Saturday, 16 January 2010

Character Performance

I had wanted my puppet to walk into the space, falling under a spotlight, and notice the camera but unfortunately it turned out the armature was not strong enough to hold the clay I had covered it with. I guess you always have to use ball and socket when working with plasticine. Change of plan. I quickly built a box and made a pint glass for him to hold. He would now be propped up against a bar and would talk from there. I still managed to get movement out of the upper body to convey his character. Turned out ok and there were some nice bits but a few things still not quite right. Will post on YouTube soon.
Character Performance

Workshop with Barry Purves

Barry was really one of the first people I met in the industry and it couldn’t have been a more encouraging experience. I’d read his brilliant book Stop Motion:Passion, Process and Performance and was so inspired by the book I was compelled to email him. Now I didn’t necessarily expect an answer, I was just expressing what I got out of the book and sending my thanks and congratulations but reply he did. We first met at Annecy a few years back and made a connection over our interest in the relationship between stop-motion and theatre; Barry started off in theatre and still directs and designs now. Since meeting he’s been a source of inspiration and advice. I’m still amazed at how much of his time he gives to students and young filmmakers. He’s completely generous and really thoughtful.

He came down to Newport to do a workshop which I attended for a day before having to go and work on my film. We made some really simple black silhouette paper puppets with which to practice, accurate detailed walk cycles. I think everyone got a lot out of it and it was good discipline. Barry is very strict!
Barry Purves Workshop
The exercises were similar to those he’d done at the Italian National School of Cinema in Turin a couple of years back when I’d gone with him to help out with a course he was teaching. I’ve posted the photos as they’ve never really seen the light of day. Very nostalgic looking back, I met some really great students there who I’m still in touch with now.
Film School Turin, Italy
Barry’s new book Stop-Motion as part of AVA's 'Basics Animation' series comes out soon.
Barry's new book
Basics Animation: Stop-motion, Ava Publishing

Lip Sync

I created a simple face at a reasonable size so I could get some detail for a lip sync exercise. Plasticine covering a bit of hard foam I had lying around in the studio. The mouths are clay sausages. I mounted the head on a bit of wire for the shoot so it was kind of looming in the darkness (the dialogue I was animating to is quite intimidating). I wanted to get a bit of movement into the head so it wasn’t too static. I did a few exercises with a little car playing with movement speed, follow-though etc.
Making the head and lip sync
It worked ok but the brow fluctuated a bit. When I do the character performance I need to be more disciplined with the brow movements.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Studio AKA and Royal College of Art

As soon as I got back from Budapest it was time for something else. I’d met a load of the guys from Studio AKA at Annecy 09 and had been invited to go and see the studio and hear about what they do which was a real pleasure having admired their work for so long. I’d organised a visit through the wonderful Ren Pesci and was lucky enough to be able to take a bunch of peers from the film school, notably the Annecy gang who are now all busy working on their graduation films.

We talked through the Studio’s history, their set-up and processes and saw a really interesting making of The Big Win commercial by the brilliant Marc Craste. We also got some inside info from the guy who made the sea in Philip Hunt’s epic and touching Lost and Found. We’d all seen the short in Annecy and sat through a lot of really bad work in the screening of children’s content before Lost and Found which is just beautiful, unpatronising, cinematic and heart-warming. Based on the book by a favourite children’s illustrator of mine Oliver Jeffers. The blog, featuring lots of lovely concept art and designs can be found here.
AKA Awards Pete and the gang  London Morning
After AKA we went to have a look at Royal College of Art as Pete’s looking into places to do a masters. It seemed pretty buzzing, relaxed, ambitious, flexible. I’ve been thinking about post-grads recently, but I don’t want to do one yet and I don’t want to stay in the UK…

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Animation Sans Frontieres Part Two: MOME. Budapest, Hungary

I travelled down to Hungary with Marie-Louise Højer Jensen who was just finishing a stint at Aardman working on Shaun the Sheep. She showed me some books by German illustrator Anke Feuchtenberger whose website can be found here.  There were a lot of qualities in here work that I liked; the use of colour, the expression of line and the play of light, light as definition, as sculpture.Anke Feuchtenberger
Anke Feuchtenberger

driving to the hotel at nightWe arrived in Budapest in the evening, supposedly to be met at  the airport by a chauffeur holding a sign on which our names would be printed. As it happened he was nowhere to be seen and it was only sometime later that we saw him from behind somewhat spoiling the illusion. We drove from the airport through the illuminated city to the North West where are hotel was situated. And what a hotel; complete with epic breakfast, pool, sauna, hot tub, and views of the mountains. Our rooms were more like apartments with kitchens, lounge etc. So there was no question of space like there was in Ludwigsburg although ironically we spent far little time in the hotel as there was far more going on in Budapest.

After a tour around Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design we  had the first of a series of lectures about animation in Eastern Europe. These were MOMEparticularly interesting for me because I’ve always had a love for the films from this part of the world and the rich culture they evolved from and were a part of. In Hungary we looked at some early experiments mixing animation and live action and the all important George Pal who later moved to Hollywood with his Puppetoons – a technique he developed involving replacements. The lecturer Ferenc Fischer kindly copied me some of Pal’s shorts and commercials which is useful as they, like much work from this area are incredibly difficult to come by.

Michael Carrington from the Zlin animation school just outside Prague gave us a talk about the history of Czech animation which was particularly interesting because he really focused on some favourite filmmakers of mine. Out of all the films to come out of Easter Europe in the communist era some of my personal favourites are from former Czechoslovakia. Carrington talked about Hermína Týrlová, Karel Zamen and Yiří Trnka, bypassing the more obvious Švankmajer and Barta. He showed some really old works and talked about how the style developed, the specifics of the puppet animation, the hand-crafted quality and the desire to solve problems in camera. What was also brilliant was that he came right up to present day practice and talked about a director I really admire; Aurel Klimt and the fabulous Fimfarum series of films. There are two Fimfarum films and the third, we were told by Carrington, is in the process of being made. Based on the stories by Jan Lenika, they are feature film format but are made up of about 3 or 4 shorts. Brilliant for research and fascinating to get some in depth information about the development of a scene and a place I’m so passionate about.

FIMFARUM2. Image: Maurfilm
Sessions on the Eastern European market helped us to understand how and where things are being made and with what money. Chello Media of Central Europe talked about acquisition and programming and producer András Erkel took us through the production of animation in Hungary and beyond and how this has been affected politically over the years.
buapest 543 
One of the brilliant things about the MOME module was that we were introduced to a bunch of new softwares just out of development. Tools to change the way you present information, pitch and think through ideas, to programs like SourceBinder, a tool for ‘prototyping and real-time tuning of flash based visual applications’. It doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly start making films in a new way but to be exposed to these methods, ways of working and perhaps more importantly, ways of thinking is really valuable for my practice.

Arguably the most valuable of all these software-related discoveries was from Flavio Perez, another ASF participant. Flavio invited me to use GoogleWave, a new application from everyone’s favourite inventors the Google team. GoogleWave, still in a slightly fragile Beta stage is like a cross between Sykpe, email, and a flow chart. It can be used to map out projects, collaborate in real time, post and share anything from videos to sounds, draw attention to certain items, re-edit posts and texts and boasts a playback mode where you can watch the project grow and develop and see exactly where and when items and posts have been added. I promise I’m not secretly working for Google, I’m just excited about it. I’ve started appropriating it straight away with Chris Gylee and Adam Peck as a platform to further develop The Cutting Room from wherever we might be.

There was an emphasis in Budapest on style and technique. Many of the student films they screened from the film were really unique in their approach and aesthetic. Rastko Ciric, a professor from Serbia shared some slightly dubious work from his school and discussed individual style and the voice of a director in animated filmmaking. Tamás Waliczky, veritable pioneer of CG animation gave a riveting lecture about the development of the form, its possibilities and the balance between art and technology.

Rastko CiricTamás Waliczky
A special screening of Panique au Village held for us in an art cinema thanks to
Falvai Györgyi from MOME who also works for the company who distributed this movie.

We had a couple of ideas development sessions with script editor and dramaturge Rita Domonyi who took us through a bunch of writing exercises, drawing on inspiration from photographs and text for adaptation. There were several pitches involved in this workshop which was really useful, I’m finding I’m getting a lot more confident with presenting in this format and also being able to discuss protect and stand up for the projects pitched. Should come in handy soon…
pitching timePitching time. Photo: Laetitia Grandjean
Case studies by filmmakers gave us an insight into the minds of creators from places such as Poland, Switzerland and Russia. Tomasz Bagiński of Platige Image, Poland talked through his successes as a filmmaker and talked about the process he adopts when making films from getting the design right to finalizing an edit.

buapest 553The first of the two highlights of the MOME module has to be Jonas Raeber of SWAMP in Switzerland. Jonas’s talk was entitled: ‘Relations and Dependencies: Conceptual Aspects of Animation’ and covered everything from what makes a successful film and the consideration of audiences to ‘budgeting made easy’ and a breakdown of production. The second highlight was Russian born Alexei Alexeev, creator of the well-known Log Jam. He came to discuss his experiences creating the first short KJFG No5 and the development of an idea from start to finish. Alexeev now works for Studio Baestarts in Budapest, strangely directed the Mr Bean cartoon and is as funny and as entertaining as his films.buapest 488 Studio Visits
Cinemon work mostly in traditional hand drawn animation as well as digital cut out for some of their work for children. They produce various content from series to feature films. The driving force behind the studio is producer Réka Temple whose working philosophy was sound and inspiring. The studio was based in an old house with a wooden conservatory used as a meeting room and was situated within a large, sprawling garden. Temple spoke to us about her experiences of working with directors, getting projects off the ground and co-productions in Europe.
Cinemon 1 Cinemon 2
The second studio was Lichthof Productions, based in a very cool ‘up-and-coming’ part of the city surrounded by fashionable eateries and bars where instead of a roaring fire, central heating and a carefully placed plasma TV displaying a roaring fire are slightly more chic. Lichthof is the home of Hungary’s no1 animator Áron Gauder who directed the gritty urban animated  feature The District for those who caught that on the festival buapest 211circuit a couple of years back. He’s now hard at work on his new feature Egil: The Last Pagan, a vicious tale of Viking warfare. Gauder usually works in digital cut out and CG but the part I found interesting about this project came from a connection with the Polish company Se-ma-for.
The biggest studio in Poland, Se-ma-for were responsible for, under Suzie Templeton’s inspired vision, creating the 2006 hit Peter and the Wolf. After a lack of work for the stop motion animators Gauder invited them to Budapest to animate armatures which had tiny motion capture rigs attached to them, feeding directly into a computer. The movements that the animators gave the puppets then created a skeleton movement which a CG character could then be laid over. This technique apparently saves time on a lengthy rigging process and also gives the CG a certain stop-mo quality, to which I have to quote Mette Ilene Holmriis from the animation workshop, who called it so elegantly “staccato”.
Se-ma-for animator at work mo-cap armatures

You can read more about the technique and watch a video of the process on their website here.

buapest 526
We joined the illuminati of the Hungarian animation industry (mostly made up of our lecturers) at the opening ceremony of Anilogue, an annual animated film festival for a screening of Adam Elliot’s masterful Mary and Max. There was much excitement for those who hadn’t seen it. It was my second viewing and it astounded me once again. It's not just a brilliant animation but it's a genuinely brilliant film. The use of stop motion makes the whole thing seem completely living and grounded; the light the textures, the economy of the movement. Elliot has a real talent for making us engage and empathize with lumps of plasticine. Simply genius cinematic storytelling.
Mary and MaxMary and Max (2009) Dir. Adam Elliot. © Melodrama Pictures