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Tonight sees the Launch of Spike – a new addition to the Channel 5 family. Spike will be the first UK terrestrial channel to screen the entire run of Breaking Bad.

I’ve been working with MTV Networks to provide graphics for various promos in the run up to the launch. This involved close collaboration with promo producers to integrate graphic content and exert the brand guidelines for the channel.

Click HERE to see more

Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of reuniting with Wish Films to art direct the second series of ‘Melody’, the popular BBC – CBeebies show.

Melody is a partially sighted girl with an incredible imagination. Her adventures come to life through animation, as she visualizes stories and characters conjured up by classical music.

The new series can be seen on weekdays at 11am from March 16th 2015

 model sheet

For Series 2, I’ve updated the character design and refreshed the overall look of the show, working with the RNIB to make sure the animation remains accessible to a partially sighted audience. In the first series we often relied on using bold black outlines to make things stand out, which could look a little heavy. In this series I wanted a fresher look, so to achieve contrast we used carefully thought out colour combinations and clear layouts.

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One of the great things about art directing this series was working with four fantastic animation studios, each with their own unique style. They have created richly imaginative responses to 20 stories, featuring the music of great composers from Mozart to Gershwin

So, a big thank you to everyone at  Keyframe, Tentacle, Finger Industries and A Productions.

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Someone should warn Exeter Cathedral that their organ is actually a huge scary steampunk transformer robot.

 

2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To celebrate this literary milestone Guernsey Post commissioned me to create a set of stamps and collectable products. Stamps? Alice in Wonderland? Suffice to say it was pretty much a dream project.

Alice Set of 6 StampsAlice Mini Sheet

My central idea was, what would postage stamps from Wonderland look like? I referenced vintage stamps from around the time of the book’s publication, which typically feature a portrait with decorative frame and border. I used bright colours in carefully chosen combinations, to bring out the slightly psychedelic feeling of the book. The character portraits also had to be instantly recognisable out of context of the book, which meant connecting with a popular consciousness of Wonderland while bringing something fresh to the familiar characters. The illustrations were also designed with the final postage stamp size of reproduction in mind.

Print

For the characters, I went to the sort of ‘central casting’ that I carry around in my head. I quite often approach characters in this way – try to think who I’d cast as them in a film. It usually ends up being an amalgam of several people – and not necessarily famous people. There might be elements of Friends, family or people I’ve sketched on the Tube.

I wanted Alice to be a modern little girl, so I updated her outfit, hairband and hairstyle. She’s about 90% based on my daughter actually. (Who just happens to have a pet flamingo. No, not really.)

The rabbit is sort of based on Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s army as he’s a pompous character, obsequious to his superiors and disdainful to his juniors.

I had the Beat Generation writer William Burroughs in mind for the caterpillar. He’s got that wonderful voice – that’s JUST how the caterpillar would speak!

And the Hatter is quite unashamedly Terry Thomas. By the way, you might notice his hat is a giant tea cup and the famous price tag on the hat is  like one of those dunking tea bags on a string. (Incidentally the price is now 52 and a half pence, which I read somewhere is about the modern equivalent of the classic ‘In this style, 10/6’ on the original illustrations!)

Print pres pack

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Click on the image to see more of my Christmas misadventures…

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I found this in a second hand bookshop today. I love the cover but I was tickled by the title too.

I note from the inside sleeve that Alfred Morgan was also the author of A First Electrical Book For Boys and An Aquarium Book for Boys and Girls. So at least girls could be trusted with fish in 1956.

To be fair, the sleeve notes do at least point out that: ‘Experimenting with electricity is one of the most fascinating pastimes for any boy – or girl.’ And quite right. After all, surely everyone should be entitled to have Fun With A Spark Coil? (Chapter Six)

It all has a certain ironic kitsch charm, but sadly, almost fifty years on and matters haven’t necessarily improved.

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The Let Books Be Books campaign is putting pressure on publishers to end this kind of gender stereotyping.

Speaking in a recent article in The Guardian, author Phillip Pullman said: “I’m against anything, from age-ranging to pinking and blueing, whose effect is to shut the door in the face of children who might enjoy coming in. No publisher should announce on the cover of any book the sort of readers the book would prefer. Let the readers decide for themselves.”

Remarkable Stories on the Underground

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I’ve been working with creative media agency Fin, on their debut project for the Imperial War Museum: A series of short films focusing on some of the more intriguing and surprising stories surrounding the Great War.
The content spots come in 12 x 25 second episodes, being broadcast on Exterion Media’s Cross-Track Projection (XTP) screens at London Underground stations.  They contain rare photos and remarkable facts about the First World War, many of which are related to the modern day life of a typical Tube commuter.

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Jane Richardson, Marketing Manager at Imperial War Museums said: “The First World War was a landmark event, which changed the world for ever. A hundred years on, it is through the stories, moments and photos from that time that we can get a glimpse into what life was like for the generation who lived, fought, died and survived the war. Everyone is connected to the war, whether through their own family history, the way in which it shaped life today, or through their local communities and how they were affected.

– See more at: http://exterionmediauk.tumblr.com/post/89060128362/imperial-war-museums-takes-centenary-commemoration#sthash.rXs7vDZv.dpuf


Aardman short film: ‘Flight of the Stories’

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To mark the opening of the IWM’s new First World War Galleries and the wider centenary commemorations, Aardman has created a special short film, Flight of the Stories.
(Alas, I can’t claim any involvement in this poignant piece, but I thought it was worth sharing.) 

To find out more about IWM’s remarkable new First Word War galleries, visit www.iwm.org.uk/ww1

BAFTA win for Long Lost Family

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I designed the titles and logo for the first series of this hit ITV show, which seeks to reunite close relatives after years of separation. It returns for it’s fourth series this summer.

Congratulations to production company Wall to Wall for the show’s recent BAFTA win in the Features category.


Rediscovered Chinese Masterpiece

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Listening to the radio one morning, I heard Spring in a Small Town described as ‘The Chinese Brief Encounter‘. That has to be worth watching.

Regarded as the finest work from the first great era of Chinese filmmaking, Fei Mu’s quiet, piercingly poignant study of adulterous desire and guilt-ridden despair – now restored – is a remarkable rediscovery. – BFI

The film was originally suppressed and long thought lost, but rediscovered in the ‘80s, it was soon hailed as one of the finest Chinese movies ever made.

The BFI has now re-released this long lost classic, which is available to rent online and is also on limited cinema release. More details HERE.


 Blackwing Pencils

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I’ve heard much about the legendary Blackwing pencil, beloved of Golden Era animators such as Chuck Jones and the great Ken Harris.

In his book The Animator’s Survival Kit, Ken’s friend and collaborator Richard Williams recalls: When he (Ken) died in 1982 at eighty-three, my real regret was that when I was a pallbearer I didn’t have the guts to tuck a Blackwing pencil into his hand in his open coffin. He would have loved that.

The Blackwing’s roots go back to the 1930’s but it was discontinued in 1998. I thought it was lost forever, save for a few individual pencils, changing hands for silly money on eBay. But now this iconic doodling tool has been revived by Palomino.

 

A friend of mine was asking about a good paper to use for pen and ink work. I started rambling on at him and he suggested that I blog it. So I have.

If you want crisp smooth lines where the ink sits on the paper, Bristol board is good (It’s not really board, you can buy it in pads.) I like the Goldline brand. I find Daler and Rowney can bleed a bit.

For more absorbancy and a bit of ‘tooth’ then I go for a Hot Pressed (smooth) watercolour paper.

My favourite paper is Arches Aquarelle – though it’s pricey for mucking around on. Saunders Waterford is OK. Or just good cartridge paper for playing.

My all-round paper of choice is Arches Aquarelle NOT. It’s halfway between smooth hot pressed and rough watercolour, so it takes washes really well but also holds a line. And it just feels bloody gorgeous when you get it out of the pack. I buy packs of half imperial size (a bit bigger than A3) from Ken Bromley. You can also buy it in blocks, which have taped edges to prevent the paper from buckling when washes are applied. They also have cool art nouveau covers so that you can pretend you’re living in belle epoch France and drinking absinth with Toulouse-Lautrec in the evenings.

arches-watercolor-blocks archesaquarelle

 

Ink-wise, for use with a dip-pen, good old windsor and newton is fine but it’s a bit cloggy. I like Dr Martin’s Bombay Black, and I’ve just discovered Speedball Super Black which is lush. I get it from Scribblers.

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Ooh, one last tip – I really like those Rotring Artpens (with the ‘sketch’ nib rather than the calligraphy type), but you can’t put waterproof ink through them as it clogs the barrel. Which is annoying if you want to paint over your black line. So I’ve got an old one, (which I previously ruined… by putting waterproof ink through it.) and I use it as a dip pen. Bingo!

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It’s all personal preference and experimenting really. And spending lots of time and money you haven’t got, sourcing arcane art supplies – which is of course, a lot easier than actually getting down to drawing.

 

Here’s an interesting project from Autodesk Research: ‘Draco’ is ‘a prototype sketch-based interface from that allows artists and casual users alike to add a rich set of animation effects to their drawings, seemingly bringing illustrations to life.’

I love the idea of a sketch based interface, whereby you can control motion paths and other properties by drawing directly into the work area. This feels very intuitive, especially if you’re using a tablet or an interactive pen display such as a Wacom Cintiq. I’d like to see a hybrid interface for something like After Effects, where sketch based controls can be fine tuned with more traditional methods like keyframes and the graph editor.

I worry about all this though. I worry about the idea of bringing illustrations to life. Why would you do that? Is the predominance of screen-based media making us all so distracted that we can’t sit and look at a static image anymore? And in any case, part of an illustrator’s mastery is creating life and movement through draughtsmanship.

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One of my favourite illustrators is Ernest Shepard. This lovely picture of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet tells you everything you need to know about a windy day. It certainly wouldn’t be improved by a bunch of animating leaves whirling around. Quite the opposite in fact.

I also worry about animation being automated and controlled by algorithms. It’s great that you can make things bounce and ease and wobble at the click of a button. There are some great tools around for this, like the brilliantly named Ease and Wizz for After Effects. But it does feel like animation – and motion graphics in particular – is becoming rather homogeneous. You see the same kind of movement everywhere and design often seems driven by whichever plug-in effect happens to be in fashion.

Animation is about feeling. You can really see this in a traditional animator’s pencil tests. (This is Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, animated by the great Milt Kahl.) Pencil tests have such a lovely quality. They’re so direct – from brain to hand to page. And created with nothing more than acute observation, great draughtsmanship and a pencil.  The feeling of an animation comes from the personality of the animator. You can’t automate that.

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