Saturday, 22 December 2012

Lorraine Bowen's Stereo Spectacular!

If you haven't yet been listening to Lorraine Bowen's stereo spectacular podcast then there is no time like the present, as her Christmas Special . . . (oh, the "present")  . . . features a track from me and my band!  Lorraine's podcasts are truly entertaining, this one even features vintage exercise routines, and tracks from John Shuttleworth and Lorraine Bowen herself.

here is a link to check it out

Monday, 17 December 2012

snowball . . . again

hey . . . so as it's nearly Christmas I thought I would post the snowball papertoy I made last year for Cass Arts . . . you can click this link to print it out and make your very own . . . wow!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

the little match girl passion: shadow world

The central figure in this story is obviously the match girl herself, and this means the way everything else is described visually has to lead out of the way she is made.  I use shadow puppets to portray her in this, and so other parts of the story either go forward from this - her visions for example are "extra" real in that they are 3D painted models, so they feel hyper-real to her, a cardboard girl, and then other people - the anonymous crowds in the city - are smudgey chalk animated loops, they have no individual character, no discernible strength or edges, but rather are lumps of storytelling devices, I imagined Carol by Patricia Highsmith when I was thinking of the crowd scenes, 1930s or 40s busy wintery crowds getting on with stuff in the city, and nothing to do with us or the story we are here to listen to, well, except to judge, maybe, as this is a Passion.  

In earlier shows I have projected the shadow puppets and backgrounds simultaneously from an O.H.P. onto a screen, but here, as my processes have developed over the last couple of years, I am creating a much more layered piece, building up cut-out painted skyscrapers, the chalk animations, little models with lights and holes and clear coloured plastic - I perform the black cut-out cardboard shadow puppets in front of the camera, or sometimes behind a paper screen, like they did in the olden days . . . and it's still basically light and shadows, and here this means that a lot of the main puppet figures of the match girl are almost little cardboard automata - like two of my favourite artists Paul Spooner and Tim Hunkin - with one or two little functions to each perform to tell a specific piece of the story. 

I made a video that explains a bit more of this and shows you some of the puppets actually moving . . . 

unicorn theatre christmas card

in between finishing off the puppets and animations for The Little Match Girl Passion next week at Spitalfields Winter Music Festival I painted a Christmas card for the Unicorn Theatre in Southwark . . . here it is . . . it kind of made me think I should have painted Justin Hawkins riding it, maybe I should make an animated Christmas Darkness music video . . .

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Little Match Girl Passion: making the 3D world of her visions

So I've been working on The Little Match Girl Passion again this week.  In this live-animation I'm making for it I'm trying to create a world that is three-dimensional but made up of 2-D flat layers - drawn animations projected onto paper screens, paper cut-out shadow puppets, and here is the city for example, buildings drawn onto corrugated card and laid out in parallel formations . . .

when the match girl has her visions, however - when she strikes a match to keep warm and beautiful things reveal themselves in its glow - I wanted to make these in a different way, and I thought it would be somehow extra-real in this 2-D environment if everything in the visions was an actual three-dimensional object, like this dining room table at Christmas.  The white plate behind the cake in this picture is empty because its where the goose was, but in her vision the goose jumps up and runs away.

Here is a video where I show you some of these scenes I've built this week, and a couple of the puppets that live in those worlds . . .

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Little Match Girl Passion crowd animations

I've been working on some of the background animations for David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion that I'm making a live-animation for, commissioned by Opera North, and wanted to show you some of it.  I've only done a very rough edit so far - rough in terms of compositing, the visual side of it I'm happy with.  I mostly use animations in live shows to create skies, weather conditions, journeys - things that don't have actual people or animals in, and I was trying to justify why it was okay to have some things live and some things as filmed animations if there were people in the scenes, but to me I feel that the looping crowd scenes echo the looping text in the music, and I think its a way of saying to you as the viewer you can disregard these big groups of people as anything more important than all you see here, they are like the clouds going by, or the snow, repeating and never-ending, the brain gets the hang of a loop quite quickly I think and disengages if it looks like nothing is going to happen other than repetition, so I will be able to then puppet the main character  - the match girl - live in front of these crowds.  Its her story, it happens to be happening right now as we tell this story, whereas there will always be a crowd, the city is a never ending loop of anonymous people.  Maybe I need to condense those sentences down a bit if I want to try and talk about this again, haha, but I hope you understand what I mean.

I'm working in charcoal for this, it has a dirty and dusty quality that feels suitable, kind of like I'm drawing with her burnt out matches, and actually when I opened the packet, i'd not bought this variety before, it looked like a little prop from a puppet film for her matches . . .

I was inspired to work this way watching William Kentridge's films.  I'm sure other people work this way too, but I haven't seen anyone else with such a confident rawness.   The basic technique is to draw an image, take a shot, erase it and draw the next image over the top, and as you erase each image and move forward it leaves behind a ghostly trace of the sequence.

And also as bits of charcoal crumble off (if you are working on a horizontal flat surface) they build up nicely around where the crowd's feet are supposed to be and look like footprints and dirty snow.

In my head I was trying to live in the worlds of Edward Gorey,  Joel Stewart and Lemony Snicket, which would be a strange but fun world. . . .

Here is a rough edit of the film:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

I cover Pretty Poison by Sal Bernardi

I made this video cover-version of Sal Bernardi's Pretty Poison to test out a new camera and also try some clever (but not that clever really) editing things . . . 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

paper pumpkin

hey it's halloween . . here is the paperboy pumpkin I made last year, you could download it from sadlucy and make one for yourself.  Fill it with water and throw it at your neighbours.  If you are in London tonight why not come and see us do our halloween show in Bethnal Green for the Ministry of Stories . . . 

Sunday, 7 October 2012


You might have noticed the new "wallpaper" here on this blog, and its actual wallpaper that I made for the cafe scenes in the new animation . . . a lot of the film (written by John McIlduff) is about smell and so I designed wallpaper for this scene with things that I like the smell of most . . and that is ferns and tadpoles.  Now i need to make some more for another scene but I ran out of smells i like now . . .  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

peter, lily and the nose video diary 4: (subtitled, how to be organised . . . . )

I should probably space this out a bit more, posting up videos, but as this is kind of part 2 to the last video it's okay . . .

another compositing test for Peter Lily and the Nose

here is a brief scene from the film, trying out more layering techniques . . .

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

how animating can improve your life: part one

I realised while I've been filming scenes that although animation is not the ideal medium for someone like me who finds it hard to sit still and be quiet, it's actually somewhat therapeutic, I'm finding it has benefits that are improving my every-day life (apart from not getting any vitamin D) so I've started to make a few films with some of my thoughts about this . . . actually I could have just written it down, but I decided to talk about it instead, here is part one: how animation can bring you into a peaceful state of mind . . .

Peter, Lily and the Nose: compositing tests

This week I have started filming some scenes for my animation, and working with shadow-puppets it is the shortest part of the whole process for me, most of the time consuming work is making the puppets and trying to work out what they'll need to do and making different replacement hands and faces, and it's weird to realise after filming a scene that it took two or three days to cut out and design, but only maybe 30 minutes to film and then it's finished with.  I'm trying to do only one or two takes for each scene, I want it to feel spontaneous and not too laboured over.   When I read about other people making animation I get the feeling that we are all making it up as we go along - the process is old and simple, but you have to concentrate totally and react to how the puppets are moving and respond and make changes on the spot, and it's different for every film, sometimes every scene, the puppets don;t always move the way you imagined.

In this film I'm building up layers of animations to create the scenes - and here is an example I've roughly composited to see if it's working okay . . . I'll show you the process, starting with the first take, which I had to abandon as soon as I watched the playback, as the puppet already wasn't working very well - you can have a look here, Lily, the main girl character is slipping around on the motorbike . .

I thought it would give her character a dangerous vitality if she wasn't fixed down, but it just looked weird and floaty . . . so I added a pivot point to her bottom and I think it gives her a better sense of weight.  I layered this video with a pencil animation of the rain (which i posted earlier this year if you want to have a look) and an animated continuously moving cityscape background, the buildings were made in a loop so I could animate it for as long as i needed instead of just looping the footage like I did with the rain:

Here is the scene with all three parts layered together:

Saturday, 28 July 2012

PL&TN: day 14

I was out late watching the opening olympic things last night so I haven't got much done, but today I made a side-view of Peter, the main character - I've already made it as a 3/4 view, but to make him run I need his legs to be able to fully cross each other, i.e. pivot from the same place at the bottom of his body, on the 3/4 view each leg has its own pivot point.  And guess what?  I made a little film while I was doing it so you watch the thing take shape as I thought it'd be fun!

and here is a photo of the finished puppet.  It'll have replaceable heads to I can change the expressions easily while it is running  . . . .

Friday, 27 July 2012

PL&TN: day 13

Hello . . . I finished the storyboard for my other show and now I'm working on the animation again.  Meanwhile I also took a couple of days off to lie in the sun and somehow solved some of the unfinished story issues while I was doing nothing.  oh, actually I did read a book about Sal Mineo.  So now that I have nothing left to design - because I thought I had a massive clockwork machine to design and possibly even make out of cardboard for picture reference, but I don't, the answer was already within the story (sorry to be mysterious at this stage) - I have now started cutting everything out, and organising scene lists.  Weirdly it's exactly 100 scenes at the moment.

A lot of the puppets are jointed so I can manipulate them in the same way as a 3D stop motion puppet:

. . . I'll be making another one tomorrow so I might film that process to show you.  For some of the really wide shots I have to make quite small puppets and as they're too small to be jointed I instead make a series of replacement puppets, one for each movement.  I tend to keep it to about 4 or 5 pieces, so it doesn't end up looking too professional . . . 

They're quite small, here is the main character next to a 5p . . . 

Also started cutting out backgrounds - 

And in other news, something has bitten me and my right arm has become massive.  Hope it becomes normal soon . . . now i'm finishing early to cycle into East London to go and watch the Olympic opening ceremony.

Monday, 23 July 2012


building matthewtropolis while i work on some new ideas for the Christmas show . . .

Friday, 20 July 2012


so today I've just been storyboarding my December show.  I used to hate working in this way, i.e. planning, but I have to show other people the ideas, and if you're trying to work with pictures then I've learned that words are a complicated way to explain what the pictures are going to be.  Better just to show some pictures.  And actually I'm starting to enjoy planning things...although I haven't left the house all day, and still have half of them left to draw . . .

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

. . . another project . . .

If you're reading this I guess you will notice i haven't posted any film updates . . . I've just had to stop for a few days while I finish off designs for a show I'm doing at Christmas (which hopefully I can talk about soon).  Here are some pages from my sketchbook from the last few days (and possibly a couple from earlier in the year) . . . 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

PL&TN: day 10

So, I've actually shot some animation today that will be part of the final film, it's some background material - grey windy skies, and it's taken almost 2 days to make about 15 seconds of it, although that includes repainting the skies 3 times before they looked good enough (by which I mean spontaneous enough) on long pieces of wallpaper, photographing it, and printing it out frame by frame on a bad printer, photocopying the sequence (which took 2 hours in the library as only one machine worked and I had to keep stopping to let other people use it who didn't have 300 print-outs of cloud paintings to enlarge) and then photographing it again as a final sequence.  This process is partly to do with trying to make the surface of the paper (and also therefore the screen and the layers that make up the film) feel apparent in the film; the photocopier leaves artefacts on each piece of paper that will stay in roughly one place when you film it, and it hopefully gives the illusion that the images are passing across it, or under it. 

Here are the long sky paintings - grey sky undercoat drying on our stairs:

and then clouds drawn on in chalk:

I also spent about 5 hours yesterday making a rain sequence but it wasn't good enough, so I'm going to try that again this evening while I carry on listening to Kyle read 50 Shades of Gray.

It's good to learn that by mostly following your instincts for what might work in animation a big part of the process is doing it wrong - the first clouds looked too fussy, and the rain storm didn't have enough consistency across the mark-making yet, but sometimes you can't see this until you have drawn it all and filmed it to play back.  Then the mistakes are obvious . . . 

Filming the clouds:

Is this weird? - yesterday after the rain animation failed to work very well I thought I'd go to the cinema instead and see Killer Joe.  It was the afternoon show, and when I got in there was just one other man in the whole cinema / screen, and he was singing along to a song in the advert, really confidently, and didn't stop when I came in.  Then he started to make a kind of spitting noise, like when you pull off the paper sleeve from a straw and get a bit stuck on your lip, and I thought, oh he has a bit of paper from the sleeve of his straw stuck on his lip.  But then he just kept making the same noise all through the next advert, over and over, and it was just the two of us still, and I started to prickle all over, and thought, I might be in for some trouble, and I moved along to the end of my row, not too obviously, but just enough so I could try and keep him in my peripheral vision if I sat slightly crooked, but I couldn't without turning more to look at him, and I just didn't want to make eye contact or make any movement that might make me stand out.  Then he started talking to himself, and I started to think, ugh, who talks to themselves and makes spitty noises and is able to come to see a weekday afternoon film, especially one about a trailer park murderer, and I started to just get more prickly and weird feeling as I then thought I saw him move seats too, and I just had to leave.  So I didn't see it.  

Saturday, 7 July 2012

PL&TN: day 8

Since beginning to write this more frequently I realise I'm getting a lot more work done than I might naturally do on my own, because I feel like I have to report what I've achieved every day, and I feel like it must be enough of a day's work, so I'm really concentrating hard . . . here is what I have done today.  I'm working on some of the incidental parts of the film - animals that wander in and out, the wallpaper in the cafe, that kind of thing . . . if I get stuck with some of the bigger ideas it helps to keep things going to just move over to some of the other smaller details.  So here is a test of some ducks that fly past early in the film -

it's easier to work out movements as an animated pencil test, just to see if they work properly, because a lot of the animation is done with replacement pieces when I make them as shadow puppets, it's quicker to re-draw them than to re-cut them.  This duck is made up of about 6 different images, so I will eventually cut out 6 different pieces to loop and make them fly across the screen.  

I also designed the wallpaper that will appear in the tea-room scenes . . . maybe Designer's Guild will stock it next season . . . 

here is it before I added the tadpoles and gymnosperms (because they just seemed like the obvious thing to add in the gaps):

here are some of the fern research sketches:

and here is the main character's house:

there isn't that much left to design now, probably one more main thing,  so I guess it means I have to start the final animating soon . . . it's scary to commit to a finished picture.  

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

PL&TN: day 6

Today I drew some maps and made little models of some of the buildings I need to draw for the film.    I think it is already really useful to have drawn a big map of the whole territory,  even if some of these places I've drawn won't even be places that the audience ever sees . . . Everything is made of paper cuts and is mainly in silhouette, so it's quite a 2D world, but I wanted to feel that the place that the characters live in is real and give the audience a sense of geography, I also think that it's a way of trying to match the quite complicated and detailed shadow puppets if the world they live in is dense and full of little details - that a river goes through the town, or that there is a viaduct that runs all along one side,  even if i only show these things for a couple of seconds in the background I hope that it'll bring some sort of cohesion to everything.

I find it difficult to justify in my brain all this careful planning, as I usually prefer to work more spontaneously, but now having made a few little films I'm starting to learn that the preparation and research is just as important (sometimes) as the actual puppet-making and filming.  Here are models of two of the buildings - the school-room and the tea-room, both still un-furnished . . . both scenes need shots in these rooms from quite a few different angles and so I thought it would be helpful to have a physical model to work from.   Except now I want to make some little films in these models instead . . .