'Animate' is July 2018's Film of the Month

16 Aug 2018 in Film of the Month

8 mins
'Animate' is July 2018's Film of the Month

We are very pleased to announce that our Film of the Month winner for July 2018 is Animate, a lively combo of live action, animation and Claymation, made by Ben from Bedford.

In this charming and funny film, a children's storybook and the characters on its front cover come to life and head off on adventures, while fun with anagrams on the book's front cover prove troublesome for the reader...

Loved this! Really nice animation with some great character design and some quirky ideas. The stop motion flowed really well and I especially liked the sound effects and music. Everything was so very well done.

Film of the Month judge on 'Animate'

We got in touch with Ben to find out more about his film.

How does it feel to win the Film of the Month competition?

I was really surprised and excited to win!

Is this your first film?

This is my fourth animation but I have made ten films with friends and family. I made my first solo animation a year ago, called Pandora's Egg Box for the 2017 'A Sense of... Hope' film competition. It was only 90 seconds long.

Where did you get the idea for Animate?

In May I was experimenting with test animations, trying out really smooth movements with plasticine blobs. The scenes were only 10 to 20 seconds long and didn't really have a plot. I wanted to put my favourite models together in a film and I liked the idea of them crawling off the cover of a book. "Animate" seemed like the best title and matched the theme. I made a list of all the anagrams you could make from the word and "I eat man" gave me the idea for the plot. 

I covered an old atlas with yellow card and clear sticky backed plastic and took photos of the five Plasticine characters. I printed the photos out the same size as the real-life models and laminated them so they matched the shininess of the book cover. I did the same thing to some wooden letters I painted. 

The first scene I made was the one where the wand appears and brings them to life. I had seen a trailer for Isle of Dogs which used polyester stuffing as smoke and wanted to try it out. 

The storyline developed as I was working and, by separating the characters, a simple "Where's baby gone?" plot developed. I liked the surprise element of the snail being really fast and motorised and the book itself taking on a predatory character. Originally I wasn't going to put myself in the animation and just have the book jumping up at the camera. I got my sister to help film those scenes and with recording the vocal effects. The last scene I filmed is the ending, which I thought of after showing my family the film. It worked better, ending it with a funny twist.

The animation is fantastically smooth in the film. How do you make it look like that?

I used 12 frames per second in the animation (12 pictures for every 1 second of the film), with the characters' blinks taking three frames. I also only moved each model a tiny amount unless I wanted it to appear fast, like the snail. The camera I use does not provide a live-action preview which is frustrating. I had to put a ruler to mark the point where something was so it could be removed to mould into the next position. I would then take a photo and check its position with the last shot, using onion skinning (an animation software function that shows you a ghost image of the previous frame, making it easier for you to know where all your characters were). 

This is very time consuming as I was kind of working in the dark. If I had previewing live feed I could see what I was doing which would make it much quicker. Each picture is 16 mega pixels.

Animate has a really strong vintage feel. How did you create this feeling?

The music really sets the scene from the start. I found a synthesised sound on a keyboard which made me think of children's TV programmes from the 1970s and kept the tune really basic. I was also careful to wear undateable plain clothes with no logos. I think my film feels vintage because the storyline is very simple, the colours are mainly primary and very bright like a children's programme and I kept the background as simple as possible.

If you could make Animate again what would you change, and why?

I would use 15 frames per second as it is much smoother, especially when animating myself. I would take out the fishing wire from the conjuring scene and the one scene where the camera moves. I had thought about having a musical soundtrack in the background but some sounds are very quiet, like little pink leaving the book, and if you miss it the story doesn't make sense.

Are there any films which influenced you on Animate?

I am a fan of anything Aardman and was given Aardman Animation's book Cracking Animation, which inspired the test shots. I had just re-watched their Creature Comforts series and all of their films because I couldn't get my camera to work and I was desperate to animate. The movement of their characters is really natural. 

I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials on animation techniques and learnt lots of new skills like "easing in, easing out" (animation movements that start slowly and then speed up, or vice versa). Mio Mao is also a great series to watch as it has some really creative ways of moving characters about in a scene. 

I had also recently been given all the LAIKA animations, which have a completely different feel, and the technical behind scenes films were really helpful.

What advice would you give to a young person before making their first animated film?

Firstly, use lots of lighting. I used three 600 lumen LED garden security lights (only about £5 each) from three different angles, with tracing paper over them to diffuse the shadows. I also worked in a room where I had blocked out all natural light with blackout blinds, otherwise the natural lighting changes for each picture will make the film appear to flicker. This is what wrecked my first animations.

Secondly, be patient. I broke the film into scenes and I would finish a scene each day. That way it didn't matter if the camera got knocked. It is tempting to rush, but small movements always look better. If you do a bit a day, you don't get bored and the film builds up surprisingly quickly. Animate took a week to make the models, animate, edit and add sound. I also showed my family each scene to see if the story made sense, as there is no dialogue to explain the plot. Listening to feedback will make your film better.

Lastly, be original with your soundtrack. The soundtrack sets the mood, adds so much to the character development and brings the story to life. I recorded most of the sounds myself, using cutlery, kitchen utensils, wooden blocks and human voices. By slowing sound effects up or down you can change the pitch, which is how I got the really deep burp and high whistle. It is fun experimenting.

Animate will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of this month's films can be seen on our YouTube channel. The filmmakers have also won a £100 Amazon voucher and a DVD! If you've been inspired by this month's winner, find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you enjoyed Animate why not try these related films:

  • A Town Called Panic (2009, PG, 75mins) Engaging for ages 7+
    Miniature toy figures Cowboy, Horse and Indian go on a wild adventure which takes them to the edge of the earth in this wacky French stop-motion animation.
  • Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 (2012, U, 65mins) Engaging for ages 5+
    Some of Pixar's most beloved characters come from their short films, and this collection includes spin-offs from feature-length films WALL-E, Ratatouille and Up.
  • Aardman Classics (2000, 12, 157mins) Engaging for ages 11+
    Aardman titles were an inspiration for Film of the Month winner Animate, and this compilation features over twenty animated shorts as well as the Creature Comforts series
  • Stick Man (2015, U, 27mins) Engaging for ages 5+
    A regular stick embarks on an unexpected adventure one day and then must get home to his tree in time for Christmas, with the help of Santa Claus, in this adaptation of the popular children's book.

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