Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The history of the making of the history of the making of the book.

This is a recap post of everything I did in the making of this animation for the literary platform's Douglas Adams competition. The animation was a group project and I was working with these guys here throughout the project.

Finding a Project

The first thing was finding the project, we all spent a good hour or so Googling and otherwise scouring the net for projects and then all met up to decide on which to enter. Some of the competitions I found which we decided not to enter were:
  • A whole host of competitions on eYeka:
    • which we chose not to enter for varying reasons, mostly because the deadlines were all very close by the time we'd found the contests
    • which we decided not to enter as the competition seemed very 3D CGI oriented and didn't suit the strengths of the group as a whole
    • which just didn't excite us as much as animating along to the voice of Douglas Adams and the potential to win a towel day towel. (Many competitions were left out for this same reason)
The brief of the competition was:
"The competition invites creatives to produce an animation that best illustrates the words of Douglas Adams. Entrants are invited to use part, or all, of the Douglas Adams recording to create an animation to complement the words. You can hear and download the recording here or can request an emailed file by emailing We’ve also made a transcript available."
We set out to do this from the start and I think we did a good job illustrating the words of Douglas Adams. We also wanted to keep the animation light hearted and entertaining in the spirit of Douglas Adams' works. 

Planning Stage

Once we had discussed which contest to enter we got onto idea generation and starting some mind maps. As a group we did 3 sessions of idea generation (though I couldn't get to one of them). We also did some research into the history of paper (leading us to ancient China), book making and ancient China. In the third session we gave some time to choosing which parts of the audio track (found on the competition brief) to keep and which to drop, some parts were more entertaining than others and we wanted to make sure we could complete the task in time.

Once we finished we moved on to making a rough and sketchy storyboard. Rough storyboard completed we all shared out scenes we liked and went away to make slightly more refined storyboards for our respective scenes. I took the opening scenes of the book opening and the two caveman scenes (which ended up merging into one longer scene as the camera felt natural traveling past the boulder, and it seemed a shame to waste it).
When we met up again we put everything together with Storyboard Pro to get a sense of timing and pacing and make sure our ideas fit in with the narration. A few story changes were made (like the merging of the caveman scenes) where needed but it was more or less as intended.
You can see all of this, including the animatic, in my first ever blog post.

Design Stage

With story set we moved on to designing characters and props.

I did some designs for characters in every time period, didn't like any of them and did a new batch which evolved into something that was generally well received by the group. Features of these designs made it into every time period in the work and my cavemen are pretty much still as they were on paper (with a few small improvements) so I'm pretty happy with my work from this stage.
My designs can be seen here (early designs) and here (more finalised design and cut-outs).

Shortly after we'd designed the characters Chloe had finished the background for my scene so I got onto re-designing the cavemen for cut-out animation and rigging it all up in Toonboom. I also did some colour tests of varying successes (cut-out and colour tests can also be seen in the link above). Colour was something I fiddled with right up until the final renders as I was never quite happy with it and didn't want to ruin Chloe's lovely background with a poor choice of character colour palette. With help from Chloe I think we got it right in the end.


With everything ready to go I moved onto animating.

Sticking with the cavemen (and boulder) as my part of the animating I had a lot of fun stretching the rigs and trying to pack all the action into such a short period of time. It was difficult keeping everything readable with 3 characters running around at the same time, near the start, and being so chaotic but I think managed it and kept it enjoyable to watch (which is the whole point really). I also got to do a little bit of hand drawn animation for the caveman librarian which was a nice break from monitors midway through animating.

I had some technical issues such as backgrounds appearing in a different place when rendered than in the preview while animating (I'm still not sure why this happened but it made putting a book in the bookshelf far more difficult than it had to be) and transparency not working outside of renders (this was a bit of a pain in trying to get the camera panning into the cave looking nice) but other than this it went pretty smoothly I think. We all kept each other working too as we were constantly critiquing each other and suggesting improvements.

Work in progress animations can be seen here and here.

Once I'd done all the animating in my scenes I gave them to Becky so she could add in and animate all the dinosaurs and critters she made while I carried on with importing my cavemen and boulder into other scenes and animating them there.

I also put together (though Chloe made the textures), animated and composited the book opening at the start of the animation. For this to work I made the inside of the book (the first page) flat colour in bright blue. When I joined the book onto the rest of the animation I used KeyLight in After Effects to make the page transparent and show the cavemen instead.

Putting it all together and sound

Eventually we all had our scenes ready and rendered (though this was a bit delayed by a last minute decision to put Douglas Adams related easter eggs in every scene) and put it all together for a test render. We watched the animation over far too many times making a list of all the sounds we would need and then booked out a recording room/ sound studio.

At the sound studio my primary role was shouting at the microphone and trying to make noises like a boulder (tapping the microphone, stamping and banging a table were all methods we tried) but I also helped a little in using the recording software and solving some small technical difficulties.

When we had all the sounds recorded we all took files away and cut them up (I used Audacity for my part) ready to be added to the animation. After this we started adding the sounds to the animation, unfortunately I didn't get to do much of this as I had to leave Staffs for home a bit earlier than everyone else but I managed to get a little bit done so I'm happy with that.

Entering the competition

Once our animation was complete we entered it into the competition and tried to promote our entry. We heard back from the people at the Literary Platform a few days ago saying the top ten entries had been put in a shortlist for the judges. We're not sure if that included us or not as we'd been in and out of the top ten for days around it but we'll find out soon, sadly we may not be as at time of writing we aren't in the top ten. Either way, it was a fun and insightful experience working as a team and I am pleased with the final result.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Fake Channel 4 advert

I've now completed my text animation, an advert for an imaginary Channel 4 program.

It's on Vimeo, check it out:

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Douglas Adams competition - complete!

We've reached the end!
Our entry for the Literary Platform Douglas Adams competition is now complete and entered.

Here is our wonderful video. If you'd rather watch it at the Literary Platform instead of course, there's the added benefit of being able to give it an up vote (you know you want to)...
Anyway, enough shameless self advertising, here's the video:

I worked on this video alongside Faye WombwellBecky BurstAdam Poole and Chloe Brown, and I'm very pleased with the outcome.

The brief was to illustrate the words of Douglas Adams using all or part of the provided recording. I think we've illustrated well and in an interesting way. We've also put in a fair few little gags and references to the works of Adams which will hopefully be a bit of fun for those who spot them. To keep with the spirit of Adams's writing we wanted to keep the animation light hearted and humorous, and I think we've done that too.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Good as completed Caveman scene.

This is my cavemen scene, more or less completed. The audio track still needs to be cut together when all the animated segments are stitched together and there are no sound effects until we get the sound studio on Thursday, but other than that I'm saying this scene is as done as it's going to be.
Unless I desperately need to kill some time before the holidays.

Some runs for Surge

Here are some runs I've done for Surge and composited over some stop-mo animation of the tripod done by Daniel James and fire compositing by Chris Benn.
I used the Cutter as a mask in Toonboom to make the runners look like they were passing behind the Tripod and the scenery.
[Ok... Video wont upload right now, not sure why. I'll try again sometime soon.]

Monday, 19 March 2012

Dodo Update

This is the scene I've helped on for Don't do the Dodo so far.
Of the animated dodos I've animated all the dodos except the bicycle dodos, tree launched dodo and constantly flapping at the front dodo. I was told to not worry about the layer order for now and other people are animating the remaining dodo in this scene.

This is all the work I'm doing on this project for now but I will post again if I do do any more and I'll post a link to the final version when it's finished.

edit: no sound on this one, sorry. I might put up another one with sound later, but I'll probably just wait for the final version.

Cavemen Test

This is a test render of the animation I've done for my scene on the Douglas Adams competition so far. There's still a fair bit to do and there's no sound with this test (though it is all synced up) but getting there. Update soon with the (hopefully) completed scene.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Animating Dodos for 'Don't do the Dodo'

I've been given some dodo to animate!
Don't do the Dodo is a project in the hands of S.T.A.G animations for Don't do the Dodo, which supports grassroots projects and spreads awareness of endangered species. The animation is narrated by Bill Oddie and is a very exciting project.

The dodos I've been working on so far are the balloon dodo, the cliff bouncing dodo, head in the sand dodo and the cute little dodo behind the big flappy one (by Matt Garbutt, who also animated the tree-flung dodo). All the cutout dodos were designed and rigged by Emma Cosgrove based on the dodos in this book by Don't do the Dodo.

There's still some work to do on these so I'll be updating here soon with some tweaks and changes and possibly a dodo or more come to life.

Run cycle and rendering tests for Surge

Here are some more run cycles I've done as a test for Zeke Ares's project, Surge.

Since the majority of the film will be set at night my previous dark pencil and charcoal renderings aren't really suitable, they'll blend into the background too much. To counter this Zeke asked if I could try giving them brighter highlights and this is what I've done.

Run cycle rendering test for Surge from Dan Roberts on Vimeo.

Since I only had white paper I used pencil as normal for these and drew the highlights on with a darker pencil, then inverted the colours and tweaked the levels. I'm pretty happy with the result and when I've spent a little more time on the animations come the final version I think it will fit in really well.

Even more on James

I really should have updated this a while ago: James the Elephant rigs.
I built these rigs which may or may not be used, currently I'm making no more changes to them until I know they are needed.


Neatened up rig with IK on the legs, tail and head. I also made several attempts at an IK trunk but I think hand drawn would look better than any of them - I've put some pics at the end.
Part way through a walk:

The trunks:

One thing I am particularly pleased with in this rig is the seamlessness of the outline. To achieve this I separated the outline and fill of various parts (such as each leg or trunk joint) and made sure all the outline parts had a greater depth than all the fill parts of that leg or trunk.
I then parented the fill parts together as normal and parented each outline part to it's own respective fill part.
All this means is that the outline will never have gaps or overlap other parts, and I think it results in a nice smooth look and a slightly squishy feel which suits the comedic elephant.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

More on James

These are some new character designs I've done for James the Elephant, one of the projects I'm working on for my Assistant Animator brief. Currently I'm working on rigging up a test of James in ToonBoom, update soon.

 These are the some quick tree sketches (of African trees) and cut out parts for some 'dancing' trees I came up with. Since this is a musical animation I thought it might be nice to have some background parts bob around to the beat and put forward this idea, we're gonna see how it goes...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Character designs and cavemen

Last (collaboration brief) post I said I'd get some character designs done soon for the Douglas Adams competition, and here they are! I settled on the bottom left body types from my last post and improved them a bit to get a wider range of characters. There's now cavemen, ancient Chinese labourers and an emperor and some modern day folk as well.

With the characters designed we distributed characters to build for Toonboom between ourselves and I got to do the cavemen. These are my parts sheets, ready to be vectorised, split into parts, rigged and coloured in Toonboom:

And here is one of the cavemen, Dim, all rigged up (the other two cavemen are 80% rigged up) and put through some very quick joint and colour tests. I'll do more of these properly when the other characters are rigged and I've got input from everyone else.
The lovely background here were made by Chloe Brown, not me.

Colours chosen to make colouring easy. At least I'm honest.

No lines. I actually did like no lines but not with these colours.

A bit 'Flintstones'. I wanted to try a bolder colour and quite liked orange, just a shame the Flintstone's beat me to it. Black lines on the left, coloured on the right. I prefer the black lines, though a darker colour might work too. This is my favorite so far despite Fredness...

Multicolour test. Also tried out a darker skin tone for the cavemen.

Animation/ style tests for Surge

Another project I'm helping with as part of the Assistant Animator module is Zeke Ares's project, Surge.
Surge is a trailer for an imaginary stop-motion retelling of H.G.Wells's War of the Worlds and I'm helping out by animating the 2d parts, largely screaming, panicking people. Zeke wants a liney, jaggey rendering of the people and suggested charcoal as a medium.

This is a quick test I did of a few different mediums, including charcoal and some different run cycles. Please excuse the see-throughness for now, the people will be opaque in the final thing.

Unfortunately I didn't have a photo of the set when I did the animations so the perspective is off and I had to scale massively. Even so I think it's been a useful test. Come time to do the animations proper I will make them smaller (so less scaling is involved and the charcoal/pencil/etc. texture will be more obvious), darker and they will be generally better animated as I've now practiced the run cycles a little.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Character Designs for Douglas Adams competition

Last time we had a meeting for our collaboration project on the Douglas Adams competition at the Literary Platform we put together all our storyboards into an animatic (which can be seen in my previous collaboration post) and decided we'd all do some character designs for next meeting.

These are my design ideas so far (all a bit rough but they will be improved in the meeting if we see potential)...
My favourite designs on this page are the collection on the bottom left. They should be simple enough to fit our intended style and fairly easy to rig and animate, but also convey their eras and roles well. Though I did like the cavemen in centre stage I think they are too complex and 'real' looking and will clash with our intended style, the top left characters are too amorphous to fit the outfits properly (I tried it in the middle right of the page) and the top right lot are too pointy.

These characters still all need work but that's what tomorrows meeting is for. Next time I expect to have some final designs to show, and hopefully the beginnings of a rig!

Character designs for James the Elephant

One of the projects I'm helping out on for the Assistant Animator brief is James the Elephant, a project led and conceived by Nathan Greensmith and Oliver Whiteley.
Last meeting we were all asked to come up with some design ideas for their characters that could be taken on further next meeting, this is what I've roughed so far...
As stated, this is just a rough and I'll neaten up a few of these before next meeting. Even so, I quite like the simplicity and goofy-friendlyness of James's design and the fat aardvark at the bottom (cheers Hannah for that suggestion). In the story the aardvark is an insurance salesman and sits alongside a scrawny vulture so the fat and thin designs should compliment each other quite nicely. The alternative idea was to have it wear it's tie very tightly as the vulture wears his very loosely around a kink in his neck.

I still need to work on the vulture and kiwi policemen, though I do like the scruffy look vulture with a backwards helmet covering it's head. The kiwi was meant to be mean looking and I think the top right kiwi is best for this.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Very first post

Ok, very first post and there's a lot to catch up on (sorry about that). Good thing it's mostly pictures.

As part of my animation course at Staffordshire University I'm working with a small group of fellow animators (Faye WombwellBecky BurstAdam Poole and Chloe Brown) on the literary platform animation competition. We found many potential competitions on our hunt, but this brief is to animate all or part of a 1993 recording of the legendary Douglas Adams talking about the evolution of the book. We couldn't pass on that.

This is what we've done so far...
After a couple of brainstorming sessions we put together this rough storyboard. There was much debate and pencil-pinching but we've ended up with plenty of good ideas.

Having completed the rough group storyboard we each took a couple of scenes and broke them down into a more complete storyboard. This gave us a much better idea of what we were working toward and ideas were changed for the better along the way.
These are my panels:

We all sat round and each put together our storyboarded scenes on Storyboard Pro to wind up with the animatic below. A couple of timing issues were found and we've changed some of the pacing to better fit the audio but now we're pretty much set to animate. Currently we're all working on character designs   for rigging, so expect a new post on that soon. *phew*