Thursday, 20 April 2017

Progress against Learning Contract

I am now coming to the end of this module, 'Negotiated Project 2' for my Masters Degree. The deadline for this is 24th April 2017 so to wrap up below is a summary of how well and how completely I have met the original objectives of this module.

Negotiated Project 2 is a 30 Credit module requires approximately 300 hours of study / practical work. The module is detailed in the Learning Contract which has been regularly updated.
This is the summary of this module :-

Blog Journal; Storyboard; Trial animation puppet and costume fabrication:-

  • Creation of a web blog to detail progress, production diary, tutorials, research, collaboration and the Critical Reflection
  • Redraft of storyline based on biographical research on the last 10 years of Louisa May Alcott's life, her relationship with her niece Lulu Nieriker and their lives in Orchard House.
  • Research on maquettes and animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, armatures, silicone moulding, casting and painting
  • Research on period dress and on making miniature shoes, wigs and costumes.
  • Final designs for sets, props, characters and costumes
  • Software familiarisation with Photoshop/Procreate
  • Animation puppet maquettes for the Louisa and Lulu characters.
  • Trial animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, moulding, casting, painting, wigging
  • Trial costume creation including shoes and accessories
  • Collaboration on Storyboard and 2d animation including project management and guidance.
  • Study guides for animation puppet fabrication, animation puppet costumes.

Assessment:-

  • 10% - Collaboration and production of Storyboard. Collaboration on production of two 2D animated scenes.
  • 25% - Storyline and script based on biographical research and expert opinion. Character and set designs (digital) based on background research
  • 40% – Maquettes and trial animation puppets and costumes
  • 15% - Regular (three per week) blog posts including Production Diary; Research; Progress; Collaboration; Draft study guides for maquettes, animation puppet fabrication, and costuming;
  • 10% - Critical Reflection blog post of 1,500 - 2,000 words and a Bibliography post.


The Learning Contract goes into more detail on each of these aspects so below is my assessment on how well I have accomplished each task that I have set myself. 




Creation of a web blog to detail progress, production diary, tutorials, research, collaboration and the Critical Reflection

THE BLOG

I set up this blog on blogger after comparing this with Wordpress and deciding this suited my requirements, was relatively easy to set up yet included a number of options, styles and formats to be able to personalise it. I looked at the kind of blogs other animators and illustrators were using and read reviews. I tried to keep the formatting and colour schemes as simple as possible despite my usual inclination to over complicate and use a multitude of colours. I'm also partial to a black background as in my other websites but decided to keep this blog crisp and clean and to follow the good example of other bloggers such as Caroline McFarlane-Watts who's blog is always detailed, informative, enjoyable and easy to navigate with lots of interesting photos. 

My first blog post was at the end of January 2017 though you will see earlier posts than this where I have back populated with some of my previous work. It took me longer to set up than I'd envisaged. This is a continuing thread in this Masters that nearly everything took longer than I expected! Despite keeping it simple, I took notes on how I set up the blog and also went on to include a specifically styled gallery taken from GeorgiaLouStudios blog that allowed me to post pictures in a gallery that linked to particular pages on the blog https://georgialoustudios.com/how-to-create-a-responsive-blogger-image-gallery/. This required a little adjustment to get to work, modified pictures, and a certain amount of trial and error. I regular get update newsletters from GeorgiaLouStudios and they have proved invaluable in up to date research on what works in a blog from menu setup to overall aesthetics including what appeals to different agegroups, 

I set myself the target of three blog posts a week and I will have achieved and surpassed that by 24th April and expect to continue to blog after this modules deadline. 

I have found it extremely useful to blog regularly and wish I'd set it up earlier at the start of the Masters or before. One advantage is that it means that I take many more photographs that I would otherwise do and am forced to organise, file and crop/edit them regularly in order to use them in the blog. It has made writing notes and answering queries from my notes easier to manage as I can search for things in the labels / tags list. Having a visual record of what I've achieved and one I can share is also satisfying and allows for much shameless self-promotion. I also feel that I am in a better position to apply for roles in the animation industry now I have a place I can direct people to to see my work. I have a website also but found the blog much easier to set up and update without the Wordpress layout and formatting issues I'd experienced. The other advantage is that I pay for hosting on my website whereas blogger is free and there is much opensource code out there that's free to use so you can really personalise your blog without having to pay a web designer or spend months learning how to do so.

PRODUCTION DIARIES

One benefit of studying animation is that you can have several characters and props at different stages of the fabrication timeline meaning that there is a great variety of tasks ready to be undertaken at any one time. I thrive on variety and this means that you can pick up a task to suit mood, the free time you have, whether you have natural light available or not, whether your supplies have arrived, which room  you have free to work in etc. I have tried to keep the blog linear for each fabrication process so you can follow it through from beginning to end which has meant some backfilling of posts. I have also tried to keep the post tagging up to date so a particular method or task is easy to find. This means that unlike the undergraduate projects where the Production Diary was one long PDF document as in here http://www.michelle-j-andrew.com/production-diaries/, the Production Diary becomes multiple blog posts under the 'Puppet Fabrication' or 'Lulu' tags. When the tutorials are finalised they will be one printable document. 


TUTORIALS

(see below)


RESEARCH

(for more details on this see the next section on task 2 of this module)

I will be writing a post showing how my estimated time for each task differed to the actual time spent on each task to inform future modules but as an example, I had predicted 45 hours of research,in total, 15 of which was to be on Louisa's biographies and I believe I have greatly exceeded this. It has also provided me with justification to buy some old collectable books, first editions and signed copies!


COLLABORATION

(see below)

CRITICAL REFLECTION

The blog has really helped me focus on reflection at every stage of the process. I am constantly aware of what I might improve on , do differently next time, what isn't working, where I am losing time, where I don't have contingency time, where I should have ordered supplies earlier, and what is working out just perfectly add the blog allows me to make notes on these as I go along. At the moment I'll still have to pick through the blog posts to pull out the reflection items but the visuals in the posts help to job my memory on the aspects and issues I mean to include in the reflection. I have tried to add to the biography bibliography as I have gone through them but the bibliography still needs updating at this stage.


Redraft of storyline based on biographical research on the last 10 years of Louisa May Alcott's life, her relationship with her niece Lulu Nieriker and their lives in Orchard House.


For my previous modules I had undertaken a large amount of research around the writings of Louisa May Alcott but had always had a sticking point around which story I wanted to include as the story Louisa reads to Lulu as my centre scene. After a tutorial with my university supervisors early this year, it was suggested that I concentrate on the relationship between Louisa and Lulu and this greatly changed the focus of my research and felt much more appropriate to the short film. Unfortunately this meant that I was starting research again from the beginning, something I hadn't planned for and as a result took a lot longer than I had estimated. This time rather than studying Louisa's books, I began looking at Louisa's biographies, those on her close family and reviews of those biographies. I started asking questions of some of the experts like Susan Bailey (https://louisamayalcottismypassion.com/) who has a been a great help in showing me which parts of the biographies to start on and answering some of my more obscure questions. It was also Susan's idea for me to join the Louisa May Alcott Society. I have also spoken to Anne Phillips who produced the Louisa May Alcott encyclopedia and has offered to answer future questions I may have. There is even a trip from the UK to Louisa May Alcott's house being planned for later this year which I hope to attend. 

In studying the biographies I became even more engrossed in Louisa's life and personality and how the adoption of her late sister's daughter as her own effected her life. There are some wonderful anecdotes and it beautifully illustrates the life and attitude of the period and how forward thinking and unconventional the family were. Through these (sometimes conflicting!) biographies I have put together a detailed timeline of the last 10 years of Louisa's life from when her sister May got married to Louisa's death, covering the period when she became a mother to May's daughter Lulu. 

The detailed timelines is found here. For this I have tried to pull out only the information relevant to the relationship between Louisa and Lulu and not included every detail of their lives and houses unless it had an influence on this relationship. All the key events are included and some experiences that predate this period that had an effect on Louisa's morals and personality which were then reflected on her relationship with Lulu.

This was a little too unweildy to base a storyboard on so I produced a 'Summary of Scenes. This uses a creative thinking technique where I associate scenes with particular songs or music, not to be used in the film but as inspiration for the feeling or style or meaning of a scene. 

In addition to this and flesh out each scene for help Larvi produce this Storyboard I started to detail each scene in its own post such as this one for Scene 1. The other scenes have not yet been completed though you can see the format I'm using. I have included estimate length, the camera angles, dialogue and setting.


PINTEREST

A large part of the reseach that I have carried out on period dress, the location, Louisa May Alcott, Lulu and the other characters along with puppet fabrication, sculpting and mould making has been visual. In order to organise this work and maintain the links to original sources I set up a number of Pinterest boards which can be found here. This is also an example of the gallery code I have used in this blog where clicking on each picture will take you to a different location on that subject, either a website or a page on this blog.


Research on maquettes and animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, armatures, silicone moulding, casting and painting

This research started with going through my previous store of books on animation, casting, moulding and puppet making of which I now have many. My most recent and much prized was an original copy of Jiri Trynka's Midsummer Nights Dream from 1960 which has some beautiful animation puppet pictures in it. The next stage was many hours of google and blog searches and bookmarking numerous youtube instructional videos along with some Stan Winston School of character arts courses. Fortunately Pinterest also allows you to pin videos as well as static pictures so I have included these in my Pinterest boards. As I started to sculpt I needed a number of reference pictures. I tapped my learned sources in the Louisa society to less well known pictures of Louisa and her family. there are very few pictures of Lulu in existence but believe I have them all now! My favourite on is of Lulu on an antiquated bicycle with the most stubborn expression, backed up by an anecdotal entry in one of Louisa's letters to Lulu telling her she could only have the bicycle if she would sit still and let her hair be curled! Thank you to Susan Bailey for forwarding me this fantastic picture.

For sculpting I have used some great tutorials from Stan Winston, Gnomon Workshop, Patricia Rose studios and for character design SVS Learn, Will Terry and Aaron Blaise all have great online and dvd courses available. Amelia Rowcroft has been particular helpful at answering my questions on armatures and Upuno and Malvern Armatures and provided some good points on ball and socket armature design. Alba Garcia is always an inspiration when it comes to animating and her videos on silicone casting are the best I've seen and she's always willing to provide advice despite her incredibly busy schedule on Dangerously Ever After outside of her day job!

Often I have used experts outside the field of animation for advice on particular techniques. Silicone painting is done especially well for 'reborn' babies and costumes for bjd (ball jointed) dolls. Whereas hair rooting in the special effects industry uses the same techniques so it pays to look outside of animation for particular skills.

Of course research only goes so far and its the hours of practice and then gaining feedback on what you have produced from peers and experts which is essential.

Research on period dress and on making miniature shoes, wigs and costumes.

Final designs for sets, props, characters and costumes and...
Software familiarisation with Photoshop/Procreate


Animation puppet maquettes for the Louisa and Lulu characters.

(see blog)

Trial animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, moulding, casting, painting, wigging

(see blog)

Trial costume creation including shoes and accessories

I have decided to sculpt Lulu's boots in silicone as part of her body but in blue with white buttons. This has turned out relatively well but needs further refinement around the boot seems though I believe the process I'm using is sound and will work for the final puppet. I have however made a pair of iceskates sculpted from Apoxy Resin for Lulu to carry over her shoulder as she storms in from skating on Walden Pond.

Collaboration on Storyboard and 2d animation including project management and guidance.


It has been fantastic to work with some other students on this module. As we speak Larvi is still working on my storyboard to see what can be completed before Monday's deadline. Despite becoming a father for a second time during this module Larvi has still found time to work on the storyboard and to keep me updated with progress. I really like Larvi's work and he's been a pleasure to do business with. Here are a few of Larvi's scenes and there is more to come. 

T.J. Bull and Jacob White who are now finishing the third year of the undergraduate Stop Motion degree course at Staffordshire University have also input into scene design and animatic for the film and I'll be posting about that soon.

I always find collaboration an enjoyable experience and my project has been met with positive feedback from numerous people. It has been thrilling to talk to others equally obsessed with Louisa May Alcott and to share little nuggets of information we have found. On the animation side, I have been sharing my progress with other animators such as Norman Yeend in Australia, a professional animator who has worked on various projects including $9.99 and has been a motivating influence. I have also received feedback from my puppet and model making friends and experts including Andre Masters who has given me great sculpting suggestions (plus a trip to see behind the scenes of Isle of Dogs and a signed Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox book!) and Mattieu Rene who is always a wealth of sculpting, casting, and moulding information and doesn't pull punches when it comes to a decent critique of my work. I've also joined groups on miniature costume pattern making, local sewing groups and illustration networks to help with other aspects of the project. I'm still in talks with various armature makers who I hope to work with for the final puppets ball and socket armatures which are likely to be bespoke creations to account for their size and proportions.

Study guides for animation puppet fabrication, animation puppet costumes.



The tutorials themselves are not yet written / recorded in tutorial form though the majority of the content is contained in this blog as standard blog posts. The more I research the more I am inclined to produce video tutorials as I am more drawn to these and find them more enjoyable to study and expect they are more popular for this type of subject. The tutorials will have their own section on the blog website and are scheduled to be finalised in later modules.


CONCLUSION

My overall aims from the Learning Contract were...

To greatly improve my skills in producing professional standard animatable characters and costumes. To sculpt character maquettes. To improve understanding of moving mouth character and costume fabrication, including design, sculpture, silicone moulding and casting, armatures, finishing, wigging, and costume making for animation. Practice in digital drawing including learning and practice of relevant sortware. To collaborate on the production of the final version of the storyboard (digitally). To finalise the storyline based on biographical research.


ASSESSMENT

40% – Sculpted character maquettes and trial animation puppets and costumes for three scenes. Two characters (Louisa and Lulu) in period costume. Actual puppets available for viewing on request and fabrication process illustrated in production diary (PDF and blog).

Lulu will be a completed puppet with a number of areas I wish to improve on. Most of the tasks involved have been tested using a variety of methods for comparison and have been posted about in this blog. The Louisa puppet is on a ball and socket armature with wadding and fabric torso, with sculpted , moulded and cast hands and head but this is not yet complete. The maquettes are not yet completed.


10% - Collaboration and Production of Final Storyboard (approximately 80-100 cells – for 3 minutes of animation); Collaboration on production of two 2D animated scenes (Toonboom).

25% - Storyline and script based on biographical research and expert opinion. Character and set designs (digital) based on background research Characters studies (digital photo composition and digitally drawn) and final character designs including different angles and expressions, refined from the draft versions in Negotiated Project 1. Collaboration and production of final set designs (digital photo composition and digitally drawn) for each scenes, with at least two angles for internal scene, close to accurate scale with annotations.

15% - Regular (three per week) blog posts including Production Diary; Research; Progress; Collaboration; Draft study guides for maquettes, animation puppet fabrication,(including sections on sculpting, moulding, casting - est. 10 pages, 15-20 illustrations, PDF), costuming (est. 6 pages, 12 illustrations, PDF). Study guide on digital drawing is out of scope but blog posts on photo composition and blog creation will be included.

10% - Critical Reflection blog post of 1,500 - 2,000 words, including proposed changes required for final versions of study guides in future modules.




Award Outcomes: 3, 4, 10 

 3. Enquiry: Demonstrate practical knowledge of postgraduate level research strategies in animation, period costume, period furniture, set design and the production of study guides and tutorials.

4. Analysis: Demonstrate the ability to adjudicate carefully and critically between competing methods of animation filming and fabrication and in the methods of composing study guides to teach these areas; obtain convincing evidence using appropriate and well-understood methods of research and analysis; and to establish their personal preferences and understand the limits of their own skills in animation filming, fabrication and documentation in comparison to professional standards and practices.

10. Working With Others. Demonstrate the ability to work with other people, accepting responsibility and recognising individual strengths and weaknesses, so that individual or common goals can be achieved as part of the final animated film.

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