Among the people I know from the National Film and Television School is Helen Piercy - with whom I have previously worked on an animated sonnet by Shakespeare voiced by Alan Rickman, and various school projects.
Helen is currently doing a lot of work with children and young adults in the form of animation workshops across the UK, and as a result was approached last year to write a book/ kit to help children make their own animations.
This book has now been released, and it's fantastic. I have a copy in my edit suite, and it's a big hit with the animators (and others) at the studio. The age guide is ages 8+, but there have already been reviews from much younger children starting to make their own films using the book and kit as a guide.
The kit includes several sets, characters, and props - plus a "director's handbook" which gives an introduction to animation and different styles, as well as hints and tips on making your own films. Find out more at the webpage on Helen's site, or by watching the trailer below:
I'm currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon on my Kindle for the half hour or so I spend each way on the underground to and from work. I'd put it off for quite a while (in fact, I think I have the paperback somewhere), but I'm glad I've finally gotten around to it.
I just had to share this excerpt*, which shows a wonderful set of ideas in the creation of a comic book super hero and the setting up of backstory and motivation to make the character feel more real. The importance of this process cannot be understated if you're looking to create something truly special, and I think that the way it's been written as a discussion amongst friends (in themselves working through the setup to the core of the story) is wonderful.
“My guy flies,” said Davy O’Dowd. “That I know.”
Joe shot a look at Sammy, who clapped a hand to his forehead.
“Oy,” he said.
“He flies, huh?”
“Something wrong with that? Frank says this is all about wishful figments.”
“Wishful figments. You know, like it’s all what some little kid wishes he could do. Like for you, hey, you don’t want to have a gimpy leg no more. So, boom, you give your guy a magic key and he can walk.”
“Huh.” Sammy had not chosen to look at the process of character creation in quite so stark a manner. He wondered what other wishes he might have subsumed unknowingly into the character of lame Tom Mayflower.
“I always wished I could fly,” Davy said. “I guess a lot of guys must have wished that.”
“It’s a common fantasy, yeah.” “It seems to me that makes it something you can’t have too many of,” Jerry Glovsky put in.
“All right, then, so he can fly.” Sammy looked at Joe. “Joe?”
Joe glanced up briefly from his work. “Why.”
“Why?” Sammy nodded. “Why can he fly? Why does he want to? And how come he uses his power of flight to fight crime? Why doesn’t he just become the world’s best second-story man?”
Davy rolled his eyes. “What is this, comic book catechism? I don’t know.”
“Take one thing at a time. How does he do it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Stop saying you don’t know.”
“He has big wings.”
“Think of something else. A rocket pack? Antigravity boots? An autogyro hat? Mythological powers of the winds? Interstellar dust? Blood transfusion from a bee? Hydrogen in his veins?”
“Slow down, slow down,” Davy said. “Jesus, Sam.”
“I’m good at this shit. Are you scared?”
“Just embarrassed for you.” “Take a number. Okay, it’s a fluid. An antigravity fluid in his veins, he has this little machine he wears on his chest that pumps the stuff into him.”
“Yeah, he needs the stuff to stay alive, see? The flying part is just a, like an unexpected side benefit. He’s a scientist. A doctor. He was working on some kind of, say, artificial blood. For the battlefield, you know. Synth-O-Blood, it’s called. Maybe it’s, shit, I don’t know, maybe it’s made out of ground-up iron meteorites from outer space. Because blood is iron-based. Whatever. But then some criminal types, no, some enemy spies, they break into his laboratory and try to steal it. When he won’t let them, they shoot him and his girl and leave them for dead. It’s too late for the girl, okay, how sad, but our guy manages to get himself hooked up to this pump thing just before he dies. I mean, he does die, medically speaking, but this stuff, this liquid meteorite, it brings him back from the very brink. And when he comes to—”
“He can fly!” Davy looked happily around the room.
“He can fly, and he goes after the spies that killed his girl, and now he can really do what he always wanted to, which was help the forces of democracy and peace. But he can never forget that he has a weakness, that without his Synth-O-Blood pump, he’s a dead man. He can never stop being … being …” Sammy snapped his fingers, searching for a name.
“Almost Dead Flying Guy,” suggested Jerry.
“Blood Man,” said Julie.
“The Swift,” Marty Gold said. “Fastest bird in the world.”
“I draw really nice wings,” said Davy O’Dowd. “Nice and feathery.”
“Oh, all right, damn it,” Sammy said. “They can just be there for show. We’ll call him the Swift.”
“I like it.”
“He can never stop being the Swift,” Sammy said. “Not for one goddamned minute of the day.” He stopped and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. His throat was sore and his lips were dry and he felt as if he had been talking for a week. Jerry, Marty, and Davy all looked at one another, and then Jerry got down from his stool and went into his bedroom. When he came out, he was carrying an old Remington typewriter.
“When you’re done with Davy’s, do mine,” he said.
*represents a tiny percentage of the book, reproduced with the intent of educational purpose and discussion.
As in the previous post, the following notes relate to my specific experiences - mainly as editor on a 52 x 11 minute animation series. Review stages and timings vary significantly for features and other forms, and in my experience by project too.
A bit of self-promotion here: the series I've been editing for the last year... almost to the day, Q Pootle 5, is beginning transmission on Monday 29th July.
It's on the UK channel CBeebies (various worldwide deals are in place, so hopefully not too long before it reaches other territories), at 8.15am weekdays. Further information on the CBeebies website (click the image to go there and view the opening titles and a short clip).
It's all very exciting. And quite a few of my friends both in and outside of the industry have children in the exact target age range - so I'm looking forward to getting feedback from them.
Production continues apace - I'm currently on the 45th episode animatic, with another 7 to go after that - and then the workload starts to decrease. We just delivered episodes 23-26 this week, marking the half-way point... which means that on Monday I was responding to requests from people at various stages of animatic, layout, blocking, animation, amends, lighting, and compositing for 23 different episodes. At the rate of one episode per week, there are still 26 weeks to go until the series is complete - at which point there will be 520 minutes of animation across 52 episodes, not including titles and credits.
Animation: it takes a long time.
Yesterday - Saturday 29th June, was the first ever EditFest in London. The EditFest is a day's worth of talks organised by the American Cinema Editors - and has previously been held in Los Angeles and New York.
I took some notes and made some very ropey audio recordings, and would like to share some of the quotes from the day here. Each session was 90 minutes long, so what's below is only a very very small fraction of the insights shared during the day by the guests - and doesn't at all represent the more personal discussions that attendees were able to have with the panellists between sessions and during drinks afterwards.
Overall it was an absolutely amazing day, and I hope they come back next year (as has been hinted).
DISCLAIMER - While I have tried my absolute best to preserve the context and intention of the quotes given, they may not be wholly accurate. Some words and sentences have been removed or paraphrased for clarity, interest, brevity, or because I can't make out what what was said from the recording.
Small Screen, Big Picture – Panel with Television Editors
Moderated by Gordon A. Burkell founder of Art of the Guillotine
- Frances Parker, A.C.E. (Game of Thrones, Rome)
- Kristina Hetherington (Room at the Top, Birdsong)
- Oral Norrie Ottey (Generation Kill, Game of Thrones)
- Kate Evans, A.C.E. (Buddha of Suburbia, The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall)
KH - To me, performance is through the eyes, I respond to what I feel when I'm watching it and I'll make a note of that. And then it's the overall feel of the scene. And I'll look in the script and I'll say where's the value of this scene, how am I going to shape this scene?
OO - My editing room needs a sofa, because once I look at the rushes I need to have a lie down [to think]. It's about finding the nugget. You try and get the best out of that material. It's story, story, story - and then, if you can shape the drama around the story.
On building the suspense when cutting a horror film:
KH - I tend to just follow the script. I started cutting horror films because I'd cut dialogue and period dramas for over 10 years, and I was offered a horror film after Girl With a Pearl Earring, and it seemed like it would be a change, it would be nice to cut an action movie rather than a dialogue movie. Sound is absolutely essential, but that's the sound designer's job. But it's always a lovely surprise when I see it dubbed.
On working with actors' performances:
KH - Sometimes you have to throw away what may be the most amazing part because it's just too much [emotion].
From Dailies to Delivery – Editing Features
Moderated by Mick Audsley – Harry Potter and the Goblet Fire, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
- Chris Dickens, A.C.E. (Les Miserables , Slumdog Millionaire)
- Tracy Granger, A.C.E.(Still Life, Frank)
- John Wilson, A.C.E.(Day of the Flowers, Billy Elliot)
- Eddie Hamilton, A.C.E.(X-Men: First Class, Kick Ass 2)
On the move into digital, and the impact on editing and screenings:
Are scripts important?
EH - I love reading scripts. I tell all my friends who are writers to send me scripts. I feel like the more scripts you read, the better you get at reading scripts. I listen to my gut feelings about scripts because I trust my instincts so strongly that I feel that if there's an issue in the script that if it's not addressed before the shoot that will bite us in the arse in the cutting room, which they always will, then I try my hardest to point them out and say "this is a big problem in the script, you should seriously consider fixing this". In terms of choosing jobs, I mean, let's be honest there's a lot of unemployed people in the industry and I don't get huge numbers of job offers. Occasionally I may happen to get a choice of two films at a certain time of the year and I'll choose one or the other. So you're lucky to be employed, and sometimes you may have a hunch that a film is only going to be average and it's a shame, but you need to pay the bills - and you engage whole-heartedly with the film in order to try and breathe as much life into it as you can. If a great script comes up, then fantastic, but they're not that frequent. I mean, how many great films do we actually see each year? Three? So the odds of working on a truly great film are pretty small.
EH - I read the script before the film, and if I'm cutting a scene where I don't know what comes before then I will read the page that comes before that. But effectively I don't read the script after the first day of the shoot. It doesn't matter what's in the script - if they haven't shot it then it can't be in the film. I actually just look at the footage and the strengths and weaknesses in the footage because that's all that matters.
On how to avoid becoming overly-familiar with the material:
CD - I suppose the environment you watch it in is key. For me it goes back to the script, if you like it then you have a connection to the material, that allows you to watch it more and carry on editing. A very physical way of doing it is take it somewhere else - watch it at home, in a screening room. I try to watch it through someone else's eyes. I try to but it's almost impossible because the minute you start getting too used to something is the minute you can't see it. When people give you notes, I try not to dismiss any notes. Some of the notes that you have a really strong reaction to, albeit negative, are the... it's a good thing. Your negative reaction may because you're far too used to the scene. I don't dismiss anything. If people are too closed to new ideas, the film is almost never a success.
An animatic is the first stage of the edit in an animation. It's the combination of the storyboards, audio (possibly with temp voice acting), and timing. It's used as the base for the animation: animators will take the shot angle, durations, certain actions, and timings as a starting point for their work on each shot.
- The right action at the right time - if there's a certain key action boarded out that should correspond with a point in the script and/or sound effect, then the timing of this relative to the surrounding dialogue should be correct.
- Reactions should be timed relative to their cause - and also given enough space to sink in!
- The first and last shot of a scene can be difficult to judge before the full programme is together, but an approximate length can be guessed at.
- An object coming closer to the viewer at a constant speed will need less duration of each board where it gets closer, mimicking the appearance of an object moving similarly when filmed.
The BAFTA Film nominations were yesterday. Unfortunately, Pirates not only failed to win - they were not even amongst the three animated features nominated in the relevant category.
However, this was more or less righted by the nomination in the 85th Academy Awards - announced earlier today. Pirates is one of five films nominated for Best Animated Feature, and one of three stop motion films within the category! So, fingers crossed for the 24th of February.
Another recently announced set of nominations that I eagerly browsed were those of the Visual Effects Society Awards - having been the previs/ VFX editor on Pirates, I was rather hoping to see a few nods in that area. Indeed, there's an Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture - competing against Brave, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck-It Ralph - all of which are fully CG. I personally attribute a large part of this (corrrectly or not) the seamless overlap between stop-motion and CG to a fair amount of confusion over the nature of the film and its effects. Not only amongst lay-people (although I have had to clarify on a few occasions that the water was indeed generated and yes - CG CAN do that these days), but also amongst VFX pros - for whom I answered several questions on Twitter about the production and stop motion, previs, vfx, CG animation, etc. at the time the film came out.
Pirates also has a Best Animated Feature nomination in the 40th Annie Awards, as well as Outstanding Achievement nominations in four categories: Character Animation in a Feature Production, Production Design in an Animated Feature Production, Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production, Writing in an Animated Feature Production. So... exciting times.
Working on Pirates was an amazing experience in its own right, especially as it was the first feature I ever worked on - but it's certainly amazing and fulfilling to see it get some outside recognition too, from people who didn't actually work on it - or who don't feel they have to say nice things because they know me.
It's been almost exactly a year now since VFX finished on the film, and it's immensely gratifying to see it still making its way out there. I really hope that it continues to get the same level of love and commitment from the rest of the world as those of us involved in its production put in.
It has rhythm, like music. When you are editing, you are creating a musical flow that the audience will get into while they're watching the movie. There's a visual rhythm, there's an auditory rhythm, and those two interact and create something that's a combination. And the ability of music to move people is huge. Anybody knows that, anyone who has had a human experience knows that music is incredibly significant and moving and emotional. But really it's just a collection of sound and rhythm, it's not anything magic - and yet it is magical. And the difference is it's the organisation of those pieces. It's the length between beats. It's the pitch of the note. It's the frequency at which the notes come, and it's the structure and how that structure is repeated. All those things are editing. When you're editing you're really making music.
Jeff Ford - Editor of The Avengers, One Hour Photo, Iron Man 3
The above quote is from a recent episode of the Avid podcast, "The Rough Cut". The whole interview is truly inspirational. Jeff talks of how he got into the industry, the importance of assisting and learning from editors, acting, story, and collaboration. If you're an editor, an assistant, or work in the industry at all; listen to it.
The above quote especially resonates with me as my teenage years were full of music - I played the oboe, and studied music theory. From this there are a lot of lessons in rhythm, structure, and collaboration which can be transferred to editing practice.