Saturday, 27 December 2014



A huge Thank You to all our YouTube watchers who have raised The Last Belle viewing figures to 100,000 this holiday!

Though the making of The Last Belle was totally analogue and traditional, the chance to put it online where it can find friends around the world is still an amazing thing to me.

So to all our viewers, and blog readers, in the UK, the USA, France, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, India, Russia, Australia... all of you everywhere... many, many thanks for your support. And to those of you who celebrate it, may we wish you a very Merry Christmas and New Year!

Keep reading in 2015 for more behind-the-scenes stuff. Thank you! Merci! Danke! Gracias! Grazie! Spasibo! Dhan'yavada! Cheers!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Pure, Distilled Charm..!

A wonderful review of the recently released score to The Last Belle, courtesy of film music website Movie Music Mania

"Hancock has concocted a compact work of pure, distilled charm!" screams the headline.

"The performance by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra is rich and vivacious, and Hancock knows how to write music that really lives and breathes. What's more, he demonstrates a knack for detail, the minor flourishes he adds and emotional shades he is able to execute really elevating the score to an impressive level of complexity. Don't be fooled by your preconceptions of a "short film score", because Stuart Hancock once again demonstrates that good things can indeed come in the smallest of packages. Bravo!"

You can read the full review HERE.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Score Is Released!

Calling all fans of exciting, romantic and fun movie-music: the award-winning score to The Last Belle will be available to buy from today (Dec 2nd)!

All 14 minutes of the lush score, recorded by the mighty Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, are being released by Moviescore Media and will be available as a digital download either directly from them, or from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and many other outlets.

To quote from Moviescore Media's press release:

"MovieScore Media finds love (and great film scores) in the most unusual places - this time we release a digital EP by award-winning composer Stuart Hancock who once again proves that small films do not necessarily have small scores - in fact, a symphonic orchestral score can do wonders to fill the 2-D animated characters with life! Performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, The Last Belle is a rich, colourful and versatile score which gives you an emotional rollercoaster in just 14 minutes. The music follows the two parallel storylines, alternating between a hopeless romantic ("I’ve Got Myself a Date!", "Giddy Rosie", "Finding Love in London") and a carnivalesque rush which sounds like the most insane moments of Danny Elfman’s career ("Going Down the Tubes", "Rushing to Ripov’s" ). The score recently won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Park City Film Music Festival, Utah."

If you'll pardon the mixed metaphors, it's the perfect Christmas stocking-filler for your ears..!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Musical Gong!

Here's an early Christmas treat: an exciting new award for The Last Belle!

Composer Stuart Hancock has just won an amazing Gold Medal for his score to The Last Belle! The award was part of the Park City Film Music Festival, held in the same area as the Sundance Film Festival. And as if one gong wasn't enough, Stuart walked away with another two for his work on the short film 'Hawk' and the documentary 'The Desert Treasure'.

(For UK readers wanting to hear more of Stuart's work, tune in to the BBC each Saturday for the new series of the action/drama  'Atlantis'.)

For me, recording the score to The Last Belle was absolutely one of the highlights of the whole project. The film was always designed to work as a musical piece, alongside the obvious visual elements, so I'm thrilled the score has garnered this top award - congratulations Stuart!

The orchestra begins to assemble, ready to record The Last Belle...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Between 1996 and 2000 The Last Belle production was housed in a studio at the delightfully named Wardrobe Place.

It's an utterly secluded little courtyard, and despite being within a two minute walk of St Paul's Cathedral, it's unknown to most Londoners, hidden away as it is behind an dull little tunnel. Inside house number 2 (which came complete with a standard London ghost - never seen by me but spotted occasionally by others) we drew, painted and shot quite a fair chunk of The Last Belle.

It was a fantastic place to come to work every morning. From my top floor room I could stretch my eyes over the rooftops opposite to the dome of St Paul's Cathedral; working late into the night I would be kept company by the chiming bells echoing around the moonlit courtyard walls. It was a pretty Dickensian existence, only with electricity, running hot water, and a 35mm rostrum camera in the basement.

Layout maestro Roy Naisbitt, producer Rebecca Neville and director Neil Boyle on the front steps of the studio. 

Sticking to my rule that every location in The Last Belle must be based on a real place (for new readers to this blog there's more on locations Here and Also Here), I snuck our studio building into the film, whizzing past in the background during a fast camera pan:

I was adamant the right-hand basement windows must be lit up for this night-time shot. The reason? Because it was behind these windows that our rostrum camera was tucked away. As a tip-of-the-hat to our brilliant cameraman John Leatherbarrow I made sure the camera room windows were blazing away in honour of the many late nights he put in painstakingly photographing our artwork one frame at a time.

Each time this shot flies by it reminds me what an amazing job John did - indeed, what an amazing job the whole crew did. We had absolutely no money to play with, but even if I'd been given a million pounds I couldn't have gathered a more talented bunch of artists.

Thank you all! And please switch off the lights when you leave.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Moment In Time - Part 3

A long silence from me...

...but finally the holiday season is passing, the Christmas commercial pitches are rolling in, and I'm back at the keyboard of this blog.

Today's offering is a little addendum to my recent posts on the legendarily unfinished movie 'The Thief and the Cobbler'. During my recent surge of studio spring cleaning I came across this little curio, which was made back in 1982:

I believe it was made as part of the drive to raise financing for the film, and was modelled on the famous toy puzzle where you have to navigate ball bearings, in their correct order, into hole-shaped slots. The ball bearings in this version are a golden colour, to echo the 'Three Golden Balls of Fate' atop a palace minaret, part of the storyline from the movie.

I have no idea how many of these were made - I would assume hundreds. Does anyone else out there have one tucked away at the back of their pencil drawer, like me?

And finally, here's a vintage Behind-The-Scenes-On-The-Thief picture taken by Simon Maddocks, the great photo-chronicler of so much British animation history (for which, thanks).

I had no idea this photo even existed until very recently. It shows a frighteningly young me sitting with assistant animator Tanya Fenton at one of the production parties (Summer? Christmas?) in 1991. It's very strange - in a 'Back to the Future' kind of way - to stumble suddenly across an unknown image from your life nearly a quarter of a century before...

All I can do now is marvel at the fact that in those days, sitting cross-legged on the floor all evening was a comfortable proposition...

Monday, 30 June 2014

If Desks Could Tell Stories...

After weeks of 'spring cleaning' my studio space is finally clear...

Entirely barren in fact, apart from a few kilos of dust. I am moving out of this work space and on to pastures new. But the drawing desk is coming with me. This is the desk (same desk - different studio space) where I first sat down in October 1996 to produce the first of 35,000 drawings for The Last Belle. This is the desk at which 95% of my work on The Last Belle was laid out, drawn, redrawn, erased, thrown in the bin and rescued from the bin. I've sat at this desk squinting at drawings, yelling in frustration at drawings and laughing at drawings (is it slightly embarrassing to admit to laughing at your own drawings now and again?) This desk has seen me sit at it all day and sometimes all night, both clean cut and unshaven, both elated and despairing, and on one occasion almost entirely naked (long story).

In short, we've been through a lot together.

But for a short while - between moving from my old studio space to my most recent studio space - my beloved desk had to go into storage. For an agonising few months I had to go without the perfectly tilted drawing board, the ergonomically designed shelving, and the exquisitely placed shallow pencil drawers. Instead, for the duration, I had sit on a bench (far too low) at my girlfriend's kitchen table (far too high). My 'drawing board' was a jagged 'L' shaped offcut of perspex (far too thin, so it wobbled) propped up against two piles of magazines (far too unstable) with an anglepoise lamp (far too hot) shining up behind it. It was in this makeshift torture chamber I animated this scene:


And here's the funny thing: when The Last Belle was finally finished and cut together, this scene - born in complete agony and discomfort, and without the aid of my beloved drawing desk - leapt out as my absolute personal favourite.

There's probably some profound philosophical insight I should be able to gain from this... but I'm buggered if I can figure out what it is.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Moment In Time - Part 2

A wonderful afternoon was spent last Sunday at the British Film Institute, watching the first ever UK screening of the assembly cut of 'The Thief and the Cobbler', digitally restored and archived by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The print is a copy of how the famously 'unfinished' film stood on a single day in May 1992, when production was shut down by Warner Bros and the Completion Bond Company: a mixture of finished full colour footage, line tests, storyboards, 'missing scene' captions, final music, temp music, and the original character voices. It's an insight into what the final film might have been, but also an insight into how an animated film is constructed, the very workings of its birth.

It is 22 years since I saw any of that footage up on the big screen, and it brought back a flood of memories. Despite the struggle I remember going through on some of those shots, it all sailed past effortlessly on the screen - which hopefully means we got it right!

Considering the sad fate that befell the film, the event was an actually a very happy and uplifting day. As Richard Williams pointed out after the screening, the legendary animation artists who worked over so many years on this film - many of them now long dead - would have loved the audience reaction to their work, the laughter, the engagement with this intricate hand-crafted world shining up on the screen. Thanks to this preservation print, The Thief and the Cobbler is now no longer simply a film, or even an unfinished film, but a unique preservation of a craft, and its craftspeople, captured in time.

Here are some pictures from the post-screening reception, all taken by 'Thief' FX animator Simon Maddocks (with thanks):

Neil Boyle, Rebecca Neville, Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton

Layout and design maestro, Roy Naisbitt

Richard Williams, Heidi and Brian Stevens, 'Thief' DoP John Leatherbarrow

The party continues late into the evening... John Leatherbarrow and
'Thief' FX animator Mark Naisbitt

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Moment In Time

Calling all UK animators: on June 1st there will be a SCREENING of 'The Thief and the Cobbler - A Moment In Time', where Richard Williams' workprint of his unfinished feature (now digitally restored) will be shown, followed by an interview with the man himself.

I spent four years working on this film - a mere drop in the ocean compared to the decades that artists like Roy Naisbitt, Errol Le Cain and Ken Harris put in - but I did manage to rack up just over 1000 feet (about 11 minutes) of animation in those years, working with my two superb assistants Bella Bremner and Tanya Fenton. I can't wait to see everyone's work up on the big screen again - it feels like a lifetime ago...

In keeping with the Richard Williams theme, my ongoing Studio Spring Clean has unearthed a copy of The Association of Illustrators Newsletter, dated July/August 1976. I was still in short trousers, doodling in the corner of my junior school textbooks, when this interview with Dick was written. But it very much sums up his continuing approach to the craft of animation. Here are a few extracts (the author/interviewer is uncredited):

Richard Williams: "(At age 21) I couldn't stand Disney's work... and I managed to make an award winning 30 minute cinemascope film (The Little Island) which owed nothing to him. Over the next 10 years I made several non-Disney films but was gradually becoming frustrated at my lack of knowledge... of technique. So instead of fighting it, and saying 'I don't want to be like my daddy' I decided to find out all about Disney's technique. Now his story-telling I've never liked, but what did fascinate me was how he got so good so fast.

...Knowledge doesn't corrupt, it only helps you. I may be arrogant as an artist, but I'm certainly not arrogant as a craftsman... We said: 'Let's get that knowledge before all his animator's die'.

The tricks we learned from these great men, and from studying prints of Disney's films in detail, we paractised on the commercials we were doing at the time.

I agree that you should have your own original approach, get away from talking bunny rabbits, and all the other cliches, but don't throw out all that technique." He gets up and walks across the room in a very wobbly manner, as though with some dreadful nervous disease. "If you want your character to walk like that, OK. You're avant-garde." He walks back, firmly planting his feet on the floor. "It's actually harder to do it (this) way - to give your characters weight. If you know all the tricks... you don't have to sweat blood getting it right. That way you can get more life into what you're doing.

Anyone who ignores Disney is stupid, or else scared that he'll lose his own identity. My guys don't lose theirs; each one directs his own commercial, but if he wants it, there's a load of experience behind him he can call on.

The only advice I can give students who want to come into this business is to draw things in movement. Forget cartoons. It would be a lot easier for us if there were more draughtsmen and fewer cartoonists around. Anyone who can really draw gets a place here. If you're a student, don't skirt round old traditions. Go through them, and when you come out the other side, you've got to be better. Don't burn the library. Otherwise you're like the carpenter who looks at a beautifully made old table and decides to make his own out of orange crates. Very exciting, but liable to fall to pieces."

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Visit From Mr Naisbitt

More trawling through the Last Belle archive has turned up some old pics of a visit to my ex-studio space from Mr Roy Naisbitt, circa 1998.

Roy Naisbitt laying out one of his huge backgrounds for the
Underground tunnel sequence in The Last Belle.
 I've detailed on this blog before (Part One HERE and Part Two HERE ) the process by which we designed this sequence. But it was always an exciting day when Roy would arrive in the studio with a new section of artwork completed, ready for me to add the character animation.

The problem was, our studio wasn't quite big enough to lay this monster out... we had to snake our way through various offices, and walk the length of the building to get a feel for how the artwork was flowing.

Neil Boyle and Roy Naisbitt discuss how the
action will play out. Tracer/colour modellist
Samantha Spacey can be seen half a mile off,
at the other end of the layout... 

The arrival of one of Roy's completed backgrounds always brought the studio to a standstill, as people wandered up and down along the length of it, heads swivelling, hypnotised. And, as you would with the launch of a new ship, there was usually a bit of a celebratory drink to follow.

The day after, sitting in the peace and quiet of my office, I'd take the first section of the background, stick it on my drawing board, and stare... How on earth was I going to move my character believably through this labyrinthine perspective..?

The answer - as always - was:  go make a coffee. Have another think. Make another coffee. And when you can't put it off any longer, reach for a blank sheet of paper, reach for a nice soft pencil, and just start drawing.

It was so much fun.

(The final sequence can be seen at 10:02 here. )

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 22/01/2017:

As you'll see from the edit below, I was asked to remove my original posting about The Simpsons by the production company that produced the sequence. Sadly, they have since liquidated, thus freeing me up to repost my behind -the-scenes account, and pictures, of this fun job. You can find it HERE!

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.     

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


For those of you visiting this blog and finding nothing new over the past couple of months: apologies! I've been having a very busy time putting a commercial animated project to bed. And more recently, I've been having an even busier time lounging around eating and drinking far too much over Christmas. You know how it is...

But before my festive gorging, I was at work on my latest project and found myself explaining to a visiting work-experience student about the animatic process. Most of you reading this will know what an animatic is, but for those who don't: an animatic is a filmed storyboard, often cut together with sound effects, and even possibly music, which gives a broad idea of how the sequence is (or isn't) working, prior to it going into the animation process. In the old days at Disney's they called it a Leica Reel (because it was shot on an old Leica film camera); some people in commercials refer to it as a Boardomatic; some feature productions call it a Story Reel. Whatever you call it, it's basically the same idea: lets see how the sequence is flowing before we animate it.

Sometimes these animatics can be drawn pretty crudely, and timed out in a very basic way, and they'll still give a reasonable idea of what is working, and what isn't. But in my years working at the Richard Williams studio I saw some pretty elaborately drawn animatics that really nailed down all the details of how a sequence was to be designed and played out.

An original animatic drawing from a Kellogs Frosties advert, drawn by
Richard Williams in colour Magic Markers.
( I can't find the final commercial online, but HERE'S a similar Williams Studio Frosties ad from the same period )

These animatics allowed the commercial's clients to see the things you would expect from this process - like the staging, composition, and editing - but the more elaborate the animatics became the more they gave indications of final character design, final colour design and character performance. This gave the (often very un-visual) clients and agency staff a chance to approve the work, or suggest their changes, before the elaborate and expensive animation work began. And the more drawings that were produced for each shot the more the director could control - and keep graphically consistent - the final animation that might go on to be produced by several different hands. The downside to this degree of animatic detail is that creatively it tends to tie the hands of each animator afterwards; but the upside is consistency and overall choreography in the final film.

Personally, I quite like working this way. I figured out all the dialogue sequences on The Last Belle by doing full colour animatic drawings beforehand. The drawings were timed out to fit the pre-recorded dialogue and gave me a good idea of where each sequence was heading.

An animatic drawing of Rosie. The pose and  expression was
inspired by Sienna Guillory's performance of the dialogue.

 Once the sequence seemed to be playing out well with maybe one drawing for every one or two seconds of screentime (sometimes more, sometimes less) then I'd trace the animatic drawings off onto animation paper with light blue col-erase pencil, number them with the approximate frame numbers (based on their timing in the animatic), and then begin to try and find the most interesting way to move between these 'fence post' positions.

I find this an amazingly stress-free way of working. You know your basic poses (the animatic poses) are already beginning to tell the story, so you're free to put on your animator's hat and just enjoy the process of building the believability and fluidity of the performance. You've already done so much thinking in the animatic process that the animation itself becomes fun. In a way, this process allows you to seperate your Director's brain (the macro - overview -  bit) from your Animator's brain (the micro - detail  - bit). So, in my opinion, if you're making your own short film and largely working alone, this is probably a pretty good way of keeping a handle on things and keeping your perspective. Not to mention your sanity.

An animatic drawing produced at the Richard Williams Studio for a Kia Ora advert.
The final commercial was animated at Oscar Grillo's studio Klacto.

(The final Kia Ora commercial can be seen HERE. )

It's interesting to see how this process has, over the past few years, spilled over to the live action side of the film industry, with 3D pre-visualisation of special effects and stunt sequences becoming the norm. In fact, the blurring and blending between animation and live action processes is now so extensive (both in the planning of the film and the final manipulation of  its imagery) that I begin to wonder if the separate categories we now have during the film awards season - Best Live Action Film, Best Animated Film - will eventually become impossible to define.

Uncharted waters. Strange and exciting times...