Friday, 2 May 2014

Some recent projects

A few words about current projects: In January, the 10 Films 10 Days project allowed us the chance to experiment with a rapid succession of ideas with the aim of making a short animated film every 24 hours for 10 days.

Some of the work I am most pleased with from that project can be seen here:

Next, we began the project known as The World In a Room, which taught us some marvellous stop motion puppet moving skills. We created animated sequences of the puppet armature responding to a knocking at the door. I decided to play with the psychology of the character and I think this has worked well in the animated movements. I chose to create a dual-minded situation in which the character is possessed by something that desperately wants to open the door, yet at the same time a part of him does not wish for this, and we see this in the video as the character struggles to walk towards the door after the knock, his right hand outstretched to the handle, his left hand pulling him back.

(video link will go here)

Soon after, we began our project 2 Characters and a Setting.

This piece shall be screened in the film-show on the 17th June this year.

I decided to experiment again with psychology, creating a dualism of white paper against a dark background, and then playing with the nature of an animation cutout. The white figure, cut out from the paper, leaves a figure shaped hole which itself becomes the complimentary second character in the film. Curious about the nature of light and shadow, positive and negative, I decided to create a small narrative where the 'shadow' chases after the escaped cut out figure and pulls him back into the paper.

Ideas I enjoyed pondering as I created this:

- The yin-yang concept, originating from the Taoist philosophy of the Chinese. Not opposing forces, but rather complimentary aspects, an explicit duality expressing an implicit unity. This could be seen with the cutout white figure trying to escape, but in the end his shadow pulls him back.

- Man and his environment. The figure escapes from his environment to view himself as separate from it. He feels free, lightweight and exuberant for a little while, but soon there is fear, and eventually fear of his own absence calling him back. It pulls him back to become one with the environment he emerged from.

- The marvellous ridiculousness of a absence interacting with a presence.

- Illusions, the white paper cutout may be projecting his self-conscious illusions onto his flight, thus it is his own self who pulls him back.

Further to these animation projects I have been working with poet Andrew Singer to create a campaign video for his project, Trafika Europe:

I have been working primarily with After Effects, taking previous paintings to use as backgrounds, then editing fluctuations of text over the top to a narration. We attempted a green screen shoot, with the intention of having Andrew appear in the video, speaking, but after many attempts at editing and resizing the file, it remained a stubborn and troubled video file that didn't get on well with any editing program. Consequently, we decided to make do with the backgrounds onto which an exuberance of text and other images we swing in.

And finally, a project I have been working on since January, a story that I hope to illustrate, about a cloud that visits the surface of the Earth. I am very close to finishing the written part of this project, and have a bewildered banana bunch of developmental drawings and sketches and photos that will contribute to the visuals.

Friday, 6 December 2013

See Hear Finished

I have finished the See hear project with two final compilations.

The first combines the paint on canvas animation, which uses the 15 second tune given to me at the start of the project, with further experiments with leaves, twigs and paint on glass. 

After completing the painted animation, I decided the end scene flickering could take the mood in a new direction, creating a sinister feeling amplified by a thunderstorm sound. I also wanted to explore an Autumnal theme, and decided to use dried leaves as subjects for animation. Below are three different animations made with the rostrum camera.

I was keen to create a visual meditation, a contrast after the vibrancy of the paint on canvas animation. I recorded some sounds including city streets, the sea, crumpling leaves, and my own voice, and used them over the top of the naimation to create interesting variations in the mood of the piece. I experimented with certain distortions of sound: for my voice, I slowed down the tempo and reduced the pitch, to create an otherworldly groan, for example. I compilated all these experiments in one piece, added the soundtrack, and finished with this ↓

Also for the project I explored how still images combined with After Effects frame blending could create a surreal examination of an environment. I went to several different locations around the centre of Edinburgh, and also back in my home town of Berwick, and took photographs every two or three steps. Put together in a sequence in After Effects, and with the digital wizardry known as frame blending, I was able to create a compilation that I feel is also a meditation on my current surroundings.

To this piece I added pre-recorded soundscapes of Edinburgh, as well as a recording of footsteps. I think the effect is one of great fascination. The viewer moves through the world smoothly, which would not seem the case if the series of photos were played back as a normal sequence. The technique gives the impression that the animation is a video recording almost. The fact that the world morphs around a central point gives a dreamy, semi-focused feeling. One element is in focus and real, the rest is transient. Though we are aware of surroundings, they are fleeting, real for only a second, before they change, and we barely notice.

It brought to mind the philosopher Alan Watt's discussion about spotlight consciousness in contrast with floodlight consciousness, where every day we are conscious of our environment in different ways. We can focus our attention on one specific thing (spotlight) while still being aware of everything else (floodlight). I found the effect a curious metaphor for this. We can go for days, even weeks, focused on one thing, one aim, one purpose, and yet the rest of the world morphs as a kind of soup around us.

To elaborate, here in his own words, Alan Watts discusses this idea:

 " Being very general, we have two kinds of consciousness. One I will call the “spotlight,” and the other the “floodlight.” The spotlight is what we call conscious attention, and that is trained into us from childhood as the most valuable form of consciousness. When the teacher in class says “Pay attention!” everybody stares, and looks fast at the teacher. That is spotlight consciousness; fixing your mind on one thing at a time. You concentrate, and even though you may not be able to have a very long attention span, nevertheless you concentrate; use your spotlight: one thing after another, one thing after another…
But we also have another kind of consciousness which I'll call the floodlight. For example, you can drive your car for several miles with a friend sitting next to you, and your spotlight consciousness will be completely absorbed in talking to your friend. Nevertheless, your floodlight consciousness will manage the driving of the car, will notice all the stoplights, the other idiots on the road, and so on, and you will get there safely without even thinking about it. "

From the lecture 'Myth of Myself', listened to on Youtube, at 31:30 - 32:50

Here is the final animation  ↓

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Autumn 2013

Certain things that have occurred in the creative process while exploring the project known as See Hear. 

After being given the 15 second long piece of music, I spent some time exploring the colours, shapes, and patterns that came to mind with each melody. I came into the project after doing a lot of experimental animation work during the summer for my music video project 'Under My Skin', and was focused on a certain technique in particular - paint on canvas. It was exciting to attempt movement with a technique that conventionally results in a still image. I have spent a lot of the last six years painting with acrylics, and I decided this was an opportunity to see how I could take the technique into animation.

I experimented firstly with oil paints, which I understand to be used most in animation because they do not dry. However, I realised I was not going to get the desired result I saw in my mind and decided to work in acrylics, layering paint to create animation rather than altering the paint strokes already there.

I was also keen to try a spontaneous approach in contrast with the meticulous planning most often associated with creating animation. The only planning I made was some paint experiments in my book to represent the general feeling of each part of the music.

In the dark room I set up a large canvas and began painting. With the program Dragonframe, I could combine the music track with the frames of the animation so I knew exactly where to change the camera angle and where to take the painting in a new direction. This proved to be incredibly useful.

The final animation will be found here

Next, I became fascinated by a technique I discovered in this short experimental film ➞

After exploring After Effects, I discovered how the effect was created - a mix of carefully taken photographs with frame blending applied to the sequence. By maintaining a focus of a specific building or part of a building and gradually moving towards it or around it, we get a very dreamlike effect where the focus remains constant all through the sequence but the surroundings morph and shift like fluid. It also gives the impression of realtime video footage because there is no 'jump' between frames. each flame blends smoothly into the next. 

My next explorations will be leafy and shadowy, I imagine. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Moles, bluebirds and animating by candlelight...

In the last month I've been making an animated piece for local band Roy's Iron DNA, who wished for a music video to accompany their latest tune, 'Under My Skin' :

My animating desk at my home

I was given a lot of free reign to make a short semi-narrative experimental piece, but I was given the idea of a mole digging through the ground, climbing to the surface. Around this idea and my own interpretation of the song Under My Skin, I set alight to some self-conscious concepts and gave birth to a few whimsical little experimental set pieces which would accompany the mole on his travels. 
The title 'Under My Skin' conjured many different bits of visual poetry. I saw the concept of the mole digging to the light as a metaphor for the need to be free, and in the end I saw the main theme of the song and hence the video as the decision to escape that which is hidden 'under the skin' and make a break for freedom before it's too late.

I found an old telephone which I felt could be used alongside the 'chattery' effect near the beginning of the song, possibly to indicate a call from the outside. I went down to a rocky beach where there had been several small landslides, and shot the telephone as if it was half buried in a dark, underground environment.

As the mole climbs, he comes across several visions which I feel resemble the nature of the song. These little bluebirds which are confined and unable to break free themselves suggest the mole's feelings. They flap their wings relentlessly but to no avail.

Little paper birds created with moveable wings

Bluebirds flapping

I decided that to get some realistic underground effects I was going to have to use some real soil and animate the mole outside. I went out at one in the morning to film the mole by candlelight.

I will say to any animators reading this that animating by candlelight in the dead of the night outside is the most fun I've had animating! Darkness is all around you and little night-time bugs gather to watch in awe and bewilderment as you set down the candle and begin the magical life giving process in front of their tiny eyebulbs.. 

Mole climbs through darkness

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Thirteen Truths and One Lie - ECA Stings 2013

My latest project has been to make a short 30 second sequence which displays an interesting fact about Edinburgh College of Art.

This small sequence will play along with other sequences made by the first and third year animators, each one being shown between the graduation films at this year's Degree Show at the Filmhouse.

This is what I did:

Firstly, I thought.

We went to visit a lady who lives in quite a high up floor in the University Library who looks after an archive. She keeps lots of old newspapers and records and various things that were sure to reveal interesting secrets about ECA, and many did. However, I left feeling strangely uninspired.

Then I realised what was wrong. I had not come across anything that mentioned cows!

After doing a bit of research, I found my interesting fact. The site upon which ECA now stands was previously a cattle market.

This photograph taken in 1907 displays this curious phenomenon.

In the fortnight beginning Monday 22nd April, recent graduate Claire Lamond came to help us. She was so enthusiastic and so helpful, and she inspired many of us as we planned and made our animations.

I decided to make a stop motion animation with a real three dimensional set and a reasonably moveable model cow. The movements, would be minimal, the subtleties very important. I took the fact and put two and two together. There's surely a possibility that the idea of ECA began in the mind of a cow.

I envisioned a cow standing alone in a cattle market enclosure, thinking to herself 'hmm, this site would be a really great place to build an art college'. And so, the simple sequence began.

I imagined what Edinburgh College of Art, or any possible art gallery space, would look if it had been built by cows. Certainly, sculptures such as this Seated Goddess (currently seated at the top of the main staircase in ECA) would be in cow form. ↓

Also, all the paintings would have a cowish nature to them. Here are some photos from the finished exhibition wall.

Following a workshop with Claire, I learned how to make an armature for my cow, which allowed it to stand and to move it's legs and it's head. I used a modelling clay known as milliput to harden the non-jointy areas of the cow, as well as the hoofy bits and skullish area. I then bulged up the cow with tissue paper, rolled tightly, and then covered this with modelling clay. Finally, having left space for eyes, I painted two small beads and plopped them into the sockets. In this moment, my cow was born.  ↓

I then began to make the fence, going for a design similar to the fence seen in the original photo from 1907.

I built the fence at a slight perspective. This would give the illusion when seen on camera that the fence stretched backwards further than it actually did. I glued each frame together with PVA glue.

I then painted Edinburgh Castle on to a mounted piece of card which would go in the background of the scene. 

For extra cows, I photographed my modelled three dimensional cow, and printed out copies, each slightly smaller and mounted onto card. 

"You want me to stand still for how long?"

And now, the final scene! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Finished Film and some Tantalising Retrospectiveness.

It seems I did not display very much progress here as planned. Of course, I was too busy making the animation!

I will finally attempt to explain what has occurred since February, where I had the idea of animating Sir Walter Scott rising from the grave and returning to Edinburgh to reclaim his hair, located in the Writers' Museum.

I spent a long time trying to write a narrated verse poem which would fuel the story, but I found myself getting more and more ambitious, and so decided to take a different approach.

My original storyboard introduced a bunch of characters who were all interested in claiming Sir Walter's hair for themselves, due to a belief of mythical power found in it, which gave Walter Scott his ability to write. The main story would be that of a man who had searched for the hair most of his life, and his reluctant daughter who was forced to act as accomplice on his quest. They discover the location of the hair and, having entered the Writers' museum, they find two other fanatics who are arguing over the ownership of the hair, including a self-obsessed hairdresser and a man claiming to be from the Royal Society for the Protection of Famous Locks of Hair (which isn't true, he also wants the hair for himself). As the man enters the argument, it is revealed that Walter Scott has been listening the whole time, and once he reveals himself, he makes off with his estranged hair, climbs the Scott Monument, activates it's true form, a rocket ship, and flies back to his grave at Dryburgh Abbey.

Scott Monument: It is just asking for Walter Scott to start the engine and fly it off onto space.

As I started to draw and make the characters, the settings, the buildings and backgrounds, I realised five characters in total is also too ambitious and I would never get the film made in time. So I kept the man and his daughter, who would drive the story, but got rid of the two characters in the museum.

Around this time it was revealed that the deadline was extended to 19th April.

Here are some pages of character design:

I rewrote the narration, from the point of view of the man, and included several bits of dialogue where we would see him, and, later on, Walter Scott, speak. Then I created a new storyboard, and then ... I started to animate. 

Above are some photos taken of the set up. I used layers of glass to created a glorious layered glass effect. This meant I could move things without moving other things, and then move the other things without moving the first things! 

I spent a lot of time animating, and was only finished the day before the 19th April. 

At the end, I gathered together all the bits that made up anything in the animation, from the large cutouts of the man, to the tiny gravestones seen in Dryburgh Abbey.

The cutout figures, buildings, props, etc.

The backgrounds.

As you can see, there were several different versions of each characters. The smallest version of the Man, used in the scene where he jumps from the window, is less than half the size of the head of the biggest version of the man.

Each character, building or object was first given existence by being painted onto watercolour paper, and then cut out. I ran a black marker along the edges so that the white would not show up on camera. Some things, such as the old book the man reads, were created from other materials, in this case, normal, tea stained paper. Other examples are the child's bed, which was made from felt, and the hair, which was a clump of thread. 

The backgrounds were created by sticking down ripped bits of paper to create a texture, then painting over them with acrylic paint. I was interested in seeing how the texture created would look on camera, after experimenting with texture in much the same way to create a comic book in my final year of school, last Spring. 

When it came to the most tedious scene to animate, the inside of the Writers' Museum, I created the interior referring to quick drawings made in the real place.

I began the process of editing the footage while still animating some of the final scenes, to get an idea of the pacing and to see how it looked so far. 

I recorded the voice of the Man myself, but sought the splendidness of fellow animator Robert Duncan to voice Walter Scott, who became very much alive with the addition of a voice. 

I spent some moments in animating thinking carefully about how the mouth movements should look. I knew what the characters would say, but just hadn't recorded anything yet. In the end, our utterances were conformed by the pace of the mouth movements already animated, but luckily, the process worked very well and the voices for the most part fitted with the animation. 

For music, I used an artist whose work I have used in the past, named Kevin MacLeod, whose work he allows filmmakers to use under a Creative Commons: By Attribution licence, meaning I can include some of his music as long as I credit him. For this I am very grateful, as the music gives the animation wings. 

That's about it.

Here is a link to the finished animated film, which I only just manage to edit to 3 minutes (the maximum length).

To observe it, the password is hiddenstories.