Saturday, 18 May 2013

BAF 2012

Bradford Animation Festival
Although this post is discussing an event that was almost 6 months ago, mainly as I have been so busy to actually write up everything that happened, this event has had a lasting impact on me. I can't wait for next year!

Day 1 - Weds 14th Nov
Official Selection - Student 2
During this section, we were shown some of the most popular animations made my recent graduates (chosen by the organisers of BAF). It was great to see the skill and talent coming out of universities across Britain, and set me a level to reach by the end of my degree.

Animated Britain : The Student Film Now

In this talk I wrote down a list of the key points mentioned and merged them into one massive paragraph of great advice… so here it is!

Show that you have attitude, ambition, drive, vision and a ‘can do’ mentality, but not only that; you need to have the transferable skills to follow this through. Don’t ever loose your other interests, as they will help give you a niche and set you apart from others. You need to find your niche, which will help generate your ideas and help the creativity flow, which will be helped by keeping your other interests, as they will help give you a niche and set you apart from others. By doing this you can retain your own design ethic, with its own unique style and humour, however try to make sure that you don’t stretch yourself too thin, and go for quality over quantity. The best way to show this to companies is to breakdown the process behind your work and the skill set needed to do this in your show reel. By doing this, it gives your show reel its own identity, and allows you to ‘make the song your own’. If you can demonstrate that you have imagination, visual communication skills, an understanding of the basic design principles, you can demonstrate technical skills, have collaborated, and are able to identify your strengths honestly (not just your weaknesses) then you will shine through.  

I also wrote down a few of the companies and people mentioned to research into afterwards, these were, Realtime UK, Seed Animation Studio, Newport film school, BARE, Paul Mc Nutly and Animation Academy.

(For more of ABAC's archive of student work

All Animated Screening
Although personally I didn't get much out of this talk, I was interested to see work which was produced in Yorkshire, and find out a bit more about All Animated and the work they do in promoting work from the North.
(For more info on All Animated's work visit

Day 2 - Thurs 15th Nov
Creating Virtual Urban Environments

The first speaker in this talk was Vanessa Boyce from Double Negative. When researching for a film, they use references from everything, some based on photography, real life, lidar (photogramatory), survey or lighting (can never have enough). She also mentioned the software that is most commonly used in the company; maya, renderman, mudbox, photoshop, stig (to compose photographs together), windowbox (puts rooms inside of skyscrapers and maps photos onto a cube) and Esri’s City Engine (which replicates similar style buildings). The main piece of advice she gave was that the most important thing in animation and gaming, is detail but to balance it perfectly with imperfections, for more realism.
(for more of her work visit

The second talk was by Martin Walker who works as a freelance doing image visualisation, where usually each project only lasts seven hours. The software he uses for his sort of work is 3D Max and V Ray (which is very similar to Maya, and are industry norm in image visualisation), Google sketchup (which is supported by V Ray, Maxwell, Shaderlight), Blender, Cinema 4D, Modo, Procedural modelling (which has a plugin called Anima which creates organic items like trees) and Photoshop (for colour correction, matting, grain, fows and vignetting). He gave loads of handy tips and advice during his section of the talk. He suggested that you should only model what you can see, which makes your work more accessible as it is a smaller file size, and gives you time to achieve your work well as you have more time to focus on a smaller section. To achieve this further he stressed that geometry must be kept tidy, to optimise the scenes and texture work. He also suggests that everyone learns how to script, even if it is in the simplest form, just so you can prove to future clients that you can technically problem solve. The other interesting point he made was that he thinks like a photographer when creating his work, as he has to regard how the composition and lighting will affect his work. A really simple change everyone could make is to improve your housekeeping habits, such as organisational skills and labelling project files correctly. The last thing he mentioned was how it is difficult to balance and prioritise what you find important in a project, as often time vs cost vs quality, and the balancing of these factors can either make or break a project.

Ben Hall, was the third speaker, and is the environment artist for criterion and games. In the research stage, over 10,000 photos taken before actually starting a project, so they are able to make sure that it reads well and the physics are correct in their concept work. They also use Flickr and Google for reference in the beginning stages. As he only works in car racing games, their three targets are that the game includes elements of racing, chasing and exploring. The software that he uses is Maya, Blender, 3D Max and the in-house tools that the company provides. To analyse the maps and floor plans created, they can move them into Maya so they are able to analyse how the game play may work.

The last guest speaker in this section, and personally I found the most interesting and useful speaker, was Jonathan Gales from Factory 15 Studios. His background was in architecture but went on to do a masters degree where he looked at environment art for animation. He chose to do this, as he wanted to develop his aesthetic, as he particularly likes the aesthetic of construction sights, such as the colours, tone and how the lighting falls. From this concept he did a series of artwork based on technically structured buildings, looking specifically at the geometric set up, where he takes references from other artists, not just environments. Jonathan also enjoys looking at the destruction of architecture as well as construction of them. A lot of his work is 2 and a half D (2D in 3D space), to force perspective. For more information on this sort of work, and where he got the most of his inspiration from, he suggested reading Nick Speiler’s book ‘Visionary Architect’. The last point he made was the difficulty in classifying his work as technical or artistic.
(for more of his work visit

Vanessa Boyce, Double Negative
Vanessa really does have a lot of experience and knowledge under her belt, as she has worked on some of the biggest films ever made. She was CG Supervisor on Total Recall, Captin America: The First Avenger and Inception, a Visual Effect/3D/Digital artist on Harry potter: The Half-Blood Prince/The Order of the Pheonix/The Goblet of Fire, Stardust, The Reaping, Flyboys, United 93, Doom, Sahara and The Chronicles of Riddick. And as well as all of this, she has also been the Lead CG artist on a number of those films. Impressive or what!?
Double Negative Showreel from Matt Hadlington on Vimeo.

During her talk she concentrated on one of the newest films (as well as one of the largest) that they worked on, Total Recall. There were 1200 different shots, all with large complexity, and all pretty much fully CG!

The first section of the film she went on to talk about was one of the settings in the film, named United Federation of Britain (UFB), which they envisioned to be the ‘London of the future’. When creating this environment, there was no real footage of any buildings (other than a very small amount of close ups of the main characters running), which meant the whole world had to be designed and built from scratch. The director wanted Neo-Classical buildings in large clusters floating in the air, but with huge supports holding them there. He also wanted there to be magnetic cars that hover above the ground and for there to be no vegetation, which is in my opinion, very stereotypical for this sort of film. When designing the environment they asked the director what he thought, and he really liked the shapes and thought that the negative space was right, but the actual detailing for the buildings was all wrong and needed re-colouring and retexturing, adding more detail making it more ‘real’ and believable.

After this bit of background information on the film she started to go into the full breakdown of the process Double Negative went through to produce the film, from concept art, pre-vis (pre-visualisation), storyboarding (which they used the company The Third Floor for), and then a photography session on location, to the actual production and post production. To create the environments they narrowed down the key features into small sections, so they were able to build a whole city from those models. The small feed-able sections allowed them to change the footprint into interesting shapes to generate city blocks, and reuse and repeat the structures they have already created. To create these small sections they took a section of the pre-vis and concept art and combined them together. By building everything in small sections, the director could say which he liked and the ones he didn’t could easily be tweaked. By doing that, and getting it okayed section at a time, they didn’t waste too much time waiting to do everything in one go. They also had to deal with how lighting effects the city, as well as contending with the fact that the director only wanted it low back lit in a ¾ angle for all of the shots. Another key aspect they had to pay attention to the speed of the cars and light train, which they solved by doing cheap renders, to answer questions before animating the scenes properly. The director also kept asking for more detailing in the environments, as well as all the reflection on glass needed changing, and that all of the road signs were British so the director wanted them to be changed to holographic. The textures are easy to switch between if the director wanted any changes, but he also wanted more colour variations rather than all one tone of grey, which would help the believability. All of the cities details needed making, so every small detail, from air vents to plants needed adding, and these were being made up to a week before the main deadline.


To create the Magcars in the film, they made and filmed a buggy with a stunt driver underneath operating the pretend car on the top with the actors in. By doing this and not having CG cars it would seem more natural for the actors to react to their environment, and it allowed the CG team to start editing straight away, as the camera moves had already been planned out and decided, all the animators had to do was track them. However this did cause a lot of work and problems. Each car had to be cut out of each plate by hand by the rotoscoping team, as it wasn’t able to be green screened, which was really time consuming. The reflections on the glass of the windows also needed to be edited out and changed to the city scape, the shadows of the buggy needed putting back on the roads and the lighting all needed changing so to do this they redid the compositing (stripping it back to make it cleaner) and simply relit the whole thing, allowing shadows to form. When mapping the roads, the director hadn’t put any markings on the air field when filming, so the buggies move around in an unsystematic way, which meant that the CG team needed to plan and map out the roads around the movements of the cars. In the end they didn’t even use the cars, and just recreated it all in CG!! They also had some timing issues using the buggies, as they were only able to go 30 miles an hour, so to combat this issue they sped the city past the car, to create the illusion of movement. Also by having close up shots with plenty of obstructing items going past, it allowed the illusion to work better. They also used tunnels to give the idea that the magcars were connected to the road somehow, and couldn’t just move wherever they wanted. As this section was completely dark, and the footage of the buggy is so well lit in the daylight, they needed to add more lights inside the tunnels (and add holes in these tunnels to allow the natural sunlight to come in). The natural horizon of the sunlight was originally a lot higher in this shot, but they needed to move it down to let the sunlight shine from under the tunnel.

After this section she briefly talked about the other environments that were also created. ‘The Colony’ was one of the locations, made up of clustered apartment blocks, which was actually based on a real building called Habitat 67. All of it was full CG much like the other environments, other than a small section, which was a tiny built water front set. The other location was named ‘The Fall’ which is the environment within the earth’s core where you go through to get from one location to the next. Like ‘The Colony’ it was full CG other than a small section of the roof, which had been built. The last location she briefly mentioned was known as the ‘Elevator Complex’, which again only had tiny section physically made, otherwise it was created in full CG.

Another main topic of discussion was the creation of the Synths, which is the only animated characters in the film, in the style of a robot storm trooper. Vanessa told us how the director wanted men in suits rather than the characters being full CG, again allowing actors to have something to work with (like the buggies), and that only the stomachs would be replaced to show that they are robotic (with no innards!). But the problem the team had, was that it still looked like just men in suits, they were all different sizes and shapes and it simply just didn’t work. What they ended up doing was opening up the neck and waist as well as the stomach too. During the whole process the concept artists constantly worked with the riggers to create the perfect and realistic to create synths. They wanted to ensure that the silhouette didn’t change too much, but changed the materials to add more chrome (to make it look more robotic!). When rigging, they matched the panel location of the men in suits, which allowed them to use a full CG synth, which funnily the director didn’t even realise..!

Her one main piece of advice for graduates, or students in general, is to make specific applications when applying for jobs/apprenticeships/internships, as the company is more likely to look at hiring you, as you have shown a deeper (and less shallow) interest in their company. Her personal advice in applying for a job at D-Neg is that they have a rolling contract, so if you work for them once and you are good, they basically keep asking you to come back for more projects. Notably she mentioned that four concept artists were used throughout Total Recall, where they were constantly busy for the whole year, as everything kept adapting and changing in all of the stages of filming, which I personally found a helpful insight as this is a field in animation that I am potentially seriously interested in. Another major point she stressed at the end of her talk to set yourself personal milestones you want to reach every month for example, and create deadlines for any work you’re working on. Make time for Temps, to watch through mid way through the project, so you can make alterations before it is too late. Another insight into Double Negative as a company was that they had a team of 30 people on production, compared to the usual 5 people. She also mentioned how the teams were split up by the environment that needs working on (as stated before), rather than by department that the people are working in. By doing this, there is a small close-knit group constantly working together to make one thing, rather than a tier or ranking system where stages could potentially be missed. As a company I feel that Double Negative have their working structure sorted out perfectly and ran how I would imagine and hope that most animation companies would work.

(for more of her work visit 

Valerie Kausen: Chuck Jones Centenary
This talk was rather interesting, but mainly because it was a chat with Chuck Jones' granddaughter which had no physical contact with doing animation herself, and was only giving an insight into what her relative was like in person, and the experiences she had watching him work.

'One Froggy Evening'

'The Dot and the Line'

'Rikki-Tikki Tavi'

'Feed the Kitty' (I can't seem to find a sharable English version, but you can appreciate the animation all the same)
[Looney Tunes] Feed the Kitty (ITA) from LooneyTunes on Vimeo.

(For more information on Chuck, have a look at this website

Day 3 - Fri 16th Nov
Bridging the Gap from University to Professional Animator
Although useful in some aspects, I found that this talk didn't really help me gain any further understanding into how to develop my work once I leave university.

Animation and Games for New Platforms
This was probably my second favourite talk, mainly due to seeing the game Botanicula for the first time. I adored the game concept, style, layout and play, it was so unique and clever!

Mark Shapiro, LAIKA Studios
This was by far my favourite talk, but mainly because I love the studio and the work that they do. During the talk Mark showed all of their promotional video's (all of which I had seen before online) and discussed them further.

Paranorman (PG) Screening
Although I have already seen this film (along with Liam, I couldn't quite believe that we were the only two in our year), I loved being able to see it all over again on the big screen. Films will never be as exciting to watch when you have already seen them before, especially after a short space of time, but this time I could really appreciate it more as I started to pick up on all the things I had learnt from the previous talk, along with all my extra research I have done watching making of video's and looking at the preproduction work in the book I own. After seeing this film again I really felt the urge to make something, and luckily for me I was running an animation workshop the next morning under the Saturday Art School at Uni, so I was really driven to share my passion!

Day 4 - Sat 17th Nov
Although it was only suggested that we went on the Saturday and it wasn't essential, I really wanted to go and get the most out of my ticket! I was really disappointed that I was unable to go to any of the morning or early afternoon sessions due to working in the morning (as stated before). I unfortunately missed a talk with an animator from Aardman who I have been to a talk to from before, so I assumed it would be quite similar and wasn't too upset, however later I found that he went into much more detail than before and it was a really useful and insightful talk. Such is life though. I am really happy that I was able to attend some of the later events though.

When I arrived, I had organised to meet Chris but couldn't find him, so went off exploring and ended up in the games room drawing all the arcade machines, which I found most enjoyable and really relaxing. To later be shooed out as they were closing all the floors, but the security guard stopped to chat with me because he liked my drawings so much, and let me stay and finish my last drawing! (how kind!) I then finally managed to find Chris, (turns out he was talking to the Aardman animator..!) and we were able to meet up with a few of his friends which are volunteers, or BAFettes as they call themselves.

BAFter Hours
We met up these BAFettes during the BAFter hours section of the evening, where we all sat in the cafe eating our tea discussing the previous events of the festival. To my surprise none of the volunteers actually was able to watch many of the talks at all, unlike my voluntary role during the 'Leeds International Film Festival' where it was important that I sat in on many of the films I had a shift on, and was especially encouraged to if I was interested in the content of the films shown. I also found that most of them work for the whole duration of the festival and don't really pick which shifts they work, which again is very different to my experience at LIFF as that was such a huge festival, covering a few weeks of constant film showings in five completely different venues, often with a few screens in each. I think this is why the volunteers for this festival is such a close knit, all knowing each other, and often all volunteering year after year making a community of friends and friendly faces. This is how Chris knew so many of the people working there, as from the previous years of him attending, the same volunteers worked. It was lovely to be included in their little group, and it was enjoyable to be in an environment with like minded people working and interested in the same field as me.

BAF Awards Reception

This section of the evening ran straight after the BAFter hours, and was a chance to drink free wine and mingle with other like minded people. However I decided to stay seated eating pizza with the BAFettes and get to know those lovely people a little better. But in the future I am sure I will pluck up the courage to mingle a little more, maybe when I am a little more experienced in the field.

BAF Awards Ceremony

Surprisingly to me there were not as many people that attended the ceremony as I had expected. The majority of people who were there were guest speakers, the BAFettes (volunteers), animators who were nominated for an award and the odd animation enthusiast. I am really glad I attended (although it was not how I imagined), as I was able to see winning animations which I had missed throughout the week, as well as see the quality that I need to make my work.

BAF Closing Night Party

At the end of the night there was time to have 'nibbles' and a drink, with opportunity to mingle. While Chris ran off to talk to Joanna Quinn, I spent time with the BAFettes and got to know Ellie and Laura better.

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