Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The last puppet making session

Ian Matthews showed us a sting for E4 that his mate from Calon had made. It’s a very nice ident – incredibly stylish, trendy and has a charm only stop motion could evoke. He brought in one of the puppets on loan from the owner for us to have a look at. The design was relatively simple compared to what we have been making. They were a great example of purpose-built puppets; the models were built to execute a specific performance, the characters only needed to be seen from the waist up - so that's the only section they made, they only wave their arms and bounce a bit, so make them economically so they perform well without the extra effort of building a whole, complete, articulate puppet.

E4 StingClick on the image to watch the sting on the E4 site

E4 sting puppet My armature is nearing completion. I managed to catch up quite quickly having been away after spending a day in the workshop. A little more soldering and gluing to go and then I should have a working armature. Ian very kindly gave us a comprehensive guide to building a stop motion puppet – a summing up of his teachings over the last month or so. I think he’s really inspired the group to become more serious about stop motion and get out there and try making some more models. I’m now anticipating the animation section of the training which starts this week. making a puppet 4

Whilst on the subject of stop motion and its qualities I also wanted to share the work of Alison Schulnik. A graduate of CalArts, her work really plays on the materiality and performativity of clay in all its richness and tangibility. She has a very identifiable painterly style throughout her plastic arts and motion picture work. Check out her website here.

Jiří Trnka and Jiří Barta

Trnka Book
When I returned from Germany a book had arrived for me in the post. Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, translated by Paul Hamlyn, but more importantly illustrated by Jiří Trnka. The book first came out in the late fifties and the version I managed to get hold of from the net was published 68. The book contains some really brilliant illustrations, from what I can tell they’re mostly made from coloured pencils and watercolour, which Trnka used a lot of designing his characters. There’s so little material on Trnka available I was lucky to snatch this whilst I found it; it’s great to have some hard copies of some of the wonderful work he made. Now all I need is for a comprehensive collection of his films on DVD to be released…
Jiri Trnka - The Little Mermaid Jiri Trnka - The Travelling Companion 2Jiri Trnka - The Money Box  
Click on images to enlarge them

I have just discovered that Jiri Barta, master Czech animator who created brilliant stop motion pieces such as Krysař (The Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1985) completed a stop motion puppet feature film in March of this year. The film is entitled Na půdě aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny? Or In the Attic or Who Has a Birthday Today? in English.
His last film was a rhythmic CG piece which I wasn’t too sure what to make of but from the look of this trailer his latest film looks quite brilliant. There are a few different techniques in there and some really nice puppet animation. I hadn’t heard anything about this at any of the festivals this year but perhaps it will get around a bit next year. I hope so; I would love to see it.

Trnka illustrations from ‘Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales’ published by the Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd

German Doorways

Some German Doors

Studio visits and the end of part one

The last day of ASF part 1 we spent visiting two big German studios. The first was the relatively young but extremely talented  award winning Studio Soi. This company was founded in 2002 by Torvaldgraduates from the Filmakademie and they work across a range of disciplines although most of their output consists of 3d CG films. These are beautifully crafted, earnest, poetic films with real heart. They hark back to a more nuanced way of filmmaking where the shots are longer, the editing more precise and the imagery symbolic, whilst at the same time feeling very fresh and contemporary.
The studio was a large, mostly open plan space with drawing Studio Soiboards, computers and displays scattered everywhere. Amazing imagery covered the walls, the studios design is fantastic and for the most part is done by one guy – Jakob Schuh. Their latest project, an adaptation of classic children’s book The Gruffalo, is  commissioned by the BBC, stars a host of British stars as the voice talent and look absolutely beautiful. They used a mixture of stop motion sets with CG characters which look very tactile and clay-like. From the preview we got to see (straight from the cutting room floor so to speak) this blend of the two forms is seamless and the storytelling came across as economic yet epic.
Studio Soi Team
Studio Soi’s Carsten Bunte, Jakob Schuh and Torben Meier
The second studio we visited was Film Bilder in Sttutgart. This company has been around for a while and has a reputation for producing a wide range of work from the animated sequences in Tom Twkyers brilliant Run Lola Run to Andreas Thomas Meyer-HermannHykade’s sexually charged Ring of Fire. The studio is situated on the top floor of a very tall building in the centre of Stuttgart with stunning views of the city. We were guided around by Thomas Meyer-Hermann, the studio head, who gave an insight into the philosophy of the studio and how it has lasted so long, making both experimental short films and more commercial work. The presentation of work he gave was varied and vibrant. He introduced us to ‘Tom’ which is a quite hilarious children’s series they do.
Despite a night of joyous celebration, a large meal with the staff and some dancing, we all left the Filmakademie with heavy hearts, not wanting to leave this company of people. But we won’t be apart for long, we all fly out to Budapest on Sunday for the next part of Animation Sans Frontieres – The Animation Production Workshop.
Torvald und der Tannenbaum © Studio Soi 2005
TOM © Film Bilder 2003

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Newspaper Article

An article from Bristol Evening Post.
Unfortunately not entirely accurate but publicity nonetheless.

Pre-production, post-its and pitching

One of the highlights of the past few days was an improvisation workshop with Dörthe Eickelberg. We looked at theatrical improvisation, creating characters, walks, physicalities and how these can be used for storytellers. I spent a lot of my theatrical trainging doing this kind of work so it was great to go back to it and relate it to filmmaking and creating characters and stories for animation. It's a very free, creative way of working and also really helped the group to bond. I think these techniques are also useful for bringing together a team, a group of people working on a film, discovering a common language and perhaps, more importantly establishing a sense of humour.

We had a really interesting session with Kim Bjørnqvist who's background lies in the cut-throat world of advertising and he had lots of entertaining stories to tell us. We had him for two days and the time was really spent looking at models for effectively developing and realising ideas aswell as pitching and presentation. We looked at structures from Disney and other companies and various methods of thinking, target audiences and research before consuming plenty of post it notes for huge ideas generation sessions.

Another interesting presentation was about stereoscopic 3d, existing and emergent technologies, what this means for cinema and how it can be harnessed and used effectively within animation. This session was taken by François Garnier, a leader in this field who joined us after a shoot with Wim Wenders in another part of Germany. He talked a lot about the science and technicalities of how stereoscopy works and it's interesting history. It turns out that the basic 3d image has been around since photography began and that filmmakers such as Méliès, Eisenstein and Hitchcock all made stereoscopic films.
He gave us insight into how 3d work is being used in theme parks and the kind of complicated experiences that are being created, the results are stunning and we watched several stereoscopic films as part of the presentation, some made by his students, some visualization from theme park rides as well as 3d animated films.

He had a lot of interesting ideas on the future of the technology saying "3d is sometimes not the best way to tell a story but rather to experience the story". He did not seem to think that 3d is the way forward for all cinema. He said that the craze we are currently experiencing is transitory and that the technique will find its place more in augmented reality, instalation and other forms as well as cinema. The day really got me thinking about the various uses for this technology and he actually gave us a relatively simple demonstration of how to make a stereoscopic film using the old red and blue glasses method as opposed to the new polarized 3d which he also took us through. Note to self: DIY stereoscopic stop motion student film?

The last workshop was with Alex Mayhew who interestingly was a researcher at the International Film School Wales and made some work there. He was talking to us about media strategies and ways of thinking about content travelling across various platforms and how these inform each other. We had a workshop in the afternoon where we generated ideas on these grounds and then pitched them as projects. All this pitching practice is great and I really feel like I'm getting a lot from what I'm learning.

Image: Aardman Animations
In other news Wallace and Gromit are celebrating their twentieth aniversary, and as part of the celebrations The Culture Show in UK will be broadcasting a special episode live from Aardman's studios in Bristol. Further information here.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Finding stories from life and borrowing from theatre

Today's session was led by Jörg Bochow who is head dramaturg at Staatstheater Stuttgart. His background is in collaborative theatre and literature also having taught in Germany and Canada and published books on German and Russian theatre. So today was of particular interest to me as someone who's own practice is informed by and often involves live performance. Bochow took us through a process he had recently used to create a piece of theatre where he used interviews with real people to translate into a fictional piece of performance. He took us on a rapid tour of the history of theatre from Aristotle to Stanislavsky - taking us through various approaches to performance and storytelling and highlighted the way these methods have been appropriated in film and animation.

He explained techniques of interviewing and ways to deal with, and be sensitive to the interviewee, whilst at the same time asking questions that should get the desired response. Towards the end of the day the conversation turned to politics and the role of the artist in relation to their political context and how the artist is not dissimiliar to, or rather, is arguably in danger of becoming a politician, or a dictator. The ideas raised were useful to think about for motion picture artists and certainly reaffirmed my belief of the blurring of approaches to different mediums.

I spoke to him briefly about my theories regarding theatre and animation, more specifically puppet animation and we exchanged contact details as he is definitely someone I'd like to question about this relationship between animation and theatre for some of my writings.

He gave me a book which they made for the show which shows some transcriptions of the interviews made and also acts as a sort of socio-political scrapbook.

All of us participants made a big meal last night and today we had to interview each other as one of the tasks so the group are inevitably bonding - it's a really great group of people and a pleasure to be spending time with such enthused, creative filmmakers.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


The following are a series of photographs visually documenting my trip to Germany for the first part of Animation Sans Frontieres 09-10 so far...

Leaving grotty, grey Newport

The Filmakademie in sunny Ludwigsburg

German fashion in 2009...

On the street - amazing junk

A type tray which will be returning to UK with me. Found it on the street. Priceless

As if we don't talk about animation enough,
here we are talking illustration and design in a bar

Early morning sunlight - walk to filmschool

Mike Dicks of Bleedinedge

For people in Bristol or surrounding area thought I'd plug a few events at this years Encounters International Short Film Festival. Find the animation programme here, two things not to be missed:
  • A screening of the absolutely brilliant Mary and Max by Australia's master animator and storyteller Adam Elliot. I caught this film in Annecy this year and it is not just a great piece of animation, it is a truly great film - a wonderful piece of cinema that is so emotive and funny that most people I've spoken to who have watched it have been moved to tears. It won the joint prize (along with Coraline) for best feature at Annecy. I got a chance to speak to Adam at Annecy and I can safely say he is as lovely, friendly and enthusiastic as you could hope, for a man who makes such touching and brilliant work.

  • and the second event... another masterclass from legendary animator Richard Williams, with a preview of the new animators survival kit expanded! Check out the full programme for more events. If you're around don't miss out.

Multi-platforms, multi-culture, multi-food...

We're eating a lot of food here. We have a large buffet breakfast in the mornings, then a paid-for lunch which is a big cooked meal, then snacks throughout the day in the lecture room and evening meals... animators obviously need nurishing, in more way than one.

To elaborate slightly on our time with Harrison Ellenshaw... a lot of what he dealt with involved more traditionalist ways of thinking, grounded approaches & techniques and ways of storytelling which have transcended the 'golden age' of Hollywood. He talked about various practitioners from Powell and Pressburger to George Lucas - it was interesting revisiting the early Star Wars films, on which Ellenshaw did effects work, these are pieces of cinema that I really grew up with, they taught me filmmaking, they made me want to make films and take audiences on amazing journeys to amazing places. I don't have time to now, but I'd love, at some point, to write a list of films which I think are critical to my ambitions now as a filmmaker and how they affected the way I think and work in the way I do.

So if Ellenshaw was looking to the past to inspire us, today's session, taken by the charismatic Mike Dicks, looked to the future. Check out Mike's linkedIn profile for info on his career - he's really on the cutting edge of developing formats and ideas within 'new media'. He talked content, multi-platform storytelling and usages, viewsers (a neat new media term for video users) and more. It really opened my eyes to ways of working I'd never considered before and he went into a lot of interesting detail about the internet, how it works and ways of harnessing it for good use.

All food for thought and I started getting excited about things like digital interactivity which isn't a thought I'd normally relish but I guess part of the point of this course is that we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking.

Flavio Perez, one of the animation producers on ASF has created a blog for us all to share photos, thoughts, comentaries, work etc made on and around ASF 09-10. Do subscribe and take a look around if you're interested in seeing who we all are and what we're up to.

Me, Nicole Gallagher and Laetitia Grandjean. Image: Flavio Perez

Free things are always nice. I won a competition on the wonderful Imagine Animation network to get a signed copy of the new updated, extended, brilliant Animators Survival Kit by Mr Richard Williams. Thanks to the lovely people at Imagine for doing these competitions.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Puppetmaking and more

I had my last puppet making session on Friday. It was pretty productive and I managed to get quite a bit of the body structure glued and the hands made. I'll have to catch up on the rest when I'm back in the country but I'm possitive it won't be an issue to have it completed quickly. It's been great making these, using the workshops, all being together in the studio, talking, discussing, helping each other out - a sense of community which I've felt has been previously absent. It feels like people are really finding their niche now and really engaging with what they're making. It was also a real pleasure to have Ian Matthews in from Calon who was both inspiring and helpful.

The finished business cards printed up...


We have just finished the first day of Animation Sans Frontieres 09-10 at the Filmakademie in Ludwigsburg. We had a tour around the film school which is truly impressive, lunch in the student canteen complete with waiters, sun loungers and a delicious lunch (some kind of peppered burger with baby carrots and white whine sauce). In the afternoon, our first lecture which was by Harrison Ellenshaw - amazing guy, check out his credits on the link... Photos to follow!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Animation Sans Frontieres

I leave for Germany on Sunday for the first part of my training in Europe. Whilst in Annecy I was very fortunate to have been put forward by my tutor Caroline Parsons and selected to participate in this scheme which encourages European co-productions, links between animation schools and introduces students and graduates to real-world animated filmmaking.
ASFThis advert was scanned from the Annecy 2009 festival guide

The course is made up of 18 students from various institutions from across Europe and takes place at four prominent animation schools in Germany, Hungary, Denmark and France. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has made my attending possible including the Screen Academy Wales and the International Film School Wales. The training will be invaluable. I’m feeling very privileged but also somewhat nervous being the only English person on the course. There’s a certain pressure to perform but I’m ‘rising to the challenge’.
The course website and an article about my attendance from the Screen Academy.
In preparation I’ve been updating my CV and business card and making a better showreel dvd with my shorts on as we have to do a presentation on our work and our careers.

BUSINESS CARDBusiness card front

DVD Menu - Short Films DVD Menu - ContactDVD menu and contact page

I wanted to keep everything relatively simple, graphic and economic and there’s a visual continuity between all of these items.
I was also very excited to find out the other day that two of my films will be showing at the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival in Canada. This is the first big screening for The Scientist and the Omnipotence of Dream and the sixth or so outing for Curiouser and Curiouser.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Threre are moments of this film that are amazing, breathtaking, hilarious, touching. But, despite being a huge fan of Gilliam's work, and despite it's richness, I left feeling slightly hungry.

Copyright © 2009 Sony Pictures Classics

Monday, 19 October 2009

The future of home cinema

coraline dvd

I have just watched the first fifteen minutes of Coraline, in 3d on my computer. I was sceptical but I have to say it does actually work, to a point. They’ve reverted to the old-style red and green 3d glasses for the dvd release, which takes a little while to get used to (they forewarn 5 minutes on the dvd) but once you’ve settled the red and green start to fade and you can begin to enjoy the physicality of the world through stereoscopic 3d in the comfort of your own home. It’s not as good as the polarized 3d they used in the cinema but I supposed the technology is in its infancy and just hasn’t been developed enough for home viewing. So the colours are distorted, and the depth of field isn’t quite as impressive but I still think it’s exciting stuff.

There are about thirty five minutes of extras on the dvd which go into some detail about the process covering nearly all aspects of stop-motion production. It really makes you realise how groundbreaking this film is in terms of the techniques used and how many artists from such varied backgrounds came together to work on the project. There’s a particularly interesting section on the sets with art director Matt Sanders guiding us through the flower garden. I was lucky enough to meet Matt when Barry Purves introduced me to him at an event in Bristol. I had a long chat with him about Fantastic Mr Fox, which was then in production and his experiences on Coraline. Also, on the extras Coraline: A visual companionthey go through and explain, in basic terms, how the stereoscopic 3d works. It’s all to do with scale and perspective of the world you’re shooting, eye distances and camera distances. There is a lot of information on the dvd which is not covered in the richly illustrated accompanying book and vice versa so they complement each other nicely. 

As for the film itself, I thought it would be worth posting a review I wrote of it when it first came out…

Coraline is pretty astonishing. Selick seems to have taken stop motion performance to a whole new level; there are some epic sequences in this film. It's a work of art; from the intricate sets and costumes to the carefully observed performance of the title character. The music was rich and atmospheric, the story compelling and the characters engaging. Any worries about it being a little too 'cg-looking' were soon dispelled by fabulous textures from tiny knitted jumpers to clay earth crumbling off a well cover.

The voice talent is spot on and French and Saunders take a particularly hilarious turn as two old theatre lovies. The puppet designs are marvellous and the characters look fantastic - almost like they just wouldn't translate to puppet animation, with huge heads and tiny feet, but somehow the animators perform them with grace and so much expression.

The 3d business is a little odd to begin with but actually, rather than being a distraction, it goes some way to a more vital viewing of the physicality of the sets and the puppets. With this movie, as he did with 'Nightmare', let's hope Selick convinces a whole new wave of children to pursue stop motion.

I for one can't wait to see it again.

Coraline still

All images © 2008 Focus Features LLC