Make Movies Blog - v2.0

The World of Animation News, Trends, Problems, Work, Education,
and anything that moves frame-by-frame.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Input Output

When I started in Computer Animation in the mid 1960s, Input devices were limited to a teletext type keyboard, a lightpen (if you had a screen, and most didn't) and a Puck; a sort of pre-history mouse. Your output was punched cards, and later punched tape. On one ocassion around 1970 I was on a TV programme about computers; I held up a piece of punched tape and said "One day film will look like this".

Things have moved on, and Input devices come in many forms; a very interesting one that looks to change the world can be seen at
The "interface-free," touch-driven computer screen, which can be manipulated intuitively with the fingertips, and responds to varying levels of pressure.

Output devices are no slowcoaches either. The largest digital photo has recently been shown, coming in at around 35x32 feet and 8.5 gigapixels. True it's not a moving picture, but a week or two might change that. You can see it at

Using the brain as an input device has always been the realm of Science fiction, but getting increasing attention in recent years. Biofeedback was quite popular in the 1960s, but lacked the technology to do anything serious.

One aspect of recording brain patterns I find interesting is not as a computer input device but as a lie-detector. As a writer 'telling lies' is something inherent in many stories; Crime and Love obviously, polititicians, car salesmen, lawyers, and Estate agents might consider the ability to lie as an asset. Doctors may have to do it to be kind, A TV programme on 'Honesty' said that Society would break down if everyone was honest!

Another interesting article came out today about a competition I'd never heard of called the Hutter Prize
It is about compressing data, and presumes that compressing data in files is similar to how the brain works.

There are some people who believe that the brain is a bit like a cupboard, and that you can only put so much into it. Others (and I am one) believe that the brain can hold an unlimited amount of information. The reason animation works so well as a teaching aid is that it eliminates all but the essential material of the subject it is presenting.

The fact that people with phenomenal memories say they recall numbers as pictures indicates that we might have been using our brains in the wrong way for a few thousand years.
Need I say that teaching animation as a core subject in the curriculum will change all that?


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Monday, October 30, 2006

Drawing in the Air

It's Fireworks day next week; as a child I used to wave sparklers in the air to create patterns. At best I could get circles, and perhaps figures-of-eight, but not pictures, though I have seen simple pictures created in the air by lasers.

Of course, if you could move the laser fast enough you might create a whole picture. It works by persistance of vision, but that only lasts for a fraction of a second.

Supposing you could draw slowly and still see your picture? Well, that's what some clever people have done. Not only can you draw slowly in the air, you can do it in 3D, and have the object you drew actually created. Don't believe me? then go to
Apart from drawing in the air, you can also project images onto air. Take at look at

Miracles are getting commonplace now in the world of animation, so we need a new word to cover things that can only be done by divine intervention. But even the divinity is getting mapped out by animation. Look at a 3D weather map. Scientists have just launched a satellite to map a 3D picture of the Sun as well.

Not many of us have a need for 3D images of the Sun, but how about having your own avatar that can try on clothes for you? If you're interested look at

The scariest aspect of 3D mapping I've seen was on a Horizon show last week where they showed experiments for mapping the brain. Different areas of the brain are highlighted as you think about different things. They say that one day they will be able to replay the images from your brain so you relive the experience, even to the point of capturing dreams!!!

I'd have second thoughts on that one, and just hope that the second thoughts don't get mapped.


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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Save the World

Hardly had the ink dried on my laser printer from yesterdays post about computers recognising movement when I came across and article about a computer that does just that. Check it out at
It seems it can distinguish between friendly and hostile behaviour. Put one of these on a robot and let it roam the streets and we will live in a peaceful, though somewhat inhibited society.

Of course, the world has other problems apart from our trying to destroy each other. In our spare time we also try to destroy the world; but not any more, the people at GlobalSchoolNet are looking for ideas to prevent global warming. You can find their site at
The idea is to get children and young people around the world to submit ideas and work together collaborating on movies and projects to get it sorted.

Once crime and global warming have been solved there are quite a few other problems to keep us busy. You can find some of them at Save the World


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Friday, October 27, 2006

Silent Voices

Have you ever had to get your movies translated into another language? Subtitles are not great because you miss the action while reading them. Dubbing is not all that good as it is usually obvious that the lips are not in sync with the sound. In live-action the background actors can sometimes get by saying 'Rhubarb, rhubarb' and making suitable gestures, but it's a problem yet to be solved.

As I am severely deaf, I have learnt to lip read to a limited extent. I never took lessons, but often watch TV with the sound off. It works OK with news readers but not so well with actors; so I am always interested in new ideas related to hearing.

One idea I read about yesterday at describes a method whereby the speaker simply mouths the sounds in one language and it gets instantly translated into another language.

The method is not yet perfect, but the potential for the Movies is fantastic. As it depends on facial movements instead of sound, then an actor could be connected to many machines and do translations into dozens of languages at once. A step further would be to record the facial movements for a given actor and apply these to an avatar. For the technically minded you can look at dealing with Virtual Reality.

What will they think of next? Well, if you want to find out then take a look at Lip shapes .
If you just want to amuse yourself then try


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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Face Recognition

An interesting article in the nerdy news today about computer face-recognition. Look on for details, and on for the article.
Put up a photo of your face and it will compare it to a list of celebrities to see who you look like. Someone tried it with some 3D animated characters. This is one with the teletubby who seems to come off well by comparison.

The system works by comparing the face with a list of celebrities who have already been digitised. I tried the program using 2D characters but it doesn't work, but if it did, it seems to be a good way to find those elusive cartoon characters who you can't remember the name for.

I wonder if the system might be extended to check movements such as walk-cycles. If it could then it might be able to guess someones age, gender, height, weight, etc reasonably well by the way they move. That could be useful in looking for people in a crowd, a bit like spotting car numbers as they move. A step in that direction has already been made, which you can check out at


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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Virtual Fantasy

Today I came across a news item at . It is about news casting with computer generated characters.

Aparantly news items gathered by search engines are transcribed from written text to spoken text - as against simply reading the written text; Clever!!!

Even as I was reading the article it ocurred to me that it would be nice to scan in a novel and have it instantly turned into a movie.
But that is an obvious application. It would be pretty useful to have technical data spoken to you on how to operate your washing machine, or what your mortgage contract is actually saying.

Only last week I read of a handheld computer used by troops in Iraq that can do instant translations, so put them together and you could talk to anyone around the world using a nice looking version of yourself. It seems to me something that could put the Generals out of work.

I have always felt that animation can save the world, and it is certainly making inroads into crime. A recent article stated that video tapes of criminals caught on CCTV are now having their walks analysed by computers. We all have a walk cycle as unique as our fingerprints so it seems a good idea.

What else can be done? As CCTV cameras don't have sound they can't capture voiceprints, but that can't be too difficult to do.

A couple of years ago we ran a workshop called 'Kids Crack Crime' getting young teenagers to suggest ways of catching criminals, and making a short cartoon of it. The project went well, the group we worked with won the Guy Ritchie Award.

I look forward to 'Crime Watch' being shown with Computer generated presenters, with the crimes being re-enacted by avatars. We might soon be calling Reality 'Virtual Fantasy'.


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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I Remember It Well

In the distant past, Animation studios were commonly housed in major Film studios, and did such jobs as titles, credits, transitions, and the odd Special Effects; animation was not about entertainment for them. Though there were studios making entertainment cartoons, they were few and mainly in the USA, but they did have a market.

Before the war a normal cinema programme was the B film, a cartoon, and the Main film. Better cinemas had a cinema organ that played during the interval, and young ladies would sell ice creams and chocolates. During the show they would walk up and down the isle squirting perfume.
At the end of the show the National athem was played, and everyone had to stand up, though many would rush out just before. It was always a memorable experience. Oh yes, and you were also banned from eating fish and chips. If you were seen taking them in they had to be left at the Box Office and picked up on the way out - cold and tastless by then.

The cartoons were mainly Disney or Warner Bros, but in my town there was a small cinema that only showed short films; cartoons and live-action comedy like 'The Three Stooges'. The show lasted an hour, and cost 3 pence for children. I was nine, and my mother would put me in there when she went shopping. On one occasion I forgot to come out, and the usher had to walk up and down the aisle shouting my name.

Apart from the that, my other weekly cinema outing was to the children's Saturday morning show that many cinemas had. They had serials like Buck Rogers, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and one called 'The Clutching Hand' which frightened me so much I would duck down behind the seat until the nasty bit was over.

During the war going to the cinema was a bit of a hazard. If the sirens went you had to get out; often just as the film had started. You never got a refund, and with very limited transport at the time, going back to see the film was rarely an option.

The main entertainment was the radio; and during the war the top show was ITMA with Tommy Handley (top image) who preceded the Goons, Monty Python, and much of what goes as 'British humour' today. He was easily the most famous person in Britain during the war.
His scriptwriter - Ted Kavanagh - was also a celebrity, and made me aware that 'scriptwriting' was actually a profession.

At the time I was about thirteen and hoped to be a cartoonist, but the small cinema and ITMA had set the seed for my later life.


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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Animated Series

I heard a story that a lady at a party asked some guy what he did for a living. He said he wrote the scripts for the Bugs Bunny series. She said "Bugs Bunny doesn't need a scriptwriter, he's funny enough himself".
I met Chuck Jones at a party and asked him if this story was true. He hadn't heard of it but said it was quite possible, and related a similar case.

I mention this because over the years I have been sent a number of ideas for Animated TV series by students and animators who feel that TV Studios are on the lookout for new material; they rarely are. There is a feeling that once you have a character as a design, it has a life of its own, and the scriptwriter simply has to record it!!!
My advice to those attempting to do ideas for animated TV series is to look at how many of the past series started as this will show how the characters and storyline have been developed.

The Pink Panther started as a film title, and The Care Bears started as toys. Thomas the Tank engine was born as a book character, and Popeye as a comic. The Muppet Cartoon started as live-action puppets, while the Super Mario Brothers came into being as a computer game. Some familiarity with all of these markets is necessary if you want to write for animation.

There are several others sources for animated series but the common element in the above examples is that these characters were established before being made into a series. It is not hard to pitch an idea when you start from this basis.

Another advantage is to have your own studio and be able to use spare time to produce a pilot for an idea. If the pilot is accepted then it is usually not too difficult to get production money.
A third situation is to be the producer of someone elses series, and come up with your own idea which can be based on your knowledge of the market, as well as having the facilities to test out your idea. Needless to say, few people are in such favourable positions of being able to set up a series.

But there are a couple of ways that offer hope; the first is to become a contributor to someone elses series; and secondly to get your work published in some other medium such as a book/comic etc. It is not enough to understand about animation, you also need to understand 'Markets' because that is what pitching is about. Unfortunately this is a subject rarely included in Animation Courses.


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Friday, October 20, 2006

Unusual Displays

In the early 1960s I was on holiday in Ibiza; at that time totally off the tourist track and having lots of artists doing their thing. One of them - who was not in the film world - said to me that he had a brilliant idea. As underground trains had a series of windows that were like film frames, you might be able to have pictures along the tunnel so that they appeared to be moving as you passed them.

I explained that you needed a 'gate ' so you only saw the image for a fraction of a second, and that the train would need to have a steady speed from start to finish, apart from the fact that lighting varied along the track, etc. But the idea was not lost on the Advertising people who saw the unused walls of the underground as potential space.

A few years later I noted that Sony had come up with a system showing moving pictures in the tunnel, but I never saw anything indicating it had been used or how it was done, so last night when by chance I switched on 'The Gadget Show' and saw that such a system was now working in the USA I was particularly interested.

Apparently it requires images to be flashed on the walls rather than fixed on the walls, and the flashes synchronised with the train speed. In effect, the train was acting as some form of projector.

The idea of projecting onto unusual screens is common enough; the same Gadget show had ladies parading around with screens built into their clothes. I have seen films projected onto waterfalls, blocks of ice, through mist, onto people, and two movies projected onto a single screen; and I seem to remember that someone tried projecting onto clouds, and the idea of using all your walls and ceilings as screens is just around the corner. One day you will wake up to the sounds of the dawn chorus, and see the sky above and the forest around you, while laying in the comfort of your bed.

The screen I'm waiting for does exist, but is not cheap; It's the 'Head-up-display' used by pilots, where the screen is their visor which is rather like Virtual reality helmets . I would like to be able to put on a pair of glasses and see movies in a way comparable to using an Ipod. I'm prepared to bet that something like that will be around in a year or two.


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cartoon Characters

Popular cartoon characters are not just funny drawings, they encapsulate the attributes of certain types of people; in fact, you can guess a great deal about someone by knowing their favourite cartoon. So it was with some interest I checked out my own character at a site 'Which Cartoon Character Are You? which claims to find your cartoon alta ego when you have answered a questionaire. I was surprised to find I was matched with Pepe le Pew - a rather lovable skunk. Well!!!

Having worked as an Animation scriptwriter for many years, I am always on the lookout for postures, gestures, and attitudes that can be used visually to sum up a character. In fact I get animators to act out the storyboard before animating it.

But there is another way of looking at characters. Sherlock Holmes almost certainly suffered from Aspergers Syndrome ; which typically comes out as a clever organised person who finds it difficult to make social contacts. Hercule Poirot was probably this way inclined as well.

My own Henry's Cat - who's favourite food is jellybean sandwiches - has an eating disorder. Miss Muffet suffered from fear of spiders, while Peter Pan feared growing up, and James Bond's charm is actually a cover up for his fear of commitment (quite common in men I'm told). If you are looking for some odd characteristics for your characters you might take a glance at Phobias. It is amazing what some people are afraid of.

It is also worth looking at Weird habits. I know a man who sticks his finger into his belly button when thinking; his jerseys have holes where he does this. Actors are always on the lookout for such habits. James Cagney used the trick of continually pulling up his trousers, for one gangster role. The coin-flipping gangster originated from a real gangster before becoming a cliche in the ganster movies. Humphry Bogart pulled his ear whenever he was thinking - in one role; and Harpo Marx based his odd outfit on a tramp he often saw.

One of the things I used to do was look at the questionnaires you find in magazines. Typically these might be 'Are you healthy', or 'Check your IQ', etc. Also the various internet questionnaires that ask a many questions to sort out your life-style. These questions give a good idea of the sort of compatible characteristic a someone might have, it is this compatibility that gives a character credibility.


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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Back to the Drawing Board

A couple of months ago I went to the Royal College of Art End of Year exhibition with some animation friends. We noted that there was much more traditional illustration and animation than in the previous years that had exploited new technology.

I wondered if 'Technology' has now been assimilated enough to the point where it is now taken for granted, and we could now get back to sweat and talent. I hope so because such work has more soul to it.

I was interested to note that this approach can still (and hopefully will continue) to be viable. The animated feature movie just released 'Romeo & Juliet - Sealed with a Kiss' is a full length feature animated by one man - Phil Nibblelink - made in 4 1/2 years using Flash animation. You can look it up at

There is a growing call for movie makers to make their own movies, particularly for presenting Social problems. One site at is looking for ideas to solve global warming. If you are interested, a good place to start is Global Warming.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Computer Games

The first computer game I played was 'Lunar Lander' on a Mainframe machine in the late 1960s; we didn't have screens; you typed in coordinates for speed and distance, and it calculated your descent and how much fuel you had, then printed out the answer. It was played so much some colleges banned it.

My first games addiction was the Purple People Eaters on the BBC Micro; Mice weren't available then, so I got Repetitive Strain Injury like most games players of the time. I moved on to Lemmings on the Amiga, but when my PC came along I had passed my games phase, and apart from Freecel and Spider Solitaire, never play games.

But I was invited along to the London Games Festival earlier this month to hear discussions on Artificial Intelligence in Computer Games; the next 'big thing'. I wasn't all that impressed by what I saw or heard.

Being a scriptwriter I find Computer games lacking in plot, but the main point of the discussions was how to put more 'Emotional attributes' into the Avatars.

I suggested that Games developers were going along the same learning curve as Film makers had done many years ago, and that though good design in games is essential, it is parallel to having celebrities rather than good actors in roles.

I left the show feeling that it will be some time before Avatars can put emotion into acting, but I was wrong. Take a look at:

Without doubt this is the beginning of a new era in Computer Graphics and Movie making generally. It is not difficult to see that this technology will end up on the desktop within a year or two.

The merging of Games and Movies really is one giant step for Avatars; it just needs Surround Screens, Holograms, and Virtual Reality to catch up now.

In the mean time look at:


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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Animation Data Banks

When I started in Animation around 1958 life was simple in the Animation World. Animation fell into just a few categories of drawn, cutout, and model/puppet -which covered just about anything in 3D. There were some experimental techniques, but generally speaking you could see how any technique worked just by looking at it. Apart from the techniques, anyone from cameraman to editor could go to any studio in the world and all the equipment would be more or less the same.

Not so today; in fact two animators doing exactly the same type of work might well be using entirely different computer programs to do it, and the time taken to learn such programs would often mean they are stuck with their choice of program. As many programs come and go, it is worth spending time finding out what is likely to be around for the future.

As I am constantly looking for trends in animation I spend much time checking out links to the various animation categories. It can be quite frustrating at times, so I was pleased to come across the site at which shows how Computer Animation can help out with visual search engines. The top image is an example of a visual data bank.

As far as I know, none have been applied to the 'World of Animation', but the potential is there, and if anyone gets around to doing it, much time and effort will be saved.

There are - of course - some good specialised Animation data banks. One of the best is: and a subsection at

The big problem is that search engines have difficulty in searching for specific images. If you want a particular Bugs Bunny movie you can check out Chuck Jones, but the vast majority of animated movies don't get listed in a way that is easy to categorise. Until they do the best that can be offered is Animation Database and Animation Databanks


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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Instant Animation

In a few days I'll be 76. Someone asked me if I lived my life over again what would I do that I hadn't done. The answer was easy; I would save the world.

Of course Superman - who is roughly my age - wanted to do the same thing, but his approach is to take out all the bad guys, whereas my approach would be to teach everyone animation which, as a universal language, would help the bad guys and good guys get along better.

Teaching everyone to animate is not an easy task, but it will become easier with a program a friend directed me to yesterday at:

This is one of a new breed of programs like K-sketch which enables users to animate without having to learn animation. You can also use libraries of free animations such as: and

The idea of using art to unite the world is not entirely new either. UNESCO runs a number of programmes at Digiarts.

Some other sites can be found at Kids Art and Freebies


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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sound Effects

I once worked with a group of teenage truants. The teacher in charge told me that it was unlikely that many would turn up to my class, but in fact they nearly all turned up - much to the surprise and delight of the teacher.

Instead of trying to teach animation I started with the idea of making a soundtrack for a haunted house. I asked them if they could scream, groan, and work out some grisley sounds; they could and did, and loved it.

We never actually got around to making a movie for the track to go on, but did quite a bit of other noisy recordings, and in the process released a lot of pentup tension in the group.

With young children it's a good idea to start with animal sounds. You can find many sites with these, but a good one is

Of course, all children can make animal sounds, but it is interesting to know what sound they make.
Trying typing in Animal sounds + Africa and then change the country.
You will find how different the animal accents are around the world at:

Another site at has a huge library covering just about anything you can think of. Acting out movements with the sound effects is good fun.
Another interesting site is

It is a good excercise to try and create your own sound effects with your voice, and things you can find in the class room. Shake, rattle, and roll things around; tap, drop, and scrape things. Then suggest how one can make sounds like the wind and rain.

UNESCO offers a free digital training kit at: which contains both audio files and an editor. Also

Here are some other sites to get started on:

Animal sounds
Machine sounds
Weather sounds
Instrument sounds


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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Children's Art Therapy

I was nine when WW2 started, and remember laying in the Air raid shelter with my cousins, and crying "What have we done to them?", as the bombs fell. The 'We' being my cousins and me, as we felt that we were being personally targeted.

Such children's drawings as this one are typical of all wars as children try to make sense of a senseless world. But war is just one area where Art offers therapy.

This picture came from the site:

Art therapy is used for terminally ill children, and children suffering trauma from accidents, illness, loss of loved ones, and the like, but also the broad range of Special Needs children who are physically/mentally handicapped, or suffer from communication problems.

More can be found on:

Art Therapy and Special Needs


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Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I've just come across an interesting site at dealing with scribbling; the earliest stages of drawing.

I once worked with Special Needs children, and had a 14 year old boy who was brain damaged He had a mentality of a 3yr old, and his teacher dismissed him as unteachable, but I included him in the animation class.

I gave him a pile of paper and coloured crayons, and then asked him to scribble. The end result was a pile of scribbled paper in different colours which I shot as a sequence so they animated. He was delighted, and wanted to do more. Unfortunately I was not able to work with him again, but there is no doubt in my mind that scribbling would have helped him in some way.

Very young children will often scribble a meaningless mess, and when asked what it is, say Mummy, or Rover, or whatever comes to their mind. It is a big conceptual jump for children to associate a mark with person or object.
Another interesting site is at which deals with the therapeutic aspect of scribbling.

Not being an animator but needing to draw storyboards, I learnt to do quick sketches by scribbling on scrap paper very quickly to get the feel of the pencil. It's a bit like practising your scales until you can do it without thinking.
I've read somewhere that if you are right-handed, then scribbling or writing with your left hand will develope parts of the brain that other excercises haven't reached.

The drawing at the top was done by my daughter when she was three. She said it was 'A squirrel in its house at the top of a tree'.
She became quite a competent artist though suffering from dyslexia. It is interesting to note that it is common for Special Needs children to be better than average artists, yet this ability is rarely exploited.

On speaking to a teacher about dyslexia, she told me that it is common among criminals, and I am aware of it being common among truants as I've worked with children who have been dismissed from school for truancy.

Typically they were not able to keep up with other children when it came to reading and writing, and were not offered alternative ways to express themselves. Something as simple as scribbling might well offer one contribution to the problem.

Checkout: Scribbling


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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Optical Toys

The easiest introduction to movie making for children is to use Optical toys. I normally start with rollers and flip books then move on to Zoetropes and Thaumatropes. The main thing with children is keeping them busy with projects they can do quickly and get results.

If you are not familiar with Optical Toys then good starting places are:

A recent discovery of some mechanical parts from an unknown Ancient Greek machine has suggested they had some form of mechanical calculator. I have often wondered if they also started animation.

I have never seen any reference to it but Greek vases with figures on them in stages of a walk cycle animate perfectly; and movies have been made of this.
Bearing in mind that these vases are made on a potters wheel, it would not take much imagination to have a 'gate' operated by the wheel so that you saw the figure animate as with a Zoetrope.

One of the problems I had in running workshops in schools is that the Head Teachers would often wonder where 'Animation' fitted in. Some think of it as Art; some as Computer training, and some used it as 'end of week' leisure activity.
It is this 'identity problem' that is perhaps the biggest barrier to getting animation into schools as a core subject; Optical toys are a foot in the door.

Look at Optical Toys


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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Visual Literacy

Nearly a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison the great inventor envisaged film being used in schools as a teaching aid; it didn't happen, at least not in his lifetime.

The term 'Visual Literacy' was coined in the 1960s, and coincided with the rapid development of Advertising in its various forms.

At the time I remember there was a great enthusiasm for technology about to solve all the worlds problems - particularly education. Single-Concept 8mm films would allow students to teach themselves; Audio-cassettes took over the language learning field, and Microfilm enabled you to have a library in your pocket.

Most of the equipment ended up in school cupboards unused because they were more bother than they were worth. Teachers like teaching, not setting up equipment so students can teach themselves; while students are often unmotivated for self-instruction.

My own opinion is that it needs a generation brought up on images before Visual Literacy can really take off. My generation (pre-war) had comics like the Beano and Dandy, and there were several illustrated magazines like 'Everybody's' around, but newspapers of the time had few photographs, and none in colour.

Children of the 1960s were in their twenties before personal computers were commonly around, and even those born in 1980s hasn't given a full generation of computer literates.

Visual Literacy suffers from an identity problem; comics, photo-mags, advertising, and the like are the most commonly quoted examples. But this is because 'Writing' is a core subject in schools while drawing/photography isn't.

Today's Blog is inspired by the fact that Google has just released its Literacy project: link which appears not to include Visual Literacy as far as I can see.

A good site to start with is the following one, aimed at Primary schools.

My main interest is to teach Storyboarding as an introduction to movie making. The Wiki link explains the basis of it.

But storyboards can be used for just about any form of planning. I noticed one being used for a bank robbery in a movie.

Check out: Visual Literacy


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Friday, October 06, 2006

Drawing Age

Did you know that most of us reach our 'Drawing age' at around 10 years old? That is, unless we have a talent for drawing or intend using it in our hobbies or work, we don't improve much after that age.
You might like to look at some drawings in a site for 'Badly drawn cats'.
Cats seem to be the most drawn animal, and the one most featured in comics, animation, and children's stories.

This is my effort. I can draw a bit better than this, but while showing children how to make faces using letters and numbers, I discovered that I could draw Henry's Cat ( using the letters from the word Miow. It then became my starting point for lessons.

Psychologists are very interested in children's drawings; teachers rarely are, but they could learn a lot if they had the training to do so.
One site that offers this is which outlines the
'Goodenough Harris Draw A Man' test.

There are a number of sites with such tests.
Another good one is
which shows children's pictures of houses.

There has been much concern about children's literacy. My generation (born 1930) had only reading as a hobby. Not even radio as the ones we had operated on accumulators which lasted a few hours at most, so it is not surprising my generation could read and write reasonably well.

But today children are brought up on visual images. They may not read much but they can operate machines that have icons instead of text, and this is fast becoming the preferred form of communicating, as we increasing communicate via machines rather than face-to-face.

I once suggested that perhaps written language is a passing phase, and one day we'll go back to communicating directly in pictures. Whether they are drawn by hand or machine is another matter.

More info: Children's Drawings


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Thursday, October 05, 2006


The first example of an animated film which still exists was an advert for matches; made around 1893. It used the pixilation technique of shooting real objects single-frame in 3D space as against drawings.
Until the advent of animation-cel (around 1915 I think), Pixilation was the main form of animation and primarily for Special Effects as in the 'Keystone Cops' films.

Wikipedia describes it as:
Pixilation (from pixilated) is a stop motion technique where live actors are used as a frame-by-frame subject in an animated film, by repeatedly posing while one or more frame is taken and changing pose slightly before the next frame or frames. The actor becomes a kind of living stop motion puppet. This technique is often used as a way to blend live actors with animated ones in a film.

It is the simplest form of animation, and can easily be done using a digital camera with a single-frame button. But can also be done with an analogue movie camera just by clicking it on and off.
With children, the most common idea is to let them make a funny face for each shot.

This type of animation requires no editing and offers instant playback, but can easily be extending to give 'magical' effects such as people and objects appearing and disappearing, or moving around at a frantic pace.

This technique can be automated as 'Stop Frame' shooting, where the camera takes a shot at fixed intervals. Commonly seen in CCTV cameras, and scientific films where you see a flower growing in a few seconds though it actually took hours or days.

It is an ideal starting point for animation in schools, as once set up it requires no further attention.
A good site for learning basic techniques, including Pixilation is

This site also gives instructions on setting up school projects using a variety of techniques.

More information on: Pixilation


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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Movement Notation

The name of Eadweard Muybridge is known to just about every animator; his books analysing motion in humans and animals have been the bible of the animation industry even today though they were published over a hundred years ago.

Dancers also use various forms of movement notation, and Choreologists work with Choreographers to record dance routines using such systems as the Labanotation and the Benesh method among others.

In 1958 Noah Eshkol and Abraham Wachman published a notation for describing movement based on a geometric concept, and was one of the systems used by NASA to see how astronauts would move in zero gravity.

When I started in animation I wondered if the two concepts of pictures and notation could be put together. On joining the Computer Arts Society ( in the early 1960s I met John Lansdowne, an architect who had an interest in ballet, and had created program that combined the ideas of pictures and notation.

His system had a set of numbered figures in various positions. By typing in the number sequence with the number of frames for each image you could create a dance sequence.
In those days you had to print out the images, but the concept was proved even though I am unaware of it ever being used seriously by dancers.

Things have moved on, and Motion Graphics allow movements to be recorded in real time. An example is at which lets you to play around with some simple walk cycles.

If you want something better you might look at Poser 6 ( which has libraries of figures ready to animate.

Muybridge would have been proud of his heritage.

Check out: Movement Notation


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Sunday, October 01, 2006


All animators are doodlers. Typically they start at school and draw pictures in their notebooks when they should be listening to their teachers. People bored at meetings doodle, and graffiti is a form of doodling. It is one of our natural instincts that has never really been utilised for education.

There is a clear cut distinction between doodling and drawing, with doodling it is organic; a shape grows without real purpose. Quite often it is a letter or shape that exists, and it vaguely reminds you of something so you add a bit here and there, and then it takes on a form of its own.

I once wrote a book called 'How Do You Doodle' based on using letters, numbers, and simple shapes as starting points for children to create pictures. The numbers 0 - 9 can all be easily used as noses ( As writing developed from pictures, it does not take much imagination to reverse the trend.

An interesting site is at which has some animated shapes you can doodle with. Although these are limited, they make a good introduction to animation for children.

Another fun site is at This doesn't require any drawing skill, but allows you to change the facial features around in many ways.
Although it calls itself Morphases, it isn't actually morphing in the way animation changes a picture from one shape to another. An introduction to the principles of animation can be found on It is one of many sites that show basic techniques.

There are very many 'Morphing' programs used for Special Effects (SFX), but the idea was first popularised in Felix the Cat going back to the earliest days of animation. And of course the Aardman Animation creation 'Morph', the little clayman who could change himself into anything, and initiated the highly successful 'Creature Comforts' and all that followed.

Other Doodling sites: Doodle


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