It has been a bit since an update for The Lighthouse Keeper. I have been continuing to film scenes during the early hours of the morning and after a failed attempt at butchering some fake tea lights I caved and found a better alternative for the protagonists all important emblem of caged light. Shadow puppet animation is a completely new realm for me and with it comes a slew of hurdles to overcome but experimenting and noticing the techniques of how light affects shadows is a really fulfilling. Here is some screenshots of some filmed scenes, more to come.
This weeks kick about over on Red’s Kingdom revolves around the life and times of German animator Lotte Reinager who was the pioneer of shadow puppet animation. The responses from all the creatives offer an eclectic bunch of contributions to feast your eyes on. When doing research for the Howard Sooley – Prospect Cottage prompt I came across the inspiring work of Reinager and since then I have been busy cutting, gluing and making for a shadow puppet animated short entitled The Lighthouse Keeper which centres around the peculiar landscape of Dungeness and a couple of burley blokes. Creating something for the sake of creating and figuring out the hurdles and bumps is what proves most enjoyable about delving into a fresh medium that I have yet to attempt. The stage is now set, the characters are ready to move, the lights are on and with it the sheer joy of seeing the cutout shapes and silhouettes lit up ablaze brings a smile to my face that makes the absolute bomb site of my shrinking bedroom all worth it.
I am sharing the majority of the cut out shapes, the stage and silhouettes that will feature in the film as well as some lighting and staging tests that feature the main protagonist. I will be showcasing all the nitty and gritty process here, things that worked, things that didn’t and how I plan on animating elements that would require more than just my two hands.
When viewing Howard Sooley’s Prospect Cottage for the most recent Kick About I was instantly drawn to the opening images of the lighthouse and the water, the way those clips moved – like old pixelation animation. I wanted to create a moving story revolving around the landscape of Dungeness and all its quirky unique characteristics, I also just really wanted to make something with my hands. I have fashioned a shadow puppet theatre out of old cardboard, a large picture less frame and some grease proof paper so that I can bring to life cuttings of the characters and all the little things that make Dungeness so intriguing. While I don’t have the film to show just yet, I do have the storyboard.
With the recent first birthday of the fortnightly Kick About over on Reds Kingdom I noticed I have a few prompts that haven’t been uploaded here on Gentle Giant, so I will be resolving that in the coming weeks. This prompt being of Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950) being one of them and one of my favourite responses thus far.
“I knew exactly what I was going to create when I seen the new prompt for this weeks kick about, It was the night before my birthday and I was sitting out in the tiny garden in my previous London apartment, I was drinking red wine and smoking a cigarette and frankly, was feeling rather shit. Not sure if it was the birthday blues or if was a amalgamation of other things but my neighbours behind my house were having a party; they recently installed some outside lighting which surrounded their roomy garden in a blazing warm hue that lit up the brick of their apartment like a beacon in the night.
In my garden there is a full length mirror that is perched against a rickety garden shed that is full of art supplies and spiders. The light from the neighbours garden was reflecting brilliantly against the mirror – it looked otherworldly placed against the black shed and darkness of my garden, like the light didn’t belong in the darkness. I thought to myself “I wish that that was a fucking portal so I could step through, leave this place and see some happy faces”. The neighbours next door continued to dance and sing into the night.”
In October of 2018 I had the pleasure of being invited to Beijing to partake in an animation workshop ran by Birgitta Hosea and was joined with a fellow classmate Ellie Row along with other students from the animation course in Farnham and the students at Beihang university. It was an experience that opened my eyes to adventure and thought me about the culture surrounding the students at Beihang unviersity. I ate delectable food, relished in the wonders of the Forbidden City and found myself in a dream like state when transfixed by the neon lights that flood the hazy nights.
Here we are above arriving in Beijing after a gruelling 13 hour flight that left my lankly legs squished and shaky and in dire need of a strong coffee. Icy (furthest left) and Leanne third most left greeted us at the airport where each one of the UK expats having a buddy that was our go to mentors for the trip with Leanne being my buddy and helping and guiding us to get the best experience of being a student and experiencing the sites in such a mesmerising city.
The animation workshops was guided by Birgitta and really helped us in converting emotion through to animation practices in order for equipped us to be better animators and storytellers. One workshop that was thoroughly enjoyable saw us in a large open area within Beihang University where a massive curved sheet of paper was hung around the perimeter of the hall as seen below.
The objective involved Birgitta to call out an emotive prompt such as anger, happiness or sadness and for us to feel and absorb that emotion through coloured chalk and pastels while at times having our eyes closed to translate that through the chalk and gesture onto the paper using suggestive strokes and markings. At the end we had to write that emotive prompt into the gestural markings and what can to be was a plethora of clear emotions that was seen through simple and suggestive strokes. It was a charming introductory practice that bonded us with the Chinese students and to see this massive creation surrounding the walls of the halls made it feel like an artistic accomplishment that made us proud whenever onlookers would stop and absorb our collective creation.
After we had left the wondrous Beihang university the space on the walls was needed for other installations and instead of simply throwing away our creation an artist named Tong Wang, recycled the drawings from our workshop by crumbling them into the slatted timber flooring and titled the piece – Paper Forest. I really admire that this artist seen further opportunity from our piece and took the chance to transform our piece and the space once again.
One other animation workshop was a performance piece. plastic plates were provided where we drew an emotive face correlating to an emotion – cheeky, angry flirty or sad. The plates were tied to our faces as Birgitta would shout out in scale an emotion that sometimes was mixed with another emotion, So sadness could be interspersed with flirty and so on. Collectively using Birgittas prompts we walked around the hall with our first creation in the background as we acted out and adapted a walk cycle that correlated to Birgitta’s prompt. From this exercise we understand that a person has many traits, emotions and different facets of their personality that can be expressed not just through walking but interaction and movement as a whole, A man for example doesn’t necessarily walk as only masculine, the same for females but their individual personality shines through and made it so that learning and understanding this important lesson when animating a character whether 2D or 3D shows that people are complex and is something to take into consideration when giving a character a fully flourished vivacious life.
Another animation workshop was trying to translate an emotion into an animation, I choose anger and decided to make a 2D animation in photoshop seen below.
Outside of the workshops we made the most of our time by experiencing as much culture surrounding Beijing as possible. One of the highlights of such excursions was the awe inspiring Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is a mammoth mountainous area with ornate structures, temples and imperial gardens and houses that once was the former Chinese imperial palace housed the Ming Dynasty. We walked far and wide for 6 hours and only seen a fraction, noticing the little opulent details that were sculpted into the roof cornices along with the majestic mosaics of tile work that splashed the mountainous area in squares of colour.
I did get a lot of looks form by-passers with some looking perplexed at the amount of pilosity of my hairy stature, some motioning to their own faces at an invisible beard and giving me a thumbs up while those that were brave enough to realise I’m a gentle giant would ask for a picture together that I was more than happy to accommodate with.
Other adventures included a trip to the arts district where we seen the contemporary installations of Xu Bing – The Tobacco Project at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, where he uses cigarettes as installation pieces as well as a glamorous shopping mall that had installation art structures and sculptures displayed into the architecture. The food was also incredible! we filled our bellies with all manner of different delights with my favourite being the hearty hot pots seen below.
I was extremely lucky to be invited on such a trip and even though we were only there for a week, as we were leaving we hugged all our buddies from Beihang university with many of us (myself included) getting a bit teary eyed as we knew it would be hard to ever see them again. I have never met such kind, caring and helpful people. My buddy in particular Leanne was a dream to be buddied up with, Leanne completely made us all feel at home and answered every question we had about their way of life as well as being curious about ours, they knew how to have fun and treated us with respect as we did them. We all had one thing in common and that was a love for animation, we all know how hard it can be sometimes, grafting long into the night over a dancing frog or autobiographical animated short so we respected them for giving us their time and for making this trip so special and one that I will never forget and always keep close to my heart. Travel is good for the soul and in retrospect I know I crave more of it.
I have been working on trying to achieve a more painterly style with the Oasis world of The Green Glider animated short. To achieve these current renders I collated together many bunches of the 3D trees and plants and rendered them out, I then brought the renders into photoshop and painted over them in three different versions, 1 being the original scratchy and more defined version with clearer visible brush strokes. The second and third iterations blurring them out so they could plop nicely in the background to add more depth. I also made cooler and warmer versions of each painted tree mound and painted some shapes to act as leaves to bulk out areas as seen below.
〰️The Oasis Painted Tress – Clear〰️
〰️The Oasis Painted Tress – Blurry〰️
I then brought those renders back into Maya as alpha maps and situated them accordingly within the scene and added in some of the original 3D trees for the foreground so that it gave more depth of field. To give me more control I used render layers where I added the elements in different collections and rendered them separately – so a render collection for the furthermost elements and a collection for the foregrounds and so on, it means I can have a lot more control in post production if I think something could be blurred further or possibly blend more with the sky colour to give more atmospheric perspective.
There was one caveat – previously all the grass was done with alpha maps which was causing a problem where the scene was so populated with alpha maps that light couldn’t render through them and meant that they were rendering black, I found out I had to dial up the render settings to offset this – the ray depth to be specific which resulted in ridiculous render times! So using what I learned about my Boogie Woogie Jive film and the ongoing Ersilia film, I had a muck about with using Maya’s ancient paint effects which worked wonderfully. Within the many keyframe achievable paint effects parameters there is the possibility to animate a slight breeze to the grass, I will definitely be giving that a whirl and see how to looks. I think with these many trial and errors the Oasis is starting to come to fruition, things can be pushed more but I think I am heading in the right direction.
I have been playing about with trying to achieve a more painterly, soft feel for the Oasis with inspiration drawing from impressionist paintings where colour and light play a massive part in showing nature and landscapes. A lot of trial and error has gone into these tests, mainly because of the colour as a lot of impressionist paintings are influenced by vivid fauvism. I attempted to adopt and get into the headspace of an impressionist, by painting with quick brush strokes of light flickering the water, moving clouds and how the colours would merge together with incessantly moving light, always in a state of flux.
I decided to paint over the render to get the feel before I mend Maya to give me similar results, a lot of which will be achieved by rendering out chunks of trees then softening, blurring and painting over them and turning them into alpha maps that I can plop in place; some of which will be a lot more softened or more crisp to draw the eye to where it needs. I am still a bit unsure of the colour just yet, I don’t know if it’s too much so as always feedback is appreciated.
I have been experimenting with how I want to achieve the flower blooms within the story of The Green Glider. These blooms where animated using a mash up of different methods – mainly blend shapes which really in its name where you can blend from one object to another by duplicating the first original mesh editing it a tad and then repeat for a few more. It was tricky to animate as blending the blend shapes to their full extent made the flowers too large and angular so I had to go in and use deformers to bend the flowers down and not dial the blend shapes all the way up.
To make the flower petals pop and look more organic after animating using the blend shapes I selected each individual petal and key’d them to pop into place, the animation could be refined more but since the world will be populated with many of these blooming plants and much more abundant with flora I think the overall scene will achieve the vivacious life of the Oasis, tests of how the overall effect looks to come!
I am busy designing a pitch document for a fund with The Green Glider with the first page being an eye catching poster that showcases the story of The Green Glider in one vibrant fun image. I am almost done with the pitch document which was really enjoyable to put my designers cap again and I really like how the poster turned out.
Some more experimental renders from Ersilia. I am currently animating the climax scenes where the intensity is ramped up and the music pulses and throbs. More updates to come 〰️