Working for Aardman Animations update #2

2011-06-14 09:27:17 by Neo-Egyptian

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!

Working for Aardman Animations update #2


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2011-06-14 09:48:12

That's pretty fuckin' neato.