Tuesday, 12 November 2013


After a good twenty seconds of trying to come up with a pun-laden title for this post, I thought I might just crack on with it. (The closest I got was some play on words of Gabby Agbonlahor's favourite band, 'One Direction')

I was given the opportunity to animate for The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS), who are a charitable company that work to enhance the capacity and capability of the social services workforce for the benefit of people who use them, in Scotland, but I'll start with how I came to be involved.

The project commissioned by IRISS was to enhance visibility of a report produced regarding the benefits of the arts in social care. This was assigned to Pen Mendonça, a freelance Artist and Graphic Facilitator, who had works within private, public and third sectors with a history of working with charitable organisations .
I met Pen at an Animation and Graphic Novel symposium held at Central Saint Martins, and enjoyed how she spoke about her practice, and the development of her PhD. Having previously illustrated on a short video that was produced by a small team of creatives, for the New Economics Foundation, Pen asked for an animator to bring her illustrations to life, and create the final video for IRISS.

I received the brief of the project, and a script for the general idea of how it would be produced. With a short time for turnaround I suggested some changes and we met to discuss them at the CSM Kings Cross campus.

While from the outside illustration and animation seems like very similar disciplines there are various differences in the ways that work is produced between the two and different considerations that you encounter during a collaborative process.
Pen has experience of creating graphic novels, and working in a setting where all the action of an image would be told via a singular shot, if necessary, whereas I try to think of how different shot and frames move together, and how to get the best cinematic balance for them. We do, however, share the ability to storyboard and getting the ideas from script to imagery went very quickly over that afternoon. We devised characters and a basic set-up of the shots that we would eventually use for the final film.

After compiling the short animatic above, I began to sketch more detailed designs of the scene and shot layouts and sent them to Pen, so that she could start to design the backgrounds after she worked on designing the characters, and understand the camera angles that I wanted to employ for each particular scene.
Character Development

I broke the film down into five different scenes, and then a range of shots within those scenes. I'm not sure if this is technically correct, but I classified shots as each time the film changed environment regardless on whether it is a repeated environment.
To clarify, I laid the scenes as the care home, the festival street area, the home, the festival performance area, and the care home again.
From here on out it became a case of modifying, compositing and animating the shots given to me. I did most of the animation using After Effects, but found Photoshop to be a multi-purpose software as well.

Most of the shots arrived as JPEG files, meaning that the background colour needed to be erased, so that when given an Alpha channel only the characters remained visible. To cut the jargon, I had to erase the white from the background. In some cases I also cut out elements from a scene to create different layers so that individual body parts could be moved, independent of each other. For example, shot below would have been broken up into Background and Characters, then the animated elements of each character, be it a nodding head, or a moving arm. Furthermore, objects in the background that would be animated would be placed on their own layer, too. Off the top of my head there were roughly eleven moving elements from the still image below.

It's all connected
This process continued for several days and nights, receiving image files, cutting, layering and then animating them. Overall, the detail of the animation wasn't too strenuous when compared to the sheer volume of work there was to do. Regrettably, waiting for the illustrations to be ready meant a lot of my time was spent trying to tighten the development side of the work, such as animatics and considering editing techniques as the length of the film seemed to be spiralling out of control, and the time that I had left to spend animating, was rapidly decreasing.

Pen and I met again to discuss what was essential to the brief, and what elements of the story could be cut, either because they did not lend anything to the story, or were perhaps too ambitious visually, given the time we had left to us. We decided to alter the ending, interns of scaling down the animation we had planned to do for it, and also to involve the use of visual fading transitions to cut from different shots. Once these tough decisions were made we got back to working on the project, meaning even more late nights and early mornings.

How you livin'?
In the final week of the deadline the workload really began to pile up. My social calendar had long since been ditched, and family members knew I was only leaving my room for refreshments. With the illustrations still ongoing at this point, I knew that I could not complete the project without external help. To reiterate again, the volume of the work rather than its complexity was proving to be the issue. Rather than plough on alone, but live with the very real danger of failing to complete my first project as a director, I hired Jamie Kendall,  to work on some shots that I wouldn't have had time to complete, as it turned out and after an arduous weekend of working flat out we completed the animation. We survived the weekend on copious amounts of tea, and cutting sarcasm.

The next stage was to edit and composite the files that we'd finished over that period mainly using Final Cut Pro to finalise the movie, and add them to the files that I had already started to work on in the days prior. Some further changes were made, as per the request of the client, but for the most art they were editorial decisions that needed to be executed rather than having to animate much more work.

To briefly conclude, I think this project taught me the importance of having a long view of a project and being able to see any potential flaws or issues that crop up, and making the correct strides to address them.

I'd like to give special thanks to Ashley Jones and Maliha Basak for their advice during the process.

Now without further ado, here is the finished article.

1 comment:

  1. Well done Karl, sounds like a pretty stressful job you had there :)