Making a Showreel

Leave a comment

It’s been a little while, but I thought why not let’s put together a little animation showreel 🙂

It’s a combination of the last couple of years experimental work in both After Effects, TV Paint and Photoshop, generally playing with images and video or researching techniques for freelance jobs.

Animating Morph

Leave a comment

I got asked to make a 1 minute short to promote animation to school age students with simple resources for an Instagram ad campaign and thought this would be the perfect chance to get back to basics using Plasticine, a simple set and a free stop-motion app on my phone, just to show how minimal it can be to have a go at animation.

I’d already been looking around at good apps to recommend to current students and I found that there are quite a few but settled on Stop Motion Studio from ‘Cateater’ –

It is available for Apple and Android, you can try the free version, or you can buy the pro version for £5 which gives you the extra functionality of being able to use a remote device for camera activation, and if it’s a tablet this means you can view your setup/animation on a big screen.

You can also use your headphones to take the pictures to prevent shutter shake, which I would highly advise!

animation setup

So this was my setup to start, you definitely need a camera holder, mine is from a selfie stick, but can also attach to a tripod. I purchased the pro version so you can see essentially my tablet is an external monitor and I won’t need to touch the phone at all, so my camera/phone won’t move at all, which is key for stop-motion!

I have two lights which I tested prior to animating proper to make sure they don’t flicker and the colour’s match, one is a ringlight which you can control for colour temp and brightness, and the other is a simple table lamp with a daylight bulb.

Everything is fully charged before starting and if you knew you would be taking a long time, you could plug your devices into power.

This video is a preview of the setup before I started to animate.

You can see I chose to animate a Morph character that I had made and thought it would be fun to make him a friend out of a blue Plasticine I had, to attempt a ‘tootsie slide’ tiktok dance I had seen.

Then it’s over to the animation!

It was just a simple idea, but I found the blue Plasticine a nightmare to animate, it was somehow softer, so fell over much more easily on some of the trickier aspects of the movement – be assured I will never be using it again like this!

It took me just under an hour to get the animation done, and the blue Plasticine definitely made it take longer than it should, the amount of times it just fell when the brown Plasticine held position. At one point I really did think about completely stopping and totally restarting…

so this is the result of just the animation

and here is the finished advert/promo which includes a little bit of timelapse of me working on the animation (of course the final piece is made for Instagram, so portrait rather than my usual landscape, but YouTube then puts it back to being landscape!)

Jareth – Sculpture Project – The Hair

Leave a comment

As I got further on with my Sculpture of Jareth, I was nearing the end of the face and clothing, not finished, but getting there, and I was starting to look at the next stage – the hair. I had a quick look on the internet and was perturbed with some of my search results.

the face is amazing, it’s a great David Bowie face, but it’s not Jareth, you know… and the hair.. not quite right…


these guys took the use real hair route and the full model has fantastic attitude, but the hair isn’t sculpted

The colour and the detail on the clothes look fantastic, the face is not really Bowie but I don’t know what MacFarlane were thinking when they made this hair

This is quite a nice plaque, doesn’t look like Jareth at all, looks more like younger Bowie to be honest  – (actually if you look on the site this sculptor has obviously got one David Bowie face that he casts and put slightly different hair and accessories on) and the hair is just not quite right…

ok, this has started to get a little weird, again the face has got it, but the hair, who have they borrowed that from?

So after looking around and not finding anything I liked, or could even start to base my hair on, my next step filled me with quite a lot of intrepidation.

In reality I actually put my model to one side and just looked at it for a whole week, not knowing how to progress.


After looking at my model under it’s safety plastic covering for a week or so and not finding any inspiration (see above), or technique I could use to get how I saw the hair for this model right, I just had to try.

So I thought I would test some ideas, and see how it worked within the Monster Clay, keeping in the back of my mind that I could just take it all off if it went terribly wrong…

At first I tried rolling little strands and trying to apply those, but it looked more like dreads than the short long hair combo that was the actual wig for Jareth.

I took those off.

Then I tried rolling flat bits and cutting through them, thinking I could apply them in semi circles at different layers round the back of the head, but that didn’t work either…

More hair removal, back to baldy Bowie again!

Then I tried to scratch into the surface of rolled and slightly flattened pieces, I thought this might work, so started to layer up on one side, but after consideration I felt this was not right. too chunky, no fineness to the strands.

Everybody off!

It needed more life, more ‘poof’, less heaviness.

I started to just add and push back with the wax carving tools, just to pull at the once again softened clay and add those bits on, a bit like adding leaves and then pushing back into the soft and thinned edges, this was better..

Still quite heavy but I liked the texture and different levels/layers.

Then I tried adding longer strands and slightly flattened but slimmer pieces…

Back to the reference as much as possible for this bit

I am pleased with the heavily textured back area and adding in the thin trails or strands is working for me.

It’s still a little too heavy in the body of the hair, but I’m a bit stuck as to how to fix that… The fringe at the front is too chunky, but I’m going to leave it to harden up and see if I can work out how to thin it down without making it really straggly. I’m very aware that after my googling similar sculptures the hair is the hardest thing to get right.

I am also going to remove the eye beads and sculpt the orbit of the eye in clay.

The skin needs work, but again I’m not sure how to get a nice finish on it, if I blow-torch it, it just looks shiny and can melt quite easily.

The collar also needs more attention but I need to look at being careful with the finish, so a bit more research into this before the next stage.

Really useful sculpting Videos on YouTube

(Polymer Clay is quite close to Monster Clay) and this guys tutorials are really good.

to be continued…

Jareth – Sculpture project

Leave a comment

Ever since I got back from my Model making course at Pinewood Studios (sounds so fancy doesn’t it) I have wanted to do a bit more sculpture, if I lived in a perfect world I’d work on massive sculptures, but I just don’t have the room or resources to do that.

But what to sculpt… I love David Bowie, one of my all time favourite films is Labyrinth, and the title of this blog post kind of gives it away, so I decided to try making a Jareth bust. I had managed to source some Monster Clay a little while after my course, but not done to much with it, although I loved the fact I could just restart and go again…

I had started to sculpt my whole fantastical animal in Monster Clay, but I then decided I wanted to make it as a proper stop-motion puppet (another blog needed for that!).

Then I kept seeing this super curvy lady who had an incredibly tiny waist, so I started to sculpt her with the intention of casting the ‘underbody’ of another stop-mo puppet in foam from it, but I could never re-create her incredible figure.

So unhappy with them both, they spent some time in plastic and I am now deconstructing them.

Putting the plastic on, keeps dust and muck out of the Clay

But I found it a useful process to actually work with the Monster Clay,

I didn’t have a hot gun, or blow torch and trying to warm the surface of the Clay up with a normal hairdryer was not successful, but worst of all it kept blowing everything on my desk about. I don’t have a sculpture studio so found this quite maddening to use. I also found that my tools were somewhat lacking, so these sculpts got mothballed whilst normal life carried on.

Then Covid 19 hit.

Sat at my homedesk a lot more, I started to look up Monster Clay techniques, tools and tutorials. I discovered that Francesco (tutor on the prop modelling course) was doing Monster Clay lives on Twitch, so sat watching those, alongside other YouTube videos for good research before I got started.

And eventually got down to making the armature for my Jareth.

Carving some foam to make filler for the head

Hot gluing the foam head former onto the wire and baseboard

adding foil to pad the shoulders

So using the foam and foil on the wire is just to bulk out the inner of the model, it makes it lighter and cheaper than working on a solid block of Monster Clay.

I had already made a moodboard of images from the film, showing hair, face and profile, and choosing which ‘Jareth’ costume I would be trying to create. (top left)

Bowie – Jareth Moodboard from various stills and promo images

To get the clay super soft and mouldable, I heated the large tub in the Microwave (it’s non toxic) and then started to add substance to the skeleton.

you can see how warm the clay is at it looks quite shiny at this stage, I was just using a plastic loop tool to pull the soft clay out of the tub.

Clay Loop & Ribbon Tools - The Compleat Sculptor

loop tool – mine was a plastic one found at my local craft store

Then I needed a little more precision to try and get some basic facial structures in place, for this I was using my Christmas Present of metal carving tools…


12 piece Wax/Clay carving set

trying to get the brow shape and frown right for my chosen image

Making sure to keep checking my reference images I then worked on the mouth and a little more work on the nose and brow, looking at it from all angles…

From some angles I was really pleased with it, but I was starting to want some better tools, finer with more precision, the metal ones I was using to carve with just weren’t fine enough, I also wanted some of the really small tools, like mini loop tools that I had seen quite a few of the online tutorials were using.

I started to look, but wasn’t having any luck until I discovered they are actually called Sgraffitto tools, used for making intricate patterns, traditionally on clay pots.

I bought these online/ebay because they were the closest to what I was after before I discovered Sgraffitto!

And whilst on Ebay I bought myself a chef’s blowtorch too, just make sure you have the right gas/fuel to go in it as they don’t like to sell the little ones with gas ready to go!

So with newly acquired tools, I continued on, and for some reason decided that I would add in some glass eyes as I was finding it tricky to make the eyes look ok, just in Monster Clay.

Adding in Glass eyes

I didn’t want to fiddle too much more with the face, I was fairly happy, so moved onto making the elaborate collar. Monster Clay came into it’s own for this.. one of the qualities of Monster Clay is that it can be totally molten and then ten minutes later, quite solid and rigid, so I only needed to prop the collar for a little while until it held it’s own weight.

I rolled out a piece of clay on a board and shaped/cut it to size whilst it was soft and flexible, trying it in position and adjusting and then as it hardened applied it onto the shoulders with more of the very soft clay

It wasn’t until I re-watched the film and kept rewinding and forwarding that I realised that the collar is even more elaborate than I thought, so I need to add another point here and it looks like bones hold it up in the film… more work to be done!

My working desk

Adding details to the chest area, such as clothing, and refining the collar

I think my most used tool is my retractable craft knife I’m finding it amazing to be able to really carve with it on the Monster Clay (once it’s set really hard of course).

Up to this point I’ve been quite happy, finding that I’m managing now I have most of the tools to hand.

I even find some websites on how to make my own Sgraffitto tools, awesome! I’m still watching and trying to learn though, I’m not quite sure how to get the right texture/finish on the face, but I’m enjoying the process.

But now I’ve got to think about the hair….

New York, New York!

Leave a comment

A big birthday necessitated a big trip to celebrate, so where better than the Big Apple!

It also gave me an ideal opportunity to test out my new travel Camera – the Fuji XT-30, plus 28mm prime.


The heat in New York was pretty unbearable and these guys with the water for a dollar were everywhere – I did take a refillable bottle with me, but the shop/cafe owners were definitely not as keen to refill as we are in the UK.

The guy above didn’t even have the energy to shout out his ‘water for a dollar’, he had it on a repeat tape!

As we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, the  steel cables make dramatic lines against the road with the Manhattan skyline behind, so all I had to do was wait for an iconic yellow taxi to go by to make the perfect shot!


Of course in my mind’s eye they would be the old style yellow taxis, like the ones in the movies, but the only way we saw one of those was on the back of a truck being towed somewhere, in my imagination it was going off to be on a film set!


Another iconic American shot is to get one of the big yellow school buses, and again the Brooklyn Bridge provided me with a great one.


As nighttime arrived, a glorious sunset and another yellow taxi got me the shot below, which I really like. I think it’s the street lights and central perspective point that just make it pleasing to the eye.


And of course the ultimate destination of an evening – Time Square.


They have even built a ramped viewing platform in Times Square just so that people can take a good photo!


New York is an amazing city to visit, if you’re feeling brave you can do what we did for the last 3 days and get around on a bicycle, it was brilliant, we saw so much more and could still stand up at the end of the day!

I thoroughly tested out my little fuji and it took some fab photos, but there was one photo where I just couldn’t get far enough away to take the shot I really wanted, so tried on my phone, and got the image below of the flatiron building.

New York ( iPhone pics)

But you can’t deny how beautiful some of the street shots are that my new street camera took.



Check them all out on my flickr album.



TV Paint and After Effects

Leave a comment

Teaching TV Paint to the Students at NUA is quite a change from any of the Adobe products, it’s a bit of a lore unto itself. No keyboard shortcuts are the same – I tell a lie, ctrl z!

None of the students have com across this type of software before so it really makes sense to give them a very basic but practical introduction, that being said, I am not a natural 2D animator, my Graphic Design and Illustrator background means I usually like crisp lines, clean colours and none of this sketchy stuff, which is the way I actually draw!

Below video test was my first foray into TVP from simple footage that I shot in the garden and it just  turned out really well, really gorgeous movement.

I had also recently mocked up a lip sync/rotoscope sequence with a freelance client so had got the basics of using video in TV Paint (massive files!) down and I really love to push and expand software in different combinations.

just the lines

just the lines

colour blocking

colour blocking

Below final output video –

So, to really get my teeth into it I gave myself an extension project… let’s take the output from TVP and play with it in After Effects, and I had the perfect piece of footage to try it with and a brand new 16″ cintiq to test it out on.

The clip I wanted to use was an outtake from a music shoot, where we had attached a go-pro to the head of the guitar.

So I did the rough layer then a refined layer in TV Paint, which looked quite nice all by itself (see below)



Then I drew the strings in on a different layer, witnessing some amazing bending of the strings as I went through it!

These were the only layers I decided to draw in TVP as I wanted to take more time to play in After Effects.

In After Effects I wanted to see if I could get some interaction going between the TVP layers and filters/effects available in AE, I also scaled and repeated layers to add more visual cues from the music.

I really liked the way it ended up and using the larger cintiq was a joy!


Creative Media Skills- Prop making Course – part 2 – practicalities

1 Comment

with Francesco Fabiani at Pinewood Studios – 08-04-2019

The first task was a combination of sculpting with Plastiline and making small batches of Biscuit
Foam to use as starting points for bulkier sculptures.

Further fine sculpting tips, including hair, scales and manipulating the medium with hot air guns
or hairdryers on high to either soften the material or to leave it with a shiny surface. Using a fine
pointed tool through 3 layers of plastic, makes a good base for skin and wrinkles, or a curved
ended tool for scales, the plastic softens the marks and smooths the edges of the indents.
Using monster Clay is easier than the Plastiline as you can microwave Monster Clay and it
becomes very pliable very easily, however once the main blocking out is done, keeping a piece in
one hand is usually enough to keep it mouldable.

Francesco assessed everyone’s sculpture to see the best way of moulding in silicon ready for
casting the following day. I did a simple box mould, but we also had a 2-part mould and some
mother/jacket moulds.

All moulds were made with the same silicone and it went off in about 2 hours. It was vital to
mix parts A&B really well as some students ended up having to redo a mould because of an
unbalanced mix. It was also much easier to mix larger batches in larger bowls, but to start with we
were all making up smaller amounts with inconsistent results. TIP: pour the silicone from high up
so you have a thin stream of liquid going into your mould which will help with air bubbles.

The baseboard needs to be treated with some kind of release agent before starting the mould
making process, we used simple Vaseline brushed thinly on and it worked well.


The finished sculpt was placed on the baseboard and we used cardboard to build the walls, these
were hot glue-gunned to the baseboard around the sculpt to prevent any of the liquid silicone from
leaking out at the join.

Just ensure that the cardboard walls are an inch or so away from the edge of the mould, and try to
be efficient with the shape.

De-moulding was really awkward as the cardboard we used took up the silicone into the ribs
making it tough to get my mould out.

Being a block mould you cut into the back until the blade touches the model at a jagged stepped
pattern to give registration for the mould. The blade needs to be super sharp and slightly longer
than the normal scalpel blade.

The awkward shape of my sculpt made it very tricky to pull out of the silicone, part of the original
breaking off. I personally think it should have been a two part mould.

Two part mould

Lay your model on a bit of support of wet pottery type clay then build up to create a mid-intersecting layer of clay, as smooth as possible to start and then create your registration points,
channels, a pouring spout and vents if needed for tricky overhangs etc, so you can create your
first layer of silicone which will be poured on top of this clay base.

When the silicone is fully set, take off the cardboard wall and carefully flip the whole thing over,
exposing the pottery clay underneath, without moving the sculpt, remove the pottery clay and
clean up/wash the edges so both the sculpt and silicone are perfectly clean, remake and glue the
cardboard walls, grease the silicone with a little release agent (we used a brush and Vaseline)
over the silicone face. Fill any gaps around the edges and put in the other side of vents etc with
the pottery clay. Then you are ready to cast your second layer of silicone to complete the 2 part

The two part mould method looked very awkward, adding the soft clay took a long time for the first
pour ‘bed’ as every hole and edge needed to be sharp, clean and perfectly aligned in the middle
of the sculpt. Registration marks and channels needed to be smoothly added and of course took 4
times as long as the block method. (Clay, 1st pour, clean, 2nd pour)

The jacket mould method is quite messy, but is very economical with the expensive silicone. You
wait for the silicone to go slightly gloopy then add it over your sculpt until it’s covered. Then a
similarly gloopy layer of plaster is added over the top to add rigidity to the silicone mould.
None of the originals were removed from any of the moulds until all elements were set, (silicone
and plaster). With one of the jacket moulds, the plaster was added in two halves, so that the
mould and original could be easily removed. The first half was allowed to set, again with a jagged/
stepped edge to provide registration for the two parts, then a release agent (Vaseline) was liberally
applied and the second half was added.

Resin Casting

Once the originals were out, the first material we were offered to cast with was Resin. This was a
two part resin using equal amounts and for the smaller items, a straight all resin cast method was
used. For bulkier items, like mine, we coated the mould with a ‘slip’ skin of resin material, which
was tricky as the resin takes a short while to go off, and trying to get an even coat on such an
uneven surface was pretty tricky.

The resin is slightly exothermic in reaction, so aside from it hardening as it cooled you could tell
when it was ready, whether to add another resin layer -which I needed- or to be filled with the
(same) biscuit foam to make it light and strong. About a 20 minute wait to firmly set, but I only
needed to wait a few minutes to fill it with the biscuit foam.

On release my resin cast broke, again the shape was awkward, so in hindsight a block mould not
really ideal for the original sculpt.

The first cast in the white resin had lots of marks seemingly left over from the original sculpt which
left it looking unclean.

The next material offered for casting was Black Gun Foam, 3:1, A to B. This rose a small amount,
but was tricky to get a full slip cast as it goes off extremely quickly.

This was then filled with the soft foam 2:1, A to B. The soft foam was exceptionally squishy and
expanded really well, to fill the cavity within the gun foam slip cast, but it was added whilst still in
the mould.

On release I could see that the finer, or slimmer areas of my original sculpt just hadn’t been
reached by the gun foam, and this is due to the quality of the media, it’s thick, so getting into
underhangs, undercuts etc was exceptionally tricky in a block mould.

This made a very squishy head, but with a more resilient rubber skin, I think that the gun foam,
which also comes in white not just the black that we used, would be very useful to make a harder
element for a model, such as a vest or tie, or hat, or very useful for miniature elements for a set. It
also takes detail really well.

I then wanted to use the soft foam by itself to see what detail it would get and how it would work in
the silicone mould.

The soft foam has quite a bit of rise and again is very quick. Francesco advised not applying
pressure on top of the mould as it would ‘pop’ the structure of the rise, impeding it.

The resulting cast was exceptionally soft, but lost a lot of detail, the surface being very cell like and
having open foam texture, not how I expected it to be at all.

The soft foam would be useful to bulk out a characters form, but this could also be achieved by
wrapping, trimming and shaping upholstery foam, as we currently do.


Although I got to work with a wide variety of mediums and experience casting and moulding
firsthand, none of them are suitable for casting stop-motion models with armatures in from.

I sculpt, I mould, I cast!

1 Comment

Creative Media Skills- Prop making Course – part 1 – experience with Francesco Fabiani at Pinewood Studios – 08-04-2019

Pinewood Studios Entrance

What an experience! I managed to get onto this great prop making course at Creative Media Skills in London, not expecting to turn up to Pinewood Studios!

Once in their comprehensive security it was cool to be able to wander around and see all of the building of sets and moving of large kit in the massive complex (but aside from the photo from outside, you are not allowed to take photos inside).

The course was geared towards learning about casting and sculpting for the animation course at work and the practicalities of the week are laid out in the next post – Creative Media Skills- Prop making Course – part 2 – practicalities

But this is my experience, looking more in depth at what I made and the experience and knowledge I gained.

First of all we were introduced to our tutor for the week, Francesco Fabiani,

Francesco is a professional prosthetics sculptor and has sculpted prosthetics for some of the worlds largest productions such as Star Wars, The Mummy and many other block busters whilst working at the legendary KM Effects 

Francesco Fabiani

Francesco showing us how to make the biscuit foam – this was the only time that this desk was this clean!

Our first task was to sketch out our idea for a prop, then we went round the room and Francesco tweaked our ideas to work within the course and the resources we had.

I wanted to make a prop head, which although wasn’t strictly a prop, he said I could try it as it would use a box mould, very common for prop making. A few weeks previously I had gone along to a sketching network evening and come up with a character and this is where I started from.

The first practical task was to make a base ‘armature’ to sculpt onto, so the model didn’t end up being solid sculpt, both costly and impractical.

Francesco favoured using Biscuit Foam, a 2 part foam, that we all mixed a batch of and then cut out our base shape.

Biscuit Foam after mixing – it nearly went over the top!

The carving did of course have the restrictions of the beaker shape, but it worked fine and by the end of the first day I was fairly happy with my little character.

I enjoyed this part almost as much as all the other stuff, just being given time to sit and concentrate and sculpt, with everyone else in the room doing something different, it was lovely.

If there was one thing that I wasn’t happy about it was the hair, it was too blocky and I was having trouble getting to grips with sculpting it better.

So the next day I was able to talk to Francesco and he helped me with some technique tips and brought over one of his models to demo how he did hair, so there was something to copy – his model was amazing of course…

Francesco Fabiani Sculpt

Francesco Fabiani Sculpture – using Monster Clay

so with his beautiful model in Front of me I tried to recreate the texture and movement of hair within my own model.

and it was a vast improvement, it looked much better and although it felt as though I hadn’t done much, I was really happy with how the hair now looked.

We then moved onto adding some texture with a variety of clever techniques, such as crinkling paper and essentially ‘rag-rolling’ the surface of the skin, or using a sculpting tool through layers of plastic to soften the edges and make more subtle marks. The Plastiline we were using to sculpt with could also be heated with a heat gun to smooth the surface.

So in the end we had all made our various starting models, from hearts, to carnival masks and pieces of fruit.

The next process was to make our mould. First we all had to make our individual moulds, mine was a box mould, so literally had to make and secure my head onto the wooden slat and form the box sides out of old cardboard which I then hotglue-gunned to the baseboard.

mixed up the two-part silicon rubber mix, poured it in – crossed our fingers that it didn’t seep out and then leave to ‘go-off’. (about 2 hours)

After a longer lunch we all went back to see what we’d got!


Inside the mould

The mould looked really good, the hair detail looked like it was there, but I had a slight problem with the complex overhang of the nose and lip, so the weakness in the biscuit foam base meant it broke, but at least the mould was good and I could rework the sculpt to keep.

So after making sure the mould was cleaned out of any bits of plastiline that got caught we could now cast in a variety of mediums. First was a hard white resin, which as it had a longer set time, I managed to get into all of the awkward areas, so got a successful cast with this, but it is a brittle material, with a white cream colour, which you could dye beforehand and some others used a metal powder dusted into their mould before pouring in the resin, to get a metal finish to their casts.


It was also obvious that I hadn’t cleaned my mould as well as I thought so I did do another cleaner cast in the resin at the end of the course.IMG_4506

Then we tried Black-Gun Foam, a soft and squishy material which gave a good smooth surface, but it works so fast, that the few of us that tried had varying success, with the foam not always getting into every nook and cranny. The Black-Gun Foam was only used to make the skin, the inner cavity was then filled with medium soft foam.

I was very interested in using just the softer foams with regards to students at work using it for model/puppet making for animation, so that was the next thing I tried. Francesco warned me that it wouldn’t work well, but I wanted to do it, so I could see and have a model to show students what they would end up with if they did it.

The soft white foam was so squishy it would not be firm enough to use, it didn’t capture detail and the surface of the foam cast was also too porous to use by itself, so you would need to put a skin of some sorts over it, which really negates the point of casting it from a model and carving it out of block foam as we already do would be just as good.

One of the other students work: Mask made using metal powders, hard resin and finished with glass paints. This used the jacket mould method.

So by the end of the week we had made casts in several materials, learnt how to sculpt, make moulds and with the variety of models in the room I got wide ranging experience of what works and doesn’t really work and the problems presented with various methods, box, 2-part, jacket mould, etc.

My biggest tip? Make sure the two parts you are mixing are correct – I put Part A of one foam and Part B of another together and then lost 2 hours cleaning out the gloopy mess that I had put in my lovely mould! so Check, Measure and Check again before mixing!

Whilst waiting for casts etc to go-off I also carved a hand for fun!

It’s official, I went I mould, I casted!

Wish I could do one of these every year, would highly recommend the course content – although their admin was all over the place!

I also know that Francesco was a last minute replacement for their usual tutor, so the content was not the norm, in fact it sounded as though it was normally a little restricted as everyone usually makes the same thing… so for me this was a far more valuable experience!

The eMotimo ST4 & Dragonframe

Leave a comment

We recently updated Dragonframe at NUA to 4.1.2 and I hadn’t tested our eMotimo motion control rig since the update. I’m scheduled to do an introductory session to motion control and Advanced Camera techniques with the 3rd years next week, so thought it judicious to test it out before then.

It didn’t work…

I looked at the getting started pages which didn’t help.

I updated my eMotimo firmware to the recommended ST4_RC007_28

but on this instruction…

  1. Leaving the wireless remote off and using the 8Way switch, Go to Settings menu, ensure on page 2, Dragonframe is selected, then then right (pushing back on the 8Way Hat), two times until the following screen appears – this is live motor feedback and mode where Dragonframe positions and commands are processed.

I could not get to this screen, on page 2 I cannot go further into the menu.

on the bottom of the help page it even states that

Known Issues with our firmware or their software:

(5) Must be on feedback screen shown below to function correctly (Settings, right twice on joystick). If you aren’t on this screen, the integration will not work as designed.


I’m not going to go through how many times I tried to go right twice from the settings page, or from the 3 page, or the 4th page, all of them didn’t work.

So I tried to hook it up to Dragonframe, just in case it was a bug and it might still work…

but I only saw the Not Connected greyed out notification.

I tried connecting in different ways, plugged in first, plugged in after starting dragonframe, all of the different ways you can get hardware to see software.

3 days I tried different things…

Then I tried putting the USB into another port, and I got a pop-up saying it failed to install, looked at the device manager and saw this

an error on TTL232R-3V3, which was what it had popped up as I put the USB into a different port.

right click on it

Windows 10 can’t install it

aha… hope…

on the getting started page on eMotimo it states

 If your USB connector is black, please download and install VCP drivers for your OS.

But this was for Macs? I thought I’d have a bit more of a dig, and on the weird web page there are drivers for Windows 10, so after consulting with our tech team, we deemed it safe to try – the website looks well, odd

Anyway, installed it, inserted the USB again and lo and behold, no errors in the device manager.

And after pressing on every single option of the 4 pages on the eMotimo, I found the holy grail page!

Find it using the 8 way hat button>Settings>Page 4/4> Telemetry 2>ta da!

Why eMotimo couldn’t just put this on their page along with drivers are needed for windows 10, I don’t know.

Now, I connected the i/o port to the USB – Don’t connect the i/o before the USB is happy in the PC and the page above is on the eMotimo.

Then open Dragonframe.

Select the correct port, I made sure I used a new port which was on COM 4

You will need to add connection using the eMotimo spectrum ST4, not just the eMotimo option.

and it worked almost immediately.

Wow, what a palaver.

eMotimo please update your help pages, and also replying to my problem on the help forum would have been nice…

I hope this helps someone else before they pull all of their hair out!


Character Animator

Leave a comment

I love checking out new software, so when the opportunity came up to be involved with some freelance animation involving lip-sync, I decided to check out the latest version of Character Animator, part of the Adobe Suite.

I knew that it automated some aspects of animation, and after a bit of investigation, discovered that it will directly try (I say try, as the lip-sync is a bit hit and miss, but it’s very easy to swap another mouth shape in to help get the right feel to the visual) and interpret a live feed from a web cam into your drawn character, which is amazing, and gives a lovely natural feel to movement, eye blinks and head tilts/turns etc.

Then I saw that Adobe Edex is running a Character Animator short course, so I signed up, to learn from the pros, and get an insight into proper workflow etc.

So far I’m up to week 4 and it’s been really useful, especially to see how you add behaviours to folders or layers of items, which is not as straightforward as I initially thought.

Week 1 – template character


Using a template character we just needed to get the face, eye and lip sync working – which is all built into some of the template puppets. I got Einstein from here –

but you can also download other puppets from okaysamurai and the adobe Character Animator page (pic above)

Week 2 – own character

We were given the Character ‘Chloe’ (below) in photoshop with the correct layer orders and tasked with changing it slightly to our character, and then because the puppet in photoshop is dynamically linked to the scene in Character Animator, as soon as you save in photoshop, it updates the scene in Character Animator, so you can record your new person and work with it straight away.




My Alien

Week 3 – head turn

Chloe_turnGrowing our knowledge of behaviours/triggers week 3 adds a head turn task, you need to duplicate the Folder ‘Frontal’ in photoshop and make 4 extra folders with corresponding features inside to represent, left profile, left quarter, right profile, right quarter, altering the eyes and mouth, plus the head shape, as obviously you can’t see his ears when he’s looking to the right or left. (Although writing this I realise you can see an outline of the ear, it just doesn’t stick out – oops)


I also decided to add a background and use a dragger to make him point at the planets for the short video piece that we need to submit each week. Adding the background is easy, just import the image you want to use and drag it onto the layer below your puppet.

Week 4 – with sequence trigger

Once you’ve got your head around the layer/folder structure and the naming conventions, Character Animator starts to make a bit more sense and in week 4 we need to add a small animation in a new folder in photoshop that will use the cycle layers behaviour. Newer versions of CA let you choose either top to bottom, or bottom to top as making new layers in Photoshop tends to stack them above, which is the wrong way round for the animation to work, but of course, using the dynamic link you can easily re-order those layers and then your scene gets updated.

I went totally freehand and drew directly in Photoshop a small spaceship moving across the sky, and even though it’s pretty low quality, works effectively. It ended up being 11 layers, and still looks really quick. I don’t know if there is a way of slowing it down slightly, or you could just duplicate the layers.

All in all I quite like Character Animator, but it’s a real pain having to set up all the layers, all the mouth movements, and any little thing you want the character to do. Rigging can go really wrong, heads come off, it all goes wobbly, but once you’ve done all of that prep, it makes it super easy to get your character talking for you. So it’s not a quick process, it doesn’t make it any speedier to make lip sync and that was what I was really testing it for.

To conclude, as with all animation projects it will have it’s time and place and I’m enjoying the Adobe course, but it’s still a learning curve and has both pros and cons, but the natural movement of the talking is great, you can record each movement either separately or together and the triggers are really fun. I’ve even read that you can use it as an avatar for online meetings, now that’s cool!

Older Entries