Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Snowman app

I've still not had time to dive back into The Last Belle artwork mountain (more first thing in the New Year, honest)... so a last shameless plug for The Snowman and the Snowdog. Here's the app, developed by a nice bunch of people who came to visit us in the studio one day to see how the artwork for the film was put together.

I think they've done a rather nice job. It's getting some good reviews, and my children certainly like it. It's gentle and kiddie-friendly, and it's fun to fly around the London skyline...

And best of all, it's free!

If you're an Apple person you can get it HERE. And if you're an Android person you can get it HERE.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More on The Snowman...

We had the crew screening for 'The Snowman and the Snowdog' today, which was a huge event hosted by Channel 4 in aid of the Make-A-Wish Foundation charity (their website HERE will bring a lump to your throat - what a great charity). There was a huge crowd, a handful of celebs, and even some fake snow blowing outside.

The crowd assemble in London's Empire Leicester Square theatre...

Full credit to Channel 4 for really getting behind this project and giving it a big push. Look, they've even put a giant flying Snowman outside their HQ building:

And a little explanation for those of you not based in the UK: there's a Christmas tradition of families running out to the shops before the Christmas holiday period to buy a magazine called the Radio Times, which lists all the TV programmes over a two week period right up to New Year. (It's such an old, established magazine that it retains it's title Radio Times from the days when there were nothing but radio programmes to list. Even when TV appeared on the scene and became firmly established they kept the old title.) When I was a little kid we only ever got the Radio Times at Christmas, and - in those days before VHS recorders, DVD players, or any kind of instant access to programmes and films - I would scrutinise it with great anticipation. Christmas would be the time to catch the TV premiere of a big James Bond movie, or one of the Disney classics.

The strange thing is, even though that's all a distant memory and we can access any filmed material we want, whenever we want, within a few months of it's cinema release (or even before it's cinema release, if any of you naughty, illegal types are reading this) the Radio Times is still something of a tradition, and to get on the cover is still hugely prestigious... So it's great to see this:

The Radio Times cover, drawn by Assistant Director,
and general Top Man, Robin Shaw.

One of the articles inside, featuring Aude Carpentier, a terrific assistant
animator and brewer of wake-you-up-with-a-jolt morning coffee, for
which many of us in the studio were grateful.

And a final blast of publicity: I got to shoot a short piece for Channel 4 showing how the character of Billy (the boy) is drawn, and then watching as the character comes to life on the drawing board. I believe they may be showing this a few times over the holidays, but the first screening is on Sunday 23rd December at 08:20 a.m. and in subsequent films animator Richard Fawdry will be doing the same for the characters of the Snowman (23rd December at 18:20p.m.) and the Snowdog (24th December at 08:20 a.m.)

Like I say, it's great to see a traditionally animated short film getting such a promotional push. Let's hope there will be more projects like this to come...

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Snowman and the Snowdog

Earlier this year I got to spend six months working with a lovely animation crew on the 24 minute TV film 'The Snowman and the Snowdog'. As UK readers will recognise, this is the sequel to the original film 'The Snowman', based upon the picture book by Raymond Briggs. 'The Snowman' was first transmitted 30 years ago, and has been on TV every Christmas since - indeed it has become something of a cultural fixture to generation after generation.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film (and Channel 4, which commissioned it) our sequel was put into production. It will be screening in the UK on Christmas Eve.

Click HERE for more information on the film, and HERE for the trailer on YouTube.

I'm not allowed to say any more until the film is released, but I will say that it was a lot of fun to work on, and it was great to be making a small contribution to something that will hopefully still be being watched by my children's children on Christmases yet to come..!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Mr Naisbitt's Amazing Brain!

Here's a lovely new post from 'The Thief and the Cobbler' blog featuring a piece of Roy Naisbitt's work from the movie of the same name:  CLICK HERE

As well as creating layout artwork, Roy created a bunch of amazing cardboard contraptions over the years, some of which really ought to belong in a museum of cinema curiosities; all of them beautifully elegant solutions to the limitations of the pegbars on a rostrum camera (and in those pre-digital days everything had to work physically under the camera lens). I remember working all night with Richard Williams and Roy, trying to get a shot for The Thief ready for the camera by 9 a.m. the next morning... at about 3 a.m. I realised that there weren't enough panning pegs in the shot to keep all the separate artwork levels moving in correct perspective and registration, and I sank my head into my hands and felt like sobbing in defeat. Roy gave me a hearty slap on the back, and told me not to worry, he'd sort something out. And over the next few hours, fuelled by a few cups of coffee, he created an amazing 'floating pegbar' system with a few sheets of cardboard, a scalpel and sticking tape. It was entirely different to the system detailed in the link above, a completely bespoke solution to the problem of that particular shot. The artwork went down to camera at the appointed time, and was shot successfully first take.

Not the last time Roy was to save my bacon.

Roy (in the foreground) talking cameraman John Leatherbarrow through his
elaborate Last Belle background layouts. The rostrum camera stand is lit and
ready to shoot in the background.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 4

I'm in the middle of an intensive work schedule at the moment (and no complaints about that) so the sorting of Last Belle artwork has ground to a complete standstill for a while...

But... You know that feeling you get when you wander around an art gallery and the eyes of the portrait paintings seem to follow you around the room..? Well, I currently have several hundred ping-pong ball shaped cartoon eyeballs glaring at me while I try to concentrate on other things:


I really do need to put this stuff to bed. I feel like my every move is being watched by several hundred little alter egos...

More 'proper' sorting coming soon...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Foyle Film Festival

We're pleased to announce that The Last Belle will be playing at this year's Foyle Film Festival.

The festival, running from the 21st to the 25th of November, has a great lineup and we're excited to be a part of it. For more information on the festival and screenings click here

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 3.5

I've been absent from these pages for a couple of weeks, prepping a couple of jobs, so there's not been much chance for more rummaging through old artwork boxes... but continuing on from the last post I have come across this bar sheet, lodged at the bottom of one of my drawers:

This is part of the dialogue breakdown of Sienna Guillory's performance from the sequence covered in the last post. (For those not familiar with what 'dialogue breakdown' means, it's taking the recordings of the actors voices and writing out exactly what sound is being said on exactly which frame. The animator can then take this information and draw the correct mouth shapes to create the illusion that the animated character is actually speaking the words with complete synchronization.) The dialogue for The Last Belle was analysed using the 'old-school' analogue system, meaning the original recording was transferred onto magnetic film stock and broken down frame by frame by rocking and rolling the sound backwards and forwards manually. This was done by Rod Howick, who has been a major name in the London animation scene for some decades. Rod's a real craftsman, and he's developed an amazing ear over the years, meaning his phonetic analysis of the dialogue, where exactly one sound blends into another, and even where the breaths occur between the words, is always completely spot on.

Rod Howick (left) next to Roy Naisbitt, at the Last Belle crew screening.
These days most breakdowns are done digitally, which has the benefit of providing graphic displays of the soundwave peaks and troughs. But if I had to do the work myself (and I have a few times on smaller jobs) I actually prefer the old analogue method - to my ears it's way more intuitive to run back and forth over the original sound, feeling your way through the sound blends: of course, the great benefit of analogue sound is you can run it back and forth at any speed without it collapsing into juddering digital globs. But as always with these things, it's more the operator than the technology itself that leads to great results. Whatever system you use, breakdown is a great skill, and it was wondeful to have such a fine craftsman as Rod bringing his decades of experience to The Last Belle.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 3

Here's my latest discovery - or rather rediscovery - unearthed in the great box graveyard of paperwork from The Last Belle:

 It's a page from the Last Belle script, with notations by actress Sienna Guillory. Sienna came to the recording amazingly well prepared (as did all the cast) and she bubbled up with all sorts of very good ideas to try out during our recording session. The animation process is so slow, methodical and controlled that the recording sessions were, in contrast, an oasis of spontaneity - flesh and blood interaction, running with ideas, just trying stuff... it was a very exciting time.

I'm not a fan of trying to do a wholesale caricature of an actor or their mannerisms. (Why do it? I'm never going to be as good copying an actor as the actual actor is in the flesh - it's no more likely than an Elvis impersonator being better than the real Elvis.) And the Last Belle characters were designed to look so stylized that their mannerisms had to be equally stylised and less naturalistic than the human performer who supplied their voice. But watching a good performer can be a great jumping off point from which you can then invent stuff.

In this section of the script Rosie avoids a potentially embarrassing telephone conversation by pretending that there is interference on the line, which she fakes by crackling and hissing down the phone herself. I'd organised the recording sessions with a great engineer called Tim Lofts who is very creative and very happy to roll with things in a spontaneous way, 'riding' the controls and letting the actors feel free to take things where they like. When Sienna did her first take of this line she really let rip in a very funny way, letting loose a string of hissing, crackling and raspberry noises that none of us had expected.

When it came time to animate this sequence it meant I could really have some fun:

These 'raspberry noise' drawings make up less than a half second of screen time so that you feel them rather than see them. It's surprising just how far you can push a series of drawings and yet still have them feel relatively subtle in motion. And the great thing about drawing this exaggerated stuff with pencil on paper is that you can do whatever you feel - there are no rigs underneath holding you back. If you can think it, you can draw it.

Another trip down memory lane... time to head back to the mountain of boxes to see what turns up next...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 2

The Great Spring Clean continues... I'm not only wading through artwork for the film but have now stumbled across sketches for the poster design too. It's amazing how you forget all this stuff until you lift a box lid and find it all sitting there, staring back up at you.

This was my first scribbled idea for a poster...

The idea was to base the poster around the
distorted checkerboard pattern used for the
'drunk in the Underground' sequence. I made
this mock-up at A3 size, but then decided it was
too fussy a design to work if it was reproduced
small on a web site...

In the process of simplifying, things got
maybe a bit too crude. Another rejection.
(Incidentally, my giant self-promoting name
on these mock-ups is not an example of my
ego slipping it's moorings but -like the web
address text- was used as a proxy for an
area of finer text in the final. That's my
excuse, and I'm sticking to it.) 

I got Roy Naisbitt in on the act too. Here's
one of Roy's rough sketches laying out the
journey that happens during the film.

Another version. But again we felt this would be too
fussy when reproduced small.

My 'Eureka!' moment, caught on the back of an envelope.

...Which led to this mock-up. I finally felt happy with
an image that hinted at the story, principle character,
feel, and location of the film. And which would read
when reproduced small.

The final image, with a lot of additional digital lighting effects,
text, and details added by my pal Kirk Hendry.
 If I'm honest I found designing the poster way more difficult than making the actual film...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

More screenings...

We are pleased to announce that The Last Belle will be screened at the 3D Wire International Market, held in Segovia, Spain from the 10th to the 14th of October.

For more information click HERE.

And a quick reminder for all of you in Philadelphia that The Last Belle will be screening on Friday 28th September at the Project Twenty1: Philadelphia Film and Animation Festival. Click HERE for the schedule.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Great Spring Clean - part 1

Well I'm nothing if not contrary. Having just made an analogue film in the digital age I am about to start my 'Spring Cleaning' as we enter Autumn.

There are a great many positive things about working in an analogue way, but also a few negatives: one of the greatest being how much stuff you create in the process. The Last Belle now lives in small drive that can fit in the palm of my hand, but the artwork that went into it's creation takes up some 75 boxes, plus several oversize folders.

A small section of Mount Lastbelle
 If I were some kind of Citizen Kane figure who had a vast warehouse at his disposal to store all the momentos of a lifetime then I'd be happy to keep it all for posterity. But sadly I don't have a warehouse. Just a relatively small house. So this stuff has to go.

And it's not just 35,000 cels and 35,000 drawings clogging up my life. There are endless...

                                  sheets, and...                                                            

                                             ...exposure sheets, and...

                                          ... pots and pots of paint, and...

                                  ...a couple of hundred background paintings too. 

A while back I had a fantasy that I'd like to take all this artwork into a field, pile it up high, and create a huge bonfire out of it, around which friends and family could party into the twilight. Not that I particularly enjoy destroying artwork, but ultimately all that counts is the final film -- what you used to get you there becomes irrelevant.

But then it occurred to me that burning 35,000 sheets of triacetate cel would probably create a noxious toxic cloud  large enough to wipe out a small town. And that's not the kind of publicity anyone would want attached to their film.  So we're being a bit more environmentally aware and disposing of most of this stuff in a more friendly, but sadly less spectacular, way.

Over the next few weeks/months I'll post any interesting artwork as I stumble across it. We'll keep a couple of boxes of goodies for posterity, but the rest of it can go to the great animation graveyard in the sky.

And while we're on the subject, if your appetite for 'Spring-Cleaning-Artwork-Blogs' has been whetted by reading this, let me alert you to another blog: it turns out that just a few miles up the road from me Terry Gilliam's youngest daughter Holly is also crawling through a pile of her Dad's old artwork and is posting it on her lovely blog 'Discovering Dad'.

Enjoy! It's strangley comforting to know I'm not the only one wading through paper mountains and imbibing litres of dust...  

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Those lovely people at Skwigly Animation magazine have just posted a podcast featuring interviews with me, John Kricfalusi, and Richard Randalph. Apparently, due to an attack of the techno-gremlins the sound quality on my interview is a bit distorted... but if you are unable to make out every word I say it may create the illusion that I'm actually talking sense. Possibly.

You can download it on iTunes, or listen to it on the Skwigly website HERE.  

Friday, 14 September 2012

Attack of the Giant Dragonfly

I am currently in the middle of the Grand-Sort-Out-Of-Old-Artwork from The Last Belle (more of which in some forthcoming posts), but in the meantime I have been doing my best to avoid starting such a humongous task by catching up with old friends...

Me with maestro animators/directors Geoff Dunbar and Oscar Grillo

I mention this only because of the surreal moment I set up this group photo only to be interrupted by the sound of a small helicopter bashing against the skylight above us...

Photographus interruptus - Oscar Grillo, Geoff Dunbar, Peter Lord and
illustrator David Melling looking slightly alarmed...

It turned out to be a HUGE dragonfly, beautifully coloured, repeatedly head-butting itself against the glass in an apparent suicide bid. We sat transfixed for several minutes, before it gave up and left. It's a strange world.

OK, back to The Last Belle shortly...

Friday, 31 August 2012

Philadelphia - Project Twenty1

We are delighted to announce that The Last Belle will be screening at the Project Twenty1: Philadelphia Film and Animation Festival between September 27th - 30th.

For more information about the festival, and to watch some trailers to the films they'll be hosting click HERE for their website. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Wolf!

Here's a strange piece of synchronicity: a few months back I bought a novel and on the cover was a lovely black and white photograph of a London street. Having spent so long drawing and painting London street scenes for The Last Belle I was immediately attracted to this beautiful image:

In small letters on the back cover the photo was attributed to Wolfgang (or 'Wolf') Suschitzky. When I read this I made the connection to Adam Suschitzky whom I had the chance to watch light a film set - meticulously - a few years back. It turns out Adam is the grandson of Wolfgang. And Wolfgang's son is Peter Suschitzky, who has shot a ton of movies for David Cronenberg, plus other movies like The Empire Strikes Back. A three-generation dynasty of Master Photographers/Cinematographers.

Here's the strange synchronicity bit though: this morning, for the first time ever, I finally got around to Googling some information on Wolf Suschitzky and found out that today, the 29th of August, is his 100th birthday, and he's still hale and hearty! Happy Birthday to you! An amazing maker of images, and specifically, luminous London street scenes from yesteryear...

All images copyright Wolfgang Suschitzky

For me these images bear the hallmark of true art: to see something so familiar (in this case the streets of my own city) but in a fresh way and through fresh eyes. It's like taking a holiday from your own brain. Wonderful. Happy 100th Birthday Wolf!