You know that feeling when you sit in a cinema, and the film starts, and the words ‘Please be good, please be good’ run through your head on repeat? That slip of fear that what you are about to watch is going to be so underwhelming that you might literally deflate and walk out of the cinema like a human-skinned vacuum-packed collection of bones?
No? … hmmm… maybe I went too far there.
Anyway, that’s happened to me twice in the space of two weeks. Not the human vacuum-packed bit, no. But sitting in the cinema with a sense of nervousness and dread. And instead of pleading with the film to be good, I was silently pleading for the audience to like what they were seeing. Because when it was all done, I was going to have to get up on stage and defend the pieces.
I’ve only ever seen my own work on a cinema screen a few times before. When I was at NSC Creative, we would have screening of our planetarium shows in the dome, and that was a joy to behold, but this month I have (a) hosted a theatrical showing of a kids TV show I worked on to an audience of friends and (b) showcased a 3 minute 0-budget animated film to an audience of film-makers.
Both were exciting, both were terrifying. Both were, thankfully, well received.
This year has been a great year of work, with four major points, that I will outline below, and hopefully you will celebrate with me!
Big Tree City!
In 2021, I had the pleasure of working with the mighty Blue Zoo on Big Tree City! It was my first job with the studio, who I had wanted to work with since graduation, and within a couple of months they boosted me us to Animation Team Lead, looking after one of four teams of animators. It was a great experience, a real joy of a show to work on!
On August 1st, 2022, the show was released on Netflix! I buzzed around, forcing everyone I knew to watch this children’s TV show I had worked on, whether they had kids or not! The truth is, it was one of those shows aimed as much at the adults as the kids, like Bluey or Hey Dougie, but through whatever shameful oversight, it wasn’t advertised all that greatly, and it seems to not have done as well as it could have done. Such a real shame.
Today I spent some time collating my shots. I have over 12 minutes of animation in this show. That’s longer than a single episode! I wont be able to share it all, but there is so much comedy gold in there that it is hard to separate out for a new showreel! Hence the full scene shared above!
The Wingfeather Saga
And so if that was last years work coming out this past summer, what of this years work?
I remember being a fan of Keith Lango back in my university days. He was the only person doing online animation tutorials back in the day, which was invaluable to me! I also recall watching a short film back in 2017 about three kids going to a bookshop or something, with these lizard guys around. I remember being impressed with it at the time.
Then I got a job working with Mr Lango on a show about three kids, a bookshop and a bunch of lizard guys!
I applied on a whim, really not expecting to get a call back, but when the invitation to have a chat with non other than Lango himself came up, a thousand horses couldn’t have held me back!
This project has such a unique visual style and a story that is full of heart! Though it wasn’t a laugh per minute like Big Tree City, everyone on the project knew it was something special. I have worked on the show since May, and finished up last week, and every moment of it, even those moments where you hate the rigs or the deadline, were an absolute joy.
But unlike Big Tree City, the show has already started to be released – in fact, they released the first episode before the animation on the last was complete! That’s all down to using Unreal Engine to assemble all of the different components, making the rendering and compositing so much easier (I imagine… I dunno, I only did the animation!).
The production company over in the US held a massive, red carpet premier event. I watched it livestream from the UK, green with jealousy! So I held my own little premier event.
I’m really lucky in that the local cinema has a heart for investing in local talent. When I told them that I had worked on a show that was coming out and that I’d like to show it off to my mates, kinda like a large watch-party, they jumped at the chance to support me!
And it was thus that I had my first experience of being the sole representative of a show, sat watching it in the cinema with friends, willing them all to like it! And, man, they were impressed! I was so pleased! And when, because very few of my Leicester friends are animators, I showed them a reel of my shots and what went into making them, they seemed impressed all the more so!
Now obviously, this could just be friends grinning and bearing it, patting me on the back with a congratulatory air, masking the pittying gesture, but I dont think it was. You can see it in peoples eyes when they are genuinely impressed by something, specifically when it was something they weren’t expecting to be impressed by.
It was a good night! One to be proud of.
You can watch The Wingfeather Saga online FOR FREE!!!!!! here – https://www.angel.com/watch/wingfeather-saga
These Wounds Bleed Still
Which leads me to the second instance of cinematic dread.
Last night I shared an animated short I made for my church with a screen full of film makers as part of a local short-film festival. It was a small turn out, and most people there were either involved in the shows being shown, or working to make their own films.
I had checked out some of the other pieces being shown before I got to the cinema, just to see what I was up against. And I was really impressed by the high standard of the films! Which made me squirm!
These Wounds Bleed Still was an interesting piece to work on. It started out, as most things in my life do, by foolishly offering my skills up to my church.
The event was on slavery. Modern Slavery, to be more specific, which Leicester has some real issues with. It was an evening of conversations with people who worked in anti-slavery roles, raising awareness of the issues at hand and opening conversation around the subject.
Our vicar had come over to us (well, my wife) to see if we (wife) had any creative input to add to the night. She talked about one member of the church, an Afro-Colombian lady, who wanted to share here story. Her grandparents were enslaved and escaped, they formed a community to help others find freedom, which they found, but not without lasting effects of colonialism weighing heavily on them.
Her story was about her own struggle with identity, her faith, and the greed that stole her ancestors away from Africa. Her story was powerful enough alone, but required the history, her family’s history, to refer back to.
As the vicar told the story, I pictured how it might look as an animation, and put the idea forward. Big mistake!
I had two months to get the work done on top of my standard day job (Wingfeather), and it took one of those months to nail the story down! I had to boil a 15 minute story that read like a sermon down to the core facts that held the emotion needed. The duration and time restraints meant I had to tell as much of the story through visuals rather than relying on text.
But this was a wonderful project to work on! As a 3D character animator, I tend to spend my days working on someone else’s vision. And even though this one someone else’s story, I had full control of the delivery. It also gave me the opportunity to do some drawing and After Effects work, which I haddn’t touched for a while!
The Modern Slavery, God and Me event took place in September, and the animated segment was received well. Most importantly, however, it gave the lady whose story it was the freedom to speak what she needed to, referring back to the film as needed.
I want to submit it into film/animation events, and last night was the first one. It being a Show and Tell event, where I was expected to answer questions on the piece scared me a bit. The subject matter is so serious and sensitive, I didn’t know how I could do it justice, or what to say if I was asked why I made the film. Then a friend asked me why I didn’t turn it down. I said I wasn’t sure, that I thought God had given me some skills, and that it seemed like a good opportunity to thank him for them. Not just the technical know how, but the vision. I animated the piece as an act of worship to Him.
‘Then there’s your answer,’ my friend said, ‘say that.’
LAM and De Montfort University
Finally, I kickstarted the Leicester Animation Meetup again!
One of the Universities in the city has an animation course. In fact it was the same university where I learned (started to learn) my craft. The issue we have, and I think every brick-and-mortar animation course around the world recognises this pain, is that universities tend to output generalists who simply arent ready for industry. Which is why I have friends who spent 3 years studying animation, only to graduate and then start all over again with Animation Mentor and the like.
And the students who do manage, by some wonderous grace of luck, to be good enough to get a job all tend to get sucked into the black void of The City That Shal Not Be Named.
I have a heart for my city. It was one that formed begrudgingly, and tried to get away at any opportunity, like a screeching cat being forced into a carrier. It was forged out of necessity, and then out of love for my community. And then the financial liability in the shape of a mortgage. Plus, who really wants to move to London anyway?
So I am here, in Leicester. Where Animation lives in its students and dies when they graduate. So I wanted to give some hope in this place. Share a bit of love for the animators, and, more than anything, try to encourage them when they need it, and gain encouragement from them when I need it.
So I hosted a Drink and Draw in a local pub, back in November when the students were back and settled.
It was ok.
But before all of this, I had been speaking to two of the animation faculty members at DMU, trying to encourage those guys, see how I could help them and if they could help me with this crazy idea of a city-wide animation community (not that that has happened anywhere else before… oh, wait…). They seemed on-board. Or as on-board as one could be at such a distance that they were not liable to help or attend in any way.
But when one of them decided to drop the students in it by handing in his notice just at the start of term (there are feelings on this that are both impersonal and personal, but both with a tremendous roll of the eyes), the other got me on board for some teaching.
So I now have the pleasure of teaching one class a week for a bunch of second years, really trying to drill down into animation techniques I use, as best as I can. I cant say how long I will be doing this – the more I teach the more I recognise I am not a teacher – but for the time being, if I am able to share my knowledge, and build up the city in this way, then that’s what I will do.
So that’s my year. There were a couple of other things here and there. And it will probably be another year before I rush another blog post!
Cheers for reading!