Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crit feedback

The other week we presented our project to our class to get final feedback before the deadline. I wasn't really looking forward to this because I know I have a *lot* to do and I was worried that my animation in it's current scruffy state would be a little muddled and unclear.

I've had a thorough read of the feedback, and I'll sum it up below, and I'll add how I plan to rectify the negatives.


Good drawing / visual style
Characters are well designed with a sense of personality - their differences are put across in both their design and their movement.
Fitting music, brings out mystical side of animation.
Emotional story that is left open to interpretation (not necessarily a love story)
Some excellent shot framing
Dynamic and flows well
The scene where they interact with each other works well.


Not going to be able to finish in time / have a lot to do - This is my own fault, but I'm hoping to have it done to at least a presentable standard for the end of year show.

Should have dedicated less time to the intro so the rest of it would have been more completed. - True!

Sound effects? They'll help tell the story - I plan to add sound in, and I do have a version of the intro sequence with sound which I'll find for submission. Again, this is something I'd like to have for the year show rather than the deadline.

Isn't made clear what happens to the witch (she sort of disappears) - I'll maybe add a bit of extra narrative about her in the text section before they've grown older.

Maybe not clear how/why Photogen gets 'attacked' by darkness in the forest. - I think this will be made more clear when the art is fully drawn and it's more hallucinatory/nightmarish.

Not much conflict - I can't really do much about the story now as I've squeezed as much narrative into as short a timespace as I can. I'd love to do a longer version where I explore the conflict between the Witch and the kids more, but that will have to happen after deadline/year show.

Not clear that the hunter is Photogen, and also that the time had passed from when they were children - maybe due to the fact Nycteris looks too similar as a kid to when she's grown up. - Again, this will probably be clearer when it's fully drawn and in colour. As Photogen is bright orange, I think it'll be clear that the hunter is him!

Maybe establish the world/setting more at the beginning with some held / slowly panning shots. - I'd like to do this. I do think the setting of her cottage isn't really established.

Story possibly works without the childhood section / it's not necessary - I thought about this a lot, in the end I kept it in as a way to establish the fact that the witch wouldn't let Photogen see shadow or Nycteris see light. This would inform the audience of what they're like before they escape/meet each other. But maybe it wasn't necessary and I'm underestimating how much the audience would pick up on themselves!

Put a title screen at the beginning - The title screen comes after the introduction, so I'm a little confused by this comment.

The feedback from my tutors in regard to the submission was to aim to have one section fully polished, I'm hoping to have achieved this, even if it's not to the standard I'd like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Principles of animation

I came across this video which succinctly describes the principles described in the famous The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. It's nice to see these little visual indicators showcasing them.

The illusion of life from cento lodigiani on Vimeo.

I have been struggling with balancing my project, I've been so focussed on telling the story and planning out the shots that the actual animation has been suffering despite knowing what the principles are. I hope to polish it more and animate more mindfully following the deadline when I can work on it in my own time.

Animation techniques

As I haven't animated before I considered different ways to achieve it, I originally wanted to do fully traditional-style frame-by-frame animation where I drew the key poses and inbetweened them using the onion skin and timeline feature on Photoshop. This is pretty much what I did in the end, but I have used a couple of little tricks and shortcuts to make it a bit easier.

One thing I did was duplicate the frame and then use the lasso tool to select parts and move them slightly, this was quicker and looked a bit less 'shaky' than completely redrawing so was useful for scenes with minimal/subtle movement. So far I've mainly experimented with this technique on Nycteris' scene:

However I think it also made it look a little lifeless. I know you can combat this lifelessness with a 'wiggle' effect which I may look into, I'm not sure if Photoshop has this feature.

I have found frame-by-frame drawing to be difficult, the frames tend to jump around a lot and look quite rough. In my art my lines are always a little rough and sketchy which can be seen as an aesthetic choice or 'style' but I was hoping to achieve a more cleaner look - the jumpiness can detract from the character and the story. However a completely clean look would take a very long time to achieve and would require careful drawing of each frame.

I particularly have been struggling with animating a simple shot where Nycteris walks towards the curtain/door. I ended up rotoscoping some film footage I quickly made of me walking across my room. This was problematic as my room is small and doesn't have much walking space, and I don't have a tripod/any way to freely position a camera, so it was difficult to get the right angle. I'm not too fond of the overly 'rotoscoped' look and can think it looks a bit uncanny, especially when highly stylised characters are moving in a rotoscoped manner.

I think the rotoscoping did help me to establish key poses, but again, I've found it difficult to refine the sketchy draft into relatively clean looking animation. I've used a handful of different techniques, including using the pen tool to draw a clean line and then moving/animating that (see first gif below), but that didn't work and seemed to just draw attention to the 'off' movement. Of course the arm on here is animated wrong, but I found that using the pentool was actually much more time consuming (and less fun) than drawing the lines myself.

So I'll probably go back to drawing, though animating convincing dress movement has been very tricky. I'm aware that it's difficult to judge how the animation will look when working on a very rough, thumbnail background with no colour - I think this type of drawing will work and look much better when it's coloured and finished.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Making the music for my film has been a bit of an adventure. I'm a big music-lover and find it as moving, inspiring and generally awesome as I do visual art, and personally I find it the most powerful artform for evoking emotions. For this film I knew it would play a crucial role as there's no dialogue, so I wanted a soundtrack that would compliment the character's actions and help 'sell' their personalities and motivations.

As I've dabbled in the past in making music digitally I originally wanted to have a go at seeing if I could do it myself, obviously not expecting anything amazing, but I thought if I kept it simple and didn't aim for a full-on orchestral-style soundtrack I might be able to achieve something quite nice.

These are the drafts I made for the first two scenes.

(The first 20 seconds are particularly bad, but I quite liked the rest of it)

Nycteris' scene:


Eventually I realised I was being a bit silly / ambitious considering I have no real knowledge of music-making and had to focus my time on the animation.

I advertised through Leeds College of Music and got in contact with Declan Bell  who has gone on to make an excellent soundtrack which makes me feel very grateful I never stuck with my original plan...

Here it is in draft version on my progress presentation, I do have the final mastered version but will save that for when the film's more finished. We communicated a lot during the process and Declan was very open to my suggestions and wanted to ensure the music fit what I was wanting, whilst also offering a lot of his own creative input which was great.

I wanted the overall tone of the film to be quite whimsical and enchanting, and for each character to have certain themes/instruments associated with them. I took inspiration from a couple of my favourite animated films which similarly use music to express a darkly fantasy atmosphere, especially Danny Elfman's work for Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.

For Watho we referenced Dr. Finkelstein's theme from Nightmare, which is on this track, notably at around 0:48. The clarinet is often used to express something mischievous and a bit sinister whilst sounding slightly comical, and we thought it would work well to establish her character in the introduction. It repeats at around 2:40 to indicate that Photogen is keeping an eye out for her in the cottage.

For Photogen, it was a little more difficult to pin down inspiration but generally we wanted him to come across as a happy, energetic little kid who grows into a strong, stubborn, typically masculine guy. We decided a lot of energetic strings and a bit of brass (this is more audible in the mastered version) would work well. The music which plays when he's hunting the deer is very energetic and I think does a great job of shaking up the pace to the overall film - it sharply contrasts the slower, more thoughtful music on Nycteris' scene beforehand.

For Nycteris, we thought a lot of harps, flutes and glockenspiel-type sounds would suit her gentle, curious character. Her theme plays at around 4:02.

Luckily for the entire composition process we were on the same wavelength and had similar ideas/sounds in mind, so the process all ran smoothly despite me being a bit disorganised whilst making the animatic.

I'm very happy with it! I think it definitely heightens the emotional impact of the story.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Animatic references

Some animatics I found to be good reference when creating my own. Mainly to see how they use different angles/distances for cinematic effect.

The dynamic sequence when she's on her broom was really impressive, you definitely get a sense of the camera 'moving' after and around her.

This one has nice exaggerated character movement and expressions which are used to great comedic effect.

The above link is for a deleted scene from Frozen, I actually really like it and feel it'd have been nice to see in the final film. It shows a more light-hearted side of the dynamics of Elsa and Anna's relationship and their personality differences. As the focus is on the dialogue, the camera movement is kept limited with a focus on the character's expressions and gestures.


Vaesen from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo.

I've been on the search for 2D animated films that I find different, interesting and experimental, in the hopes that it'll help broaden my mind to the different ways the medium can be used. I was immediately struck by the visual style of the short film Vaesen, it recalled for me the illustrations of Aubrey Beardlsey, Harry Clarke, etc. which I've loved and been inspired by for a long time - it actually looks like a living illustration you'd see in an old fairy tale book. The backgrounds are incredible and really lavishly detailed, they look like covers off a 70s prog-rock or metal record, which is fitting as it also happens to have awesome prog-rock style music which really sets it apart from other films I've seen. I took note of how the artist separated the backgrounds across separate layers and moved them so that they had depth. Although the characters are flatly coloured they fit in seamlessly, and often dramatic lighting and shadow is used which helps cement them into their surroundings.

Narratively, there isn't a great deal to go by upon the first viewing - it seems quite open to interpretation, full of folkloric references and symbols. Which makes it all the more compelling and atmospheric in my opinion. It feels like a world which I want to explore and learn more about

I really love it, I feel like it's a combination of everything I like, artistically - high fantasy, Aubrey Beardsley-esque illustration, rock music, a general eerie, ambiguous atmosphere. These may not apply to the film I'm making at the moment, but it is still very inspiring.

EFECTO LOBO from sunshine animation on Vimeo.

This little video has a nice break down of stylised 'swirly' animation, it's always useful to see indications of how other animators work, although I don't think I'll be able to achieve something this crisp and neat-looking it's good reference for how to achieve that Hercules-type flame/smoke effect which I hope to include in my film.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Presenting my portfolio, cont.

As already mentioned previously I'm a bit haphazard when presenting my work and don't really have a good innate 'eye' for clean, organised ways of putting together my drawings and paintings. I also don't really know the 'do's and don'ts' of graphic design, as shown by my tutor's reaction when I suggested that Arial and Helvetica 'are pretty much the same thing'.  But this is all definitely something I'm working to change. I feel like if I want to work as a visual designer of any kind, I should at least have a good grasp of graphic design.

The first thing I've decided to do is find a good font to use across all my portfolio and branding materials. (Although for presenting individual projects I think I'll use fonts that suit each project, for example a more cartoony project like Iron Heart would have a slightly more cartoony font). I didn't want to use something standard, I wanted something with a bit of character and charm whilst still being clean and legible.

Tested out on my Tabitha concept sheet. I added a reflection underneath the 3D model to make her seem more grounded. (I don't actually have my Wordpress set up yet but I plan to use it as my main site.)

I think I like this next one more as it doesn't have the very slight italic. 

Still needs lots of tweaking. We'll see how it looks when they're all put together as a portfolio.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wacom Cintiq

I'm aware that the Wacom Cintiq is generally what all the professionals use, to the point where some job advertisements wish applicants to have previous experience with the hardware. I've never thought seriously about getting one yet as they are very expensive, but I spoke briefly with my tutor about it after I complained how I couldn't sketch animation frames as well with a tablet as I could on paper. He suggested I consider investing in a 12 inch Cintiq. I did a bit of research and found the 13HD which sells for around £600-700. I read some mixed reviews about the 12WX, artist Sam Hogg has written about her experience here saying how the screen colour was so desaturated it didn't match up to her other monitors at all, no matter how much she re-calibrated and changed the settings. In the end she had to return it.

I'd already had doubts about working on such a small screen, so this planted some serious questions in my mind whether it's worth getting any Cintiq other than the 22 - 24HD editions. But even these ones have mixed reviews, which is very concerning considering their price. Users comment on the screen resolution, which in comparison to the HD monitors you'd become accustomed to as a creative professional, are apparently 'dismal'. Although all-in-all it's an excellent product - and as I'm certainly not very fussy when it comes to hardware, I'd probably be more than happy with it -  it seems that it's a bit too far out of my price range at the moment. I'd rather wait until I have an income and invest in a 24inch version as I think this will be more suited to illustration and digital painting than the smaller-screened models. Until then, I'm happy with my Intuos5.