Sculpting the Horse (Dillon)

This is my first time sculpting a horse using Zbrush so I had to look at several tutorials to get a better understanding on how to do it.



To begin with a blocked out the horse shape roughly using Zsphere. After I get the intial shape I use the move tool, smooth and build up or clay tubes to create the rough shape of a horse. As shown below:




To make the eyebrows I used the topology brush to draw on the shape. I like using this method inside of a seperate sub tool because it stays on top of the head mesh. After I get roughly the shape I desire I convert it into a mesh. At this point I seperate it from the group so I can work on the shape better without interfering with the head.




For the eyes I place two spheres for the eyes balls. Using the curve brush I make the shape of the lids using the spheres as guides. This I smooth it out and add some detail for the eye lids.



I wanted the mouth to be opened, so following a similar tutorial and uses the clay tubes tool to make a large dent around the moth area. I then used the curve tool to create the lips. I accidentally made them a little too fat at first but after a lot of smoothing and readjusting I got them looking natural.


First Draft

Here are some screens shots of Dillon. I did the hair by using the move, smooth and pinch tools to try and get a layered hair strand look. In our next meeting I will be asking Joel what he wants for the hair and how he wants it shaped around the face. The hoofs were cylinders smoothed out and shaped, seperate from the body. As this is for a smooth animation I did not have to go too detailed on the model, but still showed some form for where the muscles are on the legs and jaw etc.



Second Meeting with Joel Simon

For our second meeting we got a great opportunity to go to Flickerpix studio in Holywood. Joel gave us a tour around the studio and showed us some of the stop motion characters they have created and where they do the work. So after the tour we sat down in his office and showed him the presentation that we had presented to the class the day before. We explained the research we done to look at different 3d animated styles in popular kids shows. From the beginning he made it clear that the wants this to be a soft, smooth animation, so this is the style we looked at.

Amazing Grace

We showed him our concepts and discussed the potential different hairstyles that Grace could have. He had several things to say about these:

  • He approved of the style of Grace. He wanted us to explore different eye shapes and width aswell as the head shape.
  • He liked the Jack zip opened
  • The braid was the hair style that stood our for him and he wanted us to explore this more.
  • We asked if she wore welling boots or a horse riding boots (since she will be riding her horse) he thinks for for it can be welling boots since she will be getting muddy running around in the countryside, as long as she has her riding hat.

Amazing Grace (1)

We showed him our cocepts of Dillon. In our previous meeting we pointed out that their original concepts had Dillon looking very much like a shetland pony and we asked what he  wanted us to do. In the Amazing Grace description Dillon is described as a Connemara pony, which Joel decided he wanted to keep. So for our concepts we used the reference of a real life Connemara pony (below). I liked all of our concepts and the direction we were going with them.

Amazing Grace (3)Amazing Grace (2)

The dog was not an important part of out assignment and would only be sculpted if we have time, but for the benefit of our presentation we did some concepts of him incase we do decide to come back and recreate him. He liked the look of the dog on the bottom left created by Rebecca. If we decided to do Murphy we would need to look into more simple shapes and styles.

Amazing Grace (4)

Rebecca had made a start on a 3D grace had she had different turn arounds to show Joel. He liked how she has been started but had a few critiques:

  • Hair should have more volume and shape.
  • Head should have a more pointed chin (closer to the concept).
  • Nose is a little too big, look at small button noises.
  • Perhaps look at different head proportions.


Amazing Grace (5)Amazing Grace (6)Amazing Grace (7)

We showed him our work and got some really good critique and feedback on where to take it next. For our next meeting I plan to start sculpting the horse Dillon based on our concepts and what Joel wants to see in the horse character.

Texturing research

A lecture on texturing using different maps for adding textures in Maya.

Alec showed us an example of how he painted a texture using Photoshop, over the bake map of his character. He had a normal map and ambient occlusion. He showed how he used different layers to add to the illusion of bake map texture, and how it uses the trick of light and depth to make it look like it has a lot of detail on a low poly model.

Arnold – When rendering using arnold it is important when importing your bake texture to change the color Space to RAW (the default is sRGB)

Looking at the different Arnold shaders. Look at:


solid angle.JPG

An Animated Future for 3-D

By Kara Lynn Andersen is an Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Brooklyn College,

“Interest in 3-D images precedes cinema and is ongoing today, but as a commercial venture 3-D film production has waxed and waned several times.  But is it possible for 3-D filmmaking to be sustainable as a commercial venture?  Rather than trying to assert what will happen, I explore some common objections, suggesting that the key to sustainable 3-D might be the animated feature film.

One argument against sustainability holds that a film needs a reason integral to the subject matter for the 3-D.  Werner Herzog chose the format for Cave of Forgotten Dreams in order to capture the way cave paintings made use of the rock shapes, for example.  But do we ask whether films employing sound, color, or widescreen have particular reasons behind them?  Some certainly do, but we don’t require it. Rick Mitchell argues that because the best 3-D film processes are too expensive for most theatres to install, 3-D production will remain centered on the less satisfying processes and therefore fizzle out.  This is akin to saying that television will never catch on because its screen is smaller than the cinema.

Some challenges to sustainable 3-D have recently been overcome.  3-D TVs now make it possible to view movies in 3-D at home, and 3-D TVs that do not require glasses will be available as well.  The games industry is producing 3-D games, and this increases the demand for 3-D in general.  As yet, there is no solution for people who get headaches from 3-D.  But this is unlikely to prevent 3-D from gaining ground.  Video games employing first person perspective trigger simulation sickness in some people – but this has not stopped the games industry from releasing more sickness-inducing games, because they sell well.

Arguments for 3-D note that it adds a dimension of realism, but stereoscopic technology is too limited to do more than gesture at a lived spatial experience.  J. P. Telotte has argued that 3-D films imply physical contact through an illusion of depth, and these moments “pointedly work to violate our space, only to leave us sensing something amiss, something unaccounted for.” Thus, live-action 3-D production has been centered primarily in the less realistic genres: science fiction, thrillers, horror, fantasy, and animation.  This is also what makes 3-D a crowd-pleaser: it is not the everyday realism of seeing in three dimensions that we do every day.  It’s something that pretends to be like it, but offers a different sensation.

Currently, 3-D films fail to meet the reigning standards of photorealism and audiences seem to respond best when 3-D is used for fantasy.  By sidestepping the questions of realism and purpose behind the effect, animated films provide 3-D images that are simply fun. As a mode of film not commonly closely associated with realism, 3-D animated films may be the key to developing a sustainable commercial audience.”
Article Link 

My thoughts 

When I go to the cinema to watch a movie that is available for 3-D I always op for the 2-D screening. This is because I find the glasses use hurt my eyes after a while and give me a head ache ( plus they are not really suitable for people who need to wear glasses). I find that the picture is dark and loses quality. I have sat through films that have only a couple of scenes when I have even noticed the 3-D, this is usually in a scene with flying objects. I understand the reasoning behind 3-D, trying to make a sense of depth and make the audience feel more there . I have yet to experience a 3-D television at home so I have no opinion of them, but going to theatres I prefer the normal screening of 2-D.

Abstract Thought as a Danger Zone in Inside Out

Mihaela Mihailova is a PhD candidate in the joint Film and Media Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures program at Yale University.

“Inside Out (Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015), Pixar’s film about the structure and inner workings of a preteen girl’s mind, represents the human brain as a cross between a factory and an amusement park. The feature’s mismatched protagonist duo, Joy and Sadness, find themselves stranded inside this landscape and forced to navigate its various sections in order to return to Headquarters (the room from which they control the girl Riley’s emotional responses) as quickly as possible. In one scene, Bing Bong – Riley’s forgotten childhood imaginary friend – decides to help them by taking them on a shortcut through a tunnel-like space that represents abstract thought.

What ensues is one of Pixar’s most conceptually self-reflexive episodes. From the very beginning, abstract thought is designated as a danger zone. Above the door leading into it, a warning sign reads “Danger. Keep Out!” Sadness reacts to Bing Bong’s suggestion to go through there with immediate concern, telling Joy that she has “read about this place in the manual. We shouldn’t go in there.” “There” turns out to be a vast, empty, seemingly endless white space where the rules of gravity do not apply, as demonstrated by a myriad geometric structures hovering in the air. This is unusual for Pixar or any other commercial American animated feature and is therefore implicitly coded as otherworldly and unsettling due to its lack of definition and concrete detail.

Abstract thought is not simply a spooky place, however. It quickly transforms into an active physical threat to the characters’ bodily integrity. Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong undergo several rapid changes in visual design. First, they transform into Picasso versions of themselves, all angular shapes and misaligned facial features (a transformation which, as Sadness explains, is meant to depict nonobjective fragmentation). Then, they literally fall apart into pieces (deconstruction). At the third stage, the white space suddenly squashes them, turning them into two-dimensional, stylized versions of themselves. Finally, right before they manage to escape, all three characters are reduced to single-colored shapes (a yellow star and two blobs, blue and pink). In that sense, abstract thought is portrayed as a destructive, uncontrollable, and terrifying force.

The terms in which the characters verbalize the threat of abstraction holds the key to Pixar’s approach to animation. Bing Bong shouts that he is lacking depth. Joy laments her two-dimensionality. Sadness warns that they need to get out of there “before [they’re] nothing but shape and color.” As it turns out, what is dangerous and scary about Abstract Thought is abstraction itself. In the Pixar universe, straying away from the reassuring familiarity of three-dimensional physical reality (however creatively augmented by stylization and caricature it may be) is unthinkable and self-destructive. It is an unwarranted risk. It is aesthetic suicide – not to mention a marketing one (flat, cubist figurines rarely make it onto the toy bestseller list). Abstraction is the antithesis to Pixar’s creative philosophy. As Sadness points out, the Pixar manual advises against going there. In Pixar – and American studio animation at large – abstraction remains off limits, while two-dimensionality is increasingly unwanted and dangerous.”

Article Link 

My thoughts 

This was an interesting read. I have seen ‘Inside Out’ and did not realise the meaning of the abstract thought room. Pixar has very smartly added in something that has always been off limits and considered ‘dangerous’. They have brought this into the storyline in a very creative way, being emphasised by the ‘Danger, Keep Out’ sign.

“Business. Business. Business. Numbers. Is this Working?” Art vs. Commerce in the Post-Disney Pixar Studio

An piece written by Helen Haswell is a PhD candidate in film studies at Queen’s University Belfast.

“Her primary research area focuses on Pixar Animation Studios in relation to film production, marketing and distribution, and the impact of the studio’s acquisition by The Walt Disney Company. Her article ‘To Infinity and Back Again: Hand-drawn Aesthetic and Affection for the Past in Pixar’s Pioneering Animation’ was published in Alphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media in January 2015.”

In this short written piece Helen Haswell as looked at Pixar’s success before the Disney take over and after. She gives a brief description of the beginnings of Pixar in 1995, set up originally as an art centred studio with taylorism shown in their work process. Describing Pixar studios as ‘an animators paradise’.

“Pixar has been acknowledged with numerous awards both domestically and internationally, producing films that attract blockbuster and art house audiences, families, couples and cinephiles. The continued and growing success of the studio has been described as an anomaly and is held up as an exemplar for fledgling companies.” 

Pixar was bought by Disney in 2005 for $7.4 billion, which saw Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter assume positions as President and Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Helen mentions the films released since then, and points out the reputation of Pixar being disputed. The delayed release of Inside our and Good dinosaur resulted in no movies being released in 2014. This has not happened since 2005.

“Pixar’s reputation as “infallible” has been disputed. Following the phenomenal success of Toy Story 3 in 2010, the studio has been unable to replicate the flawless “Pixar formula”. Furthermore, the delayed release of Inside Out (2015) and The Good Dinosaur (2015), and the announcement of further sequels to the Cars (2006 and 2011) franchise, the Toy Story (1995, 1999 and 2010) series, The Incredibles (2004) and Finding Nemo (2003) suggest that the acquisition has initially had a negative impact on Pixar’s brand identity and studio narrative.”

“The title of my post is taken from The Lego Movie (2014), a film that was a commercial and critical success, but “snubbed” at the 2015 Academy Awards. Why am I mentioning it here? I think there are parallels between this and the change in attitude towards Pixar. Articles written about Pixar (the hype surrounding the studio’s early success, the comparison to Disney animation, the release of sequels, the lacklustre response to some of Pixar’s latest films – see reviews of The Good Dinosaur) all point to an apparent disconnect between Disney, as the multimedia conglomerate, and Pixar, as the independent artist-centred studio. This is summed up simply during the premiere screening of Inside Out at Cannes: audible cheers as Pixar’s name appeared onscreen, and boos for Disney’s. This is further exemplified in the marketing of Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. The films have been praised for their artistry, but have been promoted via fast food chain Subway and Sky Broadband. And the merchandise for these films seem somewhat contrived; Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?

My thoughts

Reading this I found it a little opinionated and some points I would disagree with. I would not say Pixar were ‘losing there touch’. Helen was implying that they have been unable to stay original, resulting in the production of sequels. I believe that the commerce side of a block buster movie has alot to do with the success. Although Helen ended her article with “Toy Story toys make sense. Cars toy cars make sense. A full Apatosaurus costume?. ”  I have seen many merchandise of  the Good dinosaur, in not only toys but clothing, furniture and stationary. However, it was true it was not a big a success as hoped, but what child would not like a talking dinosaur? In short I believe., as the title of this article suggest, it is all about business business business, no matter what company, Pixar or Disney.

Article Link

Animating by numbers: workflow issues in Shane Acker’s 9

I read an article by Matthew Teevan of Starz Animation. He gives a short overview of Starz Animation’s production process of Shaker’s Animation feature, 9. It looks at the challenges this production had to make, with a small budget and limited time frame. Even so the animation kept a high level of invention and creativity to address the issues without compromising the films quality. In this article it address some ways in which they approached problems and how they developed solutions. The article mainly looks at character design, art direction and workflow in the production pipeline. For a smaller studio, it offers insight on seeking a Hollywood style animated feature that can stand up against major studios such as Pixar and Dream works.

“Starz (now known as Arc Productions)  is based in Toronto, Canada, and employs around 275 people. We are now making our sixth feature film. What differentiates Starz from major studios like Pixar or Dreamworks is that we function as a ‘studio-for-hire’, so if a movie requires some computer-generated characters, for example, we might do them for a whole film, but we can essentially handle a film from development through to post-production. We operate in downtown Toronto amidst a lot of other animation studios. In this article, I want to talk about the making of an independent film and the workflow process that informs it.”


Starz Animation Studio – now typical in being configured as computer work stations, and populated by staff working on specific projects, and having a dedicated aspect of production to carry out in relation to an overall workflow pipeline. Screen Grab from Article

The animated short 9 created by Shane Acker was noticed by film director Jimmy Lemly. He is an American film and television producer based in Paris best known for his work on the hit action-thriller film Wanted. Lemly recognise the potential of 9 for a feature development. He turned to Director Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov to help raise funds for the production.


jim Lemley.jpg

Jim Lemley

 “They in turn took it to Focus Features, who are essentially an art-house live-action studio, but who seemed suitable in recognizing the art-house/commercial crossover of 9.They liked the quirky approach and styling of the film, and worked on it for a year and a half before bringing in Starz as a service house to work on some scenes already in production in Europe, which were falling a little behind schedule. We ended up taking on more work and ended up doing the whole film – some 1550 shots – even reworking some scenes that had already been completed, so that the aesthetic of the film remained consistent.” MATTHEW TEEVAN Starz Animation

Matthew Teevan talks about how they wanted to keep the design true to the original short film created by Shane Acker.

“Much of the initial design stage was based on the original visual concepts in the short film. We needed to visualize what this world was going to look like. These weird little puppet people were living in a post-apocalyptic environment, and though it was being done in CGI, it was very important to Acker that the whole piece was characterized by a very tactile feel, that it had a sense of ‘old school’ stop-motion, and that the movement in the environment responded to an authentically material world. Some of the technical aspects that had been acceptable in the short needed changing for the feature, so a lot of work had to be done to make the puppets functional, yet dress them in the same way as Acker required – the seemingly hand-made, amateur-looking ‘dressing’ had to hide a more sophisticated and robust ‘skeleton’. This was hard work as the characters are essentially a net, with a limited pattern, and this posed problems with moving them, so we needed an extensive pose panel or pose chart – initially of about 15–20 poses identified at the beginning of the project, but added to across the production – to see where the material would stretch, how we would achieve balance, etc. The pose charts also helped different animators achieve consistent movement or emotional gestures across scenes – if we achieved a great scene with ‘5’ looking sad, we would direct another animator to look at the pose chart on which it was based to imitate that emotional performance.”

As the characters are very similar they where able to use the on rig for half of the main characters. For they bigger characters they had to customise the rig to adapt, this also went for the smaller characters. This helped alot in keeping the budget as low as possible,  aswell as time limitations. They really wanted to get that ‘Focus’s usual independent art -house feel’ as it was not a high concept movie.

Screen Grab in Article 


Screen grab from article

As this was not a children’s story, but very dark and violent, it allowed them to be very creative, but still kept to the original story of Shane Arkers, wanting to get as much of his content on screen as possible with high quality.


A problem they faced was the characters design for animation. In the original short there was very little movement in the characters for them to animate. They had to put alot of attention into the mouth of the characters, aswell as the eyes. The irises would dilate and the mouth contracted and expanded, but there was little else.

“This was problematic because there were a lot of sophisticated emotional moments and a lot of backstory to convey. It was quite hard for the animators, therefore, to find the emotional performances in the characters, and this was crucial as the backstory has a lot about the characters caring for each other. They had to achieve a lot through body language and key poses, and a great deal through what could be suggested through the eyes and mouth. Once we got a turnaround, surfaced model to a certain level, for example, we would try and place it in a key environment, so we could judge how it could be lit, and how particular kinds of specularity in the ‘eye-cans’ might communicate something. Using a rough set-up was extremely useful in seeing how colour and lighting might communicate emotion. Also, this was important in helping to differentiate the characters, 6 and 8 particularly, who posed particular problems because they were essentially white. For example, 8 looked bright blue in some environments so we had to adjust him almost on a scene-by-scene basis.”

Another challenge they faced was the ensemble nature of the characters. Since there are essentially 9 main characters in this movie which where all on screen for alot of the time, they first thought they had to create all the characters before any work could be started.

“Usually, you might have one or two central characters that can be plotted through scenes, and a workflow allocated accordingly, but here we had a number of the characters on-screen most of the time, although, quite helpfully, we saw in the storyboard that as one gets discovered another one often gets killed !! So, we developed a workflow looking at when the fewest or the same characters were involved. We built 9 because he was in the first sequence and the only one in it, then we added 2 as he emerged, and so on, and this helped us create sequences. Because 5 looked a lot like 2, we could build him really quickly, and work on a range of sequences with those characters. Throughout, ‘animation’ was really chasing ‘rigging’ and it was a very intensive process. The beast characters were entirely different, and highly complicated, as well as time consuming. The ‘Seamstress’ and the ‘World-Building Machine’ were highly complex designs and rigs. They were the last characters completed. Basically, the workflow was created on the basis of how we could match technical requirements – effectively the number of built characters – to when they emerged in the story, saving as much time and money as we could. Though the film was, therefore, made out of sequence, it did not matter, as we had a nearly fully developed storyboard.”

Screen grab from article

One of the more complex characters in design and animation, the Seamstress, who captures characters in the sewn mesh of her own body.

For the character modellers, they recieved  orthographic views and technical guide information. This gave them another challenge as they had to think about how they where going to shoot the materiel:

“This threw up the issue of ‘scale’ as we had to put together elements that seemed to have different scale references. We had to decide how to actually shoot the material. We had to decide if we were shooting 10-inch tall characters, and photographing them with a heavy depth of field, which can be hard to watch. We decided upon a creative conceit in which we would pretend that there was a miniature cameraman, who was also 10 inches tall, and had a 10-inch tall camera, and the laws of physics, which would be applied to the photography, would be scaled down accordingly. So, essentially you become part of the scale of their world, and everything is in proportion. This becomes clear when you see some of the dead people lying around or compare the characters to other objects and bigger environments.”

Screen Grab from article

“In relation to a lot of design and layout much of this work is done in 2D – it is drawn, Photoshopped, painted – and we build as many of the assets in advance before we get into shot and sequence production. We decided to geometry-optimize as many of the assets as we could, which means that we could adjust the shape and view of something to make it look different, so that within any one shot we could save on rendering. There was so much rubble, for example, we merely rendered a few pieces then optimized placement and shooting issues. This meant going to layout as early as possible and using as much pre-visualization as possible to facilitate trajectories and rendered elements. If the camera was placed in a certain position we could judge very early what was going to be seen and what would be less seen, and plan what was required accordingly. Thankfully there is always something being knocked down or rebuilt in Toronto, so we could always go and photograph a lot of reference material. We had to do a burned-out car, too, so we repurposed some footage from a movie called Everyone’s Hero (Colin Brady, USA/Canada, 2006) which featured lots of 1930s cars. We retextured it, of course, and did a lot of visual distressing, and that served our purpose well, and it serves as a good example of using extant or previous acquisitions and assets. Reusing materials by turning it around and shooting from a different angle was also another strategy. The art department goes through every shot and creates a colour ‘thumbnail’ too, in order to establish colour tone, hue and saturation. All of this is considered in what we call ‘The Blue Book’ reading, which considers every shot from a technical point of view in relation to the assets, assembly and animation. We then allocate tasks, and define specific work, because in the time frame we had we did not want to create anything that was not actually, ultimately going to be on-screen”

Three Main Challenges

“There were three essential challenges. First, the character animation, especially in regard to the design and the physical storytelling. Second, the construction of this world, which though it had a homogeneity as a post-apocalyptic environment, there were lots of diverse places they had to go to – everything basically blew up, was burned down or destroyed by machines. Much of that was about looking at the frame, and deciding how it might look most effective, so we used a lot of matte painting. The characters remained in 3D, the foreground environment remained in 3D, but thereafter, it was often rough geometry, and matte painting on a variety of planes. There was the benefit of immediacy in this; for the most part we had a clear sense of what things were looking like. The third concern was the dark palette of the film, and whether this would work not only in the cinema, but when it translated to television. At one level we exploited the colour script to both hide some things and suggest others, and the darkness was ‘forgiving’ in some scenes with the large machines. A lot of work was done in post-production, particularly in colour correction, to anticipate what its readability would be in all formats, and to make sure it could be viewed easily. For a low-budget crossover movie, we believe we met the challenges, and created an unusual and appealing film.”

Shane Acker: big worlds, little stories – counting up to 9

I read an interview between Shane Acker, the director of 9 and Paul Wells at the Holland Animation Film Festival at Utrecht in November 2010. 9 is a short animated film directed by Acker and Produced by Tim Burton. Voice actors for this short included Elijah woods and John C Reilly.

Paul wells asks Shane how he became a film maker after doing an Architecture graduate course in UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles). Shane explains how he starting bringing animation into his architectural designs and decided that this was what he wanted to do.

“Also, I was always a cartoonist and illustrator, though I was never formally trained, and I was attracted to constructing different worlds. In my architectural studies, I focused a lot on computeraided design, learned modelling, texturing, etc., and having started to learn that ‘tool set’, towards the end of my architectural education, I started taking some animation electives from the animation programme at UCLA.” Shane Acker. 

He talks of how the UCLA was unique and encouraged their students to be ambitious in film making and had alot of freedom. His first animation was The Hangnail (1999) – a simple 2D film. In 2009 his short film 9 was release altho it originally was only meant to be 3 minutes long, they final production was over 10.

The Inspiration 

When creating 9 Shane started of with the characters, which was inspired by the Quay’s puppets but also the experimental stop-motion work by the Lauenstein brothers. He mentioned the short film ‘Balanced’. I had a watch myself and personally thought they were really creepy. In the interview Shane Acker described them as ‘haunted’ and really like the look of them. Shane liked how throughout this short, although the puppets looked the same they showed different personalities in a non verbal way. He wanted to explore this in 9 and make it a challenge for himself.

“I saw that I could create numerous copies of the same puppet on the computer, and differentiate them with numbers on their backs, but more importantly through their performances. I wanted to prove myself in animation by setting up such challenges to respond to.” 


He decribes this as  Pantomimic which Paul asks him to elaborate on.

” It’s about the idea that even as I express myself now, it is not just verbally but physically. When we just communicate non-verbally, it becomes pantomimic and takes on a universal dimension. There is a kind of common experience through body language.  Humans are all cut from the same cloth in some ways, despite cultural differences, and in approaching something through pantomime I am trying to reach that universal dimension, which is basically ‘emotional’, whether comic or dramatic. It creates a tabula rasa, a commonality, which professional mimes exploit to achieve crosscultural communication.”  Shane Acker. Tablula Rosa means an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals; a clean slate.

Shane talks of how, as a film maker, he has the challenge of tell the story though lights and camera directing.

“My challenge is not only to tell a story in this way, but to create it in a fashion where the audience can participate in it, too. The movement of a camera, in itself, can direct the emotional experience of the audience, and the pantomime invites interpretation by, and correspondence with, the audience, which hopefully works to secure responses the world over. Lots of different cultures can embrace the universality of the themes and ideas, and hopefully take some value away from what I am trying to create.”

Film appearance

In a certain level 9 is a classic science fiction film. Shane was asked if this was the genre he original had in mind. Shane describes 9 as a ‘Spiritual film’ but still grounded in a humanist approach. He wanted the film to be a post – human world, with the reason for the Apocalypse to be humans themselves. He didn’t want to explain this in the short film, but allowed it to visually express the haunting scenes of  machinery destroying man kind. I find this man versus machine genre has been made various times in different ways. 9 has a different, more rustic look to their own type of apocalypse.

“They are using old, now redundant objects, as new tools, but infuse them with an incredible creative spirit. But there is this remaining threat from the past that is more mechanical in nature. It has become more instinctive and animalistic, though, and is hunting these new creatures. It is trying to assimilate their energy, so it is very much a man versus nature tale, but reinterpreted in this abstract way.” Shane Acker.

9 has been set World War I yet pre-World War II, but also in an alternative world characterized by what might be seen as a ‘steampunk’ aesthetic. Shane was asked if this was the type of look he wanted to achieve.

“I wanted to tell my story by placing it between the Great Wars because this was one of the darkest and most uncertain times in human history, and when we almost brought an end to our world and our civilization altogether. The way I have created it, it is almost a parallel universe, which suggests that things did go wrong, and we did destroy ourselves in some way”

Next Paul wells talks about the look of the film and the colour used throughout. My opinion of the colouring and style is that shows age, damage and rust. Shane explained:

“This is a world of abandoned, left-over, inanimate objects. The world is dead. The natural world has gone. The way that I could allude to nature was to use all the earth tones. In its way it was a very organic and natural colour palette. For me what is interesting is when things start to decay, and our civilization starts to merge back into the landscape. I like the idea of when the grass overtakes the world and the vines grow, and when metal rusts, and concrete gets stained. It is almost like the manmade is returning to nature in some ways. I like the way the world becomes distressed as a consequence of humankind’s desire to separate itself from nature, but nature resisting and starting to claim back its space. Man can never really separate himself from nature and the earth, and the colours were definitely chosen with that idea in mind. It was important to think about how you bring life to a dead world; how do you construct such a landscape? It can be dead grass slightly blowing in the wind, or torn fabric swaying, and this can bring a subtle naturalism to a very unnatural world.”

Paul wells talks about Shane’s oppurtunity make his short film into a full feature length and asks him how that came about.

“The short took me about four and a half years to make, which was both a burden and a luxury. As I was creating the assets, learning the tools, doing the rigging, creating the characters – all the things you have to do to make such a film – I was concentrating on story and developing a story reel. I kept putting it to one side, and engaging with something technical, and then coming back to it. I developed a kind of critical distance, which enabled me to think about how all the elements – characters, action, design, etc. – could combine to successfully tell the story. The short was essentially a finished and complete piece as a result; then the opportunity to do the feature arose. The producers (Jim Lemley, Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Dana Ginsberg) felt, though, that it was merely a window into a world for them, and they were excited about how it might be developed. It then became a major design project.”

Paul wells talks of how Tim Burton was notice and was interested in Shane Ackers work. He asks how that made him feel and how did he take the extraordinary opportunity.

“It was, but at the time, I had just come off finally making my short, and was quite stressed, and I was making a living in the industry – I did some work at WETA when they were making Lord of the Rings – and then I was propelled into this Hollywood world I was not used to, of course, with all the pressures that go with that. It was so foreign from the world that I was coming from. I was moving from the world of independent film-making and animation festivals to a commercial environment in which I felt quite overwhelmed. Pitching to executives and major production companies about your proposed ideas is very different from showing your work. The reality is a lot less glamorous than some may think, because I made 9, the short, in a hand-to-mouth way. I would work for three or four months, save the money, work on the short, then work for three or four months, work on the short again, etc. until it was finished. Even when I was pitching the movie, I actually had no money, so I had to keep working even though I had this opportunity. I had to then put in the work of thinking through what I might do in the movie in order to present it. Even though my short had been very well received, and I was confident, perhaps overly confident, and Tim Burton had endorsed and supported my work, this really was a major step-up, and though exciting, was a major test, as you can never be sure if you will meet the challenge. I had never worked with a writer before; I had never done a piece with dialogue before; I had never worked in the long form, so you worry that you’re in over your head. You have to learn from the professionals around you who have done many films before.”

During the planning of the feature length Shane realised that he had no experience in long term story telling and had to put his trust of the writer. He found this a little challenging as the write would have their own take of the story. This was what he called the ‘melting pot’ of influences and ideas.

The characters 

Shane wanted each character to have their own personalities, even though they look kind of  the same and sound the same. He designed  them this way in hopes that the characters will develop as the story plays out. He found that during the feature film of 72 minutes he had to find a balance between character centred view and the backstory.

“Each character does indeed start off as a ‘one liner’ that all the crew can accrue around and understand, but you hope that your characters will develop through the story arcs they play out. Through the course of thinking about story and animating the character starts to emerge. Even though there were nine characters who looked sort of the same, there still had to be distinctive aspects that defined them. You want to give them distinct voices, which I don’t think in all cases we do, because they speak the same, do the same things, but it happens with the main characters. My instinct was that I wanted the experience the story as it was happening to the characters, and that the backstory was less significant. The producers were really concerned with the backstory, though, and felt that it was important to have a strong sense of the history of this world. The very mandate of a 72-minute feature and a certain budget, meant that we had to balance between my charactercentred view and the ‘big-picture’ backstory. The ‘push and pull’ between these things meant, for me, there was a lot of exposition, the sometimes unnecessary and illogical presence of humans, too much dialogue and not enough character-centred story. I was fortunate, though, that I could really trust my lead animators and artists, who helped me solve as many of the significant problems that arose as possible.”

To finish of the interview Paul wells ask Shane Acker what his hopes are for the future. Shane’s responses:

“9 was successful, and won its money back, and found an audience, at the same time as remaining a little bit ‘avant-garde’ and ‘off the beaten track’. I want to carry on and make films that are mature and serious, but animated, too. There still doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of space, particularly in the West, for that kind of film, so I want to pursue that. Basically, the cheaper you can make a film, the more creative freedom you might have, the more risks you might take. While budgets expand though, the independent sector shrinks; the smaller-budget projects seem to be folded into much larger film projects. This is the landscape I am trying to find my way in. What’s encouraging is that even the big players like Pixar are trying to explore more mature, emotional work, and though there is still a lot of understandable commitment to family stories and gag-driven material, I hope there may be a place for emotionally driven work with more unusual aesthetic and narrative possibilities.”

First Meeting with Joel Simon

Joel Simon visited us in University for our first meeting. In the meeting he was able to give us a more in depth explanation about himself and Flickerpix. Surprisingly, Joel only started Flickerpix as a company in the hopes of getting funding for a short film he was working on. In 2003 he set this up with the exception that it was only temporary until his short film was complete. Now, in 2017 it is still going, having produced work for so many companies such as BBC NI, CBBC and Children in Need.

He spoke of Amazing Grace and how he had this idea that a young Country Girl living in the Glens of Antrim (N.Ireland) spent her days exploring the countryside and helping her father run his animal Sanctuary. Her best friend is a horse named Dillon that comes with her on her adventures. He wants this to be an educational show, teaching children about wildlife and the countryside rules.

He explained how he had done soft pitches with other companies for Amazing Grace. The feedback was positive in regards to the narrative, and that it seemed to be original. However, the actual look of the 2D concepts had a more negative reaction. This was when he decided that it would probably be more appealing in 3D, when you look at all the other TV shows this seems to be the route children’s TV is heading.

Before the meeting he had briefly asked us to do some concepts for Grace but still based on the original concepts. He wanted to keep certain aspects of her, this included her horse riding hat and her coat and wellie boots to add to her country girl appeal. Below are a few concepts that I did. I looked more closely at her hair. In the original concepts I felt like it had a barbie look, with perfect flowing hair and girls. However I would assume that an 8 year old child exploring the country side would tend to get a little mucky and wind swept. Not only that but if she is regular riding a horse, with my own experience its much more practical have it up or tied away from the face.  I also did a variations of eye shapes based on other TV shows through my research. Below are the concepts that I showed Joel.




Below are concepts done by Rebecca that had a turntable of what Grace could look like. He really liked the Oval shape of the head and how her chin comes down to a point. He always like the hair and how we kept to the colour scheme. We asked him if her default outfit would have her body warmer opened or closed. He liked the opened look as it added more contrast when showing the green and white stripe of the hoodie underneath.

Concept by Rebecca Thompson


He showed us a concept that was done by a different artist that he really liked the look of (below). He wanted to have the soft, texture fur look similar to that of Peter Rabbit animated series. As a goal he would like us to have this scene from the concept converted into 3D. With models, textures and lighting. He wants Grace to be in the scene as well as Dillon, and if possible the dog Murphy. Basically ready for a soft pitch.

Flickerpix Concept

We left the meeting with a better understanding of our brief and what we will be aiming for. For the next few days we will be looked at concepts for the horse Dillon and Murphy aswell as a start on a 3D Grace. We will do some research on textures and clothing aswell as landscape.