Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Preproduction for Specialist Study- the Caslon brief

In addition to working with L6 students and writing a report this module, I also needed to work on a section of an animation based on the life of famous eighteenth century type founder William Caslon.

This module, time has been tight to say the least, and so it fits that for a shorter 15-credit module, not as much is required of planning and preparation. Likewise, this is an ongoing task and there is no set requirement to hand in a finished piece by deadline.

A few weeks ago, whilst plenty occupied with our other work at the time, we met with a group of Illustration students to pitch our initial ideas, based upon a provided script. We were able to gain a better understanding of the task through their tutor whom was able to provide feedback on our ideas.

At this point in time, the aim is to develop our ideas to the point where we can give an accurate impression of what the final piece would look like. For this project, I have been working with Brian (at impossible-dark.blogspot.co.uk) once more, due to the fact that we were designated one of the longest sections of the script to work with. In our first class regarding this project, we were given two hours to draft out a storyboard.

There were a number of important things to consider here; what was the target audience? What was the aim of the piece? Through discussion, we established that the animation was to be informative, and appealing to quite a select audience. The history of type founders is not exactly a mainstream topic! We concluded that the target audience would most likely be those in academia (students or lecturers in the type/design fields) and as such the visuals of the piece should be appropriate for an adult audience, 18+.

With a focus on providing facts and information, the visuals would need to complement the narrative, yet at the same time be simple to aid in the retention of key information packets. Also to consider was the fact that the piece does tell a story, divided amongst a fair amount of different students. Though I of course acknowledged that everyone has their own style, I believed it was important to have some form of visual connection throughout- perhaps a recurring element that would tie everything together.

From listening to the ideas of other students, this link was established as a ship, featured in a few different animated sections. We decided to opt for an eighteenth century drawing style, with yellowed paper and ink outlines. It was important not only to keep everything appropriate to the target audience but also to keep it relevant to the topic’s timeframe. For example, a clean modern style would contradict both the story and the viewer’s expectations, leading undoubtedly to an awkward and disjointed animation.

The style we chose was one of a simple layout and design, with visual elements lifted from the narrative to best convey the information, in the same manner as how we approached our infographics project. Aesthetically, we have chosen a semi-realistic grungy look- something vaguely cartoon yet not overly basic, and wholly reminiscent of life itself in the 1700s.

The initial storyboard scans:

With such a short timeframe, the amount of research we were able to do was impacted. We needed to be specific, looking up the things that would help us make a more accurate, concise animation. From our storyboard, we established a series of questions that needed to be answered:

·      What does the Caslon font look like?

·      What did Caslon himself look like?

·      Research into musical notes so that the music section is accurate

·      Sarah and Alice Winn- what would they have looked like?

·      Image references from the Old Bailey and 18th Century map/ships

·      The ship left for the colonies- where were the colonies in the 1700s and where did the ships leave England?

Brian and I agreed to divide the storyboard between us based on what we had planned and the techniques we wanted to employ. For variety, we saw a great opportunity to utilise a wide array of techniques, drawing up plans that consider 2D, 3D, stop-motion and even moving image.

For the most part, we split the work after the first page- Brian would create the section up until the glass, and I would create from there on. In addition, Brian agreed to work on an updated, neater storyboard. Certain areas would require both of us, ensuring that the work was evenly distributed for fairness.

Making the animation

The first part of the animation I created was the judge’s gavel section, using Autodesk Maya. This was very simple, taking just a couple of hours to model, texture and animate. It wasn’t until I attempted to render my simple animation that problems arose.

I began by gathering a few reference images from the Internet to gain a better understanding of what I was modelling. I realised from these that there is usually a degree of design applied to the gavels, actually making them rather ornate. This is something that I attempted to replicate for my 3D version.

From my reference images, I found that gavels are usually a dark wood, so looking online, I found a dark wood seamless texture for use on the model, and by tweaking the saturation, brightness and contrast in Photoshop I was able to create a bump map to use simultaneously.

The models (gavel plus base) were created from cylinders, using the basic transformation toolset and the ‘insert edge loop’ tool. With textures applied, the model looked as follows:

The gavel consists of two parts- the head and the handle. These were combined and the pivot was centred ready for animating. Since Brian was creating the glass section in 2D, the background had to be plain alpha for consistency when the sections were compiled.

For animating, to ensure everything fell nicely against a ‘solid’ surface, I added two planes (horizontal and vertical) as reference points. These were removed prior to rendering.

Animating, I made a conscious effort to give the gavel (which drops from above to hit the base) a realistic sense of weight and physics. This meant making the head appear to be the heaviest part, and ensuring that when lying flat/rolling/sliding, all the correct points of the gavel were in contact with the hypothetical table surface. For example, it would be wrong for the handle to float in the air when the gavel lies flat on a surface. Similarly, nothing could intersect. I made the gavel pivot slightly around the contact points, adding to the sense of curvature from its rounded form.

To ensure that the animation was on track, I created the following test playblast videos, helping me to understand what needed to be tweaked:



Moving on to the next part- the notice. The majority of our lengthy section consists of a quote from Caslon’s notices. With no real way to depict this part through images, we chose to create the writing itself with stop-motion animation, which provided a great opportunity to experiment with the technique, to create the appearance of handwriting being written as the words are narrated! This was very useful for me considering my desire to specialise in stop-motion animation next year.

In-keeping with our 18th century visuals, I needed the flier to appear old and worn. I used tea to colour a couple of A4 pages accordingly:

As per my plans, I used masking tape to secure a thin wire around the edge of one sheet, before gluing the second sheet over the top. The result was an old worn paper that could be bent and retain its shape for animating. 

Before committing ink to this page, we tested our technique quickly on a spare sheet of paper:


The test that we had completed was certainly very good practice, for when we were able to return to this section of the animation we worked very efficiently, knowing exactly what to do. Basing our layout and structure on Caslon’s original notice, (with a few tweaks to ensure everything fitted within the screen size of 1024 x 576), we began a lengthy yet altogether easy process of writing one tiny bit at a time!

You can see that we used a green background here- this was in fact my first attempt at using a green screen! This was so that the stop motion section could be composited atop the 2D wanted poster element, mixing techniques.

We found the following video, online, very useful:

Once the writing was complete (several hours later), we needed to animate the page rolling up! This was the moment of truth for my wire/paper design.

I was delighted to find that this worked very well! The paper held its shape, and we were able to animate very smooth movement. This rolling paper (despite being fast) is actually my favourite part of the animation.

Adding a section of stop-motion to this piece was in my opinion a great idea. In addition to learning and getting to grips with new software, I have experimented with new tools and techniques and succeeded in using a green screen- something which I imagine I will be using a lot for my specialist studies next year.

The following video shows the animation as captured directly by the Dragon software. In the final animation, which I shall post separately to this walkthrough, you can see the effects of our green screen work!


With time being short, I was unable to create all the assets from scratch. I was able however to adapt existing images using Photoshop to create some good assets, effects being added to keep everything visually consistent and sharp. The following images have been created/adapted using Photoshop and were used in our Caslon animation:

The wall and wanted poster were chosen very carefully, so that the level of detail matched. I used the ‘colour burn’ blending mode to roughen up the edges of an old worn paper image, which made it look weathered. The nails holding it to the wall were created from a rusty metal texture, with ‘bevel & emboss’ and a drop shadow applied. A similar drop shadow was applied to the poster to give a sense of depth to the image.

The images of the two women/girls were found online. After collecting the most appropriate images I could find, I adjusted their values for consistency of colour, and used the ‘clone stamp’ tool to edit out any areas that did not match. The final effect I feel is quite convincing. The final picture is detailed and meets the design specifications established through our designs/plans.

The ship originated as one of my reference images. It needed to look like it was a part of the map, therefore the ‘ink outlines’ effect was suitable. This provided a strong foundation for me to adjust strokes and colours to neaten everything up, as well as removing the background and saving the picture as a png image.

When there is little time to draw something like this from scratch, editing existing images in this way is a very effective and efficient method of creating assets for use in animations.

In the same manner as the ship, the Old Bailey justice statue was created by editing an existing image. In this case, it was coloured, given a stone-like texture and the edges were neatened and sharpened.

That's all for now! Stay tuned for the final video in my next post!

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