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
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
The Sycamore seed is made from a couple of bits of acetate
and some paper stuck together with blu tac, and then hung
in front of a lightbox. That footage was then taken into
After Effects, edited into a loop, cleaned up frame by frame
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
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
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
was the positioning of the TV - it was originally quite low
down the screen but because there would be a bed on the stage
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.
much of a problem... Just trying to think of stuff to say
Anyway, animation production is pretty much done and dusted
now, just waiting to get into the theatre for tech and dress
next week. I'll keep posting about any stuff I've not mentioned
yet, and I'll hopefully get some footage of the performances
If you're in Dundee, you can see the show on Wednesday the
11th April at
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
shows later in the year around the uk and europe as well I
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
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
dancers. We might get around this by playing with the positioning
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
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
on the OHP, and then try and salvage it in After Effects,
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
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,
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
this project that I've talked about here so far - the dancer(s)!
piece, more so than the
others, doesn't really work or make much sense without the
Weinachter (each playing Duck in the two casts of WoE!?)
making the link between themselves and the animation. In
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
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
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
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
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.
idea was to treat the trees as a 3D background that I could
animate with the projector to create the illusion that the
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...
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
already cramped living room/studio, so I couldn't really get
camera angles or movements without getting in the way of
the projection. The nature of the triangle set up meant if
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
two frames which would've been too fast for the nature of
the piece. This staccato movement also doesn't combine very
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
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
I decided on the latter, obviously, and looking back I think
I made the right decision for the piece - the slow,
you're able to produce in After Effects are a much better
fit with the music and choreography than the projection idea
I've been adopting for other parts of the project would've
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,
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
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.
perfectionist brain struggles to handle even
the tiniest little imperfections that compression
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
In short, stop worrying, it'll all be ok in the
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
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
and also to get a sense of the flow of colour
throughout the piece.
admit, I was struggling to
get my head around what was
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
things, really helped pinpoint the problem areas
for me so I could go on to discuss them with
Sally at a later date.
usually try to avoid doing storyboards for my personal
work (boring boring boring - I'd rather just
animate stuff), but
pretty much essential for this project, and has
proved very useful as a reference point for later
If you have a look at the whole storyboard you
might notice a fairly hefty chunk of it devoted
to a dream sequence. This
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 :)
For the past few months I’ve been working
with the Scottish
Dance Theatre on some animated projections for their upcoming show
for kids, ‘What On Earth!?’. The project is still in production,
but the lovely people at SDT have been kind enough to allow me to blog about
my involvement as we continue to work away on it. Over the coming weeks I’ll
be posting some videos, images and notes about the processes I’ve been
going through throughout the course of the project, so keep an eye out for new
'What on Earth is a curious nocturnal
journey full of surprise encounters with strange
flora and fauna – dreaming of planet Earth.
This dynamic, physically adventurous, by turns
spooky, funny and thought provoking roller coaster
is for children from 6 – 11 but fun for
all the family'
Official promo photo by Andy
Ross for Scottish
I was really excited when Janet Smith and Sally Owen (who are collaborating on
the choreography for the piece) first got in touch with me about the possibility
of my getting involved with the project. The prospect of having my animations
projected as part of such a well respected and talented dance company was, needless
to say, irresistible :)
I've never done anything like this before, certainly nothing on this scale, so
I've been feeling my way along to a certain extent, and I thought the best thing
to do initially would be to get invloved as early as possible in the choreography
process. Sally and Janet were keen to get me into the first few rehearsal sessions,
so I basically just sat and observed them to try and get a feel for what they
were developing. It was really interesting to see them at work, and their process
struck me as being a bit like animation, only in extreme fast forward - both
practices are concerned with movement, or more specifically the control of movement,
and the dancers would be constantly performing their own individual movements,
refining them, subtly changing and perfecting them in front of the mirror and
with each other - something I found myself strangely identifying with, despite
being a clumsy, uncoordinated lump of a man. I remain very jealous of their ability
to make such swift changes to their animations. It's not fair :(
Over the next couple of weeks or so the choreography began to take shape, and
the first section that seemed to emerge was based around a duck character that
Sally had been developing (the piece would later be christened 'Quench'). It
was to be set in a swamp, a bottle of water would be on centre stage and the
Duck would try to figure out how to pick it up. Once he did so, the swamp would
drain and dry up and some strange, thirsty, wiggly creatures would slither on
to harass the Duck and eventually help re-hydrate the swamp scene.
This was one of the first images I came up with.
Not really a swamp is it? But I liked the idea of the reflected flower in the
water, and for some reason I was keen to use sand in some way (that's what the
textured background is). This idea developed a bit more, and I came up with the
version of the swamp that you can see in the video below, which also includes
a very rough outline/animatic of the whole section.
In hindsight, I think I jumped the gun slightly with this. I was a bit too eager
to bring something to the table, and as a result ended up bringing something
a bit bland and in the wrong aspect ratio. As with most of these things though,
at least it was a starting point, and I hadn't spent too much time on it.
I think I find it hard sometimes, when I'm actually being paid to do my own style
of work, to let go of that horrible instinct to sanitise and clean up all the
rough edges that you tend to have to do with normal commercial work sometimes.
Sally and Janet reminded me that they were hiring me for my rough edges (which
was really nice to hear actually :) so it was time to get the OHP and marker
This is a quick mock up image I did in about half an hour just to loosen up a
bit. I was far more happy with this style. If it was to be animated, the different
layers would all be moved quite roughly by hand under the camera and then composited
in after effects, a technique I wanted to develop and refine for the new version
of Quench and probably other sections of the show as well.
Once we had decided upon the aspect ratio (a decision that is perhaps more complicated
and tricky than it sounds - because the show is to be toured at various venues
throught the UK and Europe, the stage size will range from the fairly big to
the relatively small, so we were cautious, maybe slightly overly so, about deciding
on the final size and ratio of the screen. Better to be safe than sorry though)
I was able to go ahead and produce Quench version 2.
So in keeping with the OHP style, I came up with this mock up and asked Sally
and Janet to approve it before I went ahead with any animation.
An initial version of this background loop included some slightly over the top
movement of the foreground reeds/straws, where I was blowing them in an attempt
to simulate a light breeze. It didn't work, so I just gave them some much more
subtle swaying movement in after effects. The rest of the movement is all done
with acetates, manipulated and filmed on an overhead projector. I've put together
a quick shot breakdown of some of the elements which you can see below.
The transition to the dried up swamp at the end works better with the little
bit of crunchy sound design I've done for it, which I'll hopefully get uploaded
once the rest of the section (where the ground re-hydrates) is properly finished.
The music for the piece actually pauses at this point too, as we felt that the
animation would need a brief bit of space for the consequences of the Duck's
actions to properly hit home :D
The timing seemed to work pretty well when Quench was performed alongside the
animation at the Rep in November as part of Backstage Pass (an event that the
SDT have put on the last couple of years where you get a glimpse behind the scenes
at the Rep and are treated to excerpts from various shows and works in progress).
It was great to see it in something approaching it's final context, and I was
pretty happy with it, apart from the slightly rushed bits at the end. I'll post
more about that once its done.
26/09/11 - Dead Man's Waltz
'Swings And Roundabouts'
Hello, I just made this video for 'Swings And Roundabouts' by The Dead Man's
It took about two weeks to make, as I had a pretty tight deadline to work to.
The backgrounds are mostly photographs (no time to draw everything!) and the
characters, if you can call them that, are all hand drawn, scanned, and fixed
in photoshop then printed onto acetates and used as puppets over a light box.
The footage was then edited loosley in Final Cut Pro to the music, exported for
compositing with the photo backgrounds in After Effects and then taken back into
You can download
the track and video for free from The
Dead Man's Waltz website.
03/05/11 - Worselings Cover
I helped a mate out with some artwork for his band's debut EP. Check it out and
download it here.
12/03/11 - Battles - IPT2 - 3D Zoetrope
My latest 3D Zoetrope experiment, combining the sine wave zoetrope I did a few
weeks ago with some projection mapping, and the song 'IPT2' by Battles - here's
Pretty straightforward technique really - I just had a projector set up on a
tripod, pointing down at the zoetrope from above, and then masked off each circle
and spent a few days synching it up to the music. It's good to finally get some
sort of finished film out of this zoetrope malarkey :)
14/02/11 - Esperi 'My Tear Dissolved The View'
Esperi's 'My Tear Dissolved The View' has just been released as a free download,
along with this video by me and my mate Sean McIlroy. Download the song from SoundCloud.
Filmed by Cat Lee-Marr
Edited by Chris Lee-Marr
Designed / Illustrated by Sean McIlroy
Animated / Composited by Retchy
13/01/11 - Zoetrope
Here's some footage of the finished sine wave
zoetrope - I plan to make some sort of music video or VJ mix
while projecting onto the zoetrope next, so it's not really completely
I thought I'd go into the process a bit behind this one while
it's still fresh in my head. It all started off in the computer
with photoshop and after effects and the mock up which you can
see below in my previous post. I won't go into the details of
how I made the the mock up (that'd be boring), but it was used
to make sure of the timings and positions of each of the pieces
of wood before I went ahead and made the real thing. Each frame
of each circle was rendered from the AE mock up as an image sequence
and then printed out to use as reference for when I started to
chop up the wood.
Each piece of wood, after it was painted, was lined up next to
it's corresponding print out, cut off and then numbered on the
and bagged up with all the other pieces from the same circle. After
all 227 bits were done, I had to figure out how to position them
on the record without permanently marking or damaging it.
After a bit of thinking, my solution was to mark the position
of each piece with a sticker (pretty clever eh?). But because
each of the circles was offset I couldn't just mark out one circle,
on and move on to the next one because the previous circle would
get in the way - they all had to be done at the same time. So
I made a kind
of guide circle with the 33 frames marked out for the record
pin in the middle that I tied a piece of thread around.
I then stuck one sticker onto the thread at the required distance
from the centre of the disc, stretched it out to the right
frame number on the circumference and then put a sticker on the
record next to marker on the thread. Once they were all done
I tested their positions by filming it, and it worked - first
So that was it really, I just went ahead and stuck the pieces
on with my trusty glue gun. I'm really happy with how this one
turned out and I'm glad I kept pushing myself to keep it really
precise and tidy and slick, although not perfect, obviously.
My new record player has three speeds and allows me to fine tune
the rpm with a slider, so I was able to change the direction
the animation drifts in and mix it up a bit as I was filming
which makes it a bit more interesting to look at I think. But
like I say, I'm going to do some more filming with this and have
bit of a play with projection and masking off or highlighting
certain areas of the zoetrope...
05/01/11 - Zoetrope
I've been working away on a new zoetrope over christmas that will look a little
bit like this mock up, only made from balsa wood. It's taking a lot longer and
is more complicated than it looks (as usual), but I'll hopefully have it done
in a few days.
I also got this lovely record by music and animation duo Sculpture for
christmas. Not only is it a really good album of experimental electronic type
it's also a zoetrope! Buy it here,
there's any left.