Saturday, 12 April 2014

Matt Groening

By strange coincidence my studio Spring Clean has just unearthed this old snapshot from 2008...

Matt Groening, Neil Boyle, Sophie and Pieter Van Houte, and Richard Williams.
... at the same time that production company Th1ng releases their 'official making-of' (WATCH HERE.) our Sylvain Chomet-themed Simpsons couch gag. There's also an article to accompany the video in The Beak Street Bugle.

The dinner took place at Le Petit Zinc restaurant in Annecy, France. Matt Groening was at the film festival promoting 'The Simpsons Movie' and Richard Williams was publicising 'The Animator's Survival Kit - Animated' (which is what I was working on at the time), and we all decided to get together for a slap-up meal. We had a great evening as a variety of anecdotes flew across the table. Despite Matt being beseiged by throngs of autograph hunters wherever he went - in the restaurant, on the walk back to his hotel, on the way to the toilet - he was endlessly gracious to his fans. A real gentleman, and a true artist in his philosophy of life. I really enjoyed his company.

On this evening I couldn't have guessed in a million years I would get the chance to make my own very small contribution to his legendary Simpsons show... Life is full of surprises. And some are as happy as this. 


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Bits, Bobs, Odds and Sods

I'm having a massive spring clean in my studio, and all sorts of... stuff... is appearing from the bottom of dusty boxes. Or more likely, emerging from the pile of crap crammed down the back of my drawing board. Out of sight, out of mind...

Now here's an object you don't see much of any more:

It's a colour swatch for animation cel paint, and it's almost totally extinct. Back in the day these things cost an absolute fortune to buy because the printing of the colours on the swatch had to reflect the exact hue you were going to get in the pot of paint, with complete accuracy.

I also made up a few do-it-yourself marker-pen swatches using Pantone pens:

I used these to help select the colours for my animatic drawings:

From this we could find the equivalent colour in the cel paint range. The particularly nasty shade of orange on his Bermuda Shirt was shade 046 - just bright enough to induce migraine-blindness having painted a few hundred cels...

I can't remember how many bottles of 046 we got through, but the inch of paint you see here at the bottom is all we had left before finishing the 'shirt sequences'. The shade of yellow/orange we used for Rosie's hair ran out on the final cel. And the photocopy machine exploded and died after the last cel went through. It was all very symbolic.

Here's a final cel (from about 10:48 in the YouTube video )  which took a bunch of different colours to paint, each colour being applied to the whole sequence of cels in a run, before waiting for them to dry and applying the next colour. I'm reminded looking at this cel that I decided to save a bit of time by colouring the dark underside of his shoes, the bucket handles, and the shadow side of the brush with grey marker pens (top-cel'ing, as they used to call this, where the usual paint colour was applied to the back of the cel, and an additional 'fx' layer of pen, paint, or pencil rendering was added to the front of the cel). In this sequence the movement is so fast your eye can't detect the slightly scribbly pen texture of these areas. At least, I hope you can't...

So farewell to the Cel Paint Swatch - once outrageously expensive, now a defunct museum piece...

...although I can't quite bring myself to throw it away.

Might I need it again?

Never say never...

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Thank You, Everyone!

What an amazing two weeks this has been for The Last Belle! Since arriving on YouTube we have had over 25,000 views, more than 800 'Likes', and a huge number of amazingly supportive comments posted underneath. Lovely stuff written by the followers of Cartoon Brew too, and a quick search of the internet (embarrassed to admit it, but we all do it don't we..?) has turned up more happy sentiments in English, French, Russian and a host of languages - for which I am eternally grateful to Google Translate.

So, to all of you out there, from me - and all of us at Last Belle HQ - Thank You for taking the time to support the film and to leave your thoughts. It is truly one of the happiest responses I have had to anything I have helped create.

Thanks too to the many lengthier private emails people have taken the time to write - I hope I have managed to respond to you all. There are questions still to be answered: will the film be released onto DVD? Will the soundtrack be released? Will original cels become available? I hope the answer to all these will eventually be 'Yes', but stay tuned to this blog for more details as they develop...

But the thing I have felt happiest about these past two weeks is not so much to do with The Last Belle itself, but the number of people who have written saying that watching our film has helped inspire them to start their own short film, or has reinspired them to finish off a project that has stalled. Some of you will have read an earlier blog entry I made encouraging people to dive in at the deep end and get going with a short film project; it is a process that is exciting, terrifying, educational, frustrating, satisfying, often tedious, sometimes exhilarating, and for which - regardless of how large or small your vision - you will never have enough money to 'do it properly'. In other words, filmmaking is as capricious as Life itself. And every once in a while it can have a happy ending too, as these past two weeks have demonstrated to me.

Thank you all again for your support, and if you can stand it please continue Posting, Facebooking, Tweeting and Linking so we can get the film out there to as many people as possible. In the meantime I will continue to burble away on this blog, with more behind-the-scenes stuff, bits of artwork found stuck behind a drawer, and the occasional good-natured rant.

See you back here...

Friday, 7 March 2014

Behind The Scenes... The Simpsons

EDIT 11/03/2014:

Unfortunately, I have been requested to remove this posting, which celebrated the behind-the-scenes work of the hugely talented crew that created the latest Simpsons 'couch gag'.

So my apologies if you have come here hoping to find that.

But while you are here please feel free to wander through earlier postings - and stay tuned for future updates - regarding The Last Belle, where I will continue to discuss, celebrate and admire the work of the hugely talented individuals who bring such projects to life.

 Many thanks.

To see Neil Boyle's latest short:

To see Kirk Hendry's latest short:

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Online Release!

At Last..! To celebrate our 100th blog post...

After dozens of festivals spanning two years and many countries, The Last Belle finally comes to YouTube!

Creating this film out of nothing has been something of an adventure: made with no money, countless years of work, no money, old-school technology, still no money, a great deal of love, and the loyalty of many hard-working craftspeople.

Click HERE to watch the whole film. Or via our Web Site  where you will find more info. And if you enjoy it please 'like' us, comment, or pass the link on to your friends.

Many thanks. Enjoy!

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Here are three sections of the background artwork for the 'falling drunkenly through the London Underground' sequence of The Last Belle, designed by layout maestro Roy Naisbitt:

The brief was to design these backgrounds so they reflect the drunken state of our central character - all woozy, billowing shapes and lines.

The three sections in this picture are physically joined together onto one long roll, but separated in this photo so they're easier to view here. In fact these three images make up only about a third of the full length of this particular background. At some point I must get around to having the full extent of the artwork photographed as some of these backgrounds are over 35ft long, and 30inches wide, to accomodate the dynamics of the camera wildly zooming and rotating across them. The artwork was never intended to be viewed like this; in the final sequence each part is revealed only in small chunks as the camera passes along. But nonetheless, seen out flat like this, they still have an incredibly mesmerising charm.

Bravo to Roy Naisbitt, a truly unique artist! I count myself extremely privileged to have his beautiful contributions in The Last Belle.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Animatics... continued

Here are a few more scribbles, sketches and drawings from the dauntingly large Last Belle artwork mountain... more or less randomly plucked from the top of three boxes:

A very early attempt to figure out what Rosie, sat at the bar, might look like.
I'd completely forgotten that I'd played with having a fish tank behind her
(an idea that must have bitten the dust quite quickly - it doesn't reappear).

Here's an animatic drawing, hunting for the right angle on this character,
and also testing how thick or thin the 'drunk' wobbly ink outline should be
when viewed in perspective.

Another colour animatic drawing, hunting for the right
expression to fit with the pre-recorded dialogue.

This animatic drawing shows Rosie on the phone,
in her 'towel turban'. All a rehearsal for... 

...the final colour animation cel.

Since finishing The Last Belle I've begun to dabble a little with digital drawing rather than paper based drawing. Each medium has its pros and cons but - aside from the onscreen imagery - I'm constantly struck by how interesting it can be to flick through a paper pile of long-forgotten sketches, storyboards and animatics. Had I done this work-in-progress stuff digitally I probably wouldn't have such a linear collection of pictures with which to reignite my otherwise cloudy memory. With digital drawing the tendency to delete, update, and adapt old variations (or simply lose stuff in a labyrinth of folders within folders) seems inescapable. But in the world of paper the process of having to physically 'update' an image - in other words, do a whole new drawing - automatically creates a paper trail which marks the evolution of your thought process. Chuck it in a box and it'll still be there in a few hundred years time. And in a format that's still readable.   

Now, I make no claims that The Last Belle will be of the remotest interest to anyone - outside of my own family - in a few years time. But... it got me thinking about film history in general.

I had an interesting moment a few months back when I went to a screening of Alexander Mackendrick's  'The Man in the White Suit' (1951) at the British Film Institute. Well, I call it an 'interesting moment', but in fact I was beside myself with excitement. To an embarrassing degree. Those of you who have followed this blog for some time will know that Mackendrick is something of an idol of mine, and the films he directed at the Ealing Studios in London are some of my favourites. Outside the screening room, sitting in a glass case in the foyer, was Mackendrick's own shooting script for 'The Ladykillers' (1955):  

A page from Director Alexander Mackendrick's annotated script for
'The Ladykillers' (1955)
I had no idea Mackendrick drew detailed storyboards over the pages of his script, and crossed them through as he shot the scenes. What blew me away was seeing the thinking behind images that are so familiar to me from years of endlessly watching these movies. It was like drawing the curtain back to uncover the Wizard of Oz pulling at the levers - the very workings of an amazing set of images being revealed.

I pored over those sketches forever as they revealed the thinking behind of the compositions, the editing, the blocking, and the underlying visual psychology of the scenes.

For all the brilliance of the digital world - and I do think the technology is a truly wonderful and democratic advancement - I really hope that the archiving of digital pre-production artwork is something that is actively pursued - not just the big, flashy concept art stuff, but the scribble on the back of an envelope that solves a story problem, or the record of an idea that never quite made it. It's easy to chuck paperwork in a box but harder to log, and keep updated in a readable format, the digital equivalent. Not impossible of course, just something that takes more active curating. 

It'll be an interesting issue for future film historians. While we'll always have the big 'Art-Of...' books that accompany mega-releases it'd be nice to know that smaller films, and more personal films, also have their birthing pains recorded for posterity. I doubt very much that Mackendrick felt there was any importance to his own working sketches outside of their value to him, on set, as an aide memoire. But to me,  and I'm sure to many others, they're like gold dust.