Sunday, 4 December 2011


So here's my animatic - I'd really appreciate any comments so that I can make improvements when I get to the 3D layout stage. Thanks :)

Friday, 2 December 2011


Story: New Narrative

My story has changed once again. I was still not satisfied that the last version was simple enough for a short animation and so I revisited the narrative. I've stayed with the theme of an outsider finally being accepted and valued for his unusual qualities, but simplified the narrative enormously. The main character (the wooden man) remains, but his love interest has been swapped out for the character of a little boy, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship.

It's a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh. The city's distinctive buildings cast long shadows in the winter sunshine.

The only person out on the streets is a small boy on his way home from a party. Clutching a balloon and a party bag he hopscotches along, avoiding the cracks in the pavement.

But suddenly a noise disturbs the peace. Footsteps echo along the empty street and, alarmed, the boy stops to listen.

However, the footsteps cease and the boy shrugs before continuing his meandering progress along the road.

As the boy sets off an outlandish figure detaches itself from the shadows and begins to follow. The boy is now absorbed in his game again and is oblivious to the creature on his trail until he turns a corner and suddenly finds himself face to face!

The creature is truly monstrous: he's made from wood instead of flesh and blood and towers over the boy like a tall tree. His hooded eyes are set deep in a cruel angular face and his fingers – made from pencils - are like claws reaching out to grab the boy.

The boy is startled: he recoils in fear and, in his shock, lets go of his treasured balloon. Overcome with his fright and loss the boy dissolves into anguished sobs as the balloon drifts away into the winter sky.

A few moments pass and we see that the balloon has become tangled in the branches of a nearby tree. From this viewpoint it becomes clear that not all is as if first seemed with the pair down below. The wooden man no longer looks scary – instead he is flustered and out of his depth, unsure how to comfort the crying boy in front of him. He reaches out tentatively to pat the boy's head but the boy recoils in terror from his strange claw-like hands. And then the man has an idea!

Reaching up with his pencil fingers he begins to draw and, where his fingers move, lines appear on the environment. As he works the boy stops crying and begins to watch. The wooden man finishes with a flourish: he has drawn a ladder and it remains upright for a moment before overbalancing and coming to rest against the trunk of the tree.

Delighted the boy scrambles up the ladder to retrieve his lost balloon whilst the wooden man holds the bottom steady. The new friends then make their way to the park where the wooden man puts his magic fingers to use once again; writing down the story of their adventure for the boy to read.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Character Design: Comparison

I need to make sure that my two characters work OK together - here's an image showing the two character designs side by side. I enlarged the man's head slightly to tie them together better so I'll need to implement that in the model.

Character Design: Boy

Weerawat Mungkung has really kindly helped me finalise the character design for my small boy character. Thanks Weerawat, I love your designs!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Small Boy - Character Designs

Some sketches for the design of my second character - a small boy. Inspired by work by artists like Seymour, Hammo & Jamie Hewlett.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

z-brush tips

Just got some z-brush questions answered by the very talented Mr Sergio Caires:

q) How do you import a the set of objs that make up a character into z-brush?
a) Import one of the objs (doesn't matter which) then import the rest and add them as subtools. Finally, save the lot as a z-tool

q) Do I need to UV in maya before sculpting in z-brush?
a) No: you can do your z-brush work, export the basic level geometry, then UV it, and when you bring it back into z-brush the higher division sculpting detail will be retained

More hair modelling

I've been playing around in z-brush to try to get the hair as I want it. It's been slow progress but I've learnt a lot about various brushes in the process. These shapes were made using displace then slide then (most importantly) polish. Not perfect, but definitely getting closer:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Stylised hair

This is fractionally closer to what I'm aiming for but only when the model's not smoothed - time for another test.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hair Test

A first tryout of the snake hook tool in zbrush to sculpt stylised hair. Not really what I'm aiming for! Time to try a different approach.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Duplicate Special!

Just figured out a really useful option in maya :)

I'd got used to using the sculpting symetry function in zbrush whereby any changes I make get applied to both sides of the model.

So in maya I found the "duplicate special" option in the edit menu and hey presto my changes get applied symmetrically. Hooray!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Reference: Skoda Ad

I'm still developing ideas for both the story and the final look: I had thought of using realistic paper textures and an animation style based on origami, however, I'm now thinking that this has been used too much recently. There are some amazing examples out there (see below and the Asics ad earlier on the blog). Rather than creating a pale imitation of these I think I'll try to develop my look down a different stylised route.

Modelling: Jacket

For some reason I had a total nightmare with the topography for the writer's jacket . . . . you can see some of my early attempts below.

It was confusing trying to get the right shape for the object whilst at the same time trying to get the polys to flow in a way that would enable me to add the creases at a later date.

I've now got a version that I'm more or less happy with (see previous post for an image of this) so fingers crossed that it holds up as I progress along the pipeline.

Here are the attempts that didn't make it!

Modelling: Writer

Having made a start on the head in ZBrush I then decided to get working on the body. I was lucky to be able to adapt existing assets for the shirt and tie, but approached the trousers and jacket from scratch (more on the jacket later!)

Below are a couple of images showing where the modelling is up to.

There's still quite a lot to do in maya (create hair as separate object, add thickness to edge of jacket, mirror jacket and trousers, add pencil detail to hands etc etc.)

Once that is done I intend to UV the assets and then take them into ZBrush to sculpt some of the creases and other details, and also to generate further detail with displacement & normal maps.

Modelling: Writer

I've been using my placement at Axis Animation to learn some new software for modelling. The pipeline I intend to use is ZBrush and Maya for modelling (going between the two applications as appropriate) and then using the higher subdivision levels in ZBrush to create normal and displacement maps.

As a first step I took a universal "head basemesh" available at the studio and sculpted it in ZBrush to get a better likeness of my characters - see screengrabs below for my progress:

Character Design: Writer

Weerawat helped me finish my character design for the writer so that I could begin modelling. Front and side views below.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Origami Stop Motion

One of the themes in my proposed narrative is the power of stories and the written word. One way to illustrate this through animation is to show pages of text literally coming to life. I was inspired by the Asics ad posted previously () and my stop motion tests to try some origami-based animation. The animation itself wasn't overly successful (more inbetweens needed as much of the motion is getting lost) but I'm keen to explore this avenue further.

More Animation Tests

I was playing round with some stop-frame animation the other day. Again, I can't yet relate this directly to my program of study - but there is inherent value in testing out a different form of animation.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Animation Test

I'm not sure how this relates specifically to my practice - I just really had the urge to make something that moved so I roto'd a start and end picture and sketched the in betweens.

I still think this is going to be relevant somehow - I'm just not too sure when that will become apparent!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Look Development: Black & White

Playing with the idea of a brown-paper character in a black and white world

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Look Development: Paper World

After lots of experimenting here's my first image of a shape with a paper texture. (Sorry the background image isn't great quality - my camera's broken so I resorted to my iphone.) There's loads of work still to do - but from a starting point of barely knowing how to create a light in Maya I'm pleased with my progress so far.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Character Design: The Writer

Weerawat's been really kind and done some more stylised designs for the writer character. It's definitely got me thinking about a slightly different route for the design:

Look Development: Paper World

I've UV'd my model so now onto texturing and lighting.

Getting the UV's working took much longer than I expected. I'm still at a stage with Maya where everything's going swimmingly then I hit a button, everything suddenly looks totally different and I've no idea how to get back to where I was. In the end I used automatic UVing with 6 planes which was perfect for a simple model like this where most faces are parallel to one of those planes.

I think that I need to get my head around how Maya wants me to think if that makes any sense at all! It's a steep learning curve but there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel and I'm really enjoying learning. I particularly like being able to work in 3D and I'm glad I made the choice to go down this route.


Animation is everywhere at the moment!

From CGI films like Pixar's Up to the traditional approach of Sylvain Chomet in The Illusionist there appears to be an ongoing and increasing demand for animation in all it's forms.

TV advertising is also following suit. Different types of animation are being used to sell us anything from from insurance to pints (see below).

The enduring strength of animation which comes through in all of these examples is its ability to create a mood or convey a message in a way that's perhaps more heightened or exagerated than through live action. As techniques for digital animation get more sophisticated, the ways in which this can be achieved become ever more diverse.

I'm interested in how stylised animation (whatever the technique) can be used to convey a message more effectively than a different medium would, and specifically in using CGI to do this. Hopefully, this new understanding coupled with specific CGI technical skills, will allow me to join the growing ranks of people already working to bring the unique potential of animation to fields as diverse as games, commercials, broadcast and feature films.

Program of Study

My program of study has shifted a little as I've worked through the first stage of the Masters course.

Initially I was interested in looking techniques in animation that could best elicit an emotional response from a viewer. However, as I began to research the existing work in the field I realised that there was a common theme emerging.

All the films that I thought had a real emotional impact used their medium as an intrinsic part of telling their story: whether it was claymation depicting bodies merging in a passionate embrace or sophisticated CGI used to create a fantastical dystopian alternative world the strengths of the medium were married with the message and that's what made these animations stand out for me.

Based on this my focus has shifted slightly: I realise that I'm particularly interesting in exploring what makes for successful visual storytelling and, within that, how the strengths of animation as a medium can be used to underscore the key story themes.

I'm particularly interested in learning 3D software in greater depth so I will focus on developing skills in Maya and my aim over the duration of the masters course is to create a short piece of narrative animation with a style that compliments the themes of the story.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Look Development: Paper World

Inspired by Su Blackwell's work (here's her 'Snow Queen') I decided to start testing out some shapes with paper textures in maya.

I've modelled a stag so the next step is to start playing around with lights and textures.

Look Development: Asics Ad

I was taking a break from working to watch Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the Champion's League (incidentally the sending off was a disgrace!) and saw a really interesting Asics advert. A quick you tube search didn't bring it up, but I did find the ad below instead.

This is really interesting with reference to the paper world in my script that Margarita creates for herself and the writer. The stop motion approach isn't really relevant but the style could influence how I think about modelling my paper environment. Also, some of the environments are beautifully lit and framed. I've still not really locked down a look for my environments yet so it's good to have images like these ones to think about.

Paper Art - Characters

My Margarita character will be made from the pages of books so I've started looking at some real paper sculpture in order to get some ideas for both the style of character design and also for how to get this effect working in 3D.

The two artists shown have very different approachs. ....

Bert Simons uses photography to create eerily realistic heads from paper. This is almost the opposite of what I want to do: he's making paper look like skin where I'm aiming to make skin look like paper.

His approach is interesting though: it has parallels with CG modelling in that he's used connected 2D polygons to create a 3D shape. If I think carefully about where 'seams' would occur perhaps I can use a more stylised version of this technique when creating Margarita

Sher Christopher takes a totally different approach. Her lovely characters are very stylised, and the characteristics of paper as a material have a huge influence on the structure and appearance of her sculptures. I'm very keen to avoid either of my characters looking like toys so I'd steer away from anything so schematic but the particular way that Sher uses her material has really got me thinking

Paper Art - Environment

Su Blackwell:

Chatsworth, Derbyshure ‘A Guide to’


St Pauls

Su Blackwell

The Old House

Su Blackwell

Wuthering Heights

I love these examples of paper art by Su Blackwell and Elodole and this is the kind of look that I'd like to capture in CG.

Whilst quite intricate there's still a simplicity to the forms with the detail and beauty coming from the material itself.

Also, these show how beautifully light and paper can interact. The slight translucency of paper means that lovely effects are created when it's back-lit.

From a practical point of view I think this means that I'll need to investigate sub-surface scattering to get the look of back-lit paper to work.

Finally, Su Blackwell's work tends to incorporate books themselves into the artwork. Having looked at her work I'm thinking about whether this is something to include in my environment concepts in some form.

Life Drawing

I feel that to express some of the images in my mind better I need to do some work on my draftsmanship so I've been doing some life drawing to try to refresh my long neglected drawing skills. I've found a drop-in class in Edinburgh ( and it's been really good fun trying to get my head around form again. To begin with the learning curve was really steep (I was embarrassingly bad at first!) That's leveled off a bit now though so I've signed up for some taught classes starting at the beginning of May - hopefully this will keep my progression going. (Sorry for the cropping - my scanner's not big enough!)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Research Poster

I've had fun making this poster


I wasn't completely happy with my previous script, I felt as though I was trying to get too much in for a short animation and it tailed off a bit towards the end, so here's the new version: a shorter more streamlined tale with a magical ending!

There is a man made from wood whose fingers take the form of pencils. 
He is a novelist.

In the past books used to be very popular, but now these have been replaced by 
TV and film, bookshops are closing as fewer and fewer books are sold.

Unfortunately our hero knows nothing but writing, books are his life's work 
so he continues to write: but with no-one to read them the stories never truly come to life.

Then one day, in the library where he works, a woman named Margarita picks up one his discarded pages. 
Margarita, of all people, appreciates a good story . . for she's made from the pages of books.

Under her hands the stories quite literally come to life: with a few deft folds 
the sheet is transformed into a bird which flies towards the writer.

The novelist is entranced by the way Margarita breathes life into his written words 
and begins working at a furious pace. Finally, when the novel is finished 
Margarita shows him what they've created: she has transformed his words 
into a magical landscape, all made from paper.

They take hands and step over the threshold into the world of the novel, 
shut the door behind them and are gone!

Character Design: Margarita - reference

Here are some reference images for the design for the character Margarita who will be made from the pages of books.

The question now is whether she will have the  organic look of the landscape and fashion models above, or the more structured look of the aeroplane passengers.

Character Design: Margarita

Here are some initial sketches for the character Margarita.

I think the next step is to figure out exactly how her paper texture is going to work. The key thing to explore is whether she is modeled in quite a smooth way and then has the paper texture applied - or whether the modeling reflects the material more, with crinkles, hard folds etc.

Maybe I'll try building a maquette from paper to see what would be physically possible and then apply those results to the CG model.

Character Design: The Writer - reference

Here's a reference sheet for the Writer character - drawing on a combo of Marouane Fellaini's strong craggy features and Chaplin's disheveled outfit.