Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Animation

This Christmas, television has been good for animation. A whole raft of Aardman including the Wallace & Gromit films and Creature Comforts Christmas specials.

CBeebies also provided a Christmas special of the Koala Brothers a stop motion animation made by the UK company Spellbound Entertainment Ltd. The brothers fly to the Southpole and return with their penguin friend to spend Christmas in the outback. This childrens programme had an amazing array of weather and technical effects such a the brothers wrestling with a map whilst flying their plane. The range of animal characters are lovable and well made, the sets range from the simple desert of the outback to the snowy south pole set.

Following on the Australian Christmas theme was another Stop Motion film "A very Barry Christmas" made by Canadian company Cuppa Coffee. Due to a flying mixup Barry and Santa get swapped and Santa is forced to feed the animals in Barry's Safari park and Barry attempts to manage Christmas wit the help of elves and reindeer. The animals here are also excellently made characters but aimed at an old audience (they are just not nice!)

Cuppa Coffee also make Celebrity Deathmatch and a wide range of Children's animation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

RIP Joseph Barbera

Today in LA, Joseph Barbera died at the age of 95. One of the influences in my love of animation, Mr Barbera with Mr Hanna provided some of my favourites such as Captain Caveman, Huckleberry Hound the Smurfs and more recently Dexter's Laboratory.
His name will live on through his films for many years from now.

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's animation but not as we know it

Anthony Pascale from Trekmovie reports on CBS considering a new Star Trek series in 2D animation. The new stylings are somewhat like a comic book and has raised some strong opinions from trekkies.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Marvel Ani-Movie

Marvel have got together with Jazwares to provide a kit for animating cutout Marvel Super Heros (or anything else you can draw).

The kit is basically a rostrum camera with variable focus and an output to the TV. It also includes backgrounds and characters. Controls allow you to take take and view the pictures. The results can be saved to an SD card (not included) and transferred to a PC. The camera can also be rotated so that you can animate models. Its available from Toys R Us in the USA and is currently priced at $29.99

Lots of robots automatron

Although I'm a Carrara/Poser user myself, I though it was worth mentioning here a new tool for 3D Studio. Automatron has been developped by Andy Murdock for his film "Lots of Robots".

This tool supliments the built in functionality of 3D Studio such as Biped and Physique.

You can buy 3D Studio Max books at the AceAnim Store, direct links to the relavent sections below.

US Branch

UK Branch

Friday, December 08, 2006

Poser 7 Release Date

Following a series of emails explaining the new features of Poser 7, E-frontier have announced the release date and not surprisingly their servers are swamped with traffic.

"The official release date for Poser 7 English will be Wednesday, December 20, 2006! Electronic versions will be available for immediate delivery, and physical versions will ship as soon as they become available."

It's also your last chance to get a bundle of extra content for free. The offer for the Poser 7 Special Edition retires on December 19, 2006

"Poser 7 Special Edition includes the High Stakes Content Pack (additional value of $79.99). Designed around a “secret agent” theme, the High Stakes Content Pack includes high fashion formal outfits for the new male and female figures shipping in Poser 7, a complete casino scene with props and a sports car. You will also receive a FREE 6 month Passport membership to Content Paradise (valued at $49.99), and a $10 coupon good for any e frontier content from Content Paradise!"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Animation for Christmas

Thanks to a bit of help from Amazon AceAnim now has an Animation store full of Studio Ghibli DVDs, Aardman Animation DVD, Ray Harryhausen, Animation books on a very wide range of topics from Stop Motion to Life Drawing.
The aStore has branches in the USA and the UK, let me know if you think a Canada, France or German branch would be of interest.
Some php script and should auto select the closest shop but if you need to, you can switch to a different branch from the menu at the top.

Friday, December 01, 2006

HDTV 1080i - Standard?

I had the pleasure to attend the John Logie Baird Lecture on The History of HDTV this week. The three speakers from Japan, USA and German explained the progression of technology through the last century which has lead to the situation today with HDTV. The question of why we need more lines was answered in detail but to summarise, bigger screens need more lines to look as good as our existing pictures.

There was some great news as far as I was concerned, all three zones have agreed on a standard for HDTV. So when making new animations I only need to make them in one size...

This is true but not the whole picture (excuse the pun). There are in fact 2 sizes defined in the standard 720p and 1080i. Both of these have a standard aspect ratio of 16:9.

In addition multiple frame rates are defined by the standard, 24/30/60. The 24 is the frame rate used traditionally in film.

For the purposes of animation I don't need to be concerned with the interlacing but the progressive scan has shown to be better for sports coverage and quickly moving objects. One hardware engineer has recently shown that in some cases 1080p compresses better than 1080i so perhaps our future will be interlace free?

So where does this leave me for animations?

Wide screen formats are the imediate future and existing systems can happily manage with those images. So for my next film, I'm definitely going to be looking into making it in a 16:9 format but the actual rendered size will most likely be dependant on my hardware, possibly 540x960 at 30 frames would be a happy compromise.


More about HDTV

Up converter 1080i to 1080p

Down converter 1080i to 525i or 625i


The film resolution standard is 2048 x 1556 and the way they display it on the cinema screen is to crop the top and bottom of the image.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nick Park and Aardman Animation on the Southbank Show

Last night, Melvyn Bragg interviewed Nick Park, with the introduction animated by Nick.

For those of you who missed it, it can be seen on the ITV website.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Making Faces

Image Metrics WarriorI have been known to make faces at myself before but since my last ventures into facial animation with the currently on-hold Captain Correct project it would appear that things have changed. Image Metrics are giving CGI faces some feeling and bringing back actors from the grave. Their warrior character (left) is impressive static but when you see see it talk you are left wondering if they are cheating and using a real person... They are "headed" up by scientists from Manchester who scan the human face and map it onto the computer model without the need for motion capture dots. Their effects will be seen in the next Harry Potter film.

Reading down their list of advisors there's a man who should be no stranger to the tedious processes people historically used. Peter Gabriel and Aardman won awards for their animated music video back in 1987 which involved Peter being covered in clay and pixilated. Aardman are also in the news, they've made a cracking profit this year and are up for an award.

Animating Facial Features and ExpressionsHowever for those of us without the budget of Dreamworks or Disney we are going to have to stick with some simpler techiques. The book Animating Facial Features and Expressions by Bill Flemming and Darris Dobbs is an excellent reference and explains how muscles move the face and is stacked with examples.

My old favourite lipsync tools Magpie and Mimic are also going to come in handy.

E-Frontier is soon to release Poser 7 which contains a new tool called the Talk Designer which sounds quite similar to Mimic's functionality, perhaps we will see a drop in the price of Mimic with the release of Poser?

"With Talk Designer, you have the power to control the type and level of emotion, enunciation, and head and eye movement including the figure's blink rate. Import a sound file and Poser 7 will automatically animate your figure's lip, eye and head movements to match!"

E-Frontier also say:

"Third party content creators will be able to provide configuration files that make any viseme-equipped* figures Talk Designer compatible! * Visemes are the visual representations of phonemes"

Ring Master Mimic-edI'm a little sceptical about this as I've had a few problems with Mimic not correctly loading my Flea Circus Ring Master. The first issue was that there were additional materials in the poser file but I've not quite worked out what the other issues are.

More details when I have them....

Also new since my last entry:

Bryce has a new version with a raft of features too long to mention here. Also Pope JP gets his own animation but I expect he was animated the old fashioned way by hand...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Cool things for sale

Forbidden planet is offering 50% off on the whole Studio Ghibli DVD range. That means that you can pay just £9.99 each.
144 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0UP

Many of these films can also be seen on Film 4

Also spotted this week, were some cat figurines at Play Lounge, I mistakenly thought they were from the Cat Returns but it turns out they are from London based artist Ayako Takagi. Unlike most of Play Lounge's figurines these ones are made from clay rather than vinyl.
19 Beak Street, London, W1F 9RP

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

5050 Zzzz

Olympus are suggesting that I give them £100 to fix the "known issue" with my 5050z media door because the item's out of warranty. My local repair shop is suggesting somewhere between £50 and £100. It looks like I'll have to manage without for a while unless anyone has a good idea that does not end up with the camera in a worst state.

Later this month is the London International Animation Festival which has a massive programme of films and is sponsored by several people including Tiger beer which sounds promising... Perhaps they would sponsor a remake of my beer film?

For those wanting to know how the Flea Film is going, well progress has been a little slow but there has been some thought into what is happening next. The current plan is to complete the Professor's explanationion sequence as a stand alone clip. I've also been looking at alternative video editing tools and a tool for making the wheels on the Ambulance work. The Ambulance sequence is likely to be the next completed segment.

The Wheels modifier for Carrara from Sparrow Hawke does a great job of steering and rotating the wheels but I expect that I will have supplementent it with the Cognito modifier (or hand animation) to make the vehicle wobble as it moves along.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rolling Eyes

The Ring Master Observes a jumping FleaAfter an evening of attempting to get my Ring Master's eyes to follow the jumping fleas, I think I've gone cross eyed myself. I've put the Ring Master on a diet too with his chunky hands slimming down a bit to help with the handling of the fleas.
The dreaded floor texture is on its latest iteration but I'm still not totally happy with it. The backdrop has been redone with new textures and a few lumps and bumps to make it look less artificial so I'm quite pleased with how that has turned out.

You can see the latest film at TheFleaFilm site along with an updated production plan

Over the last couple of months there was a great advert on the television. The "bag of smiles" advert for the National lottery brought smiles to the faces the viewers and to everyone in Marc Craste's fictitious world. Marc's film is enhanced by added grainyness and a fake film effect which is a nice touch as the music is A smile and a ribbon by Patience and Prudence who recorded this back in the 1950s. The exploding pillow is an amazing effect and the characters and sets are of a reminisant of Dr Zeus illustrations. Unfortunately the advert is no longer showing but you can Watch the advert at Visit4Info or at StudioAKA (follow the news links)

Other things to watch are the new DVDs available from BAA. The British Animation Awards new DVD is out volume 6 and is available from the Tate and shortly to be available on the website.

Everyone's favourite Czech Surealist Animator Jan Svankmajer has a showing of Little Otik at the Riverside studios Thursday 22nd June and I can recomend a visit.

Monday, April 03, 2006

To South Kensington and Beyond

I returned from a work trip to Denmark to discover that everyone in London appears to be talking about animation at the moment...

In South Kensington, the Science Museum is running an exhibition entitled "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation", this is supplemented by a series of talks and a competition. The talks span a wide range of topics and the speakers are respected names in the academic and animation industry. Book early to avoid disapointment!

Over at the National Portrait Gallery there is a special screening of Contemporary Animation with Iain Sinclair followed by a discussion with guest film makers. I'm not quite sure what they mean by Contemporary Animation but as it's an art gallery, I presume it's animation from the same period as contemporary art which should make for a very interesting talk.

Whilst looking for some inspiration on a viewfinder shot for the "Fleacam", I stumbled across the blog of another animator, T R Norton and also Angry Puppet Films which was good but it wasn't what I needed, looks like I'll just have to use my imagination...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

All things Irish

So its that time of year again when all of us dig into a wardrobes and find something green to wear and bow to the patron saint of Irist Stout drinks. If you did not already know or had not realised from my hints, tomorrow is St Patricks day!
I was reminded of some smashing short films I saw at Gatwick airport whilst waiting for a flight to Denmark back late last year. Jamersons had set up a stand to promote their product and also had some large screens showing what I vaguely remember to be a claymation talk show. I did a quick search for this relavent festival but because Jamersons sponsor quite so many events I failed to find it. So if anyone remembers that film or has a picture please send it in.
However for all you Irish animators out there I did find out that the Irish Film Board is looking for New Irish Animation, however don't delay in sending your forms as there is only a month left till the deadline.
The Island of Inis CoolAlso in my websearch quest for the best of Irish Animation, I came across "The Land Before Time", "American Tale" and "All Dogs go to heaven". A recent series in production called "The Island of Inis Cool" which is a joint project between Ocon, TerraGlyph and LuxAnimation. This again helps to squash the myth that CGI always has a particular sytle as it mimics claymation and stopmotion in style.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Clay of many forms

So this weekend was the Oscars and good old British claymation in the form of Wallace and Gromit won the day over two other excellent films "The Corpse Bride" and "Howl's Moving Castle". The winner of the short animation was "The Moon and the Son" by John Canemaker which I've not had a chance to see, so won't comment on it.

In W&G there is one "effects" piece that required the use of CGI and that was the bunnies in the "Bun-vac" that were added by Jason Wen of the Motion Picture Company. The comment was that CGI was needed here because of the complexity of the floating required. This problem is something I know well from the jump shot in Ratobat which took considerably longer that of the others as each frame was manually painted out.
This raises the obvious question which is if CGI can be made to look like claymation then how long will it be before any style of animated film will be entirely produced in CGI? Is it still "easier" to animation in stop motion than in CGI? In my latest Flea Circus experiment, I have almost achieved the effect of a clay like skin on the Ring Master (although initially I had intended more of a muppet texture) . This was done by following a Carrara tutorial on Renderosity.Com which was shader recipie for skin.

However, I was not watching the Oscars myself, I was watching CGI clay in the form of The Potter. This excellent short film was a college piece inspired by a quote from the bible and is reviewed in issue 75 of 3D world. Look out for who gets "thanks" in the credits.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

This little piggy went to market

Yesterday our office was full of pink squishy pigs from a company called "PigsBack". Each employee had collected at least 2 in the course of the day and they were being posed and piled in all sorts of positions.

Due to my trip to the NFT yesterday pancakes got delayed till today so I headed straight home after work. On the trip back I got thinking about a quick animation I could make using the pigs and was reminded of the "This little piggy when to market" nursery rhyme.

Following the pancakes, I setup a piece of old carpet in a curve similar to a photography studio to be a grassy hill and my lighting dimmer from the Ratobat project was literally dusted off.
I put my trusty Olympus 5050 (not so trusty now it has a fault with the memory card door) on a tripod and after a quick delve in the manual, I "remembered" how to turn on the remote and get the manual focus working. With some help from my glamorous assistant / narrator, a few hours later a new stop motion animation film was completed.

Watch the Little Pig Film

They say never work with children or animals but these pigs were great fun to animate. However the most tempremental performers in this piece were the peas. Next time I'll coat those peas in honey...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

NFT and Animation

As part of the British Animation Awards over at the NFT there was a lecture session called "Animation and Computer Tools: Who Rules?" with Gaelle Denis (Fish Never Sleep, City Paradise), Darren Walsh (Angry Kid) . Run Wrake (Rabbit) was swapped with Osbert Parker (Film Noir)

On the way in a chap asked "why are you here", it was a good question so I had a think about that during the session... General interested I told him. He also asked if I'd ever finished any films so I mentioned that I had made three (as I'd forgotten about Big man little cigar).

The session was entertaining and looked at three different animators and their old and new works with some discussion about how they were made. A man from Adobe demoed how easy it was to swap low and hi resolution images in After Effects as well as explaining how he helped convert a project from Digibeta to 35mm Film quality (1828x1536) and switching from 25fps to 24fps.

The general conclusion from the pannel was that computers are a necessary evil. However all of the panel did use computers for editing and some for actual production, either CGI or drawn animation using computer tools.

However the question that remained in my mind following the session was how do you manage it all? Osbert's slightly cryptic answer was to use the story. Later panel answered indirectly and commented on Storyboards, Notebooks and Treatments.

So why was I there? Motivation was my key reason and I got bucket loads as many of the panel were creating films like myself in their spare time and taking a long time to do so. I was also hoping for some inspiration on planning and this session did provide some ideas and more motivation. The panel were also impressed that I'd managed to film some of my animations in a day and commented that this was good for creativity.

Coincidentally when I got home the next chapter in the book I was reading Animation: The Mechanics of Motion just so happened to be about production planning...