Animation Studio Blog

So to go with the new site we thought we should update the blog and try to make it fit in, as it was feeling a little lonely. And here it is.

Ta muchly wordpress gang!

Now if we could only remember to update it more than once a year…

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Pre-production work part 2

In order to achieve the seemingly simple shapes and look of the characters, there was quite a bit of custom rigging, and the characters had to be modelled to work from the right angles. Below is the basic Martin rig with the shapes panel. There was also a keying synoptic to help key quickly and easily.

Please click on the image to see it in full.


We began with the idea that character’s heads would always been seen side on, so started modelling a head that had a set of eyes on both sides, and that we could just rotate round when facing the opposite direction. However, as the storyboard progressed, it became obvious that we would need heads that could be seen from a 3/4 angle as well. As you can see from the image below the main head looks pretty rubbish from straight on. The two heads below that are each of the 3/4 angles. The main control panel had an option to switch the visibility of the heads so we could swap them out and the shape controls were attached to each head so that expressions would match. Using Softimage’s GATOR function was invauable in tansferring shapes to the other heads.


Here’s a test of a head turn to check that it would work ok and not distract the eye too much. An example in the film itself is when grandpa is holding open the door for granny, the head swaps from one 3/4 to the other 3/4. It was always our aim to make the transitions as un-noticable as possible.

The expressions of the character are fairly simple, modelled to imitate the feeling of plasticine being pushed around, so for example the eye sockets themselves being pulled up was an intentional device. We tried to make the shapes feel part of the whole head, and not an isolated section.



With Martin, his moustache was also a good way to help sell emotions. We tried a few different methods to make this work, but ended up going with geometry instanced on hairs, to match the style of his arms and legs, and allow some control over how smooth/messy it is.


The bodies of the characters are, as with the heads, designed to look simple, with a bit more going on under the hood to get graphically pleasing shapes. The main body was shaped with 3 controllers (the pink rings) but there was a second layer of controls which we could enable, in order to shape the cloth/silhouette. Given the way that the head turned, we thought it would be a good idea to be able to rotate the body independently of the shape itself, which you can see in the images to the right – the same rig position, but with the body rotate control round to the character’s left.


The arms and legs were relatively simple, as we knew that they would be a constant colour. They are controlled with a stretchy IK chain overall, and then are shaped using clusters on the curves of the arm.

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Pre-production work part 1

We wanted to show some of the work that goes into a film like this, so here’s some very basic character development to start with, trying to keep the shapes as simple as possible. Click on the images to see them in full.

Work on the expressions of the main character, trying to use things like the moustache to help sell the emotional state.

The boards for the short, after we’d been told to come up with a completely new subject in 2 days or so – hence they’re a little on the rough side!

We wanted an almost puppet-like feel to the characters, so Naomi knocked up the designs in plasticine to give me a really good base to create the characters in 3d.

An early version of Martin.

An expressions board to see how the expressions are formed by the physical movement of the plasticine

Heads for the other family members, showing sublte differences like a slightly saggy, crinkled head for the older family and smoother rounder heads for the son and daughter.

You’ll notice a triangle shapes theme running throughout – even as far as the dog!

Lastly some background designs, we were undecided about whether to build 3d backgrounds or draw them, but the timeframe pushed us into going with the drawn ones, with just some stand in geometry for shadows and ambient occlusion.

This was pretty much all Naomi’s side of the project, she worked at Aardman for a while so can do a mean sculpt , and her character designs weren’t really constrained by thinking ahead about how to build them in 3d, which sometimes happens when I try to come up with characters. This had a positive effect on the designs, but gave me quite a few headaches trying to build and rig them. I’ll try to post up a few bits and pieces about that shortly.

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Minor disasters along the way

Naomi was the director and designer for this project. She came up with an initial idea based around a story about man-flu which was short and sweet, and we got stuck into the pre-production. Almost 2 months into production when we had a locked down animatic, with drawings in flash probably every 4 to 8 frames, and some scenes almost completely finished, we had a call from the NHS. While our project had been developing, the swine-flu pandemic had unfortunately also been developing, and the NHS didn’t feel that now was quite the right time to tell a story about manflu. So we had to start over, with one extra month added to our deadline time. Naomi’s story and animatic were probably one of the stranger casualties of swine flu. My work on modelling and rigging characters could fortunately be recycled. However, it meant coming up with a new story and boards in about 2 days!

I’ll try to post some pre-production work shortly. In the meantime here’s a family lineup done for the original pitch.

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Modern Martin

Hello, and welcome to yet another blog. Hope to make it vaguely interesting by documenting the films we make together. We are matt morris and naomi zahl.

Our first film together is called ‘The House of Little Horrors’ and stars ‘Modern Martin’. Its a pitch for a competition run jointly by Creative Review and the NHS, and you can see it on youtube in all its hi-definition glory. If you like it please vote and comment, it all helps!

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