Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas Gift

Christmas has come early this year! Or late, depending on how you look at it.

For various convoluted reasons we never got a chance either to pick up or receive The Last Belle's Grand Prize for Best Animation from the Rhode Island International Film Festival last year.

But thanks to Jeff Buttel and his team at R.I.I.F.F. the award has just made its transatlantic trip over here to London, where it now has pride of place on our shelves.

We're still just as delighted and honoured to have won the top gong. Thanks R.I.I.F.F!

Sunday, 17 November 2013


My good pal and colleague Kirk Hendry has just released his fantastic short film 'Junk' onto YouTube, having completed a very successful - and multi-award winning - run on the festival circuit.

To watch the full 6 minute film you can click on this link.

And to read about the making of the film you can click here.

It's a quirky story, a visual delight, and it has a beautiful score by Janine Forrester. Watch and enjoy! And if you have fun watching, pass the link on to a friend!

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Potpourri of Last Belle

After our recent screenings in Brazil and Los Angeles I've had quite a few emails asking about the making of The Last Belle, and the production's history. A lot of the answers are here in this blog, but anyone could be forgiven for not finding them as they're scattered over 100 or so articles from the past 2 years. So, notwithstanding those of you who have been with this blog from the start (and Thank You if you have), here's my summary of some of the highlights from the past 24 months:

If you'd like to read more about Director of Photography John Leatherbarrow, and how The Last Belle was shot the old-school way: painted artwork photographed onto film, then click on Photography Part One, and Photography Part Two, and Photography Part Three. 


For the story of how layout artist Roy Naisbitt created his dazzling designs for The Last Belle underground sequence click here for Part One and here for Part Two. 

For more on the recording of the musical score by Stuart Hancock click on The Score Is Complete! and for more scoring pictures click on, er,  More Scoring Pictures.

The ancient - and almost dead - art of bespoke hand lettering. Thanks to Mr Mark Naisbitt it is still alive and kicking. For more on how Mark designed the lettering for The Last Belle click on Hand Lettering.

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor I never will be. But thank goodness for those that do have the talent to step in front of the microphone. For more on this click on Performance.

Sam Spacey did all the hand tracing for the film; for more on her beautiful contributions click on Tracing

The London location became just as much a character in the film as the characters themselves. For more on how the locations were researched click On Location and More On Location...

And finally, a couple of my sporadic rants from the blog. This one sums up my whole relationship between film and digital, traditional crafts versus the cutting-edge, and how we applied all this to The Last Belle. Please click on Is Film Dead?  And this one is my message in a bottle to any reader thinking of making their first film - What We Can Learn From Pins.

For all the other goodies - deleted scenes, old sketches, how characters were designed, and so on - then I can only suggest pouring yourself a very large coffee, or setting off an exceptionally large render, and flicking backwards through these pages at your leisure...

I hope this potted guide helps our newest readers. And there will be more new stuff to come, shortly... Thanks for reading, and for writing in! 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Score Nomination!

Exciting news to hear that the amazing score to The Last Belle, composed by the equally amazing Stuart Hancock, has been nominated at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards !

The awards ceremony will take place at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, California, on November 21st. Best of luck to Stuart, and all the wonderful musicians who created the score. I've said it before on this blog, but I'll say it again: watching, and hearing, the music coming to life on the recording stage was one of the absolute highlights in the whole process of bringing this film to life. To create emotions, seemingly out of thin air, is true magic to me. 

For those of you new to this blog, HERE is some behind-the-scenes footage of the score being recorded.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

L.A. Screening

It's been a few weeks since I've been at the wheel of this blog. The usual excuses apply...

But there is just time to tell those of you in the L.A. area that The Last Belle will be screening at the Royal Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd on the 27th, 28th and 29th of this month.

Thanks to Martin Bullard and his hard working team at Deluxe Digital in London for sorting out a brand spanking new DCP for the occasion.

And once I get through my current deadlines I'll be back with more updates - and hopefully a bit more digging into those old artwork boxes - on The Last Belle. Meet you back here shortly...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


I am still hurtling toward the delivery date on my current job, so no time for Last Belle artwork excavations... but there is time for a little plug for 'Croc on the Rock', illustrated by my friend, and one-time animation assistant, Tanya Fenton.

Tanya's done another lovely job (after her previous book, which she also wrote, called 'Three Silly Chickens') developing a cast of colourful, individual animal characters.

I have tremendous admiration for all illustrators, doubly so because I find illustration so difficult myself. I recently came across my old portfolio of artwork from my Foundation Course (here in the UK most art students do a one or two year 'Foundation Course' which covers all aspects of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and so on. The idea is you get a taster of everything before specialising in your chosen field). Leafing through all my old work I was intrigued to see that almost all my paintings and drawings were some kind of metamorphosis, or multiple image, or the same landscape view painted in half a dozen different weather conditions. I was entirely oblivious to the fact at the time, but clearly I felt discontented by a single image, and naturally tended toward change and movement and progression. Or to put it more simply, I was a frustrated animator-to-be. I wanted the images to move.

So for an illustrator to tell a story, summing up the moment into one fixed image, requires great skill. An animator friend of mine once had to draw up the character artwork for the front of a packet of breakfast cereal. He struggled for a whole day, unable to come up with a single pleasing pose. Out of frustration he decided to do some rough animation of the character jumping dramatically onto the front of the cereal packet... and in the process of feeling his way through the flow of movement he ended up with a really nice drawing that became the final image. It's a handy technique if you ever have a mental block (and an animator's brain) and it has bailed me out on a few occasions. It sounds long-winded to animate a whole 'shot' just to arrive at one drawing, but anything beats the misery of staring at sheets of blank white paper, gripping a pencil that doesn't want to be your friend that day...

Sunday, 4 August 2013


A quick reminder that The Last Belle will be making its Brazilian debut at the mighty Anima Mundi festival, Rio de Janeiro, on August 7th. Would love to make it there myself one day... For more details of the festival and the films click HERE!

And while I'm in festival mode, thanks to the people of the Maremetraggio International Short Film Festival who gave The Last Belle such a great reception. Writer Martina Farci, of Media Critica, wrote a nice article comparing and contrasting our film with the live-action film 'Cafe Regular, Cairo'. One film in live action, one in animation; one serious, one humorous; but she concludes that both "see in a different way what is most universal in the world: love." And another nice review from Letizia Rogolino, of News Cinema, who calls The Last Belle "a fun and topical masterpiece of animation..."

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive!

Saturday, 20 July 2013


The exposure sheets, which tell the cameraman/compositor where and when
each artwork element is placed throughout the shot.

It's been a few weeks since I've visited this blog, and that's for the usual reason: once again the impending delivery date on a commercial is hurtling towards me... Ground Rush!

...But on the subject of delivery dates, and keeping a job on track, I've recently turfed out a lot of paperwork from the Last Belle artwork boxes that's entirely to do with the production side of that project: 35,000 pieces of artwork spread out over a 15 year off-and-on production period, produces a certain amount of organisational paperwork. And in a strange way those charts and lists have their own visual beauty.

A lot of us Artsy types have an innate distrust of bureaucracy. I think I was born with it. Many studios descend into a them and us mentality when it comes to the 'Suits' and the 'Artists'. And from that mentality it's a short step to figuring that organisation = non-creativity and therefore creativity = anarchy. But I have to confess that in the first years of my career I soon came to realise all the artists I really admired were also amazingly organised people. Whether a director/producer in charge of a whole movie, or an animator in charge of a single element in a single shot, the most efficient, the most talented, the fastest, and frankly the most relaxed, artists tended to be the most organised from the outset.

Now, I'm no fan of paperwork. I once worked on a film for a major studio where I was confronted with endless, endless paperwork. One monday morning I nearly became a broken man when I received 96 separate forms to fill in with the Production Manager, outlining the projected work me and my studio was going to achieve by the end of the week. To fill out the forms with all the projections required -which would have meant dozens of meetings with all the department heads, and dozens of individual artists and technicians - would have taken several days. And this meant that by the end of the week I would have projected having achieved absolutely no work at all because I was too busy writing out forms about the work I should have been doing if I wasn't writing out forms. Kafka would have loved it.

Over the years I have stolen, or adapted, many organisational tricks from the better productions. But the tracking system I love the best is the 'Route Sheet'. It's been widely adopted and adapted now, but when I started out on the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which, incidentally, was brilliantly organised) the Route Sheet system was introduced into Disney from Richard Williams's studio, where it had been developed by Williams and Roy Naisbitt. Like all great ideas it's as simple as hell.

A very simple, hand-drawn route sheet for The Last Belle.

Here's how it works: each shot in the production is represented by a horizontal column. On the left of this column is a picture of the shot (printed from the storyboard, or layout, or just sketched in by hand) and space to write in the shot number, the scene number, the length of the shot, and the animator. To the right of this the column is divided vertically into boxes representing whatever you need: animatic, layout, rough animation, clean-up, painting, rigging, compositing, whatever... These sheets are pinned up around the walls in their correct sequence order. At a weekly meeting all artists and production people gather around the route sheets and the director or producer begins to shade them in (traditionally in blue col-erase pencil!): Animation all done on shot 10? Shade the 'animation' column in blue. Animation only half done? Shade only half the column blue. The animation on shot 30 we thought was done, but has to go back into production for some reason? Erase the blue pencil so the column is white again.

One of the Roger Rabbit route sheet meetings (photo from Peter Western's collection)

It may sound archaic doing all this with pencil on paper, rather than on a computer, but here's the great thing about this system: it's available to everyone on the production, at all times, and in one glance. If you see a lot of white columns on your walls you know there's a lot of work to do, but if you see a lot of blue then you're steaming. As an artist, if you want to see where your shot comes relative to all the shots around it, it's up there on the wall, in its correct sequence order. If you're a production manager and you need to see where work is getting bottle-necked it's obvious with one glance. The beauty of this system is that it doesn't rely on number-crunching done in the privacy of a small back room somewhere. Instead it is a visual, instantly readable, democratic display available to everyone who walks past it, from the producer to the runner. It makes everyone feel part of a coherent whole, and everyone can watch the project grow.

I've never seen a better tracking system. And it works just as well for a thirty second commercial as it does for a ninety minute feature film.

There is little that gives me more pleasure at the end of a production than filling in those final blocks of blue, knowing that a project has finally been put to bed.

On the subject of which, time to pick up that blue pencil myself... I'll be back here in BlogLand shortly.

Monday, 1 July 2013

80 Animated Years in Edinburgh

Last Saturday was something of an historic event in the animation world, as the Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted a major retrospective of the career of master director/animator Richard Williams, timed to coincide with his 80th birthday this year.

Organised by the ever-energetic Iain Gardner, the programme pulled together nearly two hours of animated excellence from Dick's fifty-five year film career, work that earned him hundreds of awards, including two BAFTAs, an Emmy, and three Oscars.

Included were his first short film 'The Little Island' (1958), the winner of his first Oscar 'A Christmas Carol' (1971), and other shorts including 'Love Me, Love Me, Love Me' (1962) and 'Circus Drawings' (2011).  Then there were title sequences, among them 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (1968), 'The Return of the Pink Panther' (1975), and 'The Animator's Survival Kit - Animated' (2008). Also included were the opening scenes from 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988) and the original trailer for 'The Thief and the Cobbler' (1993). Peppered throughout were a handful of the 2500 commercials produced at the Williams studio over the decades, including 'Mini Cheddars', 'Shell Oil' and 'Long Life Cat'.

The screening was rounded off with a quick interview hosted by Iain Gardner, and a short Q&A session with the audience.

Wonderful to see all this work up on the big screen - and all in the correct aspect ratios, with the EIFF technical crew up in the projection booth swiftly segueing from 4:3, to Widescreen, to anamorphic Cinemascope between reels, reflecting the changing shape of screens over the course of Dick's long career.

I was joined in the audience by Dick's long-time associate Roy Naisbitt (who, as regular readers of this blog will know, designed the Underground tunnel sequence for me in The Last Belle) and Dick very graciously acknowledged our contributions to some of the work on screen, and the support of his long-time producer, and wife, Imogen Sutton. In a happy final word, Dick pointed out he is not the retiring type and is busy working on his next film project, producing animation he feels is by far the best he has ever achieved. As the event came to a close, the audience rose spontaneously and delivered a standing ovation.

Neil Boyle, Imogen Sutton, Richard Williams, Roy Naisbitt and event
organiser and host, Iain Gardner.

I had a rather jolly time in the bar afterwards, talking with people from the audience: film fans, animation fans, students and professionals; some familiar with the work, some seeing it for the first time, all seemingly inspired by it.

Later that evening, a surprise birthday cake is presented to Dick at the
post-show dinner (photo courtesy Fraser MacLean).

Congratulations to Iain Gardner for organising and choreographing the event so smoothly (and my personal thanks to all the EIFF staff for being wonderful hosts). But most of all, congratulations to Richard Williams on his eightieth birthday, and for continuing to be such an inspiration for a whole new generation of animators and film-makers.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Raiders of the Lost Sequence

Time for more climbing up the mountain of old Last Belle artwork boxes...

...or more correctly: tunnelling. Like a caver, the deeper we plunge through the box tunnels, the further back in time we go. And in the deepest, darkest recesses I am now coming across early development work - and many, many ideas that never made it to the final film. Stuff I don't even remember drawing until I take the lid off the box and gaze inside. This, I guess, is one of the interesting side effects of working in a non-digital way: you leave a paper trail. Literally.

One of the earliest sequences I tested in animatic form was a 'Wally Get's Ready For His Date' sequence. I'd found a piece John Williams's musical score to the movie '1941' called 'Swing Swing Swing' that had great rhythm and a sense of rising excitment (here's an arrangement of it on YouTube, but unfortunately not the original wonderful recording). Using a thirty second chunk of this as a temp track I worked up a quick and rough animatic montage sequence showing Wally's ablutions, all timed to the music.

The big shave...

Which guy hasn't experienced this..?

Ear wax removal, to a musical beat...

Nasal hair removal, to a musical beat...

And a zit explosion to hit a musical climax...

Enthusiastic sponging 'downstairs'...

Slightly too enthusiastic a towelling downstairs too...

It was all drawn very fast and very crudely - as you can see - and with pretty crude humour too, but cut together in quick succession, with exciting and upbeat music, it worked a treat. Wally grabbed his clothes, burst out of the bathroom on a big musical climax and then... discovered he was ready for his date three hours early. I even animated, coloured and shot his burst out of the bathroom door as an early animation test.

I still have the sequence on video and would have posted it online quite happily, but for the fact that John Williams and Steven Spielberg would probably -and quite rightly- sue my ass off for misappropriating their original film music. And it doesn't really work quite so effectively when it's run silent...

Anyway, this was yet another sequence that got the chop before it went into production. And for the usual reasons: it was fun enough, but slowed up the story.

But - praise be to blogging - it's fun to revisit it here. It's always strange to come across ideas, drawings or sequences you've put down on paper years before, but have utterly forgotten in the meantime. It's a little like that feeling you get when you go in a multi-mirrored bathroom and catch sight of the weird looking figure in front of you, before realising you are looking at the back of your very own head...

Fresh perspective.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


I'll be back to tunneling through those old artwork boxes shortly... but in the meantime more festival news...

We're delighted to announce that The Last Belle will be screening as part of the Maremetraggio International Short Film Festival, which takes place in Trieste between the 30th of June to the 6th of July. This will be our first Italian screening and it looks an amazing venue!

For more information on this festival in general click HERE

And for The Last Belle's details click on THIS

Thursday, 6 June 2013

British Animation Film Festival

Time to return to home shores: The Last Belle will be screening at the British Animation Film Festival on Sunday 23rd of June. We're delighted to be part of a great variety of films on show at this relatively new, but exciting festival. The four programmes of films are being held at the Richmix Cinema and Arts Centre in London - really looking forward to it.

For more details please click HERE.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

80 Animated Years

I've been asked by the good folk at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013 to pass on the news that on June 29th they will be hosting an event to celebrate master animator/director Richard Williams's 80th birthday this year. Sounds like an afternoon not to be missed!

To read more about 'Richard Williams: 80 Animated Years' please click  THIS LINK.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Last Belle Score!

Congratulations to the hugely talented Stuart Hancock on being long-listed at the Jerry Goldsmith Awards for his amazing musical score to The Last Belle!

Stuart Hancock at the recording of The Last Belle score.

And as if that wasn't enough, Stuart has also been long-listed for four other music awards: Best Music in Full Length Format, Best Music in Documentary, Best Music in Advertisement, and Best Music in Promotional Film.

To check out the full lists click HERE

And for more recent followers of this blog who may have missed my original posting from way-back-when, click HERE for footage of us all recording The Last Belle score with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Anima Mundi

Great news - The Last Belle will be in competition at the mighty Anima Mundi International Film Festival.

The festivities take place in Rio de Janeiro (2nd - 11th August) and Sao Paulo (14th - 18th August) with a touring version travelling through other Brazilian cities.

For more information click HERE.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Low-Tech Can Be Fun!

Back this week to the sifting of The Last Belle artwork boxes.

I've just come across some bits and bobs tucked into a folder that remind me just how much fun it can be to work in a non-digital, low-tech kind of way. Part of the brief for The Last Belle was to hand draw everything - even the technical and props stuff - so that the film would have an old-school, retro feel to it, like a 1940s cartoon.

Here's one example of how we applied 'retro thinking' to the film - During the plot of The Last Belle we establish just how much beer Wally is drinking before his date. He's always holding a can, or drinking from a can, or littering the floor with the empties. It didn't even occur to me this might cause production problems further down the line, so I merrily scribbled out storyboard panels like this:

And rough layouts of the inside of his fridge, like this:

Then came the design phase, where we got into the details of exactly how these beer cans should look...

It turns out there are very specific colours that imply 'alcohol', rather than 'soft drink'. I had never been conscious of this, but when we tried various invented colour schemes for the cans they always ended up looking like lemonade, or Coke, or something similar. The solution was to go out and buy every variety of beer can we could find and bring it back to the studio for, er, a study session.

Tough job, but somebody had to do it. All in the name of Art, etc...

And we found that, amazingly enough, there are a certain range of colours that always crop up on alcohol tins. Strange what you learn while working on a film. So we took this information - making sure our can didn't look too similar to any particular real-life brand - and applied it to our design.

My preferred method of finding colours for a specific prop, or character, in The Last Belle was to use marker pens and coloured pencils on paper, and then when I'd got something I was happy with hand it over to a Colour Modeller - in this case the brilliant Sam Spacey - to refine, and find the equivalent range of colours in cel paint, or to mix them specially.

In the meantime, while all this was going on, it suddenly dawned on me and co-layout artist Mark Naisbitt that these cans, and the lettering on them, were very labour-intensive to draw... and we had literally thousands of cans to draw: hundreds in the background layouts and thousands within the animation itself, with all that lettering and design in different sizes and perspectives throughout.

Not something that'd be a problem in the digital realm, but to hand-draw all of these thousands of cans... Nightmare!

Then came a very low-tech brainwave: I flattened out our can design, drew it on a sheet of paper, wrapped it round a real beer can, and simply photographed it from every possible angle. I took endless photos, just like these:

Then we made up several sheets of drawings, tracing from the photos (without rulers, to keep a hand-drawn feel). Mark also distorted some of the can drawings to give us scrunched up cans:

Once we'd got this library of can drawings it was fairly straightforward to photocopy them at various sizes and cut them together to create layout designs. Here's a can layout by Mark:

Here's the same layout drawing photocopied onto cel, hand painted, and shot against the background:

And here's a small section of the fridge interior:

It's all amazingly low-tech, but I found it strangely satisfying for that very reason...

Using this method we churned out the thousands of cans, with all their details, that we needed for the film. And it was fast to do.

Who needs Photoshop when you've got scissors, sticky tape, and a photocopier tucked away in the corner?