This Post Brought To You By the Persistence of Vision

t's been three weeks now. Productions are all well underway, and I've got some tests and roughs to share with you. AIB's Animation Production is predominantly 2D, though they do have a computer suite which runs Maya* and there is one stop-motion film being made this year. I only wish I could stay through the end of the year to see the films to completion.
* On LINUX...

I'm sort of working the field and contributing my talents to two different third-year films. The first one, Sol, plays the story of Phaëton next to a space flight loosely based on the Apollo 13 mission.* It promises to be a visually stunning film, with lots of great nebulæ and space-related background paintings. The design is very similar to my own drawing style, so that helps a lot. It's a really interesting piece, and it will look very impressive when everything's put together.

've been working on constellations which will move and watch Phaëton streaming past in his father's chariot. The first bit of work I had was doing Aquarius. The aim was to create a feeling of the enormous scale that these constellations have. Everything is slow and elegant, like an ancient painting.
* Which sports three of the four horses** of Helios/Apollo's chariot on its insignia.
** Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon. You knew this was coming.

After moving over to Risk for a few days (more on that later), I did more animated constellations. Gemini is in the same scene as Aquarius* watching the chariot. Similar thing. The whip is on a separate layer, and will be moved about and tweaked, but the animation is done.
* I know they're in the sky at opposite times of the year, but we're not on Earth here.

Concurrently, I'm animating on Risk, which is a more lighthearted and entertaining film. The story is about a chess king whose world is shattered when he accidentally gets dropped onto a Risk game board. It's a more cartoony film, with broad dynamic action and a lot of opportunity. It's completely different from Sol, which is why I decided to do both. Risk required me to only do rough passes, which is something I'm not used to at MICA: we have one chance to get the animation down for the two-week deadline for 15 seconds. We don't have enough time to do a rough pass, then a cleaned up version. So it's a good experience. I don't have to worry about drawing (as I did with the Sol pieces). The two pieces I have are from the first exposure the King has for the Risk battle. Very quick shots - only 14 frames - it was nice and refreshing after the 72 or 36 frames on the Sol bits.

I want to make a note about the way AIB handles line testing. While not perfect, it's still much faster and easier than MICA's process. AIB uses Monkey Jam, which is still in Beta, but it's a free download. We use a video camera on an animation stand to capture the frames directly through the program. It's way more immediate than the scanning-batching-reimporting method at MICA. I'm not afraid to just walk over and test what I'm doing every twenty frames or so. One of the biggest problems facing MICA animators can be remedied here... Monkey Jam! Use it!


AIB Animation: WHY is it so awesome?

"John, why is animation at AIB so awesome?"

I hear you ask. That's the aim of this post. Being here a whole two weeks now, I think I have the ammunition to properly gun this one down.* No, this post doesn't have any pretty pictures or moving drawings attached. I'm sorry. Next time, I promise.
* Excuse me. I don't know where that came from.

First of all, the Arts Institute at Bournemouth (heretofore known as AIB), is a three-year university that offers both BA and MA courses. Before entering first year, there is a foundation year which has more general study, like freshman year at MICA. But unlike MICA, after foundation year at AIB, students have a Foundation Diploma, which acts sort of like an Associate Degree (AA). If they leave AIB after foundation year, they still have the Foundation Diploma, which makes it easier to get into another university. After foundation year, the students enter their respective pathways.

That's where it gets intense. Once in a course, that's all you do for the next three years. Unlike MICA,* there is no option for concentrations or minors, and there is little to no inter-departmental interaction. Animation kids know animation kids, unless they live with someone else. In order to understand what goes on during the three years of undergrad, I have to briefly explain the way the courses are structured. It's very different from the US. At MICA, John Q. Undergrad has a smorgasbord of classes to choose from. He can take** Prehistoric Art, Painting I, 2D Animation, Life Drawing, and Western Thought all in the same semester. If he doesn't like Western Thought, he can switch it for The Way of Tea. It's all fine, as long as it works out in the end, and he'll still have a BA in animation.
* And indeed US schools in general. I will use MICA/AIB for sake of consistency.
** Or, more often than not, has to take.

Not so for Roland D. Chumsfanleigh* over at AIB. Once he decided that he wants to be an animator, he is placed on the first** floor of the Arts and Media building to meet his compatriots for the next three years. Life drawing and various other additional courses are part of the deal, but they are organised by unit, and the units are part of Year 1 Animation. You can't pick them. A year at AIB has three terms: October-Christmas, January-Easter, and April-June. They are about 12 weeks each. In total, there are 40 animators in the course.
* Pronounced Chuffley. It's not his fault.
** Still have to go up one flight of stairs, remember.

But where AIB lacks in variety, it makes up for in quality. The animation course meets Monday - Friday at 9:30AM straight through the term. The first years start by doing exercises designed to break them into the world of animation: bouncing ball, flag wave, sack drop, walk cycle. This is the first term. Second term, first years are introduced to the third year films. The directors show animatics and any other relevant product, and then proceed to "hire" the first years to work on their film. The first years obviously do mostly simple things: background animation, layout, backgrounds, whatever the director needs. In the third term, they pick up more complicated character-driven exercises, like a jump, a stretch and a yawn, while working on the third year films. All the while, there are tutorials and lectures on relevant information, like layout, design, and drawing for animation.

I don't know a whole lot about second year, but they also work with third years on their films, and during the year develop ideas and necessary product for their own films, which they pitch in the third term. The whole year gathers and with the appropriate tutors, pitches their idea, and votes on which films will be produced. On average AIB produces 10-12 films a year. This year, there are 16 because it is a a large class. Those whose pitches get chosen become directors, and those who didn't make the cut disperse and form teams around the selected films.

Third year is the big one, but also very simple to explain, at least as far as I know. The whole year is spent producing your film. First term is about story, design, storyboards, and animatics. At the start of second term, they show the animatics and take on board a slew of first years. Production and post-production go until the end of May, when the complete package is due for the exhibition and commencement (I don't know what they call it here) at the beginning of June.

So, the whole deal is very technical and industry-driven. There is not a whole lot of tutorial, and most of the learning comes from individual experimentation and, of course, working closely with second and third years on films. Over the course of three years, students work on three different films, filling different roles as their experience permits, and by the end of the road, they've done pretty much everything. The biggest complaint that I've heard from animators at AIB was that they wish they had a more traditional education. They envy MICA's foundation and wide range of skills taught. There is some life drawing embedded in the course, but they wish they had a more direct tutorial-based class, like most of the classes in the US tend to be.

So where do I fit in all this? Wherever I want. Skill-wise, I'm about at a second-year level, but I've been hanging around the first years because they seem to have more free time for studio work. Plus, they're all in the same area, so it's easier to get to know them. I'm attached to two films right now, and I plan to spend my term doing animation for the two of them and helping out to make a "for real" animation, which will be entered in festivals and all sorts of good stuff that doesn't happen at MICA. I get a bit harsh towards MICA animation when I compare the two, but AIB is one of the top animation schools in Europe (and the world) and very well-respected. MICA, as far as animation goes, is not. The UK and the US ways of doing things are very different, and I'm eternally grateful that I have the experience to work in both surroundings.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. Hopefully you have a sense of how AIB does things, and what I'm in for over the next ten weeks. There will be a project-based post in the future with some animation that I've been working on, and when I feel up to it a Throwdown: MICA vs AIB post comparing the two schools. But most of that will come through in general posts anyway, so it probably won't be as impressive as all that formatting would have you believe.

Until then, stay frosty!


A Look at Bournemouth

figured that while I take pictures and sketch and write about this far-off place called Bournemouth, I have a frame of reference (what with living here). Everyone else is left in the dark. Back before I left MICA, I had created a personalised* Google Map to pin down Bournemouth before I got there, with bus routes, important places, and whatnot marked out. I now share that with you. I'll continue to add some place marks every now and again if I think they're relevant. Now you reading along at home can follow my adventures on a handy map!*

A Map of Impossible Things

As some finger food, I've got some drawings as well. I'll shortly* be posting some life drawing sessions over on the MICA Study Abroad Spring '09 blog over here. So pop over and check out the naked people.

* But spelled with an '-ize' back then.
* No, it doesn't sing. Thank goodness.
* Any time between an hour and a lot of hours from now.

Bournemouth High Street

St. Peter's Church


Sketch Dump 1 :: 2 Jan - 8 Jan

A week is enough time to amass a moderately-sized collection of sketches, right? Here's a compilation of quick drawings I've done since arriving, arranged in convenient chronological order! This is from Friday 2 January to Thursday 8 January. There was surprisingly little sketching in the airport, as five minutes after arriving at the gate, they started calling seats! So the man sitting up near the text is on the plane, whereas everything else is after landing.

What else is there? Some people from McDonald's. A bunch from the waterfront. A kid with crazy hair from the bus stop. The woman who enrolled all us exchange kids. A baby (and lights) from Pizza Hut. Bus guy. And the lovely ladies at the bottom are Hélène, Anne*, and Julia on exchange from France! Enjoy!*

* Marguerite.
* Click on the image for a bigger view.


Britain! Britain! Britain!

Hullo all. Yes, I'm alive. And in England.

I didn't get my complimentary ethernet cable until yesterday, so apologies for the delay. Also, I haven't yet gotten to scan any of the few sketches I've done. Those will have to wait until next time. Let's see, what's on the menu today?

The flight over was fine, no problem. Incidentally, have you ever seen a sunrise while you're in a plane above the clouds? (photo courtesy of Flickr)

One of my favourite things. At least regarding airplanes.

When there's a thick layer of stratus below you, it feels like some arctic landscape. Everything is deep greys and lavenders, and then the sky turns bright blue and orange; it's really peaceful and serene. It's so lonely, and then you see another plane flying by below you, and they look so small. It makes me want to sing!*

I've been lucky enough to see two airborne sunrises so far in my life, and both have been just inspirational. It would make being a pilot worthwhile. Well, almost worthwhile. At least until the three months of jet lag hit you. Oof.

Wow, you could see yourself in all that poetic wax, couldn't you? Anyway...

* But there shall be no singing on this blog! For now!

::Getting to Bournemouth::
Got my coach ticket to Bournemouth from a woman who said "Darling" and "My Love" a lot. Saw my first three MP5-toting local law enforcement units at the bus terminal. Wondered how people could drive American-style cars in Britain. Saw some cows.

I had to go to the Arts Institute first to pick up my keys. This is Friday afternoon; nobody's around because term doesn't resume until Monday. So I ring the bell for the security guard that was supposed to be there. Nothing happens. After fiddling around for a bit, I hear a voice from On High: "Hello?" I look up, and hanging in the second floor* window is the security guard. He was rather old, rather avuncular*, and rather British and from his location, reminded me very strongly of the guard of the Emerald City:
He threw down the keys to get in and when I asked where Bourne Chambers was, he said, "I have no idea. But here's a picture!" So armed with a mental image of what I should be looking for, I set off. Once I found the place, it took me nearly ten minutes to figure out how the little fob unlocked the door. Too bad the Schmermunds weren't there, because then I'd be able to blame it on them. Then I comically tried to carry my two bags (and a backpack) up the three flights of stairs to my room. It would have been funny if it wasn't so embarrassing. But enough about that, what about...

* Third floor, for our American readers.
* Oh, go look it up.

Bournemouth is a very popular seaside town on the south coast of England, in Dorset.It's a really nice little town, but as anyone from the Jersey Shore knows, popular seaside towns are dead in the off-season. There are tons of shopping places, though, so even though the beach is down for the count, there are still a fair amount of people shopping and eating about town. As with most of Europe* there are a bevy of buses waiting to take the intrepid traveller to foreign destinations such as Boscombe! and Winton! Poole and Charminster! But really though, the public transit is great. Bourne Chambers is right in the middle of it all, which is great for shopping, catching the bus, or eating a late dinner at McDonald's. The accompanying picture is the view from my window - St. Peter's Church.

On Saturday (3 January) I took a walk about town to explore it's wonders, and strolled along the beach. The first place I found was a Borders right in the center of town, where I promptly picked up some Not-Printed-In-The-US Terry Pratchett books.* Then I walked through the park/botanical garden,* overheard a conversation about tortoises, and made my way to the seaside. It's a very nice beach, and very clean as well. I'll bet it's lovely when it's not -2...

* And none of America...
* Technically it's Sir Terry Pratchett now, thankyouverymuch.
* It's got palm trees! And an aviary! And HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES!

So now, have some pictures!


One Last Thing...

With a little more than an hour before the Jennettes cart off to Newark International, I'm sitting here, bags packed,* stomach awaiting dinner, and nose feeling snuffly. For some reason, my body decided to wait until Sunday night to give me one of the most bizarre health issues I've ever had.*

Sunday night I had an itchy throat and aches; by that night I didn't want to move. Next morning, I couldn't stand up for more than 5 minutes before needing to sit down. I thought, "Great." So I took some medicine and an antibiotic, and by the next day, I didn't feel achy, but I had a full-on sore throat and my stomach was off. Went to the doctor, got on antibiotics, and now all those symptoms are gone, except now I feel as if I have a cold and my voice is shot. I'm waiting for the next symptom to show up - I've never had a medication get rid of symptoms only to replace them with completely different ones. Very odd, and rather frustrating. At least I've been functional through all this, and I can still fly. (Sorry, Tracey)

By 8:30 AM I'll have landed in Heathrow and be on my way to Bournemouth. It'll feel like 3:30, but that's where things get all wibbly-wobbly, so I'll let that alone. So if you read a post written 4 hours in the future, you can thank Admiral Boom.*

Um... So there you go. I felt that I should do something before I shove off. Be prepared for exciting Pass Time In The Airport sketches next time! Including the Adventure of Getting To School!* Hope you don't miss me too much. For everyone at school: I'll have a nice trip and see you next Fall.

* Mostly.
* After writing that, it's really not as bad as it sounds.**
* +10 Johnny Points for an appropriate quote...
* Let's hope it's nothing like the adventure I had with the Schmermunds trying to get to our destination.....

** Yes I just footnoted a footnote, wanna fight about it? More than 3 asterisks just look silly, so I'm sticking with just one for all further subtextual references.