Tag Archives: Character design

Moonlight Saves The Day

This was a short film made by children from Years 3 and 4 at Meon Junior School in Portsmouth. It was part of a Creative Partnerships project focused on literacy. The group had already worked with another company to devise a fairytale-like story. I was tasked with showing the children how to turn that story into an animation through a series of workshops.

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We began by breaking the story into scenes and discussing how scenes are laid out in a script. It was not long before we had adapted the group’s story into a script to use whilst shooting. Following this, we explored shot language and the group learned about how to use master shots, close-ups and cut-aways to tell their story visually. Armed with this knowledge the group were able to create a shot list and a storyboard for their animation.

1 General

The next thing the group had to tackle was character design and so we discussed what the characters should look like and what physical attributes we could give them to enhance their personalities. Based on this list of qualities and descriptions the class drew their ideas for each character and then voted for their favourites to make the final decisions.

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Once we knew what the characters looked like we turned our attention to the animation’s sets and used a similar process to design the different environments of the story.

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Once the design stage was complete, we moved onto construction. I led the group through a workshop on how to make articulated puppets for paper cut-out animation and then we assigned teams to start work on each of the characters and sets. This was a difficult job as the children had to take into account the ways in which each character needed to move as well as making sure we had removable features for every facial expression required for each of the characters.

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We also had to create versions of the puppets in different sizes, such as enlarged heads and facial features for close-ups. Added to all of this was the challenge of keeping every element of the animation in proportion so that it would work when we put it all together.

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With all of our elements prepared, we were able to start animating the film. The group had a workshop to introduce them to animation techniques at the start of the project, so they would be familiar with the software and the process. Shooting out of sequence, the classes were split into small animation teams each with a few shots to complete. We only had two days in which to shoot the film. Everyone involved in the project also got to record narration and sound effects for the film, which were then combined when the film was edited.

10 Fun 11 FunThis is one of the youngest age groups that I have worked with and so I was extremely impressed by the quality of their work within such a limited timeframe. The project was delivered and completed in the space of six weeks, with only a day of workshops each week for each class.

If you would like to try your hand at an animation workshop or make a short film as a project like this one then please visit my website for more information.


Happy Cloud

0 On set

Happy Cloud was an animated short film made by young people from Worthing Youth Media and funded by First Light. I ran this project, leading workshops that took the group through the process of developing their idea into a finished film. I helped the group to write and edit their script, design the characters, draw up storyboards and put together an animatic, then led them through animation workshops before the shooting of the film itself.

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Happy Cloud was an idea that went through a lot of development. It was originally a short project that I ran workshops for in the summer term of 2008, but when the group’s application for First Light funding was successful, they decided to develop it further.

The original Happy Cloud was a short viral ad in which Happy Cloud smiled gleefully while a narrator spoke to him in voice over. The group had to develop the character in order to find a story for their film. The concept that they settled upon was the idea of a show within a show. Happy Cloud became the star of a children’s television series.

We animated the film using paper cut out animation techniques. We created backdrops and characters using bits of paper, plastic and fabric that we manipulated and swapped between each shot. The whole film has a flat, simplistic style. I really enjoy paper cut out animation as you have to think in different dimensions to stop motion puppetry. Although it looks easier, there are far less options available to you for movement and so bringing things to life can be quite a challenge.

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The idea for Happy Cloud’s TV show was to create a playful and colourful world in the style of narrated cartoons such as the Mr Men and Mr Benn. The group decided that this would be a pastiche of children’s TV’s patronising tone and inane characters. We designed a title sequence for the show that would introduce the characters and the premise of Happy Cloud’s TV show and serve as an intro for our film, before pulling back to reveal the set, leading the audience into the ‘real’ world of the film.

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Happy Cloud’s narrator speaks over the titles describing Cloud Land as the happiest place in the world, where ‘Happy Cloud makes everyone happy.’ To demonstrate Happy Cloud’s powers, we designed a factory conveyor belt of people forcibly being made happy one by one by Happy Cloud. We wanted to establish the subversive tone of the humour from the outset.

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Happy Cloud’s character also needed fleshing out. A cloud who is happy isn’t much to work with. With that in mind the group thought about subverting the idea. They decided that to the viewers of his show Happy Cloud would seem like the perfect role model for children, but only until the cameras stopped rolling.

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‘Offscreen’ Happy Cloud is the pampered star of the show – grumpy, vain, money hungry, alcoholic and demanding. We created three different sizes of Happy Cloud to allow us to alter his proportions to suit each shot’s requirements.

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We then turned our attention to developing a cast of characters around Happy Cloud. The first was his co-star and onscreen nemesis Storm Cloud. We designed Storm Cloud as a foil for Happy Cloud. Storm Cloud looks tough but isn’t. He is a somewhat depressive character who gets pushed around by Happy Cloud.

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Next we designed the Director of the show. The Director is the voice of authority for the characters, almost a parent figure. We decided to only show him in silhouette to give him a mysterious anonymity.

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The main conflict of the film comes into play when the Director brings in an image consultant to give the show a ratings boosting makeover. He introduces Jiggy Bigwig, an enthusiastic character who claims to be down with the kids.

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The team had a lot of fun writing and designing Jiggy’s character. They envisioned a man who wears clothes that are far too young for him, tries to act like he is still a kid but is hopelessly outdated and clueless.

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One of Jiggy’s quirks is his attempts to speak like young people so we made a point of highlighting some of his jargon in cut-away shots.

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Happy Cloud hates Jiggy but is convinced to accept his input when the Director hints that it could lead to more money and awards for the show. Then there is an accident on set which sends Happy Cloud crashing through the stage.

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Unconscious, Happy Cloud has an out of body experience, floating up from the stage as a ghostly form of himself. We had fun designing the Ghost Happy Cloud, who we made out of translucent paper to give him an ethereal quality.

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He meets Zany Funhouse, the awards fairy, who acts as his Ghost of Christmas Future to show him the error of his ways. Zany was partly modelled on Amy Winehouse (this was 2009) and styled as a partied out veteran of awards ceremonies with a tall beehive of hair that’s full of trophies and awards statues.

We decided to introduce Zany with a slow tilt, travelling up and up and up to emphasise the impossible height of her beehive hair. The hair felt a character in itself, so we decided that for an added punchline we’d make it exactly that, giving it a face and making it growl and jump off of her head at the end of the shot.

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42 Awards Fairy 6Zany waves her magic wand and whisks Ghost Happy Cloud away to see a vision of his future.

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Ghost Happy Cloud finds himself at a glitzy awards ceremony, watching his future self arrive in a limo. This is my favourite shot in the film, as drunken Happy Cloud tumbles out of the limo. Happy Cloud’s anarchic behaviour was great fun to film and is taken to the next level by voice actor Ben Simpson.

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One of the features of the red carpet scene was the paparazzi, snapping pictures at the side of the red carpet. We designed something very simple of this, using two rows of people and then moving holographic silver paper in and out of each frame to represent the camera flashes.

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We envisioned the awards ceremony as the Oscars for the cartoon world and wanted the celebrity audience to be filled with cartoon characters. The group designed several members of the audience to resemble popular characters.

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Paper cut-out animation works by moving pieces of paper, or changing and substituting them frame by frame. Substitution is particularly effective for facial expressions and dialogue. We had a range of eyes, eyebrows and mouths in different expressions and mouth shapes for each character which we then duplicated for each different sized version of the characters.

The screenshots below show the range of facial features we used to make a drunken Happy Cloud falling asleep at the awards ceremony.

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With Happy Cloud asleep, Storm Cloud has to accept the award on Happy Cloud’s behalf, but just as he is doing this, Happy Cloud wakes up and storms the stage, hurling abuse at Storm Cloud and the shocked audience.

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Then, to make matters worse, he throws up.

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I was delighted when Happy Cloud won the award for Best Comedy at the First Light Movie Awards 2010. We attended the ceremony at the Odeon Leicester Square, where the award was presented to our young filmmakers by Bill Nighy and Nick Frost. Simon Bird, actor and comedian from The Inbetweeners, was one of the judges of the awards. This was his feedback on the film:

“Ambitious, inventive, unexpected. Slick and professional yet still imaginative and energetic, it is exactly what a short film should be – an interesting idea concisely and expertly brought to life.”

Thanks to First Light, the film has been screened at film festivals around the world and picked up the Small Film Award at Canterbury Anifest 2010.

If you want to see more from behind the scenes then have a look at how the finished film compares to the animatic. The opening sequence in particular is very close to how we shot the finished version.

An animatic is when you put your storyboard together on a timeline to work out things like pace and timing. It can include test shots and sound, although we recorded our sound after the animation shoot. On a larger production the animatic can be used to fill in gaps when full scenes haven’t been shot yet. You might notice shots in the animatic that weren’t included in the film. This is because we had to cut a couple of scenes from the script to fit our shooting schedule.

If you’d like to learn animation techniques, or want to produce an animated film, please check out my website to see how I can help.

Outbreak: Zombie Makeup Effects

outbreak hands

In my last post I talked about making props for the short film Outbreak with Worthing Youth Media. Now I am going to discuss in more detail how we designed and created specific character looks for our zombies. I’m a HUGE fan of George A. Romero, so working on this short was a dream come true for me.

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The first consideration was to populate the film with zombies who represented a cross section of society, the Zombie Apocalypse is coming for all of us, after all. During preproduction for the film I was like Simon Pegg in the opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead, imagining the slow zombification of the world unfolding around me. I started working on a sketchbook of zombie characters, and encouraged my art department team to do the same. In order to create characters, I encouraged the team to consider who this person was before they were bitten, how and where they had died, how long ago they had turned and what their zombie-self might have encountered since as all of these things can be conveyed by the zombie’s appearance.

As we moved closer to the shoot, we began shortlisting our zombie cast, using the action an locations of the script to help in our decisions. With our zombie cast locked down, we started sourcing the costumes that would bring our undead characters to life. Clothes and accessories were then sliced, ripped, sand-papered, burned, dirtied up and covered in blood as we matched the outfits up to our actors.

Chav zombies

On the first morning of the shoot, I was the go-to guy for blood. I carried three our four different types of fake blood on set at all times, including two spray bottles that I used to cover actors on set before the director called action. In between takes, my team and I were on hand to reapply blood and keep wounds looking fresh. By the end of the week my hands and arms were stained red up to the elbows.

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All of the zombies had a basic look that was consistent. Each zombie was painted white, with a blend of purple and mustard bruise colours around the eyes to create a decaying look. Following that, zombies were given their own individual wounds and grotesqueries. The exception to this rule, were the identical zombie twins, who were given matching mirror image misfortunes. We discussed the use of contact lenses to give the zombies that dead eyed look, however, there were a number of reasons that this wasn’t affordable, practical or safe for use with young children. Instead we used a red eyeliner to give the eyes an evil look. Although the cause of the zombie outbreak is not explained in the film, in my designs for the characters I envisioned it like a disease with the red eyeliner providing a swollen, puffy, infected look.

To add further detail I used latex to create the look of broken skin, burns and lesions. Tested here on a zombie extra. The effect is achieved by building up layers of liquid latex onto the skin and then piercing and tearing it to make holes. These holes can then be worked into with makeup to add colour and definition. I like to use black as a base to create the illusion of depth, and then add a purplish red followed by fresh scab for texture.

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Zombie Chef, the script’s most intimidating zombie, required a more complicated look as he is the main antagonist of the film. We wanted to make him look scary and burned, as he met his death in a kitchen.

Chef roar

We started with a typical chef’s costume, which was then distressed by being torn and burnt. We wanted to exaggerate his look to make him quite extreme so we covered the outfit in food stains and blood.

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Zombie Chef had one of the most complicated makeup looks in the film, made all the more difficult because his scenes were shot over two days, meaning that the makeup had to last a full day’s shooting before being recreated as exactly as possible the following morning.

I started by giving him a foundation of white skin, with purple around the eyes. I find that the eyes usually need retouching again at the end, but it helps to have a foundation to work with. I then covered the actor’s face and neck with several layers of liquid latex. The operation was time consuming as each layer of latex needed time to dry before another could be applied.

Having achieved a good layer of latex, I then ripped holes of varying sizes, using a pencil to break the latex. We took photographs of every stage so that the look could be recreated the next day. When creating the look for the second time, I referred to the previous day’s photos and used the pencil to draw onto the latex so that I knew exactly where the holes needed to be.

The next job was to add definition and shading to the holes using a variety of colours. We wanted to create a charred skin effect and so we used a lot of reds and purples to make the skin look scorched and sore, then yellow and green hues as highlights around the edges. Finally, we added texture to the wounds using fresh scab again. I love using fresh scab, it has a consistency like raspberry jam and it sticks to the skin and slowly dries to look like a nasty scab or graze.

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The longest makeup job on set had to be the Old Lady Zombie as we needed to create a combination of zombie and ageing makeup. We decided that not only was Old Lady Zombie old, but she’d been a long time dead so we wanted her to look really decayed and grotesque.

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I started out in the same way that I approached Zombie Chef’s makeup, starting with a white foundation. This time instead of applying the liquid latex directly onto the skin, I used it to apply small pieces of tissue paper all over the actress’s face and neck. As it dried, this created a leathery, wrinkled skin effect. To give a sense that her skin was rotting I then blended white, yellow and green makeup for an all over tone, before using blues and purples for depth and shading. Finally, to add to the aged and rotting effect, I used a fine paintbrush to paint veins all over her face and neck. Red eyeliner was used again to give the eyes an evil look.

As well as making up her face I also applied makeup to the actress’s hands and arms, as I knew that there would be a shot in which this character reaches through the letterbox. I covered the actress’s arms in latex, before using a sponge to apply greens, yellows and browns for a mottled, rotten look.

caroline zombie hand

Old Lady Zombie was a comedy character in the original script, and although her scene was rewritten, we still wanted to keep the same sense of fun in her overall look. The original script described her as a WI member. We chose a matching outfit for her with an ostentatious hat. The costume was then ripped and covered in the customary amount of blood, before the addition of dirt and flowers to give her that ‘Just Dug Up’ look.

It was a shame not to see more of the character in the finished film, but that’s life in the art department!

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The final makeup challenge for this film was a zombie movie staple – the zombie bite: a protagonist is bitten by a zombie and we watch their slow transformation into the undead. This was my homage to Dawn Of The Dead‘s Roger. What was fun about this effect was that there were stages to the makeup that we enhanced from scene to scene.

We don’t see Derek get bitten by the zombie. First, we see that Derek is feeling unwell. This shows up better on video than as a screenshot, so check out the movie below to see the full effect. We wanted to introduce elements of the zombie design slowly and subtly, hinting at what’s yet to come. I gave the actor a light covering of the white zombie foundation, enough to make him look unnaturally pale. I also wanted to show that the change was already beginning, and so I used a mustard colour around his eyes. I thought that yellow would give the actor a sickly hue, and it is also a colour that, once blended with different shades of purple, contributed to the look of the other zombies in the film. I then created the appearance of sweat by applying glycerine with a stipple sponge. This had to be reapplied between takes to give him an unhealthy sheen and a feverish look to show signs of the infection.

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At this point Derek’s zombie bite is revealed to the audience. This is the only human injury we see in the film and we wanted it to be shocking. We wanted it to look serious, definitely an injury that could kill if not seen to immediately. I went about this in the same way as the other wounds, but on a larger scale. First I used black and various purples and reds to create a bloody looking area. I created two small bones using bone wax, which were attached to the skin and covered with a layer of liquid latex to keep them looking clean and white, so that they wouldn’t soak up any of the blood. I then used tissue paper, building up a layer of latex skin over the injury which was then ripped open to expose the wound and bones beneath. I used wound filler to add texture and extra gore to the wound, and of course, plenty of fake blood. The ‘skin’ was blended into the rest of the arm using a natural foundation. As this wound was the source of the infection we wanted to make it look as if it was already rotting, so we blended yellows and greens into the skin. To further represent the zombie virus spreading into the body I painted a vein effect spreading out from around the wound.

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The final stage of Derek’s transformation was to reveal him as a zombie in the climactic scene. This involved a slightly different design from our regular zombies because Derek was a protagonist so we wanted to show him as a tragic, rather than as a scary zombie. Also because Derek had only just turned, he would not look as rotten or weathered as the other zombies, and we couldn’t cover him in injuries, because he hadn’t sustained any beyond the bite to his arm. I gave him the same white face as the other zombies, then exaggerated the lines and features of the actor’s face and neck with blue shading, which I blended into the white to make the colour less bright. I then increased the yellow shading around his eyes and layered purple over it. Building on the idea of showing the virus’s spread, I designed Derek’s eye makeup to mirror the veiny style of his wound, spreading out through all of the creases around his eyes.

I love zombies, and I especially love doing zombie makeup, so watch this space for more zombie experiments and to see me as a zombie too. I also run workshops in Special Effects Makeup so if you’re interested in having a go yourself, take a look at my website.

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For my major project at University, I wrote and directed Elysium, a short film based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The film combines live action with stop motion animation. I also designed and built sets and puppets for the film.

In the original story, Orpheus’ lover Eurydice is bitten by a snake on the day of their wedding. She dies, and Orpheus travels to the Underworld to beg Hades to return her to him. Hades agrees, but only on the condition that Orpheus leads Eurydice through the Underworld and back to the land of the living without looking at her. Orpheus finds Eurydice and leads her through the Underworld, but at the last minute he looks back to see her and she dies a second time, this time forever.

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In our adaptation of the story, Chris is the Orpheus character and his wife Laura, Eurydice. Laura is in a coma and the doctors have told Chris that there is no hope of her waking up. Chris visits a strange organisation, who offer him the chance to bring Laura back by travelling into her dreams to wake her up. The real world is filmed in live action, on digital video, and the dream world is animated with stop motion puppetry.

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We constructed a hospital set in the studio, using flats that we wallpapered and painted and then hiring hospital props to give it an authentic feel. We visited an amazing company in London that had a huge warehouse full of hospital equipment and furniture for hire from different eras.

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We wanted the film to have a very stylised look. As we were dealing with fantasy it was really important that the film have a dream-like look and fluidity. This was the opening scene and I wanted it to be moving and enigmatic. I chose cold blue lighting and arranged it to look like a spotlight around Laura, focusing attention to the centre of the screen and making the edges of the shot shadowy and vague.The idea of this scene was to introduce Laura and her plight in a way that was heightened, as if it was Chris’s nightmare. I wanted to represent Laura as a Sleeping Beauty and suggest the danger that she is in. I decided to show this by using an imperfect match cut from the tubes in Laura’s hand to a snake coiling itself around her wrist, drawing on the imagery from the original myth.

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We used a real snake for this shot. We hired it from a taxidermist. It hadn’t been stuffed yet and it was being kept in a freezer. We needed to defrost it and keep it in the fridge between takes. It smelt horrible, and it was a pretty gross thing to handle. Our actress had to be really patient and keep her hand perfectly still while we animated it frame by frame. I was really pleased with the final effect.


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For the organisation itself I wanted to create the idea of the afterlife as an inefficient bureaucracy. I had in mind that any organisation that deals with the public en masse – the tax office, the passport office, the job centre is a place of waiting rooms, queues and endless paperwork. If there is an afterlife, then in centuries of human existence it will have been inundated with souls that would be a nightmare to process and organise. For this reason I saw the lord of the underworld as an overworked filing clerk or administrator.

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The passage from the waking world into Laura’s dreams was a difficult one. Not only did the character need to cross a metaphysical plane, but we also needed to make a transition from live action to animation. I have always been attracted to the illusion of cinema and so I decided to represent Chris’s journey as a magic trick of sorts.

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Later in the film we mirrored this shot with the animated Chris.

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To further the magic trick imagery we built a box for Chris to climb into. We wanted to create a magic and shamanistic method by which he could make this journey, and we used images of boxes and doors being opened throughout the film.

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Chris is shut inside the box with a poisonous snake. We wanted to use the snake to link Chris to Laura through this experience, and also to suggest that the snake’s venom would cause Chris to hallucinate. Chris loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, he is a puppet inside Laura’s mind.

The challenge with Chris was in trying to make him look like Evan Locke, who plays Chris in the live action segments of the film. We learnt the hard way on this film that plasticine doesn’t retain much detail under lights, as it melts in the heat. Most of the resemblance was achieved through the costume. I remember spending a lot of time trying to model Evan’s face in plasticine but I think a lot of this detail was lost as soon as we started filming the puppets.

Elysium also saw a change to the design of my armatures, as I began using plastic tubes in the place of wooden dowels to create the puppet’s limbs. This enabled us to have lighter, slimmer puppets, which looked great but made them much harder to animate! We had a lot of broken limbs on this production, but we put the puppets through a lot, expecting them to climb stairs, fight and fall over, none of which are as easy to animate as you would imagine. I also chose not to use paper for the facial features on this production and set plastic eyeballs into the skulls of my armatures instead. I then created the pupils using a small ball of plasticine that I could then move and widen as and when I needed to.

Chris CU

One moment I particularly like from the film, is when Chris’s tie blows in the wind. I achieved this effect by lining the tie with wire that enabled to manipulate it into position shot by shot. It’s these sorts of tiny details that I really like to take my time with in animation.

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For the first dreamscape, I wanted to create a sort of Dali-esque wasteland. This set represents the outskirts of Laura’s mind which at this stage I wanted to show as a sort of cluttered lost property of artefacts and memories. As we are now in the realms of the imagination and dealing with dream logic, I wanted to create a confused sense of scale. I also love to combine real objects with puppets when I animate which is a theme I developed throughout the sets for this section of the story.

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I wanted this to be a feminine landscape, and so I littered the set with items you might find at the bottom of a Laura’s handbag. Laura’s condition throughout the film makes her a distant character, as these sets represent Laura’s internal world, they are a way to provide small character details visually.

Now that Chris has left the physical world, dream logic rules over everything and that includes the dimensions of the sets. Items move between shots and each set was designed to overlap so that we moved between scenes in a fluid way, as if dreaming. The staircase leads up to a landing where the next scene takes place. In order to overlap the two sets we built a detachable stairway into the landing set, so that it could be used for Chris to travel from one set to the other. We also tried to blend the stairway into the wasteland set, covering it in sand so that it seemed to have risen up out of the set organically.

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The landing set is a deeper level of Laura’s subconscious, where we begin to see elements of her memories and dreams. The scene is actually based on a recurring nightmare I had as a child, about trying to walk along  hallway without waking someone up. In the layout and lighting of the set I wanted to convey a sense of unease and tension. The landing is narrow and the bannisters of the stairs cast threatening shadows.

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We constructed the base for the sets out of dense polystyrene, which I tend to use as a base for most animation sets as it is a good material for pinning the puppets into. This might be the most difficult set I’ve had to build. Firstly, it had so many dimensions, two staircases and landings that needed to be measured out and fitted together perfectly. The staircases then had to be carpeted with adhesive velvet that needed to be cut to fit, then we had to build railings and bannisters. I also needed to be able to remove one set of stairs to slot into the wasteland set for the transition from that scene to this one and in the second scene this set was used for the whole thing needed to fall apart on screen. We had to do a lot of planning and make sure we had all of the shots we needed from each scene before filming the final destruction.

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The third set built for the animated segment was the nursery. This scene is probably the most abstract in the film and deals again with a combination of  Laura’s dreams and memories that are difficult to interpret.

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With this set we played around with scale again, using a combination of real childhood toys alongside doll’s house furniture and toys that were made to a much smaller scale. I like the strange quality it gives to everything. As we weren’t trying to represent the real world we were able to have a lot of fun with the set and characters for this scene. the Rocking Horse is my favourite puppet, which I will talk about in more detail in a later post. We also created a nightlight effect by cutting stars and crescent moons out of paper and moving it across a spotlight throughout the scene.

The Rocking Horse is one of my favourite puppets because it is so different from any of the other puppets I have made and I spent a really long time trying to get the details just right. As the horse moved on rockers the armature only contains one joint, which is at the neck. The horse’s body and rockers are constructed out of styrofoam which was cut and then sanded. I spent hours sanding the horse’s legs and body to make it look authentic. I sank shiny black beads into the horse’s skull to give him his eyes, then the whole armature was coated in plasticine.

Rocking Horse Close Up

It took a long time to get the details of the horse’s face right. It was important that the character, though mysterious, came across as a benevolent and protective figure. As it doesn’t speak this all needs to be conveyed in the look and the movements of the character.

Doppelganger and Chris

Doppelganger Chris needed to look like an aged and monstrous version of Chris. He represents a nightmare version of Chris, the embodiment of all of Laura’s relationship anxieties and fears for the future. I constructed the armatures for both Chris and the Doppelganger at the same time so as to keep them in proportion to each other, with Doppelganger being a little taller so as to be dominant in the scene.

Doppelganger Chris

Doppelganger Chris was given yellow eyes instead of white, and we used a dirtier skin tone for him. His fingers were thin and spiky, his features more severe and I etched lines into his face to give him a grizzly, wrinkled look. Unfortunately Doppelganger Chris didn’t survive the shoot as we ended up using various parts of his body and costume as replacements for the Chris puppet.

Elysium isn’t a perfect film, but it’s still a piece of work that I’m really proud of. I was experimenting with a lot of different ideas when I wrote the script, exploring dreams, desires and the unconscious. I was really influenced by surrealist animation, particularly the work of Jan Svankmajer, as I was writing my dissertation about him at the time. Alice, his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, was a film that I made a few nods to throughout Elysium.

Elysium was also influenced by other quest stories like The Wizard of Oz and fairytale adaptations such as Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. I was also influenced by Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life which is one of my favourite films of all time.

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The red shoes represent Laura’s spirit or soul. They allowed us to make her present but not visible. The pile of shoes that Chris sees in the Underworld are the souls of the departed, the film ends with us seeing Laura’s soul join the others for eternity. The workers at the Elysium organisation exist between both worlds, they are neither living or dead, so they have bare feet. This is one of a few mysteries that I left unexplained in the film as I wanted it to be dream-like and open to interpretation.

If you have any thoughts or questions about the film, please comment here or contact me through twitter. To find out more about me and my work, please visit my website.


The Hunger

The Hunger was my first stop-motion animated short, which I made with friends at University. It’s a twisted take on the Red Riding Hood fairytale. It’s an adult take on a children’s story, so we wanted everything to look quite homemade and infantile. I don’t want to spoil the story, but I should warn you that it’s not safe for work.

I had worked on some basic claymation experiments prior to this, but the Big Bad Wolf was my first fully articulated puppet with an armature. I used styrofoam to shape and bulk out the wolf, whilst keeping the puppet light. I gave him large rounded shoulders, and sank the neck into his chest to give him a more hunched appearance. His posture really helped to bring the character to life, as it informed how the puppet would move. The wolf is hunched over as he creeps through the forest, but he is also a comedy character and so he is cumbersome and loud as he stalks Red Riding Hood.

The Big Bad Wolf

The Wolf has a special place in my heart because he was the first puppet I ever made. I constructed an armature using wire, styrofoam and wooden dowels. I modelled a muscular torso out of styrofoam and rather than attach a neck at the top, I sank it into the chest to give the wolf a hunched and imposing figure. I had to give the armature really big feet to support the weight of the upper body. Unless you are working with rigging, stop motion puppets generally need big feet to support their own weight and to accommodate pins and supports which attach your puppet to the set as you animate. I’d love to work with more sophisticated metal armatures, but they can be expensive.

Once I completed the armature it was covered with grey fleece, which gave the wolf a texture that I really liked. Traditionally the wolf is supposed to be a fearful figure in folklore, but our inversion of the story turned the wolf into Red Riding Hood’s prey. I liked the way the fleece softened the wolf’s image and made him less threatening.

The Hunger wolfy 3

We used paper to provide the wolf’s facial features – teeth and eyes were either glued or pinned on and then swapped between shots to change his expressions. We also used red cloth to create a tongue which was cut to different sizes as we animated it. We used the same method for Red Riding Hood’s facial expressions. I like mixing my media so it was nice to borrow these techniques from paper cut out animation. This swapping technique is a really simple way to create effects in animation and one I employed a great deal on later paper animations, such as Happy Cloud.

We had fun reversing the idea of the Big Bad Wolf, and turned him into the unwitting prey of our Red Riding Hood/Princess character. As the wolf stalks her, he fails to realise that she is luring him into a trap. We wanted to subvert the idea of the damsel in distress. We wanted her to be stronger and more in control than a regular fairytale princess. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it.

The Princess

Red Riding Hood kidnaps the Wolf and drags him back to her castle, which was the second set we built for the production, using a combination of fabrics, paper linings and decorations from Doll Houses. Once she has the Wolf entrapped in her room she produces a pair of clippers and begins to shave the unconscious wolf, revealing a man beneath the fur.


The clippers were a puppet in their own right and I like to think of them as another character in the story, because anything you animate has its own life and personality. We produced the effect of the blades moving by creating removable blades of varied lengths that we could alternate in each shot. For ease of animation we made a small pair of clippers for the full sized puppet to hold, and then a larger, moving version in an enlarged puppet hand, which we filmed in extreme close-up. This was one of my favourite shots in the film because of the exaggerated shadow. It has a very B-movie feel in its melodrama.

The Hunger clippers 1

The Hunger 4To create the shaving effect we used large pieces of grey fake fur, which we trimmed between each frame and then manipulated the offcuts to make them travel around the clippers. For the close up shots of Red Riding Hood with the fur flying around, we moved clumps of fur up her arms and over her body whilst also sprinkling more clumps of fur in the background each time we captured a frame. We had to experiment a bit to get it to look right, but those experiments and little challenges are one of the things I love about animation.

Stop motion puppetry is definitely my favourite form of animation. I love the process of crafting a character, designing it and shaping it, figuring out how it’s going to take its first steps. I still have the wolf puppet, in fact he’s the only of my puppets that’s survived the years intact. All of the rest are plasticine and have gradually crumbled and fallen apart.

We had so much fun making this film, especially recording the sound. We recorded the voices in a small booth that was effectively a cupboard. There was a class full of people on the other side of the door and they gave us some very strange looks when we came out as they had no idea what we were doing. By the time we showed the completed animation to our classmates there was quite a lot of anticipation for it, as people had begun to talk about ‘the puppet sex film.’

The Hunger shaved man 2

For me, the film is about more than puppet sex. I like the way that Trey Parker and Matt Stone use extreme and purile humour to satirise. Their work can be shocking, and immature but it’s not just cheap laughs. I was reading Bruno Bettelheim and Angela Carter and I was interested in the psychology of fairytales. The Hunger is about desire and animal instincts. I wanted to play with the idea of the beast within, subverting gender roles and the assumptions we make about archetypal characters. And yes, I also wanted to shock my audience by taking the story in a direction that they wouldn’t expect.

For more about me and my work, please visit my website and my YouTube channel.