04/01/12 - What On Earth!?

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 stuff :)

'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 Dance Theatre

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 pens out!

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 Waltz.

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 FCP for tighter editing.

You can download the track and video for free from The Dead Man's Waltz website.

03/05/11 - Worselings Cover Art

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 Mapping

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 what happened...

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 Sine Waves

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 finished yet.

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 bottom 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, stick the wood 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 to sit in, taped it in place and put a drawing 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 time!

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 a bit of a play with projection and masking off or highlighting certain areas of the zoetrope...

05/01/11 - Zoetrope Developments

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 music, but it's also a zoetrope! Buy it here, if there's any left.

10/12/10 - Zoetrope Mapping

I did this little test a while ago but wasn't in a rush to put it up due to it's complete failure, but I reckon it's important to report on these things, if any progress is to be made :) I was attempting to match up the projection so it was constantly completely in line with the pieces of wood. Unfortunately it's very hard to actually get the projected animation and the spinning zoetrope to line up with each other in the first place, and even if you do manage it, the two gradually slip out of synch because the maths of the whole thing just isn't accurate enough...

It was worth a go though, and I think I'll continue with some projection experiments on future zoetropes, but with more general masking off of larger areas as opposed to precise, single frames.

30/11/10 - Ultrachip Vs Forest Closure

I did the artwork for this benefit compilation for Edinburgh venue The Forest, featuring contributions from every performer at 2010's Ultrachip chipmusic festival. Please buy it and help save this great free venue from closure!

29/10/10 - Focus Left

I'll be performing The Lyre Of Orpheus at Focus Left on Tuesday the 9th of November, at The Arches in Glasgow. Possibly with live accompaniment, but probably not :)


11/10/10 - Zoetrope Beads Again

My latest zoetrope test. This one took bloody ages but I'm pretty happy with the result. Although I could probably have got some better footage if I wasn't so impatient. I really want to figure out how to exhibit these - they're much more impressive when you see them in the flesh. My next mission will be to combine some sort of zoetrope with the projection mapping technique. Could be interesting...

27/08/10 - Ultrachip

Some footage of my VJ set for Comptroller at the UK's first chip music festival, held at the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. It were good fun :)

12/08/10 - Zoetrope Beads

Here's that bead test I said I'd do - and it worked! The next test is to try something a bit more complicated with it - I'm gonna have two beads on each thread in a spiral formation so that one set travels up and the other goes down. It will be fiddly :D

27/07/10 - Esperi @ Dexters

This will be the last kite mapping post until I do something drastically different with it, I promise. Which might be fairly soon actually, if our plans come together for a new music video with Esperi. This is the best footage we've got of the kite in action I think, so I wanted to share it on here - the song is 'Silo The Fire', hope you enjoy :)

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