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Hello everyone! I haven't posted on NG in about a bagillion years, so let me just say Happy New Year and I hope you all have a fantastic 2013! Moving on...
I'm still working at the BBC (this is taking up the vast majority of my time) and it's still great fun, lots of work but we're making some really exciting stuff. The show I'm working on at the moment is called Hidden Kingdoms, it's a natural history series which should air sometime in early 2014 - I'll make a post as soon as I can show you anything!
In other news, holy balls has anyone with a WiiU been on the Miiverse? I am absolutely in love with it! Some of the art I have seen on there is insanely good, particularly in the NintendoLand and ZombiU (my personal favourite) channels. I strongly recommend searching for users such as Kiara and Machine3K because their stuff is awesome, unfortunately I can't remember the names of everyone I'm following on there but definitely have a look.
I think one of the things I'm finding so impressive about Miiverse art is how accurate some of it is despite the (intentional) limitations of the software. With no colours, line tool or erase previous button available it is frankly astounding how some artists have generated pixel-perfect drawings and even managed completely accurate renditions of 8-bit games such as Tetris and Mario Bros. I've tried my hand at a few 8-bit style drawings on there and hoo boy, it takes hours!
If you're an early adopter of the system and want to check out my stuff, search for TomWright (you can find a search tool in the Miiverse if you click User Menu > Search Users). If you're an avid fan of doodling on the WiiU pad I'd love to see your stuff - I'm usually hanging about in the European ZombiU channel!
Hello there! It has just occurred to me that I haven't updated my account in 6 months, so let's rectify that RIGHT NOW:
In my last post I talked about me leaving my job at Aardman. For those of you who are new to my sporadic blog, I spent last year working on Aardman's latest feature film The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists (or Band of Misfits if you're American). It was a lot of fun to work on and back in March I went to the premiere, which included drinking free booze and hanging out in the VIP section with Hugh Grant. This is probably the closest I will ever get to being famous!
Given that I was living the life of a millionaire showbiz socialite (this is a lie) you might be wondering why I quit my job. Well, I was contacted by the BBC and offered a job as an edit assistant. I've always wanted to edit and the BBC is an incredible company, so I said farewell to the team on Pirates and abandoned ship (sorry).
Since then, I've worked on a variety of shows (kids, wildlife, archive etc) and am now employed on Hidden Kingdoms, a big BBC1 natural history series that's going to involve a lot of RED footage, high-speed stuff, stereoscopic 3D - you name it, we're probably going to use it! I'm not really allowed to say what it's about, but it's going to be a big technical challenge and a lot of fun. Other than that, I cut a promo in my own time for Planet Earth, which the BBC actually decided to use for their Collections website - how cool is that? You can check it out right here.
Aside from all the awesome stuff, as you can imagine I've had to get my head around a huge amount of technical information. Everything from learning AVID 6 and making time-lapse sequences in Motion to figuring out how to configure a 1400 deck and work with S3D footage has been covered - I feel like my brain is exploding! Speaking of the latter, filming and working with stereo 3D footage is a massive undertaking. I've had to learn what terms like interaxial distance, depth budget, and parallax mean, and how you control them. Don't worry if you have no idea what any of this means, because I didn't have a clue about any of it two weeks ago!
So there you go! As always, if you have any questions just fire away in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.
ps. don't forget that The Pirates! is in cinemas right now, so instead of watching The Avengers for the fifth time, go and see my film instead!
Hello NG enthusiasts! Before I begin, let's get down the nitty gritty: after a year of working on Aardman's latest feature film I have done the unthinkable and quit my job. Before you start labelling me as insane for leaving the best stop-motion company in the world, the reason behind it is that the BBC called me offering me an edit job - which is amazing! I've just finished working on a new natural history series called MicroWorlds (name to change) and it was a brilliant experience. I really want to end up as a full-blown editor, so this is a great step in my inevitably slow media career.
Going back to my last few months at Aardman, the powers that be asked for blog entries from the crew for the official website and it turns out they picked mine as one to use - awesome! You can read it here:
Other than that, we hit the final deadline for getting the film finished and it was just the biggest relief imaginable. Even though we were consistently on time throughout the shoot it was still a gargantuan task and required the entire crew to just knuckle down and get on with it. After such a draining job, Aardman treated everyone to an amazing wrap party which included a free bar, free food, live music and even an actual ship which they'd hired out to sail around Bristol! It was incredible. Plus everyone had to dress as a pirate, a Victorian or a scientist, so that was pretty fun too!
Sadly there isn't much else to say about my time at Aardman, it was much the same as before (check my older NG blog posts) when I left. However, my year there was amazing and I was extremely lucky to meet such a talented group of people. Aardman itself is a very generous employer, both in terms of the way they treat employees and in the way they constantly give you more than they need to (Christmas gifts, bonuses, amazing parties etc). Speaking of which, all the crew have been invited to the movie's premiere! I will try my best to get a photo of me and Salma Hayek but something tells me I'll probably get piledrived by her bodyguards before that happens. Worth trying though, right?
As ever, if you guys have any questions about anything just fire away in the comments. Thanks for reading!
2011-11-04 13:01:43 by Neo-Egyptian
Hello Newgrounds! It's time for the obligatory intro - as most of you know, I've been lucky enough to work for Aardman Animations on their latest feature film for the last year, and have been making sporadic updates about it on NG. Sadly, today's update is probably going to be one of the last as production on the film ends in about three weeks - I'm contracted until mid-December so I might talk about what's going on then, but we shall see! In the meantime:
After a year working on the film I can finally show you something substantial, because the proper trailer has been released! Forgive the awful pirate-related pun, but this trailer completely blows the old one out of the water (eurgh) as you actually see more of what the film is about and get a bit of a feel for the characters. There are still a lot of things not covered, but I think they've done a really good job getting the tone and humour of the film across in a few minutes. I hope you like it, the film itself will be available in March 2012. For you guys that is, because I have access to the Aardman database and can watch the entire thing right now! (cue evil laugh)
As the film nears completion we've had an increasingly large number of film crews and journalists milling around the studio, generally slowing everything down and getting in the way. Just kidding! Sort of. Anyway, it's given everything a sense of urgency in that we've been doing this film ourselves for a few years in a very secretive manner and now we suddenly have people with cameras running around taking 'behind the scenes' footage for various publications and websites. It's definitely pretty cool, but it also makes me realise that holy crap we're actually making a film and we've only got three weeks left! I've decided to feature the best of the press below:
The Guardian article
This excellent article has currently been doing the rounds in the studio and is well worth a look, it's written well and gives a very good look at what we've been up to. I particularly like the photo of Loyd on set, as it gives a great sense of scale - I've also walked on that bit of set when we were setting it up, and you feel like some sort of crap Godzilla knock-off. Good times! I also like how (Aardman co-founder) Pete Lord mentions the bad old days when knocking the camera or having something wilt in the background would be an absolute disaster. Neither of those things are good news now, but we have much better technology to deal with it!
In fact, the progression of technology has really played a massive part in this film being made. We've used a lot of CG work on small-scale things (like removing rigs and wires) and on much bigger things (like adding the sea) which would have been practically impossible back in the days of the first Wallace and Gromit movies. We've also got an amazing new system to create the mouths for each character (more on this later!) using what are effectively 3D printers, again using technology that didn't exist until recently. Personally, I think this is fantastic as it gives the animators much more scope to work with and it's great to see classic stop-motion animation mixed seamlessly with modern CG animation and brand-new technology.
The Swedish film crew
We had these guys in last month to film some stuff for a Swedish show called Kobra, and while the video is a little odd (it features stuff from a Swedish animation group that is frankly a bit crap) there's some really good 'behind the scenes' stuff about our film. There are also a few interviews with some of the animators and footage of the model making department, so it's well worth a watch.
Speaking of the press, a huge group of people in suits has literally walked into the production office as I'm typing this and they're looking around at everything, I think they're from Sony and the BBC. It occurs to me that I'm starting to find this sort of thing pretty ordinary, when I should really be thinking 'holy crap!'.
Pete Lord's Empire blogs
Empire occasionally features a guest blog where someone in the industry writes for them, and Pete Lord - Aardman's co-founder and the director on Pirates! - has written two, which you can see above. The first is pretty old (it was written in July) but is a good read, focusing on how the film got made in the first place and how long it's taken. The second, written a few weeks ago, goes into more detail about the animators and the sets. If you've been following my NG blog for a while there won't be anything particularly new here, but there are some great photos and Pete writes in an entertainingly enthusiastic style. He also makes the interesting point that when you watch the film, each character acts consistently throughout and yet they've been animated by a whole group of different people. This says a lot about how talented our animators are!
Side note: remember the press guys I mentioned earlier? We treat them pretty well and they get a lot of fancy food when they're watching scenes from the film up in the viewing theatre. The best part of this is that they never eat anything and we bring all the food down to the office when they're done, meaning I'm now sitting at my desk writing this while eating an interesting combination of olives, cookies and Green and Black's chocolate. Result!
It's not just the press that have been running around with cameras recently, as we've had our own team filming stuff and interviewing people for the inevitable DVD and Blu-ray extras. This has been a little odd to witness, because I'm so used to watching these sorts of extras that I've never really given much thought to how or when they're made during a film. The answer, it turns out, is right at the end when nobody has any time! They actually interviewed the production manager in the office while everyone was still running around working behind him - I think I'm in the background at one point, pretending to have a serious question for someone when in reality I'm blatantly trying to get in shot!
One thing I find a bit odd about the interviews is that I now know all the crew really well, and it's more like your mates doing these interviews rather than industry professionals. That's not to discredit them in any way - they are, afterall, at the top of their game - but it's weird that I have a habit of watching DVD extras for films I enjoy and I sort of put the important crew-members on a pedestal, rather than just seeing them as regular people with film-related talents. When watching these things, it's important to remember that the people you see are only human - however cheery they come across or however often they describe serious problems as 'exciting challenges', these people have constant issues to deal with and are often under a huge amount of pressure. Making a film is great fun, but it's also hard!
Other than the interviews and on-set stuff, there are going to be some animation-related things which I literally can't say anything about or else they'll fire me and possibly murder me. Ok, I'm maybe being a tad dramatic but you get the point - you'll have to wait and see!
Talking about all the 'behind the scenes' stuff has got me thinking about a few departments I've neglected to talk about much in previous updates. Rather than bang on about the animators as usual, today I'm going to focus on our impressive model and prop making teams and how they go about creating stuff. Without much further ado:
One common (albeit understandable) misconception is that we still make everything out of Plasticine, when in reality we use a whole range of materials. In fact, we barely use any modelling clay at all! Let's use our protagonist, the Pirate Captain, as an example - each puppet made of him (there are about thirty) is sculpted over a steel armature with ball-and-socket joints, so each puppet will retain its internal structure when you position it. The Captain's pirate hat is made of Fast Cast resin, the flappy bits (hair, coat and trousers) are made of foam latex, his eyes are resin, and his boots and belt buckle are silicone. In fact only the eyebrows (which are hugely important when getting characters to emote) are made of modelling clay, and that's about it!
Probably the most complex part of each character is the mouth. I've touched on this in previous updates, so I'll go over this again briefly - each character has a series of resin mouths in a variety of different positions, and they can be easily switched out depending on the character's dialogue. While at first this might sound a little imprecise, in reality some of the main characters have over 200 different mouths(!) that can be used for just about any sound or expression we want them to appear to be making. This also saves the animators a huge amount of time as they no longer need to spend hours sculpting each and every mouth out of Plasticine - good stuff!
How they actually make the mouths is a pretty complex process - we have a whole team called RP (rapid prototyping) where these mouths are literally printed on to resin (a set of a few mouths takes about six hours to 'print') and are then sanded down and painted. It's sort of like a CAD/CAM system crossed with one of those 'build your own airplane' plastic kits you might have seen when you were a kid, only on an enormous scale and much, much more expensive. When all the mouths are produced for a character (along with numbers for each mouth position) the girls up in the RP library catalogue everything for easy access - this way, the lip-sync animators can request certain mouth positions by just giving numbers for each character. Simple! Well ok, not simple at all, but it works!
In case you were wondering who actually makes all this stuff, we have a lot of different teams - the model makers do all the character-related stuff (hands, eyes, clothes, sculpting of puppets), the RP guys create, sand and paint all the resin mouths, and the prop makers do all the props (duh!). Sadly we've now lost most of these teams as production on the film has almost finished, so we don't need a lot of new stuff to be made - sad times! Still, without their talents the film wouldn't look anywhere near as good as it does, so hats off to the lot of them.
Making props (is hard)
Going back to the prop makers, I can't even begin to explain the range of stuff they've made over the last couple of years. Try and think of just about anything you might need in a film to dress a set - weapons, fruit and veg, bottles and glasses, vehicles, whatever - and they've made it, only in miniature and in painstakingly accurate detail. I'm not suggesting that dressing sets and getting props on a regular film isn't a difficult task (it is!) but what they do here is something else entirely.
As a prime example of the above, in one scene a character blows into a hot water bottle until it explodes. This may sound simple, but in reality it's a logistical nightmare because of course how do you accurately animate something expanding that's made out of Plasticine and then have it burst realistically? The answer is pretty clever, and also ridiculous - the prop makers created a new, solid model of the bottle in each stage of it being expanded and then bursting, so the animator just had to switch between models as the shot went on. It ended up looking fluid and really nice on film, but I'm not sure how many people watching will appreciate the effort that went into a two-second shot!
And that, in essence, captures what makes Aardman in general pretty awesome - when you watch the film, literally every single thing you see in every shot has been hand-made by someone who really cares about their craft. The level of detail is frankly astonishing, and it goes beyond the props and models - make sure to really pay attention during the tavern scene, for example, as there is a whole cast of background characters all doing their own thing. For a live-action film you'd just get some extras to sit about and pretend to have a chat, but of course in this kind of film the animator has had to think about what everyone is doing and actually animate them, no matter how unimportant they are. While this is going to come across like a blatant plug, if you have even the slightest interest in animation then I highly recommend seeing the film twice when it comes out, as there is simply too much going on to really appreciate everything in one viewing.
If any of you reading this are fans of Aardman (this seems probable) then you're probably aware we've actually had a second film in production this whole time, called Arthur Christmas. If you're wondering why I haven't talked about it, the reason is that I have absolutely nothing to do with it - all the work on that film has happened at our sister site in the centre of Bristol, and then continued in America. From what I've seen it looks charming and very funny, although given it's all computer generated it looks a world apart from all our stop-motion stuff.
Anyway, the reason I mention Arthur Christmas is because I've been invited to an early screening of the film this Saturday, a couple of weeks before it gets released! Pretty swish. I'll probably post a mini-review of it or something in the future so look out for that if you're undecided on seeing it.
I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here, but we had the annual Aardman Halloween party last week and it was absolutely mental - these guys spend every single day designing sets and building models and props, so you can probably imagine the amount of effort they put into fancy dress costumes. For one thing, nearly the entire art department came as the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz! Some of the best costumes included a surprisingly accurate Frankestein's Monster, a girl who went as that victim from Saw 2 with the venus fly trap thing on their head, zombie Spiderman, and a guy with an open zip on his face that pulled his skin apart. I wish I could put more than one photo up, but at the bottom of the post you can see me (having been attacked by a werewolf) and Josh, the zip guy!
That's about it for today's update! I'll try and get another one in before everything finishes, but if not, thanks for reading! As ever, if you guys want to know about anything specific or if you just have some general questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer. See you next time!
2011-10-20 12:26:02 by Neo-Egyptian
Hello Newgrounds! Most of you are aware of the drill by now, but if not: I've been lucky enough to work for Aardman on their latest stop-motion feature film since last November, and have been making sporadic updates about working there ever since. Things here are going great, and we're planning to wrap shooting in the middle of November so it's all go at the moment!
For today's update I've decided to give more of a 'behind the scenes' look at production than I have done previously, for two reasons - one, everyone loves photos and two, Pete Lord (one of Aardman's co-founders and the main director on the film) has been pretty liberal with photos on his Twitter account. I've decided to link to some of the best ones he's put up (sadly I can't embed them) and give a little description of what's going on, so without much further ado:
This is part of the expansive kitchen set, complete with a tiny rotisserie spit (that actually works!), loads of cutlery, and some nice hanging vegetables. As you can see this set has an extremely complicated rig (check out the lights!) but it's worth it - I've watched all the shots we've done so far and they are looking really nice. Incidentally, the kitchen scene in the film appears to take place in one enormous set when in reality we have different animators working on different parts of the set all over the studio - if you get the lighting the same and the editors cut it together seamlessly, you can't tell!
This is the main pirate ship that the main character sail around in, it's an absolute beast. Back when I was a floor runner I had to move this around the studio with some of the crew, and it was a nightmare trying to get it through tiny spaces and round sharp corners. We once spent twenty minutes wheeling it around the studio and finally got stuck at the double doors to Studio 2, because it was too tall to fit. We were determined not to take it back... so we got a saw and cut a hole in the door frame. That's lateral thinking for you!
One last thing on this shot - check out the size of that green screen! Impressive stuff.
This is the photo wall that runs along the main corridor, which gets updated every couple of months or so. It shows everyone who's currently working on the film, and it serves two purposes - one, making you feel good about yourself and two, giving you image references when you don't know who someone is! When I was a floor runner I was asked all the time to find animators who had left their unit, and this wall was a life-saver in my first month.
This is Peter Lord's awesome windowsill, featuring no less than three Morphs, two Timmy plushies, and a Bafta award. Conversely, my desk has a banana on it, a can of spaghetti, and a slide whistle which I play when someone says something inappropriate.
Here we have Ben - one of the camera assistants - awkwardly trying to position the mount for one of the cameras in a miniature petting zoo. Why is there a petting zoo in the film? If I told you, I'd probably get fired to breaching my contract! I'm not sure if I'm even allowed to mention the fact there's a petting zoo in the film, so I'm going to move away from this paragraph very quickly.
This is Beeky, the production manager. Being a production manager is a pretty unforgiving job, given you effectively have to answer to the big cheeses (in this case Sony, who are distributing the film) while also having to make sure everyone in production is getting on with their jobs. A good production manager helps to make sure everything is running smoothly while also understanding they can't always control everything, while bad production managers prioritise things badly and rule things with an iron fist. Credit where credit is due - Beeky is excellent at his job and is the best boss I've had.
The big production boards Beeky is sitting by show every unit in the studio over the course of the film. We use these boards to visually illustrate what's going on at all times, including where animators will be, what shots are being worked on, and what we're doing in each unit. Terms like 'hot' (when a shot is in progress), 'dress and light' (when the lighting and dressing is being sorted on a set) and 'block' (when an animator is doing a test before doing the actual shot) are thrown about, and it generally doesn't make any sense until you've worked at Aardman for a few weeks.
This is Jay Grace, one of the directors on the film. Jay is a total legend and can be seen here in the LAV (live-action video) acting out one of the shots in the film - we record these and upload them to the computer tower in each animator's unit, and they can refer to them when animating. Obviously a good animator will exaggerate the human movement and make it more 'cartoony', but the basis of all believable animation should be in reality, so it helps!
Incidentally, while the LAV is a pretty plain room it has props for absolutely everything including swords, guns, hats, drinks, books and so on. I've acted (I use the term loosely!) in a few LAVs and they are a lot of fun - I really hope they include an extra on the DVD showing a few of them!
Check it out, it's the entire film crew! This was taken back in March and, as a joke, Sam (the third assistant director), Pete (the floor assistant) and me decided to wear suits for it. Basically, you can always tell when one of the Sony guys is in as they're the only person wearing a suit and they look really out of place given everyone just wears what they want. We decided it'd be pretty funny for us to smarten up for the photo - you can see us on the left, near the front. I have the red tie!
If you look over Pete Lord's Twitter photos you'll find quite a lot of sketchbook shots, and this is one of them. As I see work coming from the floor every single day I'm pretty used to seeing stuff right from the start, and you can't get much earlier than in the director's doodles!
This is part of the London set that features in a particularly funny scene, I helped put this thing together and trust me, each one of those towers weighs a lot! It's a shame there's no-one in the shot for a heigh comparison but suffice it to say it's pretty big. Really nice green screen too!
This is a smaller version of a regular Milo, the moco (motion control) guys operate these for shots when the camera's moving all over the place. You can programme them to move pretty much however you want, and they work kind of like tweens in Flash - ok, that's dumbing it down a bit, but the principle is the same. In other words, you can set a start and end position for the camera (including fancy things like pitch and roll) and then make the Milo do the move within a certain amount of time. Whenever the animator takes a frame, the moco operator can move the Milo forward by one frame's worth of movement. Pretty clever stuff!
This is the particularly impressive Blood Island set, which is easily the biggest in the studio. They've shot entire TV series in this unit before, and we're using it for just one set in the film! I know I've said this before for other units, but: look at the size of that green screen!
For all you post-production/VFX whizzes out there, you might be wondering how we use a green screen with a lot of the green foliage we have on set (see the palm trees on the left). For shots with green elements in, we shoot a silhouette pass (sometimes called a luminance pass) - when we do these, we turn off the lights that illuminate the set but keep the green screen lights on. This way, we get a silhouette of the stuff on the set, and the VFX guys can use a key to separate the background greenscreen from the foreground elements. It's a pretty nifty trick, and I've done similar things with AfterEffects with my own short films. You don't even need a greenscreen - as long as there is a one-solid colour behind the stuff in the foreground (say, a lightly painted wall) you can get pretty good effects. Try applying the Colorama effect to a shot, setting it to monochrome, and crushing the blacks - it should look pretty good!
This is what a set looks like when it's just been delivered from Codsteaks - a total mess! Codsteaks have been making a lot of our sets since The Wrong Trousers (which was back in the early 90s) and their stuff is absolutely brilliant. As far as I can tell, the stuff you can see here is for the Pirate of the Year awards, of which nearly everything has now been shot (the photo is from last November). It all looked great during shooting, but it was a real pain in the arse to put together - we kept having to remove and subsequently replace a panel in the middle of the set depending on the shot, and every single time parts of it would break. This left us with no choice but to call in the increasingly irritated set dresser to fix it - whoops!
These wine glasses are, amazingly, all about the size of a fingernail! I can't really go into much detail about where in the film these appear without giving stuff away, but whatever - they look fantastic and represent just a tiny amount of the stuff the model makers have created for the film.
If you want to be a set dresser at Aardman, you'll have to get used to pushing one of these around. Most of the dressers have one and they hold just about everything you could need for sorting out sets, including glues, paints, brushes, lighter fluid (we use it to remove glue) and pretty much everything except the kitchen sink. Except of course on the kitchen set, where there literally is a kitchen sink.
More fancy props, this time on the Blood Island set. It should be noted that every single shop on the island has about this much detail (some have far, far more) and you barely see most of them for more than a few seconds. There areso many throwaway jokes in the film and cool things in the background that it's nearly impossible to pick up everything in one sitting.
Remember the smaller Milo earlier on? Well, this is the real deal and as you can see it is an actual behemoth. You can programme these to do just about any camera move you want and they're practically indestructable. The catch? They cost roughly five hundred thousand pounds!
Finally, we have a pretty short video by Peter Lord himself, showing you a few of the things in the model making department. It's not particularly informative but it's a nice look at some 'behind the scenes' stuff - hope you like it!
That's about it for today's update! As ever, if there's anything you want to know more about or if you simply have a question about how things work at Aardman, just give me a shout in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I'll try and update at least one more time before production on the film ends, so check back over the next month or two. See you next time!
Today's update is my most ACTION PACKED news update ever, maybe. It's definitely the longest! Anyway, by now most of you know the drill - I've been lucky enough to work for Aardman Animations on their next stop-motion feature film since November 2010, and I've been making sporadic updates talking about the job and the industry ever since. I've touched on issues such as the creative process at Aardman and the working relationship between directors and animators, and have also attempted to give vaguely useful advice regarding animation (which I've got from the stop-motion guys here) whenever I can, so take a look at previous entries if you're interested. Anyway, without much further ado:
I am usually very limited with the stuff I can say about the films (contractual obligations and all that!), however Aardman co-founder, director and awesome guy Peter Lord has been pretty liberal on his Twitter account recently meaning I can technically say whatever he's said on that! First up are a couple of shots from around the studio - the first is one Peter Lord took while working with the composer.
Second, we've got a shot of the tavern set - bloody hell, look at all those lights! Now you can see why it takes so long for sets to get sorted! You can also see an abundance of gaffer tape, which is roughly as valuable to the crew as water.
Anyway, this next shot shows Dean (one of our animators) checking out what he's shot on his computer tower - look at all those cables! No wonder we have about twenty people dealing with a unit at a time. Anyway, the set on the left is part of a London street (I can't really say much more than that) which appears about two-thirds of the way through the film. Near the bottom-left corner of the shot you can see a box full of character mouths - which leads me to...
How we do lip-sync at Aardman has changed drastically in the last two years, primarily because we now use interchangeable, magnetic mouths rather than having the animators painstakingly make a new one for every frame. The guys in the Rapid Processing department make these, there are loads of them - some of the main puppets have almost 150 different mouth positions alone! The puppets all have magnets built into their heads, so the animators can switch between these without moving the puppet mid-shot - pretty clever! We have a lip-sync animating team who listen to the film's lines, then figure out which mouth positions should be used for each frame. This information is put down on a dope sheet (not that kind of dope!) for the animators to use, so they can refer to it and switch between mouth positions while shooting. This frees up a huge amount of their time (back on the old Wallace and Gromit films they'd have to sculpt each position individually, which could take hours) and means they're really just focusing on the performance and 'acting' of each character, without having to stop every single frame and worry about what the mouth is doing. Pretty slick!
Another part of the unit you've probably noticed in that photo is the green screen in the top-left corner. Some of these are enormous (we have one in a unit covering an entire town, it is at least 40 feet long) and are all essential when filming. Why is this? Because the VFX guys are doing a lot of set extensions and CGI work - not on the animation, of course, but instead on adding backgrounds and some pretty impressive elements, like the sea - imagine trying to animate the sea for real on a stop-motion film! It would be impossible. VFX also fix a lot of little issues with shots - how do they do this? With plates! For those of you not aware of this term, it's a bit like how layers work in Flash - for example, sometimes if we're doing a really complicated shot, a background plate might be done with extra characters and then the VFX guys composite it together with the main shot. Plates are usually shot however for rig removal, whereby bits of the rigging (usually metal arms and supports that hold puppets up) are digitially 'painted out' from the shot. This generally involves getting the camera to move precisely as it did for the shot, but with all the puppets removed. This way, the clean plate can be layered below the main shot, so when one of the VFX guys removes anything from the shot that shouldn't be there, the clean plate shows through and the viewer has no idea that anything has been removed - that's the magic of film! As the cameras are programmed to move on a track (so we can repeat exactly the same camera move over and over again) and because we have exact control of the light levels in the studio, it's a lot easier to create 'perfect' clean plates for stop-motion than it would be on a live-action film, particularly if you were shooting outside. This, incidentally, is how Aardman can get characters and objects to jump or move around the shot without people seeing the wires or metal supports - we just remove them in post-production!
One of the perks of this job is attending crew screenings of the film, of which I've now been to two. For the last one we actually hired-out a screen at a local cinema to check out the movie as it was at the time (roughly 50% complete and 50% animatic/storyboard) with Peter Lord doing a little introduction - this, along with the inevitable premiere, is probably the closest I will ever get to feeling like a famous person! Speaking of which, I now have the world's crappiest IMDb page in existence - check it out in all its pitiful glory here. I've barely got two credits to my name, but I love it!
One final 'behind the scenes' note - we've started working on the full-length trailer, which should be out within the next few months. Apparently it'll be attached to the upcoming Tintin movie, so watch this space! If you missed it, the teaser trailers for the film are out now.
If you want to get a somewhat personal, day-by-day account of working at Aardman, make sure to check out Peter Lord's Twitter account.
A couple of months ago I received an e-mail from Newgrounds user and all-round nice guy Patonion (he did the 'I Can't Draw' animation) asking me how I went about getting a job with a big company like Aardman. After feeling profusely embarrassed about this given I'm hardly an authority on the subject, I gave it some thought and sent him a long, rambling response that probably went into too much detail. Luckily for you guys, I've decided to paraphrase what I wrote to him so pay attention, jobless film lovers! Here are some general pointers you might not have thought about:
1) Tailor your cover letter. Oh boy, we're starting with a fun one! Regardless, this is important - there is honestly little worse than sending twenty different companies the same non-specific, general cover letter rather than writing a new one for each company. It's boring as anything and very time-consuming, but each company wants to know why you are specifically suited to their company, not the TV/film industry in general. You should use application forms and job advertisements as checklists, whereby you go through each thing they're looking for (ability to use a certain program, specific skills, computer proficiency etc) and make sure each and every one is addressed in your cover letter or CV.
2) Get a driving licence. This sounds dumb, but it isn't! Lots of companies expect their junior-entry staff (trainees, assistans, runners etc) to be able to pick up equipment, take crew to places, and buy stuff. Get driving!
3) Make lists of companies and producers. This is absolutely critical so pay attention! If you're serious about getting into the industry, you're going to be contacting a lot of companies and individuals, so start by visiting media sites online (if you live in the South West like me, some good sites include Mandy, Bristol Media and South West Screen) for job vacancies, and check local guides or websites for lists of production companies in your area. Gather as many company names and contacts as you can, and then get sending! Before I got the job at Aardman I was routinely sending batches of CVs and cover letters to companies every two months, and adding more companies to my list in the interim. Furthermore, I started physically mailing companies as well as just relying on e-mail - anything to make people remember your name above everyone else! If you want even more contact details, you're completely within your rights to call production companies, politely explain who you are and why you're calling, and ask if there are any jobs going or, better yet, ask if you can have a list of producers on any upcoming projects. Remember, if a company doesn't have vacancies right now, that doesn't mean they won't in the future - get your CV to the right people and maybe they'll remember your name in the future!
4) Prepare yourself for a load of crap! Let's start this final section with a few questions - are you good at handling constant rejection? Are you willing to do a lot of work experience and potentially unpaid work that may well lead absolutely nowhere? When you get your first relevant job, are you prepared to put your interests on hold and basically spend 6 months carrying boxes and making people coffee all day? If the answer to any of these is 'no' then you might have a serious problem with the media industry! Look, I don't want this to be all doom and gloom - afterall, everyone at Aardman has been lovely - but there are a lot of companies out there that will dick you around, offer interviews and then cancel them for no reason, and who will generally be absolutely awful to you. If you want to get into an industry like this you really need to have perseverance, because people with no will power who don't keep going at it are not going to get anywhere. Stay positive, keep applying for everything, keep sending out CVs, and don't give up!
That's about it for today's (questionably) exciting update! As ever, if you have any questions about the job, or how the film's going, or any technical sides of making a stop-motion feature at Aardman, just ask and I'll do my best to cover it in a later update. Thanks for reading!
After working for Aardman for over eight months on their next feature film, I can finally show you some footage from it - because they've just released both the American and International trailers!
Personally, I feel the American one shows the characters a bit more (and looks amazing in 1080p) but I really, really love the song in the International one - it demonstrates the sense of humour in the film and is also a pretty great shanty, so that's good!
So what do you guys think?
UPDATE: As I said in my last post, if any of you have any questions about Aardman (such as how certain processes work, how long things take, how the film's going and so on) then feel free to ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer :)
Hello everyone! As some of you might know I've been working for Aardman on their next feature film for the last seven months, which is currently named The Pirates! Band of Misfits. As I received a few requests for updates regarding what I'm up to and how everything's going, I decided I'd start talking about my work. Today's update is going to be much like my first one, except this time there are subject headers in the form of hypothetical questions - holy crap!
Until a few weeks ago I was working on the production floor, which involved building sets, buying equipment, and being a bit of a dogsbody - pretty standard for this industry! However, I have somehow managed to bag a promotion meaning I've gone from lowly production runner to still pretty lowly shot assistant! The exact details of the job are pretty complicated, but essentially I liaise with with the editors, assistant directors and visual effects guys to make sure shots are being approved/sent to the right places and that everyone is up-to-date with what's going on on the production floor. I'm sort of like the central hub of shot information for all the important people, which means I have a lot of responsibility now! Which is good. But it also means if I mess up at all, everything grinds to a halt because of me! Which is bad.
The last shots for the trailer were completed last week (which was a little stressful!) and the guys up in edit are putting it all together now. I've seen a rough cut of it and it's looking really nice, apparently it will be released sometime in July so watch out for it! It'll be attached to a few big films over the summer and will obviously appear online. I'll link to it when it comes out, I'm really hoping you guys will like it - everyone here has been putting in a huge amount of effort to get things ready on time and looking great, so check it out when it's released.
I recently saw a post in the forums which brought up (amongst other things) the relationship between the director and the animator when making a cartoon/film, and this got me thinking about the process we have here at Aardman. This is a bit technical and perhaps a little confusing, but the actual process of a shot being planned, animated, and then put on screen goes like this:
1) The director liaises with the storyboard artists, who plan out a shot by drawing the key poses - these are the storytelling poses, the ones that tell us what's going on. Good storyboard artists will make their drawings have a sense of movement, so you can see where everyone's moving and what the camera's doing.
2) The guys in pre-vis make a rough cut of the shot using crude CGI models of the characters. The completed soundtrack is included and the camera movement is very precise, but the character movement is pretty simplistic and jumps from extreme to extreme.
3) The runners put the set together in the animator's unit, the sparks and riggers get the lights set up, the set dressers make sure the set and props are looking good, and so on.
4) Using the rough cut as guidance, the animator (for that particular shot) and the director get a group of people into the live-action video room (referred to as the LAV) to literally act the scene out while being filmed. The directors know better than anyone how the characters should act and move for each scene, so they give each 'actor' direction and then film it a few times. When they're happy with what they've got, the live shot is uploaded to the animator's computer in their unit (a unit is essentially a space where a set is created) and they're free to go ahead.
5) Using the LAV shot as a rough guideline, the animator animates the shot while operating a stills camera, which has been positioned by the DoP (director of photography) and the camera assistants. Keep in mind the best animators will exaggerate the movements from the LAV and make them more amusing/cartoon-like, and add some personal flair. The animator might also do a test of the shot first (this is called a block) on complex shots - for these, the camera will be moving as usual but the animator will only move the character once every six frames or so to give the directors a good idea what the shot will end up looking like.
6) The shot is sent to the editors and VFX for approval. This is broken down into three parts - technical approval (making sure there are no dead pixels, camera issues, weird frames etc), VFX approval (making sure the shot is going to work with post-production stuff, like replacing green screens and adding effects/CGI characters) and finally creative approval (where the director makes sure everything looks nice and that the characters are 'acting' amusingly/entertainingly).
7) If everything's approved, that's it! The crew are told and everyone runs around like maniacs getting everything changed and set up for the next shot in that particular unit. This requires a huge amount of team effort as you'll get runners, riggers, sparks, and set dressers (and more!) building stuff, lighting stuff, and generally getting it all ready. Keep in mind there are almost fourty units shooting simultaneously - it's a pretty huge task!
I've been storyboarding Steve 4 during quieter moments at work, and have started recording the voices using my fancy new pair of Sennheiser PC350 headphones. I've also started using Audacity which is amazing, the tool for clearing up ambient noise is superb. Anyway, I'm considering doing my own mini-LAV and filming myself acting out some of the lines, as I'd love to give the cartoon a realistic, fluid look.
That's about it for now! If you have any questions you'd like to ask about the film, Aardman in general, or my own stuff, then ask away and I'll see what I can do in my next post. See you next time!
ps. below is the first publicity still released for the film - enjoy!
In my last post I mentioned I'd got a job working for Aardman on their next feature film, and some of you wanted to know more about it and get some 'behind the scenes' information. Unfortunately I'm contractually obliged not to talk about a lot of stuff, but I figure I can mention a few things. So:
Working at Aardman is, first and foremost, totally sweet. The wealth of creativity and raw talent there is frankly astonishing, and what's great is that you see every part of production every day. What I mean by this is that the huge studio where we're based houses everyone involved in the film, so if you walk around the studio you'll come across animators, editors, VFX guys, the rigging crew, and of course the big man himself, Peter Lord. We even have huge model making and art departments where you see puppets, props and bits of set being worked on in meticulous detail.
Perhaps the only bad part of the job - or at least the most sobering - is when you see just how good everyone is at what they do. Now I've never been the best artist or animator (just watch any of the Steve episodes to see what I mean!) but watching some of the best stop-motion animators in the world at work is both amazing and completely deflating. The sheer level of knowledge these people have in regard to animation is astonishing - they know pretty much everything there is to know about timing, weight, humour and believability in character animation, which makes me realise how little I really know! However, what's great about this is that everyone at Aardman has been extremely friendly and so many of the animators have offered to teach me stuff and watch anything I've put together for tips and advice. I've had very little time to do my own work since getting the job, but this is an opportunity I can't afford to pass up!
As for my own job, right now I'm working in production which involves anything from making sure animators and crew are in the right places to helping put set together and picking up equipment. One of my favourite jobs is acting in the LAV (live-action video) - this essentially involves watching a very rough CGI cut of a shot with the finished soundtrack, and then acting it out with some of the crew while being filmed. The animator then uses this as a reference when animating the shot with puppets, but of course the best animators will exaggerate the movements and make them more 'cartoony'.
In terms of animation, I've been given a few excellent pieces of advice, some of which I've put below:
1) Keep everything fluid and understand how one movement relates to another. Often people have a habit of animating one movement, stopping, then moving to another one. In other words, always know where you're going to be in 12 frames' time.
2) Using a reference for every shot is an excellent idea, whether that means using a mirror, having a marionette on your desk, or even dropping a video into the timeline. Remember though that you will never get far in animation if you literally just copy real life - cartoons are supposed to exaggerate and emphasise things more than live action, which is where a lot of their charm comes from. With that said, the underlying anatomy and movement of even the most cartoony, ridiculous characters must be grounded in reality! It has to be believable but exaggerated at the same time!
3) Anticipation and reactions are vital. If a character is going to dramatically thump his hand on a desk, the movement is infinitely more effective if he first raises his arm slowly and then brings it crashing downward. Furthermore, the action could be even more dramatic if his fist bounces slightly after impact to fully suggest the strength of what he's just done. This is the same as pointing - if a character sharply points at something, his arm should straighten entirely for a frame before slowly easing back a little, to suggest the power behind the movement. So often in amateur animation characters will immediately go from one action to another in a very robotic fashion (I am very guilty of doing this!) and nothing is given weight. Which leads me into...
4) Every character moves and acts differently. This is probably the number one thing I see that is wrong in amateur animation and which I have done awfully myself for years, where every character walks the same, moves the same, and acts with the same weight. We can tell so much about a character from the way they interact with their environment and unfortunately I am guilty of neglecting this fact for years, just re-using the same walk or run cycles for every character and not really caring. Is a character heroic? Are they shy and weak? Fat? Thin? Athletic? Young? Old? These aren't just attributes we give to our characters, they are our characters! Animation is an inherently visual medium, and if I were shown any of the scenes in the Aardman film we're working on I am confident I could pick out any of the characters from their movements and actions alone. Bring out the character of everyone in your cartoon in every shot and emphasise what makes them each unique and you will start producing amazing work!
I realise I've just written an essay, so I think I'll leave this post there for the moment! I'll keep you guys updated in the next few months, I'm sure.
For all three of you waiting for the next Steve episode, you might have wondered where I've been for the last year. Well, after sending out roughly eight million CVs and cover letters over the year, I got a call from Aardman Animations offering me a job working in production on their next stop-motion feature film! I obviously can't go into a lot of detail as they haven't released a trailer yet, but suffice it to say I'm loving the job and, fingers crossed, I can hopefully work my way up through the ranks. Having even the slightest opportunity to be an animator with a company as prestigious as Aardman is a pretty big deal, so I'm going to try my best not to spoon it up.
Ironically, since getting the job I have had a lot less free time to spend on animating but rest assured, the Steve series is most certainly not dead. The fourth episode's script has been finished for ages now and it's easily the best episode so far, so when I get some time to myself I'm going to really start cracking away at it.
That's about all for now, you lovely NG people.