Thursday, December 29, 2011

Film Theory II - The French New Wave

(note: the fact that the third of the film theory lectures has come after the second is because it was delayed due to the national strike)

The French New Wave was a term coined for a group of young French filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s who, inspired by Italian neorealism decided to break from the traditions of Hollywood cinema and create films that were vibrant, innovative and bold, experimentally reworking genres such as film noir and musicals. This was an era of many "New Waves" in the film industry, including the British one, but the French has been the most influential.

Film Theory III - Italian Vernacular Cinema

This lecture began with a quote from Werner Herzog: "Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterate." This relates to the word "vernacular", which means "made for the majority of people". Generally, films aren't made for intellectuals; they are available and viewed by ordinary people. They are not a matter of literacy and dialogue, but of visuals and spectacle.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Film Theory I - The Auteur

The term "auteur" is used in the film world to refer to a filmmaker or director who exerts control over the creative decisions made in the filmmaking process, particularly in the artistic direction of the film. They have become increasingly popular in modern culture with the rise of directors such as Tarantino, Bergman, Tim Burton, etc. who all exhibit a common visual "style" that makes each of their works instantly recognisable.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shane Meadows: This is England

I'm going to write a few posts about some of the weird and wonderful (or not so much) things I've been watching/playing/experiencing over these Christmas holidays.

It started off with this, This Is England '88. I'm not entirely sure what it is about Shane Meadows' work that I find so appealing. The bleak, gritty council estates in which they're set? The often violent/crude actions and constant foul language of the characters? Perhaps not, yet something about that "kitchen sink realism" combined with the rebellious but loveable nature of the characters - in this instance, embittered with a sudden need to "grow up" - topped with moments of brilliant dark humour has made the entire series from the first This is England film irresistible to me.

Compared to the first film, where a lot of the focus was on the intimidating Combo and his controversial views of society, the two television series to follow it (This is England '86 and '88) seem to have concentrated more on exploring the relationships between the characters. I find the characters themselves are very well-realised and believable; you really do get the sense that they're a long-running group of friends who continue living even after you've finished watching the series.

Yet, there is a strong undercurrent of sorrow and sinisterness throughout the series. Their lives are not happy ones, as Meadows seems very keen to ensure. Particularly the tragic and enigmatic Lol, portrayed by Vicky McClure, whose past of abuse and a failed relationship has left her as a single parent suffering from disturbing hallucinations.

But, story aside, one aspect of This is England that always prevents my eyes from wandering is the way it's shot. It's shaky and nervous, and never ignores those mundane moments that make it feel all that more believable. There's also plenty of lingering slow-motion and close-up shots that take us momentarily away from the turmoil and swearing and give us a glimpse of their fragility.

I personally don't think many dramas pull off creating truly loveable yet tragic characters, but this is one of them, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

In any case, it was a welcome break from the artificial glossiness of most Christmas television.

Animating in Maya: Heavy vs. Light

Another little animation exercise we had to complete on Maya was to animate a light ball and a heavy ball falling simultaneously. After some initial attempts that didn't look at all realistic, I had a quick look on Youtube for some reference (both from real life and from animations). Although I didn't try to completely mimic these motions, it gave a good sense of how the two spheres should act.


My animation:

With the light ball I was free to be more dynamic and less limiting with the movement, so I found that easier than the heavy ball. The main thing I considered would be that, although it would have to hit the ground on the same frame as the light one, it would have to have much fewer bounces following it. However I found it a bit difficult trying to determine exactly how many, and how high to make them. Sadly I don't know much at all about physics so in the end it was all just simply my judgement of what looked more realistic. 

I'd have liked to have added a resulting "roll away" effect so that the balls took up more of the three-dimensional space, and I also am considering adding in some squash and stretch. But I shall leave it as it is for now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Film, continued...

Today was our interim crit, where we showcased our progress so far and presented our completed storyboards. Over the weekend I'd pulled together screenshots from a couple of the short films I watched for inspiration, namely Be Near Me and also another film, Notte Sento

I admired the atmospheric lighting and cinematography used in these films, and so compiled them together to give a very rough impression of the effects I'd like to create in our film.

Notably the happy memories are going to be shown in warmer, more saturated colour tones which will completely contrast the cooler palette shown later in the film to express their sadness. I also like the idea of shooting the city at twilight, perhaps early evening or very early morning, as I find the pale, hazy effect to be very atmospheric and almost ethereal. I'd also like to make use of the light to highlight the edges of their silhouettes (as shown in the bottom left) to express that vagueness and lack of distinction that is often associated with memories.

Our next step in this project has been to advertise for a female actor, and create a filming schedule. My fellow storyboard artist Alex and I will also work on an animatic to show a very rough draft of the finalised film.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


In the second part of our film module we are creating two two-minute films inspired by poetry.

We were put into groups depending on our preferred role. I decided I would prefer to focus on the storyboarding and concept design.

The first poem we were given is a story of oppression and expectations within society, and of love that is forbidden and frowned by their respective religions and cultures. After some initial brainstorming we decided to focus solely on the love story, and less on the cultural element. However there was some decisions to be made on how conceptual we wanted the film to be; Do we want it to be abstract, or have a more evident narrative? Do we want the visuals to be impressionistic and set in a studio, or do we want to be filming in a specific area?

We watched a few short films that depict love in one way or another:

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

This is a minimalistic but very moving animation that was the project of artist and animator Ryan Woodward, who wished to combine his interests in animation, effects and contemporary dance.

On his website, Ryan states: "Rather than creating a narrative animated piece that communicates a well defined story, this piece allows for each individual who views it to experience something unique and personal that touches their own sensibilities."

He hoped that his film would inspire many different individual responses and interpretations, and, judging by the 1000+ comments on the Vimeo link, I think that's been achieved. Some feel that it represents how we tend to idealise people in the first stages of the relationship (as shown around 1:00), and how we sometimes forget that they are, in fact, just normal, mundane people (as shown around 2:40, when the woman is drawn with plain pencil lines). Personally I find it very sad to see that the transformation between the bright, angelic creature to "plain" causes him to doubt and leave. 

I think the fact that people relate their own experiences to the film is the reason why it is so touching. For my film project, I would have liked to have done something ambiguous like this, so that others would respond to it with their own experiences. However our group reached the final decision to do a narrative approach so that it relates more to the poem.

one step forward (award winning 48 hour film project) from ben crowell on Vimeo.

Again, a touching film (I'm a bit of a romantic at heart). However this one is particularly unusual as it is all shown in reverse. We are curious and slightly confused at first as to why a soaked, bedraggled-looking guy looks, at the same time, like the happiest man on Earth. We watch him take part in various activities, still unsure as to who he is or what he's doing. The music cuts to a minimal piano when, towards the end, he shares a tender moment and proposes to his girlfriend, and we discover why he's so cheerful.

This idea of "starting at the end and moving towards the beginning" is interesting to me as it leaves room for the viewer to guess and wonder at what's happening, and keeps their attention until the end.

Although our poem is a bit more brooding, I played with the idea of beginning with the girl looking dejected as she and her lover have left each other. This would progress to show them in conflict over the fact they aren't allowed to be together, which would then go on to show them in love in various happy memories. The ending, whilst happy, would still have a saddening effect on the audience as they know the couple didn't, in fact, end up together.

I drew up some rough storyboard ideas for this.

However, following feedback from others, I think it wasn't entirely clear that the story was in reverse, so the message of the film wasn't understandable without my explanation, so we decided to compromise and combine some of my ideas with a more narrative approach.

Be Near Me from John X. Carey on Vimeo.

And the last one. There is a clear story here of the woman losing her partner in a plane accident. The film expresses lucidly how memories of lost loved ones keep them alive within us. The main feature that struck me in this film was the cinematography and use of short, brief cuts to contrast between happy memories and the current day. In the memories, the colours are more warm and saturated. Towards the end, they become much darker and washed out to reflect her grief.

We've decided for the focus of ours to be on the memories that the couple have shared, so I'm going to take inspiration from this for how to organise them and contrast them with the reality of the situation - that they can't be together.

My next steps are to create the final storyboards, moodboards and eventually an animatic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Anticipating "Brave"

There are so many great things about this trailer. But the best, of course, is her hair. I'm glad to finally see fellow curly-haired people getting a look in in character design - especially in Pixar's first female protagonist!

I found some images at (which coincidentally no longer exists). The comments thread also hosted some interesting opinions on the film and it's seeming similarities to DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon, and how the theme/genre isn't "living up" to Pixar's standards of originality.

Now I haven't researched the topic deeply, but my general thoughts are that Pixar would be fully aware of certain visual resemblances between the two films, and I have no doubts that Brave is going to be an excellent - and completely different - experience.

Either way, some of the designs are excellent, I'm looking forward to seeing some in-depth concept art. I'd recommend you have a look!

Maya: Deforming and basic shading

We had quite a fun lesson today on the deformers tool in Maya. Basically these are tools which can twist, bend, squash, flare, etc. shapes to create more dynamic and interesting models and animations. The entire morning was spent just playing around with this.

We then learnt about Hypershade, and how to colour and texturise shapes and add in lighting and shadows. I certainly need more practice with this, particularly on textures, but in the end I managed to create this little fellow:

(he is standing on a heart)

I felt a bit more free to be creative today, as opposed to our previous lesson on animating which was very precise and technological. I enjoyed experimenting with the deformers and shapes, and next week I'll be attempting to build a replica of my little Micropet cat. I can see this being a challenge already...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Film... and a bit about Svankmajer

Unforunately I'm feeling a bit behind in my course as I was ill and had to return home for a week. Just before this happened we began our next modules, Digital Film Production and Fundamentals of 3D Modelling and Animation, which I've already written about.

For Digital Film, the brief is in two parts: for the first part we were meant to create a 1-minute instructional video. The second part, which we just started yesterday, is a live brief which involves creating a film inspired by a poem from the amateur poetry group Stanza Stones.

I decided to instruct how to make cake in a mug, as it's simple, quick, and involves cake. After a failed hurried attempt - I couldn't get a tripod, so I tried to film it all handheld going for the energetic "Jamie Oliver" sort of cooking scene, but it just looked really bad - I'm going to aim to film and edit it by next week (eek).

I wasn't sure exactly what direction to take with this video. Many people in my class opted to go the humorous route but if I tried that it'd probably fall flat...

As this coincided with a seminar on stop motion animation, I'm considering doing something involving pixilation. For the "instructional" part, I'm going to do something with food.

Seeing as these are two subjects favoured by famous surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer, I thought I'd have a look at his work.

I find his films captivating because they are bizarrely funny but have a very disturbing quality. He does this through his use of animation, mix of media and exaggerated sound effects. He's inspiring me to be fearless with my work and stretch it as far as my skills will let me.
Let's just hope I'm not being too ambitious!

The Skillful Huntsman

I found a book in the college's library: The Skillful Hunstman by Design Studio Press. I flicked through and was instantly drawn in by the stylised conceptual drawings, so decided to take it out for a better look.

Inspired by fairytales - in this case a tale from the Brothers Grimm - it follows the design process, from rough silhouette sketching to final rendered visions, of three talented students: Khang Le, Felix Yoon and Mike Yamada. It includes designs for an array of characters, environments, props and vehicles.

I really liked this book, for various reasons.

Firstly, the fact that it follows three artists under the judgement of their tutor, rather than just one artist, shows very interestingly how an artist has their own unique way of working; there are no set "rights" and "wrongs". For instance, some artists started off with very rough sketches that slowly became more refined, and others were quite intricate even early in the process. It also featured them describing their process and why they choose to work like that, which as a student is very helpful for me in showing how I should write my own analyses.

From a design perspective, it was a trove of inspiration and guidance. I'd never fully understood the importance of designing silhouettes, but now I'm aware of how significant an interesting silhouette is in creating a recognisable, unique character. It also emphasised how I should spend more time in the early stages of the design process experimenting with as many different looks as I can think of, as more often than not a more interesting design will pop up in your mind following experimentation. This was an error I made in my last character design project where I settled quite quickly with a look for my character.

For example, for the "vehicle", the artists looked at a wide range of options from motorcycles to great monsters with saddles across their backs, and even then there were many varieties of monsters. It really opened my eyes to delving into my imagination and creating truly unique ideas.

This book is the most helpful documentation of the creative process I've read so far. I'd certainly recommend it to anybody interested in character and concept design.

Graffiti and Street Art

Graffiti comes from the Italian word a graffiare, which means "to scratch"; the term was used to describe drawings found carved into the walls of ancient ruins and sacred locations, but has since evolved to encompass all types of artwork that constitutes vandalism.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Basic animating in Maya

Today we had quite an intensive course on how to animate with Maya. We began with simple experimentation, then were given a couple of exercises to complete. The first one was a swinging pendulum; we had to make the movement more naturalistic by manually editing the animation graph so that the "swing" of the pendulum followed through/overlapped. 

Here is the animation graph, showing the gradual increase then sudden stop and follow through of the pendulum's swing in this film.

As with the modelling I initially found these exercises challenging, mainly down to the fact I kept forgetting to set my key frames so none of my animation would show. However I do feel that towards the end of the day I grew more comfortable with the software and was able to create the desired effects.

The thought of creating an intricate model and rigging it still seems a long, long way off, but these are my first attempts at digital animation and learning each part of the process and noticing my progress is a great experience in itself. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm really striving to work on my digital colouring skills.
I practised today by colouring a self portrait (which turned out really creepy, so I'm not going to upload it here). I then decided to experiment with a different brush style, so opted for the rough-edged, "chalky" brush as opposed to the smooth default one. I really liked the outcome, I thought it gave the overall image a much more lively and animated feel. I've also been working with textures, and spent some time playing with the filter settings until I got the desired effect.

(the drawing is of a character of mine)

And again, trying out textures and seeing what interesting effects they create. This is just a cartoony self-portrait.

Artists: Lois van Baarle

Really beautiful and serene animation from graduate artist Lois van Baarle. She uses simple but stylistic shapes, textures and mellow music to really draw the viewer in to this little alternative world.
She's also posted a video demonstrating the creation process, which will be helpful for any of my future projects involving 2D animation.

Trichrome Progress from Lois van Baarle on Vimeo.

She has an extensive online gallery which showcases her vibrant, colourful style which makes similar use of textures and stylisation to create quite a unique impression.
I'm envious of her colouring skills.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fundamentals of 3D Modelling and Animation - Maya

I've finally been introduced to 3D modelling software! This week we've been learning the basics of Maya. Initially I was quite intimidated by the vast number of tools, boxes, hotkeys, etc. but we were given a tutorial to follow to create a simple truck shape. After nearly losing my temper a few times I managed to complete the tutorial in half an hour or so. Here is the result!

The next part of this module involves creating a short 3D CGI film. I'm really looking forward to grasping the functions of Maya and other software, and learning to create more complex shapes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Artists: Ben Templesmith

I'm not a regular reader of comics and graphic novels - I am interested in familiarising myself with them but there's simply too many to choose from, I don't know where to begin. But, if something really catches my eye I like to take time to study the artwork and techniques used in visually conveying a story.

One of these was 30 Days of Night: Red Snow, which introduced me to Ben Templesmith. His illustrations are loosely drawn in a eerie, gothic style that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the story. 

Through further research I've become more interested in looking for Templesmith's other work, and I also came across this interview in which he speaks about a variety of topics, including the importance of an education (or lack thereof) in being a successful artist, and a glimpse at the economical side of being an artist. 

His work is partly traditional and partly digital, showing how the two mediums can be combined to create the most effective results. I found some additional info here, in particular an idea of his work process: 

"Templesmith’s artistic process often starts with pens and watercolours to produce a preliminary piece which he then finishes with various Photoshop layering techniques. To explore his process in-depth check out issue 44 of Advanced Photoshop Magazine. He also occasionally provides insights into his process on his personal website where he posts progress shots of various works."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Twining's "Gets You Back To You"

I came across Twining's "Gets You Back To You" advert on the television the other week, and thought it was really beautiful. I'm sure we can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by the world around us, as expressed in this film. This, combined with a well-known emotive song makes for a very touching advert. 

It was created by the company Psyop who have made many other great animated commercials that have certainly made the 5-minute break in my show less tedious. I enjoy seeing adverts that look like they've been created with care and artistry, and not just for the purpose of persuading you to buy a product.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Adventure Time...

I love this cartoon.
It really shows how simple, clean lineart and flat colours are sometimes a better choice for creating memorable and loveable characters.
Here's a quick look at how they storyboard and create their concept art.

Environment concept art

Here is the final concept of Ivy's environment. 

Inspired by the various artist's work I've been admiring, I tried to focus mainly on the atmosphere and mood of the piece rather than the technical detailing. I used quite loose brushstrokes to give more of an impressionistic feel to the structures an make the overall image seem magical and mystical. I also made the lighting particularly dark to create a contrast that draws attention to the centre of the image, to the bright crystals and the skull. 

edit: made it a bit more "glowy" and bright:

my inner perfectionist is at work today...

Sadly I made a bit of a mistake whilst editing this: I'd resized a version for posting it on here, and without my realising, that was the one I worked on... so the final image is actually quite small. This means it will probably appear pixelated on the final A3 concept sheet. (there had to be one thing that went wrong)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I've started watching BBC's miniseries adaptation of the novel, The Crimson Petal and the White. It is set in the dark, illness-ridden streets of Victorian London, and tells the story of a writer who becomes involved with an unconventional, strong-willed and intelligent prostitute called Sugar. I was mainly intrigued by the style; costume dramas tend to come across as quite rigid and bland, but here the cinematography was quite unusual. Also, the slightly modernised, downtrodden, Gothic Victorian look is endlessly charming to me.

I found the first scene quite captivating with it's fast-paced and shaking camera shots, wonderful costume design and it's energising soundtrack which combines classical strings with the pulsating of modern electronic music. It uses the odd slow-motion shot and jump cut to create tension and unexpected moments, and to hint at a film that isn't afraid to be experimental.

Here's the first scene, if you like this sort of thing I'd recommend checking it out (don't watch further than the first 2 and a half minutes if you don't like nudity / slightly gross things!):

Artists: Carter Goodrich

Carter Goodrich is an award-winning freelance illustrator who has been working since 1983, and his first role in film was as a lead character designer on The Prince of Egypt in 1995. Below are some images he made for Despicable Me and Shrek

A majority of his work available on his site is greyscale pencil work, which shows his incredible talent for sketching. His drawings are very dynamic, lively and full of character - what can be expected from a DreamWorks and Pixar character designer I suppose!



Character - Final Art

Here is my final concept for my character.

In my head I've been nicknaming her "Rooty" over the time I've developed her as it took a while for me to think of a name that fits. Then I remembered that she was originally just an everyday human girl, and in her new state she doesn't really interact on personal terms with other beings, so I have given her a relatively everyday name. Her appearance has obviously been an influence, but I've decided she is/was called "Ivy Reid".

I've stuck with the earthy green tones, but this time I added an overlay filter in Photoshop to brighten up the colours. I think I've developed a personal habit of colouring in a very muted way and I'm trying to change that.


I'm going to use this image instead of the coloured turnaround in my final A3 character concept sheet as I think it captures her presence and personality more effectively. If I had more time, I would do a full 360 degree turnaround to this detail, but sadly I really need to use the time I have left to finish her environment.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Artists: Noah-kh

An artist whose techniques I greatly admire is Kuang Hong, also known as Noah-kh. His online galleries are interesting in that I find myself repeatedly coming back to them just to have another look.

His work is rich with texture, detail, tones and a definitive sense of fantasy, mythology and epicness - in the true sense of the word, not the internet sense!

However I find that he "stands out from the crowd" because he works with various different styles and subject matters, ranging from "traditional" fantastical dragons, fairies and vast dramatic scenery, to surrealism, horror and the downright dark and disturbing. He is clearly very technically skilled, as well as having a knack for creating intriguing and unique character quirks.

He has so many incredible artworks that I struggled to pick a few, so I'll post many. (I was surprised to discover some that really resonate my own character):

In these images I've found inspiration for how to physically meld my character with her forest environment.

This one, in particular, which was inspired by the idea that from death, the roots of life are born: I really like how her limbs and head have merged with the tree roots and changed colour, texture and shape. The colours are interestingly juxtaposed: the figure is somewhat muted, but combined with the vivid orange tones of the background, the overall image appears bright, almost akin to a summer's evening. But then we are drawn to the skeletal figures forming the tree, and recall the sombre undertones.

Other great pieces:


Artists: Dmitry Narozhny

On DA I found the artist Dmitry Narozhny (official website here), and was drawn to his sequential drawings. I was interested to see how he sketched out his panels and also drafts the basic lighting and shadows before beginning the refined versions. 

His use of angles and lighting very cinematic, and hope to achieve a similar effect when I venture into creating storyboards and graphic novel/comic scenes.

Well... here's my first try at a flip-book animation!

I'm not overly happy with it. The drawings wobble about quite a lot due to slight changes in size and proportions, and I think the scene I chose was too limited and didn't show any clear expression, which is possibly the main point of animation. (The second one was a rather messy attempt at doing something more action-related).

I found it a little difficult trying to get her the same size on each page without the aid of a lightbox or tracing paper, so on my next try at traditional animation I plan to spend more time on the drawing and ensuring it appears consistent.

it's meant to show her spotting a bird, reaching out to hold it, and then feeling sad when it flies straight by.


Here is a final sketch of my character's "skull cave". From her height I was able to estimate the height and length of the skull.

I aim for it to appear as if it is integrated into the rock and trees behind it.

Here are some sketches showing the development of the idea: