Here are some quick pen studies of the views from the train today – mist in front of trees, stubble in the snow, hedges, ploughed fields, footprints, snow melting.

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I struggled with this one. Choosing the colour and getting the texture right was difficult, and I don’t feel I’ve completely succeeded in either area. This was a study of a canvas bag. I guess I need to paint more cloth!

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I’ve realised that the way I use Photoshop to storyboard isn’t that well known. This way of working uses Frame Animation within the Timeline panel. It takes a short while to organise new shortcuts and change a few settings, but once that’s done it’s easy to add new frames and scroll through the storyboard. Most importantly, it’s simple to export.

I have used this technique in CS5 and CC. This tutorial uses Photoshop CC 2018 on a Mac.

The size of the canvas doesn’t matter. I generally use a 1920×1080 pixel canvas if I’m boarding in 16:9; the inbuilt Film & Video presets can be helpful. Like with any Photoshop file, a large canvas area plus lots of layers can become unwieldy.

Setting up the document

Open the Timeline panel by going to Window > Timeline.

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Click ‘Create Frame Animation’.

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In the bottom left-hand corner of the Timeline panel there will be a single frame. Click the little arrow in its bottom right-hand corner.

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Change the amount to 1.0, or one second. This is important because in order to export the frame rate is set at 1fps.

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Click the ‘Duplicate Frames’ button to add two more frames.

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Click the button in the top right corner of the Timeline panel.

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If ‘New Layers Visible in All Frames’ is checked, uncheck it.

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I like to save a copy of the document as a template.

Setting up shortcuts

By default, Photoshop does not assign any shortcuts for Frames in the Timeline panel. Click Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts.

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Next to ‘Shortcuts For:’ choose ‘Panel Menus’.

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Scroll down to ‘Timeline (Frames)’ and open the dropdown menu.

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I set shortcuts for ‘New Frame’, ‘Next Frame’ and ‘Previous Frame’. Choose whatever keystrokes suit you best. I don’t worry too much about what the shortcut is as I then assign them to buttons on my Cintiq.

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Click ‘OK’.

To assign the shortcuts to a Wacom tablet, open the Wacom Tablet Preferences. This can be accessed either through the Radial Menu or, on a Mac, System Preferences.

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Select ‘Functions’.

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Click the drop-down menu next to the button. Select Keyboard > Keystroke …

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Add the keystroke and assign it a name.

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Click ‘OK’.

It’s worth testing the buttons a few times, to make sure they’re working as expected. Usually if I have problems it’s because I’ve made a mistake in entering the keystroke.

Storyboarding

This is not a tutorial on how to storyboard, but I’ll give a few hints about how to use this setup.

First, don’t add any layers on the first frame. Always leave it blank. I like to have both the first and last frame blank.

Add a layer to draw. I like to keep my layers reasonably tidy, by sorting all the layers for one shot into one folder.

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It’s easy to reuse layers across several frames. As long as you don’t transform the layer (resize, rotate, etc.) you can move it without duplicating or redrawing. This progression was a simple case of duplicating the frame, then moving the position of the figure. If I rotate the layer with the figure on frame 4, it also rotates on the other frames. It’s the same if I decide to add to the drawing.

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As creating a new frame duplicates the current frame, you need to turn off the layers you don’t want to see in it. (This is when grouping layers can be particularly useful.) Then, add a new layer to draw.

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Exporting

Go to File > Export > Render Video …

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Change the name and save location.

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Change the dropdown menu from ‘Adobe Media Encoder’ to ‘Photoshop Image Sequence’.

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Change the Frame Rate to ‘Custom’ and enter 1 fps.

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Render Video automatically exports all frames, but it is possible to select a group of frames on the Timeline and then export the selected frames only.

Once you’ve finished adding the information you need, click ‘Render’.

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If only a few images have exported, or some have been exported two or more times, check that the frames are all set at 1 sec and that you are also exporting at 1 fps.

This is a very quick walkthrough of the process, so please let me know if you think there’s something I haven’t covered. Ask any questions below!

While on a walk with the dog this afternoon I looked out for interesting things to draw and decided on this juxtaposition between snow, ice and water.

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If you’ve been following me for a few years you may remember that back in 2015 I drew ‘Pieces of Sky’, small squares of the sky I saw that day. (Here’s an example.) I’ve been thinking about starting to draw small colour studies again, as I enjoyed the challenge. However I feel only drawing the sky is perhaps a bit limiting, so I’ve set myself a new goal within the same guidelines of a 500×500 pixel canvas. I’ll continue to take inspiration from life, but it will now be from anywhere.

It’s been a very grey, snowy day so unfortunately there is very little colour anywhere. Today’s ‘Study Square’ shows some of the snow piled up outside my window.  I like how mountainous the shapes are despite the fact it’s only about a foot in height!

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One of the good things about taking the train is getting the chance to doodle away. Here are a few drawings from a recent trip. Mostly I just scribble, but the first group below are some characters from an old story of mine. I’ve been wondering about storyboarding the idea, or developing it further in some way.

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Last week I had a good life drawing session with lots of dynamic and interesting poses. I drew in conte pastel for the first half, which was an attempt to shake me up a bit and loosen my drawings. Though everything felt a bit messy I think it was good as an exercise. I’ve noticed I’m getting much slower: I need to get back in the habit of regular gesture drawing to counteract this!

Early last year I created some concept art for a feature film. Unfortunately the prop I worked on has since been cut from the story, but I’m able to share it here with you.

The first three images were quite general explorations to get a feel for what the director wanted. I enjoyed thinking about the ‘why’ of each knife – why it was created, why it was made of that material, why there was decoration (or not).

There’s a page of quick rock studies, as the knife was to have been placed in a stone.

After I received feedback from the director I developed the ‘plain’ knife option further, extending the blade and creating different options for the hilt and sheath. These can be seen in the last few images below.

I would have liked to develop the knife further still, but (irritatingly) the story is better without it!

My first drawing session after Christmas, and I was quite rusty … it took me a while to warm up. We had a break just as I was beginning to feel I could draw again!

What with packing up and moving across most of the country and Christmas and New Year, it’s taken me a while to post some of my life drawing sketches from December. Here’s a selection!

Janey was the life model at this Tuesday’s session, and she brought her dog along! It was fun to do quick gestures of the dog while also capturing her lovely poses.

Andy was modelling at this week’s life drawing. He held some great poses, including one where he played the guitar. As he was actually playing the guitar rather than pretending to, I feel the final drawing has real movement.

Moving for work has meant I’ve had to search for another life drawing class … thankfully this last week I found one! It’s a great little group and the model this week, Helen, came up with some lovely poses. It’ll be good to get back into regular classes again.

A few weeks ago I began working as a character and storyboard artist on an animated feature film called Spiked. I’ve been drawing a lot but of course I’m not able to share what I’m working on yet, so here’s a little doodle I drew today!doodles_01

One of the last times I was up in Edinburgh I sketched these at the museum in Chambers Street. Though I took no notes on colour at the time, thankfully National Museums Scotland has a searchable database – it’s fantastic for research.

While watching The Sound of Music again recently I was struck by the scene where Mother Abbess sings ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. I decided to do a tone/composition study because the lighting and cinematography of the scene is so lovely.

When Maria enters the room, it’s very dark. The lighting is harsh and dramatic, and all that’s highlighted are the faces. Maria spends a lot of time with her back turned and her head bent. As the song begins Mother Abbess moves closer to the window, bringing more light into the scene. Maria follows, until she is also lit by the window.

The shots at the beginning, while Maria and Mother Abbess are talking, are fairly short and change position frequently – much like Maria’s answers. Once Mother Abbess sings, the cuts slow.

I began with rough but quite detailed studies. However I became aware I was focusing more on the poses and acting than I’d wanted to, so I did the latter images with a broader brush.

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I liked this bust of George Roberts, Provost of Selkirk in the 1800s, and had to draw it.SWSCR

Recently I taught some animation workshops for groups of mainly high school aged children and youth. This is the first time I’ve taught animation in any depth, though I ran one workshop on pixelation a few years ago. My main goal was to give a basic framework for people to think about animation in a different way, and teach skills that they can use themselves.

In the two and a half hour workshop everyone drew a character or object on a piece of animation paper. This became a key frame. I gave a very brief overview of key frames, breakdowns and in betweens and explained charts so each person could add a chart to their key frame. Using the chart, everyone then created breakdowns and in betweens to morph between their key frame and the next. For anyone who is unfamiliar with 2D animation, this blog post may help if you want to learn a bit more.

I ran two of these workshops, and you can see the results of both in the video above.

At the end of the workshop, I gave everyone paper and clips to make flip books. I left the direction of these completely open, and the results were varied and brilliant.

The final session I ran was a day and a half long specialism workshop, where I began by going much more in depth with the technical aspects of animation. I showed a few short animations as inspiration including The Illusion of Life, which is a brilliant little video summarising the 12 principles of animation in a clear way. As individuals and as a group they worked through a couple of exercises exploring timing and weight. I was impressed with the way people picked up on some of the principles from the video, thinking about squash and stretch and anticipation in particular.

After drawing thumbnails for their ideas, they began animating on paper. I encouraged everyone to key out their animation, using their thumbnails as poses. The group really thought about how many drawings they wanted between each key, and after the exercises they’d learnt a lot more about breakdowns and in betweens, especially the fact that they don’t have to be exactly halfway between one drawing and another.

Given that there was only one lightbox I pushed everyone to learn to flip the pages, and seeing people pick it up in only a couple of hours was incredible. Flipping the entire scene was also fantastic. I think there’s something really tactile and fun about animating on paper, and I’m glad I could share that.

The films that were created are far beyond anything I anticipated. Real thought went into the making of them, and everyone made an effort to put into practice principles they’d only just learnt. The end results are beautiful and funny. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.

The Gaelic King is now available through Amazon, iTunes, HMV and Zoom in the UK!

It’s exciting to know the film is out there, and people are watching this story for the first time. I thought I’d share some of the work I’ve done on the film from the last two years. There are some mild spoilers below. Click on the smaller images to see a larger version.

I first heard about Dalriata’s King (as the film was known then) in May 2015 through its director Philip Todd, with whom I’d worked on a documentary feature called Knox.

The first job I had on the film was sewing costumes. I have made a couple of dresses, so brought along my mum’s sewing machine for a few hours of costume making. Despite sewing one pair of trousers inside out and having to unpick them and try again, my efforts seemed to be appreciated …

I was asked if I would be interested in joining the crew as a storyboard and concept artist. After reading the script, I agreed. I met with Phil and with John, the art director, in early July and began by creating concepts for the Tree Demon characters.

Exploratory sketches and concept drawings of the Tree Demons

Next I began storyboarding, feeling much as if I’d been dropped in the deep end as the first sequence I worked on was a complex battle scene when Alpin and Lachlan fight with the Picts against the Tree Demons for the first time.

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Part of the thumbnail storyboard for the Demon Battle

Over the next couple of months I storyboarded only a couple of different scenes. The time it took to do these was surprising, and frustrating. I also drew some Celtic-inspired designs for Lachlan’s standing stone, ideas for Pictish paint tattoos, and some designs for the Demon Lair.

Concept drawings for Lachlan’s standing stone and the Demon Lair

Just before the first block of shooting in September I was asked to board an action scene that was literally being shot a couple of days later. This was the moment I feel, through a combination of urgency and sheer panic, brought about some of the best story work I did on the film. My thumbnail drawings are barely legible and all out of order, but the experience helped me to speed up my sketching and make cinematography decisions very quickly.

Thumbnail storyboard for the Horse Charge

Towards the end of September I came on set in Airth for a day. I was camera assistant, which meant operating the clapperboard and making sure the camera equipment wasn’t in shot in the 9th century roundhouse. Up until this point I had been very firmly in pre-production and it was exciting to see the story come to life. One scene that stood out when I first read the script is when Finn and Alpin talk about whether the story of the King’s Power is true. Watching Noah and Jake make this real was thrilling. This was also when I first got to experience the wonderful camaraderie of the shoot. As a film student I spent a fair amount of time on shoots that went awry for one reason or another. Yet despite damp and late nights and forgotten lines the cast and crew were cheerful, encouraging and focused. Excellent catering created a perfect package. I decided I would try to help out more on the second block.

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Building the village

About a month later I was again on my way up to Airth, this time to help build the Gaels’ village. This involved thatching, heaving stuff about, and nailing things together. Most of this was all right, but the hammer defeated me. I hit my thumb more than the nail. I think there’s a good chance it was mostly the fault of the rusty, blunt nails … but nevertheless I gave up on that and stuck to thatching and holding the bottom of ladders.

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Village complete, ready to shoot

At the end of October I was back on set as runner and camera assistant: people-herding, rubbish collecting and holding an umbrella over the camera. During the course of the day I got to know a lot of more of the cast and crew.

I continued to storyboard during the shoot, drawing Alpin’s reaction to Finn’s capture and part of the final battle that took place in the village.

My sister joined me on the set the next time I went. She played a villager while I went back to clapperboard. Despite mud and some accidental blood the celebration ceilidh was great fun to shoot. We both drove up again the next weekend for the final day of block two, my sister having spent another day on set during the week. As we’d brought a car I was put on driving duty, picking people up from the train station and ferrying them from base to set. Once I was on set I did some umbrella and horse holding, the latter of which was more fun even if he did stand on me and knock me over.

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Wrap photo for block two (courtesy of Fellowship Film)

Two days later I was in LA for the CTN animation eXpo, as part of a delegation from Scotland. It was a fantastic experience but there was something special about going from a rainy film set in Scotland to Hollywood, the ‘dream factory’, and knowing that what was being made back in the UK was just as good as anything being made there.

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Part of the thumbnail storyboards for the Prologue

In early March in 2016 I was asked to storyboard the entire third block, which was the prologue and several flashback scenes. Phil and Nathan, producer, were heading to Cannes in May so they wanted something to present. I offered to spend more time on the storyboards so they could be made into animatics. The process began in much the same way, with rough thumbnails, but I then took these drawing and worked them up digitally.

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Part of the finished boards for the Prologue

Adding tone, to give a better sense of time and atmosphere, I then handed all the images over to Phil who edited them as if they were video. The result is a kind of previs which shows the final result without the cost of shooting. I worked on these boards through March and April, and though there’s lots of things I’d fix now I’m still pleased with the final result. (You can view two of the finished animatics here.)

I got to join Fellowship Film as they visited the Celts exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in June. It was hugely inspiring, and humbling. The beauty of the artwork made me realise there really is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, in some ways, it seems we’ve artistically gone backwards …

While I was through in Glasgow for the Animation Base Camp, I was asked if I would create the opening map animation. Perhaps foolishly I agreed, despite having a fairly basic knowledge of After Effects. While in Glasgow I made a placeholder test, which satisfied me at the time. I didn’t spend much time on the map until after the third block of shooting.

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Shooting a scene from the Prologue at the Dunadd set

The shoot began in early September at a location very near where I used to live, Gilmerton Cove. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. We spent two days at the Cove, followed by three at the Dunadd location. I was in charge of the unit base, keeping track of people going to and coming back from set. At the Cove, with minimal cast and crew, this was a fairly easy job – except when we had a bit of a panic when the camera appeared to stop working. The Dunadd days, especially the final day of the shoot which was a mammoth operation, involved the juggling of many more people. It was especially tricky keeping track of what was going on at the set when the distance and rain interfered with the walkie-talkies. There was also one close call for Jake’s character Alpin, who had to appear both in his ‘present-day’ form and as a younger version of himself. All the present-day shots had to be filmed before his costume, hair and makeup were changed, but due to a mixup he almost had his hair cut before all the scenes were complete. Thankfully this was straightened out before his hair was. Unlike my previous times on the shoot I didn’t get to see much of the filming, but I did go up for a short while on the final day to see part of the destruction of Dunadd.

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Wrap photo for block three (courtesy of Fellowship Film)

It was encouraging to see how useful the storyboards were during the final block. During the previous shoots my thumbnail images were only used by Phil and by David, the cinematographer, because no one else could decipher them. Because these storyboards were complete, everyone could have a look at them, understand what shots were coming next, and see how it would all fit together in the end.

Initial sketch and design of the map

After we wrapped, I went back to working on the map animation. I ended up creating enormous files in Photoshop and After Effects as I had to zoom in on the map at a 4K resolution. My computer complained throughout the process, as did I. Yet I’m pleased with the result, and it allowed me to learn much more about the software which I’ve since put to use in my other work.

Screenshots from the final map animation – view the final video at the start of the trailer

In October, as I had free time, I asked Phil and John if there was anything more I could help out with. Shortly afterwards I began work on some visual effects clean-up shots, including removing green screen, pylons and modern roads from frame.

Green screen and pylon removal, before and after

This was another steep learning curve, though I often had to resort to old-fashioned painting out or over methods rather than relying on an After Effects preset.

The cast and crew screening in November was a wonderful night, and allowed me to bring along my family so they could see what I’d been up to for the previous year and a half. It was exciting to see The Gaelic King, as its name had become, as a film and not as bits of a film – script here and storyboard there – as I had for most of the time. It was also great to see people enjoying the story so much.

However there was still a little more work to be done … from January to March of 2017 I continued to do some fixes and clean up on visual effects.

Adding blood to Alpin’s face, before and after

It has been a long wait since then, but I’m thrilled to finally hold the DVD in my hand and be able to share it with the world. It’s been a wonderful experience – hard work, but great fun. I’ve also loved being able to work on so many areas of this film from near the beginning to the end. Though I’m sad it’s over I’m pleased to be doing some concept designs for Fellowship Film’s new project, and I look forward to what’s next.

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The shiny new DVD

Many, many thanks to everyone who was involved and who made my time on the film so great. There are too many of you to mention!

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