Monday, 3 December 2012

The Snowman and the Snowdog Trailer

It's nearly here everyone, the long awaited sequel to Raymond Briggs' "The Snowman" from 30 years ago! The Snowman and the Snowdog is a brand new film from Channel 4 and Lupus Films in London that I have had the incredible privilege and pleasure to work on this year... one of the many reasons I have been so busy since Uni!

The film is set thirty years on from the original and features a new boy, the same old Snowman rebuilt again and a new Snowdog! Some have frowned upon a sequel to the original who feel like this is just a 'remake', but it is a totally new adventure and is a real treasure to watch as it respectfully celebrates the original while also updating the beloved story. 

I was invited to join the crew in London as a 'line tester' so I was testing the original hand drawn animation under a camera (everything was drawn properly on paper like the original, not with a  computer!) to show the animators and Director how the scenes would look before they are scanned. I did this for a couple of months before joining the rendering department where I hand coloured scenes in pencil for the final film! It was an incredible experience and I loved every minute.

So without further ado, here is the finished trailer for the film, which will have its full broadcast premiere on Channel 4 this Christmas! Don't miss it!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Steam Train in Watercolour

There's been a lot going on in my family recently, some good, some bad. A few weeks ago we discovered that my Grandpa was very ill and this week he was diagnosed with several health problems and he may not have long left. I've only seen two family members pass away in my lifetime so it comes to me as quite a shock.

Nevertheless, my family and I are optimistic and are helping him with a better diet and lifestyle to fight back. I visited him for the first time since I graduated from University today and he did start to look better with our company.

This week I tried out some further watercolour experiments as it is a medium I struggle with (unpredictable patterns, long drying times, buckling paper, etc. etc) but if it goes well I get the most satisfaction out of it and I love the look of watercolour artwork. I decided to do a North Wales-inspired landscape with a steam train running through the hills. My Grandpa is a train fanatic and I will always remember his 75th Birthday where we gave him the experience of driving a steam train (with all of us as passengers!) as a present in Llangollen in North Wales.

This is my finished result on A3 paper which I framed to give him, he loved it, though he did say there should be more steam coming out of the front of the train, which I knew he would say! I seemed to have forgotten it.

I still have a lot to learn with watercolour and will be doing more attempts this Christmas.

Wishing my Grandpa all the best xox

Saturday, 1 December 2012

How to make a Zelda Triforce Necklace

Last year I went to the 25th Zelda Anniversary Symphony in London with my family and in the row front of us were two girls and one of them had made her own Zelda Triforce necklace. I wasn't sure how but that's what she said she had done and ever since I knew I wanted to make one too!

This year, Nintendo released an official Zelda Triforce keychain in the UK, which I thought was the perfect pendant material, so you don't have to make anything from scratch if you don't want to (or if you're not a metal worker, like me). In the UK you can buy one from Forbidden Planet for £5-6 and the necklace won't be more than £1-2 so it's very cheap to make!

So first, buy your materials. The keychain can be bought here in the UK or here in the US.

To match the keychain, you need to get a bronze-coloured chain, it helps if it already has the necklace clasp on it so you don't have to match separate findings. You can get them easily from arts and crafts shops, eBay, online jewellery shops etc. Just search "bronze necklace chain" and you should get something suitable. I got a set of 6 necklaces for a little over £2. I accidentally ordered 18 inch chains which weren't really suitable so I connected two together and trimmed off the excess with wire cutters.

I recommend getting between 26-30" chain so that it is long enough to suit the pendant. These kind of chains are what you need.

Then I took off the keychain 'loop' from the Triforce chain (pictured above) and thread the smaller Triforce chain onto the ready prepared necklace. You can remove the small chain attached to the Triforce if you want, but I liked that it could hang from the necklace a little lower.

And that's really all there is to it, a quick and cheap do-it-yourself Zelda necklace (all for under £7!) now you can make and wear your own too! Enjoy! <3 p="p">

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Brave: An Impression

After months and months of waiting, first for the UK release, then for the weekend due to my new short-term job (more on that soon) I finally got to watch Pixar's Brave with my family last weekend.

Having been tormented by reviews and articles for months labeling the film "good" or "bad" or "unlike" a Pixar film, I was determined to not let my opinion be swayed by their judgements and hopefully enjoy it for what it was. And in the end I did, but in this particular case there are small issues to the story that my friends and I aren't sure how to deal with due to the circumstances of the film's production. So firstly, a little introduction.

When Brave was first announced several years ago as The Bear and the Bow, my friends and I were so excited about the new Pixar film, their first title to be set in a fairytale and not only to feature a female protagonist, but the studio's first feature film directed by woman, non other than Brenda Chapman who co-directed Dreamwork's The Prince of Egypt with Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, another favourite of mine. Later re-titled as Brave, the project was originally pitched and directed by Brenda Chapman who took on Steve Purcell as co-director and Steve Pilcher as concept artist.

Merida concept by Steve Pilcher
Then in a highly controversial move, Pixar removed Brenda from the project in 2010 and hired Mark Andrews to direct over alleged "creative differences". Much has been speculated over this decision, indeed it is not the first time a Director has been replaced in animation or even for Pixar. Brad Bird took over from Jan Pinkava for Ratatouille and Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise replaced Richard Purdum on Disney's Beauty and the Beast and of course the infamous The Thief and Cobbler which was taken from Richard Williams and practically butchered into an pale imitation of the original masterpiece. Nonetheless, the bad press Pixar have since received for denying Brenda of what could have been a truly groundbreaking film, is perhaps reason for concern. When the credits started rolling on Brave I felt a twist in my gut seeing Mark Andrews name appear before (and not next to) Brenda Chapman's name as director. Nothing against the filmmaker of course, but the circumstances are unfortunate.

Now it has been revealed that Brenda has left Pixar and is possibly headed for Lucas Films Animation. She had this to say in the New York Times:
It has been a heartbreakingly hard road for me over the last year and a half. When Pixar took me off of “Brave” – a story that came from my heart, inspired by my relationship with my daughter – it was devastating. Animation directors are not protected like live-action directors, who have the Directors Guild to go to battle for them. We are replaced on a regular basis – and that was a real issue for me. This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother. To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels. But in the end, my vision came through in the film. It simply wouldn’t have worked without it (and didn’t at one point), and I knew this at my core. So I kept my head held high, stayed committed to my principles, and was supported by some strong women (and men!). In the end, it worked out, and I’m very proud of the movie, and that I ultimately stood up for myself, just like Merida, the protagonist in “Brave.”

There have also been statements from director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian, but when adressing the director changeover, they skirt around the topic. Mark Andrews had this to say in an article in the Metro "I think Brenda and her team just kind of got stuck in labour. We gave it every chance but we had a release date and this is a business, at the end of the day." (

Further clues are given in more Brenda Chapman interviews as slowly the story can be pieced together.

"It does get difficult when a project goes on too long. Brave’s release date kept getting pushed back after Disney bought Pixar to accommodate sequels of other Pixar films and other Disney animated films. Ideas that were once thought brilliant or funny started to feel tired and not so funny--not because they had changed, but because people got bored with seeing them so often. It’s heartbreaking some of the ideas that we lost just because people couldn’t remember their initial good reaction to them. "
"My other favorite is when both Elinor and Merida go too far after the archery scene where Merida wins herself. When Merida slashes the tapestry and Elinor retaliates by throwing the bow in the fire, they both have gone beyond what they should have. Merida is too young and inexperienced to realize her mistake in the moment, but Elinor is quicker to regret and know she has behaved badly. Her remorse gives the audience reason to love her and sympathize with her. Haven’t we all at one time or the other let ourselves cross the line and know that we didn’t do the right thing--set the good example? I do regret how the scene was eventually cut--it was only a few seconds longer, but it gave the characters more time to feel and register their emotions--as well as the audience. It feels a bit rushed to me in its current version. Nonetheless, it still gets the point across, and does its job." 

Who was really in charge of changing Merida's fate?

Because of this, I find it a very difficult film to judge: what was Brenda responsible for and what did Mark Andrews change when he came onto the film? Shouldn't the film be just as good no matter who worked on it? Perhaps the real reasons will never be known as whatever is said would sound petty and there is also confidentiality between them and Pixar. As much as I love Pixar and it's not right to start pointing out who to blame, this whole production has unintentionally revealed much of their inner workings, for better or worse. 

As much as I have rambled about the backstory of Brave, I do actually intend to speak about the film itself too. All in all, I still loved the film. I adored the characters--they are a triumph and shine through despite everything. Merida is strong, funny and resourceful. She doesn't get 'bowled over' by a Prince in the beginning, middle or end of the film and works hard to save the day on her own. A few papers have complained about the fact that she's still "a Disney Princess" but she certainly doesn't act like one! Perhaps by this point, a Princess rejecting marriage could just be taken as standard, as opposed to making a big deal of it. Merida could have had her adventure without the undesired prospect of marriage spurring her motivations, it didn't have to be such a big factor, but it's still refreshing to see a Princess stand with her family rather than suitor for once.

Merida's parents; Elinor, Fergus as well as the wi--I mean, 'wood carver' are all wonderful characters too and all of the voice acting is to such a marvelous standard, I particularly love all the rich Scottish accents, they bring such personality to the cast! The attention to detail is superb, from the little dimple or scar in Elinor's chin to the curls in Merida's hair and the decorative bears that litter the film's environments.

The most gorgeous CGI hair yet! If only I could have mine like that...
Visually, the film is groundbreaking. The environments, colours and lighting and the realism of performance in the acting is fantastic as usual. The bear performances are incredibly realistic, especially spell-binding transitions between distinctly human/animal behaviour. And of course the stunning hair and clothing simulation! My sister and I came out of the cinema raving about Merida's hair! So much so that my Mother and I braided my youngest sister's hair that evening so that it was all curly the following morning. Being a log, wavy brunette, I've always wanted bouncy ringlets and red hair is so beautiful! My sketchbooks are getting very side tracked into continuous Merida fanart! The environments are a true feat and are clearly well observed. After reading the 'art of' book though, it stated a few times that a huge chunk of the film was going to be set in a snowy Winter and the artwork for these sequences was so incredible I am very sad it didn't make it into the film! 

The music is wonderful and fits the style and location so well, I was very pleased to hear Mumford and Sons take part in the soundtrack as well and the traditional Scottish style helps tie it all together. My favourite track has to be Elinor and Merida's lullaby, which is all at once haunting, beautiful and emotional. Sung in Gaelic, it is a wonderful melody.

But criticism-wise, my concerns are mostly story related. The characters are fantastic and are entertaining as stand-alone individuals as well as when they are together. To those I've spoken to however, it's like the film had a solid beginning and end but no particular "middle". I expected a perilous, epic journey over the course of the film, but in fact most events take place in or around the castle where they live. The locations outside of the castle don't feel that far away or difficult to get too. It didn't feel like it was the right 'scale' for an adventure story. Despite the awful curse that Merida and Elinor face in the story, there was no real sense of danger or pressure until the very end.

A couple of scenes even felt to me like they were in the wrong order; Merida's "speech" in the middle felt like a realisation for the end and the discovery of a certain character's 'absence' should have happened earlier as I'm sure someone would have noticed after a whole day and night. When Elinor's crown is misplaced, nobody mentions it later on, despite the significance the cinematography placed on it. The jokes were good but at times made the story feel too light-hearted and took some of the sincerity away. The story had consequences and lots of important things at stake, but the execution of it at times reduced this scale and didn't feel like the gripping, unpredictable stories of previous Pixar films.

Indeed, Brenda Chapman also stated in the previously quoted article that, "for a plot, I try to plan what my beginning and end will be, then figure out the path between those two points. But many people like to write “straight ahead” figuring out what happens next as they go and know the end only when they get there. I find that approach sends me on too many wild goose chases and I burn out. Others love that discovery process. I think it just depends on the writer and what feels right to them." So potentially she had the beginning and end all worked out and the middle was still being worked on at the point Mark Andrews became Director, but this is just speculation.

There has been another article comparing the differences between Brave and other Pixar films (claiming that it feels more like a Disney film, which makes sense considering Brenda's background) but I won't describe them here as I personally felt a lot of them were unjust or scraping the barrel to find extra content.

Of course, most scenes were lovely, the intro was adorable with a young Merida and every scene with Merida and Elinor together was just magical. Fortunately the ending was pure brilliance too, redeeming most issues with the middle. The conclusion was perfect and afterwards my Mother turned to my sister and I and asked "is my mascara running?". The character conflicts all came together and were resolved in an action-packed climax with spectacular music and visuals so I was very happy to see the story conclude properly.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that Brave is a perfect film after all the expectations I built around it, and while I enjoyed it immensely and there are many aspects I loved, I feel that I can't rave about it completely. At times I even found myself at a loss for words at how to express my thoughts on it (which is partly why this "review" is a week late) because of what I had read about its production. Perhaps if I had watched it without knowing who directed it and all the politics of it, I would think differently. Instead, I feel very sad that the project was taken from the original creator and even that we have possibly been robbed from what was nearly a classic and I think that clouds my perception.

I do however, urge viewers to check it out and make up their own minds in this case. It's a lovely film nonetheless and great for families with children. Fortunately it has a wonderful pro-family and feminist message that makes a refreshing change from usual boy-centric cinema. How many animated films with mother/daughter relationships as the main focus do you know? Now compare that with animation about father/son relationships. Exactly.

Thank you Brenda Chapman for these beautiful characters and ideas and hopefully this film and others will indicate a change for the better in female cinema roles! All the best for your filmmaking future. :)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Annecy Animation Festival 2012

This year myself, 3 friends and my fiancé travelled to Annecy in France for their annual animation festival, which was fantastic! I cannot recommend it more to animation lovers and animators pursuing a career in animation!

From pouring rain to sweltering hot! It was like we never left Wales!

As poor students, we were only camping there, which meant we managed to get soaked and sunburnt in the same week (or day, even!) thanks to highly sporadic weather, but the place is beautiful and the work was fantastic.

Arrugas (Wrinkles)
Particular works of mention were the features; Arrugas (Wrinkles) a hauntingly touching film about growing old with Alzheimer's, Approved for Adoption about a Korean boy adopted into a Belgian family and the difficulties with fitting in, Zarafa a 2D film about an African boy traveling across Europe to save a baby giraffe and A Letter to Momo which is Production I.G.'s most recent feature about a girl and her mother learning to cope with the loss of their father and husband respectively (with added supernatural demons).

Hi-no-youjin (Combustible)
The shorts; Tram, a hilarious film about female sexual frustration, The People Who Never Stop a lovely film about the effects of the Japanese disaster last year, Le Jardin Enchanté a cute musical about a down-to-earth hippy and a tech-savvy guy who don't get along, Chinti, a sweet mixed-medium film about an ant who wants to visit the Taj Mahal, Father about a handful of children in different mediums who share their experiences with their fathers, Pythagasaurus a funny CG Aardman film about cavemen and their encounter with maths, Hi-no-youjin (Combustible) a beautifully detailed and ornate story about a brother and sister who are forced into social roles, Paso Doble a wonderfully animated sequence between a dancer and a bull and The Making of Longbird, a British 'making of' film documenting the restoration and remake of an old animation that turns into hilarious banter between a paper cut-out longbird with a Russian accent and it's creator... just to name a few!!

There were of course more films that we didn't even get to see and then countless CalArts and Irish screenings showing fantastic films throughout the years. It was a fantastic event. The only downsides, were, as students, the exclusivity of some of the events. The Making of Brave, Wreck-it-Ralph and the premiere of Paperman were either invite-only or so limited to seating that you had to be at the front of the queue to even get in. For the Making of Brave, we stood in a queue for 2 hours only to discover that there were only 30 tickets available for students, 22 of which were already reserved so at least 100 people were queueing for only 8 tickets!

The DIsney Booth!
Fortunately our day at the Disney booth at the Mifa building completely made up for our disappointments. We spent the whole day speaking with real Disney animators, concept artists, story artists and talent seekers. Their talks were fantastic and we got amazing one-on-one sessions with them afterwards to look at our portfolios. Unfortuantely I didn't have much to show but it was still an unmissable event and I'll never forget it! I'm going to try submitting my portfolio too so you never know!

A life drawing of me and my fiancé that filmmaker Jake Nelson did at the same time that I was drawing him! I clearly wasn't being as secretive as I thought
The whole experience was amazing, the food was great, the gorgeous book shops, the atmosphere and place, the films and the people! You never know who you might bump into: we shared a taxi to Annecy with the lovely Shelley Page from Dreamworks without realising it (unbelievable!) and Peter Lord from Aardman was on our flight back to Bristol--three seats in front of me!

Me and Pascal Campion!
My friend Bryony and I also bought art books by the incredible Pascal Campion who was doing a book signing at the festival. He did marvelous pen and ink drawings in our books and was such a lovely and charming guy to talk to. Hope I get to meet him again one day!

My Annecy swag!
Pascal's drawing of his family at a Caribbean beach!
Pascal's drawing of his family at a Caribbean beach!
My friends and I hope to go again next year, cannot wait! :D ... As long as we don't have to camp again, ha ha!