Thursday, 5 July 2012

Animal Friends II "Moon Bear"

Second animation for Animal Friends Insurance, animated by Francesca Ferrario, DoP SImon Lacey, models by Jim Parkyn, me as producer/director.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Teaching my 5 year old the ways of photoshop

Drawn on a wacom and, with a little help, successfully using eyedropper shortcuts/ bucket fill/ dodge and burn brushes and we added some pillow embossed buttons. The girl has no fear of photoshop!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Commercial for Animal Friends

Made this in December for Animal Friends Pet Insurance company. Seems to be doing well as they've asked for some more this year.It's set in my actual kitchen. Talking animals, who'd of thought it? Animator: Julia Peguet / DoP: Simon Lacey.

Zombie Teddy Bears

Inspired by my (then) 3 year old daughter on explaining what a zombie was. "Are some zombies nice Daddy? Are some of them cuddly?" Yes but they'll tear your stuffing out if you're not careful. (I probably didn't say that)

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

2012 already?

It seems to be over a year since I wrote anything on this blog. The good thing is that means I've been busy. Finished working at Aardman back in December 2010 after 12 years of working there. Today (Jan 4th 2012) marks my first year of starting work for Happyhour Productions, a small but perfectly formed production company based in Bristol. We mainly do commercials, but we're into lots of other things too - hopefully we'll be shooting our first feature film this year (more about that at some point), we are also in development on several animation series ideas - ha, easy, I expect most of them will be commissioned by the summer.
Last years highlight had to be a wine commercial in southern France; hopefully they will want another one this year! Other things in the diary for 2012: Annecy/MIPjnr. And I will attempt to keep this blog more up to date as there have been a surprising number of hits, by a lot of amazingly underwhelmed visitors judging by how long they stayed on the site.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

New Shaun the Sheep trailer

9 brand new episodes of Shaun the Sheep being shown over the Christmas period including the three snowy episodes we are very proud of. Scheduling below so no excuses to not watch them at least once!

Fireside Favourite -
Sunday 19th December, 6.30pm, CBBC Channel
Friday 24th December, 8:30am, BBC 2

Snowed In
Sunday 19th December, 6.30pm, CBBC Channel
Monday 20th December, 5pm, BBC HD
Saturday 25th December, 8.20am, BBC 2
Sunday 26th December, 4pm, CBBC Channel

We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas
Monday 20th December, 15:55, CBBC Channel
Saturday 25th December, 5pm, BBC HD,
Saturday 25th December, 9:50am, BBC 1 

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bafta win!

It seems to be the week for Shaun the Sheep - picked up a very heavy Bafta last night in a surprise win. The award was presented by Karen David of Waterloo Road & Scorpion King 2 (?) fame- that's her in the picture below. Rich Webber, Chris Sadler and myself each received a Bafta mask and we were interviewed backstage by Anna Williamson and Jamie Rickers (Toonattik presenters). I'm hoping we didn't come out of that one too badly - will post the interview if/when it goes online. Got back to Bristol about 4am. Feeling quite rough. Might go and have a fry up.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

International EMMY award

And another one...Shaun the Sheep won an International EMMY last night in New York for Best Childrens and Young Peoples programme. Sadly Chris and I weren't there to pick up the haul but Seamus who was one of the directors was. Here's what we might have looked like if we'd gone.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Shaun the Sheep win Writers Guild Award

Shaun won this lovely glass award, beating Horrible Histories and Tracy Beaker Returns to win the Best Children’s Television Drama/Comedy award at the Writers Guild Awards last night – the award going jointly to 26 writers of Shaun!

Lee Pressman, Ellie Brewer, Dave Ingham and Paddy Makin were there to accept, and the clip that was shown got the most laughs of any of the footage shown that night. Presenter Dave Cohen (very graciously, considering he was a writer on Horrible Histories) said after the award was presented that Shaun was the funniest show on TV.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Here's the latest commercial I did for BT with the lovely Peter Peake. Made it in 3 weeks, which ain't bad for a full CG commercial. (link to ad below pic)

Christmas Vampire

Why did I not know about PATHS in photoshop. WHY? it's so easy to make nice things. Like a christmas vampire. Getting seasonal early! In other new....less than 2 weeks to the (childrens) BAFTAS (going) and EMMYS (not going...grrr) for Shaun the Sheep. Fingers crossed please.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Interview for Stop Motion book

Gareth Owen, a producer at Aardman who recently delivered the US Creature Comforts series for CBS describes the process of series production:

"When a new series comes in I first need to work out exactly what the company commissioning the series wants and exactly how we are going to deliver it within the time and budgetary limits. Sometimes you have to decide on the best director for the job. Usually the writing and storyboarding phase is a huge process that you need to go through, but with Creature Comforts, as it is all recorded live dialogue and conversations, so there was no script. We'd get a character designer in as soon as we had interviews digitised into the edit machine so that we can have pictures to overlay the audio: it’s always easier to think of a character when you have the visual on screen. We’ll try different voices to see how they fit and start working towards an animatic for each episode.

Next I need to get an Art Director and a Model Making Supervisor on board. We’ll have a pre-production meeting with them, the DOP, the director and an animator to plan the first puppets and sets we’re going to build. We need to answer questions such as: how big does this puppet need to be in order that the animator can animate it comfortably? How much action does this character have to do? Once we’re happy – then we can start the model build. The model making team will consist of a team leader, sculptors, mould-makers and assistant animators who’ll be doing the lip sync mouth sets (replacement mouths). The art department will have set and prop builders and a rigger – the model makers and the set and props team work pretty closely together to ensure everything matches up in scale, things like the time of day is important for the angle of light or any practical lights needed on the set. Also as sometimes the sets we make need to be huge expansive vista's that need to fit into a small unit, we have to cheat the scale of the background set. To get this right we always do a rough mock up of the set in front of camera using polyboard or even cardboard and usually a cut out 2-D picture of the characters. Then we can accurately measure the dimensions of the set and provide them to the set builders.

To find the rest of the crew we advertise on our website, in the case of animators we ask for showreels. For Creature Comforts we had about 200 animation showreels in – some were from students and some from experienced animators. We looked at each one. In some cases, with a beginner, there may be just one shot where you can see they have got the timing and the character. One guy who came onto Creature Comforts had only animated one shot, in his bedroom – and it was perfect! He just had that spark and he has carried on through the series, he’s an absolute natural. It’s not necessarily based on experience – it’s based on talent.

We did two week trials for people who hadn’t worked for us before. We give them a line of dialogue and a character and throw them in at the deep-end. Once they’ve had a go at it, a director will go in and help them: act it out for them, give them some advice, find out if there’s anything troubling them – really as much guidance as we can give. Then they animate the same line again, and if there’s a marked improvement in their work and we can see they are getting it, then we continue their training, but if it didn’t work out, then that’s it, I’m afraid, at least until the next trials!

We needed 30 animators on Creature Comforts but over half of those were our regular Aardman animators and there were another 10 or so who had been trained for the earlier UK series of Creature Comforts, some of whom came straight from college – they went through the same process, only they had 6 weeks of training, where we started with the simple squash and stretch exercises and took them through the whole range right up to full lip sync and action. They are all now regular animators for Aardman or working on other projects around the UK or on features in the States. That level of training is pretty vital. People who come from a college course haven’t had that intense training; they don’t get that kind of experience on a course, mainly due to lack of equipment and time.

We generally allow two weeks for a model to be made from start to finish – most of the time is spent on making the armature, the actual skinning of the puppet is pretty quick. The sets and props are mainly made in house, occasionally outsourced if there’s anything large or too complicated that would keep our staff tied up. When the set is ready the base is put on legs in the studio and rough lighting is put in place; the rigger will bring the puppet in and place it on the set and the director will come in and line up the camera and the puppets to the positions he thinks will give the best look.

When a puppet comes out of model making we don’t see it as a finished character. It takes the animator to put a certain sense of character into a model; they put their own stamp on it. We then take a day or two to get everything in place – everything lit, rigged in, the set and props dressed to camera and absolutely everything on set (light stands, rigging stands, set bases) glued down – it all needs to be rock-solid in there and hopefully we’ll have time to do an overnight test to see if anything shifts or changes through the night.

On a series we generally run an 8 hour day, with an hour for lunch. The animators aim to shoot an average of 4 seconds a day. Multiple character shots will obviously take longer to shoot than a single character and so the schedule has to allow for that. Even the type of puppet mouths can have a huge impact on the amount an animator can shoot in a day. Simple sausage shape stick on mouths mean that there isn't large amounts of sculpting to do in comparison to the usual full mouth replacement system used for the majority of the puppets and the animators on these characters will sometimes shoot as much as 10-12 seconds in a day. The shot needs to be approved as soon as it’s finished. The director will go in and look at the shot, maybe decide if it needs another half second to finish a move, or any other changes. Once the shot is creatively approved, the DOP and the camera assistant will check the shot technically, make sure there are no flashes, light changes or set shifts, and if there is a rig, they need to do rig removal plates (clear shots of the set, which they will also have done at the start of the shot). Then they will re-board for the next shot.

In-between shots, while the DOP, camera assistant and sparks are setting up the next shot, the director and animator will go into the LAV unit (Live Action Video) to rehearse the shot. We’ll play out the audio and either the director or the animator (or both if a 2 character shot) will get roughly into the position the characters are in on set in and act out the shot. It really helps the director to direct the animators and be able to clearly say – “I want it like this, or that...” And also to look back at the video and say “I really like that gesture you did there “It allows you to put human characteristics into your puppet. When you’re saying a line you naturally make body movements that you’re unaware of, that you don’t register you’re doing – all those subliminal things that you would want to put into your animation to bring your characters alive. The other thing it does is give you time to come up with any gags or background interaction between two characters – or you might decide that you need a bit more time in the shot to allow for some background action. It can be great fun rehearsing the shots. Every Friday we have rushes with the whole crew, we’ll stop half an hour early, have a beer and watch what we’ve done that week.

Sound is hugely important and we put a lot of time and effort into making a good sound base. For Creature Comforts we clean the interviews up as much as possible and make up a track that’s relevant to where they are in their animated world now. We generally spend about 3 days per episode on track laying. We’ll send the sound editor a rough cut and notes on exactly what we want. We use a Foley artist quite a lot, and we make our own sounds. We’ll be thinking early on about what the music will be like. We’ll commission someone who has the right experience. Musicians often work to a detailed brief but I've always preferred to keep it vague and allow them to write what they think would be the best music for the piece whether it be title music or background music. I find that you often get the best stuff this way. Once all animation is complete and all the shots have any rigs removed and had any effects passes added we need to lock down the edit to the correct length with title sequence and credits and any commercial break spaces if relevant. Once locked and played out on to a master tape, we’ll go to a post production house and grade the final picture. The DOP will go through every shot enhancing the colours, making it all look as beautiful as possible. We'll finish the sound mix, paying particular attention to lip-synch and probably have both Dolby 5.1 mix and stereo versions. We're then ready to deliver the programme to the company as per their specifications and with all the paper work that goes with it. They generally will want 16:9 and 4:3 versions and often we will need both PAL and NTSC versions. Sometimes tapes sent to broadcasters will come back a few days later rejected because of breaking some kind of audio or visual guideline like a dead pixel or an illegal colour – one dead pixel broaches the transmission guidelines! It’s very simple and quick to correct and deliver back.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I've pressed the wrong button somewhere.

And now I'm following myself. Still, bumps the number up. Wonder if that other me's follwing me too...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Came down in the morning to find Eve had done this to her monkey. "he'd been naughty"

Monday, 16 August 2010

Back in commercials

Working back in commercials at Aardman for a few months. Doing a couple for Hershey's chocolate and 4 ads for Digital UK, prepping the country for the analogue to digital switchover. Are you ready? No, I don't know either. Think so digital TV's and that...

time flies

FELIX & EVE - AUG 2010
Child no 2 update: rolled over yesterday & slept through the night. A turning point in the Owen household.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

BAA winners announced

Darn, I had a ticket in my hand and everything to go pick up a BAA but was caught in a last minute cross-fire of moving house and heavily-pregnant-not-feeling-great wife. So I spent the evening taking furniture apart and unplumbing stuff. Obviously whenever I don't go to awards ceremonies we always win, and it was a thrill to win Best Children's Series. I'll try and get a picture of the award up when I get round to seeing it myself. Congrats to Nick for winning the Jury's choice too for W&G.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

BAA awards

Shaun the Sheep (series 2) is up for 2 British Animation Awards on April 8th, 2010...nominated for Best Childrens Series and Childrens Choice Award, where we are up against... Nick Park and A Matter of Loaf and Death. Great! Good luck Nick.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

2 good series to watch

Freaks and Geeks. Loved this series. Released in 1999, set in 1980. Early Judd Apatow. Cancelled after one series of 18 episodes. You'll recognise half the cast - Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco...even wonky faced Ben Stiller guests as an FBI agent. Excellent soundtrack - Grateful Dead, Moody Blues, The Who etc...probably why it was cancelled - too much $$$. Anyway, takes you back to the eighties like nothing else and leaves you all fluffy inside.

The Venture Bros. 2003 Animated TV series appeared on Adult Swim. Super scientist & downright failure Dr Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture and his two manically naive sons, Hank and Dean form Venture Industries. They have an ubermacho bodyguard, Brock Sampson: people that meet him tend to die. Thoroughly. Their arch nemesis is a brilliantly lame evil butterfly-man The Monarch ("Release the butterflies!"-dead butterflys fall to the ground - "Who forgot to feed the butterflies?") Every episode of the first season (I thinks there's 3 more) made me hurt with laughter.

Hank Venture: Dean, sometimes I forget your younger than me.
Dean Venture: By a lousy four minutes!
Hank Venture: Well then maybe in four minutes you'll understand.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Travel Breakfast

I rarely leave home without one.

Kids Name Pictures

A few of the pictures I've made for friends kids. I take requests. For money or hugs. Preferably money.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Interview for a German Foto magazine

Which equipment do you need for stop-motion-photography?
All you really need is a camera! But ideally you would have a computer and a fairly stable tripod. On Shaun we have twenty Canon EOS1 Mark3 camera bodies with Sigma 24-70 mm lenses and a range (18/24/50/85/105mm) of Nikon Prime Lenses. The beauty of these cameras is that they have a live video feed and in conjunction with our animation software this enables the animators to mix between their last stored frame and the live image so they can see what movement is happening. Any camera will do though, preferably digital – even a webcam can let you practise your skills and get results very quickly.

What is the best way to approach the project?
The two most important elements of any film are character and story. If you’ve got a compelling story and great character designs then you’re over the first hurdle. After that it’s planning, planning, planning! From script to screen, every episode is storyboarded and edited into an animatic (a 2D version of the final film with very basic animation) Every shot in each episode is planned in terms of action, timing, characters, lighting, rigging, sets and props and thinking ahead to any post-production that might be required. And of course you have to be aware of your budget and therefore your limitations. A producer has to balance the creative needs of the Director with the financial resources of the project. Don’t go writing in a scene in a busy supermarket if you haven’t got the resources to build a supermarket and all the people and props you’d need to make it believable!

Which kind of characters are suited best for it?
It depends on the scale and length of your production. For Shaun we need puppets that will survive being pushed and pulled around for over a year and that will stay in the position the animator puts them in. All of our main characters have a complex armature, or metal skeleton, which consists of ball and socket joints and metal foot/hand plates. They are specifically designed for each puppet and made so that replacing arms and legs is possible (when they inevitably break!) and so that the head can be easily removed so that the animator can work on it without taking the rest of the puppet off the set.
Most of our characters are made of silicone or foam latex which are very hard-wearing and versatile and can be cast into any shape, painted and even cast in a fur-like texture. On the other end of the scale are characters like Morph or Purple and Brown who are just plasticine, with no armatures at all.

How many single shots do you need for one second of film?
25 frames make up 1 second of footage. We shoot most of our animation on “Two’s” which means that the animator moves the puppet every second frame, therefore 12 movements per second. Each day, our animators produce around 7 to 10 seconds a day – that’s 84 to 120 movements per day.
Sometimes if a character is moving particularly quickly through a shot, we might shoot it on “One’s” (moving the character 25 times for one second) otherwise the animation doesn’t look smooth enough.
Overall, in a studio running with 13 animators we are producing around 8 minutes of animation per week.

Which post-production-programmes do you use for the animation?
We use a variety of programmes – Adobe After effects, Smoke and Fusion. The main things we do in post-production are: rig-removal (painting out the metal work that holds puppets in place where needed – for example when something is flying through the air); compositing layers into shots, for example foreground bushes and leaves that get in the animators way; adding in clouds, rain, snow & smoke where needed and generally fixing things that need to be fixed like moving branches, adding bits of sky here and there and removing lumps of plasticine or tools that the animators accidentally leave on set!

Which is the best way to transfer the single shots into a video-format? Which format should it be?
Each frame of Shaun starts life as a JPEG image coming directly from the camera – we have to downscale that JPEG to create an image that has the correct pixel dimensions for high definition transmission.
We use software called “StopMotionPro” at Aardman which is a great all round package used by many studios and home animators. A quick internet search will show you that there are many other packages available and most of them allow you to try them before you buy them. I would recommend you do this before you purchase in order to find the software that suits your needs the best. Remember, you can always UN-INSTALL! We tend to use uncompressed quicktimes to store our final footage but other programs may use AVI’s or Windows Media format – there’s no strict rule but file sizes can vary enormously. You should bear in mind where you want your finished animation to be shown as if it will only ever be on the internet, you can compress and keep your file sizes relatively small. If possible, it’s worth keeping an uncompressed version of your footage in case it ever makes it to the big screen! (or at least a television)

What is to be considered with lighting?
There are many books available on cinematography and cinematic techniques or simply looking online at sites like Wikipedia where there is a wealth of information on the control of light quality, color, direction and intensity. The beauty of shooting digitally is that you can see on your computer exactly how your lighting and composition will look in your final film, or at least before you’ve played around with it in post-production!
Tips: Try and make sure your source of light is stable – we literally glue our light stand to the studio floor in case they get knocked or kicked accidentally. Also make sure there are no interfering light sources such as an open curtain or bedside lamp that you’ve left on otherwise your animation will appear to flicker!

Which is the right image resolution?
Our cameras capture images at 2048 x 1080 pixels (2K Digital cinema resolution) and end up on an HDCAM SR tape as 1920 x 1080 pixels which is the correct pixel dimensions for high definition transmission.

How much production time do you need for 5 minutes of film?
That’s a difficult question to answer as it would take a lot longer in real terms to produce a 5 minute film than it takes us to produce 5 minutes of Shaun within the structure of a series. The entire series of 40 x seven minute episodes took 22 months to create from initial story concepts through to delivering the master tapes. Over 120 people were involved in the production, half of those working for the duration of the 13 month shoot. We shot the series on 20 shooting units (using around 35 different sets) using multiples of characters. On this series we used about 130 sheep, 10 farmers, 14 Bitzers, 12 Shauns and a whole host of other characters! Also we were shooting up to 8 episodes at a time as this is the best way to schedule a studio floor on a series of this size. A lot of the different processes that go into producing the series happen simultaneously – for example, we are doing a lot of post-production (voice records, music composition, sound mixes, sound and visual effects) while we are still shooting, which you probably wouldn’t be able to do on a short film. So although it looks like every episode takes about 2.5 weeks (22 months divided by 40 episodes) in reality it would be virtually impossible to make an animated 5 minute film with the production values of Shaun in such a short space of time.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Snoop doggy dog

A painting I did for a friend of their dog snoop. Acrylics on canvas.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


creating a variety of characters using the similar basic body shape...or being lazy.

one mummy and her dog

Hexapoda Insecta

Some insects I created prompted by a poem my sister wrote. the two never met.

another iPhone 'painting' - Eve helped me with this one, she's 3 not that I'm using that as an excuse...
picture I did a couple of years ago for the wee ones wall. it's her name obviously and looks cool printed off on 1-metre photographic paper.

Leaving card for Chris Stock our edit assistant who's moved on to the 'Pirates' feature. Apart from this week which he's taken off to play MW2. He loves killing/cuddling things.

drew in biro on an envelope, took a photo of it with my iPhone and coloured it in with my finger using MyPaint2 app.