As a fitting book-end, I wanted to (re)share a past projects of which I’m very fond, not least because I got to work with a loyal team of generous creatives. If you’re familiar with Red’s Kingdom, you’ll recognise the likes of Emily Clarkson, Ethan Shilling, Deanna Crisbacher and kick-abouter, Simon Holland, all of whom worked on this short educational animated film about the provenance of some ship-wrecked Roman pottery. Let me also introduce you to production team members, Nat Urwin, Tom Smith, Charlie Serafini, Alan Postings, and Jeffrey Wang, whose time and talents this film absorbed so totally for so many weeks.
Commissioned by the trustees of the Seaside Museum Herne Bay and funded by Heritage Lottery, the film was also made with the help and support of the children and staff of the Herne Bay Junior School. I had the pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of the school’s exuberant pupils in our search for the ‘voice of Marcus’, a role that ultimately went to Lake Blumenthal, who auditioned for me so impressively – while dressed as a lion!
Though completely exhausting in only the way putting together an animation can be on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans was a very happy, life-affirming collaboration. I was interviewed on local radio about the project, which you can listen to here – or rather, you can hear my answers to the interviewer’s questions about the development of the animation in this archive of my side of the interview.
Agreed, it’s all been a bit quiet on here recently – no laughing flatworms or lunatic blobs – but that is not to say that some progress isn’t being made on Gelata Spongia Oculus Eruptus – the really rather silly animated short I’m developing with Ethan Shilling, which uses long-forgotten BBC sound effects to give a surfeit of life to a series of simple computer-generated organisms.
In what is in no way a strange email thread for the two of us, Ethan and I have been discussing the nuts-and-bolts of making an Ernst Haeckel-inspired jellyfish laugh. In truth, Ethan has been figuring out how to make our jellyfish react to the sound effects in a suitably ‘jellyfish’ way, while I’ve been writing things like, ‘Um, I think it needs to be more pink.’ Remember, it’s the sound effects themselves driving the animation, courtesy of Ethan’s ‘spectrogram’ widget, last seen in action here. See below for our latest efforts.
Early animation tests by Ethan Shilling
Our pink jellyfish modelled by Ethan Shilling after Haeckel’s zoological illustrations
Last week, I was able to announce work is underway on a new animated short designed to keep Ethan Shilling and myself out of trouble for the next few weeks or two. Since then, Ethan has clearly been hard at work in his secret laboratory deep within the catacombs of Red’s Kingdom giving bristling life to a series of computer-generated flatworms… That’s not a sentence you type very often, but in our continuing quest to envision a clutch of old BBC SFX as ‘living fossils’, there will be stranger proclamations on here I have no doubt!
It’s very early days, but Ethan Shilling and I are working on a new animation project together. Ethan has been my friend and technical director on a whole bunch of whacking great projects, usually involving entire uncharted territories and ridiculously tight time-frames and budgets. Miraculously, Ethan is still talking to me.
I like to think when I email Ethan, his face lights up with glee at the prospect of another adventure in sight and sound. In reality, I suspect he probably groans a bit, because he knows what’s coming next – from me, lots of ‘What ifs?’ and ‘What happens if we do this?’ and from Ethan, lots of ‘Sorry, you want it to do what?‘ and ‘Doing it that way will cost you thousands of pounds’.
One of our last big gigs together was conceptualising and producing over forty minutes of CG-animation for a series of live-synchronisation concerts in France and Poland. The short version is we turned four movements of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet into episodes of abstract animation. The long version is Ethan invented a plug-in to work within Autodesk Maya that took Berlioz’s music and transformed its every note and nuance into a series of instructions to drive the behaviours of all the animated elements on screen. We had tumbling obsidian blocks against a sullen red sky that tumbled exactly in time with Berlioz’s music; we had dancing swirls of light, a dizzying riot of golden balls, and a balletic spray of petals that danced on screen for a full fifteen minutes or so, and which always got a round of applause from concert goers for their sheer hypnotic loveliness.
I think Ethan and I both knew Romeo and Juliet wasn’t going to be the last time we were going to fire up Spectrogram and play around some more with idea of the visualisation of sound. There’s just something wonderfully experimental and unpredictable about this process, and working with Ethan is like working alongside a magician. He allows me to ask for stupid things and muck about a bit and ‘not know’ what I’m trying to achieve from the outset, and that makes the ‘not knowing’ bit very recreational and playful.
The last project Ethan and I worked on together was Marcus and the Mystery of the Pudding Pans for the Seaside Museum Herne Bay and Heritage Lottery. I mention this only because it was while working on the sound design for this film that I happened upon the online BBC Sound Effects archive. The actual url address for the site is bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk – an acropolis being an ancient citadel. This image of this collection of sound effects existing within the vaults of some dusty, cavernous environment really fired my imagination. I also experienced a weird pang of sadness for all those strange categories of sound effects – sonic relics going otherwise unheard. My mind’s eye then presented me with a fleeting image of some abyssal trench, where deep down in the dark, these disembodied sound effects circled each other like rarely glimpsed species of marine life…
And that was it. A few email exchanges later with Ethan, and we’d agreed to develop this idea a little further. A few more emails later, we were already experimenting, and as of right now, we’re moving forwards on a fun idea for a new short animated film we’re calling ‘gelata spongia oculous eruptus’ – which is bastardised Latin for ‘jelly blob eye pop’ – the title Ethan gave to one of our first little experimental clips.
What follows are a series of very early experiments in which a bunch of very silly sound effects dug out from the BBC acropolis are given the Spectrogram treatment. I’m going to say ‘enjoy’, because you probably will, for these are childish joyful things! If Silly Putty could make a noise, it would make noises like these!
As Ethan and I continue to develop this project from these early trials to something more coherent, I’ll be sharing updates on our progress here. More blob-shaped sonic oddities coming soon.