Thursday, 20 July 2017

Storyboard - Background photographs

In order to compose the storyboard I am starting with a background photograph for each scene. Below shows each scene's photo and clicking on the photo will take you to the blog post about that specific scene describing the action and characters involved.

The Scene List

  • Opening Credits
  • 1. Winter at Orchard House
  • 2. A story by the fireside
  • 3. May's ideal french life
  • 4. May falls pregnant but prepares for the worst
  • 5. Louisa is ill; Lulu is born; May becomes ill and dies
  • 6. Emmerson tells Louisa of May's death
  • 7. Louisa prepares the nursery; A box of May's things arrives
  • 8. Louisa goes to the wharfe to await Loulou's arrival
  • 9. Lulu's first birthday
  • 10. Lulu in the garden with Bronson
  • 11. Lulu's second birthday; teething; gifts for the poor
  • 12. Louisa spanks Lulu; New Year's Day 1884
  • 13. Lulu skating on Walden Pond; Lulu's diary
  • 14. The Shadow Children
  • 15. Louisa burns letters; crickets in the grass
  • 16. Louisburg Square; Louisa very ill; Lulu's tricycle
  • 17. Bronson dies; Louisa dies
  • 18. Lulu's father comes to take her
  • 19. Conclusion of fireside story
  • End Credits

Project Plan Task Details and Schedule for Intermission

Negotiated Project 2 was completed on 24th April 2017. I will now be intermitting until January 2018 but in the meantime I will be catching up on everything that wasn't finished so far. The first stage was to write a detailed plan of work for the intermission period:-

Monday, 24 April 2017

Critical Reflection - Negotiated Project 2

Test Animation Puppet for Lulu Nieriker 

The Masters Programme consists of three 'Negotiated Projects' worth 30 credits and one 'Main Project' worth 60 credits, as shown in the Learning Contact. Each of these modules includes a written element, the 'Critical Reflection'. The aim of the Critical Reflection is to review the achievements of the module, to learn from the methods that didn't work and to improve on those that were successful in order to show progress through the Masters. The Reflection also serves to illustrate progress against the main objectives of the Masters and provide a form of self-assessment that is useful in planning future modules.

The Project Plan for Negotiated Project 2 consists of 47 different tasks, not all of which have so far been completed (41 complete, 6 in progress) but will be before the start of the next module. I have reviewed the completions in comparison to the plan in an informal post here -  Progress Against Learning Contract. When it became apparent that would not have sufficient time to complete all of the tasks, I decided to prioritise fabrication of Lulu, one of the two animation puppets, from start to finish (rather than two partly completed puppets) so that I could attempt each stage of the process, document it and trial different methods. Below is the finished test animation puppet of Lulu.

Test Animation Puppet of Lulu Nieriker

I have reviewed the Critical Reflection for Negotiated Project 1 that I submitted in May 2016 and the first issue I noticed was the mention of 'an overambitious task list'. It appears that I have not yet rectified this tendency. 

The reason so many tasks are included in each Project is that I want to produce a complete three minute animated short by the end of the Masters and in order to do so a great amount of work in required and each task is an essential part. It isn't possible to remove the animating, the editing, the set or stage construction for example, and still produce a film by the end of the Masters. This lead me to re-consider my motives and attempt to find an alternative solution.

Last year I was approached by the Women Over Fifty Film Festival in Brighton requesting that I submit my undergraduate short 'Colour Your Life' to the festival. I was flattered and agreed and it was very exciting to think that a real audience would be watching my film in amongst an impressive line up of both animated and live action films. This has become an important reason for taking on the Masters programme for me. 

The second reason for the Masters is my need to set deadlines to encourage me to work faster, more efficiently, to prioritise effectively and to actually complete projects.

The third aim of the Masters is to give me the skills required to be eligible for a role in the highly competitive animation industry. I am now halfway through the Masters and believe the modules, and this Project specifically, are helping me to really focus and to hone my marketable skills. Many people in the industry specialise in a particular area such as silicone painting or costuming. I enjoy many aspects from design through sculpting to casting, moulding, painting, prop making and costuming so class myself as a generalist. 

I was lucky enough to visit the set of the next Wes Anderson film, Isle of Dogs, as the guest of Andre MastersMany people working in the industry have had years of practice in just one aspect of animation, but there were obvious roles for both specialists and generalists which is reassuring. 

Isle of Dogs 2018, Wes Anderson

Time is a major limiting factor in improving on my skills. The degree of practice required to become an expert (or even competent) at each skill can be quite overwhelming. The Masters has helped me dissect animation into individual tasks and to focus on one at a time. It has encouraged me to take time practicing, try out different techniques and materials and learn from expert tutorials while recording my progress rather than rushing into each task with inadequate preparation or time.

I have become an expert in time management. This has been necessary due to the strongly conflicting priorities of work, children, house maintenance, volunteer work, family issues, maintaining relationships etc. An unreliable internet signal, unforeseen personal events and hardware issues such as failing laptop and kitchen appliances have served to exacerbate the problem so despite being aware of time management, I still haven't produced as much output as I would have liked, though I don't believe I could have avoided this. 

Aspects that continue to work well are working form home, having projects at different stages of completion and detailed planning. Daylight is very important for some of the tasks such as sculpting or hair rooting. Even in good artificial light these have proven very difficult and result in eye strain. Having projects at different stages has meant that I can carry out practical work during daylight and written work in the evenings. This coincides with silicone curing times, paint drying times which are predictably delays in the process. One surprising solution has been reducing the amount of sleep I have. In some cases having a 7 month old baby has made this compulsery rather than optional but I have worked for over six consecutive weeks on less than four hours sleep a night and have noticed no discernible affect on my health, concentration or achievements. I imagine that long term this might become a bigger risk but over short periods does seem to work well. I have been particular productive between 1am - 3am, possibly as the risk of interruption or distraction is very low at these times. 

The last critical reflection states that 'some pieces were not finished to as professional standard as I would have liked'. This is a constant frustration and applies to this module also but this module is for test animation puppets so that I can practice fabrication before I make the final puppets in a later module. I am happy with the tasks I have completed and the huge amount of time and effort I have spent, and have learnt a great deal on many subjects, from hair rooting to seaming silicone and from mould making to finding and compiling reference pictures but feel that I have still only touched the surface of skills I would like to acquire. 

In order to find solutions to this I have discussed the issues with my new employer Adrian Savage who happens to be a trained life coach and runs a marketing automation consultancy. Because he is outside (and has no interest in!) the arts and animation industry he has been able to provide new perspectives on these issues in a more objective capacity. There are three main solutions:-

1) Prioritisation - knowing to stop when 80% of the work is complete but the remaining 20% would take many more hours to perfect.

2) Collaboration - as Stuart suggested. In essence to delegate the work to other students / friends / colleagues, especially the areas that don't hold as much interest for me such as sound, storyboarding, final editing etc. 
- The carriage was outsourced to Kev Clarke a second year student of Model Making and Special Effects at Hertfordshire University. - Larvi Morgades collaborated with me and produced the Storyboard 
- and T.J. Bull and Jacob White assisted with one of the 2d scenes (password 'lousia'). 

Communication has worked well on these collaborative parts of the project, both online and face-to-face. Unfortunately all had conflicting priorities but the work completed was of a very good standard. One area I had not factored into my schedule was explaining the characters back stories to the collaborators, which is important in getting the right feel for the film and the characters having depth and acting authentically, as described in Acting for Animators (Hook, 2011).

3) Out-of-scope - Designate some tasks as being outside the scope of the Masters so that they are still completed but outside of the modules and are not specifically assessed other than as contributing to the final film. For example, the creation of supporting characters like Ernst Nieriker and the 2d interval story scene of Shadow Children. These would be included in the final film, possibly created over the summer of 2017, but would not be assessed.

I continue to find it useful to have a very detailed work plan in the form of a regularly updated, colour-coded Excel sheet. I have predicted how many hours each task will take, but have grossly underestimated in places. I think this is due to trying to fit all the tasks I want to complete into the 300 hours of this module, being dubious about where it is really justifiable to spend that long on an individual task. Tasks that I'd estimated as taking two hours or less were particularly susceptible to this. Finding reference pictures, for example, and filing, ordering, compiling and formatting them in colour, contrast, and the correct scale for printing sometimes took hours when I envisaged this being a less than one hour task, exacerbated by printer and laptop issues. I believe that in future I will become better at predicting these time scales and that it is something that comes with experience. Many of the tasks I'm attempting to complete are entirely new to me and the tutorials I'm viewing give no estimate of how long they should take for a beginner. This estimate is something I'd like to include in the tutorials I write in future.

I don't have a dedicated workspace which means I have to unpack and repack all of my supplies on a regular basis. This has taken a large amount of organisation and discipline. My time estimates did not account for this, nor for reviewing and sourcing supplies, the thorough clean up needed after hazardous products are used, and the disruption involved. The sheer amount of different supplies needed for sculpting, moulding, casting, armatures, hair and costumes is vast. 

Work in progress - Shelves of supplies and working area

Storage of casting, molding, painting and sculpting materials

The rewrite of the storyline took longer than I had imagined due to the biographical research involved but I am much happier with it now. Many aspects such as sets design, character design and storyboard are reliant on the plot as a prerequisite so that it wasn't possible to defer it to later modules and my collaborators were also dependent on it. For the storyboard, Larvi and I worked on particular scenes that I knew would definitely make the final cut, while I was determining the overall plot but that until around halfway through this module we couldn't envisage the film in its entirety. Larvi did an excellent job with the limited information he was working with through discussions with me and  use of my Pinterest boards. I am very pleased with Larvi's storyboard and think it has really captured the essence of the characters and how I envisaged the film. 

I am enjoying learning digital drawing for character and set design, particular Photoshop and Procreate - future blog posts will illustrate the improvement in this area. Pinterest has been both useful and time saving for storing reference pictures and allows you to store the original source of the picture. I am aware I work very visually and this has allowed me to share with my collaborators more easily. I have posted on how I've used Photoshop and Pinterest to combine photos here.

Creating this blog has been a steep learning curve despite Blogger being very user friendly. I am now happy with the design of the blog though it does go through regular improvements. It does a good job at replacing the need for a standard Wordpress personal website and is highly functional. Many professionals use this method to promote their work such as Caroline McFarlane Watts, a minatures specialist who works in polymer clays and is now working towards a stop motion film.

Reviewing this module has lead me to the following list of 
Considerations for future modules:-

- allocate tasks / areas to out-of-scope of the Masters but continue to schedule in for the summer
- change the modules so that final props are produced in Negotiated project 3; extra characters are fabricated in the summer; final character fabrication as part of the Main Project.
- redraft the learning contract for the next modules plus task list for the out-of-scope parts
- work on / research / find collaborators for the 2d animation
- trip to Massachussetts , Louisa May Alcott house
- finish maquettes and puppets and tutorials that weren't completed in time for this module.
- source final armatures.

Continue to:-
- regularly update the blog with each achievement or experiment, back filling with previous preojects
- review previous modules work, and write ups, tutorials and reflection
- continue to research the area, props, fabrication methods and contact with experts.
- practice the skills learnt in this module including blog design.


  • Hooks, E. & Naas, P. 2011, Acting for animators, 3rd edn, Routledge, London.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Lulu - hair ribbon

In this reference picture of Lulu aged 7, she has her hair tied back in a ribbon, a common style of the day. Fringes were also very common for little girls and she has slightly wavy hair although curling hair in rags was in fashion for many decades.

To add the ribbon to the animation puppet I have first tied her hair back from her face, leaving the short fringe hanging forward, making sure the hair is not bulging out and is tied back firmly, the sides especially, and covering any bare patches of head.

I have then held the hair by putting a twist in it and used a fine sewing needle and brown cotton to sew the hair in place. I have sewn the hair to itself here, not into the head. 

This is how the hair looks when I've finished sewing it in place. The twist disappears and the hair is caught in the centre of the head. 

The bow is made from narrow blue ribbon. This particular ribbon was taken from the blue top used for the fabric for Lulu's dress, where it was the hanging loop. This makes sure the colour matches her dress. 

This method is very simple and uses a fork to tie a bow with the ribbon. If you need to make very tiny bows you can use a darning needle with half the loop sawn off. 

Here is the front view. 

The bow is then held in place with a few stitches of blue cotton at the back, not showing through at the front.

The finished bow looks like this.

I have sewn the bow in place on Lulu's hair. 

Lulu - hair rooting - eyebrows

I have chosen to not set Lulu's eyebrows until after the hair is finished so they will be in the correct position compared to the hairline and brow. 

In the picture above the bottom 'hair' is the mohair I've used for Lulu's hair. The picture above is a slightly darker shade of viscose which has no curl which I have used for the eyebrows as eyebrows tend to be a little darker than the hair.

There are several ways I could add the eyebrows. Drawing on doesn't work too well on silicone. I could have used silicone paints but I thought it would look more realistic if I hair rooted them as I had done the rest of Lulu's hair. Again the reborning community provided some great tutorials on how to do this. 

CustomDollBaby has many very good tutorials including one on which needle to use and how to draw on eyebrows. The difference is that the baby in this tutorial has a good depth of vinyl into which to insert the needle. For Lulu's head, the depth is only a few millimetres so the hair is not implanted so tightly.

For the eyebrows, as I need to be very accurate I have used the 'root-a-loop' method rather than the stab and grab method used for the rest of Lulu's hair. I'm using a number 42 crown needle which has a barb close to the end of the needle so it will still insert hairs even if the needle isn't inserted very far into the silicone. 

The hair is smoothed and then  held firmly in a loop with one hand. the needle is used to pull out only a few strands of hair to insert. 

I have inserted only a few strands intermittently along the browline where I want the eye brows to be. I have made the eyebrow thicker at the end near the nose. It is important to lay the needle as flat as possible to the face when inserting, insert slowly and hold the needle in the direct of the eyebrow hairs which start at the side towards the side of the head almost horizontally and finish more vertically at the nose end. 

The eyebrow looks quite odd at this stage, like she might have werewolf blood!

After implanting, I have dragged the bunch of hairs out in the direction I want the hair to lay which encourages it to lay flat. 

I have cut the hairs with very sharp scissors. Cut longer than you think to start with then gradually shorten them until they look right. I have repeated for her other eyebrow. The picture above shows me gently pulling the hairs in the correct direction.

When the hairs are first cut they look quite spikey but once wettened and smoothed will lay nicely flat against the face. 

Reborning experts tend to seal the hairs with a layer of clear silicone or other sealant but I've not tried this yet. 

I'm quite happy with the finished eyebrows as a first try, they appear fairly even and not too bushy and in the correct position although they could probably have been a little lower.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Progress against Learning Contract

I am now coming to the end of this module, 'Negotiated Project 2' for my Masters Degree. The deadline for this is 24th April 2017 so to wrap up below is a summary of how well and how completely I have met the original objectives of this module.

Negotiated Project 2 is a 30 Credit module requires approximately 300 hours of study / practical work. The module is detailed in the Learning Contract which has been regularly updated.
This is the summary of this module :-

Blog Journal; Storyboard; Trial animation puppet and costume fabrication:-

  • Creation of a web blog to detail progress, production diary, tutorials, research, collaboration and the Critical Reflection
  • Redraft of storyline based on biographical research on the last 10 years of Louisa May Alcott's life, her relationship with her niece Lulu Nieriker and their lives in Orchard House.
  • Research on maquettes and animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, armatures, silicone moulding, casting and painting
  • Research on period dress and on making miniature shoes, wigs and costumes.
  • Final designs for sets, props, characters and costumes
  • Software familiarisation with Photoshop/Procreate
  • Animation puppet maquettes for the Louisa and Lulu characters.
  • Trial animation puppet fabrication - sculpting, moulding, casting, painting, wigging
  • Trial costume creation including shoes and accessories
  • Collaboration on Storyboard and 2d animation including project management and guidance.
  • Study guides for animation puppet fabrication, animation puppet costumes.


  • 10% - Collaboration and production of Storyboard. Collaboration on production of two 2D animated scenes.
  • 25% - Storyline and script based on biographical research and expert opinion. Character and set designs (digital) based on background research
  • 40% – Maquettes and trial animation puppets and costumes
  • 15% - Regular (three per week) blog posts including Production Diary; Research; Progress; Collaboration; Draft study guides for maquettes, animation puppet fabrication, and costuming;
  • 10% - Critical Reflection blog post of 1,500 - 2,000 words and a Bibliography post.

The Learning Contract goes into more detail on each of these aspects so below is my assessment on how well I have accomplished each task that I have set myself. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Lulu - animation puppet eyes

There are several possibilities for animation puppet eyes. The Lulu puppet has particularly small eyes due to her age and the scale (1:6) and her realistic proportions. For this size of puppet she should have 4-5 mm eyes, bearing in mind most of the  human eyeball doesn't show and is in the skull.

I looked at ready made eyes, there are a few on the market but not so many of this size and most are flat rather than spherical.

(add pic of bought eyes)

It makes more sense to make the eyes myself as then I can add a hole for turning them with a pin. 

The eyeball can be made of apoxy sculpt (or milliput), polymer clay (fimo or sculpey) or with plastic beads. Here I have made eyes with white 5mm plastic beads.

First the beads are set into a small piece of clay to keep them stationary while working. I am using a basic superglue (you can use a superglue accelerator to speed up drying time) and some steel floristry wire.

Each piece of wire is glued to one of the plastic beads being held as vertical and centrally as possible while the glue dries which only takes around 20 seconds. I've then placed the eye stalks into a block of hard foam to  hold them steady. 

I have used a spherical filing attachment for my Dremel to very gently round out a dip into the top of each eye. You have to do this very slowly and gently at first or the eye will spin off its stalk. The Dremel has to be held centrally and straight but once it starts to file it will stay in the right place.

This is how the filed hollow in the beads looks.

 Next I have used a white and pearlised blue nail varnish to paint the iris of the eye using a needle and a very small amount. I have painted these using a magnifying headset. When dry, the pupil is added with a little black acrylic paint.

To finish the eye I have used Magic-Glos which is a UV cured resin. This naturally domes above the iris to give a lens effect. It takes about 15 minutes to dry in direct sunlight or UV light.

The eyes can then be snapped off their stems or a small rotating hole drilled in the sides.