2022 Round Up!

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!

Oz

FIRES – The Pitch Film Fund Finalist

It’s been a while since I have posted anything. Work has been busy; some really interesting projects have come my way, and I have had the pleasure to work with some excellent clients. But in my spare time I have been working on another project – a pitch for an animated short film, which was entered as part of The Pitch Film Fund competition – www.EnterThePitch.com

When two wounded soldiers are rescued from the battlefield, they are faced with a dilemma – should they trust their rescuer or forge their own path forward?

Entered into the ‘Drama’ category, my short film idea FIRES made it all the way to the finalist stage – from a couple of hundred entries back in September, through to the final 5 ideas. After presenting my idea to the final judges yesterday, my part in the competition came to an end.

Though I cannot deny that I am a little disappointed and felt a certain anticlimax after so much work had been put into the idea, I am really pleased for the filmmakers who have made it through to the last pitching session today – all of their ideas really deserve to be made!

Proof of Concept

Ok, to whet you’re appetite, I’m going to share the Proof of Concept animation I created as part of my pitch.

The Pitch is typically concerned with making short live action films – pitching an animated short is a little out of their zone of expertise, and so in order to help describe my aesthetic vision, I created this short proof of concept, taken from the end of the story.

FIRES – Proof of Concept. Written and Animated by Oz Durose, Voiced by Christian Obokoh, Issac rig by Kiel Figgins

FIRES is set in a small clearing in a deep, dark forest with one rule:

“Never, under no circumstances, light a fire in this forest! There are beasts within that do not take kindly to the flame”

I wanted to place the audience in the place of darkness – but rendering that effectively would be a challenge. I wanted to ditch key-lights and fill lights and focus more on back-lights and silhouettes against the grey of the mist – I wanted to give the impression of the action, rather than show it in glorious full colour!

I had a specific look I wanted to go for – the harsh etched look in the lighting, the scribbled mist between the trees. I went through a number of processes to try to find the best way to produce this look, and there would be further look development to go, but as a proof of the idea, it sold what I wanted to sell.

Below is a sequence of shader tests within Maya.

Isaiah 50:10-11

Part of the USP of The Pitch Film Fund is the requirement to link the idea to a Bible passage. You can read more about why here.

The Bible passage I chose is Isaiah 50:10-11

10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
    and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
    and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
    You will lie down in torment.

Isaiah 50:10-11 (NIV)

The first time I read this passage, I had a thought of a number of bickering groups lost in a forest, each one lighting their own torches and making their way deeper into the woods, getting more lost and more argumentative as they go.

In order to pitch an idea for a short animation, I had to simmer this idea down. Rather than having groups of characters, I chose two characters to represent two sides of the argument – one wants to stay, the other wants to go.

An interesting part of this passage is the concept of lighting flaming torches. One commentary talks about the torches representing the “false light of one’s own wisdom”. This phrase that blew me away when I first read it – if you believe in a God who created heaven and earth and all the life within, the idea of thinking that I, in my limited understanding of life, know better than He does is completely crazy! Why not trust the one who wrote the instruction manual?

This idea finds its way into my story in the form of a local civilian woman who knows the lay of the land. She knows the forest, and gives the two soldiers a warning – not to be mean to them, but for their own safety. Themes of trust and obedience – especially through dark times – are the focus of the story, along with the a personal growth of strength and confidence – not to run, but to stand your ground.

The Pitching Process

The Pitch Film Fund has a pot of money to make short films. This year the pot was split between two categories – Drama and Comedy.

Back in September, when entrants submitted a 2 minute pitch video (shown below), my concept was very loose. I had an idea of where I wanted to go with it, but no concrete structure. The idea was there, the visual concept was there, but it was full of holes and lacking any sophistication.

In October, the ‘In Consideration’ list brought the number of competitors from around 300 down to 50. In November, that number was reduced again to the 20 pitches in the Shortlist. At each stage, the entrants were encouraged to attend online seminars focused on Idea Developing (an area I really enjoy), writing synopsis and Beat Sheets, as well as putting together a pitch deck to send to producers to sell the idea.

Last year I made it to this stage with my idea ‘STONE’ – the first pitch I had ever put together, and I found that every step of the way, the hosts of The Pitch were completely routing for everyone of us. They created such a warm environment to encourage, nurture and grow the entrants that it was impossible not to find the entire process completely enjoyable!

This year, after submitting my Beat Sheet and Pitch Deck, I made it through to the finals! Again the number of entrants grew tighter, from 20 to 10 – 5 entrants for each pot.

One of the core joys of being a finalist is being invited to The Residential Course – a weekend at the incredible Low Wood Bay hotel at Lake Windermere!

Over this weekend, we had the excellent opportunity to pitch our ideas in person, starting with a 2 minute synopsis of the piece on the first day, and a 5 minute extended version on the last day. We also had some excellent teaching from the wonderful Justine Hart, time in the spar, excellent food, and the joy of sitting and meeting everyone in person. Getting to know the other finalists and talk about our ideas was an absolute joy!

But let’s talk about the live pitching for a moment.

Now. I don’t really have an issue standing up in front of people and giving a talk, or teaching Swing Dance (as my wife and I do regularly at Leicester Lindy Hop), but this was something else. During my first pitch, the two minutes felt like an eternity – it took all of my will power not to simply crawl under my desk.

I was terrified.

Over the course of the weekend I got to know the other finalists, had excellent discussions about their work and mine, and really loved the encouraging nature that everyone brought! So I figured that, after becoming more relaxed with people, doing some learning and settling into the weekend, I would be fine for my 5 minute pitch.

Spoiler. I wasn’t.

The night before the second pitch, I was sat in the bar until midnight, trying to put new ideas that I had gained into the pitch. I wanted to show that the idea had developed, become deeper, showed a real internal and external conflict and character development. But I struggled.

When I finally got to bed, my brain then kicked into gear and ideas started sprouting until 4am. I had to be up at 7:30am to write up a new pitch, and make some notes. It didn’t go well.

I was nervous before I got up there. I wanted to run, to hide. My notes made absolutely no sense, and I froze. Completely overwhelmed by the situation, stood in front of everyone, their eyes on me, I couldn’t control my own mouth and nonsense came out. Though I knew they all were cheering me on and wanted me to do well, I fell hard. I was looking at my notes, and all I could see were words – letters. They held no meaning for me, and I felt like I was up there alone, looking stupid. Panic.

After the session (it was the last of the weekend, then lunch and everyone leaves), I ran and I hid. I couldn’t face people, at all. My chest burned and I a steady hand was a billion miles out of reach.

The competition hosts found me and we talked. It was incredible how much care and love they had for me, and for everyone else in the competition. I was really moved by it all.

The residential weekend was incredible – it was myself who had the issue. The issue of lacking confidence, not knowing my content and struggling to stand up in front of people. So that gave me a number of hurdles to overcome.

In the month between the Residential and the Final Pitch, I developed my idea, writing and rewriting until I knew I had it down. Then I focused on making notes, getting really consumed by the content so I knew what each note meant, then going even further to tell my idea without needing notes! It was difficult, but with the help of some mentoring sessions (both sought out personally, and provided by The Pitch for all of their finalists), I was ready to overcome the obstacles that stood in my way!

So we come to yesterday – the final pitch.

My story had become more about a character overcoming his fear, finding the strength to stand, the courage to do what he needed to do. It was a story I felt that I was living.

The finals had moved to Zoom rather than in-person (thanks Covid!). This definitely made me feel better, but wasn’t quite the beast I wanted to slay. I wanted to prove to myself that I could stand in front of the judges and give the best pitch I could. Online would have to do though.

And after pacing around my kitchen rehearsing and rehearsing, I entered the meeting, and gave the best Pitch I could.

And it was great! Apart from a couple of stumbles at the start, I felt like I gave the pitch everything I could! Afterwards I got some great compliments, it seemed the judges really liked my pitch and my ideas. Unfortunately some of the other ideas were more suiting, and that was the end of my line. But I am fine with that. I did what I set out to do, and I gave the best pitch that I could.

And I wish all the best to the film makers who won, they are all wonderful people and they absolutely deserved it!

The Future of FIRES

So what now?

Now that I have a story fleshed out, one that I am really happy with and that it seems people liked – what do I do with that?

Well, I could either throw it away as an idea that didn’t win a competition, or I could set to to write it. And that’s what I will do. Over the next couple of months, I hope to write the screenplay for FIRES, and hopefully a couple of other ideas I have for shorts – STONE as mentioned before, and an interesting idea called That Creepy Thing in the Corner.

Getting these ideas written is the first step, and even though I love to write (you can see a number of my writings in my blog), I have never written a screenplay. So let’s get it done!

After that, I can quite happily continue to develop the visuals of the piece, and who knows? I might make the piece myself.

One step at a time though.

One step at a time.


Thanks for reading, and if you know any Producers interested in producing animated shorts, send them my way!

Cheers!

Oz

Animation Graduate Advice, Pt1.2 – Learn What They Do

Learn the Software

…if you need to, anyway.

Once you have found a studio you’re excited to work for, have a look at what software they use and start learning it!

My first animation job used 3Ds Max. Having just completed three years learning Maya, I was dropped into a software completely alien to me. I needed to retrain my mind, and I did it all at the cost of my employer.

That’s not a good thing, and to be honest, I got that job because I didn’t put my first point into practice – I didn’t do any research and I took the job because it was local and it gave me money for CG stuff. It wasn’t necessarily work I had any passion for – in fact they barely did any character animation, it was mostly visualisation. (It may be that my old employers are reading this, if so, HELLO! I am sure they know who they are, and that they are not surprised by my words. Nevertheless, I still consider them family!)

So going back to my point – I learned 3Ds Max on the job at my employer’s expense. So then why am I suggesting graduates learn new softwares your own time?

If I was hiring a junior animator, and two candidates applied with equal skill, but only one used the software I use, I would most likely hire the candidate that could hit the ground running without needing to use my own resources training them up (as much…. There is always going to be the need for training in any job, at any level).

I did not hit the ground running in my first job. I just hit the ground, then wasted the valuable time of my colleagues as they picked me up and showed me how to use the tools correctly.

Don’t be like me. Do your research and get used to the software.

  • Side Note: A good carpenter knows that they need to keep their tools clean and well organised. Same goes for a plumber, or a cake maker. Same goes for an animator. Your software is your tool, and your folder structure is your toolbox. Keep your scenes clean and organised by giving logical names to each element you create, and learn a better way to save files than ‘PunchAnimation_finalFinalFINAL’. I like to save files using a project prefix (PunchAnim), a file prefix (001), a description of what’s in the file (Blocked) and a suffix (01). These will change as you go along (PunchAnim 002 Spline 01), but will mean all files will be organised nice and neatly.

Learn their techniques

… or at least imitate them. 

After ten years in the industry, I got turned down from one job purely because I didn’t showcase the sort of work they needed. It didn’t matter that I felt confident doing the style they needed – I could be confident I could jump to the moon, but unless I could showcase that I could, my confidence would be meaningless to anyone other than myself.

You have found the studio you want to work for, you have discovered what software they are using and got hold of a copy (no questions asked, you’re graduates, we all know what you get up to).

Now you need to analyse the studio’s work, see what they are doing to create their style and try to replicate this. I’m not saying you need to learn how to do some iconic rendering or compositing work, I am speaking solely to the animators here – how do the subjects move.

If the company’s work is on youtube, you can use the comma (,) and full stop (.) hotkeys to nudge through frame by frame. Watch through the video until you find a movement you are excited about, then go through it frame by frame, considering each actor present, be that a bouncing ball or an elbow or a hip or a flicker of flame (For clarity, I consider an ‘actor’ anything that is moving, even individual parts of a whole, so, for example, I would look at the hips of a character, their head, their arms and legs, all as separate ‘actors’ for the sake of analysis).

Take in each frame, see what the animator is doing at each point, not only on it’s own merit, but in relation to the frames around it. How do they pose their characters? How do they use spacing and timing? Is there something specific about the camera lens they use? Does it feel fluid or static?

Start sketching out poses you like. Take a certain point (like an elbow or edge of a prop) and map it out across the screen as it moves, this will help you understand the trajectory and spacing used. Look at full poses, how do they use anticipation and overshoot – is it extreme or minimal, and over how many frames? Look at hands and other smaller actors, what level of attention to detail is in there? How do they use secondary motion and overlapping action? Using a website like https://syncsketch.com/ would really help with this.

Once you have analysed a shot or two, give it a go! Try to do an animation in the style of the studio that you have been studying, after all if you want to work somewhere specific, you have to show them that you CAN and WILL produce what they need.

However, I would caveat this by saying that if you copy a piece of animation frame by frame as a means of studying it, DO NOT put it in your reel, claiming it as your own. Studios do not like that, and it is considered plagiarism. Instead, be inspired, and animate a shot in the style of what you have studied.

Going back to my hypothetical; if I was hiring a junior for a stylised cartoon with snappy movements, I would hire a candidate that can demonstrate that style on their reel over one that doesn’t!

  • Side Note: by techniques I am talking about use of animation principles and animation style, not necessarily design style. That being said, the two are closely linked, after all, I wouldn’t animate a hyper-real soldier character like a loony toon, and probably wouldn’t animate a looney toon like a hyper-real soldier. Though if I chose to, there is nothing you can say that would stop me! For 2D animators, I assume this is maybe easier for you – design a character that could fit in with the style of your chosen studio and animate them. However, I don’t know if that’s how it works – your world is a mystery to me. For 3D animators, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS GOOD AND PURE! Do NOT go through the pains of designing and modelling and rigging a character unless it is your design skill, modelling powers or rigging magic that you want to show off. Find a rig that would work for your chosen studio, download and animate it. If a studio is hiring an animator, they want to see the best of your animation, not animation limited to a mediocre model or rigging attempt. Download a rig, it’s so much easier.

Animation Graduate Advice, Pt1.1 – Learn What You Want To Do

The other day, a guy got in contact on LinkedIn. He had just graduated from the same animation course that I did 12 years before and simply asked for advice about getting into the industry.

A lot has changed since I graduated – most significantly the course had changed from teaching 3D animation to 2D animation – and that’s a world I know less about. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about what advice I would have liked to receive when I graduated all those years ago, and more specifically, what advice I could give that was non-medium specific.

I had a think about it and came up with a simple, almost obvious, almost idiotic answer. 

Learn. 

There is still so much to learn, even after three years of Uni. Heck! An animator is gonna spend the rest of their life learning – learning software from online resources, learning techniques from mentors, learning how to humble yourself when that director makes a decision you disagree with – it’s all learning. But at this moment, speaking to recent graduates who are trying to get their foot through the door and break into the industry, there are a couple of key things I think should be learned.

Learn what you want to do

It might seem strange – graduates just want to get a job and get money, and that’s fine – but learning what sort of stuff you want to do at an early stage will really help steer your career. This particular lesson might take years of job-hopping from studio to studio, but I think it is important for an animator to recognise what they actually want to do, then aim for it.

Is there a show or game you have always wanted to work on? Is there a specific animation style that you love, or industry you want to work for? Do you want to work in the TV industry or work in games or motion graphics? Do you love character performance or is there a thrill or effects like water or explosions, or do you want to do something a little more contemporary?

Figure out what style of animation you want to produce, what audience you want to animate for, and seek out the studios that do that work.

Ask yourself, what about this studio’s work draws you to them? Is it something about how they use line, colour, motion or camera angles? What techniques do they use? Analyse their work, frame by frame if you need to, see if there is something specific about their animation that makes it a specific style of that studio. Is the animation language realistic or stylised, soft or snappy? What software does the studio use? I can tell you now that it will be easier to get a job if you already know the software!

But all of this starts from a place of recognising what you want to do and finding studios who do it. Analyse their work, start experimenting and get excited!

  • Caveat: This is not to say you should idolise studios, merely give yourself something to aim for. It is easy to become so focused on one studio that any rejection (and there will be rejections) can be very painful. Alternatively, you may find yourself working for very little, just to get the experience. If this is what you want, then go with confidence, but remember, this isn’t sustainable a way of working. By all means, get excited about work, but please keep your emotions in check and don’t get lost down that rabbit hole.
  • Side Note: It might be worth mentioning that you may have to relocate to get a job you want. This can be more difficult for some than others, especially if you have a good community around you where you currently live. For others, it might be the most natural thing in the world. Either way, I feel I must state that relocation is a very real thing in this industry. 

Two Headed Animation

So for a few months throughout 2020, I had the privilege to work with Derek Friesenborg (Moana, Frozen, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) on a personal project he had been working on for a while.

I joined several other very talented animators to help bring the animation to life, taking a short, 15 second section and running with it! Above is a proxy render I did of the final 15 seconds. As you will note, the cloth sim has not been done and lighting/rendering is my own work for the purpose of sharing the piece.

This project, done in spare time, was a really great opportunity to work with such a great animator. Derek has such a keen eye for motion and was able to direct wonderfully from the other side of the Atlantic, using a mix of written feedback, draw-overs and a number of in-depth zoom calls.

At times, the feedback really tested me, forcing me to look at the animation with a level of detail I hadn’t reached before, considering how the personality of each character should come across, even in this, a very subtle scene.

When I got the approval and permission to share the work, I set up a basic lighting rig and played with layers and effects in After Effects to create a visual style I have been using for my Finngirm Studios work. it’s pretty basic, but I think a pretty cool style.

For more on the Two Headed Cop project, visit www.figmentanimation.com.

Working with Derek was a great learning experience as well as an opportunity to be part of a really fun project. I look forward to seeing the final piece hopefully later this year.

Cheers!

Oz

Christmas Illustrations!

Every Christmas, my wife and I meet up with a group of friends, have a big board games night in and exchange gifts! A lovely festive event that, if I am honest, I find quite stressful. The reason being that, frankly, I am pretty bad at picking gifts for people, and their gifts always seem quite thoughtful.

I have tried to mix things up in the past (to varying degrees of success – mostly of the ‘fail’ category), but this year I tried something out, and I am very proud with the results!

First thing that you need to know is that I am pretty sure these guys would all describe them selves as being fairly geeky! Comics, cartoons, boardgames and DnD are pretty standard passtimes, and so I thought I would present each of them with a personalised, hand-drawn (well, Cintiq on Photoshop) illustration of themselves in a style fitting them!

As all things good in life, these ideas started out as simple sketches, then exploded from there!

Alex

One great thing about Alex and Lorna’s place is that they have an entire room decorated with early Jack Kirby-esque illustrations of Marvel characters. I have no idea why, but I knew I had to draw him in this style, and it had to be as a Galactus style figure – I think he has a t-shirt with Galactus Breakfast Cereal, or something.

Either way, I knew this would be a challenge, as Kirby’s style is something I had never tried before, and felt very alien to my own style! Reference was key, especially for the line work! There are so many interesting things going on with the inking that I have never really understood, so I just… well… copied! the colours on the other hand were so simple! Block colours! Thank you!

As Alex is quite a handy chap, always happy to help with any DIY issue we might have, the thought of him being the “Fixer of Worlds” and his weapon being a roll of duct tape amused me! To add to the feel of a comic cover, I recreated the box in the top left corner with illustrations of the five of us I did for my wedding.

And then we have the background. The famous Kirby Crackle. If this is my first time replicating his inking style, it is for sure my first (and possibly only) venture into a wold of abstract dots. The less time spent dwelling on that the better, but I should point out that the final version is the best of many terrible attempts!

Finally, I added a Multiply and Screen paper texture to give it that early print feel and a little “FROWNED UPON BY THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY” gag!

Lorna

The first thing to note about Lorna is her love for her dogs, Yoshi and Zelda. When I first started this, I wanted to keep a marvel/DC theme for each illustration, my mind drawing to the likes of Squirrel Girl for this one, but it never sat well. Then I decided to go full Pokemon and it all fell into place! Plus, I spent most of my early teens practicing a manga style.

Still, reference was key. What did a Pokemon comic cover look like? I dunno. Turns out it has more of an illustrative colouring style than the block colour I was hoping for! But a key element was the composition and laying out of the characters, which changed time and time again through the process.

The lines for this piece were fun, and I have regained a love for the standard Photoshop brush! I also found a great Pokemon style font that, with a bit of adjusting, gave me the title I wanted.

I messed around with the 3D settings (which as a 3D animator I found remarkably frustrating) to get the final title and started blocking in flat colours, and from there, another layer to add shade and highlights. As you can see, sometime I forgot to use the new layer, and just went on painting! Yey for a destructive workflow!

So initially Yoshi was going to be a more suave and calculated character, whereas Zelda was more ‘leaping-into-battle’, which I think suits their personalities well, but Yoshi just ended up looking a bit annoyed. So that had to change!

And finally a colourful, magic background and a couple of additional comic inspired overlays!

Andy

And finally it was Andy’s turn! I was really looking forward to this one, as it is very rare that I get the opportunity to just paint!

Andy is a big DnD fan, so I figured his illustration had to be of him in a DM’s role, in an art style similar to the DnD books. As I didn’t have all the time in the world, nor the crazy skills those artists have, I knew it wouldn’t quite hit the mark, but I am very proud with what I created nevertheless!

Where to start? Maybe references. Andy used to wear a big fedora and pirate-esque coat. It was a cool look, and the classic look when I think of him. He also likes ravens, so I knew I wanted one on his shoulder.

Once I hand the sketch down, I started messily locking out shapes using one of KNKL’s brushes (Chalk – it’s amazing for this sort of stuff!). Then it was a simple case of building up the layers. Adding more detail here, duplicating the later and adding more detail there.

I spent far too long trying to get his face to look right. I was painting and repainting, liquifying and nudging, using all the tools I knew to shape his head and get it as close to him as possible. I might do a gif of all of the layers of different Andy heads I have!

Finally I found myself in a position where I was happy with the foreground, but the background was lacking. So I looked at a couple of the DnD books and found that the Dungeon Masters Guide had this great magical misty fog which brough a bit of light and a splash of a different colour into the piece, so I spent a while painting something similar into my scene.

Print

When I had the three up to a point where I was happy to call them finished (and had run out of time), I had them printed at a local specialist and my wife and I framed them up.

The whole project probably took me three or four weeks of evenings and weekends, interspersed with other Christmas projects I had on. I have to say, I am really proud of the way these have turned out, so I got a little print for myself!

We passed the wrapped frames to the guys and opened them up over zoom, then proceeded to have a nice festive evening of online board games!

I hope you all had a great Christmas, making the most of what we can this year! It has been a difficult year, no doubt, but I hope you have been able to keep well and safe.

Thanks for reading! God bless!

Oz

A couple of Freelance Projects – 2020 retrospective

Hey guys! It’s been a while. I mean, it’s been a LONG while! I still have “Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 3” to do, and I’ve been meaning to do that for MONTHS!

But today I’m gonna talk to you about a different subject – how nice it is to see freelance projects get released!

Now it has always been a pleasure to see something I have worked on released into the wild, and see people’s reactions to it, be that good or bad. The fact of the matter is that either way, something has been released, and I was part of bringing it all together.

What has been interesting is, as a freelance animator who prefers the shorter contracts, I have seen a couple of projects released this year, rather than waiting years for one project.

In this post I will share what I can, and talk a little bit about my involvement in the project.

Gods Will Fall – Clever Beans

This is probably the project that has inspired this post. Released a couple of days ago, this is an announcement trailer for a project I worked on as a freelance animator for the first 6 months of the year.

I primarily spent that time animating bad guys, and these are pretty sick and twisted characters, each one with a unique style and backstory – I’m not sure how far in to the lore the game goes, but the game designer created a world rich with story and lore!

It was a fun project with different characters and therefore different challenges and opportunities! it has a very intriguing art style, and I’m looking forward to it’s release!

Hercules Journey – BlackBoard Studios

After working on a game where you killed gods, I worked on a this lovely project; an in-game promo for a casual game about Hercules!

The great and difficult thing about this project was that I was the only animator working on it! I had four weeks (FOUR WEEKS!) to pull this together from layout to polished animation!

Now, for me, that was quite the feat! I am really proud with how this has turned out. Sure, the story is a little cheesy, but it works for the target audience of the game, so that’s good. And the rendering that those guys did is incredible!

I have just finished a follow-up project for these guys. This time it was a total of 5 weeks work – good fun, but pretty full-on!

Godfall Combat Trailer – The Trailer Farm

Man, games today really push the ideas that men can triumph over gods, ey? Very greek indeed.
I had a couple of weeks between projects, and was ready to sit back and relax for a little while, when I got a call from the Trailer Farm. What they wanted literally slotted into the 8 days I had.

This was an interesting project, not like anything else I had done – taking in-game animation assets, laying them out and blending them together to be rendered super slow-mo for this trailer. I only worked on a couple of shots at the start of this trailer, and one of the shots was literally 7 frames long that would be slowed down in-engine for the render.

This, along side the already animated assets, made the project surprisingly difficult. There were a lot of restraints with what you could do with in-game animations. Sometimes what works in-game doesn’t work for cinematic trailers, but due to the nature of the trailer these assets couldn’t be messed with in any major way.

Still, for a couple of days work, it was a really interesting project with a great group of people!

Old Spice – Red Knuckle

This was another 4 week project, working with a small team of people to put together a Madden-style advert for Old Spice.

Now, I have always been a fan of the Old Spice adverts – they bring so much off-the-wall humour to their marketing, so this was a a really fun opportunity.

This time, we were given a bunch of mocap assets used in an American Football game that we needed to blend together and animate on top of.

For this project I found myself in more of a Lead role. I spent a lot of time working with the other animators, making sure they had the correct animation assets, applying the mocap data to the rigs and sending them over. I also felt, due to the quick turn around, that I needed to keep on top of the organisation of the team. After a couple of moments of pandemonium (some artists having too much work to do whilst others didn’t really know what to get on with), it was really important for me to know who was working on what shot at what point. I made real good friends with spreadsheets for this project!

As such, apart from some initial layouts of a couple of shots – and a centralised run-cycle animation asset for Derrick Henry for animators to work on top of – I only really took control of one shot. I bit the bullet. And spent a lot of time on the first shot.

As you can see, this shot has two American Football teams attacking each other! That’s like 22 high-poly characters aggressively interacting with each other. It was a nightmare of manipulating mocap data to fit the interactions, adding hand-keyed poses, and doing all of this across about 5 different Maya files as my machine at the time couldn’t handle everything at once!

It was a great challenge to overcome, and though it could be polished more, I am really happy with the shot I ended up with, all things concidering!

Further Projects

Needless to say, they year hasn’t ended yet, and there are more projects to add to this list. And I will do, as and when they arrive. But for now, this is all I can share, so watch this space for more of my work.

And I promise I will get round to doing the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 3 some point soon!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 2

Hello Everybody!

So I managed to go a head and do my second write up of the things I have learned as I have tried to Up-Skill my animation game throughout Lockdown.

In the Lockdown and Up Skill Part 1, I discussed the concepts of Leading and Following body parts, Separation of body parts, and the use of reference and drawovers. I based these comments around my first AnimSquad assignment – Overmine.

I also outlined where a lot of this info has come from, with a lot of great resources for you to check out, so if you would like to know more about what I’m talking about below, some of those resources are great first places to look!

This time I would like to use my second AnimSquad assignment to discuss a couple of other concepts in animation.

Enjoy!

Rifle – AnimSquad Expert Assignment 2 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

1 – Animators are Actors, find the emotion!

Animators, especially character animators, are Actors. If you don’t like that, you’re welcome to read on and learn something.

As animators, it is up to us to sell the performance of a piece. Sure we can sometimes be provided with a storyboard or animatic that suggests some of the key story beats, but how those story beats are portrayed as final actions is up to us (with the directors approval, obviously). And acting all comes from one place – Emotion.

If we are doing a pantomime piece, we need to figure out what the emotional changes are in the piece – is it a transition from happy to sad, bored to excited, a place of calm to a place of pain? And to what extent? Have they just pricked their finger or hit it with a hammer#? How would the contrast between calm and pain differ in each of those examples?

If we are doing a dialogue piece, we need to figure out what the underlying subtext of the text is, and where the energy is coming from. A simple example of this is thinking about the number of ways you could read this line; I didn’t take his money. How would the subtext change depending on the emphasis of the voice actor’s delivery?

I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, honest!
I didn’t take his money. – I’m innocent, now stop pushing me!
I didn’t take his money.
– But I did hide it somewhere…
I didn’t take his money.
– I took her money…
I didn’t take his money.
– I took his soulllll, mwah hah hah haaaarrr!!!!!

Either way, the point is this, Animators need to be in the emotional head spaces of their characters. I think I said it in my last post, but all movement is motivated by emotion.

Oh yeah, here it is…

2 – Animators are Actors, so chill the heck out!

There is acting and then there is overacting.

For this shot I filmed my own reference, but also got a friend of mine to film some stuff so I could see a more feminine take on the audio. There was one point in my reference that I really wanted to hit – a look where she says ‘came knocking’. I wanted to screw her face up, almost disgusted by the thought, but my friend went super subtle.

The thought that I had, the pose that I had created and loved, was shot down as being over acting, and Marlon Nowe (my mentor at AnimSquad) loved the subtleties of my friend’s reference.

One piece of great advice I have hear is from Jellyfish Pictures’s Arron Baker. He mentions in an AnimDojo video that an animator shouldn’t shoot reference to the text, but the subtext of a piece.

When shooting to the text, animators tend to spend more time in a headspace which screams ‘WHAT IS THE NEXT LINE AND WHAT SHOULD I DO!!!’ A performance would be stunted and less natural. Try it. Act out in front of a mirror the following line.

“What would you do if someone came knocking?”

Now try to act to the subtext, dont worry about the line, just the feeling of it.

“I’m worried that I might have to sacrifice my own safety to save others.”

Acting to subtext will open up a more naturalistic motion because you are in the emotional headspace of the character. The most difficult part of this is fitting the acting to the beats of the dialogue. This is something I haven’t quite got my head around yet, but with a more practice I hope I’ll get there!

3 – Character Separation

I say character separation, but this concept can relate to anything. Simply put, remember those shots in the Transformers films where everything is happening on screen at the same time. Well I’m talking about that. Or at least the idea to avoid that.

A game of Spot the Autobot.

Audiences aren’t stupid, but most of them only have one pair of eyes, and if you have too much happening on screen at the same time, your audience is going to be unsure where to look, or even worse, be distracted from the purpose of the scene.

In this shot, I have two characters, one reacting to what the other is saying, but my animation was so overacted and overlapping the action of the other character, that it became a distraction. The audience was only going to look in one place, and like a well trained magician (trained? do you get professionally trained magicians?), it is part of our job to direct the attention of the audience.

Simply offsetting these movements, so only one character is acting at a time, really helped the shot work holistically. The audience has time to recognise that the first character’s action is over before looking at the second character.

I had this feedback in my previous piece as well, two hands were moving when I wanted the attention to be on the character’s face. Simply reducing those movements – making them more subtle – turns them into background movements, something there to suggest life but not distracting, which was what my shot needed.

4 – SyncSketch, again.

I mentioned SyncSketch last time, and I’m gonna mention it again.

I noticed during the AnimSquad workshop, that I was getting quite strong, physically. You see, I bought some dumbbells just before Lockdown, and have them next to my desk. Every time I did a playblast of my work, I could either sit and wait, or I could stand and weight!

And I found that I was doing a LOT of playblasts!

But rather than analysing them in Quicktime (which, don’t get me wrong, is a nice piece of kit allowing you to frame through the anim), I found it easier to make notes on SyncSketch. You can watch and scrub through (with audio) and make notes and drawovers.

Again, you can do this in Maya by doing a playblast, throwing that back into Maya as an Image Plane and going at it with Grease Pencil (as shown below), but this adds another step, and is less easy than using SyncSketch.


So that’s it for this part of my chatting… have a great time, and please let me know if you find this sort of info interesting and useful!

Cheers!

Oz

Lockdown and Up Skill – Part 1

Hey guys!

I hope you are all doing well, especially through these unprecedented times. I really hope that you have all been able to be fruitful during lockdown, and as for me, I would like to share a couple of animation things that I have learned through this period.

Before Lockdown started, I had made plans to learn as much as I could and develop my skills as an animator. I had purchased Yuri Lementi’s Animation Box programme, signed up for Marlon Nowe’s AnimSquad Expert Workshop, and discovered that Ken Fountain had added a load more tutorials at Splatfrog.com.

I scoured a load of other online resources, including Sir Wade’s youtube channel, Eddie Chew’s Griffin Academy live sessions, and Blue Zoo’s AnimDojo, which had generously been free throughout lockdown.

All of these are great resources that you should definitely check out if you want to up skill your animation work!

I just want to take this opportunity to share my latest animations and a couple of insights I have gained during this time.

WARNING! This is not an animation tutorial in the sense of how to get timing and weight correct, but a couple of principles I have found deeper than that! I am also writing these down as a way to cement the ideas in my mind and use as personal reference later. If they help you, then that’s amazing also!

Overmind – AnimSquad Expert Assignement 1 – Mentored by Marlon Nowe

This animation was a super fun, super cartoony shot, and my first shot for the AnimSquad workshop. From this, I want to point out four key points.

1 – What is Leading, what is Following?

I remember an animation director once telling me that he could ‘see’ my keys when reviewing my work. What he meant was that my actions all tended to start and end on the same frames, splined together. And, man, it was ugly.

So… say you have two key frames.
These are Story-based keys (which is to say they describe the story of the piece) and not Animation-based keys (which is to say how the how the movement flows – a breakdown).

Lets say a teenage girl looking at her phone – first key. She is then distracted by something behind her and turns to look – second key. We have 20 frames to fill.
Now, if all body parts start moving and ending at the same time, even with anticipation and overshoot, this would look robotic. As humans, we don’t move this way, we tend to lead with certain body parts, getting them into position, then allow the other body parts to catch up.

And why?

Because all human movement is motivated by emotion.

So what does this mean? Well we should figure out, what emotion is motivating the movement and then separated the body parts to start and end at different times in order to relay this emotion.

In my example of the girl and her phone, how would the movement read if her body moved before her head her head moved before her body?

Well, if her body moved first, and then the head, it would suggest more of an interest on whats on her phone, and really not bothered about what’s going on behind her. She’s looking at her phone until the last moment. We would probably get the body into position by frame 5, keeping her head looking down. Then she finally looks up.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. body leading, head following

If her head moves first, then the body, it suggests that she is more concerned with what is behind her. The head – being the describer of the individual’s attention – looks up quick, and her body then comes into position after. This could suggest she is shocked by whatever it is that made the noise.

A very basic anim to illustrate a point. Head leading, body following

This is basically the idea of overlapping actions, but in a way I had never considered before, and it really helps the movement feel good, flow, and convey emotion.

2 – Separation is a great thing!

So what we have with Leading and Following body parts is separation. And separation can be used with great effect when animating a cartoony shot.

Because of the dynamics of timing and spacing used in this shot – the fact that some movements are super chill, then super fast, then super chill again – I could really use separation to a high degree.

to show the lag on the head, and how it’s translation had been animated

There are parts of this animation where the body moves, but the head lags behind, stays in position before following. And though it might not be physically accurate, it is more appealing to see than if everything was connected – it’s more organic. It also gives us the ability to perform very quick movements without confusing the audience, allowing the audience to recognise a pose before moving on.

3 – Blocked Vs Layered

Now this is all keeping in the same ballpark at the moment. With Lead/Follow and Separation, we aren’t considering the story-telling poses themselves, but how our character is moving from one to the other. This is the idea of adding breakdown, and there are two main approaches to this: blocked and layered.

The blocked approach is the one I am used to. Your keys are set to stepped and you will key all controls on every other frame if you have to (this is called ‘animating on 2s’ – the idea that you leave nothing to chance and sculpt your pose every 2 frames).

This gives a LOT of control over your animation, but you end up with a billion keys that might not work as you had hoped when you go into spline. Therefore, you’re gonna spend a LOT more time polishing your animations, getting each key to behave how you want in relation to it’s neighbouring keys.

This is the approach I am more used to, and tools like Animbot really help here. But the Layered approach seems more fun and free.

Simply put, the Layered approach is like a mix of pose to pose and straight ahead animation. You have your two poses to want to transition between, now you animate straight ahead to get those breakdowns. Nothing is on stepped, everything is on splined, and you grab and move and twist your controls, keying them wherever you like, with no regard to the keys of the other controls.

This seemed really alien to me – and still does – but if you start from the hips and radiate out, you can create some really fluid motions quite quickly, and means that you don’t have to spent as much time in polish as you would with the blocked approach – the polishing is almost part of this method!

This is something I will be striving to incorporate as part of my own workflow, but this will take a lot of time and a lot of practice! So wish me luck!

4 – Re-shoot Reference and Draw Overs.

Let’s change the subject and talk about reference for a moment.

For the most part, reference is meant to be just that, reference. It is not meant to be rotoscoped so that each frame is matched exactly (unless, obviously, that’s what you’re going for), but is there to influence your ideas of key attitudes and little flourishes you may not have considered if you’d just animated from your imagination.

With this in mind, there were a couple of points through this shot where the animation just WAS NOT WORKING. No matter how close to the reference I tried to get it, the movement just looked wrong and ugly. I spent days trying to get one thing right and to a point where it would do, but I wasn’t happy with it.

After having the opportunity to consider what actions I really wanted, I reshot the reference to suit. I reanimated that section and polished it in no time!

It really made me think; there is nothing wrong with re-shooting reference, and would save time in the long run if you’re not happy with what you have.

Obviously there are some movements that work really well in animation, but impossible to shoot reference for. For me and this shot, it was the stylised, arcing arm movements during those fast moments.

I had a plan in my mind – had even drawn out some pencil tests – but getting them to work in Maya was a nightmare! I spent ages posing these movements in Maya, often frame by frame as they were so quick, and still they didn’t work.

an early drawover for the ending


Then it struck me – why spend so long posing when you could do a simple draw over in a fraction of the time? So I made a playblast of the section I was struggling with, got it into a fresh scene (as an image plane), and used grease pencil to sketch out how I wanted it to look. It took me a fraction of the time it would have if I had posed each frame, and allowed me to get a better sense of how the movement would look sooner.

Once I was happy with it, I brought it back into my scene and posed to the sketches.

This worked so well, and saved my so much time! I would definitely recommend doing a quick draw over, frame by frame, using Grease Pencil or SyncSketch if you are struggling with a quick and cartoony movement!

Ok! So there are my thoughts, the first part of my Lockdown Up skill blogs. I hope this has been an interesting read, and possibly helped you in your journey to up-skilling your own animation.

Cheers for reading! See you next time!

Oz

Character Reel 2020!

Responsible for all animation
00:04 – Overmine – AnimSquad Assignment
00:14 – Truth – AnimSquad Assignment
00:24 – Spiderman – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:30 – Splinter Role – Animation Mentor Assignment
00:36 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:39 – Personal Body Mechanics Test
00:47 – Rifle – AnimSquad Assignment

Wowzers, it’s been 2 years since I updated my reel – I almost can’t believe that…

But here we are with a brand new reel, and I’m so excited to share it with you all!

I have really learned a lot in the past 6 months, not only due to the amazing critique from Marlon Nowe, but just a general thirst to learn! I hope to write a couple of blog posts about my experiences and the key things I have learned soon, so stay tuned!

Thanks for watching, God bless!

Oz