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!


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2011-10-20 12:55:43

Well that was a great little behind-the-scenes look. Really exciting stuff. Can't wait for an in-front-of-the-scenes look!


2011-10-20 13:58:43

Thanks for taking the time to write all this up, it's a fun read!

Neo-Egyptian responds:

Thanks a lot! It's funny, in a quiet time at work the other day I was reading through the NG history stuff and your bio, so this is a nice little reversal!


2011-10-20 14:49:22

Interesting stuff man! :)


2011-10-20 15:49:52 n-s-Stop-Motion-Pirates-Movie-Debuts-

I found a trailer! That sea monster at the end looks really cool!

Neo-Egyptian responds:

Oh man, I'm glad you like the look of the monster but that thing has been redone about five times - the one in the teaser trailer is a REALLY early version! It's going to look a lot nicer in the actual film. Incidentally, the link you've got there is the American trailer - you can see the International one here: OFLtsDvbw


2011-10-20 15:58:42

This WAS a fun read! Congrats on having such a cool job, haha!