13/04/15 - That Zoetrope I've Been On About For Two Years

Here it is! This edit's been sitting around twiddling it's thumbs for ages as I wasn't happy with it really, but what the heck here it is anyway. Might get around to doing sound for it one day, but I've said that before.

Ok, a bit more detail, if you insist. The idea for this one was to create this eerie, writhing object that could be viewed as a whole and that would reveal more detailed levels of animation as you got closer to it. This just didn't work, whether it was because of the materials I used, the density of the layers and ink or the lighting set up, I'm not too sure. However, I tried to salvage something from the footage so I ended up layering and compiositing it in after effects, with fairly interesting results I guess - I just don't really like doing that with these zoetropes because I feel it takes something away from the technique. Anyway, next one coming soon...

11/11/14 - BYOB - NeoN Closing Party

Another tentative step towards the Paris exhibition next year, I tested out a zoetrope in public for the first time the other night.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) was this year's closing party for the NeoN digital arts festival in Dundee, and they put out an open call for people bring their stuff along to project. I was really just interested to see how it would work in an exhibition-like space, how people would react to it, would they get what was going on, would there be too much going on, would it just look good and make sense etc etc.

Here's the set up (no decent video unfortunately, as my camera was providing the live feed for the wall projection). It's basically the same as the IPT2 video, but it was all happening live in the space.

I think it actually worked really well and is probably the best way to present the zoetropes, as it's all laid bare in front of you so it's easy to make the connections and understand what's going on, as opposed to the videos I post online, which I think require too much of an explanation of the processes behind them. Looking forward to coming up with something fancy for this exhibition now :)

06/11/14 - Cardboard Quickie

It looks like I'm going to be taking part in an exhibition in Paris next year (more on that as it happens), involving some sort of zoetrope set up
, so I wanted to start thinking about the sort of thing I might do for it. The 20 layer stuff I've been playing about with (see previous posts) is far too flimsy to be carting across Europe I think, so I need to come up with something more sturdy for the trip. I put this cardboard thing together without too much thought, over a couple of weeks I had to spare recently.

It has the usual problem of the central parts not really working properly and it doesn't really work well when the whole object is in view (hence the series of close up shots in that video), but I like the pulsating movement and the flickering colours. I've already got more ideas on how to take this approach forward, possibly inviolving a laser cutter for more intricate stuff, if I can get access to one.

Here's a Photoshop mock up.

08/10/14 - Some Abstract Ideas

These are just a few quick animations I put together as part of my research for a job I'm working on at the moment. They're a bit too intense for the 2 year old target audience, so I thought I'd put them here instead. The sound is done in Nanoloop, a bit of software that allows you to play about with the sound chip of the original grey brick Gameboy

03/07/14 - Zoetrope Update

Hello, I've finished building and filming (pretty much) the latest Zoetrope! Yay!
It's not quite ready to be shown off in all it's glory yet as I'm collaborating with artist Sam Spreckley (he's working on some sound design for it) on a little abstract (very) short film with it. I'll go into more detail on it once the film's done, but here's a photo for now to get you excited!

Also, I've been doing a bit of blogging over on my Film Annex profile about my development of the zoetrope technique over the years, as a sort of build up to this film, with added hindsight, regrets, highs and lows - I'm hoping they might give a slightly different perspective to the generally of-the-moment ramblings I tend to post on here, so please do check them out if you're interested.

Here's a link!

- Some Smallpetitklein Bits

Just thought I'd put a couple of things up that I did for SPK over the last year. First up, The Adventures Of Isabel, a dance piece for kids, interspersed with animations and currently in the R&D phase (hence the lack of info in that banner image) but coming to schools in and around Dundee soonish. The gif below is part of the intro sequence, but on a loop. (Edit: I've stuck the finished poster for the show in here now too)

And this is a poster I did for Dundee Dance Partnership's Dance Trail last year, which takes the audience on a tour of Dundee, with people dancing all over it. It was a 50's theme.

29/04/14 - I Have Been Working On Stuff, Honest

Bloody hell, it's nearly a year since I posted anything!
It's been a busy year, it's just I've not really done much I've felt belongs on the site for one reason or another.

I've worked on a couple of projects for Norwich Puppet Theatre, both of which were really good fun, but I totally failed to capture any footage of the shows that would do them justice, and the animations just wouldn't make sense on their own, out of context. And the same goes for the two or three jobs I've done for dance company Smallpetitklein. I should get my act together really.

Anyway, I have been slowly but surely plugging away at my latest zoetrope effort in between jobs, so I thought I'd stick a few images and a video up here for anyone who's curious.

This is the mock up I made in After Effects, so in theory the final thing should look something like this.

Having filmed just the few layers in the images below, I'm a bit scared that I'm going to have some major issues when it comes to lighting this thing. The parts of the acetate that I've roughened up with sand paper are possibly too opaque, so I've stopped that part of the process for now until I've got all the layers in place to see how they work together. I'm hoping that a strong enough back light in combination with some projection from above will solve any issues, but I'm not overly optimistic. This could end up being a rather time consuming lesson to learn...

Fingers crossed though, I'm sure I'll sort something out.
I have plans to collaborate with a sound designer mate on this one, so keep an eye out, should have something to see before the year is out.

29/05/13 - TED-Ed

I've just finished working on this animation for TED's educational website, and it's just been published. I was given the voiceover track, written and recorded by Ron Shaneyfelt, a high school astronomy teacher and educational program manager for NASA, and came up with the animation in about four and a bit weeks.

The TED-Ed website is designed as a resource for teachers, and if you go to the individual page for any of the animations you can use the video as a starting point to devise a more in depth discussion or lesson based on the subject.

18/03/13 - IPT2 Projection Animation

I uploaded this to vimeo a while ago and forgot to post it here. It's the original animation that was projected onto my balsa wood 3D Zoetrope for the IPT2 Battles music video.

You can make out the seperate circles pretty easily here - these are the shapes that I mapped out first of all, projecting the after effects composition onto the zoetrope as I was doing it. All I did then was figure out what colors and patterns worked well and then synched up the transitions with the music. I kind of like how something so shitty looking is so completely transformed when it's projected onto it's intended surface - without that, it's a pretty embarrassing piece of animation :)

- 20 Layers Of 3D Zoetrope

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but I've been busy over the last couple of months trying to push the zoetrope stuff forward while I had some spare time. This is the first quick test of the new system that I just filmed, trying to create an overall parent shape and movement before focusing in on the individual surfaces of each layer...

So I decided a while ago that I wanted to construct some sort of base that would allow me to accurately place multiple layers of animation in the zoetrope, and after quite a few false starts with various laser cutting, CNC routing and aqua cutting companies
(all of which said my plans were too delicate for their machines), I finally arrived at 3D printing as a solution.

This is the final design, in Sketchup, that was printed by 3D Creation Lab. After a couple of re-designs (mainly to get the cost down, as the price is based on the volume of the material being printed) I decided to go for this modular approach, which allows me to replace any of the 33 'spokes' that plug into the central piece, should they break.

And ^ here's ^ the actual base - I'm pretty happy with it, even though my massive hands do find it a bit tricky and fiddly to insert all the layers. I'm just trying out various designs for now to determine the best materials to use and how far I can push them with regards to height and weight etc. and I'll be playing about with transparencies and printed animations on each of the 20 surfaces as well.

06/08/12 - Sonis Web Advert

I made this little web advert with Garry Whitton about a year ago for Sonis' Compact security device, but unfortunately it didn't get used by the company (hence the unfinished sound design). We're still quite happy with it though - Garry did the character design and animation and I was in charge of art direction and compositing as well as the effects and rabbit animation.

26/07/12 - Within This Dust

I've just finished work on a piece of animation for Dundee based dance company Smallpetitklein and their dance piece 'Within This Dust'.

Within This Dust is a dance theatre piece which explores Richard Drew's iconic photographs of a man falling from the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 attacks. The animation will be screened in between two of the dance pieces.

As you can see, I took some pretty direct inspiration from the famous photo, but decided to focus on the patterns and structure of the buildings rather than the falling figures, mainly because I was too scared to tackle such a delicate subject head on like that (especially given the relatively short time I had to make it). I was quite happy to concentrate on creating and experimenting with more abstract imagery, and the crumpled paper (an idea taken directly from the design of the dance piece) provided a great visual metaphor that neatly allowed me to avoid having to tackle a more literal interpretation.

Within This Dust will be performed at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe from the 7th to the 19th of August at Dance Base (Venue 22) 14-16 Grassmarket, Edinburgh. More details here.

07/07/12 - Dundee Dance Walk

The guys from Scottish Dance Theatre asked me to design this map for their recent dance walk around Dundee, featuring lots of dancey things from the Dundee Dance Partnership...

05/07/12 - Worselings - Teeth and Brain

My mate's band Worselings asked me to do some artwork for their new EP, and I said 'ok then'. Hear it here.

18/04/12 - What On Earth!? - Finished!

What On Earth!? premiered last week at the Rep Theatre in Dundee. Here's a little edit of some of the footage I took at the dress rehearsals...

The video below, Joan Clevillé performing Duck's Dream during the dress rehearsals, is my favourite part of the show I think, and probably the most successful bit of collaboration between dance, choreography and animation in the project. Both Joan and Solène Weinachter (who performs the same part in the other cast of the show) really bring the piece to life and I love the way they seamlessly react to what's going on behind them - it's better than I could have hoped for thanks to them, and of course Sally Owen who choreographed this section. Thanks guys!

Needless to say, there were one or two technical issues to sort out during the technical rehearsals, but I guess that's what these things are for :) The biggest (and scariest the first time I saw it) was that the projector seemed to want to horizontally stretch all of my animations. This was probably caused by the wide angle lense being used and the fact that the projector didn't seem to support the resolution I had rendered everything in. Not to worry though, I ended up simply squashing everything in Final Cut before rendering it out again so when it was stretched by the projector this time it just looked as it should do - not an ideal solution, but it was all I had time to do unfortunately.

Another slightly trickier problem to figure out was some quite ugly looking areas of the projection that appeared as glaring white spots in certain areas of some of the animations. It turned out that these were 'hot spots' on the screen, where the projector bounces any particularly bright parts of the image back off the white of the screen at the viewer. We tried to fix it by playing about with the colour and brightness options (as well as pretty much every other setting, out of desperation) on the projector, but I ended up having to adjust some of the brighter layers in one of the original animations (the clouds in Duck's Dream) and re-render the whole thing. Apparently this is a common problem though that could also have been solved by hanging some white gauze in front of the screen to diffuse the light slightly. You live and learn :)

Those were the only major problems though, the rest of the setting up process was (for me anyway) pretty relaxed. The lighting designer, Emma Jones, did a great job of lighting the whole show in just a couple of days (so many cues!) and she was really sympathetic to the animations and made sure they all worked as well as they possibly could with all that light bouncing about. Thanks Emma!

The show as a whole went down really well with the kids, lots of random laughs and giggles at bits of the show that didn't seem that funny to us usually, but that's all good :) There are of course parts of it that I would do differently if I'd had more time to work on them, mainly to add more detail to certain bits such as the end of the Shadery section where you hear the sound of the trees being chopped down - it would've been nice to play around a bit more with that transition, as well as a few others, but it's always the case that there's stuff you'd like to change I think. Sally and Janet did an amazing job of pulling the whole piece together during the couple of days they had in the theatre leading up to the first performance. It was really interesting to see them refine all the transitions and connections between scenes and I was quite surprised at how much of a difference these seemingly subtle changes made to the piece as a whole. I think they plan to keep refining and editing it before the show hopefully goes on tour later in the year...

It's always a bit sad when a great project like this comes to an end, but it's been such a pleasure to work with everyone at the Scottish Dance Theatre - huge thanks to everyone there, especially Sally and Janet for being such generous collaborators, and of course all of the amazingly talented dancers who brought the show to life with such energy.

I hope you've enjoyed reading my ramblings about the whole thing too. I'll shut up about it now :D

04/04/12 - What On Earth!? - Seedling / Shadery

This bit of animation serves as a very slow transition as the Seedling part of the dance leads into Shadery. As the sycamore seed falls to the ground, a pile of pillows on the stage will sprout as the dancer slowly emerges, forming part of the forest that grows behind her. That background will then remain for the next part of the show, which is a more lively forest dance.

The Sycamore seed is made from a couple of bits of acetate and some paper stuck together with blu tac, and then hung and spun in front of a lightbox. That footage was then taken into After Effects, edited into a loop, cleaned up frame by frame in Photoshop and then animated on a path as it decends to the floor. Here's a quick breakdown of that process...

The transition to the forest needed to be very slow to suit the music and the pace of the dance, and it was good to play around with the negative space and how different parts of the composition are revealed over time. I'm looking forward to seeing this bit on stage as I reckon it could work pretty well. Hopefully...

27/03/12 - What On Earth!? - Bats!

This is the first bit of animation near the start of the show when one of the dancers turns the TV on from their bed. Hopefully it'll elicit a scream or two from the kiddiewinkles :D

This bit was fairly straightforward to put together once I had the great voiceover to work with, and it was quite refreshing to come from the epic Duck's Dream to something releatively quick and painless to produce. The only technical consideration was the positioning of the TV - it was originally quite low down the screen but because there would be a bed on the stage at this point, we needed the TV to be further up in the composition so that the audience at the front would still be able see it. Not much of a problem... Just trying to think of stuff to say really, aren't I?

Anyway, animation production is pretty much done and dusted now, just waiting to get into the theatre for tech and dress rehearsals next week. I'll keep posting about any stuff I've not mentioned yet, and I'll hopefully get some footage of the performances up on here too.

If you're in Dundee, you can see the show on Wednesday the 11th April at 2pm or Thursday the 12th at 11am at the Rep. It's also showing in Stirling on the 18th of April and in Banchory on the 28th of April. There will be more shows later in the year around the uk and europe as well I think...

20/03/12 - What On Earth!? - Signing Birds

This is a short piece of animation used as surtitles for the sing language section of What On Earth!?

It was a tricky one, this, and I'm still not entirely sure it's going to work in combination with the dancers. I went with the OHP style as it felt like a good fit, and a good way to keep the images simple and direct and fluid. But it's possible that it still might draw too much attention away from the signing dancers. We might get around this by playing with the positioning of the projection - perhaps if it's filling the screen behind the dancers, almost silhouetting them maybe, you'll be able to take in both elements at the same time. We'll be looking into this soon when we get in to rehearse at the Rep.

I still love doing this style of animation though - the best way to do it, I've discovered, is to basically make it look rubbish while you're drawing the acetates, film all the basic movements on the OHP, and then try and salvage it in After Effects, adding elements to try and improve the shoddy work you did earlier. You'll never get it to look good, but it looks deliberately bad, at least :)

09/03/12 - What On Earth!? - Duck's Dream

From quite early on in this project I was aware that there was going to be a fairly hefty chunk of animation that I'd have to tackle at some point. It came in the form of a dream, Duck's Dream, set to the Beatles' track 'Because', and I struggled with it a bit, as usual. Here it is in it's final form, before I go on to moan about it...

I say final form, but there is a key element to the whole thing missing at the moment, as with all the other animations for this project that I've talked about here so far - the dancer(s)! This piece, more so than the others, doesn't really work or make much sense without the performances of Joan Clevillé or Solène Weinachter (each playing Duck in the two casts of WoE!?) making the link between themselves and the animation. In the final performance Duck anticipates the pylon rushing towards him, looks down with a big grin on his face when he first takes off, and is heartbreakingly sad at the end as he realises he's stuck in the dirty, oily water as all his mates fly away above him.

Joan performed it in front of the projection for me the other night in the studio, and he, Solène and Sally have adapted the choreography from the initial version I was working with to make it work beautifully with the animation - I can't wait to see the final thing in the Rep!

My initial idea for the look of Duck's Dream was a bit more experimental than it ended up being, and I spent quite a bit of time (possibly too much) trying to make it work. I really wanted to try and push it to make it look a bit different, so I eventually came up with this projection mapping idea, with 200-odd little trees for Mr Duck to fly over...

It took me two or three days to get from the sketch above to the image below, but it didn't really work as I'd hoped. The idea was to treat the trees as a 3D background that I could animate with the projector to create the illusion that the ground was passing below, in combination with some hand held camera movements between the trees and the vertical projection screen behind them, and some After Effects compositing. There were a few problems that cropped up though...

You can't really see it in any of the images I took, but the tripod holding the projector up just took up too much space in my already cramped living room/studio, so I couldn't really get the best camera angles or movements without getting in the way of the projection. The nature of the triangle set up meant if I wanted it to look like the trees were scrolling from top to bottom (which I did), the movement had to be very stop/start, unless they were moving every one or two frames which would've been too fast for the nature of the piece. This staccato movement also doesn't combine very well with the smooth movements inherent in any computer based compositing or animation, as you can see in the horrible looking tests below.

Of course, there are work arounds to these problems, but it was getting to the point where I had to make a decision as to whether to carry on with this and try to make it work (and possibly waste more time), or just cut my losses and go with a more traditional/conventional approach.

I decided on the latter, obviously, and looking back I think I made the right decision for the piece - the slow, controlled movements and compositions that you're able to produce in After Effects are a much better fit with the music and choreography than the projection idea or the rougher style I've been adopting for other parts of the project would've been.

I'll maybe go into more detail about the final version of the dream at some point.

12/02/12 - What On Earth!? - Projection Tests

It's really hard to get your head around working on something that looks so small on your little laptop screen that will end up being projected to four and a half by eight metres. How much detail do you need? Can you get away with big blocky flat areas of colour? If something goes really fast across the screen, it'll be, like, super-fast on a big screen won't it?

It turns out that you probably don't need to worry too much about those kinds of things. I was worrying about those kinds of things quite a lot, but I think on the whole the projection tests we did at the Rep the other day seemed to work pretty well. It's possible that I was just a bit over excited about seeing my work on a massive screen, but I did have a big list of stuff to look out for, and most of it was ok.

I was mostly worried about compression. The worst part of any project for me is the process of rendering the final thing and trying to get a not-ridiculously-big file size while avoiding ridiculously-badly-compressed-and-ugly-looking-image-quality. My perfectionist brain struggles to handle even the tiniest little imperfections that compression throws up - but it was fine! You can't even see these things when it's projected, and even if you can, they look deliberate to anybody else but me!

In short, stop worrying, it'll all be ok in the end.

25/01/12 - What On Earth!? - Storyboard

It was good to get Quench (the fairly big chunk of animation for the Scottish Dance Theatre's new production that I spoke about last time) out of the way. A visual style was beginning to come together, so I felt this would be a good time to try and nail down some of the ideas that Sally and Janet had talked about for the rest of the show.

The storyboard below (you can click on it for the full version) is a pretty rough outline of the whole show, minus the bits that don't involve animation. I won't go into the details of the sequence as I'll talk about the individual sections when I get round to them - it was really just an attempt to get a handle on the contents of each scene, how they relate to the choreography, and also to get a sense of the flow of colour throughout the piece.

I'll admit, I was struggling to get my head around what was happening with some parts of the choreography and how some of the transitions between scenes would work. The process of developing the storyboard (along with a more detailed script and list of actions for each scene) over the course of a week or so, in between other things, really helped pinpoint the problem areas for me so I could go on to discuss them with Sally at a later date. I usually try to avoid doing storyboards for my personal work (boring boring boring - I'd rather just animate stuff), but it was pretty much essential for this project, and has proved very useful as a reference point for later discussions.

If you have a look at the whole storyboard you might notice a fairly hefty chunk of it devoted to a dream sequence. This is what I went on to develop next, as it was probably the most complicated and detailed piece of animation that needed to be produced for the show - I'll tell you how I wasted a couple of precious weeks on that one next time :)

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