15 November 2013

My Week at Aardman

So I didn't get onto the NFTS and Aardman Character Animation Course in the end, but (with huge thanks to Rhodri) I did manage to bag myself a week of stop motion training at Aardman Studios which has done me the world of good! I loved having a look behind the scenes at Shaun the Sheep and the feedback and criticism given to me whilst I was animating was incredibly helpful. Anyway, I kept  a diary of how my days went and here's what happened:

4.11.13 - DAY ONE
In the morning I was given a tour around the building, introduced to about a million people (slight exaggeration) and also learned about different roles within the studio. Carmen, who was looking after me, is an Assistant Animator and she does a lot of sculpting, working with the model makers and rigging department to get puppets and sets ready so when the animators come in at half 9 they can get on with animating.
At about 11am I started sculpting eyelids for my puppet and was set up with my own little work station not long after.
Eyelids for my puppet and the tools to craft them

My work station for the week
It was pretty terrifying as it was just like being given a blank canvas and I wasn't sure where to start. To get myself familiar with the puppet I did a couple of 'warm up' animations along with a walk cycle, which wasn't completely horrendous, but definitely needs a lot of practise... I haven't animated for a while and felt rusty, but I know from my week's training at Chapman that it would be just like riding a bike, I would pick it back up in no time and by the end of the week I'll be creating some lovely animation (...hopefully). 
After lunch I met Grant Maisey and had a look of some of the animation he had been creating for an episode of Shaun the Sheep. Seeing the sets I had been noisying at with life in them really cemented my love for stop motion.
Loyd Price (who interviewed me for the NFTS course) came along in the afternoon to critique my work. He advised I had some lovely movement, but needed not to over complicate the exercises and also to act out the movement myself. Here are some the of the (better) animations I completed on the first day:

5.11.13 - DAY TWO
Last night I made a list of exercises I would like to complete so I had some direction when I came into the studio today. I decided rather than focusing on movement like with yesterday's work, I would concentrate on my puppet's acting through mime. I wanted to get some expression in the face and eyes so animated my puppet getting annoyed by a pesky fly. I started off moving the eyes which is something I'd been avoiding as I was worried they would go all squiffy and not point in the right direction. When I started though, I remembered how much I love animating faces!
At the end of the day Loyd gave me more excellent feedback and advised I should finish the sequence and  redo a bit where the puppet swats the fly on his shoulder. I've never gone over a finished sequence before due to the logistics of getting the puppet to go back into the exact same position, but I will try this tomorrow. This was the original fly swat:

6.11.13 - DAY THREE
So today I finished off the pesky fly sequence and mostly I'm happy with it, but the parts that looked wrong yesterday looked REALLY wrong with my fresh eyes today. It took about an hour to get the puppet back into position as I hadn't realised how much he'd actually moved considering he was tied down in the same spot the entire time. It was so frustrating... I wanted to scream and stab myself with this very sharp pokey eye mover!

The very sharp "pokey eye mover"
I decided against this... Instead I persisted, sorted my puppet's position out and continued to animate. I'm so glad I managed to do this as the revised version looks so much better. I have also started to film myself acting out what I want to make the puppet do and watching my actions back frame by frame makes understanding weight and movement so much easier. In the past, I have just acted a movement out and took a mental note in my head of my positioning, but in doing that my action changed each time and trying to move in slow motion does not give a true and fluid, natural motion. Also, I noticed little things when I played the videos back, like micro-movements before and after an action. I have been trying to do this anyway when I animate, cushioning before and after a movement, but it's only when I have fully studied my movement from an outside perspective that I understand how this works in the real world too.
Here is the finished pesky fly sequence I finished today:

7.11.13 - DAY FOUR
Yesterday I started to animate my character sneezing, which I finished off today and am happy with.

Even though I had a list of exercises I wanted to animate, I was a bit stuck on what to do next. I was quite interested in micro-movements I noticed after filming myself yesterday, so decided to record myself standing 'still.' I'm quite a fidgety person so my hands kept moving and I kept looking around. I began to animate this, but my character looked quite bored and I also got bored of this pretty quickly.

I put the puppet in different positions so I would find something I would feel inspired to animate. 

I really like the sitting pose as a starting position and wanted to incorporate the dreaded walk cycle as that is something I wanted to work on whilst I was here. By 4:00pm I was getting really frustrated as I knew I didn't have much time left at Aardman. My brain was getting a tad frazzled so I had to take a step back and went outside with a cuppa. I got back to animating and progressed a little further, but was mostly redoing movements over and over. I wanted my character to notice someone walking past and then get up to go to them, but after filming what I would do in the situation, I think I got bogged down in making the puppet do the exact same thing. Loyd advised to use the live action as a reference, but not to copy it.

8.11.13 - DAY 5
I hardly looked at the live action film of me today. First of all, I realised can't expect the puppet to move exactly how I move and secondly, this is animation, a world of endless possibilities, so why would I want him to? Here's the finished sequence:

I'm really happy with the films I've come away with and can definitely see an improvement over the week. I did try a couple more walk cycles, and although they were terrible, I am beginning to understand all the separate components for the action to come together. I have a love/hate relationship with walk cycles at the minute. I hate how frustrating it is thinking I've nailed it and then seeing how unrealistic it is... but I love seeing my progress in each attempt. Andy Symanowski came to see my work today and helped me see the line of movement in each body part of my puppet. He went back to the good old bouncing ball as a starting point. Hips, shoulders, head, arms and legs all follow an invisible line which doesn't suddenly stop or jerk backwards and forwards. He advised how I could set my own studio up at home and complete simple tests (such as the bouncing ball) which would help me when animating more complicated movement.

This week has been amazing and hopefully I'll be able to go back in the New Year to get some more practise and criticism. In the meantime I will invest in the equipment and set up a work station in my (tiny) flat.

Over and out