Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Light Princess - Matthew's video diaries parts one & two

I filmed myself while I was making the animations, mainly so I had someone to talk to.  Why don't you watch parts one and two here . . .

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Light Princess - designing and animating a scene

The process of making little films for this musical is a bit different to how I normally work, there are more people in the chain that links the first sketches to showing an audience, so I thought I would show you some of the process.  This is a scene that got cut from the show during script re-writes.

This scene is from the prologue, an animated cartoon at the beginning of the show, played on the big screen, like at the cinema, and a voiceover sung by a couple of actors.  The prologue explains the back story and introduces some of the characters.  I know . . you know what a prologue is.  ok - here is my first storyboard for this scene to show my ideas to the director, writer and designer:

This is Althea (the light princess) attempting to knight someone but losing grip of the sword and floating away (she has no gravity and these scenes were intended to show different variations on that idea).

They liked it but suggested she probably shouldn't be-head someone.  I changed it to his hand, it has to be funny, doesn't it?

I also changed the format to fit within the frame designed by Rae Smith the designer, a slightly more 4:3 shape.  Depending on whether the characters in the prologue are also performed by actors in the live elements of the show affected how I drew them to some extent.  My cut-out versions of the characters would have to look in some way the same as Rae Smith's costume designs.

Sir Tom was just a prologue character so it was up to me to do what I want, and Althea is seen here as a 5 year old girl, so the only design stipulation was to give her red hair.

Althea's father, the King, got added to this scene a little later and he is in the show all the way through so his cut-out version has to refer to the on-stage version.  I like to do this mostly with attitude and one or two strong shapes rather than try to recreate any kind of accurate silhouette.

I have to balance my own animated world feeling cohesive with looking like it is has some place within the world of Rae's stage designs.  We worked a lot with adding block areas of colour and general themes of yellow, round and softer (Lagobel) versus blue spiky and colder / darker (Sealand), or Tintin and Moomins as Rae helpfully described it for me.  

The next stage was to animate a test version.

The animations are made mostly from cut out black card - some of the characters are puppets with moving joints, others just have a few replacement parts, the repetition of using small sequences of replacement parts suits the 2D block colour shapes and the low frame rate.

Sir Tom has a walk cycle made of 3 sets of legs:

Here you can watch the scene (althea is bald, I hadn't worked out how to do her hair yet):

The next step is to show the director and designer and get a bit of feedback.  Marianne Elliott (the director) suggested we added the King pushing / forcing his daughter on, showing that she is reluctant to take anything seriously (Althea, not Marianne) so every element of the scene is moving the story forward and enforcing the bits that are important for the audience to understand (not just that a floating girl comes and chops a man's hand off).

Each character I animate separately and then we (that is Emma Pile and Lawrence Rowell who worked with me on this) would layer them together to create the finished picture.  We built this into our system to it would be easier to edit and make inevitable timing changes once the show started to develop.  

We hadn't quite lined up the king fully here to match Althea's movements (after effects doesn't like my low frame rates), and Althea doesn't have red hair yet, but the scene got cut from the script before we needed to take it any further.  

The people walking across the screen are Lagobellans. they live in the kingdom, I used them to wipe on and off between scenes to create transitions that would feel innate and keep the animation alive and moving forward and not use fades or cuts.  If you've seen the show that ideal ALMOST survived the process . . not quite, but enough.  

Althea's movement has a few extra pieces to enable all the movements.  Working this way with replacement pieces means you have to think through the characters movement and what they are going to do once they are on screen before you switch on the camera.  There is still room for spontaneity, often a little accidental slip of the puppet can be turned to your advantage  - here I didn't plan to have her sway back and forth with the sword but it just came about as I was animating the scene and I liked it.  

Most of the scenes I just film one take -  although I might loose a bit of accuracy or finesse I think it captures the life a lot better.  I once heard someone talk about having a rock and roll swagger in their work and that appeals to me, although I've used that phrase twice out loud when working with a  director, hoping to explain how my puppets will work and there has been a flash of panic both times.  Or maybe they think I sound pretentious.  

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Light Princess - Tori Amos musical - I'm almost done

it's the last few days now of tightening up the show before it's ready to let me go, I haven't seen any daylight for a few months, creating hand-made stop-motion films for a live theatre show that gets edited and refined daily is hard to keep up with, one small cut or tempo change can easily chop away 2 or 3 weeks of our work here in animation-land.  luckily I am not doing it alone, it's hard to be a one man animation department, that's what Wayne White said when I watched his film for a bit of moral support halfway through this project - beauty is embarrassing - and I have Emma Pile and Lawrence Rowell working with me all hours every day to help with the changes, and they are nice people to be around, it's been fun up here in the dark.

It's hard to deal with your thoughts when something gets cut that you think is good, but then you just have to sit down and come up with more good things to fill the gaps and patch the joins, and then you realise its actually made it better.

Some of you have already been to see it and sent me nice messages. thanks for your support.

Here are a couple of pictures of my work from the prologue . . . oh yeah, my bit is mainly in the first 4 minutes so if you're a latecomer you might wonder what I'm making such a fuss about . .

And as there is a big projector onstage to show the animations I've also created a few backdrops . . . here's a palace interior . . . it looks a bit photoshoppy but onstage with lights and smoke and actors it's not bad . . . 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Light Princess horse animation test

here's another thing from my animations for The Light Princess, I'm not sure if this horse is staying or not now, I think i ran out of screen-time for it:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

my two (current) favourite red headed ladies: Julie Klausner and Tori Amos

I wrote a little before about a podcast I was enjoying while doing all this animating, The Flophouse.  I didn't want to overwhelm you by talking about ALL my favourite podcasts but there is another one I am keen on and that is How Was Your Week, with Julie Klausner.  Do yourself a big favour and check it out.  I am so envious of her talents, her way with words, her abilities to be snarky and rude and clever  and funny. . . about steam-punk, ukulele players*, Amanda Palmer, among other things . . . but never mean.  And Julie talks so well and with love about so many brilliant good things . . . Stanley Kubrick, David Sedaris, Rickie Lee Jones, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, oh yeah check out her live podcasts as well and hear her singing Wig in a Box, it is so pretty and haunting and I wasn't expecting that . . . sometimes I hear her put my own thoughts into words for me, I have to re-listen to try and remember how to express things better.  She records elegant and smart interviews, I get to learn about new people as well as hear her talk to people I like a lot, like Jon Ronson and Sarah Silverman, she is funny and witty and interested.

So go and listen to her.

I have been listening to Julie Klausner a lot at the moment (here is my segue) as I am very excited to tell you that I have been working in a small hot and dark room for the last couple of months making paper-cut out stop-motion animations for the new Tori Amos musical The Light Princess.  It opens in September at the National Theatre, and they said I could tease it a little if I wanted so here is a photo of Matthew helping me animate some spooky trees, which I guess won't give anything away as I put spooky trees in everything.  I'm very happy to be part of this project, I'm excited I get to ask Tori about left-hand piano riffs, Sam Adamson is writing the script and I hope you will come and see it later this year.  Meanwhile I need to go back into the little room now.  I want to insert a joke here about having my work cut out for me but i haven't worked it out yet.

Thank you a lot to all of you who bought the Flyboy bunting and helping me pay my rent.  I've now sold out but will be either making a new run of it again in a few weeks or bringing out a new edition for Halloween

*the ukulele orchestra of great britain doesn't count here because they are exciting

Monday, 5 August 2013

new product! FLYBOY BUNTING

I made some new merchandise, paper-cut Flyboy bunting.  Some of you may already be familiar with the story, Flyboy and the Wicker Cat, sometimes we sing it in our shows, or you may have bought the book from the sadlucy shop.  Now I turned it into some summer bunting:

The bunting is machine-cut, but it is mostly home-made as the machine is slightly hit-and-miss in what it cuts out and I have to finish it all off, it is about 2-3 metres long, and tells the whole story of Flyboy and the Wicker Cat.  While the sun is still shining why not get some for your garden or kitchen window.  

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Flophouse, plus collaborative painting with Matthew Randle

I've been picking up some new things recently, painting again out in the street, I met a new artist / friend and have been working with him.  I picked up a new word.  noncanonical.  I've been using it a lot, it's a good way to dismiss you own work if the project hurt you and other forces from within the project tried to control your hands too much, more than you would like, too tightly to let you do a very good job.   I've had a couple of projects like that recently, in the last couple of years, but now they're done with, the bruises on my wrists have faded and they're noncanonical.  We did a bit of voodoo last year to purify the process a little, we burnt everything that was left over, all the unused plans and unused puppets, and some sage.  The sage bush died over the winter but now I've got a new one . . . for next time.

Oh yeah, I picked up the new word from my new favourite podcast!  The Flophouse.  Check it out!  Actually I have two new favourite podcasts but I'll talk about the other one next time . . . The Flophouse is a bad movie podcast, and it's very very good.  Ugh.  I really like it.  I wish I could talk as well as they do, especially Elliott.  And he makes up songs.  If you want to listen to a podcast that isn't  alpha males shouting at you about annoying stuff they like, well...I'll say are just some funny, nice, clever guys, it's like hanging out with your older brother and his fun friends.  Except I don't have an older brother.  Subscribe to it, it's very good.  Oh yeah so . . . noncanonical.  One of them (Stuart or Dan) applied it to Muppets from Space, and then to any Muppet film that was made after Jim Henson died.  And that made sense to me and now I use it.

Here are some canonical things though:  I have been learning about collaboration, painting some collaborative paintings with Matthew Randle in the countryside, working on the same picture at the same time, painting and re-painting, moving around, mixing colours together, until we get the picture right, he taught me to play chess too and that's what this painting feels like. . . Matthew's work is amazing, he is an inspiring person, he is teaching me a lot and you can learn from him too if you look at his pictures, check him out online  . . .

here are some of our pictures from Cornwall this weekend, in St. Ives and Porthtowan:


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Peter Lily and the Nose - layers

I've been trying to come up with a way of making the landscapes and buildings that the characters live in.  Trying to find a system and a kind of code - what is a silhouette in this story and why is something a silhouette?  what should be made out of something else, like chalk, and how many new ways of drawing something am I allowed to bring into the film before it looks too crowded.  Sometimes you want things to recede but at the same time create atmosphere, sometimes you want them to be a strong element of the storytelling.

The moon here is a big cut-out piece of white card, and the trees are silhouettes, but the stars and Peter's bedroom light are pieces of chalk drawing, and so hopefully it begins to set up some sort of storytelling hierarchy that is consistent through the whole of the film.

The outdoor night-time scenes are easy though - everything looks like a silhouette at night, so the decisions mostly make themselves.  Now I've been filming the scene in the tea-shop and there is suddenly a lot more to question.  What are the walls made of, can they just be white?  but then how do I suggest depth?  Am I allowed to blur things to help this?  What are they sitting on? Black card or chalk?  What are the tables made of?  they can't be black cut-outs because it's important to the story that we see what happens on the table.  

Here's how I've created it, in a system of layers, the table is paper, but white sugar-paper so it has some character of its own and also lets the shadow puppets make their own shadows through it:

This is the basic animated scene and is what gets filmed frame-by-frame.  Here it is as a single cell:

The rest can then be added on top . . . 

The chairs and table legs (chalk drawings):

 . . . and then wallpaper (photocopied chalk and line drawings, equivalent to the earlier scenes with clouds and rain):

I'll tweak it all a bit, but here it is all put together in this roughly cut-together edit of the scene:

If anyone is handy with .raw files and After Effects please get in touch as I need some advice . . . 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

replacement stop-motion animating

So . . . I haven't worked on my animation for a few weeks . . . you can watch my latest video diary to see what's been going on in my life  . . being self-employed is hard, to continue to remain motivated day after day means working hard on maintaining your self-esteem, and this can be easily destroyed in many ways - reading what critics think of your work, for example, can be really stupid and pointless, but I always end up doing it . . . it's pointless to be hurt by the opinions of someone that has turned up for 45 minutes, taken one glance at what you've been working on for maybe 9 or 10 months, and not bothered to engage any further with the rest of your work or even try to begin to understand what you are doing, they don't ask any questions, or discuss your work within any interesting context . . . it'd be like me judging their lives just based on their little byline photographs (which, of course, I do)  . . . but yet I can't wait to read these things, and I get upset every time.  Critics never really like my work, never, and although I basically understand this is ultimately a good thing I still get upset for a few days (or weeks) and imagine how I can avenge myself.   Hmm.  So it's been an un-healthily mental few weeks.  Then I remembered my own advice about how just getting on with your work is GOOD FOR YOU, and I started to get on with animating again and went for one of the more complicated scenes.  And this week has gone by very fast and I haven't seen any daylight.  I only left the house to see John Prine last night, one of the most life-affirming people I have ever spent time in the presence of, he sings and you realise nothing else matters apart from getting on with what you want to do.  Check him out if you already haven't by now.  

This is scene where Peter gives Lily a little present he's made for her, a clockwork motorbike with the two of them riding about happily on its back.  I've always been inspired by automate makers like Paul Spooner and Tim Hunkin (you might have seen their work at the Science Museum, the Eden Project, London Zoo, Southwold Pier or at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre exhibitions) and this is a way for me to pay tribute to their influence (in an oblique way, as they don't make clockwork toys that run around the table . . . )

To achieve a convincing clockwork key-turning effect within this 2D cardboard world I have been using a system of replacement cut-out pieces, photographing them in a sequence, to make it look like the key is turning in the machine as it rides around.  I could have just cut out the key 7 or 8 times in different positions and swap them over one at a time on the same bike as it moved around, but to look like it was really anchored in the bike toy it was better and more convincing to also cut out a new bike for each position of the key turning.  This had the benefit of the motorbike looking slightly more charmingly home-made (as if by Peter) as little imperfections and difference occur each time I cut the bike out and get played out as it is animated.  

I made 7 bikes to complete the winding key cycle:

and then I tested it and it didn't work.   

And also I noticed that I hadn't even properly finished cutting out all then pieces even, I hadn't cut out all the mouths and so looked like they were gulping a bit weirdly.  

When I cut out the keys I thought I had observed the real-life key turning really accurately, from this guy:

but it just was all wrong.  This is the thing about films and animation - if it doesn't look right it just isn't right, you can't deceive yourself that it'll look fine once all the other fancy stuff has been added, it won't.  So I had another look at the robot (actually is it a martian?) and cut it all out AGAIN.  This time it worked . . . 

You can check out my video diary below, it's quite a long one, and I've got a little more to say about this  week's work, I've been building up the physical layers of the animation to create the room settings and furniture so I'll continue writing this later to show you some of that. Meanwhile, thanks a lot for reading.    

Monday, 28 January 2013

pop-up Valentine's card

It's almost Valentine's day and maybe you are looking for special something to tell your beloved exactly what you think of them . . . well, what could say "I love you" more than my new paper-cut pop-up Valentine's card!

Available now in the sadlucy shop this is a limited release cardboard moonlit forest scene, and if you want I can even add a little personal message, just advise me when you place an order.

If you want to see it in motion check out my little advert on youtube: