Saturday, 26 March 2011

Meeting Aardman

What a busy week, as I've come back from Spain. My room was invaded by all the house's furniture because they are shooting Dear Ana... (the film) in the house. On Thursday they shot in a basement, and I helped the production department to cook food for the whole crew. The highlight of that day though, was that I started chatting with the two make up artists involved in the film, and the conversation derived to foam latex. Guess what, they  are amazing foam latex painters for prosthetics!!! So I got myself a deal!!

On Friday my idea was to continue helping my housemate with her film, but I had to go to uni to book a kiln for baking my latex next week. Funny enough, I had forgotten about the lecture we had in uni, but I arrived just in time to be reminded.

Merlin Crossingham (Aardman's creative director) came to Uni to share his knowledge with us :

Here he is, with all the puppet he took with him (I hope you can appreciate the scale) And now a close up video of the characters!!

I am sorry for the quality, but this is what my phone gets up to.... Anyway, I notices straight away, that the were-rabbit was made out of foam, and I couldn't resist to ask how the head was animated. He answered me with images and videos:

This was part of the character development of the Curse of the Were Rabbit, I think it is quite helpful!!
During the lecture, Merlin explained to us how he became what he is today: he has being working in Aardman for 16 years and started as a temporary runner for some projects. After that he was trained to became a senior animator and  some time after, he was creative director.

Yes, that is Wallace's armature, created in Aardman studios. Normally they make their own armatures, but sometime thy order them to Taiwan, I can't remember the name of the man that makes them, sorry. Very surprising was to hear that unless there is a camera move on the shot, the shoot at two's (that is two frames for each pose of the puppet). A camera move doesn't work with two's so the shoot those in one's.

 He explained to us how to make the motion blur on the persecution scenes, and is a very interesting strategy:
The make high exposure pictures (lets say 2 sec) and they maintain the puppet in his pose for the first second, and move it backwards on the second second (that sound weird) but what you achive is a clear image of your character followed by a blur that gives a great sensation of speed.

 He also commented on how to prove your animation skills, and that is, if you are still thinking in how much you have to move the puppet to get the next interval right, you are not ready for character animation. It is when you think only about the performance of the puppet and not the animation principles to make it move that you really understand character animation.

 He told me he hardly looks at previous frames while animating, maybe the previous one, but he already knows where everything is got to be for the animation to go fluid. 

 He also made a lot of emphasis in the importance of the poses. Everyone can learn the technique of animation, but to find the expressive poses of the character to transmit all his personality, that is another story.

 Also interesting is that  an animator is expected to make ONE second of animation a day (while shooting feature films). Shooting at two's, that is only twelve pictures a day!! I thought it was very slow, but then he explained all the modeling involved between frame and frame, and I had to shut up.

Merlin also mentioned the importance of minimal animation, this is, trying to express the most, with the least animation possible.Subtle movements of the eyes, or the eyebrows. A slight tilt of the head can express much more than a lot of overcharged animations.

After the lecture, he was cool enough to concede tutorials for whoever was interested. I was certainly.
So I asked him the questions I have being looking to be answered for some time :
How do I fit my head armature in the mould for my foam latex puppet?
He looked at me and said : I am sorry but I don't have the answer to that: foam latex is a craft itself and if I were you I would try to make the puppet in clay!! I almost started crying!! Then he said ,you have to take into account, that in Aardman, our foam latex technicians get one batch right out of five!! (I am two out of two...hehehe) and finally he recommended to shoot my film in white screen

I think I am going on for a bit too long now, so if you have any further questions please just comment the post and I'll answer shortly. That will be all for today.

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