Tag Archives: 2D animation

Aardman creates short film, struts its stuff

By Randi Altman

All creative studios strive for creative ways to show off their talent and offerings, and London-based Aardman is no exception. Famous for its stop-motion animation work (remember the Wallace and Gromit films?), this studio now provides so much more, including live-action, CG, 2D animation and character creation.

Danny Capozzi

In order to help hammer home all of their offerings, and in hopes of breaking that stop-motion stereotype, Aardman has created a satirical short film, called Visualize This, depicting a conference call between a production company and an advertising agency, giving the studio the ability to show off the range of solutions they can provide for clients. Each time the fictional client suggests something, that visual pops up on the screen, whether it’s adding graffiti to a snail’s shell or textured type or making a giant monster out of CG cardboard boxes.

We reached out to Aardman’s Danny Capozzi, who directed the short, to find out more about this project and the studio in general.

How did the idea for this short come about?
I felt that the idea of making a film based on a conference call was something that would resonate with a lot of people in any creative industry. The continuous spit balling of ideas and suggestions would make a great platform to demonstrate a lot of different styles that myself and Aardman can produce. Aardman is well known for its high level of stop-motion/Claymation work, but we do CGI, live action and 2D just as well. We also create brand new ways of animating by combining styles and techniques.

Why was now the right time to do this?
I think we are living in a time of uncertainty, and this film really expresses that. We do a lot of procrastinating. We have the luxury to change our minds, our tastes and our styles every two minutes. With so much choice of everything at our fingertips we can no longer make quick decisions and stick to them. There’s always that sense of “I love this… it’s perfect, but what if there’s something better?” I think Visualize This sums it up.

You guys work with agencies and directly with brands — how would you break that up percentage wise?
The large majority of our advertising work still comes through agencies, although we are increasingly doing one-off projects for clients who seek us out for our storytelling and characters. It’s hard to give a percentage on it because the one-offs vary so much in size that they can skew the numbers and give the wrong impression. More often than not, they aren’t advertising projects either and tend to fall into the realm of short films for organizations, which can be either charities, museums or visitor attractions, or even mass participation arts projects and events.

Can you talk about making the short? Your workflow?
When I first pitched the idea to our executive producer Heather Wright, she immediately loved the idea. After a bit of tweaking on the script and the pace of the dialogue we soon went into production. The film was achieved during some down time from commercial productions and took about 14 weeks on and off over several months.

What tools did you call on?
We used a large variety of techniques CGI, stop-motion, 2D, live action, timelapse photography and greenscreen. Compositing and CG was via Maya, Houdini and Nuke software. We used HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images). We also used Adobe’s After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator, along with clay sculpting, model making and blood, sweat and, of course, some tears.

What was the most complicated shot?
The glossy black oil shot. This could have been done in CGI with a very good team of modelers and lighters and compositors, but I wanted to achieve this in-camera.

Firstly, I secretly stole some of my son Vinny’s toys away to Aardman’s model-making workshop and spray painted them black. Sorry Vinny! I hot glued the black toys onto a black board (huge mistake!), you’ll see why later. Then I cleared Asda out of cheap cooking oil — 72 litres of the greasy stuff. I mixed it with black oil paint and poured it into a casket.

We then rigged the board of toys to a motion control rig. This would act as the winch to raise the toys out of the black oily soup. Another motion control was rigged to do the panning shot with the camera attached to it. This way we get a nice up and across motion in-camera.

We lowered the board of toys into the black soup and the cables that held it up sagged and released the board of toys. Noooooo! I watched them sink. Then to add insult to injury, the hot glue gave way and the toys floated up. How do you glue something to an oily surface?? You don’t! You use screws. After much tinkering it was ready to be submerged again. After a couple of passes, it worked. I just love the way the natural glossy highlights move over the objects. All well worth doing in-camera for real, and so much more rewarding.

What sort of response has it received?
I’m delighted. It has really travelled since we launched a couple of weeks ago, and it’s fantastic to keep seeing it pop up in my news feed on various social media sites! I think we are on over 20,000 YouTube views and 40,000 odd views on Facebook.

1stAveMachine opens London office, animation vet at helm

Brooklyn, New York-based mixed media production company 1stAveMachine, which creates video, digital and experimental content for TV, web, and mobile, has opened an office in London. Heading the new operation, including a set of UK-based directors and artists, is managing director/executive producer Isabella Parish, an animation/production vet who spent well over a decade at global production company Partizan.

Even though 1stAveMachine is opening up shop in Europe, the company is no stranger to European collaborations. As partner Serge Patzak notes, “The UK, and Europe in general, has been a really important marketplace. 1stAve’s foundation was built on creative work with the likes of Mother London and 180 Amsterdam for brands such as Diageo and Adidas’ Modular Man for the 2006 World Cup, respectively. We hit the ground running with campaigns like Audi’s ‘Unboxed,’ one of 1stAve’s earliest UK campaigns.”

Parish says that the production company and partners Sam Penfield and Patzak have been on her radar for quite a while. “I have always kept an eye over what’s been going on at 1stAveMacine,” she half-jokingly admits. “When we met it just felt right. Sam and Serge approached me with the idea; I loved it, and was excited for the challenge.”

During her lengthy stay at Partizan, Parish set up the production company’s animation arm, Partizan Lab, and served as head of animation. She’s worked with some big-named directors, including Michel Gondry, Doug Nichol, Michael Gracey, Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and Matthias Hoene. Along the way, Parish and Partizan’s directorial roster collaborated with brands like Evian, Samsung, Kellogg’s, Nokia, Coca-Cola, eBay and Starbucks, picking up awards at D&AD, Cannes and BTAA.

Europe-based directors joining 1stAveMachine for the London launch include Ubik, D.A.D.D.Y, Maxime Bruneel, Sophie Gateau, Emmanuelle & Julien, Martin Allais, Alessandro Pacciani and Marc Reisbig.

Chatting with new Aardman 2D director Åsa Lucander

By Randi Altman

Not long ago 2D director, illustrator, animator and graphic designer Åsa Lucander joined the iconic Aardman Animations team in Bristol, England. This Finnish-born artist first came to England to study illustration. After being introduced to animation, her world opened up a bit further, and she has never looked back.

After the studio she worked at shut down, she found herself at Aardman (@aardman) and on a new path. We reached out to Lucander to find our more about her past, her current job and her work ethic.

You recently joined Aardman — can you talk about why this studio is a good fit for you and your artistic talent?
I’ve always been a big fan of Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit and all the other endlessly funny pieces that come out of Aardman. But like so many others, it is the wonderful stop-motion animations that I associate with Aardman.

What I’ve recently learned is that Aardman is about so much more, and with other great styles. I hope I can bring a different layer to Aardman’s talent, coming from a 2D background and from a small studio where you are hands on in all the stages of the production. I’m sure I will learn a lot from Aardman, but also hope that I can bring a new perspective to jobs I will work on.

Aardman has quite a reputation in the industry and a long and storied history. Was it at all intimidating to be joining them or just exciting?
Absolutely! Aardman is like a British institution, and of course you feel slightly intimidated. But I was also very excited about surrounding myself with such great talent. I can only see that as inspiring. I do thrive on challenges, which force you to push yourself and develop.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up at Aardman?
I’m originally from Finland, where I studied graphic design, going on to work in an advertising agency. After two years I decided I wanted to return to studies as drawing has always been my biggest passion. I moved to London in 2001 to study illustration, and it was here that I first came in contact with animation. It was like a whole new world opening up for me. Seeing your drawings come into life is like creating pure magic. I’m sure many people have the same epiphany, and after that moment I was hooked.

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We had a guest teacher, Tom Mortimer, teaching us animation in the third year of my studies. He asked if I wanted to come and work for his company, 12foot6, after graduating. I did a work placement first and then became full-time employed. I stayed there for 11 years! Sadly, last year the company shut down, and that wave brought me to Aardman. It was a whirlwind of a year… I finished my short film, Lost Property (shown above), the company shut down, I had a baby, I got taken on by Aardman and relocated to Bristol. But I’m very much enjoying the ride.

How does having expertise in illustration, graphic design and animation inform your work?
I think the more tools you have in your bag the better. I’ve always loved drawing, and I feel the visual look is as important as the rest in animation. A bit of knowledge in graphic design helps with the overall layout and balancing elements and texts as well. It all works hand in hand really. I do like to be hands on and be part of each stage of the process.

What tools do you typically call on?
I always start with drawing in my sketch book, then tracing characters in Adobe Flash where I animate them. I use the same process in my backgrounds and then mix up all the textures, collage and digital painting and put them together in Photoshop.

Can you describe your directing style?
I do quite like an old-school style of animation, re-drawing quite a lot frame by frame rather than using too many symbols and tweens. I also like to pay attention to small details, or small sub-plots, that help to make the outcome quirky and interesting… drawing in the viewer and creating a multilayered animation that is much more than what first meets the eye.

When starting a new project, what are the first steps you take?
It depends on the project but if I’m working on a script/brief I start by getting into a certain mindset and then read the script over and over again, scribbling notes on the side of the page — little ideas, details, doodles and sub plots. Then I begin my research by collecting influences, reference pictures, looking for color palettes and other inspirations for the visual look of the project. Then I sit down to draw the characters and nail the look of the background art. What follows is a storyboard, animatic, animation and so on.

You mentioned your short film, Lost Property, which is playing at some festivals at the moment. Can you talk about it?
The idea for the film came to me when listening to the radio. Someone was talking about a lost property office. I thought the subject matter sounded very interesting. All the very strange things that people leave behind or lose in one way or another.

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I found this world could be an intriguing starting point to base a short film on. Developing the idea further, I imagined that a lost property office could represent something else, be a metaphor for something different — our mind.

Lost Property (above) is a love story, but above all it is about the fragility of the mind — how we take it for granted, and how lost we are without it. It is about hope, persistence and devotion. It portrays an illness — Alzheimer’s — that robs us of who we are.

After the initial idea, the script came fairly quickly to me. I had one of those rare moments of having a dream, and when I woke up all the loose ends tied together and I pretty much wrote down the script there and then. It was five o’clock in the morning.

Visually I wanted to do something different to what I had done before. I explored digital painting and spent a lot of time getting the visual look and feel with an interplay between a rich color palette and lights and shadows.

I was very lucky that when telling the idea to the film to my producer he jumped on it, and 12foot6 decided to privately fund it. So I had a great team behind me that worked many nights in order to bring it to life.

Since joining Aardman you worked on a project for British Gas. Can you describe the job?
British Gas was a fun little film about British Gas Apprenticeship. We were given audio of an interview with the apprentices, and from there we worked out the script. It was a very quick turnaround and we had to animate 20 seconds in only one week.

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I felt a bit faint to start with when I heard the schedule, but its surprising how much you can achieve when you have to be time efficient and organized to the second. It was also a pleasure to work with the creative team from Ogilivy.

Do you have any advice for young people just starting out in the business? Maybe something you wish someone told you early on?
Work really hard, and always follow your strengths and dreams. Nothing is impossible.