Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bye to 2011 - hello to 2012

2011 was a busy and eventful year! I must admit to feeling drained, but elated at the same time.... At the beginning of 2011 I was a lecturer and personal tutor for animation and interactive media students - at the end of 2011 I have my own course to run and have become an Advanced Practitioner in teaching (we will have to see how that transpires in 2012 to know if it was a good decision to take this position on...). I also passed an MA in 2D Digital Animation (this is something I still struggle to believe myself). Not sure I can aim to do as much in the coming year.

I do have a huge concern about the future of the animation industry in this country and I think we need to be pro active in attempting to make the Government aware that it would be a traversty if some of our great animation studios move from this country because it is not viable to stay here anymore. Mark Field (MP) has discussed securing the future of animation in the UK on the Animation UK website and says: 
'...if we allow this industry to be eroded, we could face an exodus of opportunity from our shores. Skilled young talent may be driven abroad; we could lose the chance to exploit highly lucrative ancillary licensed products; we may see the leaching of expertise, creating a skills dearth in complementary industries such as post-production; and we risk undermining our cultural heritage. Indeed it is precisely because of the vast opportunities that flow from a thriving animation sector that other nations are so keen to attract the business.'
Animation UK campaigns for fairer trading conditions for UK animation producers, to help protect or increase the production and ownership of IP that is of such value to the UK. On their website there is a pro forma for a letter to send to a local MP and one of my New Year resolutions is to write one of these letters. We need to be pro active for the past, present and future students to ensure that an animation industry is maintained in the UK!

On a more personal note, one of my resolutions is to do an animation course at St Martins. I have thought about it for the past two years, so it is about time I actually did it! Originally when I applied to Hertfordshire University I wanted to top up my HND to a degree in order to improve my animation skills, but was persuaded to go direct to the MA and although I have learned so much about media and animation theory at Herts (huge thanks to Alan Peacock and Dr Ivan Phillips), and my animation skills are improving - all that I have learned about animation is self taught and I really feel the need to absorb some guidance on traditional animation as I have only ever really done digital 2D animation. 

Well, we have 4 hours left of 2011 - I have learned so much during this year and hope to continue to learn and impart what I learn and know to others more effectively. Au revoir 2011, I hope 2012 is even half as productive :).

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Creative yearnings...

After the full on August and part of September that I had working on my interactive animation - I have been creatively barren due to focusing on inspiring the students to be creative, which I hope to have been partially successful at - I cannot honestly say that 100% have the creative bug, but the ones that have are really buzzing and the others are at least working on it! It has been a very hectic term and it has absolutely flown by! I have lots of marking to do, reports have been written and I also recently applied for an additional post of Advanced Practitioner for our creative sector and amazingly I got the job, after a very nerve wracking interview - I must say, it has been a very busy and eventful year. Things will be even more hectic now, so I am looking forward to taking some time out over the Christmas break to get creative again!   

The only creative link that I have clung onto this term is my photography - I've been carrying my little Canon G12 everywhere with me. I took lots of photos at the Science Museum this week (I took the FdA degree students and the BTEC year 2's to the Science museum and the Natural History museum) - they were getting inspiration for an animation based upon Steampunk and I personally was inspired by so many objects up there - I should take time to go myself as it was rather rushed as I had to run from one museum to the other checking that everyone was ok and sketching for inspiration. I ended the afternoon by going to the Cafe with the FdA's and we sat on the observation gallery watching the skaters on the ice rink - I took some photos and the students did some movement sketches.... it was very festive :) - wished I could have stayed longer, but had to rush back to College for parents evening.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

MA in 2D Digital Animation!!!

I cannot quite believe that I have actually passed the MA! It still has not quite sunk in! I have to say a big thanks to Alan Peacock from Herts Uni for motivating me when I was struggling to keep going because of the pressures from work. I can also now reflect on how much I enjoyed his lectures and those of Ivan - truly inspiring I learnt so much and will continue to learn as much as I can, albeit without their excellent guidance.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Crowdfunding

I finally received the Autumn edition of Imagine magazine - I was going to ring them up today to ask when it will be posted; so was very pleased when it came through the door :).  I have been reading an article in the magazine about crowdfunding.  People who have trouble with getting funding for their animations and even app building are using crowdfunding sites due to finding it very difficult to get funding for their ideas.  The crowdfunding sites cut out the middle man and instead you can appeal to the masses via social media.  IndieGoGo is one of these sites.  It was launched in 2008 and has been successful in helping people to pitch and raise funds for their animations.  There is also a games apps website called Appbackr that suggests that it is 'the first crowdfunding marketplace for mobile apps'.  This site helps app developers to find funders (called backrs) who can help with funding and to drive sales.  It is an interesting concept.  I have seen it being applied on animators own website, (Nina Paley gives the viewer the opportunity to make a donation to her, although her animation - Sita Sings the Blues is free to distribute using the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License), but these are dedicated sites for people to pay towards the production and as a reward (depending on how much they pay) they get attributed in the credits/get a free DVD of the film etc. You have to be able to commit the time to produce something pretty good, when these people are helping to fund it, and this could put more pressure on the creators!

It feels strange to be post-MA, but I am still anxiously waiting to find out my results.... will soon know whether to celebrate or if I'll need people to commiserate!?.....


On a more lighthearted note.... I liked this daft animation by The Brothers McLeod:

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The final curtain!

This is it... the final module submission date is here.  I have just got in from work and I am now going to drop my submission to Herts.

I had a nightmare again last night with some technical problems. I finished the practical work and only had to link the files as I had worked in two seperate Flash files in order to keep the file sizes down.  I was going to use the loader component but I located some loader script online and decided to use that instead and I was really happy that it linked all the files appropriately with what I initially thought was no problems; but then as I tested it, one of the links would not work.  Suffice to say, I spent a few hours trying to find what was wrong. I worked out that it must be because I was loading a .swf into the timeline of the Fla file, it was getting confused with the script because I had it embedded into a MovieClip - I tried linking it directly to the .swf, but it kept linking back on itself. After a long slog of problem solving, I tried to copy the frames from the .Fla file and put it into a MovieClip, but this caused a multitude of problems with frames being where they shouldn't be etc., so then, even though it was by then around 4.15am, I applied simplified logic and took the tweens and masks out of the MovieClip and just used straightforward script within the main timeline... and hallelujah it worked! 


I feel that my folder will seem light due to writing all my reflections, evaluations, discussing current debates and key figures within animation and interactivity digitally within this blog, I hope this is taken into consideration. This is it now though, so I will take my weary bones to the Uni and come home and sleep!

I am happy with the end product, although it really is a longer term project that I will continue to develop. I will create a wide array of links, from within the linear track and sideways within these. I am excited about this project and am looking forward to continuing with it, as there are so many more scenarios that I have planned and also improvement and development of what has been created so far. There are a few adjustments that I have made to the intro animation (due to feedback from testers). I added another tear to emphasise Kara's dispondency and I tweaked the CatBot smile to appear a little later during his movement across the room, and added a low 'drone' sound to the glide movement of the CatBot.


The user should traverse around the scenes thoroughly as there are many invisible interactions.  I have left some pages more simpler in order to get to the more complex pages quicker and to change the pace.  I have added a subtle click to some of the buttons that move the user onto the next scene, but I left some without this to provide a little aporia, to make the user momentarily doubt where to go next, but on other occasions I made it very obvious - this was all done to create a less rythmic journey and to encourage them to dwell on some of the scenes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Angst....

I've had a few wobbles in the last few days... At the weekend, I downloaded a sound effect from a free sound site and Flash would not open it. It played in QuickTime and iTunes, so I tried to open it in SoundBooth, but that wouldn't open it and a dialogue box popped up saying that it was corrupt.  The next thing... everything crashed!! Flash, Photoshop, SoundBooth and Firefox closed - and nothing would open I tried to open Flash CS3 (an older version I have on the MacBook), but nothing would open... I sat there speechless having an absolute panic.  I had the work backed up on my hard drive, but the only other copy of Flash I have is on my PC and it is an old version (FLash 8) and my file would not open it.  Momentarily I was thinking..... I can't do anymore work.... what am I going to do.... then I took stock and thought that I could download a trial version of FLash for now, and I took a deep breath and restarted the computer - dumped the sound file, (just in case it was the casue of the problem) - then wonderfully I could then re-open all the software and Firefox!! Panic over, but it shook me up for a while because sheer panic sets in and the mind goes into overdrive!!

I have been testing the project on people as often as I can and one comment I received (from a male: 25 years old), was that he thought the users should be given more background information and this has been mentioned before, so I thought it would be a good idea to add some more text in the sliding panel within the section after the intro.  I did not want to use the scrollbar from the components panel as I thought it would be better to create my own to fit in with the overall design. I did some research online and found a few tutorials for creating a custom scroller in Flash and decided to create one based around putting the text in a MovieClip and using masking with script.  The script was quite complex, but I thought it would be worth the effort to take the time to watch the video tutorial and have a go.  The guy was very detailed in his explanation of the script and it worked very well - so I decided to try it out.


I kept the scrollbar design simple and then gave the text MovieClip and scroller movieclip instance names, so they could be linked to by the script and was really disappointed when it didn't work - then I realised that I had a colon instead of a semi colon at the end of a line of script and a couple of tiny discrepencies and then tried again.... no, it still didn't work.  I checked the script thoroughly and it seemed fine.  So I then wondered if it was too embedded within the symbols, so copied the frames up into the main movieclip.... but it still didn't work :( ..... I did not anticipate that this would take up as much time and then not to work - it was not a great result.  I did not want to give up on this, but knew it was wiser to continue with the main aspects of completing the interactive scenes, so had to make the decision to come back to this when everything else was complete.

I continued to work with the scenes within one branch of the interactivity and generally was happy with most of the scenes.  My son was home for the weekend and fortunately for me lots of his friends were visiting throughout the weekend.  They were happy to test the scenes that had been completed so far and gave me user feedback.  The age ranges were between 22 - 28 and were male and female.  Comments were: 
  • Love the colour scheme of the animated intro
  • Affinity with the character in the intro, and wondered why she was sad
  • Liked the styling of the intro
  • Awesome...
  • want to know more about the character - Kara
  • I like the range of styles that change in each area
  • It draws me in, as I go through it
One of the males (aged 26) said the he really did not feel the need to know about 'Kara' and just enjoyed moving through the scenes and loved the way it drew him in as he went through it.  When he was on the first scene he didn't quite understand what it was about, but by the time he went through a few scenes, he was immersed and just enjoyed the experience.  It is interesting as this goes against what others have said - but this feedback has made me feel positive about the overall aims of the end product as I really want it to be immersive, simply for the fun of it.  Having the background story is just an addition which will be beneficial and interesting for some users.

I asked one of our visitors to test the intro and realised as it was finishing that part of the poem animation was missing.... another moment of panic and bemusement - I had to get a breather before I could face re-doing it.  I had a coffee and returned to it and realised that I must have deleted the MovieClip from the wrong library, but I had it in the library of the main movie.  I had to place it back in synch with the sound and tween it, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been!

I then had more ActionScript troubles, as I wanted one of the scenes to have a moving panoramic that moved across the screen on mouse movement or swipe, but although I was sure I was putting the right co-ordinates in, it would not slide appropriately within the Stage.  I then changed it slightly and then tested a larger constrained area that could be moved around by the user in order to select a door from within it.  This worked in a Flash file, so I brought the MovieClip into the project file, but if I made changes to the background it put it out of its constaints!?  I persevered and got this to work, only to find that it just did not work in the context of the scene, it was not visually appealing at all.... another disappointment, but I quickly went back to the sketchbook and planned another scene with doors in that are held by long armed characters and  this it seemed to fit better within the penultimate scene.

Another problem I had was with adding a background sound.  I sourced an interesting sound track from soundsnap and felt that it would enhance the interactive section as although there are lots of sound effects, it needed the addition of a soundtrack. I thought it would be as easy as adding the track to the timeline and selecting stream, but when I played the movie, the background track kept stuttering and was awful.  I then did some research on adding background sound and tried linking it through using a variable and 'linkage' and giving the sound an identifier, but whatever script I tried, this just would not work.  There was no background sound at all.  I read on an online forum that a constructer can take a MovieClip object as a parameter, so I tried this.... to no avail.  Then I thought, why don't I simply put the MovieClip with the sound in onto the main timeline and see if that works..... and eureka! It worked.  I have learnt so much about using, creating, editing sound with this project.  I have used new software, improved my Flash skills, researched and incorporated interactivity and utilised ActionScript.  The self learning has been quite steep, but I am glad that I pushed myself in a different direction, rather than creating a straightforward animation.  I have found the topic of interactivity very interesting and will continue with my newfound interest in digital narrative.  I have been inspired by Donna Leishman's early explorations in visual interactivity and love the simplicity of Ed Bain's The Devils Tramping Ground.  I am excited about the whole concept of visual narrative and will continue to delve into the topic.

As the module comes close to its end, on reflection I feel that this has been a more solitary journey than I would have liked, but unfortunately due to work not allocating time for me to attend Uni this year and ultimately, the workload in general - it was the only option.  It was frustrating to be called into work last week and to have my application for 2 days academic leave turned down by the Head of HE, due to the Prinicpal stating that all staff must be in for enrolments last week, even though my work colleague said he would cover for me. Very disappointing, especially as this week is induction week and the students are in until Wednesday.  The last few weeks of August until now have been quite intense, but I did finally manage to switch my brain off from work and get focused on the module - although this has the consequence of not me not being prepared for the start of the new academic year at work.

I am happy with the prototype that I have developed and feel this not the end, but just the beginning.  There is currently one functioning branch, but I would like to make this much larger, with branching links (aome are shown in the larger sketchbook).  I would also like to consider collaborating with other animators and incorporate their scenes.  Some scenes in 3D and stop motion would enrich the mixed media style.

I was inspired by the ustwo studio and their work and feel positive that my product has a niche to fit into and could be effectively used on the web and portable devices.



Saturday, 3 September 2011

Final module progress

I sorted the problem out with the sound trapped within the flv file (staticTV).  I converted it to QuickTime in Premiere and exported it.  I then converted it to an flv within the Adobe Media Encoder and it finally worked without the sound.... eureka!  I had a few problems with the picture quality from Premiere, but I finally sorted the export settings and I was much happier.  I then added the sound file that I had stripped from the movie earlier and toned the static sound right down.

One of the biggest learning curves that I have encountered during this module is with using and editing sound in Adobe SoundBooth and using Adobe Premiere effectively to achieve what I need for the module.  I have also used some sounds from freesounds.org.  The website classifies itself as The Freesound Project and is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds.  I have now joined the Freesounds Project and also have some sounds that I have created that I can upload for others to use.

I created a telescopic character that slides up out of the ground for one of the scenes and I wanted a swishing sound as it came up and went back down.  I searched high and low on freesound, soundjay, partnresinrhyme and also soundsnap (where I am also a member), but I couldn't quite find the sound I wanted - so I resorted to recording myself in SoundBooth and by adding some effects - 'ethereal' and 'canyon echo', I achieved what I wanted.  The great thing is that I only use the built in microphone in my Mac!

The swish track in SoundBooth
Telescopic character

I have also learned to use Illustrator, which I have never used before - but ended up reverting back to using Flash, due to some surprising incompatibilities, particularly in the use of alpha masking - but in order to achieve a similar technique as Illustrator drawing, I have been using the pencil tool, which I have found much better than the brush because I did not want the variations in the outline.


I have incorporated a wide range of techniques that I have used throughout the course - masking to blend the 2D into photographic images, the use of mixed media and I have also used a wider range of animation techniques.  The majority of the animation is limited animation and I have used symbols to create separate body parts - but I have also used frame by frame techniques a lot more within some scenes.  Chris Georgenes calls this 'tradigital' which is a great phrase that epitomises the blend of traditional and digital techniques.  I have created some little pop up animations like a door that grows from the ground and then reverses back and a flying bird/bat type creature using the tradigital techniques (onion skinning, frame by frame and reverse sequence).



I also feel more confident in the use of ActionScript because of this module.  I could have just created an animation (which originally was the plan - based around a poem), but felt that this would not push me as hard.  I am interested in visual narratives and wanted to create something that people could interact with rather than simply view.  I do not profess to be expert in ActionScript, but I feel more proficient now and have been able to utilise the script to create the interaction required.  I used a lovely script to zoom in and reverse out on a newspaper lying on the ground so that the user can read it.  I also intend to use this within the 'Magic City' scene, where I have used the 3D tool in Flash to create a 'Truck in' style camera movement.



Newspaper
Cityscape zoom, using 3D position and View in Flash
I found using the 3D position and View to move the images along the z axis rather cumbersome initially, because I am not used to using the z axis - but I think it was worth the effort of persevering to get the effect.

Must crack on, need to complete the Magic City scene.  Nimium efficio , in aliquantulus vicis.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The future of book apps

I went back to work today and sitting waiting for me in my pigeon hole was my copy of Computer Arts.  I didn't have time to look through it as I had enrolments to do, the induction timetable to compile, the Diploma Student Handbook to write (as there are so many changes to the course and the team has changed and I am now the course leader, so I had to do a complete re-hash), I also wrote the Semester A HE module handbooks because my colleague needed to send them to UEL and to the external examiner this week.  Oh and I interviewed two students and started to set up the template for the tracking sheets as the course leader who has just left did not do them at all for last year...  All in all a busy day, as ever - but I did pop in the Computer Arts dvd when I got home because there were some animated shorts showcased on the disc; but also there was a 'design documentary' about studio life at a studio called ustwo.  The company are digital user interface designers, so I thought it would be beneficial to watch the short film.  

ustwo have made a range of nursery rhyme apps, that has got them noticed by the book publishing industry.  As profiled in the Apps blog, the studio hosted (along with the Literary Platform); a roundtable of book publishers in mid July of this year to discuss the opportunities and challenges offered by book apps.  


Stuart Dredge (guardian.co.uk) highlighted the significant themes that emerged from the discussions:
– Book-apps aren't just being made by traditional book publishers: independent app developers are also piling into the space, albeit often working with out-of-copyright content like nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Meanwhile entertainment brands like Disney - who have been involved in the books business before through licensing deals - are now publishing their own book-apps directly.
– Publishers are at an experimental stage with apps: they are trying different formats and content, but in many cases they still have to commission apps with a firm eye on delivering a return on investment.
– There is still a lot of "paranoia and secrecy" around sales figures for book-apps, not least because they're perhaps not doing as well as has been supposed. "Nobody wants to admit it's really not making as much money as we'd like..." ustwo's decision to go public with the fact that its chart-topping Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime was only earning £2,000 a day when it was the Top Grossing Book on the App Store was a welcome break from the secrecy – even if the figure was a bit dispiriting.
-  Three reasons why publishers aren't more involved in apps than they are, according to one attendee: "It's already a risk-based business – we are spending a lot of money on things that quite often fail. Second, margins are very small – publisher profit margins are much smaller than the development industry. Third: culturally books is still a quite old-fashioned industry..."
This highlights to me that although the publishing industry may be classed as an old fashioned industry - I think it is definitely on the brink of spreading its wings and utilising digital narrative in more depth.  This does not mean the end of books... that would be awful, the book is a beautiful thing, my house if full of them - but it does mean that digital hybrids should and will become more mainstream too.  Although we are surrounded by digital interactivity in all aspects of our lives, it seems we are a little slow to incoporate and participate with digital narrative.  This initally may seem strange, but when you ponder on how deeply embedded the written word is within our psyche, it is understandable that it will take longer to move away from it.  I am a believer that there is room for all and we should have no need to discard the book, but we can already see that less youngsters are inclined to read a book - even in education the younger generation often learn more effectively from interactive/digital environments - this will seep into their adult lives and they will demand more interactive and simple visual entertainment in their lives.  


On the subject of the 'dispiriting' revenue of £2,000 a day for the nursery rhyme apps - I think this would be a pretty good amount for an individual or smaller studio, so it really would depend on the recipients circumstance - for some this would be an excellent revenue.

ustwo are currently working on a new app called Whale Trail.  Within the short film on the Computer Arts disc, they discuss how they are making Whale Trail simple and easy to use and incorporating one touch game play.  Their aim is to make it non taxing, simplistic and something the user can dip in and out of, just for fun.
 

Screenshot of the character development for Whale Trail

I was really pleased to hear that this innovative studio are going down this route as this was exactly the market I am aiming at - simple, easy to use, to interact with for the fun of it - not complex or taxing.  I was wondering if I was taking the right route at one point and I experimented with a range of scripts to try to make more complex interactivity within my 'visual journey', but, as I got tangled up in trying to make the script work and it began eating into my time; I stepped back and took myself back to my original plan to keep things simple and of course you have doubts as to whether you are doing the right thing - but this has given me more confidence in sticking to the simplicity!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Progress with 'The Door'

Although I am constantly working on the project now, progress seems to me to be slow in comparison to time allocated!  I've hit a few problems (as you do), one of them being with the static tv movie that I have embedded into the link screen from the intro.  The static sound level is way too high - so I took the sound from the movie clip with an online file converter so that I can take the sound levels down, and then re-embedded the movie into Flash and deselected the audio, which would usually be enough to take the sound away, but it didn't take it off.... I then took it into Premiere and deselected the sound track completely and then exported it without sound again and couldn't quite believe that when I put it into Flash, the loud static sound was still on there!!  Really bizarre.  I have re-saved it each time as an FLV, so I can only think it has something to do with that, so the last thing I can do is try is to export it as a QuickTime movie from Premiere and convert it back to an FLV within Adobe's Media Encoder and hope that will strip it out once and for all.

I made some adjustments to the link pages from the intro.  Originally I was going straight from the window shot at the end of the intro to the poem page - but somehow it looked disjointed, so on reflection I did a close up shot of the ipod with the static movie playing on the screen and zoomed right in and then zoomed out from that into the poem page with the static movie playing within that.  This seemed to work more effectively.   I have got some feedback from some users within my target audience age range and it was well received, particularly with the 20 - 30 age range.  There was mixed feelings regarding the issue of whether to tell the story, or just hint at it with the intro.  One user (22), said that they were intrigued enough by the intro to want to venture further, but that they did not understand the story from it.  I have currently deliberately not told the story (even though there is a background story and character profiling), this is to make it a little more mysterious; but I would need to get more feedback in order to know if this is the right way forward.

the link shot

I completed the next section that is really an interface to link to the main menu, but which includes a visual and auditory rendition of the poem. Below are some of the images that I worked on that are used within the poem animation.

colouring some of the 'magic city' elements
Close up of one of the trees within the
'magic city' aspect of the poem animation

Screenshot of of a scene from the poem animation

I wanted to make the visual aspect of the poem quite vibrant as the poem is about encouraging someone to open the door - and all the wonderful things that could be behind the door.  It lists the things that the person could see, if only they would open the door.... this is linked to the solitary soul of Kara, who cannot open the door as she is trapped in a monotonous world within a time warp.  She looks out onto a gloomy world that cannot see her.  I hope the user will want to go on this visual journey in order to set her free and open the door so that she can enter the real world once again.

Next step is back to the interactivity - so much to do, must crack on!

Gettin On by Suzanne Deakin


Gettin On - Pilot from Slinky Pictures on Vimeo.

Would love to see this as a series - we need to have more adult themed animation on mainstream tv.  The illustration is great and is based upon original character sketches by Punk cartoonist and illustrator, the late Ray Lowry.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The animated intro... so far


The black intro at the beginning will have intro text on it and also the sound will not end as abruptly as it currently does.  I have used limited animation and there are tweaks that I would like to sort out, but feel that I need to get on with the content rather sharpishly now, so will come back to this if there is time.

The intro and interactivity...

I have been working on the intro and have uploaded a test to YouTube, so that I can post it on here.  I have used limited animation and it needs tweaking, but I need to get on with the content now, so I have started working on a slide in screen that incorporates the poem about the Door and will lead into the first menu page for the interactive journey.  I find it difficult to put a name to what I am working on, because if I call it an interactive narrative, the content would surely need more of a story within its content - but the story is about a young girl trapped in a time warp and the user navigates through a journey that they ultimately create themselves, by selecting from the array of different routes to get to the final door to set the girl free.  It could be called an interactive visual journey, but that is too long a title.  There are so many titles you could give it... digital narrative, interactive puzzle, visual narrative, digital storytelling.....

According the Digital Story Centre (www.storycenter.org), the meaning of digital storytelling is: 
digital story (dig·i·tal sto·ry)
A short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds.

The Digital Story Centre has a commitment to portraying and sharing individual, meaningful stories from youths and adults from around the world, using digital media and depicts that a digital story is based upon an individuals interpretation of a video narrative.

Wikipedia suggests that digital storytelling is the use of digital tools to allow ordinary people tell their own real-life stories.  

Another website based on digital storytelling: http://electronicportfolios.com/digistory  has this quote from Leslie Rule to describe digital storytelling:

Digital Storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Digital stories derive their power by weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, experiences, and insights. Tell your story now digitally.
- Leslie Rule, Digital Storytelling Association

I have found from researching interactive narratives and digital storytelling that there does not yet seem to be a definitive name for the array of categories for digital narratives and there is also a conflict regarding the fact that interacting with a story can interfere with the authors version of the story and also whether the public actually want to interact with stories or film.  Carolyn Handler Millers book: Digital Storytelling: A creator's guide to interactive entertainment has a more positive spin on the topic and discusses a broad range of media and topics.  Hal Barwood is quoted as saying this about interactivity and Millers' book:  
'Interactivity has opened up a new world of storytelling. The territory is promising - and dangerous. We've just started to explore and this book is one of the first good roadmaps.' 
I agree with Barwood that interactive storytelling is in it's infancy and has some way to go to settle down into the everyday psyche of people. I do not feel that it is in any way a replacement for the written word, but it should eventually sit comfortably beside it as a visual and interactive alternative that will be the norm, rather than as an adversary.

In contrast I do not quite agree with Andrew Glassner's comments, (from his book: Interactive Storytelling, Techniques for the 21st Century Fiction), regarding 'nonlinear stories'.  He states that:
'Despite a tremendous amount of effort and money, neither branching nor hypertext has found much enduring success in the commercial arena.  There are several books devoted to building academic theories of narratives in each of these approaches, which look forward to a future when the technique has matured [Jay David Bolter.  Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, 2nd Edition. Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001] and [George P Landow. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, 2nd Edition.  Baltimore, MD:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997].  That future has not yet come to pass, and I think it's not likely to.'
This may well be the case for hypertext narratives, but I think that branching narratives has a future and I think that it will come to pass; particularly visual branching narratives.  The 21st Century is extremely visual and full of interactivity, and consequently, visual, interactive narratives certainly have a place.  My viewpoint is that if the user has the story set up for them and a goal to achieve that will bring the story to an end; ultimately, the middle can be a multitude of visual journeys that they can encounter which lets them make up the story that takes them to the finale.  This will be particularly pleasurable if it has branching narratives that they can stumble upon to enrich the journey.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Holiday

I went away to Cornwall last week - but took the laptop with me in order to do some work while I was there - apart from the days that I drove to get there and back. It was 5 hours to get there and 7 and a half to get back due to problems on the M5.

Here are some pics to show where I was working - all very different to the environment at home.  Great view out of the window!

I re-drew Kara in Illustrator and she looked better than the quick sketches that I created in Flash (shown in the previous entry). I worked on making her look wistful and pensive. I finally decided on the art direction and chose to use a limited colour palette for the intro scenes.  Her skin is grey to symbolise the limbo land that she is trapped in and to portray that she feels soulless.  

As previously mentioned in a past entry, I have been inspired by some of Hans Bacher's pre-production sketches where he uses tones of one colour to great effect.  I will use this style for the intro scenes and then use a range of styles within the interactive scenes to hopefully keep the interest of the user - as they enter a different portal, the styles will change.  Nina Paley incorporates a range of styles effectively within her animation: Sita sings the blues (2007).



Nina worked on this for 3 years and is happy for people to copy, share and distribute the film, although it has caused some controversy in India regarding the topic of the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

Back to the topic of Kara - here is the updated digital sketch.

Kara drawn in Illustrator



Upon returning, I have created the Cat-Bot - Baz.  The name derives from an Egyptian God of home protection, who protected women and children above all others.  You can see from my entry dated 11th August, that some of the 'cat' sketches were becoming very Egyptian - I tamed this down for the final character drawings and just hinted at the Egyptian link.

I found it more beneficial to draw Baz in Flash due to probems that I had with working with the illustrator drawing of Kara within Flash.  Every line that I drew within Illustrator was grouped and when I needed to break the groups apart, they broke up and made it a nightmare to try to do even the most simplest of eye blinks!  I worked until the early hours one morning trying to sort it out - an absolute waste of my time (which is so precious right now as the deadline looms).  My foray into Illustrator is not over, but I have found that by using the pencil tool in Flash, I can get the same result and I am able to seperate the character body parts much more effectively..... why have I used the Painbrush tool in Flash for so long and not the Pencil!!

Here is Baz - drawn in Flash
As you can see, the effect is similar to the Illustrator drawing, but far easier to work with!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

development sketches of Kara

Here are some development sketches of Kara, from pen sketch to digital.

The look I was aiming for is captured better in the sketch on the left.  I wanted the first shot to encapsulate a look of sadness and weariness, but with a small hint of defiance.  The sketch on the right looks too defiant.

I then went into Flash to digitise the sketches.  Wasn't over enamoured with either of the drawings and so I then scanned in the original sketch above and am going to try to draw over this in Illustrator to see if it is an improvement over the Flash drawings.


I will see how the Illustrator drawings look and then decide on what software to use to draw the characters in.  I'm currently thinking of keeping the characters within the main scene black and white, with just one accent colour.
 

Friday, 12 August 2011

Playing with sound

Today I have been searching for sounds and found some interesting sounds effects, which are free and usable under the Creative Commons license.  I took them into Adobe Soundbooth to play with!  Although I have dabbled with Soundbooth, I have not yet tried to edit multitracks, but after a bit of faffing, I got to grips with it.  I recorded the poem in a female and male voice and added an ambient background track and a hollow wind sound effect.  I edited two tracks of the poem - one echoing the other to give it some depth and tweaked the sound levels.  The only thing that is missing is the 'ticking in the dark' because the ticking that I downloaded did not work with it at all, however much I edited and put effects on it, so I will have to search for a more effective ticking or record my own.

The tracks in Soundbooth
 I tried to upload the soundtrack, but Blogger strangely struggled with it.  I tried to upload it as a QuickTime soundtrack and a .wav, but to no avail.  I will have to ponder on a solution....

PS. I found the solution, pretty obvious really when I thought about it! - I will need to put the sound clip onto a host site and then I'll be able to put it into the blog.  I was searching for some hosting sites, but it was sidetracking me again, so I put that on hold.   

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Tutorial, work & character development

Yesterday, I went for a tutorial with Alan and he seemed to like the concept, but urged me to crack on and get the practical work done as time is running out!   He has always been a great motivator for me, so I must take heed!  It has continuously been an infernal struggle for me to focus less on the work for my job, as it is oh so consumingThis year, I have felt as if it has gobbled me up & spat out some menial remains that are worthless to anyone, especially me!    I would call my job a total energy and brain drainer this year and I am struggling to find some reserve energy from somewhere.  I worked into my summer break to finish the FE marking and to help students who had not completed their work and then for the last week and a half, have dived into the final module... but I am anxious about how little time I have now.  It didn't help today that the course leader for the Fda Animation course came round to my house to have a marking day for the re-sits.  We spent the day marking the re-sit modules and also completing the verification of each others marking.  We then had to sort out the induction week timetables for the FE and HE - and this highlighted to me that induction week is the same week as my hand in....  Also, this dragged me back into work mode, when I had been struggling so hard to push it to the back of my mind, rather than the forefront!

Enough whinging!  Prior to the last few days I have been sketching out the main characters, but I am finding it difficult to decide on which ones to go with and on asking other peoples opinions, no-one has agreed on the same one!  I have scanned in some of the sketches below.


 
I tried to simplify the character for Kara, but feel that the simplified sketches look too young and not appropriate for my target audience.

Bez - robocat


Above are some of the robocat sketches.  I have decided to call him Bez, which is a name derived from the Egyptian God: Bes, who is a God of home protection, who always protected women and children above all others; which I thought was quite appropriate.  I think that I may have gone a bit too far with the egyptian theme with some of them though. I will choose two and then digitise them in Flash and see how they look in the environments that I have created, I'm sure that will help me to decide.  (The lovely egyptian cat emblem at the top right of the second page of the cat sketches was copied from google images by the way - that isn't part of my character development).

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Background Scenes

I am continuing to work on background scenes.  I was a little disappointed to find that after all the effort I put into creating a texture using a transparency mask in Illustrator, that when I imported the images into Flash there was an incompatibility with the mask!!


As you can see from the screenshot above, there was an incompatibility report within the import dialogue box!  Rather disappointing to say the least, when they are both Adobe products :( - looking on the positive side - its nice to be able to stretch the image without distortion, due to it being vector.  

I have been working on the second scene today and I am creating some polaroid photos that are pegged onto string within a room.  I have created the first one that has the number 2 on it, which will be clickable to take the user onto the next stage.


I went back into my comfort zone within Photoshop to create this - and I also manipulated a photo of some pegs in order to separate them with a transparent background so they can be used with the polaroids.



Took a while to remove the backgrounds, but hopefully they should look good.  I could have drawn these, but I want to utilise mixed media and not simply digitally drawn scenes.


I have some research on the meaning of numbers in order to justify the reason for specific numbers being important within the interactive narrative.  There are various meanings of number 2, depending on your culture, but in this instance it is a numerical representation of Karma.  Karma does not exclusively refer to destiny, but also to cause and effect.  Life is the result of choices and what can be done to change these if they are not pleasing.


Here are some of the symbolic meanings of 2 in Western terminology and Tarot:
  • Choice
  • Change
  • Judgement
  • Balance
  • Separation
  • Opportunity

These meanings are relative to the decisions that have to be made during the journey within the interactive narrative.
  The choice, changes and judgement of the user will impact on the balance and the continued separation of Kara, from the rest of the world.

Sketch from Gris Grimly's Sketchbook

 
I love the style of Gris Grimly's illustrations - I follow him on Twitter, where this was posted - it is great to take a peek into his sketchbook!

Friday, 5 August 2011

The joy of postal deliveries

I have to say that I am chuffed that Tony White (2D Animator/Director/Author) is following me on Twitter :D and I had another small moment of joy when some parcels came through the post today!  There is something so uplifting about receiving parcels in the post, I love it!  You cannot get the same pleasure from downloading from the Internet.... after the initial pleasure of getting software or music immediately when downloading - it becomes expected - not quite the same as ordering objects and then forgetting about them and the pure delight of them arriving at your door and the pleasure of opening them up to see what has arrived... I received The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which I had ordered when I was really struggling with the basis of the storyline to my interactive animation.  I was hoping to be inspired, but I have now got the plan of the story sorted, thankfully, but I am sure the stories will be interesting.  I was disappointed with the state of this book - the first time I've been let down by an order from Amazon, but to be fair it was actually sent from World Books.  The whole book is scribbled over with annotations which makes it incredibly hard to read :( - but I also received Soft Cinema by Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky.  Lev Manovich is pretty awe inspiring, so it should be good to view the dvd and read the book.  Soft Cinema was cited as inspirational to the Directors of Late Fragment (2007), so I definitely think it is worth a look.  I am tempted to take a peak now, but am trying desperately to keep focused on doing something constructive towards my final module.  

     
Soft Cinema

I also received the Summer edition of Imagine mazazine and have to admit to flicking through it, while taking a break for a coffee in the garden earlier.  There is an interesting article about Education strategies and how Higher Education animation courses are evolving - I did skim read it though, so will need to go back to it when I have less on my mind.... not sure when that will be! ;)


Oh well, I must get back to grappling with Illustrator....

Transparency masks in Illustrator and colour schemes

I have been working on adding texture in Illustrator in a less obvious way than simply using a texture swatch.  I found a good tutorial online and although the guys voice is slow and softly spoken, overall, I found it really helpful.



I am quite happy with the resulting texture, but I am currently trying to develop colour schemes.  This is what I've got so far..... really not sure about this colour scheme though...

I will keep going, and try out other colours, but I really need to hurry up and get this sorted, so I can move on to do some more background scenes!    


Reflecting on this post, it really looks as if I have been heavily influenced by the colour used in the YouTube tutorial!  I was totally unaware of this!  What I was originally influenced by were the designs that Hans Bacher produced for a childrens book, (shown in his book: Dream Worlds), the scenes are stunning and incorporate vibrant gradients of turquiose, blue and purple.  Here is one of the scenes from the book.  I was originally aiming for the turquoise, but my colours are nowhere near as vibrant.  I tried the deep purple, but it didn't seem to work with my image.



This doesn't quite reflect the deep purple gradient at the top, but you get the idea - simple, but gorgeous colours!



Learning Illustrator

I have spent so much time trying to source an image for the room that the girl is trapped in.  I have taken photos myself, searched my own photo archives, online in books.... but the trouble is - I had an image in my head and I have to have a door and window within the shot.... you wouldn't think that it would be so difficult to locate!  I finally realised that however much I want to use a photo, it isn't going to happen - other than scouting around and going out to take more photos in interesting houses (time is against me on that one), I will have to try an alternative.  I found an image online that could work and had saved it in my 'inspiration' file; so I thought the best way to achieve a decent looking image would be by using illustrator to create the outline of the room.  I searched online to research the ways of doing this.  I found tutorials about 'live trace', but this just looks like 'trace bitmap' in Flash - this is not the look I wanted.  Another way to do it was by placing the photo in a layer in Illustrator and double clicking the layer to open up the layer options to enable me to trace over the image.

I selected 'Template' and chose to dim the image to 60%.   I then created a new layer to enable me to draw over the original image.  I used the pen tool to create my outlines and the end resut was quite effective.  I am glad I have finally dipped my toe into Illustrator!




This is how it looks so far.  I will put a door into the door space at the back of the room (this will be the door she never opens).  I have now got to decide on the colour scheme.  I wanted a grungy texture on the walls and searched for some free textures.  I then had the problem of knowing how to apply these to my scene.  I am so new to Illustrator, so I feel very clumsy around the application!  I used the help files and online help and some trial and error of my own to apply the texture to the swatches.  I was doing what it said in the help files, but it would not work, then I realised that as the texture was a bitmap it would probably need to be rasterized in order for me to be able to copy it to swatches and thankfully this worked!

Then, as I am so used to using Photoshop - I could not understand how to apply the texture to the scene... I could see the 'live paint' tool, but could not get it to work - I just wanted to use the paint bucket and place the colour into areas within the scene!  I knew I had to get out of Photoshop mode and I pondered a while and decided to group all the paths together to see if this worked and fortunately it did!  I could then use the 'live paint' tool to apply the texture.  This is probably all very obvious to Illustrator users, but a bit alien to me at the moment.  I applied the textures, but although it looks ok, it is not the look I want.



The look I really want is to be able to have some transparency on the texture and place a colour over it.. so back to the drawing board and search online to find a way to do this :)


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Late Fragment - an interactive film


Late Fragment, which is designed for a DVD platform and presented as a live VeeJay’d performance theatrically, was shot in Toronto with an HD camera and recorded directly onto a digital card which went straight into the computer. The $1.3-million production involved a traditional filmmaking process as well as the creation and implementation of up to thirteen different digital tools to complete.

Notwithstanding the digital process, making a film that lets viewers interrupt the story at any time and switch to another scene while still following a three-act narrative structure also meant that a whole new way of thinking about cinema and story had to be invented. “Components, clicks, non-clicks, rabbit-holes and loops” were words that peppered the conversation in the edit suites.

I have been researching interactive narratives that are currently in the forefront of digital media and came across this interactive film. It looks complex, but interesting and the dvd is soon to be launched.

The question is asked 'what is interactive film?' and Tina Santiago (webmaster of the Late Fragment website), has this to say:
The future of cinema will not be defined by a single direction. Old genres will live alongside new genres. But it is increasingly becoming clear that at least one of these directions will take the form of cinema as some kind of participatory experience, where the audience of one or many may impact how a narrative unfolds itself over space or time. These new forms should not be reduced as simply “choose your own adventure” models but instead should be seen as the coming to life of post-modern preoccupations with multiplicity, diversity, open-endedness, spatial conceptions of self, and story puzzles explicitly expressed through interactive technology.

Inspirational animation from LIAF


Return by LIAFanimation

Monday, 1 August 2011

Storyline

I finally made a breakthrough with the storyline for the interactive narrative.  I had an outline, but it was too vague for my liking and made it very difficult to plan the branching narrative.  All I had for the basis of the story was that a woman was in a room and would not or could not get out - but yesterday was well spent plotting the story together.  It is often the most difficult part for me, (even with the most simple animation) - the story!  It  looms over me and becomes an enourmous hurdle!  I forsook a family day out yesterday, on a beautiful sunny day and spent time compiling a more effective story and drawing some characters.  It does not sound much for a days work, but 'the story is king' and I needed to develop the initial idea into something more concrete.  Without a decent plot, the user would not be interested in making a journey into the interactive narrative.... why would they bother!  I need to grab their interest in order for them to want to make the jouney and interact with it.  Meadows (2003), discusses the 'Generation of Meaning' and says:
'The foundations of a narrative image should include some sense of the opinion of the author (some moral).  Likewise, a context needs to be offered so that there is some kind of internal conflict, problem, or series of events.  The decisions of how to solve these problems are part of the art of narrative - part of the sensitivity that an author of narrative needs to bring to plot to make it an actual story.'
Here, Meadows highlights the importance of the plot within the story, as this encourages participation.

I have discussed the storyline with some friends and family who fall within a wide age range (25 - 75) and who fit within the lifestyle descriptors of my audience:
Life cycle stage: Single, newly married, empty nest and solitary survivor.

Lifestyle classification (Young & Rubican, Cross Cultural Consumer Characterisation: 4C’s): The Aspirer – visual, materialistic, image, appearance. The Succeeder – confident, organised, aggressive attitude to life means they need to relax occasionally, in need of stress relief. The Explorer – indulgent, first to try new ideas, likes new experiences. The Reformer – independent, curious & enquiring.   
.... and I have had no negative viewpoints, which pleasantly surprised me and has made me feel more confident to go ahead with the storyline.

I have been gathering a wide range of images for inspiration, and now need to concentrate on the art direction to form an overall style.  I have a beautiful and inspirational book called Dream Worlds by Hans Bacher, based on production design for animation. According to Bacher; during the early stages of film/animation, the Production Designer is part of the visual development team, who explore all visual possibilites and this is what I have been gatheirng my inspirational images for - to explore and develop the visual. I have also been reading sections within a book called Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor & Pepe Valencia.  Although this book is based on 3D animation, I have found some chapters helpful and am currently dipping into the Chapter on Art Direction.  I still wish to incorporate mixed media and will focus on using photography with hand drawn and animated elements, and may include a small amount of video.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Work whinges & Final Module planning

So much has gone on at work recently - lots of redundancies - my Curriculum Manager took voluntary redundancy which has split the Media and Interactive Media team up and ended up with me having to run the BTEC Diploma courses next year. I have no knowledge of running FE courses and have had no wish to be so embedded in FE - I wanted to get more involved in HE - not sure how this has happened! He left yesterday at such short notice, so there is so much for me to plan and do, and there I am trying to free my brain up to complete the MA....... help! 

Yesterday, I finally pinned myseself down to get on with some Uni work and it really is about time. I must now prioritise totally if I have even the minutest chance of completing this module.  I have now got a more concrete plan and I am about to get this down on paper, from my scribbly notes.  I have been frantically searching this morning for a large sheet of paper to get the plan written out.  

I went back to look at Ed Bains personal interactive project called the Devils Tramping ground and also re-visited Donna Leishman's work to try to re-invigorate my creative juices... and this worked!  I finally feel that I am focusing on this project and making a good attempt to banish the constant nagging in my head regarding College work and preparation. 


The Bloody Chamber

The Devils Tramping Ground
I am now going to go and attempt to get the branching narrative plans drawn up :)