3D Festival interviews Stefan Marjoram, Director and Animator at Aardman

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  09 September 2002
Cool 3D Festival interviews Stefan Marjoram, Director and Animator at Aardman

Hi guys,

We've just published another interview. This time, we catch up with Stefan Marjoram, Director and Animator at Aardman, who was responsible for the Deadline shorts. Some interesting insights into Aardman and advise for the newbies.



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  09 September 2002
Nice little interview! I kinda wish there was more on the actual deatils of animation, maybe anyhting he did unconventially in his workflow, or ideas on thumbnailing - but as he's another speaker at 3d Festival- I can't help but asking if there wil be any transcripts made of the speaches? Both Stefan Marjoram and Jason Schleifer sound like really great speakers!

see you,

  09 September 2002
Very cool for us newbies. Thanks.
  09 September 2002
how we did it..

Ok, for those of you who wanted more about how we made the films (even though I showed you my blendshapes) here's a brief description of the interesting bits.

We started with the photoshop sketches. I find drawing the characters and sticking to those designs results in a much more interesting model than if you start modelling in Maya without some reference. You tend to make things in a way that's easy to do for the software and inevitably it ends up looking a bit, well, computery. I like the quirkiness that comes from using sketches.

So, these drawings were used as a template for the models and then also as the textures. I just projected them on and used the convert to uv tool so that I could tidy them up.

The blend shapes are based on the standard Aardman method. I have a photocopied sheet of the 20 or so different mouths for the chicken run characters. The good thing about a computer is - i don't need to do nearly as many. The plasticene ones are used more as replacements and I can make a lot of the same ones by mixing blendshapes.

I've narrowed it down to 6 really important ones..

uh (also works as a kind of jaw)

I spent a fair bit of time getting these right. I hate it when you see tight creases in the corner of a mouth - flesh, or whatever these characters are made of just doesn't bend like that. I try to get a feel for the volume and how it moves around for the different shapes - it has to go somewhere. Of course they're slightly exagerrated too - with bmp or fv I really like to get a feel of the lower lip and chin flesh being pulled up and stretched over the lower teeth. Also the tension that is inherent in the bmp shape - you can feel it just wanting to pop open.

Dan did a lovely job of modeling and lighting the set. Set wise - we didn't want anything symmetrical - If a cup was made - we'd squash it slightly oval and tilt the top edge off the horizontal. Computers are very good at horizontals and verticals which are more perfect than you ever get in real life. Once you lose the machined look the objects start to get character and warmth. Bevels are very important too for nice highlights - very few things have a razor like edge - apart from razors.

Once we all had our basic characters (nicely setup by Wee Brian) we all customised them with extra blendshapes and so on. The eyes in particular had loads of variations. Dan, as an angry character, made lots of cross, bitter expressions - including a pair of eyes that stuck out like daggers. It's these tweaks that allowed each of us to inject our own character.

Now the animation. We've all got traditional 2D backgrounds - so we're not afraid to use holds or get a move done in the minimum of frames. Often computer animation can look very slow and syrupy - the computers adding too much cushioning. Get in to those curves and break the handles. Use a bit of anticipation and see how fast you can move something acroos the screen or equally, how little you can get away with doing. It makes for much more interesting viewing.

Actually I'm jumping ahead a bit. The fist thing we did was spend a day doing a block through - each doing his own character. These were roughly composited as playblasts so that we could see who was doing what. We could see then wheere to alter the timings, when not to do anything and focus on the others and when we could steal the show. We then went off and animated further. I like to do passes - first the lip synch, then the body, the head, the arms, finishing with the fingers. Others like to just start at the beginning and work their way through doing all the elements together. Every other day we'd put our developing animations together again so as to get an idea of how it was progressing and what we might need to change. Brain chose to experiment with an almost stop motion approach - adding keys all over the place. I think it worked very well - giving his excitable character real energy. Dan added quite a lot of squash and stretch by simply scaling his features - it really helped with the fast moves he made during his outbursts. With my character I tried to keep it very simple - to balance out the other two. I often just sat back and used him as a way of leading the viewers to what they're supposed to look at. When we first put our animations together, there was too much to look at as we were all very animated all the time. So basically I did very little with my character, I just tried to get some of his nervousness across with his eyes - and really savoured the bits when he was talking.

Finally the characters were rendered. In the original short they were rendered together - with the table as a shadow object. In the later episodes they were rendered separately for the sake of speed - but you really don't notice a huge difference.

The rendered frames were composited in After Effects where some fake volumetric lighting and background shadows were added - stuff like this is so much quicker to do here than in the 3D software.

And that was it. Not the most technically impressive film in the world. But by keeping it simple we could concentrate on the story and acting and really enjoy ourselves - and not get stressed about producing a fair bit of animation in quite a short time.

Hope this helps - if nothing else, it's helped me think about my talk next month.

Cheers - Stefan
  09 September 2002
GREAT response - it's always fun to see how people play arround with things and get what they want out of the computer instead of staying conservative. Thanks for shareing not only yours but your coworker's meathods, lot's of ideas brewing I can see. The mixing of 2d and 3d seems to be quite a good meathod of working, sonce the 3d can still be a bit limiting, as far as I can see- reminds me of a quote forma guy going from 2d to 3d - "Sometimes I wish I could just get in there and add some flourish, the imediacy of the pencil I still miss" or somthing like that!

Thanks again - really so much in that response,

  09 September 2002
thanks a lot smarjoram
it's very helpful to see how you are working at aardman studio!
maybe the studio where the acting is the best in the industry of animation!
you should have a chronic at cgtalk!
I hope we will see other short or maybe a long film in 3d animation at aardman!
maybe they are some projects?.....
  09 September 2002
Glad the article was useful to you.

There will certainly be more short films. We're not really big enough to produce a CG feature yet - but in the future, who knows?
  01 January 2006
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