Sunday, September 30, 2018

Post With The Most 30/08/2018

It's still very early days on BA Hons Computer Animation Arts; returning students are just about back in the saddle, getting used once more to the cut and thrust of multi-tasking and having 'lots to do', while our newest recruits are still looking a little bit like sweet fluffy bunnies caught in the full-beam glare of an incoming truck...

Next month's PWTM will be chockfull of updates from our students' various projects. This edition gives me a chance to catch-up with some of our graduates and get into the nitty-gritty of 'what comes next', in all its different guises.  We'll also be hearing from Ethan Shilling, Computer Animation Arts' very own secret weapon and loyal creative collaborator.

But first - by way of opening the new academic year with a suitable flourish - enjoy our all-new showreel!

Charlie Serafini graduated with a First-class honours degree in June 2017.  Charlie became something of a fixture in the CAA Baseroom during his final year, always found in the far right-hand corner tucked behind a zoetrope and working doggedly on his delightful macabre animated short, Bedtime Story.  I thought it high-time the PWTM caught up with Charles, so I asked him what he'd been up to since throwing his mortar-board into the sky at the Royal Festival Hall back in June 2016, and this is what he had to say...

Charlie: Phil has asked me to put together a little piece on what I’ve been up to so let’s get started from the when I graduated!

Charlie Serafini (Right) in Rome with CAA course leader, Phil Gomm, and classmates

I graduated from CAA with a First, which was amazing, and I was honestly really excited to see where I would end up. I immediately began compiling the work I made during the course into an Animation reel and sent out loads of applications to all kinds of studios - some in the games industry, some in tv, film, ect.  I was largely unsuccessful and honestly, I’m not sure if any studios even replied to me, which was very disheartening... 

Bedtime Story / Charlie Serafini (2017)

Bedtime Story / Charlie Serafini (2017)

Bedtime Story / Charlie Serafini (2017)

Bedtime Story / Charlie Serafini

A lot happened during the summer after my graduation, the biggest thing being that I moved to Poland to live with my girlfriend.  Around the same time Phil also invited me to work as an animator on the course's animated adaptation of Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra, otherwise known as Red & The Kingdom of Sound. 

Red & The Kingdom Of Sound / Grumpy Commuter walk-cycle

I was busy working on animations while still looking for some extra animation work.  It was at this time I decided to change my approach. I started looking for indie game projects that needed animators and eventually I found a small company called Forged Chaos. They liked my reel and accepted me as an animator.  They made it very clear however that the project was a revenue share model - which is just a fancy way of saying that you won’t be paid until the game sells! 

At Forged Chaos I worked on rigging, skinning and animating a playable dragon character.  I had lots to learn about creating animations for games - like how to make them loop nicely, making sure they are fast enough for player input, exporting them for a games engine, etc.  For me this project was perfect; it allowed me to get some new experience in creating games and a lot of animation practice.  Below I’ve linked the website where I found the job and the games website!

During this time, I was also taking Polish language lessons twice a week in Szczecin, so that I was able to do everyday life stuff in Poland; going to shops and not understanding what is being said was a very difficult experience at first, but as I started to grasp the basics of the language I settled in quite nicely.  I also worked on improving my animation skills - watching tutorials, practicing and just trying to be a better animator. I signed up to Long Winter Studios monthly subscription for their database of rigged characters - an incredible service with lots of awesome rigs and characters to practice with!

Around a month and half ago I finished my contract with Forged Chaos. The game was released and the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) was lifted.  This meant I could put all of my favourite pieces into my showreel and start applying for new work. I got a reel put together, updated my resume and started applying for jobs. I decided to primarily search only in Poland for animation jobs in the games industry.  I sent a couple of applications out and didn’t hear back from any of them again... I went on a trip to Krakow with my girlfriend for a week and while I was there I sent a few more emails to studios from my phone. On our way back from Krakow I got two positive replies: two different studios liked my work and were interested in talking some more.

Dreamplant Studio

In the end I landed a job at Dreamplant Studio in Bydgoszcz as a Junior 3D Animator! As of writing, I’ve been here a week, moved in to a one-bedroom apartment and worked my first full week there. It’s been a fun week filled with many challenges and lots of learning, I’m now working in Blender and Unreal Engine 4. Blender is new to me and very different to Maya, but with the help of my Lead Animator I am getting adjusted to it quickly.  I think it’s really important to let you all know that you can never stop learning. Every project will require new things and its important to tackle them head on!

I’m excited to see where this project takes me and what awaits me in the future, I wish everyone the best of luck at CAA, work hard and achieve what you want to achieve!

What impresses about Charlie's story is the simple fact of his proactivity.  His is not a story of instant wins or magic wands or 'lucky breaks' - it's a story of 'keeping at it' and doing more things and trying new stuff, and having the resilience to keep going.

And now another tale of CAA graduates making their own opportunities and not sitting about waiting for the creative industries to come knocking on their door.  A few weeks ago, I noticed a jolly yellow announcement poster pop up on the course's Twitter feed announcing that new animated short was in production by a new studio entitled Cloudy Pictures...  A quick investigation of their blog and About Us tab revealed all...

"Founded in 2018 by Thomas Smith and Rebecca Stapley, Cloudy Pictures are a small group of animators, illustrators and artists with a passion to tell fun and imaginative stories in a variety of styles and mediums."

Tom Smith and Becky Stapley graduated from CAA just last Summer and here they are making a brand new film already!  I was excited to learn more, so I asked Tom for the lowdown on Cloudy Pictures and his creative team.

Tom: Cloudy Pictures Animation was founded by Becky and myself. I’ve always wanted to have a studio of my own wherein I could work with other people but  it wasn’t until my third year I fully realised I could do just that.

In the third year I created Escape Zone 3000 and during my time making it I found that I loved directing. I’ve always liked directing and getting stories to both look/ flow as well as can be on the screen is something I enjoy.  I had some great feedback from Phil, Alan and even Nexus Studios' Mark Davies.  Mark's kind words really motivated me to push all my creativeness into directing.

Escape Zone 3000 / Thomas Smith

So this is the role I have at Cloudy Pictures, I am the director. Which is really cool to say. However, as well as being the director I will lend a hand with the designs, story and animating. Currently, we are studio comprised of 4 people -  Becky Stapley, Lewis Punton, Ian Garling and myself. We are all recent graduates from Computer Animation Arts at UCA, Rochester and being on the course together means we all know who can do what and what they enjoy doing most.

Becky is our Art director/ Texture artist. Specifically for this project Becky’s ability to envision charming and cute characters is a must.  In the third year becky created the short film, The Jellyfish & The Hermit Crab, which won the New Designers 2018 Peoples Choice award.  Everyone on the course were so proud to see Becky's film get the recognition it deserves.

Ray early character development / Becky Stapley

RAY early character development / Tom Smith

Lewis Punton is our sound designer. His talent for capturing sound is great. He has always had a knack for the relationship between sound and what is being shown on screen. His third year films are a testament to this. As well as this, Lewis also lends his creative juices to working with Becky and I on the script.

We also have Ian Garling.  Ian will be taking the role of 3D Modeller and Animator.  Ian is the creator of the wonderful short, The Garbage-O-Saur.  He has a real knack for creating fun stories and excels in storytelling so we are very excited to have Ian on the team.

The Garbage-O-Saur / Ian Garling

So that is Cloudy Pictures - we all have jobs outside of animation but we continue to graft and work hard to make new and exciting content. Currently I am planning on opening the project up a little more globally by showcasing it on Artella and offering various roles to a bunch of creative people.

Our short film currently in development, RAY, was an idea I came up with in year 1 after a tutorial class we had with CAA lecturer, Simon Holland; it was getting to know Maya and all the nifty things it can do that inspired the idea; so always pay attention! You never know what idea may pop into your head. RAY is an animated short about a small rock called Ray. Ray loves the sun and spends his days in awe of its beauty - life for Ray is great that is until one day... tragedy strikes!

We’re very excited to make this film, with the hope of releasing it in 2019! You can follow us on twitter and Instagram @cloudypictures_ and you can also see our development over at

What’s next for Cloudy Pictures? I have a heap of ideas in my notebook! When RAY is complete, work will begin on the next project. Currently I have my mind on VR, it would be great to explore the way in which VR could be used to immerse the viewer whilst not losing things like composition or basic film techniques.

My advice for all years and specifically the third year is to keep going. Just because the third year is your last year at uni doing animation doesn’t mean it is your last year of doing animation. Keep modelling, keep designing characters, but most importantly keep making the things that you want to make. The third year is a great year to figure out your place in the world of animation; are you a designer, an animator...?  Only you will know that so work hard and do something amazing!

The Hermit Crab & The Jellyfish / Rebecca Stapley

In addition to her collaboration with Tom and the rest of team at Cloudy Pictures, Becky Stapley, has been busy submitting her award-winning film, The Jellyfish & The Hermit Crab, to film festivals the world-over.  Film festivals are one of the ways early-career animators and filmmakers can disseminate their work to much bigger audiences and network with like-minded creatives and here on Computer Animation Arts we're encouraging all final year students to participate accordingly.  For this reason, I caught up with Becky Stapley and asked her for a few insights into her recent adventures on the global film-festival circuit...

Becky: "Having recently graduated from CAA, I am so proud and excited to see my film, ‘The Jellyfish and the Hermit Crab’ still being successful and carrying on way beyond third year. At the beginning of making my film, I always knew it was more than just a ‘uni project’ to get me to the end of the year, and would become something more that represented what I could do and where I wanted to go in the industry. 

The Jellyfish & The Hermit Crab / Rebecca Stapley (2018)

When I finished my film I decided to submit it to various film festivals. I've already received 3 official selections, with my film being shown at the Gold Coast International Film Festival, the Universal Kids Film Festival and the San Diego UnderSea Film Festival.

It was so easy to submit to film festivals via FilmFreeway: you create a profile and upload your film, then you just click to submit to various festivals listed on the website. The best thing is you can find something that suits you and your genre - and a lot of them are free! It’s so exciting and rewarding to see your film be responded to around the world in such great way. It’s worth all the hard work it takes to create a film, knowing other people think it's worthy of selections and awards. 

The Hermit Crab & The Jellyfish / Rebecca Stapley

The Hermit Crab & The Jellyfish / Rebecca Stapley

It’s easy to apply for so many, so of course there are going to be disappointments. Now and then you get a notification that says you’re not selected.  I find it doesn’t bother me because in the end - I made a film! Whether or not you get selected, you already got past the biggest hurdle - so keep looking forwards - the next one just might be a selection!

My biggest piece of advice for any third year student would be to keep your work moving, always change it up and look at it in new ways so that a project never gets stagnant and boring. That way,  you’ll always be passionate about your work and look forward to the next step.

Always look to the future beyond the end of your project, beyond assessments and graduation, keep in mind where you want to go and where this could take you, and keep moving forward!"

When / Deanna Crisbacher

The long hot days immediately following the stresses and strains of year 3 come as a welcome respite and we always encourage our new graduates to take some time out to refresh, regroup and reflect.  It is also true, however, that graduates need a plan - something to maintain their momentum and give a bit of shape and structure to their post-CAA futures.  While Deanna 'Class of 2018' Crisbacher promises me faithfully she did take some time-off over the Summer as instructed, she certainly managed to cram in a lot of other exciting stuff - not least finding a job at a London-based VFX company!  In the style of those 'What did you do over your Summer Holidays?' written assignments beloved of English teachers everywhere, I asked Dee for the low-down on her life post-graduation, beginning with New Designers 2018...

The graduates, alumni & staff of Computer Animation Arts at New Designers 2018

CAA: Tell us about your experience at New Designers 2018, where your final year film, When, won the Judges Choice at the Screening Awards - what was that like?

Dee: New Designers was an amazing experience, although it was a bit chaotic and stressful. I tend to find it difficult to initiate conversations with people, but the students that went to ND tried to help each other with that aspect. It was very exciting to see the amount of interest we all received over the week. It was very surreal to me when my film won the Judges Choice Screening Prize…not that I didn’t think my film was good, I just know it is very different and discusses a difficult topic. It was also very important to me to see people reacting to my film’s message overall…I had many people come up to me and say it had impacted them which means the world to me. I’m also incredibly proud of Becky Stapley who won the People’s Choice Screening Prize, my peers and I worked very hard on our films and that showed at ND.

Alex Haley (Sky) and Jez Stewart (BFI) awarding Deanna Crisbacher's When the New Designers Judge's Choice Screening Prize 2018.

CAA: When has been selected for multiple film festivals and won numerous awards: can you tell us something about submitting films to the festival circuit and what it's like to be selected?

Dee: Submitting to film festivals can be a tedious process sometimes, but it is an effective way of getting your film out there and recognised. To me, film festivals are a good way to get a pair of eyes on your film…even if it doesn’t get selected or win anything. Out of dozens of festival submissions, you may get selected for 10 or 1 or none. I don’t think you should go into submitting to film festivals expecting selections, because your film may not be what they are looking for at that particular moment and that is normal. That is what also makes being selected even more special I suppose. It is exciting when you do get selected, although you have to be sure you read the emails properly since they may ask for download links, still images, press kits, and some other information in order to proceed.

CAA: Any advice for our current students in terms of submitting work to festivals?

Dee: My advice is to take your time making sure your film is as good as it can be and that you have everything fully prepared before submitting to anything. On FilmFreeway you can also get discounts if you are a student depending on what festivals you submit to, so make sure you have an image of your student card uploaded onto your project so you can take advantage of this.

Be sure you proofread everything! If your film does get selected and you have a spelling error you will look pretty silly. I also recommend putting together a press kit (which contains things like technical information, film credits, various lengths of film synopsis, director bio, and so on) since some festivals will ask for this and if you don’t have one made up, it could be stressful trying to throw together something good quickly. I also suggest creating a version with subtitles if your film has any voice acting/narrators…the Aesthetica Short Film Festival asked me for a version of my film with subtitles and it was a bit of a rush to create them while juggling work!

I also recommend carefully reading the description of different film festivals, since your film might fit into a specific niche which will increase your changes of getting selected…for example, my film may have a better chance of getting selected for festivals that feature experimental films or ones about mental illness. A lot of festivals have different categories as well so make sure you pick the one your films its under. Look out for free festivals, but don’t be afraid to take a risk and submit to some that have a fee or some more popular festivals overall…you never know until you try!

CAA: You were selected to participate in the Student Volunteer Programme at SIGGRAPH 2018 in Vancouver: why did you want to go to SIGGRAPH? Tell us about your experience of helping out at the conference.

Dee: When I came to an Open Day a few years back, a student told me about the SIGGRAPH student volunteer program and how much fun it was. I did more research into what SIGGRAPH was and I thought it would be a great opportunity to network, see cool art, and learn more about developing technologies. It also looks good on a CV if you have volunteer work and SIGGRAPH is quite well known in the filmmaking industry.

SIGGRAPH Vancouver 2018

It took me 3 years of trying to finally be accepted to the program…but the key is to keep trying. It was an absolutely amazing experience, I highly recommend applying to go. I networked with so many people from different universities as well as studios/companies such as Laika, Weta Digital, Paramount Pictures, and so on. It gives you an opportunity to show people from industry that you have good communication skills and nice to work with. It was also very inspirational to see the different applications of various technologies from CGI to robotics. I also was able to share my showreel and resume with recruiters and anyone from the industry that I bumped into. I do hope I get to go again, although I’m no longer eligible to go as a student volunteer…so if you are a student, go for it while you can!

SIGGRAPH Vancouver 2018

CAA: Following your involvement with Computer Animation Art's award-winning animated adaptation of Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, you're currently working on another classical music collaboration with the alumni and staff of Computer Animation Arts: can you tell us something about what you're working on?

Dee: After my work on Red & The Kingdom of Sound, I was asked to help out with another project within this family - Romeo & Juliet. This project is very different from Red… it’s not story driven and is more of an abstract/artistic piece. Things have been a bit up in the air so far in regards to what direction we can go in so I’ve been mostly experimenting with texturing and lighting…which has been loads of fun. I’ve also been working with a plug-in created by Ethan Shilling to create simulations that animate according to the music which is pretty exciting. I really enjoy lighting and texturing, so it’s been fun to see what things I can do with these abstract pieces.

Romeo & Juliet data visualisation project development / Deanna Crisbacher

CAA: At the end of August, you started work at The Flying Colour Company - a VFX company in London. Can you tell us how you got your job? How did you go from looking for a job to getting one? What did it involve?

Dee:  Yes! I started as a Trainee VFX Artist for The Flying Colour Company. I had been working on my CV, LinkedIn profile, and blog for a while beforehand when I was looking for internships at the end of my second year at CAA. When I neared the end of my final year at uni, I also created my own website since I felt it was a more professional way of presenting my work.

CAA's Industry Outreach Liaison, Jackie Hagan, forwarded me an email by The Flying Colour Company, who were looking for some students to join their studio. It was an exciting opportunity since usually to join a company at entry level you need to become a runner first…but TFCC wanted to do it differently. I exchanged several emails with them, and eventually they asked for my CV and some references. Honestly I didn’t think much would come of it, since I was more 3D based and they were looking for people to learn Autodesk Flame…something that is more in the realm of 2D VFX/compositing. After three interviews, they offered me a position as a Trainee at their studio, although I am also helping them experiment with the possibility of introducing some 3D/Maya work into their pipeline, which is intimidating but exciting.

CAA: Describe your typical working day - what time does your day start, what time does your day finish, and everything in between!

Dee: My typical working day is from 9am-6pm…but I need to commute into London so I usually wake up at around 6am so I can get ready without rushing. It takes about an hour to get from my house to Carnaby Street - where our studio is located - assuming the underground has good service. When we all first arrive we tend to make coffee/tea and chat about what we did in the evening/over the weekend.

Some days we have Dailies (but not daily for some reason, despite the name) where we look at some shots and decide if it’s ready to be sent off to the client or if it needs more work. We then go to our Flames (computers that have Autodesk Flame) and we work! Sometimes I’m working on some training shots, since I’ve only started using Flame a month ago…but I have worked on some real shots as well which is super exciting! Some days the machines are taken up so the freelancers and senior artists and quickly push some more complex shots out…so I hop onto my own computer to experiment with Maya to see how we may implement some 3D work later down the line.

Carnaby Street, London - photo by Dee Crisbacher

We often listen to podcasts or music together via loudspeakers, which makes the space seem friendly and collaborative. We often ask each other for advice, or opinions on if something looks okay. There’s one other girl who is a trainee as well, so sometimes the senior artists will give us mini tutorials and tips and tricks. I have an hour for lunch, so I usually spend part of it wandering around Carnaby Street since it’s such a pretty location. We often have fruit, biscuits, and other goodies in the studio for us to snack on…and a fancy coffee machine which is a great way to take a break if you’ve been staring at the computer screen for too long.

We archive out our work every evening, and most of us head out at around 6-6:15. I don’t get home till around 7:30 where I tell my family I made some cool stuff…but I can’t say much more due to confidentiality. Some days I’ll go to the gym to make sure I stay healthy…then the cycle starts again! So far TFCC seems to be really good with encouraging a healthy work/life balance.

CAA: Finally - what is your advice for our current CAA students? What advice would you give a year one student, a year two student, and a year three student?

Dee: For first years, make sure you keep your blog up to date and do not write anything you may regret in 2 years time. Keep it simple, professional, and thoughtful. Proofread, and make sure you share the process of your projects…even if it isn’t necessarily your ‘best’ every single post in regards to artwork. Not every drawing will be a masterpiece, but your blog is your digital sketchbook and will show employers how you are able to improve your skills and work through problems. If they cannot tell if you have the ability to learn and improve, you aren’t as appealing. I’d also recommend starting up a LinkedIn account, even if you don’t have much on it just yet. This is so you can begin following some studios and see how others build up their profiles. AND DO YOUR MAYA TUTORIALS!

For second years I recommend refining your CV and getting help with that via the careers service at UCA. Design it in an appealing way, that will make you stand out more. I also recommend having a few business cards at this point, just in case you go to any events (such as the VFX Festival in London) or if you meet any recruiters. I also think this is a good time to begin building your own website…so your blog is like a sketchbook and your website is a more refined portfolio. Also begin looking at showreels and begin experimenting with different edits. This will help you with trying to secure internships. Obviously the same advice from first year carries onto second year in regards to blogs, Linkedin, and Maya Tutorials. 

 For third years…make sure your final year project is a true representation of everything you have learned over the last three years. I really recommend the project having some level of personal meaning… that appeals to employers since you will be passionate when you speak about it. If you have an idea of what sort of job you want, create a showreel that showcases this. Create a showreel shot breakdown list since this will help recruiters understand your work. Make sure your Art Of document showcases everything you worked on…and if you get an interview with a company, bring a physical copy with you! I brought my Art Of When book for an interview and it earned me brownie points. Make sure your business cards, resume, and website are all branded to what you want to express to studios. For interviews make sure you dress nicely, but still be yourself. Promote yourself but be honest…you are only human after all. If you are able to recognise what your weakness are and express an desire to improve or that you have improved, that is desirable. Also make sure you ask if people are willing to be your reference before giving their names and details to recruiters!

'We're going to need a bigger poster!'

This time last year, the staff, students and alumni of Computer Animation Arts were up against it, seeking to finish Red & The Kingdom Of Sound for its November premiere in Amiens, France.  Loyal readers of the PWTM will know that we did indeed complete the project on time (give or take a few more tweaks!), and since then, our animated adaptation of Britten's The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra has been enjoying some success on the international short film festival circuit, with thirty-two official selections and a number of specific awards too.  Take a look at the this list below; if Britten's ambition for his work was ensuring classical music found new audiences, I think he would be happy with all of Red's recent globe-trotting!

  • Le Petit Cannes Film Festival, France - Finalist
  • Kids Video Connection Festival, Atlanta - Award Winner
  • Redline International Film Festival, Canada – ‘Best Animated Short’
  • MiniKino - Bali International Short Film Festival, Indonesia - Semi-Finalist
  • Super Geek Film Festival, Florida – Official Selection
  • Los Angeles Cinefest, Los Angeles – Semi Finalist
  • On Art – Poland, Warsaw - Official Selection
  • Phenomena Festival - São Paulo Premiere Fantastic Film Festival, Brazil - Official Selection
  • Moscow Shorts – ISFF Awards, Russia – Official Selection
  • Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival – Best Animation
  • Anibar International Animation Festival, Kosovo – Official Selection
  • Animare International Animated Short Film Festival, Italy – Official Selection
  • Square Lake Film & Music Festival, Minnesota – Finalist
  • Palm Springs International Animation Festival – Official Selection
  • Open World Animation Fest, Pennsylvania – Official Selection
  • Curtocircuíto International Film Festival, Spain – Official Selection
  • Cartoon Club – International Film Festival Of Animation Cinema & Comics, Rimini, Italy – Official Selection
  • South Film and Arts Academy Festival, Chile – Official Selection
  • Montreal International Animation Film Festival, Canada – Finalist
  • Supernova Digital Animation Festival, Denver, USA – Official Selection
  • Canal de Panama International Film Festival – Official Selection
  • Ojai Short Fest, California – Official Selection
  • Monthly Short To The Point Festival, Romania – Official Selection
  • Formosa Festival Of International Filmmaker Awards – Finalist (Best Animated Short) – Finalist (Grand Jury Award).
  • Sound and Vision International Film & Technology Festival, New York – Official Selection
  • Animation Nights New York – Semi-Finalist
  • Filem’on – International Film Festival For Young Audiences, Brussels – Official Selection
  • Kraken Con Animation Fest, Oakland, California – Official Selection
  • Istanbul International Architecture & Urban Films Festival, Turkey – Finalist
  • Cardiff International Film Festival – Finalist
  • Venice Short Film Festival – Official Selection

Helen Curston, senior lecturer on UCA's Television Production course at Maidstone TV Studios, got some behind the scenes access when we're were making Red & The Kingdom Of Sound and has since produced a short 'Making Of' documentary, which I'm very happy to share here.  Highlights include meeting some of the production team - and also comparing my 'before' face with my knackered 'after' face! Watching this back, I just want to congratulate everybody all over again for their superhuman effort in getting this project over the line - and also to the wider CAA community for putting up with any stresses and strains I failed to disguise during those last few challenging weeks!

The Making Of Red & The Kingdom Of Sound / Helen Curston

One of the faces not featured in Helen's 'Making Of' is CAA alumni, Ethan 'Class of 2012' Shilling - but make no mistake, without Ethan, the film could never have been made.  Credited as Red & The Kingdom Of Sound's technical director, Ethan's creativity, technical knowledge and supreme powers of organisation ensured our vision for the film could be realised.  Ethan and I have worked on numerous collaborative projects together, and when we met together recently, I asked him to share some of those experiences with the PWTM... 

Ethan 'Class of 2012' Shilling

Phil: So, Red & The Kingdom of Sound was a huge project and has proven popular on the film festival circuit. What was it like to work on the project and why do you think audiences are enjoying it? 

Ethan: It was a fantastic beast of a project to be involved with. It was challenging, both in the quantity of work to be done by everyone, but also in managing everyone so we're all on the same page. As you know already, I was responsible for the animation and rendering pipeline as well as rigging several characters. If anyone ever had a problem, I had to have the answers because this was my domain! Thankfully there weren't too many hiccups, and it was great to see everything come together.

I think people enjoy it because of the creativity, artistry and passion that went into it. Okay, so audiences won’t be aware of the pipeline, or rigging etc, but they will see the story, the characters and the animation. Like in any good animation, they won’t see poor production values, they'll just see a world that we've created and believe in it for 15 minutes. I think that's why audiences are enjoying it, and how we know we've done our job well.

Red & The Kingdom Of Sound - The Overture 

Red & The Kingdom Of Sound - The Viola District 

Red & The Kingdom Of Sound - The Finale

Phil: You're now working on a new 'visualisation of classical music' project for Computer Animation Arts... Tell us something about 'Spectro'...

Ethan: Okay, so Spectro began as a side project that I worked on a few years back (before it had a name). It's a custom tool I'd written for Maya. I wanted to create 3D visualisations of sound by generating the audio spectrogram, and using that to drive various effects, deformations, animations etc. When you first told me about this project (the visualisation of Berlioz's Romeo & Juliet) I saw an opportunity to put my code to some real use and continued development until it was production ready. It's very fun to play with and I'd like to release it as a commercial tool one day.

The Spectro plug-in at work - visualisation by Deanna Crisbacher

The Spectro plug-in at work #2 - visualisation by Deanna Crisbacher

Phil: You and I have worked together now on lots of very different and creative challenging projects - what's it like when you get an email from me about 'a new idea' I've had...

Ethan: At first, I'm like, oh no, what's Phil got in store for me this time! Then I'm reading it and I can't help but smile because your ideas are usually weird and wonderful, and I just know that you won’t be seeing all the complexities in realising them! But I like a challenge and I know you know that I'll always come up with a solution for whatever you throw at me :)

Phil: What's been your favourite collaboration with us so far and why?

Ethan: Hmm... Can I pick two???

Developing Spectro was very exciting for me because it's the first case of me developing a tool written in c++ for someone else to use in a real production. I guess it's not so different from a rigger making a character for an animator, but instead of using Maya, I'm writing c++ code in a text editor. When I finished uni I knew a little bit about programming, but nothing about c++, so to be able to use a skill that's entirely self-taught (thanks Google!), but in a creative 3D project, was a lot of fun.

Romeo & Juliet / Spectro test render #1 / Deanna Crisbacher

Romeo & Juliet / Spectro test render #2 / Deanna Crisbacher

However, I'd say in terms of collaboration, Red & The Kingdom of Sound has been the most rewarding project. It felt great to be in control of the animation & rendering pipeline. Although at the same time there's a lot of pressure because everyone involved in the project is relying on you to think ahead, foresee potential issues and come up with a workflow that helps everyone stay on target. It was very hard work at times, but also great to see everything come together.

Phil: What's your advice for our current students?

Ethan: Take the project work seriously, because it's only for three years of your life. Find out what you enjoy doing most and really hone your craft. Learn how to learn (if that makes sense!) because you're not just here to absorb knowledge. Do your own research, make your own choices and experiment. ...then blog about it to make Phil happy :)

The Last Word...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

FAO Year 3: Film Composer Jeffrey Wang

This is a heads-up for our third years... last year, composer Jeffrey Wang, collaborated with Tom Smith (Escape Zone 3000), Becky Stapley (The Jellyfish & The Hermit Crab) and Ian Garling (The Garbage-O-Saur).  Jeffrey got in touch recently and asked me to give our third years the following message:

"Hi Phil, I'll be taking on student projects over the current academic year and it would be great if you could send info to anyone relevant. Details on student rates are at the following link: … The lowest range (£0-16) should be enough for most students, with upper ranges existing for those who want something more. I'll be giving first priority to UCA Rochester students and will happily write for any 3rd year students."

Collaborating with composers will be a big part of your creative role as you take your stories into production - and working closely (and early) with a composer is key in terms of ensuring the collaboration is a success.  If you're interested in working with Jeffrey, can I suggest you make your interest known to him immediately, as he gets booked up pretty fast!  If you've got an animatic (even if you know it will change), then you've got what Jeffrey needs to begin a creative conversation about your work and it's relationship to sound and music.  Get in touch!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Some info on lesser-known services that might be useful! .

I just thought I would quickly highlight a few services that are available to students, that you might not know about...

The first is a new initiative called the 'Listening Post' - this is a drop-in session on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, between 11 and 2.  If you are feeling a bit anxious, homesick, stressed etc., it is an opportunity to go along and have a chat with a volunteer from outside of the university.  They cannot offer counselling but can signpost you to other services that might be able to help you...sometimes just talking to someone can make all the difference!  You can find the Listening Post in the library, in the secluded seating area just past the Gateway desk.

The second is an online resource, called the Autism & Uni toolkit; although mainly aimed at students on the autistic spectrum there are several sections that could be useful for any student, such as 'Coping with stress', 'How to survive assessments', 'Working in groups' etc.  The toolkit can be accessed HERE

And if you are feeling stressed and just need a few minutes peace and quiet, there are relaxation sessions on a Tuesday, 13:00 to 13:30, in Lecture Theatre 1 - no need to book, just turn up!

CAA Careers; Careers advice today in the foyer

Today in the foyer...12 - 2pm

Part of the Careers & Employability SPECTRA programme; in the Foyer.

A chance to meet the Careers & Employability Adviser and get some individual advice and tips to help you succeed in getting work placements, internships or jobs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

FAO Planet CAA / Drinks @ Wetherspoons / Friday 21st @ 6pm

Let's all meet up at the Rochester Wetherspoons for the traditional meet and greet between old, current, and new!  Aim for 6pm on Friday 21st September - all are welcome!  Spread the word - and grab a first year on your way down, as they might not know the way or yet understand that this particular pub is our unofficial HQ!  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Monday, September 17, 2018

FAO CAA Yr 1: Invisible Cities 2018 / Online Greenlight Review 03/10/2018

Wednesday, 3rd October is your Invisible Cities Online Greenlight Review (OGR)

Your OGR is to be presented as a single Scribd presentation on your blog, beginning with your name, date, and project title. If you are still yet to get to grips with Scribd go here for some easy-to-follow instructions. Save your documents as PDFs before uploading to Scribd, as this should mitigate against formating glitches. When pasting Scribd embed code into your blog, you must first select the HTML mode tab, then switch back to 'Compose' to view the embedded presentation.

Your OGR presentations should be uploaded to your blogs on Wednesday 3rd October. Written feedback will follow as comments on your OGR post and will take between 1 and 3 days.

Invisible Cities 2018 OGR: What do you need to present?

1) Your 100 thumbnails exploring all cities (minimum).

2) Your chosen city, its key descriptions and associated thumbnails. (Please include the original text in your presentations, with key descriptive passages highlighted or extracted.) 

3) A short mission statement identifying and justifying your 'visual concept' in relation to your chosen city (i.e. what are the underlying principles driving your design ideas and from what and where are they derived - and why? This might include your ideas in regard to colour palette, architectural elements, exaggeration, expressionism, symbolism, lighting, point-of-view, time period, stylisation, narrative, intended audience...  I want you to be able to identify and articulate your visual strategies for the design and staging of your three concept paintings.  Remember - you are not just painting pictures digitally, but rather 'designing worlds' for an animated film. There's a big difference.  I want to understand your internal logic, your influences and your creative decision-making.

3) A single 'Visual Concept' influence map that illustrates and unifies your production design ideas in terms of the exterior concept paintings.

4) A single 'Visual Concept' influence map that illustrates and unifies your production design ideas in terms of the interior concept paintings.

5) Key Thumbnails (those thumbnails on which you think you'll be basing your final three paintings or have most inspired them or invite further development).

6) In addition, your OGR should evidence that you are up-to-date with your film reviews and ongoing CG Artist's Toolkit project work (Maya tutorials, digital painting exercises etc). Your OGR should include links to the corresponding posts. 

Historically, students who use their OGR to manage their weekly tasks in this way manage their workloads successfully.

Please note: your OGR should be professionally presented, spell-checked, with consideration given to graphic design, layout and project branding.  I'm including an example OGR presentation as guidance in terms of preparing your content in line with the OGR checklist and course expectations.

Julien Van Wallendael / Invisible Cities OGR

Sunday, September 16, 2018

FAO CAA Year 1: Invisible Cities 2018 / What Is An 'Art Of'?

As part of your Invisible Cities submission requirements, you're being asked to produce an 'Art Of'. You'll be asked to submit an 'Art Of' document for all your forthcoming projects, so there's no time like the present in terms of getting the hang of them.

Your Art Of is a curated exposition of your pre-production, production and final piece.


1) to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit):
2) to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation


1) a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea.

In other words, your Art Of is the 'edited highlights' of all the work you've produced in the working-up and execution of your 3 Invisible Cities paintings.  

You need to create your Art Of with the uninitiated reader in mind; it needs to explain the brief (succinctly), introduce Calvino (succinctly), introduce Invisible Cities (succinctly), and introduce us to your city of choice.  It needs to include a selection of your most striking and successful thumbnails, and the quality of all images in the document needs to be high and of a 'client-facing' standard - so no grubby scans, or poor reproductions or poorly cropped images etc.  Likewise, your spelling, grammar, typography and layout needs to be first-class.  Your Art Of should be able to take its reader from the very beginnings of the project, right through to the final pieces in a way that is logical and engaging. 

Your final paintings should occupy a page each, so we can really look at them.  You should include close-ups of details of your final paintings - so that the reader may take a closer look at your worlds and at your techniques in creating them.  

You should include 'behind-the-scenes' type sequences, in which the reader is shown how you created your final images, so break-downs of compositions and explanations of work-flow.  Your Art Of might be annotated - i.e. you write short descriptions against the various stages.

Be warned - the more you write, the more you have to spell-check and design graphically.  If you write something about your work, you need to think about what you're writing and you need to spell-check and grammar-check accordingly.  Your 'Art Of' is not a diary and should never be negative.  

Your 'Art Of' should be designed in agreement with your content.  Think about how the 'mood' of your chosen city might be incorporated into the overall design of your Art Of  - its layout and colour palette. You are expected to design the cover of your Art Of and everything else.  Be wary of using overly complicated backgrounds which might distract from the work.  Avoid 'shitty typefaces' and think about the way in which you're laying-out your work on each page: no random gapping between multiple images; when in doubt ensure the spaces between your image layouts are the same.

Here are some useful resources to help you in putting together some effective Art Ofs: for a huge range of fonts visit - some wonderful examples here that might fit with your Calvino-inspired city perfectly (but use wisely and use sparingly!) and in terms of putting impactful colour-schemes together for the overall look of your documentation, this online colour scheme designer and this one takes some of the guess-work out of successful branding and 'getting the look' - have a play and you'll see what I mean!

Think very carefully about your Art Of and the impression it makes; it is a professional catalogue seeking to present your work in the very best light.  

You should be thinking about your Art Of as of now.  

By way of inspiration and guidance, enjoy this selection of Art Ofs from various student projects from various levels of the degree.  Study them wisely in terms of their design, layouts and exposition of workflow.

Julien Van Wallendael

Samantha Niemczyk & Peta-Gaye Brown

Richard Vosper-Carey & Sam Hayes

Charlie Serafini

For a few more great examples go here.