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.”
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
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.
Another render from the Green Glider animated short, this time of the lagoon where our protagonist Ash will float in the blissful crystal clear water before he has a sudden epiphany. I wouldn’t mind quarantining here…
During the summer months when the weather was scorching I was busy animating a music video for a band making waves after initially being featured on BBC Introducing, the band being wildest and the song being the mouthwatering Sugar and I am thrilled to announce that the music video and this labour of love has finally been released and can be viewed here. My good friends @tom_boxx and@ellie_carolyn who I was a VFX runner with came to me with an idea for the music video reflecting stop motion animation and an abundance of collage like elements superimposed on a bright orange background. Obviously I had to jump at the chance!
〰️ Wildest Band Members Jack, Harry & James of Wildest 〰️
In detail to do the song justice and get this music video right was to create the music video in a stop motion, choppy nature and have it reflect Wildest’s signature style – so warm seventies nostalgia, groovy cylindrical patterns and shapes with a swirling psychedelic orange background. The background constantly rotating while the assets in the foreground have a black and white monochrome half tone effect to represent old paper and show stark contrast to the tantalising orange. All the elements combining together to bring everything full circle and complementing that warming nostalgic boppy funk that makes you want to throw some serious shapes to wildest effervescent syrupy coo’s and snappy drums.
Some tidbits in how I figured thing out; A turning point came to me when I figured out how to export all of the videos firstly from premiere to remove the green screen and then after effects to add the half tone effect and then bring that clip into Maya as an alpha channel while having the green screen removed, what figuring that out meant was that I could manipulate the videos as they are now technically 3D objects – extruding, deforming, bending and deleting parts all now achievable and made for some fun experiments. I’ve attached some videos below of having a muck about with stuff that didn’t make the cut.
Now that I knew how to get the videos into Maya I could really play around with the elements, dialling up the surrealism and elements for the foreground for a smorgasbord of intricacies including lightbulbs, scaffolding, cages, trees, stars, floating eyeballs and mouths as well as taking pictures of my own hairy legs and arms to place them into odd angles and add to the mind bending dreamscape of sugar. I took inspiration from Max Erst, Hannah Hock, Dali, Terry Gilliam and the installation art of Tony Oursler, all of which these incredible artists offering some help into the surrealistic collage approach I was going for.
〰️Max Ernst, Hannah Hock, Terry Gilliam & Tony Oursler Mood board 〰️
I liked the idea of in a way breaking the fourth wall by showing the animator making this lucid trip happen by key framing and moving pictures of my hands as they slot the elements into place, including the offering of the sugar bowl before the final pupil dilating adrenaline rush of the end scene.
I was really excited to be given free will from Tom and Ellie to come up with the instrumental end part of the video which starts at the sugar mountain scene where the windmills are made out of spoons and sugar while the lads of Wildest melt into a hallucinogenic Mount Rushmore. The end shot where the camera starts to fly through the mouths of the band members as the sugar follows was one single shot within Maya and was really finicky to animate as Maya isn’t really meant to have high quality alpha map videos of real people within a scene; let alone having many, many duplicates of them and I mean it when I say my laptop nearly melted! Sounding like a jet about to take off as it slogged to painful speeds as I keyed the transparency on and off of every element within that shot. The resulting shot turned out to be my favourite and I am glad I just trusted my gut and went wild (pun intended) what it came to be was a complete sugar rush where the trippy psychedelic nature was dialled up to an climax and in doing so gave the rest of the music video a place to flow towards.
〰️ The Instrumental End Scene 〰️
What I loved about doing this project was that I always crave having people in my circle that get it and go for it. Tom and Ellie get it and they go for it, they just want to create stuff together to build up their roster, by figuring it out as you go which is all part of the fun. I may have been made redundant from the job that we all shared together (thanks Covid) but it’s those relationships that I have made with creative like minded people that is worth its weight in gold – much more than a monthly pay check. If you would like to support this funky fresh band that is wildest, the tantalising sugar can be streamed on all music streaming services now.
I have gone back and decided to do a paintover of the metropolis world for The Green Glider animated short. After playing about with the Oasis world by trying to adopt real world references with the render showing depth and field, focus and atmospheric perspective I have decided that I want the rest of the worlds to follow suit. With previous renders of the metropolis world the bubble cars that are crowded around Ash’s careworn car were too overpowering; even though this would follow theme with how the story unfolds it just didn’t look nice, to combat this I want the lights of the bubble cars to be brighter and more exaggerated with a bokeh effect of yellows and reds dotted around the meandering roads in similar vein to the concept art below.
The focus needs to be centred around the Ash’s car with the surrounding areas being blurred which I think can be achieved with render layers and a dark vignette to pull the eye right to our main character. A spotlight on top and pointing down onto Ash’s car will further draw the eye towards him for the opening shot. I also need to reel things back with this world as the render times are horrendous, over a few hours for a single frame isn’t ideal so I’ll have to do some tinkering.
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!
When this past weeks kick About was revealed I knew I wanted to make a film that was quick and spontaneous, what I didn’t know is that it would be bursting with colour and that it would feel very cathartic and fun to work on. A lot of the stuff going on in the film was a bit of a fluke with the music driving the animation, serendipity was definitely sought after with this film and I for sure felt that; feeling giddy when the renders had finally finished. I’ve always wanted to muck about with Maya’s motion design plugin – Mash and I learned a lot about it with this little animation as for me I think the best way of learning something is to jump straight in and try and make a film out of it!
This kick about over at Reds Kingdom was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed injecting some colour into the greyness that is 2020. Dancing blobs, brush strokes and spirals got me out of a bit of a funk as I think it’s impossible to fret when listening to the tunes of Arnold Ammons who accompanied the vivacious animation by Norman McLaren – The whole Boogie Woogie genre is sure to make you smile.
It’s also proving worthwhile translating what I am learning from the Ersilia project into this little animation as the same old school paint effect techniques of those constricting ropes in which Ersilia resides is used in a much more colourful way with this approach. I apologise for the tragic quality of the video! for some reason it looks like I uploaded it with a microwave… but as this current version is a WIP hopefully I’ll figure out why the crispness is naught… or maybe that works well with the nostalgia of the music? I’ve attached some screen grabs and more experimental renders that are being edited in for the latter chunk of the song.