Cutting a new scrapbook reel is one of those times when you sit back and reflect on the blood, sweat and (hopefully not so many) tears that have gone into projects completed the last couple of years. We’re often too busy making the work to be able to put time aside to showcase the projects collectively. I had a lot of fun putting this reel together. Picking my favourite pieces and crafting this sketchbook of treasures. It expresses the energy and dynamic style I love to work in. The reel is a collection of all the different animation, illustration and design mediums I enjoy experimenting with, be it stop motion / CGI / 2D / live action or just a mental mash up of it all in one project.
Each brief brings its own welcomed challenges. I like to meet those challenges whilst exploring new techniques and disciplines. Above all, I like each piece of work to look completely different and not follow a particular style that is repeated time and time again.
Every brief and every client deserves a bespoke piece that should only be associated with their brand. A standalone look.
For me it’s about striking that perfect balance of strong messaging, heart felt emotion and humour to any commercial or short film I work on, especially for those more sensitive projects such as New Mindset for the Global Mental Health Foundation which recently won a British Animation Award or Meet Mozzie for Malaria Must Die campaign.
What I enjoy more than anything though, is the craft behind these projects, and working closely with the hugely talented teams at Aardman. Directing commercials is one of those golden jobs that never ceases to excite, never has a dull moment, or ever feels run of the mill. It’s a progressive art form, a craft that is ever evolving and long may it last!
Below I have selected a few treasured projects that feature in my Sketch Reel and I’ve shared an in-depth look into how they were made, the challenges, and what I loved about directing them.
‘Visualise this’ Short film
I really wanted to create a piece that captured the humour and absurdity in some of those creative briefing calls, making fun of how they seemingly go round in circles. I was keen to showcase the different disciplines I’ve learnt during my time at Aardman, whilst also drawing on my passions and influences in street culture. It was whilst I was on one of these calls when the lightning bolt hit me – to merge the spit balling and often circular nature of a call, with an array of eye candy visuals! Aardman were totally behind the idea and with their full support we created a really striking film.
A conference call conversation forms the soundtrack to the film. The Director trying to remain positive and enthusiastic whilst the producer plays umpire and client verbally scatter-guns a cocktail of ideas. The narrative lent itself perfectly to showcasing a vast range of skills and techniques, from live action, to CGI and 2D animation, to stop motion and visual effects. The result is a three minute visual frenzy with a good dose of irony and tongue in cheek comedy.
The whole film took about 6 months on and off in down time and between commercials. There were so many different shots and styles in it that it really did take some serious juggling and thinking.
One of the most challenging shots was the glossy black shot.
This effect could be have been done in CGI with a very good team of modellers, lighters and compositors, but I wanted to achieve this in camera.
Firstly I secretly squirrelled away some of my son Vinny’s toys away to Aardman’s model making workshop and spray painted them black. Sorry Vinny!
I hot glued the black toys onto a black board, which turned out to be a huge mistake! You’ll see why later.
Then I cleared the supermarket out of cooking oil. 72 Litres of the greasy stuff. I mixed it with black oil paint and poured it into a casket.
We then rigged the board of toys to a motion control rig. This would act as the winch to raise the toys out of the black oily soup.
Another motion control was rigged to do the panning shot with the camera attached to it, to make sure we could get a nice up-and-across motion in the camera. Great!
We lowered the board of toys into the black soup and the cables that held it up sagged and released the board of toys. Noooooo!
I watched them sink.
Then to add insult to injury, the glue gave way and the toys floated to the surface. How do you re glue something to an oily surface? You don’t. You use screws. After much tinkering it was ready to be submerged again, and after a couple of passes, it worked.
I just love the way the natural glossy highlights move over the objects. All well worth doing in camera for real, and so rewarding once we got it right. I couldn’t have achieved this without the savvy tech support from Nat Sale and Adam Cooke.
‘nEW mINDSET’ united for global mental health, VOICED BY sTEPHEN FRY
‘New Mindset’ was created to help the Global Mental Health community to win support for change to how mental health is funded and treated.
It underlines how mental ill health is a global issue that affects everyone, everywhere. Before its online release for World Mental Health Day (Wednesday 10 October), with hashtag #TimetoAct, the film was shown at the first Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit to politicians, experts, campaigners and people with personal experiences of mental ill health.
We set the film in an attic, as a metaphor for how mental health is stigmatised, underfunded, hidden away in the recesses of global health budget. And then -click- we shine much needed light on the subject. We hope the film can help to bring mental health out of the darkness and into the light.
This film was a real labour of love with a lot of care and attention to detail to give a tactile and genuine feel.
For me, this just had to be a stop motion piece that comes to life in a live action environment. We did create the outer frame of the wooden head in CGI, and all the trinkets were animated in traditional stop motion.
Working with miniatures like the hugging wooden figures, the untangling worry dolls and the authentic wooden mannequin hand, was a real challenge, but the fast-paced hard work resulted in a wonderfully rich, and heart-warming short film.
We filmed the live action in a beautifully quaint and quirky antiques shop in Clifton Village in Bristol. The trinket head was designed to look exactly like a vintage printers block tray and was textured and lit to look dusty and weathered to resemble a mind that had dusty memories and dark corners of worry. The trinkets and props inside were carefully handcrafted, then animated using stop motion in the Aardman studio.
All the components were cleverly composited together to appear as if the whole trinket head was truly coming to life inside an attic.
New Mindset won a gold and silver award at The Drum Roses Creative Awards 2019, and a British Animation Award this year.
‘MARS – Radio4’ Voiced by William Shatner
This three minute short was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to celebrate all that is mysterious and evocative about Mars.
It’s not often you get a free reign on a wonderful brief, I had so much fun creating this bold pulp-fiction style film, narrated by the legendary William Shatner. We take the audience on a fact-fuelled cosmic journey to the mysterious red planet. It’s a colourful collage of live action and animation set to a B – Movie sound score that takes the audience through an exciting visual journey covering interesting facts and trivia about one of the most contemplated planets in our solar system all delivered in mockumentary style. Go Kirk!
‘DACIA – SIMPLE IS SMART’
Commissioned by Agency Driven, the Dacia ‘Simple is Smart’ spot features an animated drive through a paper pop-up city to demonstrate the simplicity of the Dacia line-up. Shot in a single camera movement through CGI, it follows a car driving around buildings and trees, up above pop-up skyscrapers, in and around a test bay, through a police car chase before finally dashing off into the sunset. The Dacia story is explained right from the rigorous testing of the model, through to the on the road price. It presents the Dacia ethos in a perfect environment of simplicity, a key Dacia brand value.
The spot also showcases Aardman’s signature approach of graphic styling and flowing choreography. I wanted to create a really smooth journey with the Dacia vehicle. A subtly textured landscapes, with realistic stop motion lighting picking out paper creases and edges to give a tactile feel.
In a monotone world, you can focus on the performance of the car and the animation instead of being distracted by the backgrounds and unnecessary items around it. We kept the props to an absolute minimum to keep things simple and clutter free, perfectly matching Dacia’s brand philosophy. I think this made the commercial a lot stronger for it.
Interested in working with Danny or have a project you’d like to discuss? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org