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Aardman Academy alumni Kessiah Arthur on Stop Motion 1 and film festival success

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Since graduating the Aardman Academy’s 12 week Stop Motion 1 course in May, Kessiah Arthur’s final project has received recognition from a number of international film festivals. In this blog, Kessiah shares her experience, from her motives for signing up to her hopes for the future.

Growing up with Aardman classics, series like Brambly Hedge and Old Bear Stories, and films that featured much larger characters, like Jurassic Park, Alien and Pan’s Labyrinth, I have always been mesmerised by the life that can be captured with puppets. They’re real, living and breathing, have personality and, in my opinion, are the finest examples of true movie magic! Having now found a career in the world of practical creature FX in the film industry, I have been wanting to extend my knowledge into learning more about my other childhood inspiration: stop motion animation.

To do this, I had been considering learning stop motion animation in my own time for a while, and when I finally paused due to a worldwide pandemic – where I suddenly had a lot more free time on my hands than usual – I started looking into it more seriously, and was thrilled to discover the launch of the Aardman Academy’s new Industry Training: Stop Motion 1 course. I jumped at the chance to learn properly from seasoned professionals with a company that has been creating some of the most inspiring stories and endearing characters during my lifetime.

When signing up for the Aardman Academy’s first run of Stop Motion 1, I was very excited but also apprehensive at the learning curve ahead, having had no animation experience at all! But anyone who knows me, knows that I love a challenge, and it was one I was particularly happy to dive into with both feet (actually, probably head first) with total trust that I would get as much out of it as I possibly could, which I did – and more!

Despite the learning curve being quite challenging, I loved the process and had so much fun coming up with silly short scenarios for my character to go through for each task. Each week was a vital stepping stone and a bigger step than the last, but the progression with each push was totally worthwhile! The most challenging week for me I think was week four, when we started properly animating with the full biped armature. It was hard keeping track of each joint for each new frame, and smooth animation seemed impossible at the time, but as the weeks continued, I started to get the hang of it and quicker than I would’ve thought!

The tutors were exceptionally open about passing on their hard-earned knowledge to us, and the amount of behind-the-scenes access Aardman allowed us to have, to help us see detailed examples of what, how and why they were teaching us at each stage, was totally unexpected! I also had Laurie Sitzia as my personal mentor, who was wonderful, very easy to talk to, and really helped push me to develop my animation skills every week. I loved my weekly chats with her and she also seemed to love my silly sense of humour and was incredibly supportive. She particularly helped me refine my storytelling and character performance, which I felt was vital additional experience that became very significant when it came to my final piece.

I couldn’t have asked to be part of a nicer group on the course. We were all as enthusiastic as each other and helped each other wherever we could, even if it was cheering on those who were particularly struggling that week. We have continued to stay in touch and it is lovely to be a part of such an encouraging community who love moving objects frame by frame and can understand the passion and the problems that come with it! Our community page discussions inspired my final short film “Stop Motion: The Making Of” where I animated a gag reel based on the problems and things we collectively discovered can go wrong whilst animating over the duration of the course.

After encouraging responses to my short film after our graduation screening, I decided to submit my short film to be considered at various film festivals that are taking place throughout the year. I am delighted that so many people have responded so warmly to it, and that Steve, with his little piece of cake, has now been watched internationally! It has been very surreal, and it has so far been selected to be a part of five festivals worldwide, and received a nomination for Best UK Short at the London Shorts Festival 2021, is a finalist in Vancouver’s Independent Film Festival May 2021, and has most recently won two awards of excellence in the Best Shorts Film Festival June 2021 and an Honourable Mention for Best Animation at the Prague International Indie Film Festival third quarterly screening, where it has also been put forward as a semi-finalist in their annual event! I am truly astonished by this reaction and so grateful for everything I have learnt thanks to everyone at the Aardman Academy!

Kessiah Arther Stop Motion poster

From here, I am hoping to make more animations, keep practicing everything I have learnt and want to progress towards making some of my more ambitious ideas and stories that I have been longing to make. I am really excited to see where this journey will take me and it definitely feels like the start of something big – but more importantly, fun!

 

about kessiah

A flourishing artist in the practical and creature FX department in feature films, Kessiah enjoys making the weird, wild and wonderful, and is continuing her pursuit in movie magic by creating her own characters and films in the magical world of stop motion animation

Learn more about the Aardman Academy Industry Training: Stop Motion 1 course at the next open day.

Production Spotlight: Emanuel Nevado

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In this week’s Spotlight Series, Emanuel Nevado describes a typical day in the life of an Aardman Animator. Read on to learn more about his career journey, favourite projects and proudest achievement.

How did you start out in the industry and what role or roles have you had while working at Aardman?

I graduated from university with a degree in Musicology, worked in classical music, then went on to study Fine Arts where I really got into sculpture. Sculpture led to animation. When I moved from Lisbon to Barcelona I decided to study a Master’s in Animation and worked as a Stop Motion Animator in advertising. While living there, I saw an ad for the NFTS/Aardman Academy Certificate in Animation in Bristol and decided to apply. Since then, I have been working as a stop motion animator in the UK (Bristol, Manchester) and Portugal.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Aardman regularly for the past seven years, first as a Trainee Assistant Animator on Shaun the Sheep series 5, then as a Junior Animator on Early Man, and as an Animator on A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Shaun the Sheep: Adventures from Mossy Bottom, The Epic Adventures of Morph and the upcoming Shaun the Sheep special.

What impact did the Aardman Academy have on your career?

Let’s just say that in three months I learnt more than I had in years.

Seeing the studio from the inside (whose work I had admired for years) and having the mentorship of Loyd Price and others made me more confident and entirely sure that animation is what I want to do.

To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?

One of my proudest moments in the last few years happened when working on Early Man’s mammoth shots. The mammoth was such a different beast of a puppet. Due to its huge scale and physical and technical demands, no one was entirely sure it was technically possible to make it work convincingly. A true team effort, across teams in all departments, ended with what felt like a victory of stop motion (especially when CG might have been the obvious choice at first).

Tell us what a typical day is like for you…

I wake up and have some coffee while trying to teach new words to Clint (my pet parrot). Once at Aardman, the day starts with a morning meeting. I’m then briefed by the Director and get launched on a shot.  That means… frame, frame, frame, frame, frame… Relax at lunchtime with some of my favourites at the canteen. Coffee. Frame, frame, frame, frame, frame. At the end of the day, it’s back home for piano classes and family.

What do you like most about working at Aardman?

Working with people who challenge me and teach me to be better. Also, it fills my heart with joy to see how the work of Aardman over the years captivates “kids” of all ages.

What’s your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?

Couldn’t choose one, really. Projects mix with life and every project represents a different time in my life and they all left great memories. Right now, the Shaun the Sheep special is looking amazing and it has been a blast working with such a brilliant team.

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting into the industry?

Find the best to teach you. In my experience, the best professionals are usually very good at sharing the knowledge.

Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?

Gromit is a favourite, but I also have a soft spot for Feathers McGraw. I love the mix of spookiness and simplicity of his expressions.

What are your Dreams? Making an animated short on the PS4

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It may not be the most common conception of Aardman, but we’ve always been interested in new technologies.

Whether that’s building motion control systems to move a diffuser made from a pint glass in sync with stop motion animation, the VR system we built on Early Man so Nick (Park) could line up shots in the CG stadium, or the compute shader based painterly system for 11-11: Memories Retold, using new tech to create beautiful things that have that handmade warmth is what we do.

So, when we saw Media Molecule’s Dreams, and how you can sculpt in a 3D space with paint strokes using PS4 motion controllers (and MUCH more), light bulbs started glowing around the studio. A chance meeting at FMX when I was doing a talk after Kareem Ettouney (Media Molecule art director), led to a visit to their awesome studio, and finding out we shared a lot of the same ethos as companies.

Gem Abdeen, MM’s Outreach Manager, said “We have been big fans of Aardman for a long time and when we had the chance to meet some of the team (pre-Covid!) we knew it was a start of a great relationship. Seeing what such a uniquely creative animation studio like Aardman can do with Dreams is so inspiring, and we’re excited to see how we can continue to collaborate.”

So what did we do together? I’ll pass over to my learned colleague Will Studd

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We got together with Michael, Ed and Gemma at Media Molecule over a zoom chat and kicked around some fun animated Dreams ideas. We thought about games vs straight animation, but we wanted to make something musical, characters that people could pick up and play, so we came up with the idea of a 2-player interactive puppet performance – essentially a little music based toy with fun characters for people to bring to life.

To start off I created a bunch of initial designs in Dreams. Our first thought was to design a character that could be in segments, like a concertina. We wanted a body shape that could be very mobile and dynamic. Each section of the main character (in this case burger, cheese, tomatoes etc.) is linked with bolts in a stack to create a bendy, kind of snake like, setup.

We included lots of dynamic attributes that take advantage of Dreams’ physics engine. Stuff that makes the puppet feel tactile and physical, like the hairy moustache, hair style and monocle. These assets shake, ruffle and jangle like the real thing, giving Burgerotti lots of lovely follow through with overlapping animation.

We also wanted to create a classic Aardman loop mouth that you could trigger live, with audio. Michael Pang created a really clever set up that reacts to sound, with random ‘m’ and ‘v’ mouth shapes on the closing action to mix it up and make feel more natural. Ed created the perfect spooky opera music using Dreams’ composing tools.

Loops mouths and eyes sketches

Michael also created the awesome stage hand. I love how his eyes are movable, using the thumb sticks of the controller and that the fingers have a slight wobble as he moves.

After modelling we used Dream’s simple logic tools to rig a bunch of levers and buttons for the hand to trigger that affect the audio. For example, if you lower the lights, it causes the burger to catch fire, and also mixes through to a different singing track that features lots of painful sounding ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’. This bit was really fun to play with as they could be linked to a wide array of audio effects – I think people will have fun remixing them.

Overall, I think Dreams makes the creative process so enjoyable. It’s great knowing you can get awesome results so quickly, without learning loads of UI and caching loads of previews.

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And so without further ado, Aardman and Media Molecule present: Burgerotti and Stage Hand

 

 

If you want to play around with Burgerotti and remix your own version, you can find it here: https://indreams.me/element/orJnrxRBEHq

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Behind the Craft: Chocapic Trust

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Aardman Director Magdalena Osinska goes behind the scenes of our recent commercial for Nestlé cereal brand, Chocapic, covering the creative process from character design to sustainability.

Even though the ad is only 20 seconds it was a big undertaking. We did four different language versions for different countries, each of them slightly different, lots of social media assets and a PR film which showed the sustainable approach of our production.

In classic Chocapic style, this commercial was going to be fast paced, a mixture of slapstick, adventure and mouth watering, delicious shots. But we also had an important message about sustainability, so there would be a lot of focus on nature and sustainability – hillside farms, wheat fields, haystacks and animals.

The cereal’s iconic mascot, a rather frenetic dog called Pico that loves chocolate, explains the sustainable origins of Chocapic as we see the wheat and chocolate coming together to create the delicious choco petals.

Pico brings a crazy amount of energy and humour to the story, especially when contrasted with the beautiful and serene farmland scenery. We see the farmer who’s been working in the fields, cows grazing, rabbits, chickens by the farmhouse and a horse-drawn cart carrying barrels of chocolate. It all looks idyllic and peaceful, while Pico chaotically rolls down on a runaway hay-bale.

Storyboard frames by Luis Pueyo

We started the process by working out the story. We had a lot to say in a 20 second film! We wanted to see a serene landscape with Pico causing havoc, rolling down hills and crashing into a chocolate cart, flying up into the atmosphere and landing back down, creating a field full of delicious Chocapic, all while also introducing no less than ten characters (including my favourite extras such as Ladybird and Madeleine the Snail). We were working very closely with the brilliant McCann Paris agency who knew exactly what they wanted and together with the amazing storyboarding skills of Luis Pueyo we managed to fit everything in.

This film was going to be super fast, with an extremely dynamic pace!

Alongside the story we worked on the character and background design. We were inspired by images of French countryside and farms, personalities and actors. We knew that the client loved the classic Aardman style so it was a great opportunity to work in our house style, but with French influences. I had the huge pleasure to work with James Grant who designed beautiful atmospheric backgrounds of the French countryside.

For the character design we worked with Sylvia Bull and she was absolutely perfect for the job. Sylvia has previously worked on Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep, which was the style we were looking for. Working on the characters was lots of fun – most of them were inspired by real people which adds an additional layer to them, making them more real. They all have names, some small background stories and character descriptions. For example Victor the Cockerel – proud, friendly, but always running late – or Gerard the Goat – laid back, but easily spooked!

Designing Pico

The iconic character Pico has been Chocapic’s mascot for 30 years. But he’s always been an animated 2D and CG character so we had the great challenge of turning him into a real stop-motion puppet for the first time. We wanted to keep his original likeness and character, but add a bit of an Aardman touch with the eyes, teeth and mouth. He was probably the most difficult character to design, but we did lots of variations to get the balance just right!

Animating Pico

Now, this was the thing that excited me probably the most. In order to convey the character of Pico from previous animations, we studied the old 2D ads frame-by-frame. Pico’s animation was super dynamic and used some crazy squashes and stretches – which would be difficult to animate in CG or with foam latex puppets – but because we were working with clay we could imitate these extreme movements. I really wanted to push the animation to achieve the same dynamic and fun movement that our viewers would expect of Pico. These frames can look very odd when you pause the film and stare at a single frame, but give a great illusion of movement.

Please see below the examples of 2D ads and our stop motion frames.

Stretches

We had lots of fun trying to imitate 2D stretches from the previous Chocapic ads

Animators

Wonderful animators Emanuel Nevado, Yago Alvarezand, Darren Thomson, and rigger Sam Holland bringing Pico and friends to life

Discussing animation with brilliant animator Laurie Sitzia

Stop Motion and Sustainability

Stop motion has a very unique quality because the sets are hand-made and the performances are more human, which makes it feel more tangible, authentic, warm and impressive. There’s a connection between the farmer caressing the wheat, selecting ears of wheat by hand and the way we make our work.

A very important part of this production was sustainability. This was one of the reasons Chocapic decided to work with us. Besides Aardman already having a record of doing sustainable productions there’s a connection between Chocapic and Aardman in our shared care for details, quality and human touch.

Throughout the production we were very mindful about the materials we were using. For the puppets we didn’t use any chemical materials such a foam latex. Latex has ammonia so we decided to use materials that are non toxic and user friendly. The bodies were fully clay, the clothes out of fabric textiles, and the armatures had a wooden core.

In terms of making the sets, we used only FSC wood and recycled wood, water based paints and organic moss. We also used recycled polystyrene, textiles and cardboard.

Tom Sewell working on the farmhouse, recycled cardboard and FSC wood.

Set dresser Claire Baker and rigger Sam Holland laying one of the fields, Phillip Davies painting the path

Art director Helen Javes, set dresser Claire Baker and Rachel Bennett adding final touches to the fields, combing the fur and adding flowers

BUILDING THE SETS

We spent quite a lot of time perfecting the designs with the agency to have a good reference of how to build the set. To create the illusion of rolling hills spreading into the distance, we used several decks of sculpted polystyrene covered with various textiles. I loved coming into the studio and seeing a strange composition of floating decks that only magically come together through the camera lens. Our Art Director Helen Javes has a great skill of arranging these huge anamorphic creations to make a beautiful illusion of a real world. Simon Jacobs, our Director of Photography, used lots of different and extreme lenses (every shot has a different lens) that really helped the action feel dynamic.

Footage from the floor, final footage after compositing

Our amazing camera crew: Director of Photography – Simon Jacobs, Camera Assistant – Adam Cook, Lighting – Nat Sale

CGI ELEMENTS AND COMPOSITING

Besides having a stop motion shoot we had to create quite a few elements in CG. The major CG generated element was the chocolate choco petals and there was a fair amount of compositing on every shot where our CG team added the final, magical touch.

Team of compositors lead by Bram Ttwheam put together some separate elements such as fields and animals, composited in the skies and atmosphere. We also did a special wheat treatment in post as this was one of the elements that was very important for our clients.

About Magdalena Osinska

Magda is an award-winning director at Aardman. Over the eight years Magda has been with Aardman, she’s directed stop motion, CGI, 2D and live action commercials. Her most recent work includes a number of DFS adverts; including Wallace & Gromit’s ‘The Great Sofa Caper’, Dammy the Beaver, as well as Share the Orange, an Alzheimer’s Research UK campaign spanning three years, starring Samuel L Jackson, Bryan Cranston and Christopher Eccleston. The film was a PR Week Award Winner and it became the most successful digital campaign in the charity’s history.

Follow Magdalenda on Instagram here.

Behind the Craft: Wetland Heroes

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Interactive Producer Chloe Barraclough explains how we created ‘Wetland Heroes’ – a new, free app for WWT Slimbridge that helps families connect with wildlife.

BRIEF

The core objective for this project was to create a digital product that drives visitors to find the lesser explored areas of the Slimbridge site.  An objective which stemmed from a fairly comprehensive research and development phase that we at Aardman were fortunate enough to design and implement alongside Slimbridge. This research phase enabled us to gather first hand the audience’s needs, placing them at the very heart of our thinking. 

AUDIENCE

Our research showed a need to attract social and family groups to explore more of the site, as these visitors tended to follow the same path. Following some in depth interviewing and data gathering with visitors to Slimbridge, our research also showed that this audience group were particularly screen averse. So straight away we were faced with the challenge – how do we design a digital product for an audience who don’t like looking at screens?

APPROACH

This isn’t the first time Aardman has been given the challenge to build something that is both screen-based yet also designed to encourage people to keep their heads up and enjoy their surroundings, without relying solely on the screen to drive the experience. We also worked with Forestry England on the Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon Glow Trail app, which too had an objective to drive visitors around the forests and engage with their surroundings, so to be ‘heads up’ rather than ‘heads down’. Much like Glow Trail, this product needed to behave as a non-obtrusive digital guide to prompt users to do certain things as they explored the site. With this in mind we visited Slimbridge to experience first hand the visitor journey, mapping out the ‘heads up’ moments so we could see how a digital guide might fit in. Of course with our subject matter largely being flying creatures, the ‘heads up’ moments were particularly important!

Full of inspiration from our real life feathered friends, our Creative Lead Ben Templeton led an internal brainstorming session to start exploring the user journey both in the digital space of the app and the physical space of Slimbridge, looking at possible digital solutions that facilitate fun in the real world, in a non-disruptive way whilst still retaining Aardman’s character driven charm.

We worked through these concepts with Slimbridge, always keeping the audience’s needs at the heart of it. The concept that felt the strongest was one that encouraged the user to be curious about their real world environment. We were fortunate enough to have had an incredible visitor guide as we walked around the site and we were endlessly asking questions as we wanted to know more about the amazing wildlife living at the site. It struck us that having a digital solution that helps the audience to collect knowledge could be really cool. 

Thinking about our target audience, families and social groups, it needed to be something familiar in concept and easy to grasp, so we came up with the idea of using a card based experience, a mechanism very familiar to this audience group, which we felt would be a great way to facilitate collecting facts.

We also wanted to make the fact collecting fun and rewarding to the user, so took inspiration from the wildlife itself. ‘Wetland Heroes’ is both a nod to the wildlife at Slimbridge and the users of the app, making them feel like they are the heroes of their fact finding mission, becoming experts in this field.

Slimbridge Aardman Wetland Heroes app

TESTING

Not relying on assumptions alone, like with all our interactive projects, we tested with a prototype of the final app at Slimbridge with the very people the app is aimed at, families and social groups. 

User testing enabled us to verify our assumptions and question our thinking. Improving and iterating upon our concept and getting real life feedback was invaluable and helped us refine what worked and what didn’t.

 

We’re excited to be finally sharing the Wetlands Heroes app with the public, and with the challenges Covid has presented, we hope this app will be a great way for families and social groups to reconnect and explore all the incredible wildlife Slimbridge has to offer.

Broadway Producers Unite To Create The Theatre Leadership Project

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A group of theatre producers have joined forces to launch The Theatre Leadership Project (TTLP), an ambitious nonprofit aimed at providing resources to programs that seek to diversify commercial theatre leadership. The new organization has partnered with leading theatrical organizations Black Theatre Coalition and Columbia University’s Prince Fellowship and an advisory council that includes key entertainment figures including Whoopi Goldberg, Kamilah Forbes, Whitney White, Aaliytha Stevens, Brian Moreland, Robert Fried, Stefan Schick and Oliver Sultan to establish a three-year fellowship program. The program will train, mentor and place the next generation of Black producers, general managers, company managers and stage managers in an industry where Black professionals are dramatically underrepresented. Set to begin in fall 2021, the fellowship programs will be open to candidates across the U.S. who desire careers in commercial theatre management or production. 

Founding members are producers Barbara Broccoli (Once, The Band’s Visit), Lia Vollack (MJ the Musical, Almost Famous), Alecia Parker (Waitress, Chicago), Patrick Daly (The Mountaintop; August: Osage County) and Travis LeMont Ballenger (MJ the Musical, Almost Famous). TTLP, together with its Advisory Council, will advise on TTLP programming and act as mentors to the fellows. Leah Harris, formally of Dallas Theater Center and Milwaukee Rep, will serve as program manager. 

“It is our belief at TTLP that long-term financial support alongside training/mentorship and networking opportunities will provide successful outcomes for the program’s participants. We are thrilled to be in partnership with existing organizations such as Black Theatre Coalition, supporting the leadership work they are already doing at the forefront of change,” said Broccoli and Vollack. 

For General and Company Management Fellowships, TTLP will partner with Black Theatre Coalition (BTC), which has created year-long fellowship programs aimed at bringing Black artists and managers to all areas of the theatrical field. In collaboration with TTLP, Black Theatre Coalition will create six two-year General and Company Management Fellowships with six leading Broadway general management offices. After the first two years in Black Theatre Coalition program, TTLP will work to assist fellows with job placement. 

BTC Co-Founder and Artistic Director T. Oliver Reid said, “We realized that there was a necessary element that no one has talked about: long-term, sustained, paid apprenticeships and fellowships. Through Black Theatre Coalition’s Management Fellowships, in partnership with TTLP, we can make certain that when these general and company management fellows are given opportunities, they are ready for it.

Being in these rooms and building relationships, alongside the knowledge gained during the fellowship will help us move the needle towards equity in the American theatre.” 

Each year, the distinguished Prince Fellowship (formerly the T. Fellowship, in association with the Columbia University School of the Arts) provides one early career producer with the network, financial resources and mentorship necessary for a career as a creative producer. Beginning in 2021 for three successive years, TTLP will partner with the program to fund an additional fellow. TTLP Creative Producing Fellows will each spend the second year of their fellowship working in a production office. In the third year, TTLP will use its financial resources and networks to help the fellows find job placement opportunities. 

TTLP has also contributed to the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program for stage management; an additional announcement will be forthcoming on TTLP stage management fellowships. 

All TTLP Fellows will receive a compensation package that includes healthcare. Please see the TTLP website, www.theatreleadershipproject.org, for more information on the package. 

TTLP has been generously supported by the Dana & Albert R. Broccoli Charitable Foundation; Diana DiMenna; John Gore, Lauren Reid and the John Gore Organization; K Period Media; MGM; and the Shubert Organization, Inc. All donations are tax-deductible through The Theatre Leadership Project’s 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF). 

The post Broadway Producers Unite To Create The Theatre Leadership Project appeared first on EON Productions.

How ‘Pinocchio’ Turned a Real Boy Into a Puppet Who Longs to Be a Real Boy – Variety

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Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The many stages of Federico Ielapi’s transformation into Pinocchio, which required the young actor to sit for hours as prosthetics were applied to his face, legs and hands. The final look is inspired by the novel’s illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti and Carlo Chiostri.

Oscar-nominated prosthetics makeup artist Mark Coulier says young actor Federico Ielapi spent three hours in the makeup chair each day to transform into the title role.

Carlo Collodi’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio has been adapted for the screen numerous times, but for Matteo Garrone’s 2020 film Pinocchio, the director wanted to be faithful to the original book, first published in 1883. The look of the eponymous wooden puppet who longs to be real boy thus started with examinations of the book’s early illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti and Carlo Chiostri.

Prosthetics makeup artist Mark Coulier — a two-time Oscar winner, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Iron Lady, who is nominated for Pinocchio alongside makeup artist Dalia Colli and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti — relates that the team started by creating the designs, and once Federico Ielapi was cast in the lead role, they continued to refine the look. “It has to be movable. It has to have expression,” says Coulier. “It has to conform to the actor’s physiognomy, so it did evolve and change [while] maintaining the flavor of original drawings.”

Another difficulty was putting a realistic wood grain on the prosthetic pieces. “It was quite tricky, working on how to sculpt it, to paint it correctly,” Coulier says, explaining that each silicone piece was hand-painted. That was a complex task because every piece was destroyed in the process of removing it at the end of the day, meaning that single-use identical prosthetics were required for each day of production. “You have to be able to hold them up and have them be identical. We had a master paint job, and it was painstakingly [hand-]copied, line by line, grain by grain … We had a team painting pieces during the day, [to] keep three days [ahead of production].”

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions  Rather than use digital effects for Pinocchio’s appendages, director Matteo Garrone had makeup artist Mark Coulier design prosthetic arms and legs.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Rather than use digital effects for Pinocchio’s appendages, director Matteo Garrone had makeup artist Mark Coulier design prosthetic arms and legs.

Ielapi, who was 9 years old at the time, would spend roughly three hours each day in makeup, where face, hand, leg and foot prosthetics were attached. “We applied the makeup about 50 times,” says Coulier. “For the arms, “we tried gloves, but the process of making gloves makes them slightly thicker than if you have a prosthetic appliance,” he says. “If you do it as an appliance, you can sculpt them thinner and you get more elegant-looking hands. So I really wanted to change from the gloves to hand prosthetics, even though it added an extra 25 minutes, half an hour in the chair every day.”

The young actor also had silicone appliances on his legs and shoes. “We took a mold of [the shoes] on Federico’s foot, and then we sculpted our silicone boot to make it look like wood over the top of the shoe.”

Coulier admits that, as initially conceived, Pinocchio’s hands, legs and neck were going to be digital. “Matteo always wanted a prosthetic face — for performance, really,” he explains. “Slowly but surely, we realized that the neck would work as a prosthetic neck,” and then it was finally decided to go with full prosthetics. “Matteo just thought that it would work … [and] it would give him freedom on set to capture as much as possible in camera.”

Roughly 25 characters in the film involved prosthetics, including the Fox, Cricket and Snail (played by Maria Pia Timo) and others from the puppet theater of Mangiafuoco. “We built a full snail costume with a full-size snail shell that’s about a meter across and a meter tall,” says Coulier. “And we had [Timo] in a full foam latex snail suit with a silicone snail head and snail arms.”

By Caroline Giardina, 12 April 2021

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/behind-screen/how-pinocchio-turned-a-real-boy-into-a-puppet-who-longs-to-be-a-real-boy

UK producer Jeremy Thomas talks Oscar return, his new starring role and friendship with Johnny Depp – Screen International

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UK producer Jeremy Thomas is back on the awards trail more than 30 years after Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, produced by Thomas, won nine Oscars. 

The founder and chairman of London-based Recorded Picture Company is a producer on Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, which has two Oscar nominations for make-up and hairstyling as well as costume design.

An independent Italian-language film, launched during the pandemic, Thomas suggests Pinocchio was not an obvious Oscar contender. “Nobody was going to the cinema and it was very hard to get any traction in terms of people seeing the film,” he says. 

However, sold internationally by Thomas’ sales outfit HanWay Films, the film was released in the UK by Vertigo Releasing in August – doing strong business in between lockdowns. It was released in the US by Roadside Attractions on December 25.

Pinocchio marks Thomas’ third collaboration with Garrone after Tale Of Tales and Dogman and the producer believes a large part of the film’s appeal is that it showcases “the finest Italian artisan work… the tradition of hand-making films”, that stretches back to the movies made in Italian studios by his old partner Bertolucci and the likes of Federico Fellini.

UK craftspeople also feature strongly, notably make-up effects artist Mark Coulier, whose prosthetics work on Pinocchio has earned an Oscar nomination, as well as visual-effects supervisor Rachel Penfold and composer Dario Marinelli, who is Italian-born but has spent most of his career in the UK.

Novel experience 

Some 50 years after his career began as an assistant editor on films including Ken Loach’s Family Life (1971) and Perry Hernzell’s The Harder They Come (1972), Thomas is moving in front of the camera for the first time as a the subject of a documentary directed by Mark Cousins.

With a working title of The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas, the film details the career of a man once described by Bertolucci as a “hustler in the fur of a teddy bear” and celebrates his work on the 70 or so films he has produced to date including Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka and Bad Timing, Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.

Thomas says the experience has proved a nostalgic one. “It has been moving for me because Mark is a good filmmaker and we were very intimate in as much as it was just him and me,” says Thomas. “He knows cinema like me and we can rap about cinema.”

Produced by David P Kelly, the film is told against the backdrop of Thomas’ annual trip to Cannes, with Thomas and Cousins driving to the festival in an Alfa Romeo ahead of the 2019 edition. The journey includes a stop-off at the Drancy Internment Camp, where Jews were rounded up by French police prior to being sent to Auschwitz. “I talked about that because I am Jewish,” says Thomas.

Further stops along the way include Paris, Lyon and Orleans, where they discussed Carl Dreyer’s silent classic The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. Once the pair reach Cannes, the film catches the moment the staff at the Carlton Hotel greet the veteran producer like an old friend and follows Thomas as he attends screenings and meetings.

The documentary also touches on Thomas’s recovery from recent illness and his philosophy about cinema, and includes interviews with Tilda Swinton, Debra Winger and other collaborators.

Made in the UK

Although he is renowned for his collaborations with Italian, Japanese and North American filmmakers,and has been cutting deals and making films abroad since he was in his 20s (when he headed to Australia in the mid-1970s to produce Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper), Thomas has a legacy and heritage forged in the UK. His father Ralph Thomas and uncle Gerald Thomas were key figures in post-war British cinema, the former making Doctor In The House comedies and the latter directing all 30 films in the Carry On comedy series.

Thomas himself is an ex-chair of the British Film Institute (BFI) and a passionate champion of the National Film Archive. Over the years, he has worked with leading British directors including Roeg, Stephen Frears, Bernard Rose, Claire Peploe, Julien Temple, Ben Wheatley, Jonathan Glazer and David Mackenzie. He has also collaborated closely with US-born, UK-based Terry Gilliam on some of the filmmaker’s most outlandish and visionary projects such as Tideland and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

As ever, Thomas has several projects on the boil. These include Bernard Rose’s Travelling Light, shot in California during the pandemic, and a planned new feature from Japanese maverick director Takashi Miike, with whom he previously worked on films including Blade Of The Immortal and First Love. The producer also remains doggedly loyal to long-term collaborators such as Wim Wenders and Israel’s Amos Gitai, whose recent Venice festival entry Laila In Haifa was sold by HanWay.

“HanWay is looking after [Gitai’s] wonderful catalogue and he is a major filmmaker who is represented every year in a fantastic film festival with a great movie… of course he’s mine,” quips Thomas. “I like to support my friends and colleagues in life where I can. He has been very supportive of me over the years. I am very happy to work with Amos and Wim [Wenders] and all the other filmmakers who are part of my support system.”

Another friend who continues to receive the producer’s support is Johnny Depp. Thomas executive produced The Brave, Depp’s 1997 directorial debut, and HanWay has recently been selling Andrew Levitas’ Minamata, in which the US actor stars as wartime photographer W. Eugene Smith. Depp was also a producer on Julien Temple’s Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, also sold by HanWay.  

Thomas is vocal in his support for the now-controversial actor following his bitterly contested divorce from Amber Heard, which resulted in Depp’s loss in a UK libel case during which he was accused of domestic violence. Depp denied the allegations. 

“I can only say that I find him a wonderful person from my personal experience and he is still my friend,” says Thomas. “[Depp’s troubles] have been challenging. I hope Minamata gets its day.”

The film, which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020, was acquired by MGM last autumn for North America, Germany and Switzerland and has been secured by Vertigo Releasing for the UK.

As for Thomas, he has spent most of the pandemic in his cottage in the Oxfordshire countryside. He has chickens, vegetable gardens and a greenhouse but is clearly itching to return to filmmaking in earnest.

“I hope I can get back to moving around the world easily,” says Thomas. “What has kept my business going and my joy in it is moving around.”

After many years in which the Recorded Picture Company and HanWay Films were based in a building owned by Thomas in Soho’s Hanway Street, the producer is now operating out of offices in west London, near Ladbroke Grove.

“I very, very luckily got out [in 2019] before Covid and went into a place which is more airy in west London,” he adds. “It’s still the same idea of everybody in the building, which is a breathing thing. I am looking forward to getting back to the office, which is a living organism. I am looking forward to us all being back.”

https://www.screendaily.com/features/uk-producer-jeremy-thomas-talks-oscar-return-his-new-starring-role-and-friendship-with-johnny-depp/5158681.article

By Geoffrey Macnab

8 April 2021

Behind the Craft: Hey Pappy

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In this guest blog, Cilian DuBock takes us through the making of Hey Pappy – a six part series of animated shorts premiering on Aardman’s AardBoiled YouTube channel every Friday.

*Note: this blog contains adult content*

The Story

The original concept came from a four panel web comic. I’ve been making these for the past five years and I find them to be an incredible way to test out ideas for short form comedy as they take such a comparatively short time to write and produce, so you can test many ideas in gaps between work. Here’s the original comic strip, created in Photoshop in January 2018:

And here are few more of my comics, if you like what you see there are more on Instagram: @foxy_duboxy.

Hey Pappy comic strip

Hey Pappy comic strip

Hey Pappy comic strip

From this original comic I generated an animatic for the first episode of Hey Pappy, and in doing so I generated a formula for how each story would be structured. The structure is very strict and resembles that of a pre-school style animation which is subverted by the style of comedy. I then proceeded to write many, many episodes – with some help from the boys down at the Hagbox3 studio, turning most of these into storyboards and then whittling them down until I had eight favourites. I created animatics for these and then picked six episodes which I thought worked best in the medium that I had created and took those forward to final episodes.

Hey Pappy storyboard

Art Direction

The art style was also derived from the comic strips that I was creating. I’d experimented in transferring the art style to animation whilst studying Animation at UWE. I wanted to create a visually striking, bright and unique style with a very rigid colour scheme to run throughout the show. There are literally only 6 colours used throughout the entire show (pretty much).

For the past three years I’ve been working mostly as a freelance illustrator. This experience informed a lot of the design choices, especially when it comes to background art. The character design is very flat and stylised so the backgrounds gave the opportunity to lend an illusion of depth as well as using texture, colour and shading to connote the mood.

Making of

I first pitched the series to the team at Aardboiled whilst studying in my 3rd year at UWE Bristol, so a large portion of the initial artwork and concepts were birthed on the Bower Ashton campus. Since graduating in 2019 myself and two of my course mates have set up a small animation studio called Hagbox3 based within the Jam Jar – an amazing hub for creatives, from music producers to carpenters to animators!

Here’s our charming little studio!

The Team

Writer / Director / Designer / Animator – Cilian DuBock (Foxy DuBoxy)
www.foxyduboxy.com
Pappy – Rhys Salt
Rhys is an actor based in Kent. Check him out on YouTube

Boy – Anna Wodehouse
Anna Wodehouse is an actor represented by Waring & McKenna agency in London as well as a member of Fishbowl Theatre.

Theme musicProtagonist

Creative consultant and animatorBen Spybey

Creative ConsultantHector Kuenzler-Byrt

Clean-up animatorBree Madrell-Mander

Hey Pappy follows the curious lives of Pappy and his boy. Each episode the boy poses a very regular question to his Pappy who responds the only way he knows how: with a rarely related, staggeringly stupid and casually criminal story from his life which feels like he was never really listening. Watch now on AardBoiled.

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Aardman Academy alumni blog: Sketch to Screen Model Making

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Aardman Academy alumni Natalie Morrison explains what to expect from the five day Sketch to Screen Model Making workshop.

As a die-Aard(man) fan, finding a course run by people working on Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run was a ‘how fast can you take my payment’, sort of moment.
From tearing open my model-making package sent by Aardman’s studios in Bristol (oh-em-gee this clay came from the same studios as Morph!), logging onto the Zoom call on the first day feeling more than a little star struck, to logging off at the end, completely wiped but elated, the whole journey was a bit of a dream for me.

But setting aside my not-so-inner nerdy fangirl, the course offers a hefty knowledge set for anyone really serious about getting into the field of animation, model making and character design. For me, it was the latter – as a (sometimes) mature illustration MA student I’m looking at my in-roads into the field, and this course really armed me with the starting points I needed.

If you’re lucky, it could also give you some new contacts and even job opportunities through the Aardman Academy platform, which you’re given access to at the end of the course. Still, there were also people on my course there not for career advancement, but for the sheer joy of it, which is brilliant. Essentially, it’s for anyone interested in animation, model making and learning about Aardman’s processes. You will get out of it what you put into it.

Three things to know about the Sketch to Screen Model Making course before you join:
  1. This may only be a week-long course, but you will come away feeling like you have a degree’s worth of knowledge.
  2. The tutors are there every minute of the five days – you won’t be told what to do and left to fend for yourself. Take the opportunity to tap them for knowledge (they have bucket loads!)
  3. I repeat: you will get out of it what you put in. On my course, everyone worked incredibly hard and came out with some amazing results. Be prepared to work, work, work for the week and make the most of it.
Three things I wish I had done before the course started:
  1. The course moves quickly. Very quickly. Having all your tools, glues, fabrics and paints to hand (ie reachable from your seat) will serve you well. Although Aardman send a lot of the materials, you do still have to buy a good chunk. As a guide, I probably spent an extra £50 or so.
    Buy these materials in advance and, for the hard-to-find stuff, consider buying extra. If there is an item on the list you think you might not need, get it anyway. Chances are, this won’t be the last model you make, you will use it at some point. (Trying to source good fabric glue quickly during a lockdown wasn’t fun.)
  2. Really think about each component of your design. Jim and Nancy (the brilliant folks from Aardman who teach the course) tell you not to make your design too complicated. I would add to this – design your puppet keeping in mind the materials could use and start to think about how each of those will move.
  3. Following on from point 2 – consider that every component of your puppet needs to be both sturdy and moveable. The animators will need to be able to move most parts of the puppet (even the hair in some cases) but will also need the parts to stay still for other shots. Don’t choose materials which could make this difficult.
Three practical things to be aware of:
  1. Modelling clay is much tougher to work with than it looks. Your hands will hurt! Learn to massage them.
  2. Don’t work through your breaks. You’re taking on a lot of information – give your mind the space to do it.
  3. It’s worth looking up each of the components on the items list if like me, you’re not entirely sure what they all are (Milliput? Never heard of it!). It’ll save time when the tutors ask you to grab the item, and it can’t hurt to familiarise yourself with everything before you begin.

My project

For anyone interested, here’s my own personal puppet-making journey.

The story

Two weeks before the course starts, you’re asked to submit your character designs. Since character design is a career path I am looking into once my Illustration MA at Falmouth University is complete, I went all in with a back story, designs from young to old – you name it.

My story is called The Rubbish Cart Witch, and my character’s name is Edna. She is part of a secret squat team of spies set to guard the world against a band of evil scientists who set themselves up in an underground layer in England during the last big war. The war ended, but no one told the baddies. Years later, a landfill has been cited on top of the bunkers.

The Edna you see here is elderly, the last one of her crew left, still foiling the evil plans of the last two still standing from scientist lair. Now a disheveled social pariah, she has become known in urban legend as ‘The Rubbish Cart Witch’. (Quick aside: I’m now writing the story as a children’s book!)

Character design

Some of my initial character designs for Edna (bearing in mind that you definitely don’t have to go this detailed on your own designs!) I did find having a back story really helped me to think about my choices, however.

 

Building Edna

Final puppet

Finally, I would say to anyone on the fence about doing the course – go for it. You regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.
For those of you about to start it – I’m very jealous! Have fun 😊

by Natalie Morrison (Journalist, illustrator, fan girl and Aardman Academy alumni)

Natalie can be found on Instagram @nattyillustrations, at her website www.nattyillustrations.com and contacted via email at natalie.morrison@gmail.com.

The post Aardman Academy alumni blog: Sketch to Screen Model Making appeared first on Aardman.

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