Project evaluations

Evaluation and analysis

Infographics animation
'Digital animation' part 2 module assessment

I certainly feel I have worked harder for this project than any other so far. Yet again, despite working from the onset to finish well before deadline, I found myself working until the early hours trying to complete the animation on time.

I am inclined this time to attribute this ‘delayed’ completion to having simply spent a little too long planning. Early on, I will admit it was difficult to judge time for this project as it was always pushed to the back. From the beginning, we had far longer for this project than others running concurrently, which meant that it became low priority when the other projects intensified. Couple this with the fact that taught tutorial sessions for this module were few compared to those other projects and there was always an issue, I suppose, with keeping the project in mind. It was easy to lose focus and work under the belief you had more time left than you actually had.

If I have one complaint about this module, it would be that I do not feel it was made clear enough early on that our task was to adapt an existing infographic image, as opposed to creating our own infographic based on various source materials. By the time I realised this, I had completed a fair amount of research and generated a lot of ideas- many of which were salvaged and adapted to fit my new narrative- but due to the need to change certain aspects, it turned out that I could no longer continue with the core point I was going to make in my piece. This set me back somewhat as I had to figure out what elements could still be used, and more importantly, how to bridge the parts that could no longer be used.

On the whole, I am very pleased with the way my infographic turned out. My approach was always to develop the narrative first, and then look at what was being said to decide what should be shown on screen. Of course, a great deal of consideration went into each scene (having completed a very detailed storyboard), though I always felt that some sections were stronger than others. This came through with my animatic, where there seemed to be pauses occasionally that were perhaps a little too long. For the final piece therefore, I altered the timing slightly, and also took the opportunity to go all out with added effects such as motion blurs, wobbles, squash and stretch and the other principles of animation (not seen in my still image-based animatic). In the final piece, I definitely feel everything works well. Thanks to the visual quality of each element, even the slower sections look good, and as opposed to feeling out of place actually offer a welcome change of pace. Throughout making this animation, I resolved to simply make each section the best it could possibly be.

As for the principles of animation, I have maintained my view from my last few projects that principles should only be applied where appropriate and should not be shoehorned in where they do not necessarily apply. Saying this, I find I am now including most of the principles without actually thinking about it. This is not to say I am not considering them, for I am- just that their inclusion is becoming more ‘natural’ to me, and I find that I no longer need to think about where to add them. Timing and spacing is the obvious one, used throughout as always to match audio, a rhythm and to make things a believable speed. Exaggeration this time took on a more metaphorical role, for my animation was not so much exaggerated to be comical or cartoon, but instead to imply themes and in some cases just make things work. The robot driven car, for example, is exaggerated in that it features a robot sitting in the driver’s seat. Of course this is not what is meant by the term ‘robot driven car’, but it is instantly recognisable and best illustrates the point. When it came to the second 3D section of my animation, where in a matter of seconds a stream of traffic needed to grind to a halt, I needed to greatly exaggerate the amount that each car would pre-emptively slow down, else the cars would still have been moving nearly full speed by the end of the animation! As given on my animation, the effects of a sudden drop in speed can be often felt twenty miles back- and I needed to show the same effect on a stretch of road only 500 metres long.

Squash and stretch features on objects in my animation; the people icons are bouncy and pop up with a wobble, and the ‘traffic’ text squashes upon impact at the stop signpost. Ease in and out is again common, used throughout, and anticipation/reaction was also used consistently. I am pleased with the way the cars interact with one another realistically, with reaction time added before each car pulls away and slows down.

With regards to the myriad of computer issues I experienced this time around, I have detailed the vast majority of these in my walkthrough, so there is no point in me repeating myself here. Overall, I am very pleased that I was able to overcome these issues, mainly for getting through several moments where I was not so sure things were going to work as well as I’d hoped. Thankfully, everything turned out fine in the end- with the single possible exception of finishing my project on the morning of the assessment, as said despite weeks of solid work.

Every time I work with Maya, I leave the project livid and stressed beyond belief at the hands of the many computer errors I undoubtedly faced. Yet time again, I find myself somewhat reluctantly drawn back to get a bit more CGI for my portfolio.  I’ll be blunt- I do not like Maya, and personally find it very difficult (perhaps that should be awkward) to work with. But I do recognise the benefits of 3D animation for certain applications. This project was a great example- take the motorway sections. Originally, my plan was to create 2D pictures of cars from above, and animate these in After Effects ‘driving’ along a road in bird’s eye view. This would have been incredibly restrictive. In fact, I remember debating early on whether a top-down or side view would make the best diagram. On one hand, side on would look much better, but the top view would allow more cars to be shown in different lanes, to give a realistic amount of scale and weight to the traffic jam issue. In truth, looking back, nether static view would have been very good.

As much as I do not like doing 3D animation, I cannot deny that it was without a doubt the best option for this project, enabling me to get a dynamic view of the motorway which is far more engaging than any 2D road could ever be. It is this appreciation of the benefits of 3D that keeps pulling me back. If I feel 3D can do what I want to do better than 2D, then I am willing to give in once again. Part of me would like to say this is the last time I will make a 3D animation, but I have a feeling that I will return to 3D in the future. I would definitely like a break from it however to focus on stop motion once again- the area of animation I am most interested in, yet ironically the area I have the least experience with.   

Evaluation and analysis

Motion graphics promotions
'Business of animation' module assessment

The first thing that struck me about this project is how similar it was to my other module running concurrently. Motion graphics employ many of the same techniques and draw from many (if not all) of the same design principles as infographics. This I saw as a good opportunity to work on both projects simultaneously, for the techniques and good working practices learnt from one would undoubtedly benefit me in the other.

Working to a specific brief is perhaps a little more challenging than a completely open project, due to the fact that great considerations must be taken at every stage of development, and you need to constantly refer back to the brief to make sure that you are on the right track. The most difficult element however, as I experienced, was getting a solid idea to progress with in the first place.

At the beginning of this project, I knew I would be creating multiple short animations, and so planning early on was essential. With a short timeframe in which to create the animations, getting ideas fast and developing their concept to fully meet the brief was challenging. In fact, the first few weeks were spent trying to get an idea that I liked and wanted to progress with. In all honesty, I did find myself stuck for ideas at times, and occasionally had to decide to carry on with an idea regardless of whether I really liked it or not, in order to get everything completed.

As I worked with these ideas and in some cases forced myself to develop them further, they did eventually evolve into good concepts, leading to the creation of a series of animations which I can now honestly say that I am very pleased with and do genuinely like. Perhaps the thing to learn here is that given time and effort, almost any idea can become strong, provided it is executed in the right way. In industry, working to create an animation in a few days, it is clear that ideas would really need to be churned out, and in many cases commercially the deciding factor will be whether the client, and not you as a creator personally, likes that idea.

I am very pleased with the progress I have made during this module, in terms of the final outcomes, skills learnt in the process, and even time management (which at times felt like an uphill struggle). In addition to the set project brief, each week we were given a further task to complete as a part of our tutorials, which just added to the already-high workload. Where I wanted to progress with my motion graphics animations, I found myself sidetracked constantly by these tasks, at one point by a few weeks thanks to them actually being pretty substantial in their own right. I must stand by what I said at the time; being told to work on tasks not directly relating to the assessment criteria at hand, when there is clearly far more important work to be done, was fairly frustrating. Whilst I understand and appreciate that these tasks covered some basic new techniques, I do not believe (in my personal opinion) they should have ever been treated as mandatory, given what we already had to work on.

Throughout my course so far, planning and time management have always been specified as important skills to develop. It was quite a surprise therefore that the work in this project seemed to somewhat contradict those skills. Every time I planned my work out ahead of me, creating a plan of action to get everything completed to a high standard by deadline, I was landed with an unexpected side-project demanding my immediate attention. As a result, I was pushed back from ‘schedule’ and against my own wishes began to run severely behind the level I wanted to be at. Often, the only way I could catch up was to work until three, sometimes even five in the morning, to simply get back to the position I was in before I even did the work! Without going into too much detail here (for it is pretty clear exactly what my opinion on these side-projects is), I just feel that these extra tasks should have been treated as optional, giving us time to learn and practice new techniques but without the pressure of having to complete extra work for a set date.

As said previously, I did learn a lot of new techniques in this module. For my ‘Italian Month’ promotion, I learnt about parenting layers in Adobe After Effects, which was used extensively to create the 3D pizza box (the tabs were parented to the lid, with the anchor points positioned such that the tabs could rotate about the fold lines). I also learnt how to correctly use layers in Adobe Illustrator, and how to import these layers as vector graphics compositions into After Effects for use in my projects. Lastly, although this technique did not feature in the final animation, I also learnt how to use displacement maps.

For my ‘Sugar Rush Sundays’ promotion, I learnt far more advanced techniques with the Puppet Pin tool, creating character animation for the first time. I began to feel comfortable working with multiple compositions at once, and learnt a great deal about particle effects (used for many purposes, most notably the sugar that flies out when the strawberry lands in the sugar bowl).

Lastly, for my ‘Kino 10’ ident, I was able to refresh my skills with Autodesk Maya, picking up pretty much where I left off almost a year ago, and from there expand every aspect of my abilities far more than I had expected I could in the short timeframe. I modelled people, learnt about lighting, made a conscientious and successful effort to create models with better geometry, and laid the foundations for me to learn rigging and character animation in the near future. I even learnt to use expressions in Adobe After Effects, useful when creating my film countdown which was composited with my Maya animation later.

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with my work this module. In a way, I suppose the unpredictable workload has helped me become more flexible in my approach to animation, and I certainly feel my final videos are some of my best animations to date. Each one completely meets its brief, resulting in animations fully fit for their intended purposes.

I look forward to building upon the skills developed as a part of this module in the near future. I already have plans to use both Maya and After Effects in my next project, and have plenty of time to try things I did not get the chance to this time around.

Evaluation and analysis

Hydration advertisement
'Digital animation' module, task 1 assessment

The first task for our ‘Digital animation’ module was a collaborative one, whereby we would create a 30-40 second animated advertisement based on the key word ‘hydrate’.

My first job therefore was to create a mind map presenting a range of appropriate ideas. We were required to pick three ideas and develop them to a presentable standard, to show the rest of our year group for feedback. My idea, relating to penguins promoting Lipton Ice Tea, was well received, however popular vote seemed to favour the idea of a Bruce Lee-themed advert for Volvic mineral water.

The next task was to meet, and begin to plan our advert. I suggested creating the piece as a motion comic (discussed later on), and we began to develop the narrative. I began to sketch ideas down quickly, believing that seeing some of the scenes visually would help a great deal. From this meeting, we assigned tasks to the members of our group, planning to meet once more not long after to review our work.

Unfortunately, it steadily became apparent throughout this project that some members were far more willing to work than others, a source of considerable frustration I can tell you. As the animators, it was essentially our job to create the advert itself, and the preproduction work was (in our opinion) the responsibility of the illustrators. We found however that the majority of this work was left to us to complete, with no one volunteering to complete the tasks, and indeed sometimes simply not doing what people had agreed to do. This, coupled with some frequent no-shows at our numerous ‘group’ meetings, inadvertently led to myself and Brian taking a pivotal role much earlier on than we had anticipated. As a result, much of the design process relied on our own ideas. 

Working on multiple projects at once is never easy, and we recognised this being a potential problem early on. Whilst our other (and I might point out more important) project was at a relatively relaxed point, we seized the opportunity to go all out when creating our advert animatic.

We had already decided to create the advert in the style of a motion comic, (essentially an animated graphic novel), for several reasons. Firstly, we agreed that the ridiculous humour and surreal fight sequences planned for our advert were a perfect match for comic book visuals, with strong visual colour schemes and speech bubbles helping to explain some back story and the narrative of the piece. Secondly, the process of creating a motion comic is quite straight forward- and considering that neither of the animators in our group (myself included) had any experience with the Adobe After Effects program at the time, this presented an excellent beginner project to help get ourselves acquainted with the new program and develop a key understanding of the basics. One of the key outcomes from this digital module is to develop an understanding of new techniques after all.

For our animatic therefore, we decided to create it in the same way that we would the final piece. This gave us a great deal of practice early on, giving us plenty of time to perfect our technique and iron out any critical issues that would be a nightmare to encounter late in the production cycle. From this work, we felt confident that we knew exactly how to make our final advert.

Unfortunately, by the time we were required to start making the animatic for the interim presentation, the other members of our group had for some reason not completed the storyboard. This meant that we did not have a finalised storyboard to work from, though in reality this did not pose too great an issue for us. I would consider myself and Brian to have been the main driving forces for the advert creatively- the story is based on Brian’s idea, into which we all had input, and I had the most significant contribution towards the advert's artistic design. As a result, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted the piece to look like, and made the best of the situation by pressing ahead with what ideas we had.

One of my personal goals with this piece was to focus on atmosphere through colour schemes. Comic books are known for their striking visuals, and exaggerated vivid colour palettes, something which I aimed to replicate for our advert. Whether from the bright sunset in the intro, to the later purple hues synonymous with mystery and intrigue, I attempted to reinforce the plot of the story through colour; something that, seeing the final piece, I believe worked rather well. In fact, I was very pleased to receive compliments from a friend who really liked the strong use of colour in our animatic.

We divided the work evenly between us, each taking a selection of scenes to complete individually, with the intention of compositing them together later on. This process proved very efficient, since we could comfortably work from home on our individual tasks. We decided that the key area to practice was using the software- to grow accustomed to key framing, animation, editing and compositions (to name but a few of our eventual tasks) within After Effects. For the animatic, the drawings did not have to be perfect, for it is a test after all, and so we settled on a rough sketchy visual style with focus on timing. Nevertheless, I did spend a lot of time on my scenes, with the mindset that the more work done earlier on is less pressure nearer to the final deadline.

Our final animatic ran a fair bit longer than expected, totalling to just under a minute as opposed to the target 40 seconds. From the constructive feedback from our class and tutors, we grew to realise that the 14 second intro was simply too long- that the emphasis was on the beginning, as opposed to the fight sequence which was the critical point of the piece. We realised that our final animation needed to put more focus on the fight itself, and that there needed to be a greater use of ‘water’ imagery, applying to the hydration of Volvic water. As said before, our experience earned through the creation of our animatic proved invaluable, for we could relatively easily make these changes and create the final advert.

One of my favourite parts of After Effects is the ability to replace used footage with another file. This means that any image, video or sound file being used in a composition can be replaced with a different file, yet all effects and key frames will have immediate effect on the new file. We created our animatic as more of a line test than the typical animatic, which is more so based on storyboard images, and so we were able to reuse a fair amount of our existing work. As always when moving from a test to the final piece however, it was essential that we upgraded the quality of our work tenfold. We agreed to make the necessary changes to the scenes that didn’t quite work as intended, and to touch up the rest by replacing the sketchy drawings with crisp, high-definition pictures. For many scenes, creating the final version was as easy as drawing a bunch of new assets, then replacing the existing footage in the After Effects projects with the new ones.

Retaining our even division of work, we each set about revamping our scenes from before, adding new backgrounds, and redrawing the list of assets for each scene. Some of the images that were created needed to be completely re-drawn, whereas others were in need only of a light touch up. I took the opportunity to add a nice range of effects to make the piece far more immersive too, such as adding a mist moving across the mountain forests of the intro shot, some lens flare and a glaring sun on the horizon. I also added some birds flying up into the sky above the temple, creating the impression that someone is there disturbing the natural tranquillity of the remote place.

An interesting technique that I learnt later on in this project was the use of the ‘WaveWorld’ and ‘Caustics’ effects in After Effects, to create a water ripple background. For this, I followed a tutorial on the internet, though this was difficult as my work was in a completely different context to that of the tutorial. Even so, after a few attempts, I got the hang of adding new adjustment layers, new solid layers, working with multiple compositions within one another, and changing many of the effects values to achieve a wide range of outcomes. Of all that I have learnt as a part of this module so far, I consider these to be more advanced techniques, and believe that I now have a very comfortable grasp of the program basics that I did not possess before.

With relation to the principles of animation, I have to say that whilst they were an important consideration for us as usual, they were not as relevant to this idea as our previous ones. One important factor to be aware of moving into our second year, I am told, is that we should know to only include something in our animations if it adds to the piece overall. There would not be much point trying to shoehorn squash and stretch, for example, where it did not really need to be for the sake of ticking boxes.

Even so, the majority of the principles were used effectively. Timing and spacing was critical throughout, as we needed to keep the animation within a brief timeframe, exaggeration played a key role in our advert in terms of the character performances and our storyline, and anticipation/reaction were both important for the movements of the characters.

Having rearranged some of the scenes, stretched and squashed some footage, and cut material altogether, our final advert totals to just over 40 seconds (41 to be precise). I am very pleased with the piece overall, which I feel makes a highly entertaining advert that should appeal to the designated target audience.

Speaking of group work as a whole, I must say that this project has at times pushed me to my wits end. I shall not go into specifics here, for the sake of remaining civil, but the lack of enthusiasm from certain people proved the biggest setback. When things get to the point that you cannot trust your group members to do the work assigned fairly to them, there always needs to be a failsafe backup plan- which of course means doing the work yourself as well to make sure it is done at all. The extra pressure this puts on the hard working group members is simply unfair. I must point out that for the most part our group worked well, and I have nothing but praise for certain members. I suppose that, in the end, you can only say that group work is great- providing everyone pulls their weight.

Evaluation and analysis

History of Digbeth
'Narrative construction, adaption and interpretation' module assessment

With our second year on our animation course comes an increased focus on individuality, that we should approach projects with less guidance and far more independence. Whilst this is good in principle, helping us to create our own solutions to problems that we face, and in many respects forcing us to adapt to different situations, there exists it seems an increased potential for things to become problematic; as we unfortunately experienced.

This is not to say that we did not approach the project with our usual determination and ambition, for in reality we probably did so with more dedication than usual. If anything you see, it was an excess of ambition which led to us (yet again, in my case) simply taking on too much within the allotted time frame.

By the end of this project, myself and my other group members felt an immense sense of pressure to complete the final animation, which had not been anticipated. We had worked continuously for weeks on end, non-stop, and yet still struggled to complete the project on time. I must stress that the pressure we faced to ultimately meet our deadline was not in any way due to a lack of work earlier on in the term. Through a combination of taking on too big a project, having to allow time for a separate module, and numerous frustrating software errors (which I shall elaborate on shortly), we found this module, rather regrettably, to be increasingly tedious.

The focus of the project was to develop an understanding and knowledge of narrative adaption and interpretation with relation to visual mediums. This meant that the storyline, and moreover the underlying messages of a piece, must be developed such that they are conveyed with clarity and relevance. When we discovered that the subject matter of this project was to be an animation promoting Digbeth to potential property developers, I shall admit that my initial impressions were dismay. I did not personally believe that what would undoubtedly be a factual, documentary-style piece could lend itself well to developing an interesting and compelling narrative. It would seem however that these initial views were largely a result of our own ignorance, for we were rather unfamiliar with Digbeth and I will admit not aware of its importance or history.

Initially, our ideas were based on our initial impressions- we understood that many people also shared our views that Digbeth was dirty and derelict, and a place to be avoided. Our first concept was to play on the idea of visualisation through graffiti, animated along a stretch of wall, slowly becoming brighter to emphasise a good mood and atmosphere. After reviewing our idea however, we recognised that it stemmed from a rather shallow view of Digbeth that failed to look deep enough to relate to any of the district’s core values.

This prompted us to review our approach. We realised that to truly understand Digbeth’s importance, we need to look at its journey through time, to see where it has come from and what trials have faced it in the past. Much like trying to understand why people are the way they are, where you must of course take into account what has happened to them throughout their life that has had continual effects on their decisions and their outcomes, Digbeth has a story spanning hundreds of years- and whilst it might not look like much now in many places, it would be wrong to pass it off as a waste of space without knowing what it has given us in the past. The truth is, Digbeth has an interesting and vibrant history that has largely been forgotten. This became our new aim- to expose our viewers to this history, and show them that there is so much story being currently neglected by so many.

We certainly felt that this concept had far greater potential for a narrative based project, and so we began to develop ideas relating to the history of Digbeth. What followed was a great deal of research into the iconic landmarks and brands arising over the years. It was our final idea to create an animation which takes viewers on a journey through time, spanning the entire life of Digbeth, and covering a myriad of its most important historical elements.

As for our approach, I expressed my opinions early on that I really wanted to take the opportunity to try something new, to learn new software and animation techniques, and I can certainly say that this was achieved. Before this project, I had little to no experience using Adobe After Effects. Now, I am rather proud to say that I have grown quite accustomed to using the program, and have mastered the basics and applied them effectively to help create our final piece.

We decided early on that we wished to create a 3D scene for our animation, though I should point out that initially this aim was in relation to other techniques. Through various trials and tests, we were left disappointed that we could not make use of Autodesk Photofly (see my more detailed analysis of this test here!). We also ruled out Maya early on, for we believed at the time that creating a CGI animation of Digbeth, featuring a 3D rendered ‘Digbeth’ setting, would be unfeasible within the project timeframe. Ironically, our final choice (After Effects 3D) turned out to be most likely even more work!

With our focus of course on the narrative aspect, we spent some time refining the ‘story’, or rather how the animation progresses, to ensure that the main message is conveyed to the viewer. From our plans, we agreed on our animation being largely a single continuous camera shot. Whilst we were on one hand conscious that a lack of more intricate individual camera shots and cuts would reduce our ability to demonstrate an understanding of such terminology, we believed that the single shot approach would best reflect our narrative; that the life of Digbeth is a continuous, never-ending one, and as such the animation (in moving through various time periods) would feel far more immersive should the viewer be effectively brought along on such a continuous journey. To cut mid way without true reason would, we felt, have lost some of the sense of immersion with the world, which we needed to feel like an inhabited, living place. Overall, I am very satisfied with this camera style. I feel it was very appropriate for our animation, for the reasons explained above. In addition, we have of course completed a separate script and storyboard/animatic as a part of this module which better displays our understanding of theory relating to camera techniques. I understand that a further point moving from L4 to L5 on this course is to develop an ability to be selective. No longer are we expected to include different aspects on a checklist basis, for the sake of having some evidence of use. It is better only to use techniques where they add something to the piece overall.

From these plans, I set about creating the final storyboard (I should point out that we in fact developed several sketch storyboard designs prior to our final version, for we changed our idea slightly several times early on in the module). I felt it was important that the style be consistent, and so elected to personally complete the storyboard whilst my other group members worked on further research and designs. This in itself proved to be an immense task, one far greater than I had imagined (starting an awkward trend for this project). We chose to simplify the visual style a lot, moving from a more realistic crosshatch style to a more surreal cartoon theme. This decision was made to further help ensure we were able to meet our deadline- though we have since grown very fond of the new style and believe all decisions were for the best.

The issues of consistency loomed constantly throughout the remainder of our allotted planning time. We were aware that the difference in individual drawing styles could lead to some glaring inconsistencies, and so divided up the work to best avoid these issues; one group member worked on the full walking cycle and animation for the main character, whilst I focused my time on creating the background, and animating a self-contained scene featuring a blacksmith set during the industrial revolution. This was one of the few scenes featuring cuts, and so the difference in our drawing styles is far less noticeable.

I was aware that, whilst my personal input in this project has been significant to say the least, when it came to actually animating I took somewhat more of a back seat. For this reason, when creating the blacksmith scene, I put full effort in to make sure that it was the absolute best that it could be. I seized the admittedly brief opportunity to include as many of the principles of animation as possible. At one point during preproduction, we were conscious that our animation might become boring, and so decided to shake things up a little with a few quirky animations! Adding humour to the piece we felt would help retain the viewer’s attention and make the animation more interesting. In relation to the blacksmith, we included a part where, when distracted, he drops a hammer on his foot and jumps around in true comedy style! This part is where I had true freedom to animate with exaggeration, squash and stretch, and a wealth of other techniques.

The animation itself was created in Photoshop- another program which I had no experience animating with before this task. Whilst I have become quite proficient drawing in Photoshop over the past year, this project I learnt to animate by adding frames for the first time. I must admit that I do not like the way in which frames must consist of hidden and visible layers, and experienced a lot of issues here. I found that editing any frame whilst the animation timeline is on screen caused the program to crash unexpectedly. As a result, I was forced to animate only seeing the previous frame by changing the layer opacity- a lengthy task to say the least.

Moving on to After Effects, I learnt a huge amount of new techniques, from adding key frames, to effects, to masking and (most importantly for this project) how to add images into 3D space. I even successfully managed to record a video of my fireplace at home and use this for the blacksmith’s workshop, stabilising the video with tracking.

It is with the 3D space where we began to experience some more drastic errors. I felt it was necessary to really step up in terms of quality from the test. At one point we were going to use the same image assets as seen on the storyboard, though I realised that when working in an HD format for the final piece, the images had to be enlarged and so became quite blurry. As a result, I set about creating a full set of HD assets for a 3D version of our storyboard. This meant that each object needed to be included as a separate image. In total there were over 200 assets in the final piece. With some neat shading and highlighting, whilst still retaining a relatively simple style, the assets already looked 3D in places without the use of After Effects.

The issues arose as a result of each building asset being created in Photoshop in 1080p HD, for when I needed to create the floor, it in fact needed to be more than ten times the regular HD size just to fit the scene- and that was at half size stretched to match. Any less and the reduction in quality would have been highly noticeable.

It turned out however that After Effects doesn’t like images over a certain size, and this proved problematic when attempting to render our scene. Due to the amount of memory available, the computer was capable of performing either a RAM preview, or a render, but not both, without crashing. As a result, we were forced to constantly preview, then restart the program, then render- costing us a great deal of very valuable time. Couple this with the fact that we underestimated exactly how long it would take to create the assets and animations and this left us significantly behind from our schedule.

The greatest problems came when we found that After Effects could not handle the large image files whilst rendering for more than 15 seconds. This last part of our animation was 3 minutes 30 seconds- so of course, we had to render it in individual 15 second chunks, then composite these later in a separate composition. This process was nightmarish, and that is without exaggeration. As a result of continual and unexpected errors and setbacks, we finished up several days behind our plans. Much of the last few weeks was spent working until the early hours, non-stop, which left us feeling admittedly exhausted.

We were unable to include some of our planned animations as a result of these setbacks. Initially, we had hoped to include pop-up buildings and text, as well as more animations for the main character. Time restraints played a hugely significant role in restricting what could be completed by the deadline, which was unfortunate.

It is still my aim to learn to use Flash at some point, however for this project we decided that with already learning After Effects from scratch, it would simply be too much to learn a second full program too. We already felt comfortable that we could achieve impressive results in Photoshop, which I certainly feel we did so. Nevertheless, for a similar project in the future I am definitely interested in learning more about the Flash program.

I am very pleased with the final animation, despite feeling that we could have completed it with more time to better resemble our initial plans. Throughout the course of this project, there were elements that went well and others that did not go so well. I was very pleased with the transition between the intro (where the Tudor man emerges from the door) and the 3D version once he begins to walk. It was a challenge to match the frame exactly so that the transition was as seamless as possible, something which I feel we did as good as can be expected. In order to achieve this transition, the building asset from the 3D file was used in the intro.

The animation is not perfect, and there are some improvements which I would suggest had we more time. The first is that perhaps the video is too long. It would be possible to cut some of the more unnecessary sections and stick to the key recognisable buildings. Maybe in hindsight things like generic warehouses were not necessary additions.

A further improvement would be to make the iconic Typhoo factory bigger. This is one of the key locations in Digbeth, and was certainly to be a focal point of the animation. Whilst we do emphasise the protests, and it is quite clear what the building is, I feel in hindsight that the camera angle could be improved. In the final animation, due to the low angled shot, the majority of the building is obscured by its perimeter wall.

I was pleased with the way the transport section conveyed its message to emphasise just how well-connected Digbeth is (critical for any housing developments). In this section, we chose to include various forms of vehicle in a short space of time, from a car driving past, to a bus, to a train. The short yet spaced repetition makes for a memorable scene.

An improvement over our initial idea, suggested by another group member, was to change the ending of the piece. Originally, the man was to end at the new coach station, before boarding a coach and disappearing from the scene. It was suggested that showing the man ultimately leaving Digbeth did not give quite the right impression, and so we switched a few scenes around and made him finish at the Custard Factory instead. Being the true cultural hub of Digbeth, this makes a lot of sense; that we should be travelling through time as Digbeth gradually improves, to finish in the best environment that Digbeth currently has to offer. 

Overall, I am pleased with our final animation, but more so pleased with just how many new skills I have learnt throughout the course of this module, all of which have been successfully applied in practical scenarios to strong effect. I feel our animation meets the brief in an entertaining and informative video which is sure to make the viewer realise that there is a lot more to Digbeth than you might think.

Evaluation and analysis

Crazy Golf!
'Introduction to digital' module assessment

It feels strange now to think that just over one month ago, I had absolutely no idea how to use Autodesk Maya, and was a little concerned that I might not pick it up very quickly! I am immensely pleased with my progress over the past few weeks, and have to say that CGI has grown on me. As I have developed my technique and grown accustomed to the toolset, I now feel confident that given the time, I can make anything that I can imagine with the software.

This task was always designed with us choosing a particular theme in mind. I chose crazy golf, for an opportunity to try something a little different and quite fun. After designing my course, and the assets that needed to be recreated in 3D, the next task was to model them in Maya using the skills I had learned though a few weeks of tutorial lessons and frequent visits to online training centre VTC.

The modelling process was lengthy since I was aiming to make my models as accurate and faithful to my designs as possible. Even so, despite a few minor stumbles along the way, the process was very smooth. I very much enjoyed learning to use the toolset in Maya, especially in making the tree, which I was very pleased with. In hindsight however, the gorilla was probably not the best idea- purely because it was so difficult to make! Thanks to this difficulty, I was pushed back a day or so from my planned schedule, so had to catch up somehow. Nevertheless, the results were great, even if I did make a few bad decisions along the way. As with all models, I began with a basic polygon primitive (in this case a cylinder) adding a few subdivisions enabling me to create the basic head and torso shape with the move and scale tools. The gorilla model was certainly challenging- and whilst I may have made a few amateur errors in the process, learning of these mistakes will only help me improve in the future.

Finally, weeks of planning and preparation culminated in my scene being fully built, but there were several important things to do before I began animating, helping to set up the scene so the rest could go unhindered. Using expressions, and thanks to an easy YouTube tutorial, I was able to make my windmill constantly rotate at a steady speed without the need to manually animate it. I also made use of some deformers (namely ‘bend’ and ‘squash’), applying these to objects in my scene that needed to show principles of animation such as ‘squash and stretch’.

My first real animating exercise came in the form of the camera. Originally, I had planned to 'film' the animation through the default perspective view camera, but it dawned on me that this was impractical- I needed to move around in perspective view to modify the many objects, therefore I would lose all positioned camera angles. It was much more effective to add a new camera to my scene. I set up a two-pane layout featuring perspective view on the left and the new camera on the right. This way I could move objects etc. on the left, and at the same time keep a track of my scene to match my storyboards on the right. This process was very effective. On the whole, animating my camera view was very successful. I achieved the basic movement with key frames, and then used the Graph Editor to smoothen out the motion.

After a series of issues regarding the Expression Editor which could not be resolved, I realised I would have to animate the rolling golf ball manually. I decided upon a plan of action- with being able to edit the key frames and animation paths once they have already been set, I decided to create a basic ball animation first, consisting of nothing more than key frames at the important obstacles, at the time the ball should be there. Naturally, Maya interprets these keys to give a direct, rough indication of how the ball got to each new location, and so you have a simple sequence whereby the ball moves from one point to the next. The only issue here is that Maya, by default, has an 'ease in' and 'ease out' feature applied. It is up to the animator to adjust the speed of the ball. A good example would be when the golf ball bounces off the flagpole. With this action, the ball moves in one direction, then (when it impacts) immediately moves in the opposite direction. With ease in and out however, the ball slows down before impact, then needs to speed up once more afterwards. Left unattended, this movement is very unrealistic and breaks the believability of the animation. The ball has no sense of mass.

Perhaps the most noticeable area for improvement was in fact the last section, when the ball rebounds off the yellow wooden blocks. Here, the timing was very strange! So, with the basic animation completed, I was able to focus on polishing everything, adding finishing touches before finally focusing on sound.

I made a number of changes to my animation following my first test. Perhaps my favourite is the detail when the golfer steps forwards. Initially, this had been quite a robotic movement, the legs simply moving forward. I had made sure to pivot them slightly to give the impression of a knee joint just off screen, but was this enough? I questioned its believability for some time, wondering how I could create a more realistic movement without modelling the entire upper legs too. In the end, I grabbed my putter and acted out the movement, and was surprised that I had overlooked a fundamental factor. The golfer steps forward from standing still, and I had forgotten to make him shift his weight from one foot to the other as he does so. In reality, to not do this means to fall over! We do this without thinking of course, which is likely why it did not occur to me at first. My solution was to add a steady 'rocking' to the golfer, one side to the other, which gives the impression his centre of mass is shifting as he steps. The resulting animation is far better than before!

In addition, I improved the speed of the ball and also added a small series of bounces after the ball is hit. This again gives the impression of weight, showing the object hitting it (the mallet, golf club, etc.) is heavier. Either way, golf balls have a tendency to be bouncy.

A more minor change came with the squash and stretch on the purple ball as it hits the golf ball. I realised that for this ball to knock another so far following the impact, it would have to be pretty solid, otherwise the energy from the impact would be almost entirely dissipated by the deformation of the purple ball. For this reason, I toned down the level of deformation to something far more suitable. The golf ball, being very solid, does not squash at all here.

I made several further tests following these improvements, in which I made the ball move faster and thus had to speed up several camera movements as well. When I was finally happy with the animation, I was ready to render. A while before hand, I had experimented with rendering. This was very useful as I leant ways of reducing rendering time whilst still keeping a high quality. Best of all, I leaned the difference between rendering with Maya software and mental ray. The latter enabled me to create far greater lighting effects which added a true sense of realism to my work.

The first problem was my own fault- sixteen hours of rendering led to the discovery that the golf ball was floating above the floor for a while, something I couldn't see before without the rendered shadows. I was able to quickly change this, and re-render- this time using Maya '.iff' format, since this didn't separate the channels. See, my first render I had used 'targa' format, and I had ended up with two sets of images for every frame, the regular and also depth images. To avoid having to composite the two later, I chose a different format for my second render, which took significantly less time than before as I made the perspective camera no longer renderable. Then Maya crashed. I had left the machine to render, not realising that for several hours it had been doing nothing. When I restarted the process from the correct frame, I had lost a few hours. What followed was no better- a very unstable 'fcheck' program that crashes after doing anything whatsoever. Eventually, after a long and exhausting two days, the video was complete. Well, except for sound that is.

Searching through free online sound effect archives yielded less than impressive results, so in the end I resorted to recording my own sounds using my dictaphone. This worked very well, resulting in a collection of unique sounds to compliment my animation. I hadn't anticipated having to do this however, and thus I was set back further, closer to the looming deadline. My final challenge was to use Adobe After Effects, where I was able to relatively easily add the sound effects to my animation.

One of the key specifications for this project was to implement the principles of animation into my work, something I feel I have succeeded in on many occasions. 'Squash and stretch' was used multiple times during the animation. The golf ball squashes once only, when it is hit with the putter at the beginning. This was to accentuate the action. The flagpole wobbles when it is hit by the golf ball, technically constituting stretch. Lastly, the purple ball squashes both when it is knocked by the flag, and also when it hits the golf ball (though the latter was toned down somewhat).

Likewise, 'exaggeration' was actually rather reserved this time, since I was aiming for something more realistic. Nevertheless, the flagpole required some degree of exaggeration to wobble as much as it did. Perhaps the golf ball was given it's dose too- in reality, it most likely would have stopped rolling well before it reached the hole!

'Ease in/ease out' was applied appropriately to achieve smooth and sudden actions where needed. I mentioned before how this was important for rapid changes of direction when the ball deflects off a surface. In truth, due to the way Maya implements this principle by default, I gave this a lot of thought when animating. This is directly linked to 'timing and spacing'.

'Anticipation', and 'reaction' were consistently applied to make the animations believable. Movements such as the golfer shifting his weight when stepping, taking practice swings before his shot, and the follow through of the golf club showing momentum are all examples of these principles. Also of note is the purple ball, which continues to roll a short distance after hitting the golf ball, due to it's larger mass- the golf ball did not provide enough opposing force to stop the purple ball completely. Lastly, the mallet is stopped mid swing by the second supporting beam. You will notice in the animation how the mallet handle impacts this beam, and how the handle therefore bounces several times instead of coming to a complete stop.

CGI is something I have never experienced before, and I have taken to it quite well considering I did not think I would like it! I wouldn't perhaps go as far as saying I would specialize in this field (this is a tie between stop motion and 2D at the moment), but I have for the most part enjoyed this module. Seeing the rendered visuals complete with sound was a joy, the efforts of months of hard work paying off! I am certainly very proud of this project due to the amount that was required to complete it- not just in terms of the project content but in having to learn multiple complicated computer programs from scratch. In doing this so successfully, I have exceeded my own expectations for this task.

There is a single area in my animation that I am a little disappointed with- for some reason, the shadows are blotchy, and wobble. This is most noticeable at the beginning of the animation on the golfer’s trousers and the windmill sails. It is not too visible on the lower quality videos, but is so on the higher quality ones. I have no idea why this wobbliness is present, since the shadows are rendered in real time and should be as smooth as everything else. It is likely there are settings I could have adjusted that would have reduced this somewhat. Were I to approach a similar task in the future, I would try to find a solution to this. I could not afford to do so for this animation due to time restraints.

Evaluation and analysis

Animating to a script
‘Character performance & believability’ module assessment

This final stop motion task for the ‘Character performance and believability’ module required us to, in groups, create an animation based upon a script. There were six different scripts to choose from, and so our decision on which to use would determine the general direction of the story narrative, the characters, and settings. The project brief was open-ended however, granting us some creative freedom to adapt the script to our own vision.

After reading through the scripts to see what they were all about, my first impressions were that they were generally similar to one another- multiple scripts called for a scientist, and a Frankenstein-esque laboratory. Furthermore, recognising that we would have to make the sets, characters and props to animate, some scripts seemed to include a few too many characters and settings to be feasibly created in the project timeframe. Of the six, there was one which appealed to me.

This script featured a more contained story with a slower-paced narrative, and only two characters. Following the story of a paranoid man, suspicious as to what his neighbour is doing next door, this script embodied somewhat darker themes than the rest, but most appealing was the fact that the slower pace would enable us to really focus on the animation- that we could, as per the project title, create a believable character performance.

After discussing the various scripts with the rest of my group, we agreed that this was the most favourable script, and began to assign initial tasks to the group members. One of the key elements of this project, going by the learning outcomes for the task, was to assign specific and clear tasks to individuals, and so we took this into account from the onset.

Instead of assigning tasks to people lasting the entire project, we decided to form a plan, that our assigned tasks should be weekly, enabling the members of the group to each try their hand at a range of different things. Being told that we all had six weeks for this project, our plan was as follows:

Week 1-                  Project research for character and set design specifications
Week 2-                  Character design, final set design, storyboards and prop creation
Week 3-                  Character, set and prop creation, dopesheets and video references
Week 4-                  Animating
Week 5-                  Animating
Week 6-                  Editing and preparing presentations

We agreed to work through everything in the correct order, and so the first week was to gather information to plan our story. It was my first task to research paranoia, recognising that the condition is likely to affect the appearance of our character as well as the settings. Whilst doing this research, I came across a number of different factors which would affect the animation, such as how sleep deprivation calls for the character to appear tired and unkempt, and how this would also affect the way he moves.

Initially, looking at the overarching theme of the animation, we realised that with subject matter regarding fear, isolation and a mental illness, this animation could become a little too dark. Always up for adding humour to our work, we decided to utilise this atmosphere to create a Tim Burton inspired animation, and this meant researching the characters from his animated films for aesthetic inspiration.

Whilst looking into paranoia however, I came upon an intriguing quote- summarising that younger sufferers tend to have the most ‘spectacular delusions’, such as ‘aliens controlling their minds’. This seemed the perfect opportunity to adapt our story to a more comical sci-fi version of the script, and so I pitched the idea to the other group members, who were all in agreement that it would be a fun take on the story. Thinking briefly about the new sci-fi themes combined with the isolated protagonist, I coined the working title ‘Alienated!’

By the second week, it seemed that some of the work assigned to others simply had not been done. Meeting with the others in my group who were present, we agreed that we did not have the time to wait for people to do the work when they eventually felt like it- and that in order to make progress, if someone did not complete their assigned task, then someone else would do it instead. Likewise, if some rarely turned up to university, we agreed we were not prepared to wait and ask them before making any decisions for the animation- the people present make whatever decisions they need to, regardless as to whether those absent have had any say in it or not.

This might all sound a little harsh, but please understand that unfortunately, the commitment of some group members was questionable to say the least. Had we waited to get their approval before any decisions were made, we would be stuck in the planning stage. I must elaborate more on this matter for the purpose of explaining the learning outcome on everyone having clearly defined roles.

We planned, as I have said, to divide the work evenly between the group on a weekly basis. But as stated above, the work from some people was just not being done. Now, you can see how this put the rest of us in an awkward situation, the question at the time being whether we must wait for them to eventually bother to do the work, for the sake of them having a defined role and even share of the task, or if we should carry on without them even if this results in them effectively having had no input whatsoever to the animation. Giving these particular members the benefit of the doubt for the first week, it eventually became clear that (and I regret to have to say this) we simply could not trust them or rely on them to do the work they agreed to do. This being the case, the rest of us agreed that if we assigned them tasks, we would need to also complete this task ourselves, under the belief that they would never get it done- a belief that paid off more than once. Inevitably, this only led to the hard working people having to work even harder to compensate for the lack of input from the rest.

As a side note on group work in general, I have to say that for the most part, I enjoy working with others. Working as a team however means that everyone should pull their weight, and when this does not happen, the resulting disorganisation can look bad on everyone, thanks to the minority. My observation is that you can only work well with a team who also want to work well. Take this task as a key example. Unfortunately, I feel the most important lesson I have learned from this task is who not to work with in the future.   

Now that those unpleasant comments are out of the way, I shall move on to the set creation. Our plan originally put me making the key character puppet in week 3, whilst the rest of the group worked on the set. When looking at potential designs, however, it became clear that we would need something strong and durable. Thanks to the fact that I am living at home and have some knowledge of the greater surrounding area, we agreed that, beings that I have access to the most resources, I would go to purchase the materials and assemble the set at home, and we would split the costs between us. Of course, building the set had not been my original plan, and so this threw me out quite a bit from said plan.

After designing the set on paper, I purchased the MDF material pieces from the local sawmills, who also offered a service to cut the wood for free- saving me a great deal of time. With a selection of clamps and vices, I was able to glue the requisite parts in place. This was the relatively quick part. What became an utterly ridiculous amount of time was the construction of the assets and props for the set. Of course, I was not the only one making these assets, as we were all assigned numerous objects to make with specific sizes to make them (based on the character design model sheet). But due to the collection of useful materials I have amassed from years of model-making, and my ability to travel to craft and model shops outside the city centre, once again we found that I was in the best position to make certain elements. Suffice it to say that several weeks working non-stop until 3am does not do you any good. All in all however, I am in no reasonable position to complain- I chose to make these assets because I knew I had materials to make them properly, and it was my own decision to take on what turned out to be an almost impossible amount of work.

The next part of this task did not fair too well either, as it turned out that we actually had five, not six, weeks to complete the task. This threw everything out further, as all of our plans (and I speak for all groups here, not just my own) had been made in good faith of people telling us we had six weeks from the task’s beginning. That’ll teach us to take people’s word for a deadline, and not checking the module schedule online I suppose.

So this left us with a problem once more- we would have to complete the animating of our film in a week, a week-and-a-half at the absolute maximum, in order to finish on time. Thanks to the effect this had on our planning, I now only had the weekend to make the character puppet. Never fear however- I managed to complete it by working until 5am.

The general frustration of this project did not stop there, as when it came to animating we needed to use the animation darkroom. Placing our set in there early to get a good place to work, we were disappointed to find that after leaving the room for literally minutes, others had simply moved it out of the way to begin their own filming, leaving us without a workstation. We have over twenty people on our course, equating to four groups for this task- and only three workstations in the animation darkroom. Now, I do not wish to dwell on the blatantly inadequate resources for long, but in my own mind, why allow twenty people onto a course that only has resources to accommodate fifteen?

Moving on, thanks to our tutors giving us permission, we were able to create a makeshift fourth workstation by taking one of the computers from downstairs and putting it on the open tables in the darkroom. Problem seemingly solved- that is, until some discontented individual made a health and safety complaint about the room in general, which (this being the UK) led to several annoying days of risk assessments getting in the way of our filming. I should point out that I am in no way opposed to ensuring good health and safety. The annoyance comes from the fact that we (as the entire animation group, not just my group for this task) were disrupted frequently with work being moved by people performing these assessments- whilst we had sets in the process of being filmed. Any stop motion animator will know how badly this can hinder your work. To put things in perspective, one group found some of their work had been thrown away, and all of a sudden, the darkroom curtains (which have been in place for god knows how long) were deemed a fire risk, and taken down. Of course, this meant that the sets were being partially lit by the lights from other group’s work, so if one group finished before the rest and turned their lights off, this ruined the lighting for those still working. We all found the response to the health and safety complaint to be poorly handled, with no thought given to our work, which we found somewhat disrespectful.

The remainder of the project went about as smoothly as you might expect- as in, all the predictable problems were experienced, from cameras moving requiring us to re-shoot a scene, to various technical difficulties such as computer crashes. When it came to design issues however, such as wondering how to best shoot a particular scene, the solutions were very positive.

We knew early on that we needed two versions of the neighbour’s room- one the messy version with the alien, the other a tidier version. To save having to make two sets or at the very least redecorate the entire room once a particular scene was filmed, we decided to shoot the scene featuring the tidier room first. Following that completed shoot, we then ripped the paper from the walls and scrawled over them and the floor, to create the alien room. This technique of shooting the film in scenes, in the easiest order, followed throughout the rest of the shoot, and certainly made the job more efficient.

The more difficult shots were those requiring the character to stand unsupported for a long shot (i.e. the whole puppet visible on screen), and the shots where something falls though the air. For the falling shots, we had the toothbrush being thrown into the glass in the bathroom, the character dropping the glass after listening through the wall, and the character dropping the screwed-up notes into the bin.

To achieve these free-falling animations, we had two options- firstly, to somehow rig the objects and edit out the (wires) in postproduction, or to use a variety of clever techniques and camera shots to obscure their fixings from view. With the looming deadline closer than we had anticipated, we opted for the second option to save time editing.

One great suggestion for the toothbrush scene came from another animation student outside our group for this task- to place the wall flat out on a table, and to simply move the toothbrush across the wall. Shot from above, this created the impression the toothbrush was flying through the air in front of a vertical wall.

For the other two scenes, clever use of blu-tack enabled us to fix the paper ball/glass to the bin and wall respectively, at intervals of their descent, creating the illusion they were falling in front of them. Both of these techniques worked very well and we are greatly pleased with the results.

The other difficult shots as mentioned above included the character full body on screen. Of note here is the scene where he clambers over the hedge between the two houses. This action meant that we had a significant number of frames where the character needed to stand on one leg. It quickly became apparent that it was going to be impossible to balance the puppet correctly, and so we tweaked the shot from how it is seen on the storyboard to have the character lean one hand against the wall as he crosses the hedge. This helped a great deal in supporting him, but did not completely solve the balance issue. For some scenes, we managed to take advantage of the camera angle and lean the character against the hedge. For the few outstanding instances however, we needed to add a small plasticine block which was removed in the editing process.
Due to the armature for the main character being very thin, I was not able to use a double wire as I did for my previous armature task. I was concerned that the puppet may not hold out for the duration of the filming, therefore, and this had an impact on how we decided to shoot the film. Some of the scenes required a lot of movement, whereas others were more so still images. The latter we decided to shoot first, so that we could get the bulk of the animation complete before subjecting the puppet to potentially fatal movement. One problem that we did experience related to the eyes.

As documented for the creation of the protagonist, the eyes were pinned in place vertically inside the hollow head, enabling them to rotate horizontally. At some point whilst filming however, the character’s right eye became stuck in the socket and ceased to rotate. I believe this is likely due to either the central wire pin giving way, or the clay shrinking a little more than expected as it slowly finished drying, clamping the bead eye in place (the air drying clay quickly becomes hard on the outside, capable of being sanded and painted, however it takes quite a while for it to become solid all the way through). The problem with this is that I could not fix the eye without cutting into the sculpted head, which would in turn require more paint and clay to fix back together. We simply did not have time for such measures, and so opted instead to move the entire head to look as opposed to just the eyes, which does add more exaggeration to the expressions, though reduces the amount of detail in the shots. I am mostly disappointed because, (as documented), I spent a considerable amount of time making sure the eyes could rotate as desired on the model, only for it not to work by the time we needed to use it. I shall indeed learn from the experience, using a stronger pin and allowing plenty of time for the clay to fully dry before finishing the model if I am to approach a similar task in the future.

Lastly, a note on the principles of animation and their inclusion in our animation. Exaggeration is the primary principle that is used through the entirety of our film, making actions over the top and reactions overly expressive. Relating to this principle, I am particularly pleased with the sequence where the character is brushing his teeth- the actions are fast, of course to match the audio, but to me there is a visual appeal to the rapid movements similar to that of classic children’s stop motion cartoons. Further uses of exaggeration include the scene where the man steps over the hedge between his and his neighbour’s homes- we always intended, as you can tell from our storyboard images, for this movement to be rather clumsy and awkward to show some level of disconnection between the protagonist and the world around him. I feel the sense of this is captured accurately in the animated sequence.

Squash and stretch, on the other hand, played a very minor role in this animation. I have spoken in previous works about how it is difficult to include squash and stretch in stop motion animation, but the reason we barely used this principle is simply because the script/story did not call for it to be used. We did not feel it appropriate to detract from the story just to ‘shoehorn’ the principle in somewhere it didn’t belong, for the sake of an appearance. Timing and spacing was very important for us, since we were matching audio, and our dopesheets came in very useful for this.

The other principles which were very prominent are anticipation and secondary action. We were focused to deliver a believable animation, and made certain to give the actions appropriate following reactions. This can be seen on the main character throughout, though an example I am particularly pleased with is the shot of the clock ticking. When the moving second hand jumps to the next second, it does not simply stop- when animating I made certain to add a slight spring to the hand, that when it ticks, it overshoots slightly, then springs back a tiny amount to meet the correct second. This is a small detail, but is actually rather noticeable and gives the clock a loose feel.

Overall, this project was difficult compared with previous tasks, mostly because of the stream of hindrances along the way. There was the constant feeling of being pushed back no matter how hard you tried to stay on target. I understand that the majority of this evaluation has been one long complaint, but I felt it was necessary to explain the many problems that we had and how we dealt with them. Yet through it all, we created an excellent animation. The set looks great, the characters are very well animated and the resulting piece is one of my favourite animations I have created so far on this course. I have to say that I very much enjoyed the process of creating this animation, with the exception of the multitude of problems we experienced for one reason or another. It is testament to our abilities in both animation and teamwork that we prevailed against these problems to create a compelling animation within our deadline.  

Evaluation and analysis

Experimental stop motion animation

With this week’s task focusing on experimental stop frame techniques, emphasis being on finding an interesting medium to work with, we felt this was an excellent opportunity to try something pretty unique, and very cool- Light painting (a relatively simple photographic technique, whereby having a camera with a slow shutter speed i.e. a long exposure, you can effectively take a still image of light moving over time). Now, my group had no experience of this technique whatsoever, so we made use of YouTube tutorials, which indeed gave us an insight into the technique, and how we would be able to successfully implement it into our group animation.

Following a series of successful test images, we developed a technique that would allow us to create our light-based animation. Whilst the actor remains in position, being as still as possible to be caught on camera very visibly, the light artist, dressing completely in black, moves around very quickly and creates the shape in the air, so not to be seen in the background.

I feel it apt to share some of my observations on light painting, relating to animation. Firstly, the principles of animation can apply, however it is much more difficult to use them well. Essentially, we are ‘performing’ a 2D animation, on an invisible vertical wall. The images we draw can show squash and stretch, they can be exaggerated, and anticipation can play its part where due. Difficulties arise however in that there are no guides on what to draw, or where for that matter. You are drawing in thin air, to your own eyes leaving no trace, and with no way of tracing over what has come previously. The problems therefore relate to volume and overall consistency of the shots. As we experienced, overlapping lines slightly is common, as is misalignment, though these are not that much of a fault especially when the animation is seen in motion. Definitely, I would say that this adds to the improvised charm of the technique. The volume issue however remained undesirable, and I was fortunate enough to have some ideas regarding a potential solution; by sticking with simple shapes such as a flame, magnifying glass, balloon etc. which are easily identifiable with few lines, consistency could be achieved by means of using a real object stencil, a cardboard cut-out, which would be quickly removed from a frame before the shutter closes, rendering it pretty much invisible on the still shot (akin to the artist). This would ensure volume consistency. Furthermore, the ‘actor’ would be able to hold the stencil as if it were the real object, moving it with them for each frame, ensuring the light can be traced in the correct position each time.

With our first light painting animation complete and edited, we all agreed that the aforementioned elements could be improved upon (volume, consistency and adding more frames). As such, with some time remaining before the deadline, we proceeded to plan and develop a second animation with the aim of improving our technique.

With a tighter time frame (worsened I might add by the fact the photography studio was not available to us each day), we chose a simple subject matter that would be relatively quick to animate, thus the extra time would be put to good use ensuring we completed the animation as best we could.

I am pleased to say that the rest of my group welcomed my suggestion of maintaining a strong sense of volume by tracing a real object. The simple plot line for our second piece involves one person portraying a bee, with flapping wings added with light, whilst a second person attempts to catch them in a net (also drawn with light). We thought for some time once again about how we would create each effect and the various methods for animating that would achieve the best results. To create the bee ‘hovering’ as it flies past, we decided to utilise the technique we used for the light stairs in our previous animation- to have them kneeling on a chair draped in black material, so it is not visible against the dark background.

As for the net, this is where my template suggestion applied. Instead of drawing the net in thin air, guessing most which would lead to inconsistencies, my friend held a broom as he would a real net. Not only did this enable me to trace the outline with the torch, making certain that the length of the pole, shape etc. remained consistent for every frame, it also made my friend’s acting poses all the more realistic- since he was holding a real object with mass as opposed to pretending, his movements indicated he was lifting something with weight as they had accurate reactions. Furthermore, I was able to create a ‘net’ shape with malleable wire, twisted round the end of the broom to stay in place. Overall, the effect was very convincing due to its consistent outlines and sense of depth and mass.

Of course, we noted to use the principles of animation here too. We have squash and stretch on the net as the bee is caught, with the net stretching somewhat as it is swung onto the bee. Anticipation is used, particularly with the swing of the net, and timing and spacing was utilised effectively to obtain faster and slower actions where applicable. Finally, exaggeration was applied with most of the actions, to make them more cartoon. Once the animation was done according to our storyboard and audio planning, members of my group proficient with editing were able to once again add an intro sequence and end credits to give a far more finalised feel to the piece.

Overall, I think this project went quite well. What I am most proud of is the fact that we really did, as per the task brief, experiment with a rather unusual form of stop motion animation, and were met with success.

Something which I do feel is necessary to explain somewhat is the quality of the animation when compared to other forms of pixellation animation. It is indeed noticeable that our light painting work appears to be perhaps ‘less polished’ than other works for this task. I think it is important to stress therefore that light painting is a tricky and time consuming technique, with many inherent factors to take account of.

Firstly, our images are a little blurry. Had we been animating ordinary pixellation, we would of course have used a normal shutter speed on the camera, capturing blink-of-an-eye stills of crisp quality. Now, due to the slow shutter we used in order to capture the light, we sometimes had shots taken over the course of ten seconds or more! Naturally, any movement made by the actors will be noticeable in this amount of time, and whilst they did their best (and I might add did a very good job), it is not realistic for someone to be completely still. This is why our pictures are not as sharp as usual photographs; the blur is caused by unavoidable and often-unnoticeable movement.

Secondly, with straight-up pixellation, it is likely possible to set up the camera such that the actor may in fact perform their actions in slow motion, while a cameraman takes stills at regular intervals, say every second. Due to the necessity of doing the light painting for each shot, we could not capture with such continuous movement, meaning that achieving the same fluidity of animation is near impossible. You can probably see the difference in visual clarity between the light painting dream sequence in our first video, and the final scene where the dreamer wakes up- where for the latter such ordinary pixellation was used.

I also have a point to make comparing our method to others’, and that is comparing against more professional light painters. For the video that we used as reference entitled ‘Light Warfare’, (thanks to the helpful ‘making of’ video), we found that two series of shots were created, and later combined to create a final composite piece. The movements of the actors were in fact taken as stills with an ordinary camera, enabling that fluidity mentioned previously. The light drawing images however, consisting of the actors’ weapons, were captured in the same manner as our work- but during the editing process were placed into the photograph scenes. The result is a light painting animation which has the smoothness of ordinary pixellation. In truth, this is how light painting animations are usually made.

Finally, you probably noticed that the lighting in our animation is a little inconsistent. Unfortunately, the photography studio (which would have been ideal) was not available to us on the day of this shoot, and so we had to find a suitable substitute. The only room where we could proceed to get this task completed was our animation darkroom, though on the day we had to share the space with several other groups. I should say that they were all very considerate and did their best not to interfere with out work, but as you can imagine minor fluctuations in lighting were inevitable. To compare once again to more professional light painting animations, due to the fact two sets of images are taken (see above), with the actor  images taken in a lit space and the light painting ones done separately, there are no problems associated with having to light a set in the manner that my group did, having to find a satisfactory compromise between having the actors visible in light and the light painting done in darkness.

So why didn’t we use this method, you ask? That is a fair question, and the answer is simple. As per our task brief, the purpose of this project was to create a piece of experimental stop-motion animation, preferably without relying on digital mediums since forms of digital animation will be covered on my course at a later date. Therefore, when we were planning this task, we thought about how the animation could be created with as little computer-based work as possible. If anything, we have proven that a decent light painting animation can indeed be created without having to manipulate the stills afterwards in Photoshop or some other photo editing software.

The reason that I have taken the time to justify the quality of our work is that I do not want people to get the misconception that we did not put full effort into the piece, or that we did not work well together as a group. In fact the opposite is true, and I will not hesitate to say that our animations would not have been possible without a high level of collaboration and teamwork. Even if the overall quality suffered slightly due to the technical limitation regarding the use of computer editing that I described previously, I am pleased with the result- but more pleased that I have learned about a whole new form of animation, and that I have developed skills in this new area.

Evaluation and analysis

'Character performance and believability'
Stop motion group task 1

My new module as part of my animation degree course will focus on stop motion animation, that is animating real objects (or people in the case of the process known as pixellation) by means of separate frames running in quick succession.

The first brief animations we created were really tests, to help us (my class) get somewhat familiar with this form of animation before moving on to a longer group project. We were asked to animate a small articulated plastic figure, which we assembled ourselves. Working in groups, the initial test was to animate a walk cycle, which was primarily animated by one of my friends.

Following this test, I myself animated a short run cycle with the figure, to better understand how many frames were necessary for faster movements (I should note that at this early stage, we were unable to utilize any forms of rigging, and so the figures were temporarily affixed with blu-tack).

These relatively simple tests completed, we moved on to a far more ambitious animation. With a selection of colours to choose from when assembling our figures, I created one to resemble Superman, whilst my friend had recreated Iron Man, that is, to the level of detail possible with the range of model parts available (both shown above). As such, my group felt it would be fun to animate a versus fight sequence between the two. This was indeed very fun (and I might add utterly ridiculous!)

Of course, all principles of animation which we have learned on our course so far still applied, such as anticipation and reaction/secondary actions. To capture more authentic movements, my friend (with whom I attend an Aikido class each week) and I acted out a series of fighting moves, which would make their way into the animation. Reference videos for this were taken, and they proved very useful when animating. Considering the principles of animation in further detail however, please understand that principles such as squash and stretch do not translate so well into the physical world. Though they may be possible to some degree with materials like plasticine, it was not possible to implement this principle into our animation. As for other principles, exaggeration was a prominent feature throughout, which gave the animation an over the top and surreal feel. Likewise, anticipation was fully utilized with the help of our references, as our characters engaged in one on one combat, blocking attacks etc. Lastly, timing and spacing was used throughout, though I have to say it was implemented a little less effectively than with our hand drawn animations. So far, our stop frame work is a little choppy, and so this is our key point for improvement.

There was a great deal of collaboration amongst the whole group as we all pitched various ideas and techniques, resulting in a final animation which is really quite unique. Given that the characters we were portraying can both fly, we decided to animate this. There was always going to be a transition therefore between the hand to hand fighting and the flying segment. Our approach was to utilize the white board in our room to do a 2D, side-on view of the characters. With the ability to draw and erase on the board itself, we were able to add a background and various effects by hand whilst animating. For the transition between the fight sequence and the flying, I feel our solution was pretty original and interesting!

The characters begin fighting in a room, with a window overlooking a city skyline clearly visible behind them. Eventually, they fly towards the window, before the camera cuts to a shot of the white board, on which you see the exterior of the building plus some more scenery. Thanks to the characters being able to be dismantled, we added them piece by piece for the frames showing them bursting out of the window, giving a real sense of depth to the scene. Once side on, we could make further use of blu-tack to fix them to the board. I will note that another technique used was cotton to support the ‘flying’ characters mid-air before crashing through the window. All techniques worked well, and despite the cotton being clearly visible in some shots, this does in a way give a certain handcrafted charm to the piece.

The storyline is rather basic, focusing on key moments such as the fight, window smash and final explosion- due to the very experimental nature of this task, we opted for straight ahead animation, admittedly making up the bulk of the animation as we went along. The mindset was certainly an ‘it’d be cool if we did this next…’ approach, i.e. straight ahead animation, however this did work very well. We did plan quite a bit however with regard to our techniques, discussing as a group various solutions to create scenes, and agreeing on the best approach.

So far, we have discovered that stop motion animation is very different to the hand drawn cartoons we have made so far. When animating two things at once with hand drawn, you can leave parts of the frame blank and fill in the second character afterwards to ensure accuracy and detail. With stop frame however, you cannot do this. How then would I be able to keep track of how all parts of the scene were moving? Our solution came in dividing the work into assigned tasks, making for a very structured process. I myself animated the Superman character, whilst my friend focused on Iron Man. Meanwhile, one member of the group captured the frames and informed us animators of any changes which should be made, whilst another kept a careful eye on the camera and suggested improvements throughout. I have to admit that we worked very well as a group, which certainly made the process of creating this animation all the more enjoyable.

Evaluation and analysis

’11 Second club’ animation
'Illusion of life' module assessment

My 11 second club animation is my first animation with sound. Therefore, when given the option to choose which (from a selection) of audio files I wished to use, coupled with the freedom to animate anything I liked which matched those sounds, I enjoyed a great deal of freedom for creativity.

The first step I decided upon was to listen to each of the audio files and try to develop ideas related to them. Initially, I had to choose between three files; the tentatively titled ‘April competition’, ‘October competition’ and ‘September competition’ tracks. Now, the first consists of several clicks, bangs and an explosion. The latter two files both feature speaking- October’s being a man talking about time, and September’s a conversation between two people.

My first idea was to take the ‘predator’ concepts from the October competition, and animate a typical predator in the wild, a lion or tiger. The voice really gave me the impression of a typical hunter, and I liked the idea of playing on the stereotype. The September competition featured a pair of characters. Being a big fan of Aardman Animations, I envisioned a ‘Creature Comforts’ style short, using anthropomorphism to express the characters via animals with which they shared references.

When weighing up the pros and cons for each possibility, I took into account the duration of the audio tracks (and therefore the resulting animation) as well as the opportunity to try lip-sync. Though I did really want to try my hand at lip-sync for my animation, I remained cautious- throughout my 20 second animation project, I was concerned about having taken on too much to the point where the story somewhat suffered for the lack of time. Because of this, I was determined to leave myself plenty of time to finish my piece as I originally intended, and so opted for the shorter of my ideas, the April competition. Unfortunately, this file did not feature speech, and so I decided to ‘make amends’ by putting full effort into my animation to make it the best that I could do. This included the use of colour.

The idea that I had for this audio file was an elderly man, who has just unboxed a new flat screen TV to find that he has no idea how to use it. He attempts to turn it on using the remote (the clicking sounds) to no avail, before becoming frustrated and trying to fix it ‘the old fashioned way’- hitting the top. His frustration builds alongside the hits on the TV, which culminates in a spectacular explosion leaving the old man dazed. Though it did not occur to me at the idea’s initial conception, this idea is in fact incredibly relevant at the moment- many people are going to need new TV sets due to the digital switchover, and it is very likely many will not understand the new technology.

As I have said, due to the fact that I had chosen a shorter animation, I aimed to make up for the time difference by focusing on character performance and actions, and other effects such as colour. The first step after deciding upon the idea I would progress with was to design the titular old man, and this process proved much more engaging than designing Santa Claus for my 20 second piece. In that work, I was restricted in terms of creativity because I needed to maintain the recognisable image of the character. With the old man, he could look however I wanted, and so after looking at examples from existing cartoons, I came up with a series of conceptual designs. These designs featured several common elements which I knew from the offset I wanted to include (notably glasses, a big nose and slippers) however the range of designs applied them in different ways. Through the process of refining and perfecting the design, I soon settled on a final design which would appear in my animation.

It was necessary to get a full understanding of the character. Personally, I believe that to animate a character I need to get some idea of them in three dimensions. This way, I can imagine how they would believably be able to move without intersecting their own body, and how they would be able to move around their environment. To gauge this, I drew various poses and viewing angles for the old man on a ‘model sheet’, which would also prove an incredibly useful reference tool when animating as I would have already pre-determined how he would look from different angles.

Following this, I realised that I would be able to create a basic animation using these multi-angle character views. Though entirely optional, I felt that creating a character rotation would truly give the character a three-dimensional feel. With only having eight different images, I also decided to hand colour the ‘frames’ to create my first ever colour animation, really testing to see if it would work well before committing to colour for my final piece. Fortunately, everything worked perfectly and the overall effect looks great.

With my character finalised, I could move on to the real planning of my animation, making full use of storyboarding and ‘dope sheets’ to plan timing. For my storyboard, I was conscious of the camera angles used. Many would say that using different types of shot makes for a more interesting animation, and generally I would be inclined to agree. This was not the approach I decided to use here however. In the end I decided on a single, continuous shot. In technical terms, this would be a ‘long shot’ (showing the old man full-body at a distance), at eye level, with a still camera. Now, please understand that this was not just me taking the easy option- there was a great deal of thought behind this decision, which I shall explain now to help justify my choice.

From research into existing accident-prone characters such as Mr. Bean, and indeed similar occurrences in real life, to have the necessary comedic effect, they need to feel natural and almost unscripted. I am a strong believer that for this type of character, you do not need to write a story for them; you simply put that character into a situation, and imagine how they would act. True to this, I would describe the viewer not so much as watching a TV show, rather ‘observing’ the character. A single rolling camera shot (as is often used in Mr. Bean) gives this impression of observation; that the programme is not scripted, that (the old man) is not an actor. He is an everyday person, doing an everyday activity, and we as the viewer are simply observing him (unbeknownst to him, of course) as an ordinary day turns into a disaster. To better understand the point I a trying to convey, consider my approach more like a candid camera clip, à la ‘You’ve Been Framed’- something much more still, building on the anticipation that something will eventually happen.

I feel that had I used a selection of cuts and different camera angles, it would have broken this anticipation, and also made the animation seem faster. Certainly, for the old man character, it would make his actions seem more contrived as opposed to natural reactions. In all truth, as much as I was careful to capture believable movements for him, I was just as careful not to make the old man appear like an actor. This is him in his natural environment, and so for this kind of slapstick physical humour, I feel it is far more immersive to watch if we feel we are following, rather than simply watching, his antics.

References were used extensively when carefully crafting the look of my animation and capturing believable actions. I used a range of reference images in the form of a mood board when designing my character, I observed myself holding a remote to understand the hand positions of this action, and I looked at images of TVs and radios to capture authentic looking scenery. Furthermore, something I had not done before was to obtain a video reference of myself acting out the movements. This was very useful again, since it demonstrated to me how every part of the body moves in reaction/anticipation of a movement. For example, I noted that when the old man raises his arm to hit the TV, his stance must shift and his overall posture will alter too. As a result, I was careful to include this level of detail in my animation.

Thanks to iStopMotion, I was able to import the chosen audio file with a series of blank frames, with the audio displayed visually at the bottom of the screen. This was incredibly useful since I could easily tell at what frame each action needed to take place in order to match the sounds. Since I was animating to match a sound for the first time, I recognised the importance of timing, and so decided to animate via key frames. Once I had used my dope sheet to note what frame needed what key action, these were the frames I would draw first. I was able to calculate exactly how many frames I would need overall (nine seconds at 24fps, shooting on doubles = 9 x 12 = 108 frames in total). From this I could tell exactly how many in-between frames I needed between the key frames.

Something I had never done before was an 'animatic'- in all essence an animated storyboard, intended to gauge timing since the audio track plays alongside the images. From this, I was in a better position to measure the various sections of my piece in terms of the amount of frames I needed, and it also served useful as a reference tool in knowing what pose to draw my character. I was able to use the images from my storyboard here, adding pauses long enough to make the still frames match the sounds. The overall effect was very satisfying, and I had some kind of substantial visual representation of what I wanted to achieve.

Once I began to consider animating my final piece however, I was once again struck with reality. Would it really be viable to animate with colour using Photoshop? Realising I have no experience with the software, I downloaded a free trial only to find that it was rather difficult to get to grips with on my own. Unfortunately, with several weeks to go before the deadline, I felt it was important to get animating as soon as possible- I simply could not afford to waste time trying to teach myself to use the software, since if I were to commit myself to using that technique, any problems I would encounter (and there would be many, I am sure) would only set me back further in terms of finishing on time. Ultimately, it seems colour has eluded me once again, albeit for understandable reasons. To do my best work, I really needed that base knowledge and experience that I have built up so far from my course. To effectively learn from scratch would almost certainly reduce the quality overall. Also, the ability to use animation paper was necessary for maintaining a strong sense of volume- the paper is thin, therefore with the use of a light box, tracing over existing sections would be relatively simple. Were I on the other hand scanning frames into Photoshop, I would be required to draw on plain A4, which is more difficult to see through.

Ultimately, the decision was made (reluctantly yet again) to pass on using colour, instead opting for the admittedly more basic line drawing animation. Nevertheless, I put full effort into my task as with all of my work, and I kept a particular focus on the character’s actions. Now, throughout all of my animations so far, I have experimented with various techniques to achieve a smooth background. Some worked well, others such as cut-outs not so well. When creating my 20 second animation, I created the background via a printed template which worked well for the most part. There were multiple problems attributed to this technique however. Firstly, in order to print the backgrounds I was forced to print them on A4 paper, thus could not use my peg bar, instead having to line up each frame as best I could by hand. Secondly, I was restricted with the movements my characters would make since they could not intersect the background. Late into the production of my 20 second piece, it was suggested to me that perhaps by using a clear plastic frame, I could overlay the background over the top of the drawn frame as opposed to printing the background and drawing the character onto it. My attempts to achieve a stable background in my animations so far, I should note, have all been based upon the principles used in the 2D cell animation industry, whereby the characters and other moving elements of a scene are painted onto celluloid frames, then placed over the static background, drawn separately. This new technique would bring me a step closer in my efforts to emulate that professional practice, whereby it would be the background on a clear frame instead of the character. I should point out that the character still needed to be confined to an area not touching the background lines so not to overlap, in fact several lines needed to be added to every single frame to complete the effect, (but the overall look was well worth it since the clear sheet meant I did not have to redraw the complex setting over a hundred times). Furthermore, I was able to hole punch these sheets to fit onto my peg bar ensuring they remained in exactly the same place for every frame. I was unable to utilise acetate sheets in this way for my last project since the idea came to me once I had nearly finished animating, however for this project I decided to use it. I am pleased to say that it worked a treat.

For my line test, improvements were made since the animatic; firstly, the angle of the TV was changed to give a greater sense of depth to the scene, and the way in which the titular old man presses the remote to begin with was altered to something a little more reflective of his uncertainty with the device, depicting him actually looking closely at it first to make sure he is to press the correct button.

Some elements were left out for my line test which would be included in the final version- the skirting board needed to be added to every frame to complete the background behind the old man, and I intended for some time to add the animation principle of 'squash and stretch' to the TV for the frames where the old man hits it (more on that shortly). Lastly, I had to add the TV remote whilst it is on the floor after being dropped. These were left out in the test as the purpose of this test was to ensure the animation for the character himself was correct.

From my line test, I was pleased to find that the timing was correct and the animation was smooth, and so the inking process was relatively straightforward. I made the necessary amendments of adding the skirting board lines to the background, and adding the TV remote to every frame after it becomes stationary on the floor (I did this by drawing it onto my acetate background as soon as it stopped moving). For the frames where the old man intersected the background lines, notably on the 'hit' frames where he impacts the TV, I had to re-draw the background onto the paper frame.

I did have a change of heart on adding 'squash and stretch' to the TV however. Though originally I had intended the TV to squash a little upon impact, I decided after my line test that it just wouldn't be believable- the TV is a solid object, much more solid than the old man. In the end, I felt it just wouldn't look correct for the TV to give way instead of him. Nevertheless, elements of squash and stretch remain in place, such as the old man's arm stretching as he hits out, and his fist actually becoming slightly larger with the hit to accentuate the action.

In terms of the other principles of animation that I have studied, they were all included. There were many examples of exaggeration, ranging from the old man’s over the top movements when clicking the remote, to the explosion itself. For anticipation, we have the old man readying himself to strike the TV, as he brings his arm high into the air in preparation. We also have the anticipation of the viewer in knowing something will eventually happen. Lastly, timing and spacing is utilized heavily throughout, with slow and fast actions occurring with the use of more and less frames respectively.

Overall, I am very pleased with the resulting piece, which contains believable character actions and matches the audio track well. With the use of acetate sheets to draw my background effectively as a separate 'layer' to the frames, I feel I have been able to achieve a far smoother animation. I was still restricted, as with my 20 second animation, to ensuring the character did not intersect the background too often which was a somewhat limiting factor when deciding how to animate the old man- but given the resources available to me and the technique with which I had to complete the short, I feel it is the best I could have done. The clear, heat-resistant acetate is by far the most effective method I have used so far to create stable scenery, and one which I will definitely use again.

Evaluation and analysis

20 second animation task
'Illusion of life' module interim assessment

The idea for this task actually came to me many years ago, back in year seven. At Christmas, we were asked to design Christmas cards in an art lesson, and mine was a cartoon Santa, disappointed at the prospect of more cookies, wishing for fish and chips. As soon as I was given the twenty second animation task, I decided to revisit this theme and take it a little further.

First of all, I had to design a suitable St. Nick to animate- something simplistic, yet detailed enough to convey convincing emotion. For inspiration, I looked to my flip book, ‘Benny and the fish’. I took cues from the established character design, and applied the same design principles to the well-known Father Christmas image, soon creating a character which met my criteria. In all honesty, this style was not developed specifically for ‘Benny’, and is the same one I used for the original Christmas card, though I have only recently begun to use it again. I certainly feel that this style is likeable, and will have an instant appeal among audiences. I was influenced by characters from the Beano, which I enjoyed to read as a child. 

For me, character design the next step after the inception of a basic plotline, since the character, by design, can influence the story. Animation is focused on how a character moves and interacts with the world around it- I do not believe you can begin to consider a story scene by scene until the character is finalised. Once my character was complete, I could proceed to storyboard my animation.

A necessary element pertaining to aesthetics of a cartoon is consistency, in terms of character design and between characters and the environment. If the people and backgrounds are the same style, the viewer feels more immersed- it is believable the character is a part of that world. I kept in mind when designing my settings on my storyboard to conform to the same criteria from earlier relating to character design. My storyboards are most certainly work in progress, as I prefer the design process very loose to allow more creativity. I feel my storyboard was more of a guideline as opposed to a set path to follow. For various scenes, I changed the camera, position of the objects, and in some circumstances deleted scenes to make the animation better. Often however, the changes that had to be made were not choices to improve- due to time restraints or other factors, I had to edit my story to something I could produce by the deadline. Shortly after beginning, I was worried I had taken on too much; a critical reason to cut certain scenes.

The whole process has been very experimental- throughout I trialled techniques from which I learnt a great deal (of both what to, and not to do). These techniques were developed with particular scenes in mind, though I found they could be applied elsewhere. These techniques had limitations however, and went some way to directing a scene.

I did not have much time to complete my animation, and was restricted to twenty seconds. When looking at my storyboards, planning timing, I realised I was trying to fit too much into a short space of time. If I did fit everything in, the animation would have been too fast-paced for anyone to understand, so I focused on adapting my idea to fit twenty seconds. The difficulty was maintaining a sense of progression- with many key scenes, I had to cut the less important ones. This story is told visually, not through narrative, and so the actions and scenery were fundamental to setting the pace of the animation. Santa had to visit two houses- one for cookies, one for the buffet. How would viewers know Santa is in the next house if I do not show him leaving the first? The solution was starting with Santa already in a house- I did not need to show him entering, so nor did I need to show him leaving since that is implied by his arrival down the next chimney. I added a title to emphasise the beginning.

I considered the layout of the buffet room- the food should be opposite the fireplace. This would affect the direction Santa looks in awe. Had I used the same angle from my storyboard, I realised he would not be looking directly at the buffet, so I altered the amount he turns around. I noted not to draw the fireplace too large, since viewers may wonder what the problem is at the end (it may still look wide enough for the giant Santa to fit through). A further change came with the angle of the ‘camera’ in the scene where Santa eats. The rear view is much better for showing Santa getting wider, enabling me to depict him reaching outwards showing his desperation for food. This change came when thinking how to animate the scene- if Santa kept getting fatter, eventually his arms wouldn’t be long enough to reach the food on the table- I could break the believability by having his arms stretch too far, or the feeling he is continuously eating by forcing him to stop prematurely.

I was unsure for a while how to convey to the audience Santa cannot get back out of the chimney at the end. I toyed with the idea of having a caption, but decided this was an easy option. I then thought how someone can express themselves through body language, that instead of having Santa tell us he does not know what to do, a simple shrug will give the same information. In fact, I feel the shrug is funnier.

As aforementioned, I was very conscious of the time remaining to complete my project throughout. As a result, I created (or rather used, since I doubt I am the first to use them) a couple of techniques to cut the time it would take to draw frames, and also to ensure my animation is stable and smooth. The first of these was a template background, as referenced in my RVJ.

In classic cartoons, the frames to animate were drawn on transparent film placed over a static background, which remains stable as the character moves. Could I apply the same principles effectively to my work? The buffet scene needed to be detailed in order to give the audience a similar sense of awe that Santa feels. To have drawn the same background for every frame would have taken a long time, and would have led to inconsistencies. This was a key area for improvement I found following ‘Benny’. The only parts of this scene that needed to move were the balloons and Santa’s arm. Therefore, I positioned Santa such that the moving parts were not obstructed by static backgrounds, so I could use a template frame. I only had to re-draw the arm and balloons. An extra benefit was to add digital text to the banner, which is neater than if it had been drawn by hand.

I used the same technique for Santa coming down the chimney. Applying this here had pros and cons. It would ensure the background is stable, but I would be restricted in how far Santa can move. Originally, I envisioned Santa’s legs swinging all over the place showing he is already having difficulty getting down. With having a set background I had to keep the action contained within the inner ‘box’ of the fireplace. I made a minor change to the scene that allowed me to keep some level of the movement I had intended- instead of having his legs swing outwards, they swing toward and away from us. This allowed me to keep the exaggeration, and also established a sense of depth to a 2D scene.

The second technique I tried was the use of cutouts. My first scene needed to have stability. For this, I used a cutout arm, and only two separate drawn frames (cookie on plate, and cookie gone). I moved the cutout, taking photos at different stages to create more frames, and whilst the hand covered up the cookie, I switched the background with one where it is gone. This way, when I moved the arm out of view, it appears as though the cookie has been taken.

The second cutout I used was the fireplace in the last scene, since I realised it would neither move or change in any of the last scene’s frames. Drawing the fireplace in the same position on every frame in the last scene did not seem practical to me, so I trialled what would happen if I drew the fireplace separately, then placed it on top of each frame. Whilst this worked for the most part, I found it difficult to align correctly. Eventually, I managed by matching its right and bottom edges with those of the picture on screen. Furthermore, I experienced great difficulty due to the paper cutout curling up at the edges (the only explanation I can suggest for this is that the heat from the spotlights affected the paper, since I did everything I could to keep it flat). Eventually, I found a solution in backing the cutout onto cardboard, though a good suggestion later came from a friend- to affix the cutout to a clear sheet and place this over every frame using my peg bar to keep it in place. Unfortunately, this came too late for me to be in a position to implement it. All in all, this trial proved to me that cutouts are probably not a good idea unless they are moving (like my first scene, which actually went very well), or if you can find a way to align them properly.

Throughout the first few weeks on the course, we looked at some of the animation principles, which should be applied where necessary to our work. My other animations mark my foray into these areas, and demonstrate how they can be applied practically in animation scenarios. Each of these test animations proved useful for my 20 second piece.

The skills I learnt from my exaggeration facial expressions task transferred well. When Santa stands amazed his jaw literally drops. Further exaggeration includes his stomach visibly rumbling, showing viewers how hungry he is, and his physical growth as he eats (also how his clothes stretch).

I experimented with squash & stretch by animating bouncing balls, noting to give the balls different properties; I had to consider materials to determine how much they would deform. Santa is rather soft- you can see when he leans forward to jump that his body squashes. I also applied this to the sack, which contains solid boxes. Whilst the sack itself will stretch, the boxes will not. I gave the sack corners depicting the objects inside, which don’t change as much as the draw string opening, which collapses.

Examples of anticipation used are Santa dropping his sack before he begins to eat, and Santa leaning towards the food when eating. There is his shock at seeing the buffet- though this relates to the viewer being set up to anticipate what he has seen. From my anticipation task, I learned how somebody can move in preparation of further action, though mostly I learned to test before inking. After completing my task, I noticed an error causing a ‘skip’ in the movements. Had I tested it I could have corrected this. Learning from the mistake, I decided to do a line test for my 20 second animation, planning my time so that any necessary improvements could be made.

Timing & spacing was applied throughout. A slow action (like when Santa gradually grows as he eats), needed more frames to appear smooth. Fast actions like Santa jumping were the opposite. Though I applied other principles relating to this such as ‘hang time’ in my bouncy ball animation, these were not really applicable here. I did added pauses for effect.

I did make use of some references when animating. Whilst many would consult an animation guide for their character’s movements, however, I prefer to animate my own way and learn through trial and error- I certainly believe this will help me in developing my own animation style, and I feel this is a very natural learning process. As can be seen in my RVJ, I used a series of images as reference for my buffet scene. I was conscious to get an authentic feel, and so researched the ‘typical’ buffet to determine what kinds of food were likely to be served. The movements in my animation were based on real movements, which I acted out in front of a mirror to see exactly how my character should move. I have a Santa hat at home which I observed for reference, and I realised that the ball on the end is incredibly loose. Whenever Santa moves his head, the ball does not in fact stop when he does, rather continues to move and sway under its own weight. I feel I captured this ‘flyaway’ motion quite well (actually, several friends did tell me that they liked this detail).

Once I had completed my pencils, I moved on to shoot a line test for my animation, following what I learned during my anticipation exercise. My line test showed areas for improvement aside from finishing the drawings. Seeing the buffet scene in motion, I saw the balloons moved too fast, so I redid these frames. I decided to keep them stationary, as it helps the viewer focus on Santa, and the 'still' atmosphere goes to show how he is stunned by the discovery of the food.

A further area for improvement came after Santa is shown eating- initially this scene cut straight into the next, giving the impression no time had passed. I implemented a makeshift ‘fade to black’ whilst I thought of a better way to demonstrate time passing. The solution was a caption ‘later’. Though I hoped to tell the entire story visually, the result is far nicer than the blackout (which I felt was too sudden due to the contrast of colour).

Also on my line test, the light of the last scene flickers, something likely due to the camera, and the cut out fireplace I used wobbles a little. I simply took care to ensure this did not happen for my finished piece.

Overall, I feel I have learned a lot from this project, particularly on what techniques work well, and what others should probably be avoided. I have definitely followed more of a structured process this time than for my previous tasks, and can say without a doubt that my line test was invaluable. I was pleased that my template technique worked so well, though a difficulty with this did come with the fact I had to draw the frames on A4 paper in order to print. This was a little harder to see through than animation paper, and as such required me to use a light box (I find I can often manage without one for animation paper). The cutout technique on the other hand can be good or bad depending on how it’s used. To move the cutout across the page, the results are fantastic, but if I were to approach this task again, I would most certainly make use of my friend’s suggestion to fix the cutout to a clear sheet wherever it needed not to move. Nevertheless, devising solutions to the problems I faced in order to create something that ultimately I am very proud of was rewarding- I feel this is by far my best animation yet, and am incredibly satisfied with the results. I cannot think of any areas for improvement, other than that I would have liked to have added colour- not that a lack of colour is in any way a detriment to my animation, just I feel it would be nicer to watch. 

Evaluation and analysis

Anticipation task

Anticipation in terms of animation means much the same as it would normally- to look forward to something. Of course animation is relating to movement, therefore anticipation will be the movements made in anticipation of something. It can be in relation to the characters or objects on screen, or the viewer, the latter where the person watching can almost predict what happens next. (This opens up the possibility to play on clichés with humour, for example if the audience is at a disposition to believe a certain thing will happen, only for something completely unexpected to occur instead. A very basic example of anticipation is someone holding out their hands to catch something- note that the anticipation movement is always opposite to the action about to happen.

With regards to my task and taking all of this valuable information into account, I wanted to animate something to cover as many of these points as possible. At the same time, I will admit I was a little worried about finishing my 20 second animation on time, and so did not want to pick something too difficult for this task to give myself more on the other. I made the decision to animate someone doing the long jump, for the ample anticipations made throughout that action; the crouching before the jump, the adjustment of the body whilst in the air (including repositioning of arms, legs and the arching of the back and neck, in fact) and the readying for the landing. Akin to my group flip book task, I sought to use a slow motion video on Youtube for reference, to make sure I captured all the necessary details to keep the animation believable and realistic.

As the task brief told me that I could animate stickmen in this instance, I initially thought this was great- I had the belief that since stickmen are simple, I could complete a good animation relatively quickly and continue to focus on my 20 second animation. I was very wrong, it turned out, as stickmen proved themselves to be deceptively difficult to animate. As I was about 10-15 frames into my animation (which was a good deal of the way through I may add, since the finished movement is only a few seconds), I realised I had gotten very confused half way through. You see, from a side profile of a stickman running, it is near impossible to tell which arm is forward and which is back, the same goes for the legs. I realised at some point I had animated the wrong arm, then the wrong leg, and ultimately I was forced to choose between trying to find and correct the error, and simply scrapping the lot and beginning again. We have been advised that it is often quicker to start again, and after this catastrophe, I must say I am inclined to agree.

Anyway, I decided to change to outline people instead, since they are detailed enough to get bodily proportions correct and look good, yet (in my opinion) are easier to animate than stickmen. Sure enough the process went very smoothly from here, as I paused the video at regular intervals to observe the frame. In a way, I suppose the principles behind this technique are similar to rotoscoping, without the actual tracing.

I was very pleased with my animation until I noticed, after I had captured it, that there was a small error to one of the frames mid way through, which when played through causes the running to ‘skip’ a little before he jumps. Though a small error, one which I did not even notice for some time, I am a perfectionist and it does bug me a little that it is there. My first instinct was to cycle through the frames on iStopMotion, and simply delete the bad frame- though after a while messing around with the animation to no avail, I decided that I was wasting too much time. The most important thing I could do was to learn from the mistake, and do a line test for my future animations. This would give me chance to correct such mistakes before the inking process takes place.

On a positive note, this animation was very smooth, and there was a very good consistency with the volume of the character. Excluding the one little issue with the bad frame, I feel the rest is very successful and I am pleased with the results. I will say though that this task is the one so far I have learnt the most from, particularly pertaining to the process I should be following when creating my animations. 

Evaluation and analysis

Timing and spacing, squash and stretch

Task three required me to animate a bouncing ball, but I did not feel content with settling for something too simple. Initially, I considered using different types of ball with different weight, as referenced in my RVJ, and I also considered adding a box for variety.

I shall admit I am not one for tests. My work begins in pencil and goes through many revisions before I am completely satisfied however, just that I tend to rub out what I have drawn and alter the same page as opposed to simply beginning again. With this task, I was bale to make full use of the ‘template background’ technique which I pioneered in relation to my 20 second animation ‘I be feedin’ Father Christmas’. By keeping this animation on a 2D plane, I drew the scenery (i.e. everything which didn’t move), scanned it in as a template, and printed out a copy for each frame. It should be noted that I used several different templates, as when one of the moving objects came to rest, I could add them to the static background to save drawing them again. An issue with this technique is that I had to draw on regular A4 paper as opposed to animation paper, which is more difficult to see through especially without a light box at home. Nevertheless, I managed, and overall I feel it was well worth it; the background does not move at all, and the animation is by far smoother than my previous work. A further benefit is saving me a great deal of time (not that I am opposed to work by any means, just at this stage I feel I may have taken on too much an ambitious project in my 20 second piece, and am focused on having enough time to finish).

Moving on to principles and details, as always I hoped to create something interesting to watch. I added flaps to the box, knowing that they would sway and alter how the box bounced down the stairs. I was very conscious to capture a realistic sense of physics in this animation, having the objects realistically interact with each other and the scenery before your eyes. To get the correct effect, I noted material properties of the objects (e.g. a cardboard box, where the corners will get dented as it tumbles, it is light yet larger than the ball/ a rubber ball, able to deform most, will bounce very fast/ larger ball, very solid- no flexibility so brittle, barely bounce). These were set as parameters almost, telling me instantly how each object would behave. I sketched out ‘arcs’ or ‘paths’ which the objects would follow, and placed this sheet behind the frames to make sure objects were on track. This proved very useful. I was also focused on timing and spacing, giving my bouncy ball hang time and squash and stretch, really giving it a sense of weight. Further details I added were the objects showing damage as a result of the environment- the box is creased and dented, and the large ball cracks and shatters.

I am very proud of this piece, and it is one of my favourites so far, since the movements of the objects feel so natural and realistic. Thanks to my templates I do not believe I could’ve improved on the smoothness of my animation. I was hoping to include colour for the first time however on the objects, something I was forced to overlook due to time restraints. I am a little disappointed I couldn’t include this.

Evaluation and analysis

Exaggeration animation

Task two marks my first attempt at animation on actual ‘animation paper’, which gave me a larger area to work with. Recognising that the main problems with my previous animations were related to the minor drawing errors causing the animation to wobble, I sought to combat this somewhat. I reasoned that by drawing my character large, filling the space on the large paper more effectively, if I did make any minor errors (such as misalignment of lines) they would be the same distance out as what I had done before- when capturing my animation therefore, by zooming out, making the character appear smaller would reduce the visibility of these errors since they become too small to almost notice. For the most part, this worked, though some errors are still noticeable.

The character I designed was very cartoon- simplistic, yet with enough detail to adequately convey different emotions to the viewer. I decided early on that the character’s head should not move- that only the expression should change. In order for this to work, I designed the character’s hair to be an anchor- the one part of his head which never moves. This meant that when drawing the next frame or capturing it on iStopMotion, I merely had to align the hair to achieve a smooth animation, and put the next in the correct place. This worked very well- the animation is my smoothest so far, with only a slight discrepancy near the end.

Wit the task brief, we were advised to make an animation which could be looped. I kept this in mind throughout, and in fact before beginning I planned the timing. I wished my animation to be about three seconds long, hence 36 drawings shooting doubles at 24 frames per second. To loop, I chose to begin in a neutral position, changing to smug, then surprised, then scared, then return to neutral (a total of four complete changes). To have an evenly-spaced animation, 36/4 = 9 frames per expression change. Initially, I drew the completed expressions as key frames before doing the in between frames. Though this gave a lot of structure to my animation, I found however it was quite unhelpful, as some of the facial changes did not require as many frames, whereas others required me to duplicate frames to add a pause. I guess the whole thing was trial and error; once my drawings were done I could easily edit frames on the iStopMotion software, which did enable me to correct my timing.

As with my previous animations, I took pride in the smaller details to give more depth to the piece. To create convincing (yet exaggerated) expressions, I acted them out in front of a mirror, making note of how an action has reaction. For example, I noticed when smiling that as your mouth gets wider, your ears go up slightly- something which you can see incorporated into my work. I also concentrated on eyebrow movements, and some alterations to pupil size. I realised that a change in expression is not just, say, a mouth movement- every aspect of your face changes, albeit at different amounts. Overall, this helped me to create an exaggerated, yet altogether believable and realistic piece.

Evaluation and analysis

Flipbook task

To say that my contribution to my group’s flipbook is my first ever attempt at a flipbook is a little misleading, since occasionally as a child I would create small versions in my spare time. Nevertheless, this was the first time I have attempted anything like this with relation to my education, and so I was eager to do my best work, being a perfectionist at heart.

Firstly, we needed to come up with the idea. Given the guidelines that each section should flow into the next, we proposed using a common theme of sport, basing our individual sections on a sport of our own choice, in my case this was baseball. One problem we faced was creating a character the whole group could draw- if the flipbook is to flow smoothly, couldn’t the difference in drawing styles break the effect? Our decision was to keep the characters specific to our own sections, that the only common object to make the transition would be the ball featured in the sports. This enabled the freedom that each member of my group could create their own character, without being restricted to copying what had come before. This I feel was very successful, and the change in artistic styles throughout the animation proved visually interesting.

With relation to my section of the animation, I chose to animate a player swinging a baseball bat to hit a ball which drops from the sky. I will say I learned a good deal about realistic movements from this task- when initially thinking about how the bat would be swung, I realised quite quickly that it was very difficult to visualise, especially to be looking from a third-person perspective. To ensure I achieved a realistic animation, I used a video on YouTube of a pro baseball player swinging for reference, and was able to pause the video at regular intervals for observation. What I tired to pay particular attention to was the smaller detail in the movement- for example, not just the arms move. I found subtle movements occurred, such as the player shifting stance in anticipation of the ball, turning of the head, and perhaps most notably the correct hand positions on the bat. I attempted to copy each of these into my animation, and I do feel I achieved this well.

Bear in mind that at this time (and now, for that matter) I had/have not been fully introduced to the principles of animation. Nevertheless, I found I naturally included ‘squash and stretch’ with relation to the ball, giving the impression it was hit with force. The effect is rather convincing of weight to both the player and the ball.

The highlight of this task was definitely seeing my flipbook be transformed on screen into my first ever animation. It was incredibly satisfying to see the results of my labour. There are improvements I could make however- firstly, the swing appears quite slow, and would’ve been more realistic had it been sped up. On the other hand, this would’ve meant that my section would be over in a split second, reducing my input effectively to the group task. Lastly, though smooth overall, the animation was a little sketchy, particularly on the clothing detail, but I could argue this adds to its charm. Overall, I feel I did very well for my first attempt at animation.

As for my solo flipbook, I found a greater sense of freedom in being able to draw whatever I wanted. Having seen a few examples, some where I felt it was difficult to tell what was going on, I set out to overcome this and tell a simple story in a short space of time. The idea I decided upon was ‘Benny and the fish’- a character is walking along, and is surprised to find a fish on the floor beside its bowl. He puts it back in, saving it. I realised quite quickly that it was quite ambitious, but I decided to challenge myself.

I developed a technique for my drawings here- in order to animate effectively, I believe it is best if your mind is on one thing at a time. As such, I noted to animate Benny, the fish, and the table/bowl separately, enabling me to give true attention to detail for all elements of my animation. I wished to keep the whole thing central, so instead of having Benny move in from left to right across the page, I kept him in the middle. In order to give the impression he is moving, I chose to move the other elements in from the right- as if the ‘camera’ were panning with Benny. This was a good idea as it meant I could always capture the entire page on iStopMotion, without having the characters right at the edge.

As with my group flipbook, I wished to include as many little subtle details as possible. To get the effect, I did not so much plan every action. Instead, I used ‘straight ahead’ animation, constantly thinking ‘what would the character do now?’ This I feel achieved a far more fluid, natural and altogether far less contrived story. I did however plan certain key frames, depicting the different actions of Benny, since I wanted to get the movements and actions believable. Akin to my last flipbook, I found that once more, I naturally used principles of ‘squash and stretch’ and ‘exaggeration’ with these movements, such as Benny actually jumping off the ground when surprised. Throughout, I remained conscious of timing, sometimes adding a pause whilst Benny thinks about what to do.

My overall goal was to add a myriad of different emotions, something I feel I succeeded in. Once I had planned Benny’s key frames, I went on to consider the fish- he would be scared, naturally, since he is in a dangerous position. As he sees Benny, he is given hope of rescue- but Benny isn’t looking. The fish ‘jumps’ around to get his attention in desperation, before realising he may be stepped on. He winces in anticipation of this, before Benny notices him and steps back. The fish is unsure what is to happen, but as Benny points to the bowl he is overjoyed. But as with all animals, it seems, when Benny moves closer to help, the fish is apprehensive and backs off. With a little coaxing from Benny, the fish decides to trust him, bounces into his outstretched hands, and is relieved when he lands back in his bowl. As you can tell, a lot of thought went into the subtle details in this animation, and personally I believe each of the emotions in the animation are recognisable, distinct, and most importantly noticeable to the viewer- though you may need to watch it a few times, concentrating separately on Benny or the fish to see it all properly. In many respects, I was influenced by ‘Wallace & Gromit’ here, one of my favourite animations; there is so much detail and things going on in the background that, even after you have seen the films for a tenth time, you will see something you’ve not noticed before. I hoped to achieve a similar layer of depth in my own piece, and am proud of the results. I am very pleased overall, but I did note the table/bowl does wobble a bit, and I would’ve perhaps liked this to be smoother.