Tag Archives: Paper Cut Out

Tales of the City: Brighton Photo Biennial 2012

During the summer of 2012 I was working on an animation project for the Brighton Photo Biennial, working in partnership with Photoworks, Brighton & Hove City Library Services and the Youth Arts Project, part of Brighton & Hove City Council’s Youth Service. The brief was to provide a series of animation workshops for young people exploring the Biennial’s theme of the Politics of Space and to create digital stories for an exhibition at Jubilee Library. The project is called Tales of the City.

As an animator I am drawn to methods that are comparably low-tech by today’s standards. I’m fascinated by antiquities such as Zoetropes and Magic Lanterns and I love the organic nature of traditional drawn animation and stop motion puppetry. I think it’s important to be hands on and to have a physical connection with your work. Animation is a method of performance because your work is the result of your own personality. Your characters are born of you. The relationship between the animator and the world that they create is one that is very personal.

I was eager to introduce the young people to as many different animation techniques as possible so as to really allow them to experiment. Experimentation is what animation is all about. It was through experimentation that moving image was born and that experimentation allows the medium to evolve constantly. I wanted to include some examples of this evolution in my work for this project.

I started with simple optical illusions based around the concept of persistence of vision – thaumatropes, zoetropes and flick books. It was important to me to begin by demonstrating how animation can be created without the use of cameras and computers, especially when working with young people who may not have access to such equipment at home.

For me, the digital process is necessary to my work, but secondary to the drawings, puppets and sets that I create. The computer is there as a capture device and to refine the work in post-production but what an animator can produce with their own hands is the true magic of the medium.

The young people began by making thaumatropes – optical toys that create an illusion by combining two images on either side of a disk when it is spun quickly. I wanted to start with something small and simple that would produce an instantaneous result. Animation can be so time consuming and requires such patience that it can be off-putting for beginners and the real joy for someone having a go for the first time is to see their creation come to life in front of them. As important as it is for people to understand animation methods and techniques, it is vital for them to experience that little bit of magic for the first time.

As well as an understanding of techniques, it was important to also build an understanding of the Biennial’s theme into the work. The Politics of Space is a difficult concept to engage with and the challenge was to distil it into something that would engage young people and lend itself to creative work. The key was to make it relevant to them, to allow them to engage with the ideas and relate them to their own experiences. I decided to focus on local identity and the relationship that the young people had with their environment, using this to introduce them to the underlying politics within their space.

To begin with, we explored Brighton’s identity through discussion and drawings, creating a palette of Brighton iconography to draw into our animations. The young people created imagery that typified Brighton and then translated it into a beautiful hand drawn animation.

We then explored particular spaces on a closer level, discussing where the young people felt safe and welcome, where they liked to hang out and what places they avoided. It was interesting to explore Brighton from their perspective and to examine the different atmosphere and personality that you will find in different areas around the city. I wanted to make the young people aware of the politics of space by getting them to consider the rules and social norms they observe around the city and how these can change or influence their behaviour differently in different places.

After discussing Brighton’s various neighbourhoods I asked the young people to choose one space which they had all been to and that they thought had potential to explore through animation. The young people selected Brighton Marina, which is close to where a number of them live.

Brighton Marina is an interesting example of the politics of space at work in our local community. By its very location it is separate from the city with only one main route in and out by car and minimal pedestrian access, making it an almost self contained space. There is the obvious geographical divide between land and water. The residential part of the Marina is gated, restricting access to only those that live there, creating a landscape of barriers and exclusion. There is also a social divide as the expensive boats of the Marina are symbols of a lifestyle that only few can afford and yet its location, just south of Whitehawk means that some of the city’s least affluent residents use it as their nearest source of leisure.

The young people explored maps and aerial photos to create a bird’s eye view of Brighton Marina, which they animated using paper cut out techniques. We started by creating our set and then breaking it down into moving elements such as the sea, cars, buses and boats. All of these were then combined to create a day in the life of Brighton Marina.

The young people then discussed their own relationships with the Marina – how they get there, what they do when they’re there and where they do and don’t go. These experiences were recorded as voice over, so that each member of the group could tell their own story. Finally, each member of the group made a paper cut-out version of themselves to animate their part of the story.

Every Saturday throughout the Biennial, the young people shared what they learnt through drop in animation workshops or children aged 5-11 at Jubilee and Whitehawk Libraries.

All of the work created for this project was exhibited in the Young People’s space at Jubilee Library during the Photo Biennial.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

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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.

2 General

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.

2 Close Ups 3 Close Ups

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.

7 Proportion 8 Proportion

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.

1 HC Title

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.

2 Happy Cloud 1

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.

6 Conveyor belt 27 Conveyor belt 38 Conveyor belt 49 Conveyor belt 5

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.

10 HC concept sketch

‘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.

11 HC character 214 Happy Cloud 115 HC Drunk16 Happy Cloud 6

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.

17 SC concept sketch18 Storm cloud character 2

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.

21 Director 1

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.

23 Jiggy 124 High Five

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.

35 Ghost cloud37 Ghost HC 2

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.

38 Awards Fairy 439 Awards Fairy 340 Awards fairy 2

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

38 Awards fairy43 Awards Fairy Magic wand44 BING

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.

55 HC Swears 256 Awards audience 2

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.