It was all the way back in November I last caught up with Red’s Kingdom’s artist-in-residence – filmmaker, animator and digital artist, Tom Beg. Since that time, I can assure you Tom hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs. On the contrary, he has been hard at working bringing the illusion of life to the first group of his otherworldly critters, so it’s time for a bit more show and tell.
Phil: How are you, Tom? And life in Japan? What are the headlines?
Tom:Nothing too exciting for me personally but it is coming up to my fifth anniversary of living here, so that’s something. Also, Japan’s educational year actually ends in March, and starts again in April, so in February most students who are planning to go to high school or university are going through what is known as juken jigoku or “exam hell” if translated to English. This means soon it will be spring and graduation ceremonies (socially distanced ones, of course), with cherry blossom flavoured Kit Kats, and cherry blossom flavoured everything available in abundance.
Phil: I’ve been very excited to see your most recent updates, including a sneak peek at the project’s branding. To kick things off, tell us something about your creative decision-making in regards to your animation’s title.
Tom: The animation’s title is Tabula 5465. Basically, it is inspired by the naming conventions of exoplanets. Tabula is the Roman word for a slate or tablet, on which things are written, while 5465 is a reference to the physical dimensions of Joan Miro’s painting Women and Birds at Sunrise, the painting from which the designs and ideas for the creatures in my animation derive. The logo represents the orbits of eight different planets, each representing the different creatures in my animation. The font was inspired by the one used for the titles in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
Phil: I’ve been watching your animation updates appear on your Vimeo channel, and enjoying how you’re bringing more life to your creatures with every iteration. What’s guiding your decision-making in terms of your animation strategy?
Tom:Just making sure everything feels alive and behaving as if it belongs in this world. For this sequence, firstly I thought about how the creatures would behave if they were simply idling about and not doing much at all. From there, it was thinking about how they might potentially go from this idling-around behaviourtodifferent states of movement.
Phil: We’ve talked previously about the challenges of directing a film that is driven, not by story, but by the behaviours of your characters. What is your current thinking about how the film hangs together as a whole?
Tom:I think it’s going to be more in the style of a documentary or educational film. Rather than have the creatures perform for the camera, I’m animating as if they are being filmed in a natural state. I imagine when filming nature in real life, there is probably a certain joy in just watching things happen without any interference, even if it’s totally mundane behaviour. That’s what I’m aiming to capture. It’s not really a story with a three-act structure, but the story of these creatures and how they behave in their own world, and as a group.
Phil: What are some of the frustrations in regard to the animation process?
Tom: The physic simulations require a lot of calculation that can’t be done in real-time, so if I want to move something, I can’t get accurate feedback instantly. I have to do something called a playblast, which is a way of watching the animation play back at the correct speed. The videos you’re seeing in this post are playblasts. They aren’t full renders, but they play the animation accurately at a lower visual quality for preview purposes. Then there is dealing with models passing through each other because they aren’t actually solid things. I’m constantly having to adjust timing and position. It’s like cutting off the head of a hydra – you fix one and then another one appears!
Phil: And what’s delighted and surprised you?
Tom:I snuck out a few low-resolution renders with the lighting and materials applied, and it is looking quite nice. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a while longer to see those….
Phil: Out of curiosity, are you able to add up all the different individual tasks and processes you’ve had to go through to get to the latest stage – and how many processes come after this point to produce a final sequence?
Tom:So far there’s been: design, modelling, rigging, texturing, lighting, going back and fixing the modelling, fixing the rigging, animating, fixing animation, fixing animation and fixing animation. After fixing more animation, I will need to cache the animation and set up the various render passes that will give me the information I need to get depth of field, motion blur etc. After that, rendering the actual animation and compositing the various layers into a final sequence with all the effects applied that give it the final polished look.
Phil: And finally, what’s up next?
Tom: The three-armed pink tentacle creatures probably. I will animate the creatures in the order I made them, although they won’t necessarily appear in the animation in this order.
I wanted to engage with the most recent Kick-About prompt – the 5 Canons of Rhetoric – as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we recognise collectively as ‘right’.
(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).
The Kick-About comes of age today, with Edition No. 21. Let me begin by saying how restorative, ordering and genuinely exciting I find our collective runarounds. Through your emails, comments and conversations, I know you value the Kick-About too, seeing it as an opportunity to make some new stuff, finish some older stuff, get something done, take risks, recreate, and get your hands dirty. It gives me great pleasure to host your work on here. Red’s Kingdom is lucky to have you. Long may we play together.
“The definition of rhetoric in the little Oxford dictionary is: art of persuasive speaking or writing; inflated or exaggerated language. Based on that (with a bit of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’) I’ve spliced together the opening lines of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech with a selection of Donald Trumps tweets (sections of ). Calm authoritative argument versus shouted ignorance (in my opinion!).”
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president I WILL NOT BE ATTENDING THE INAUGURATION! we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution, THE ELECTION WAS STOLEN! we affirm the promise of our democracy, IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION! we recall that what binds this nation together, SORRY LOSERS! is not the colours of our skin, or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names, WE’RE GOING TO BUILD A WALL! what makes us exceptional, what makes us America AMERICA FIRST! AMERICA FIRST! is our allegiance to an ideal articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; FAKE NEWS! that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; BULLSHIT! that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” STOP THE STEAL! STOP THE STEAL!
“The prompt this week made me think about the creative process, my creative process, something I don’t usually spend much time contemplating. What does my creative process actually involve? Which parts of the process am I good at, and which parts do I find uncomfortable and hurry past? What is my – and I recoil slightly from the earnestness of this word – practice? I’ve found stepping back and considering how I approach my work a useful exercise. For this Kick-About, I’ve tried to take a photo that includes some of the steps I might go through in making an image; there are sketches, with some of the quick drawings that are often the very start of the process for me, then painted papers I make to provide the raw materials for my collage work, a collaged blackbird taking shape, and also a finished image of a wintry landscape with a barn owl, plus reference books, poetry and other stuff I might find that sparks inspiration. Birds provide a good, if rather obvious, metaphor for this process; sometimes the idea flies, sometimes not….”
“I thought the five words evoked something mysterious, something unseen and a bit psychological. Mostly I was inspired by the patterns and colours MRI and CT scans produce as a way of visualising how our brains react to a specific emotional response or biological function. In this case, the triggers being inventio, disposito, elecuitio, memoria and pronuntiatio, and a very abstract visualisation of those words. I have my own ideas about which of these images represents each of the words, but in the end I thought I would leave it up to the viewer to come up with their own interpretation of the order.”
“Once I had got over my initial panic on reading the ‘5 Canons of Rhetoric’, I read a bit more on the subject and realised what was being described was a process – a process which could be applied to many creative endeavours. The stages may have different emphases for different types of creativity, but (it seems to me) the principles remain the same. I decided to test this hypothesis by applying it to a much humbler craft than oratory, but one that I know well. Below I have tried to show the 5 canons applied to the process of making a crochet blanket, from initial idea to finished piece.”
“My mind glazed over as I read through these rigid and formal ways of organizing communication. Of course the word rhetoric has multiple meanings, the first of which, is “(in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”. Something we all been over-subjected to of late. What is true of all the definitions is that rhetoric involves the use of language.
One synonym given particularly caught my eye: ” balderdash–senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense”. The word nonsense immediately made me think of the surrealists. The surrealists felt that letting go of the need to control your creation would reveal deeper truths. This was true of both visual and written art. They rejected logic and reason. I often use surrealistic techniques for both my art and my writing. I’ve been doing Rorschach images for awhile: these little cards are done by dripping the leftover paint from my watercolors onto the card and folding it in half. Usually the layers are done in several sessions. I also compose comments for my images using words and phrases I’ve cut out of magazines and advertisements. I limit myself to what’s contained in one envelope for each card, and often spend quite a long time choosing and arranging them. I call it ‘the collage box oracle’, as it’s similar to using magnetic poetry. I was originally inspired by Claudia McGill, who is a master at this technique. I’m usually surprised by what appears. It always makes me think.
I first scanned in just the images, and then worked on the words. When I went to scan them, I realized I had changed the orientation of the image in half of them. Another unexpected surprise. Surrealistic Rhetoric has no pretense to being anything but a random arrangement of words, but somehow manages to incorporate at least 4 of the classical canons: invention, arrangement, style, and delivery. As to memory, well, canon #7 deals with that.”
The Eight Canons of Surrealist Rhetoric
Is there anything more archetypal than nothing?
Space is just energy deconstructing.
You expected evolving to be more complex.
Adventure awaits beyond the details of yourself.
Fools rush into the shadow of the projected image.
I was invented from the earth’s fertile surfaces– otherwise my unlimited nakedness would be alarming.
My plans are to forget to remember.
There was a window from the start—simple and mysterious– imagine looking through it to what is hidden between.
“I was intrigued to learn about the new archaeology regarding Stone Henge, whereby they have discovered that an ancient stone circle at Waun Mawn in Wales was the original prototype. I decided there must have been one farsighted individual who used his power of rhetoric to persuade his Neolithic mates to help him with this great project over 3,000 years ago. So…”
‘We don’t need to hide ourselves away in this Peat Moor as a second rate team. We could be top of the league! Let’s show them what we can do. You know those huge blue stones lying around the pitch everywhere? Well,why don’t we move them to Salisbury Plain! It won’t be difficult to get them there – it’s only a stones throw, of about 150 miles. We’ll get some of the local lads together and roll them there on timber sledges. No sweat! Then we’ll have a Rave – a Pop Festival – around Midsummer say. I’ll see if I can get some class acts like The Amesbury Archer or The Boscombe Bowmen. Those blue rocks have great accoustics! We’ll have a game, a few jars, a bit of stargazing and then watch the sun come up! They’ll be gobsmacked for years to come! It’ll be epic! What d’ ya say?’
“The Five Canons of Rhetoric. Well, that made me think about where I’m at! 1) INVENTIO – I have a passion for seed-pods. They are my inspiration. 2) DISPOSITIO – I selected 5 from my collection. Nigella Damascena, Physalis Peruviana, Wisteria Leguminosae, Magnolia Grandiflora, Entada Gigas. Five was overwhelming, and they all had a story to tell, and despite spending time drawing them, with real attention to their individual personalities, I kept being drawn to the shiny black pod in the middle that fitted so deliciously in the palm of my hand. When I looked it up, it was certainly of the pea Family. I found a clue online .. it could be a Sea-Heart, a pod that drifts across the world. It comes from a vine that scrambles through trees in tropical areas of vast size, the biggest and most extraordinary of the pea family, also known as the Monkey Ladder. I had to find out, so I rang the friend who had given it to me on a very special birthday a few years ago.
“Where did you find it?’ “On a beach in Donegal.”
Jackpot! 3) ELOCUTIO – I had discovered where it may have come from and where it landed: from the Gulf of Mexico, along the Gulf Stream’s warm currents, to land on the sandy, windswept dunes of Donegal on the West coast of Ireland. It’s an intriguing pod, beloved of sailors, who hung them round their necks when on a treacherous sea voyage to keep them safe, and also made into snuff boxes, and decorated in Africa with wonderful designs as a gift. So I took the story, took elements that suggested shapes suitable to travel from the other pods into its story 4) MEMORIA! The final piece is too sketchy for 5) PRONUNTIATO! but it satisfied my ever-growing wanderlust for returning to Mexico to see the Monkey Ladder growing!”
“I wanted to engage with the prompt as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we can recognise collectively as ‘right’.”
(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).
“The subject matter has been in the back of my mind for a while, yet I haven’t had reason enough to do it, until now, so thanks Kick-About. The subject is myself (James Randall is owed credit here), organisation spans 1957-2021, clarity of intent seems to arrive through the preceding years, as things add-up, and delivery is through my favoured medium – oil on prepared paper, 20x20cm each.“
For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.
It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art Forms’ through time-lapse photography.
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile, frame-by-frame.
What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark.
The many individual photographs comprising the film were originally in colour, but I ultimately took the decision to produce the finished film in black and white. It was one of those instances when the sum of the film won out over its parts, with the music and the vintage flicker of the images crying out for monochrome. I’ve included the colour alternate version here for your curiosity.
Following the simple, unadorned charms of our previous still-life inspired Kick-About, in which we were encouraged to turn our creative attentions to objects rather ordinary and domestic, this week’s edition is a good deal more fanciful. With Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature as our collective stomping ground, we’ve generated between us a veritable coral reef of different ideas, processes and creativity.
“Haeckel’s images have that other worldly alienness of the microscopic, to me, they tread a line between the interspatial and the outer spatial. With this image I started “riffing” in Maya with repeated forms, influenced a little by Hebrew descriptions of the Ophanim. With a bit of “evolution” a tiny bit of “Interstellar” and a smidge of “Event Horizon” I ended up here.”
“As regular Kick-Abouters are probably aware, I’ve been playing around with freeform crochet off-and-on throughout these last few months. First I tried faces, then a whole new world, and then the use of crochet to visualise forms from different environments. I had also started to play about with mathematical forms, and I came across the work of Christine and Margaret Wertheim. (Check it out. It is mind-blowing!. I had to have a go. The Kickabout 19 gave me the perfect opportunity to put some of these ideas together. If Ernst Haeckel reveals art forms in nature, what better example than the myriad forms and colours of a coral reef? I just loved this Kick-About. Great fun!”
“Ernst had me take a few snaps of garden toot – nigella, poppy and rocket (or is it arugula over there?) seed heads and some other scraps in a vase on a rainy day. Low light and not much in focus but I think moody.“
“And one little gauche pic – no husband, it is not a pumpkin!”
“I imagine these images (created by mashing together a bunch of images and outputting them through different software) as explosions, atoms, cells, planets or even galaxies seen in their most embryonic stage, viewed through some impossibly powerful microscope.”
“I’ve admired Haeckel’s work for years but had never really researched the man. A surprise was in store… which made me see it in a very different light. He was a eugenicist/scientific racist believing in both the superiority of German culture/ race and monism (represented as a circle with a central dot). This guided my response. I decided to find beauty in the…so called…imperfect, which, to me, has always been a more interesting area to explore: dusty dead insects picked up in my studio, broken / found objects, scratched and stained surfaces, ageing skin… all this evidence of life long lived… so many layers of history.”
Charcoal on Fabriano. 30” X 22” / Crayon on Fabriano. 19” X 19”
“I’ve been a fan of Haeckel’s work for many years. In the mid-1990s I used to work in Covent Garden, in London, and there was a wonderful shop selling books of source material for artists and designers. There would usually be a volume of Haeckel’s images in the window, with a cover illustration of strange and otherworldly creatures.
Haeckel’s prints are an absolute marvel. They record every, tiny detail of each subject with such laser-sharp intensity, an intensity that gives the images a uniquely mysterious and odd quality. In fact, many of the images are quite nightmarish to my mind. What may be harmless sea creatures often seem to have spikes, tendrils and/or tentacles. There are creatures here that remind me of The Thing, when it gets the dog in the kennels...
At the moment there is a jam-jar of twigs and berries on my desk, gathered on a winter walk in the woods just south west of Berlin, not far from where Haeckel was born, it turns out. So, I’ve photographed them for the kick about this week and played about with the images a bit to try and draw out some strangeness. Nothing as remotely strange as a page of Haeckel drawings of plankton though!“
“As per usual I am torn between going down a textile or a painting route with the wonderful art of Ernst Haeckel. Oh, how I wish we had been given such fabulous ideas and examples for study back in the O level days! But hey, it’s never too late and the Kick-About and lockdown is a great opportunity to make another run at the tape, so to speak.
These last few weeks I have spent many hours trudging through soggy woods and finding lots of examples of lichen and leaves. Around my area, Oak and Beech are prevalent, as they don’t rot away easily. Consequently the woodland paths seem to shimmer and shine in the wet and make wonderful shapes and patterns underfoot, which I have tried to capture in acrylics. My other submission is using various stitches, beads and shells depicting an underwater scene I did a while back.”
“This was a curious Kick-About, as the subject matter was immediately attractive to me, mainly because the sense of patterning and natural forms has always attracted my attention. I saw this tower of watch parts in a workshop window in Bristol last week and it reminded me of the images of Ernst Haeckel.
However, in my own work it flows between 2 and 3 dimensions. The desire for me is not so much the patterns as the incongruity and movement in the growing process, and the cellular transparency of delicate organisms.
I started this piece some while ago and I have been trying to come to grips with it over this year. It is made from cardboard boxes cut into strips and reassembled to create a more transparent filigree effect. I do some, then leave it, and then this prompt made me come back to it. Thank you. It needs reviving!
I anticipate it will grow more towards the original drawing as the ‘Limbs’ will become more numerous. I want the piece to curve so that the viewer can stand within to look out on a different world. It’s going to take a while!“
“I was spoiled for choice with this Kick-About, with rural Ireland having a bountiful abundance of botany with textures, colours and shapes, all the flora and vegetation feeling like an endless pick’n’mix. I always find myself thinking about the intricate patterns and shapes as I snap away; mint green reindeer moss looking like bleached coral under a microscopic macro lens, and the swirling and meandering of ice a jigsaw of frozen motion. Twigs, branches and petals look like spores – after some manipulation. Suffice to say, I loved this kick-about and I loved learning about Ernst Haeckel and his gorgeous Illustrations. I could go on and on with creating designs like this and I have a hankering to do so!”
“It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art forms’ through time-lapse photography. It was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria, and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned.What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different.However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark…”
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile.
“Here’s my little offering for this week’s Kick-About: a plain and simple graphic study of some fascinating fungi I had in my photo archive of interesting stuff to draw one day. Not sure of their name, but this is no impediment to studying their forms and surfaces. The pattern in the backdrop is based on the folded, rippled surface on the stem. I think I’ve made them look monumental, when in reality they’re probably quite tiny. Great inking practice, my current obsession.”
“What fun this was! I looked in my collage box/reference book collection for nature images that I could combine to create new forms based on Haeckel’s paintings. This is a project that could go on and on…”
be always impossible be enchanted reaching out in reciprocity to meet the world halfway
“‘The Story of the Development of a Youth’ consists of Haeckel’s letters home, whilst studying age 18-22 (1852-56). A really good read, brimming with exuberant enthusiasm, energy, and appetite for learning, each letter of enchanting spirit and feeling, humour, impulsiveness, apprehension, mood swing and a deep devotion to Christianity. Haeckel’s left-eye was fixed down the microscope, his right focused on the drawings so, I’ve tried capturing Haeckel’s spirit, framing it within the scope, and beyond it is representation of his melancholy and homesickness.” Oil on prepared paper 50cm x 50cm
Many thanks to Kick-Abouter, Jan Blake, for our next jumping off point – the following quotation from Cifford W Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots (1944):
“To prevent slipping, a knot depends on friction, and to provide friction there must be pressure of some sort. This pressure and the place within the knot where it occurs is called the nip. The security of a knot appears to depend solely on its nip.”
Looking forward to seeing where this one takes us – and if you’ve enjoyed this week’s kick-about and fancy a run around with the rest of us, get in touch and get involved.
It’s been a while since we heard from Japan-based artist, animator and filmmaker, Tom Beg.
Is this because Tom has been twiddling his thumbs or resting on his laurels? Hardly. In addition to teaching English to Japanese school children, and gunning for fluency himself in Japanese, Tom has been continuing work on his ‘Miroverse’ bestiary – his charming and strange cast of CGI-critters first inspired by the paintings of Joan Miro. Something of a project milestone has been reached, with all eight of Tom’s characters being put through their respective ambulations. Time then to catch up with Tom and find out a little more about what it has taken to bring his gang of improbable characters to life…
Phil: I found it very gratifying to see your Miroverse critters moving at last…
Tom:Yes, it’s exciting to see the fruits of my labour and produce some moving image at long last. After building and designing for such a long time, there’s always something satisfying about seeing previously inanimate things you’ve been working on finally come to life, and move how you would expect them to, or sometimes move in ways that gives them personality and character you perhaps didn’t originally expect.
Phil: Let’s imagine you can’t talk too technically about the process of animating… How might you describe what you had to do and how you did it? Is it anything like puppeteering? I have this very analogue image of you standing up ‘above’ these creatures, and moving them like marionettes or old-school rod puppets…
Tom:For the test animations, I’ve been trying to establish a base animation style and pipeline for each of the creatures. I want them to have a very organic and restless look, which I think comes off pretty well in these tests. It might be hard to imagine, but animating them was actually a lot more mathematical than perhaps you might expect for such wiggly things.
In Maya, you can animate very traditionally, or you can animate based more on numbers and graphs and letting the computer calculate what happens. I was actually working more with the latter method, which might be surprising. Lots of typing in different values to work out how many frames of animation would be appropriate for whatever movement. It’s lots of looking at things that don’t look like animation in the typical sense but are nonetheless controlling what’s happening on the screen. When it comes to final animation, it’s going to be a mix of this and more traditional animation puppetry.
Phil: Did any of your critters resist you? I mean, did you think they needed to be animated in one way, only to find they didn’t suit it or demanded an alternative approach?
Tom: In some ways, because it’s not like these are real world things, with real bones, muscles and lots of references to draw upon. I’m also fighting the computer somewhat because a lot of the movement is calculated by the software, so things would behave erratically from time to time, especially at the beginning. That being said, they were mostly painless to get moving. I usually started with a basic full body movement and then animated and refined each part of the creature once that was in place. When there was a convincing feeling of aliveness, I would go back and add some secondary movement and fine-tune lots of settings to give things more or less weight and elasticity.
Phil: For those less technical amongst us, give us an idea of how long these short sequences took to render – I think this means you having to explain 1) how many frames there are in a second of animation, and 2) how long each frame takes to render and 3) what you have to do with all those frames once they’ve been produced?
Tom:Depending on the creature, the render time for one frame of animation can range from about one minute 30 seconds for the quickest, to just over five minutes for the most complicated. There are usually 25 frames in a single second of animation, and each clip is ten seconds long. If the average time for one creature animation is three minutes, that will take something like 12 hours to render. I was sleeping to sounds of whirring computer fans multiple nights in a row and waking up in the morning to get my finished renders, which is very satisfying – but very annoying when you overlook something, make an error and have to do the whole rendering thing again!
When it comes to rendering the final animation, I really must consider how long each frame takes. Adding just 30 seconds onto the render of a single frame will increase the total render time by hours and cost me in more ways than one! When it comes to rendering, time really is money – because I have an electricity bill to pay!
Anyway once everything is rendered, I load all the frames of animation into DaVinci Resolve, a free editing suite, and I can see the final images in action. This is always the best part!
Phil: What’s the next phase of this project look like?
Tom: Hopefully, I’ve proved these creatures can move fairly convincingly, so the next part is to actually turn everything into a short animation. That means lots and lots of animating and lots of decisions about this thing as a film. I’ve been watching a lot of Jacques Cousteau documentaries, experimental animation and microscopic biology videos in preparation!
Phil: Finally then, how’s life in Japan? I think we need to know about the flora and fauna; what excess of wildlife are you dealing with currently?
Tom:The number of creepy crawlies has dropped off but like everywhere we are battling the effects of the pandemic on the economy and people’s daily lives, but things have to keep ticking over and even in these strange times Japan isn’t a country that lets you rest or take your foot off the pedal, especially if you want to try and reach beyond your comfort zone. It has been a struggle to balance all the things I want to do with my life here, especially under the cloud of coronavirus but I’ll keep reminding myself there is still this weird animation that must be made!