Make Movies Blog - v2.0

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

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Animated Science

Around about 1926 Einstein worked on an animated movie about Relativity. True he was only a script consultant but who knows what he might have achieved if he'd stuck with it.

The thought came to mind as in an idle moment I checked out an Animated Periodic Table, and going through the various Elements, noted that Einsteinium was one of the elements. Getting an Element named after you is second only to getting an ice-cream named after you - as was the case with Dame Nelly Melba.

I believe that you can pay to get an Asteroid named after you, which seems a good way to get funding for research.
Of course, large companies commonly sponsor TV series and the like, but would they ever start sponsoring animated movies like 'The Periodic Table'; something which any science student will tell you has been crying out to be animated since day one.

I believe the time has come to start teaching animation as part of Science courses. There must be a zillion subjects out there perfect for sponsorship if animators knew they were there and scientists knew how to visualise. I think a dating agency for the two would be the perfect starting point to get things going.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Back in the 1950s some experiments were done on using movies as anaesthetics with some success, but as far as I know this method was never used in hospitals.

While working at the Canadian Film Board in the early 1960s I met Norman McClaren, the experimental film maker, and asked if he thought films could be used in this way. I got a record on self-hypnosis, and he had some experimental films with concentric circles gradually shrinking. We put them together and showed the result. It made many people seasick!!!

I never pursued that line again, but later worked in advertising when Subliminal Advertising was tested. It was so successful that it was banned, or supposedly so, but one doesn't know if it actually was, but 'Placement Advertising' is perfectly legal, so in effect the method is still being used.

I have used it in animation as a Special Effect. If you want to create a disturbing image you can colour it with two very close colours and let them flicker. It is not visibly noticeable but mentally upsetting.

These ideas came to mind recently when reading about Spam mail. It seems one way to fool Spam filters is to have the background colour actually several very close colours.
You can write white text on a very slightly off-white background and mentally take it in without actually seeing it; a hi-tec invisible ink. And text can easily be implanted into an image. This is a common encryption method.

Forgetting Conspiracy Theories of us all being brainwashed, could such methods be used as anaesthetics? Could it be a way to control crowds with flashing lights? Could it be used in education? Whatever, there is no doubt that Animation has come a long way from funny cartoons.


Labels: , , , ,

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?


Labels: , , , ,

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.


Labels: , ,

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.


Labels: , , ,

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


Labels: , , , ,

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


Labels: , , ,

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


Labels: , , , , ,

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


Labels: , , ,

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


Labels: , ,

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


Labels: , , , , ,

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


Labels: , , ,

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


Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 29, 2006

Lip Sync

About thirty years ago when I was involved with computer animation at the Imperial College, one of the projects we looked at was creating automated lipsync.
In principle it was fairly easy; a set of lip shapes were matched to a set of phonemes in a look-up table, and you typed in the syllables and gave them a number of frames.

In those days there was no instant playback so if you got the timing wrong it took some time to check. But it wasn't practical for other reasons such as needing different shapes for different faces, also size, gender, age, and accent affect the shape of the lips.

I am not an animator but a scriptwriter, and my interest was the idea that one day I would be able to type in a script and both see and hear it played back. I thought it might always be a pipe dream, but I have recently seen some examples that come close to doing just that. One of the programs is which allows you to record your voice and have it spoken by an animated character.

I recently looked up "lipsync for animation" and got a hit rate of over 300,000, so developments have moved on.
I haven't tested them but here's a couple examples here that you may like to look at to see the current state of the art.

Also some other sites: Lip Sync


Labels: , , , ,