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: