, and the Animation Challenge is making a film to one of their specially chosen downloadable music tracks.

As a freelancer entering competitions can be a tricky balance - you get to direct a short film (yay), but you don't get paid (boo). You could win a prize, or at least get some attention and an audience (yay) but also give up a big chunk of valuable time that could be spent generating or making paid work (boo).

Of course another benefit of working this way is that, aside from sticking to the specific brief, you don't have any extra editorial control over your project - you can do exactly what you like. And whilst it is not funded you'll get at the very least a short film that you can send to festivals/stick online/add to your reel and hopefully gain some valuable exposure.

OK, where's my pencil?

Friday, 10 April 2009


I had a lovely phone call from Emma yesterday, one of the synaesthetic interviewees in the film. She had received the DVD of work in progress that I sent her and had really enjoyed it.

I'm so relieved that she thought that my interpretation of her synaesthetic experience was correct; the whole film hinges on its authenticity, but it is all filtered through my (non-synaesthetic) brain. She paid me the high compliment of saying that I had a very synaesthetic way of working, so I'm clearly absorbing more than I thought - synaesthesia by osmosis?!

The two images here are Emma's reaction to running water, one drawn and described by her and one a still from my animated version.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Sky scapes

One of the nice things about film making is working with other people (of course, it's also the annoying thing, but that's another post), who have amazing skills that you can steal and then pass off as your own.

One such is Stuart Messinger, artist and animator, who paints beautiful skyscapes in oils and watercolours. Carried away on a cloud of his own loveliness and generosity he gave me permission to use said skyscapes as back grounds for my animation.

All I can offer him in return is a] the knowledge that his delicate brush work shows my stuff up something rotten and b] a link to his web site (click on title above). Ho hum.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

One to One

Since September I have been doing one to one training at the Apple store in the Bullring, Birmingham. It’s been a great way of getting to grips with Final Cut Studio, not just the divine Final Cut Pro (which I’m enjoying using to edit together the roughest rough cut of the film so far) but also the previously mysterious (to me) Motion.

As an After Effects user I was a bit dubious of the benefits of Motion, but it is so compatible with FCP that it seemed silly not to have a play. It’s my new best friend. It’s not as powerful as After Effects in some ways but (like all Mac stuff) it’s super-intuitive to use and the layout is much clearer. I used After effects previously mainly as a 2D package and it would be good to go back to it now that I am so conversant with 3D through Motion, and see where the differences are.

Compositing, like editing, is so much fun because you’re working with previously made content so you’re not animating per se. And, let’s face it, animating is quite tedious. In a compositing package the frame by frame animating has been completed and I can play about with it in 3D space, adding lighting, camera moves and behaviours. In addition I can key frame specific movements of still images, backgrounds and effects, giving life to the most static material.

My Apple one to one tutor, Ashleigh, has been amazing throughout my Motion learning curve. He’s been very open to my freaky animation needs (it’s so different not using live action - which the whole package of Final Cut Studio is really set up for) and whenever he hasn’t known the answer to anything he’s been brilliant about finding out answers and solving some of my stranger problems (like how to make a huge undulating quilt ripple about in the middle of a field through the window of a passing train).

Monday, 6 April 2009

Julie's first sound picture

I've just had a first go at animating the first memory Julie (one of the subjects of our film) had of seeing sound.

"I saw this most beautiful sound, it was just gorgeous ... beautiful reds, yellows and purples... My mum said it was the cock crowing ... my first real memory of the wonderful visual sounds that I experience" Julie, describing her earliest synaesthetic memory aged about four.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis

Found this great interview with Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby on the sainted Youtube. It's a really nice interview about a wonderful film, one of my favourites. I love the integrity of their methodology - it makes me want to go back to oil paint on glass!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

3D animation

Some of the synaesthesia people that we are working with see their reactions in three dimensions rather than two, the image isn’t just a flat plane but it has depth and mass too. This came up in the research and development phase of this project, and it was one of those invaluable pieces of information which we were able to sort out for the production itself.

With this in mind we asked Omid Ghanat-Abady, 3D animator and senior lecturer in animation at the University of Worcester, to work on the project with us, making some of the animated reactions using a 3D package (Maya) and therefore adding to the veracity of the experience. We hope.

Anyway, it’s good fun working with Omid (pictured) who is a joy to deal with and it is amazing (for me as a 2D animator) to see the results of his work. He has just finished making a frog croak, which Emma sees as a ridged wooden pole, expanding and contracting as the noise emerges with a northern lights-type light effect behind it (see image below).

Next he’s going to be doing Tessa’s images of cellophane crackling, which is very silvery and metallic, something I’ve had problems creating in 2D.

There is an issue about mixing 2 and 3 dimensions - I don’t want it to look stuck on and it has to be aesthetically integrated and coherent. I hope that the enormous amount of compositing of 2D that I’m doing in 3D space for the film will bridge the gaps between the dimensions, I’m aiming for 2 and a half D.