Friday, 31 July 2009

Quick Comment: Hell

In the lobby of my office, there is rather inexplicably five large letters hanging up that spell "HELLO". I don't know whether this is meant as some rather vacant company motto, or if it's meant to warmly greet you as you trudge past their cold metallic gleam into the fluorescently lit despair of the office, but it appeared a few months ago and I've gotten used to it now.

I did say when it first went up that it was only a matter of time before somebody stole the "O".

Apparently the "O" being torn from its fixing on the wall was, in conjunction with somebody spitting in the instant coffee jar, a protest at being made redundant. That's nothing surprising. The inexplicable thing is that they took voluntary redundancy.

I don't think I'll ever understand people.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

New Projects and Hard Work in Animation

I’ve always had a profound love of cartoons. I feel like I’ve probably said all this before, but I distinctly remember that as a child I would much prefer anything animated over anything with real life actors in, because anything with real life actors in was either gritty and boring or wacky and annoying. Sometimes it was a mixture of all four, which as you can imagine is difficult to pull off.

I find that once I’ve latched onto something, I want to make my own of that thing. It has happened with comics, with music, with computer games, with fiction, with television, with miniatures and with anything I’ve had small obsessions with in the past. Due to the sporadic nature of my attention span, I therefore have dozens of half finished comics, some half baked and shakily recorded songs, a load of lazy coding that bears some small semblance to a handful of computer games, a small hard-drive’s worth of unfinished and partially started novels, several scripts for TV dramas and sitcoms, and even a few small humanoid-like shaped twists of wire encased in modeling putty.

Of course, I’ve tried to do little bits of animation in the past. I have a small selection of experiments that I threw together in Adobe Flash that don’t really do much. There’s quite a nice one of a penguin singing a little bit and walking off, but it’s very primitive. I recently came to the conclusion through no discernable mode of decision that it was time to give animation another try. I had been recommended a book written by Richard Williams, the creator of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” so I found a copy of that and started to leaf through it.

There were probably two things in that book that made me get to the picking-up-the-pen-and-paper stage of the project and away from the much more alluring but-I-need-to-read-more-tips stage. The first one was that Richard Williams, who in my mind is an absolute master of his field, started animation in earnest at the age of 22. Psychologically, this is a massive boost. I am under the increasing impression that if you want to be good at anything, you have to have been doing it since the age of 8 and never attempted or wanted to do anything else, which if you look at the half finished novels, scripts, miniatures, games, symphonies and coffee tables littering my life you can imagine is a fairly discouraging thought.

The second revelation was one of those statements that everyone knows but sometimes people just need to be told again. The gist of it was that animation takes a lot of work. A lot of work. More than a lot of work.

Everyone knows that animation takes a lot of time and effort. We’ve all heard the stories of how the makers of Wallace and Gromit took six months to make half a second of film (that might be a slight exaggeration) but I think a large part of me assumed that there was a quicker way of doing it that would get results that were just as good through using a computer. Just knowing that if I wanted to attempt anything in animation it would take a long time and a lot of work was enough to make me start working on it. Being able to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t quick and easy was enough to make me stop trying to find a quicker and easier route.

Once you know that what you’re experiencing is normal, or once you’ve been told to expect a high volume of work or trouble, it makes that hurdle easier to deal with psychologically. Once you know your first script is going to be rejected by the BBC, it means that when it is, it isn’t a problem and you can get on with the next one. Once you know you’re not going to get the first job you apply for, it makes it easier to search for the next one. Once you know you probably won’t even get a rejection letter from the first job you apply for, it makes it easier to apply for the next one. Once you know that your first miniature you carve is going to look like a dog crossed with a wildebeest when you were trying to carve an elf, it makes the next one easier to start.

Nothing in this life comes easily, and if it does come easily, it probably isn’t worth it. This is all old stuff that everyone knows, but sometimes you just need to be reminded in order to get on with it.

Additional Notes:

Calling my songs half baked is an accidental pun: One of my better songs is called Undercooked.

I’ll confess my animation hasn’t gotten too far, but I’ve made headway onto a walking pattern and apparently getting a character to walk across the screen convincingly is one of the hardest things to do.

The book that I’ve bought and that I would highly recommend to anyone that wants to try animation is the Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is still an excellent film and if anyone reading this has not seen it, try to. It’s still funny and it’s still clever.

Monday, 20 July 2009

An Online Bugbear

I've found myself happier lately by playing a lot less Warcraft. I still probably play a little too much, but it's a fun amount as opposed to a second job.

I've been scanning over this during my lunch hour (some strong language and humour that might not make much sense unless you also play Warcraft or some other MMO) and the following is probably what frustrates me about my evenings that I've spent raiding in the past:

"When you tell 25 people to go to The Caverns of Time, seven of them don’t know what that is, two of them aren’t playing anymore, one fell asleep in his pizza, two have to drive their kids to therapy, one tells you to shut the **** up, four are rebooting their computers, one is getting kicked off by his parents, two are lost foreigners who thought this was the train station, one is pressing enter on the same Chuck Norris joke over and over, two of them tell everyone to go to three different places and one is your girlfriend bitching at you about how much this sucks.
Ninety minutes later, when you finally get everyone there, someone will explain that no one should stand in front of the demon lord Kaz’rogal. This simple concept will take 40 minutes to convey, and repeat twice. "

That is depressingly similar to some of the experiences I've had before.

Additional Notes:
My regular group isn't anywhere near that bad of course. They're a great bunch. It's still a massive waste of time for the most part, but I suppose that's computer games in general.

Incidentally, my favourite part of the article was the little snippet that read "You can only sit in one place for so long before your DNA starts to think you’re a walrus."

Friday, 17 July 2009

Contingency Plan

You should always have an escape route. I don't think I have one.

There has been much talk about redundancies at work at the moment. The long and the short of it is that we're probably cutting work flow by about 50% with about 50% of the workforce possibly having to disappear.

The long and the short of it in terms of me is that I'm a little grumpy, irritable, prone to swearing a lot and sitting sullenly instead of trying to do something about it, because I don't really want to have to go and get a new job. I'm sure that there's nobody that thinks differently on this matter, but the whole interview process is very tiresome. I find it very difficult to go half an hour without saying something that might be construed as a little odd. When you've known me for a while and tuned into my particular sense of humour and my habit of coherently muttering nonsense as asides to myself, I think you can tune it out, but when its an interview situation, that probably doesn't go so well.

The last interview for a prospective job that I had was ok, but I was caught out by a question that was probably designed to catch me out. I was asked "if you could chose four people, living, dead, or fictional, who would you invite over for a dinner party and why?" My actual answer was bordering on the pathetic. I mumbled something about a few judges that I wasn't really interested in because I wanted them to think I really was interested in legal issues all of the time, and some other generic figures from history or public affairs. However, the first answer that leapt into my head that I didn't have the guts to say was "Mahatma Gandhi, J.K Rowling, Scooby Doo and Adolf Hitler, because I really like a challenge."

It's odd where your brain goes in a crisis.

Additional Notes:
On second thoughts, all that stuff about redundancies might be confidential. Best burn this blog after reading.

The challenge of course would be cooking a decent vegetarian meal.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


A while ago I mentioned I was working on an unusual project with a friend.

Well, here it is:

It has come out quite nicely, and although I feel my graphics are a little rough around the edges (the bigger the ships get, the more rubbish they get), they're already being smoothed out in the work I'm doing for the sequel.

This has been a learning experience for both myself and the poor happless friend that comissioned my snail-pace-"artistic"-services that has come out a lot better than I expected.

Additional Notes:
My friend, the ever-talented programmer Mr. Sneeze, has his website over at and also a flash games portal over at which I must warn you, can become a bit of a time sink. I actually find myself playing a lot of these flash games during down time in my Warcraft sessions, which is perverse in its own way: Playing games to pass the boredem in a bigger game...

Monday, 6 July 2009

A little bit Extra

Last week, I spent two days in a night club getting incredibly hot and sweaty, slightly bored and having to dance every now and then against my wishes. However, whereas I normally have to pay an entrance fee for this sort of experience, this time they were paying me, because I was one of about two hundred background artists being filmed as part of Ricky Gervais’ latest venture into the world of film.

Working as an extra is a lot of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether you’re interested in the industry or not, because it just gives you such an appreciation of just how much work goes into these productions. The two days that lasted approximately twelve hours each probably constituted at most around five minutes of the film. The longest scene included one and a half pages of dialogue, which should equate to one and a half minutes. The number of times the retake scenes to get the best one possible is staggering, when they filmed the short fight scene that took place it took an entire afternoon so that they could film it from several different angles and mash it together afterwards and it was just unbelievable just how much time and effort the crew were dedicating to the project. What I can’t get over is that after those two days I was on the set, the rest of them carried on going with similar schedules the next day, albeit without two hundred extras, most of which behave like slightly arrogant sheep that are desperate to one day become a shepherd, or at least a supporting sheep dog.

This leads me to talk about some of my co-extras. That last statement I’ve just made probably makes it sound like high levels of contempt are being held on my behalf, but this isn’t the case. I honestly felt like most of us, myself included, at points in the day were like arrogant sheep. They still follow where they’re directed, but they complain about it a little bit and are under the delusion that their actions will lead to bigger and better things. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and all of them interesting people. I got a few laughs when I said what I did for a living and did suddenly feel it a little absurd that I’d chosen to take two days holiday to go and stand in Koko at five in the morning until five in the afternoon when I was talking about how I wasn’t really intending to try and become a professional actor and it was very clear that I had one of the most stable day jobs there and almost everyone else worked in the industry or were at least desperately trying to.

But in fairness, at the age of twenty-four, I was one of the older extras there. Almost everyone else had just finished university, some had just finished college and were thinking about going to university, and a lot of them were saying something along the lines of “I’m going to move down to London soon and find work down here as an actor/actress” as if they hand work out at the job centre. I think what hit me about these statements is that shortly after university, that was probably my plan as well, however unreasonable it might have been. I’m not sure if it was a roomful of naivety, potential, or just sheer hope, but it was something that I felt surprisingly alien. I want to share that hope again, that idea that everything will work out by just being in the right place at the right time, and I honestly hope that some of these wild theories pan out for at least some of my co-extras. They were nice people and deserve a decent break.

All in all, it was a fun couple of days out that wore me out something stupid, but was completely worth it. I’d recommend it to anybody else, if only to experience that odd mixture of being incredibly excited and bored out of your mind at exactly the same time.

Additional Notes:

The film in question is called “Cemetery Junction” and should be out in 2010. I am wearing tight brown flares and a slightly-too-tight green tee-shirt and dancing horribly, so maybe you’ll be able to spot me quite easily.

Stranger things have happened: Apparently Harrison Ford was a carpenter on the set of Star Wars when he was pulled in to play Han Solo. I mentioned this to one of the extras I was talking to by way of conversation that had steered itself in that sort of direction. I don’t think he was really listening because he immediately dismissed this as “not a terribly effective career move”, as if I had been deadly serious in suggesting that the way to become a supremely successful performer was to train in carpentry.