Animation – green screen

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Working at NUA as the Animation and sound technician, this week’s process test was to go through greenscreen, from beginning to end.

Through this I would be able to test out the new dragonframe to see what features had been updated, and perhaps changed, to make sure that I am always up-to-date.

To also ensure that my green screen setup was as good as possible for an upcoming project with the first years, and then brush-up on using After Effects for the post production.

So I grabbed one of our walkcycle armatures, borrowed some doll’s clothes from my children and went into the depths on Animation Studio 1.


Destined for stardom!

The key points for green screen are to light the background and foreground almost separately, obviously in the reduced space of an animation studio this is a little more difficult as you can’t get a lot of space in between but, starting with the two basic lights, a flo-light (floodlight) and a kick light to pick out the model from the background, that’s a good place to start.


A flo-light (floodlight) at the top to try and light the background evenly, then two dedolights and a kick from the back to try and distinguish foreground from background

As you can see the result has harsh lights from the spot, which you need, but adding diffusion will soften the harsh shadows, because we want as little of those as possible.


The fabulous dedolights let you easily attach some diffusion material (or gels) directly onto the barn doors with an easy to use tiny clamp

This lessened the shadows and gave me a result I was fairly happy with, although in an ideal world the Green screen would have maybe 2 flo-lights on, to be more even.


Softer shadows with diffusion, but I did have to tun up the dedolight a little to compensate

Ready to film, I then turned to the new dragonframe, and to be honest there’s not a lot of difference from version 3, the interface is slightly smarter, but for the students, it will mean an easy transition to the latest version. Which was a must as we had new cameras waiting to be installed, but they would only work with DragonFrame 4. (Canon 1300D’s)

A short jerky walkcycle later – it’s been a while – and I had my character in the middle of the stage, ready to react with a blue polystyrene box that the students have been using, so that my armature (and the action) could stay in the middle.

Disaster fell at this point in the proceedings too…



His ankle joint broke, but as with all good English actors, we carried on!

The resulting video, is not my finest work, the clamp rig is really too big and heavy for this small armature character, there’s a terrible jerk where his ankle breaks , but the reaction works well, and I like the character that the little blue box has… In my head it’s a very lively puppy, that growled to stop my man in his tracks, then once beckoned turns into a slobbering excited mess when he gets a hug and a kiss…

It’s amazing what my imagination adds, now to see if I can add a little post-production magic to help anyone else see it too!

When using DragonFrame, you can either export video or stills, but you must remember to conform your take if you want to discard any re-shot frames, or deleted frames, as when you bring in an image sequence into AE, it can pick up those dud frames.

Also make sure your frame rate is correct, again if you lengthen or hold frames on the Xsheet, you will need to conform your take for those changes to take effect and your image sequence to reflect your timed animation from dragonframe.

Leaving the animation studio behind I headed up to the Media Lab to get started in After Effects.

Once you’ve set up a regular 1080p workspace and composition bringing in an image sequence is really simple, click on your first image and after effects will pick up all of the tiff’s in that folder, in sequence, and ‘pre-comp’ them together as a single piece of media, so for animation from dragonframe, that’s exactly what you want.

Then drag this tiff sequence down onto your pre-set composition timeline, and resize them to fit – this is why you should always setup the comp first, not just plonk your content onto the timeline as it will take it’s size from the media and who knows what size it might end up, which then leads to rendering/processing problems.

I like to use a garbage matte before applying the keylight effect, as it cuts down how much green the effect is trying to process, and with my small setup I knew the corners were going to need taking out. So, although it’s a laborious process I step through all of the frames, altering the mask slightly to allow for model movement. It is lovely when you don’t have to move it for a few frames!

Then I could move onto adding the keylight 1.2 effect… it does a fab job, and this is where you can really see any shortfall in your green screen technique – and there were some very particular areas in this test! The best tips I would give are clipping the black and white points (in the settings area of the effect) and using the alpha preview to see exactly what is black and white. I had a bit of spill both on the box and the white clothing which I couldn’t seem to sort out which left parts of my characters with slightly see-through areas, a bit more subtle tweaking of the advanced settings with the blacks and whites, got it beautifully crisp.

Now to put a simple background in to see how it was all doing.

Et voila, it’s ok, it’s nice to see it in a situation away from green, or black, really good exercise to go  through before the next first years project, dragonframe 4 is still as easy to use and after effects has many different and powerful ways of keying.

To add to the ways stated above, you could also; clone stamp in AE to remove the pins, which I did do a bit, but it makes a crazy amount of layers; Add some 3D lighting to perk up the character; Colour correct the background and animation to make them feel more cohesive; Track eyes/features onto the characters in 3D space and use layers more cleverly to give a sense of perspective.

However what I wanted to do was give my little bluebox puppy a bit of life, but I didn’t want perfect, which would be my normal style, something in Illustrator with beautiful clarity of line, I was after a more Mr Messy feel and although I don’t use it a lot, I knew that TV Paint would get me a really nice organic free feel to it.

So I rendered a low res copy out of AE, and used this for a background layer in TV paint, then got my wacom tablet out and let my imagination go a little wild!

I can practically hear the excited slobbering doggy noises, so at some point, I will return to this project and add some sound…



Adventures in Zoetrope Animation

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First things first, remember when you got your mathematics tin set at school and you played with it all and thought I’ll never need this…’ well, if you want to have a go at making a zoetrope you’re going to need to fire up your math student brain, find a compass and remember what pi is!

you will need a compass

you will need a compass…

I am putting together a set of resources for an introduction to animation I will shortly be presenting, in line with the teaching course that I am currently studying for, and I wanted to get the students to create an animation and understand  keyframes, movement and persistence of vision (which means our brains see still images as moving).

Now in the short time I have, they won’t be able to create a full blown animation, so I’ll be guiding them through how to make a real basic staple of animation, a walkcycle, consisting of just 12 frames, running cyclically.

I don’t have a fancy animation rostrum hooked up to a massive projector or anything but need to be able to show the class the results, almost instantly, and I hit on the idea of putting those frames into a zoetrope viewing device, so that they can all have a go and see what happens with the movement they create.

Cutting the base

Cutting the base circle

I’m pretty handy with a scalpel so dug out some foamboard to make the basic structure of the zoetrope itself.

I started with the size of frame I wanted them to draw on becuase I didn’t want it to be too small an area, and then worked backwards, calculating a regular space in between and ended up with a strip 670mm long and 70mm tall.

This is where you need your pi and compass, take the 670 and divide it by pi to get the circumference of the circle you need for the base, divide this in half and set your pair of compasses up to draw your circle and cut!

Admittedly it didn’t quite fit on the first cut, I put this down to the very worn compasses that I managed to eventually find in my daughters room, under some books, but it was larger than needs be so I re-trimmed a slither and it fit!

Zoetrope and base now fitted after a little re-trim

Zoetrope and base now fitted after a little re-trim

Using a thin ribbon of double sided sticky tape around the bottom provided a good snug fit

Using a thin ribbon of double sided sticky tape around the bottom provided a good snug fit

The outside wall I add is 670mm x 140mm, laminated and cut, with the frames and slit marks printed on one side and all black on the outside so I have a register for my animation and a template to cut for the thin viewing holes.


You can see the slit holes have been cut out in this shot

I also needed to work out how to get it to spin, this was something I mulled over and looked at other ways to do it, but I didn’t have any ‘lazy susan’ bearings as one suggested and didn’t like the twizzle it in your hand method often used in other ‘how to’s’ .

Searching for another method I looked around my desk for inspiration and found a DVD case, one of those ones for a 100 discs, with a long spindle, playing with it I discovered that the discs, when spun, quite happily turned and kept moving fairly easily – aha! I had found a really cheap easy option to making my zoetrope spin.

CD stuck to the bottom of the base

CD stuck to the bottom of the base

I stuck one disk to the bottom of the base and added a few padding layers of foam board to bring the height of the zoetrope up…

cutting extra padding discs of foamboard

cutting extra padding discs of foamboard

The extra layers added to the spindle and free turning CD on the top which would spin against the one of the base

The extra layers added to the spindle and free turning CD on the top which would spin against the one of the base

I experimented with having 1 or 2 extra cds underneath, and found that 2 worked best to give a smoother turn.

Finished and in testing with my walkcycle animation

Finished and in testing with my walkcycle animation

All was working, it spun fairly well – I would like to improve this, but cost and time are against me – but the last obstacle was that my line drawn animation just didn’t show up when spun, another 12 frame cycle I had which was solid black shapes worked really well, so out with the felt tips to colour mine in and hey presto… zoetrope resource… done!

Below you’ll find a link to my pdf templates so you can have a go too!

zoetrope template copy

Fringe Festival Wrap-up

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I really enjoyed being part of the fringe and even though my installation was a labour of love to go and start and close each day, it did have it’s benefits…

At the end of the show day when I would close down, I could shut of all of the lights and sounds from other artworks and really immerse myself in the sound that I had created, it was peaceful, refreshing and a pleasure to have the wonderful acoustics working for my piece and indulge my senses with my installation in the secret place under the War Memorial in Norwich, all to myself.

I took a short video clip from one of the last days as I wanted to preserve the space’s wonderful impact on my piece.

and a lovely roundup from Rosie Cooper of all the artworks on show.

Flying Bustard lines

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The sculpture is coming along, but I need to get back to my animation, and to make it work I try and estimate how many frames I will need to make it work.

I take the illustrated bustard drawings I made before.

illustrated bustardThis consists of 6 frames, which almost works, but I decide to add in 2 more frames and then test that key frame for timing.
The _llustrated_bustard-03


2 more frames added and I have a little play with colour… with a view in mind that this will be my submitted image that the College can use for it’s publicity posters…

The _llustrated_bustard_03-03


Then I go back to the black outlines and put them through flash to see how the total timing is working for the flight cycle.

This looks good, about the right pause and pace, the Bustard does not fly with fast beating wings, it tries to conserve as much energy as possible, so this feels right, languid, but powerful.

I will need to add more frames in between these 8 for the drawn animation, which I may well do in a linear fashion first, but it will literally be a frame directly in the middle of these.


The Illustrated Bustard

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Working on the next step I decided to illustrate the Bustards movements, so that I can easily align and check the movement before creating the final handdrawn pieces. I applied my usual style with illustrated graphics to the images of the Bustard that are my keyframes and as with a lot of the stuff that I do like this, I really like the way the wireframe looks – the way the outline looks before I fill it in.

I work in a particular way, as with my rotoscoped film, I have my base image/footage and draw the outline quickly and fluidly using my tablet and wacom pen, it’s like second nature to me now, but I draw the shapes with a view to what I will then fill them with and the order they sit in my layers to give a sense of depth.


So here is how they turned out.. I really like them and now I can use those wireframes to perfectly align the bodies and eyes to make a convincing bird in flight animation. This illustrated style will be used in the AR part of my installation and on the printed materials.

They also look lovely as a set, reminiscent of Muybridge and Marey.

illustrated bustard


Great Bustard on the move!

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A chance to get into the animation studios and see my artwork on the move.


I lay out the keyframes in sequence, I am so pleased with how they look, but slightly worried by the size of them and the size of the animation rostrum!

wpid-dsc_0029.jpgIf you look at the mac screen in the image above you can see that the artwork is slightly too big for the safe areas of the video capture for the Dragon animation software.

And of course, rookie error, if this is the bird at it’s most up stretched stroke, there is no room at all for the down stretch…

To make this work I will need to make the work smaller, which I’m not really happy about as it’s tricky enough the size it is working with real feathers. I will need to think carefully and plan this.

wpid-dsc_0028.jpgTalking to Sam – the animation technician – if I take it out of the Dragon software that may not be an issue as I can position the images where I want, but will need to check the technical side of that and make sure I can output to the appropriate file type if I do it my own way, also there’s more scope for incorrect positioning if I do it by eye.wpid-dsc_0027.jpg

However I go through the motions with what I have, to see what happens…

It’s looking lovely actually, obviously too fast as I have only got 6 frames, but an encouraging first test. All of the detail is there, it loses nothing, the trails of the dust look good and add texture and movement, just as I wanted it too, so from here I just need to create the full animation cycle frames, plus the take-off, all of which I don’t have reference material for, but should be able to work it out by careful study, totalling approximately 30 frames.

Still with technical issues on my mind,  a quick test using the raw images from the rostrum camera will be in order, then I can decide whether I have to work smaller to fit under the animation software limits, or if I can sort it independently of that, I can work at the size I’m happy too.

I choose my favourite paper stock and get ready for the hard work to begin.




Last 3 test pieces

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Just finishing the last 3 test pieces so I can make a definitive paper choice.

With each of them I feel that my confidence in mark making grows.


The little philips projector is doing a fine job, the spread of the projection itself is quite wide, so I am using a central portion and using my previous drawing to line up the body of the Bustard for registration.


The little grater works well as I am able to be flexible with colours and only grate as much as is needed, but I need to make sure I pick up any feathers as I am going through them quite quickly.


I have discovered, however, that I can use a wider feather to create the very slim ‘fingertip’ feathers of the Bustard by using just the side round to the top and then moving the feather slightly to make a thinner profile.. This is a bit problematic as obviously when I move the feather over, the conte dust sticks to the underside and moves over too, sometimes making marks where they shouldn’t be, so I am keeping a keen look out for thinner feathers!

wpid-dsc_0398.jpgNumber 4 in the keyframes.



Number 5





Number 6




So all the keyframes are done and the technique is coming on well, the use of colour has developed and is achieving a better look than in the earlier tests. I can’t wait to see it moving…



Paper tests – key frame flight animation #greatbustard

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After a few teething problems with my rotoscope projection I need to test paper and refine the working process… All of this gives me more time to get comfortable freehand drawing with the conte and charcoal I’ve chosen to work in. Being extra careful as it’s a messy business, and a smudge in the wrong place could affect the way my drawing looks. I can’t wait to put the animation frames in between, but essentially I am working on the keyframes currently.

I’m using a small grater to create my own coloured powder as this gives me a little more flexibility to work bit by bit as I could buy charcoal powder, but would probably be tempted to use too much and be too heavy handed with it, but through the testing last night I found that the black conte and the charcoal take to the paper in different ways, I was only able to test 3 of the paper samples as they take a little time to produce.


Putting the paper and projection into the right place I start with light outlines of the body (using the grey conte) and then choose a real feather to work with. I try and match the shape or the curve of the projected photo frame with the real feathers I have, then grate the colour I want onto a tiny palette. Placing the clean feather in situ I swipe a small amount of powder over the edge of the feather and add more or less depending on how it takes and how it looks. This is where I found the conte giving great grip and almost biting the colour dust from me and drawing it into the paper, whereas with the charcoal it could be light and adding a second sweep can move or smudge the original outline, plus the dust does eventually get through the feather, and reprints underneath where you don’t want it and in an unclean fashion…

I tried to use the paper samples just in order as they were rolled up so I don’t know which is which yet but here are the first 3 in the paper test set.



With projectionwpid-dsc_0385.jpgwithout projection


Detail, this is using charcoal dust, charcoal lines and a white conte line to highlight, I also used a yellow conte dust over feather to try and indicate where the coloured feathers of the Bustard are, but it seems a little lost in the final image.


Second frame, with projection


Without projection, this time I added in a few light strokes to indicate the speckled feathers and added yellow conte dust, and some brown dust applied over feathers and this works better for giving indication of the shape and coloured areas.




Third keyframe, with projection


without projection, this paper has a slight cream hue and I tried the white conte for highlight but am unsure as to whether it adds anything, I think the paper would need to be darker… This time I used the black conte dust for the wing tips and it really took well, giving fantastic high contrast. Using the charcoal I was able to smudge for depth in the right places and again the yellow dust over feathers works really well. I was very pleased with this particular combination of marks, but not so pleased with paper choice.


Detail, you can really see how much conte dust works into the edge over the feather here, really good definition. But you can also see a few finger smudges which I need to be careful of.

I will test the other 3 paper samples so that I can make a choice, all the time practising and refining my technique and I estimate I will need at least one full movement of flight comprising approximately 12 images for a second of animation. The best of these images I would like to display gallery style as one of my aims was to make a beautiful piece of animation/art.

I want to test the keyframes when finished into a very short animatic and see how the lines and marks work when animated, I may need to lessen the swipe length, it may be confusing, at the moment, in my head it looks beautiful!


Projection experiments

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Starting the animation process requires a bit of set-up organisation.

A projector, this is a dinky Phillips pico with 55lumens



An easel and a large board



Paper, my favourite newsprint


Conte Crayons, just in 3 colours

Sprinkler – to create the coloured powders


So I set all of these items out next to my computer so I could control what was projected and started on the newsprint paper that I love using for Life drawing… and here was my first problem, the newsprint really doesn’t take the powder I sweep onto the feather and onto the paper to make the relief imprint…


So I needed different paper, the only large paper I had was A2 size cartridge paper, lightweight and fairly smooth..

wpid-dsc_0372.jpgSo I began working in the feathers and simple lines and another problem rears up, because I am working on an upright easel, the powder tends to ‘drip’ down the page, unlike my primary experiments when I was working over the top of my page.



It doesn’t turn out to bad…


Then I look at another of the flying reference images I have…


beginners mistake! I will need to re-set out my easel and space so I keep in mind the top and bottom of my projection images.

Also will need to test different paper, to find the best feel for the feathers and powder marks I want to get into the frames…

I will be testing watercolour paper, thick cartridge, cream cartridge, craft paper and something called student cartridge later.


I really like the way it looks with the projection

wpid-dsc_0368.jpgThere may be an opportunity to colour the areas digitally with a light transparent fill once the animation is perfected – I did want to keep it minimal though.



Charcoal, Feathers and printing…

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After testing out getting feather texture into plaster, I wondered how much texture I could get into the hand-drawn section of animation, so with my trusty charcoal and feathers in hand set about experimenting..

I was very pleased with the results, now I have to figure out how to consistently incorporate this beautiful texture into my animation..

One thing I need to bear in mind though, the last set is on the newspaper that I like, and it doesn’t fix quite so well, or have the lovely texture of the cartridge paper…

wpid-dsc_0282.jpg wpid-dsc_0281.jpg wpid-dsc_0283.jpg wpid-dsc_0291.jpg wpid-dsc_0290.jpg

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