Thursday, April 16, 2015

Concept Art: Opal & Redthred

A reminder of what these posts are about: I've been working with the students at Falmouth's Animation and Visual Effects course  to develop some brief outlines for animated show - my outlines, their art.

The second brief is for an idea called OPAL & REDTHRED. Longtime blog readers might remember this is something I've developed before, with the ace illustrator Sarah Gordon, as a short webcomic called BRIDGE & TUNNEL. I really wanted to come back to this world though, so I thought I'd see what the students would do with it.

Here's the brief:

OPAL AND REDTHRED

Animated series for 8-12 yrs.

Opal’s an axe-obsessed dwarf princess and the chosen Champion of Light, Rethred’s a mopey wizard whose power comes from the Dark (but he’s not ‘evil’, he’s quite specific about that). Together, they’re dedicated to defend the fantasy world of Erithea from all magical dangers. Unfortunately, the fantasy world of Erithea has moved on a bit, and now everyone has tablets, libraries, school buses and clean toilets, and doesn’t really need champions any more. 
In a world where trolls drive buses, goblin caverns double as sports arenas and elves are always the coolest kids at school, there isn’t much heroic fantasy adventuring to go around any more. Which doesn’t mean Opal and Redthred won’t do their utmost to go out there and find it.

Based in the (mostly) human city of Scälmo, Opal Signisdottir (who’s run away from her stern father the Dwarf King) and Redthred the Unsure (Dark Wizard in training) are officially allowed to reside in the Enchanted Tower of Destiny, and skip most of their lessons, on condition they maintain a watchful eye for magical threats of all kinds. And when those don’t appear, which they usually don’t, they spend their time adopting magical pets, finding treasure, eating spicy kobold pizzas, exploring magical underground cave systems (sewers) and generally getting into more trouble than if they actually were battling magical threats.
Here be de art:
Firstly, Emily Gray's take on Opal, who I saw as part Princess Leia, part girl Gimli:










... which were great. Then she went with shorter hair, a bit harder edged, which I liked. I was tempted to move to something more cartoony, but decided to let Emma keep working in a more naturalistic style, see how it worked.




 Here's Emma fleshing out the world a bit with some more non-human characters:






... and a bit of the central location, the city of  Scälmo.



And finally here's Emma's take on the depressed student/wizard character Redthred, who looks UNCANNILY like me circa 1991.


So yes, these were great. 
Rachel Denton did some more cartoony/younger style takes on Opal as well, which were lovely and sparky:


The stickers on the axe were a particularly nice touch. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Delivery Man, tonight 9.30pm ITV

Argh bloody hell there's a sitcom starting tonight and I wrote somewhere between a third and one half of it*, put it down to administrative error on ITV's part.




What happened was, ages ago, I caught up with Victoria Pile (creator and producer of Smack The Pony, Green Wing, Campus) and her common law illegal immigrant (Scotch) partner Rob Harley (writer and producer on the above) in London, and they said 'we've got some projects on the go, dunno if you're interested in writing for some of them', and I steepled my fingers like this *steeples fingers* and said 'proceed', and they said '(first thing I've forgotten) and then (second thing I've forgotten) and also we're doing this thing with Darren Boyd as an ex-cop who quits the force and becomes a male midwife' and I was all 'Hellloooooo!'

Because my memory is narrative-based rather than working on the tradition 'reality' base of most hu-mans, this bit might be wrong, but I think what happened next is they gave me two thirds of a script that they'd been stalled on for six months, and I arsed about with it for a bit and then it was INSTANTLY greenlit by ITV. Okay that probably wasn't what happened, but I'm going with it.

So yes, lots of readthroughs and rewrites and auditions later - look, here's a picture of one of the readthroughs:



...it all got filmed in a big shed somewhere in Walford or Charnham or on the Jasmine Allen or one of those London places, and I was there for a couple of days and had to tell Paddy McGuinness to please say 'vanilla monolope' like it does in the script, it'll make sense when it comes out, honest, and then it was ready to go out, BAM, it's magic.

LOL, as David Cameron likes to say, it wasn't like that at all, because a half hour comedy on a commercial channel these days is twenty two minutes thirty seconds, so poor Christian in the edit suite had to spend ages trimming bits and holding them up to the light and tutting and trimming more bits, but now it's READY so watch it, or don't, up to you.

*estimates may vary

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Concept Art: RUNEPAW

So here's a nice thing: having worked with Falmouth Uni's Animation and Visual Effects Department a few times in the past few years (I mainly talk to them about narrative structure, because a lot of student animators can create a thirty second piece in their sleep, but when they have to do something more than four minutes long they tend to shout 'Awk' and fall over), it became apparent that this year is really really good. Or to be fairer to the other years, their collective art style would seem to lend itself very well to the sort of animation I like writing for.

Which made me think 'Hmmm'. 'Hmmm', I thought. And I looked at a few written outlines I'd been noodling about with, and wondered how much better they'd be, and how much more inspired I'd be to work them up into something richer and more interesting if, say, I had a room full of really talented drawists doing lots and lots of concept art for me.

And they went for it! Hahahaha idiots (I love you guys). As part of their professional development, I've given them three very brief outlines, and they're doing concept art, and then I'm giving them feedback, and then they're revising their work, and where we end up, no-one knows. Except hopefully, they'll have a portfolio full of concept art they wouldn't otherwise had, and I'll have some developed outline pitch documents with lovely art, and they keep the copyright on their work so I can't pitch anything involving their art without their permission.

Obviously the spectre of 'hey guys do this work for me I can't pay you but think of the EXPOSURE' is going to lurk over this, but they will get course credits. Also I've tried to recreate the feel of a genuine animation creative workshop by giving them a) sweets and b) a bucket of lego to play with while we talk, so there's that.

Anyway, the process has begun, so I thought I'd put the first few pieces up. Where I can, I've linked to the creators' blogs or tumblr feeds or whatevs, but for GOD'S SAKE PEOPLE get a Twitter account, I get so much work now from Twitter, it is essential if you live in Cornwall like an idiot.

Here's the first outline:

RUNEPAW (CGI/mixed)

Animation for pre-schoolers, teaching navigation and simple words.

Following the adventures of Ingrid Runepaw, a brave Viking mouse, and her intrepid crew of mice, rats, stoats and one rather cold lizard, as they explore the frozen North in order to uncover stories of adventure and derring-do – while having no small amount of adventure themselves.


RUNEPAW is all about exploration and stories, teaching children the basics of map-reading and navigation (why does it get warmer as you go South? Can you sail off the edge of the world?) and uncovering retellings of classic myths and legends as they go (the animation moving from 3D CGI to older forms of animation, such as 2D or stop-motion as the stories are told).

I needed some character art, some background/environment stuff and... anything else they fancied doing really.

AND NOW SOME ARTINGS. This is just a brief selection really, there's some more great stuff which hasn't made it into the Google Docs folder yet, but I'll put it up when it appears.








Grayling Breckon








Sophie Rippington



THEY ARE SO GREAT. The other ones are great too, with a more Disney/Dreamworks influence, but they're not online yet.

The interesting thing is how much it makes me go back to the original concept and redefine it. I'm already chucking out the mixed narrative/story within a story idea - if the characters are this loveable, I want to spend time with them. Also I need to figure out the rules of this world: are the animals aping a viking culture that's around them? Is it set in the modern day, but the animals have their own culture? Or are there no humans in this world, so the animals have stepped up to fill that niche, as it were. How do they perform basic metallurgy (seriously, I have to think about this).

More to follow.






















Sunday, November 30, 2014

'Hey Duggee'

A thing I wrote some episodes for (as did some other types, but this my blog not theirs) is coming out first thing in 2015 on CBeebies and there's a website up and everything, so please go and take a sneaky peek. Go and look at the trailer, it's great!

It's called 'Hey Duggee', and the man behind it, Grant Orchard, has been sweating LITERALLY BLOOD over it, as has the rest of the team, but who cares about that, more interestingly it's a gorgeous-looking thing, here's a pic below from one of my episodes called 'Paddling Pool':


So if you didn't click on the trailer for some unfathomable reason, imagine the above image moving around a bit and narrated by Alexander Armstrong, who needs the work frankly.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'There's A Worm At The Bottom Of The Garden'

Yes it's a short story, but if you're not into reading fiction on the internet, it's a very short story, part of the 'Den Of Eek' anthology which has just been released on Kindle, with proceeds going to support cancer charities, as part of DenOfGeek.com's Geeks Vs Cancer appeal. Each story deals with the theme of urban legends.

I read this story as part of an event last Halloween, and was lucky enough to go last (everyone's receptive to the final story of an evening because then they can go to the loo qualm-free). I've never read a story out loud before, and there turned out to be a surprising amount of adrenaline involved, basically because the feedback loop for a scriptwriter is usually, at best, six months-ish, so hearing people's reactions seconds after I've flapped some wordings from my mouthhole was a weirdly new experience.

A lot of this story is in the reading, so you have to imagine my voice, which is like a cross between Benedict Cumberbatch and Jon Hamm but sexier than I've made that sound ANYWAY SHUT UP JAMES DO THE STORY.



There’s A Worm At The Bottom Of The Garden

That thing that every barcode has to contain the number ‘666’ or it doesn’t work? Or if you pull a face and the wind changes, you’ll get stuck like it? Or that thing about the dead granny on the car roof? My dad made all those up.

Dad loved his little stories. He was a writer, although if he’d told anyone that, he’d have had to kill them. Or give their name and address to a third party a couple of doors down who’d do it in-house. If he ever did have to tell people where he worked, he usually said Health and Safety. Which was true. Kind of.

It had all begun in World War Two. The British government had cracked the whole radar thing, and the Germans wanted to know how their bombers were suddenly being located in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night by Hurricanes and Spitfires that had come seemingly hundreds of miles out of their way for no good reason.

The explanation the British Government came up with was ‘carrots’. Two thriller writers and a librarian were pulled out of their normal duties and told to come up with a story that sounded good, before the Germans made the connection with the oddly-shaped concrete structures on the Kent coast and realised the Brits had the ability to see flying things and floating things from quite a long way away, and we lost our advantage for good. What the writers came up with was ‘carrots’.

Specifically, that carrots gave their consumers excellent night vision, and that the British populace had started eating carrots dawn, noon and night, and consequently every spotter on the ground, every plucky pilot with a handlebar moustache, every old maid cycling to church with a cold beer or something, had consequently developed hawklike 20/20 vision and the ability to spot a Heinkel bomber ten miles away on a dark night even in thick cloud.

The story was printed out and passed on to trusted agents who began spreading it in every tavern, teashop and town hall in the land. The Germans bought it. And the British bought more carrots. Many many more carrots. Because of the night vision thing. Which was why, when the Germans finally did twig radar, the two conscripted novelists and the librarian weren’t sent back to their units, but given a nice office and told to keep coming up with the stories, even after the war ended, the government thinking: if a made up story can sell carrots without even trying, how far can we take this thing if we really go for it? And thus the secret government department of UrbLeg was created.

The plan was to release controlled legends in conflict areas, carefully engineering flawed narratives into each story’s DNA, rendering them unbelievable once they had spread beyond a certain point. So by the time people started comparing notes and saying things like ‘Hey, if that thing with the clown and the scorpion is true, who the hell is telling the story?’, the damage was done, the seed of doubt sown, the regime destabilised, the rebellion suppressed.

Of course, it couldn’t work forever. Rival nation states quickly worked out what was going on, and began setting up their own UrbLeg departments, often contracting their best literary talents to work undercover. Early experiments often ended in failure: French weaponised narratives often imploded in ennui, the Russians’ went on for so long, and so gloomily, many of their targets simply wandered off, and the Americans included such overt product placement, the targets became suspicious. ‘And the murderer was calling from inside the house! On a Bell Electric Western System telephone, which has great audio clarity and comes in a variety of colours!’

It was bad enough that when these narratives met each other in the wild they started mating, creating thousands of bastard anecdotes with minor variations, each a little more macabre, a little more likely to dig in with it story hooks and be carried to places UrbLegs were never meant to go. Bad enough that they started coming home to roost, the creator of the ‘spiders bursting out of the boil on the girl’s cheek’ story hearing it told back to him just three weeks after he’d generated it after a bad marital breakup and way too much coffee. But worse, far worse, was what a squad of brutally conscripted magical realists locked in a bunker somewhere in South America managed to do, sometime around the early Seventies.

My dad had just started working at UrbLeg then, recruited after his regularly rejected series of children’s stories called ‘The Constant and Depressing Deaths of Tiny Emil and His Friend Harbottle” had come to the attention of a high-up civil servant with an eye for talent, and positions to fill after a number of internal breakdowns. And so his first day at work, my father heard the gasps of disbelief, and saw the trembling hands clutching faxes, that announced the first weaponised narrative had gone meta.

Out there, in the South American rainforest, the magical realists, who already had a bad rep for playing with nested narratives, had gone completely, bug-eyed insane, and created an urban legend that had turned itself into a coherent system of interrelated and sequentially organized stories sharing a common rhetorical desire to resolve a conflict by establishing audience expectations according to the known trajectories of their literary and rhetorical form. Shit had got real.

A United Nations approved list of literary critics were parachuted into the jungle, fighting three days and three nights until the breakout was suppressed, every single one desperate to point out the irony that they were critiquing urban legends in a singularly rural environment, but all the time knowing introducing one more ounce of self-awareness could turn the whole thing really fucking icky. Finally it was over, loose story threads burned from the trees by flamethrowers, every last potential sequel stamped squealing into the blackened ground, and my father and his new co-workers gathered round a speaker listening to the whole thing.

After that, it could never be business as usual. The South Americans had made a crack in the world, and it was only a mater of time until something forced its way through. Things quietened down, ambitions lessened. UrbLeg started restricting itself to homilies, minor anecdotes, satirical nursery rhymes. Many of the staff were laid off, and when I replaced my dad after he died after a thing in ninety-six, UrbLeg was down to three people. The internet gave us a brief resurgence, but was really just cranking out umpteen variations on the same old ‘waking up without kidneys’ stories on various forums. Still, it paid the mortgage.

Until the Coalition took over. One day, without warning, we were all sacked. And the next day, rehired again, on zero hour contracts by StoryCorp the same large corporation, with fingers in television, films and advertising that had, as far as we could tell, taken over every urban legend generation department across the known world.

For three days, nothing happened. There were rumours we were being integrated into viral marketing units, maybe doing some ARGs for some upcoming computer game. Then the order came, to every UrbLeg department across the world, just two sentences, one little story we had to get out to every sentient being on the planet. Our terms of employment ended after this last job, and we couldn’t help noting StoryCorp didn’t appear to have made any long terms plans for paying gas or electric on our building either.

The new story was “There’s a worm at the bottom of the garden, and his name is GARKASH THE DESTROYER, BRINGER OF THE END TIMES, DEVOURER OF HOPE. Please do not resist his coming”.

True story.