Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Student Creative - Animation team

Our Project aim: 3D print and construct a Zoetrope, see our last blog post for our initial plans (

fig. 1 - A Zoetrope

MoDiP – font of all plastic inspiration 

The collection at MoDiP has allowed us to see familiar objects in new ways. I particularly recall the feeling of seeing a milk carton in an entirely knew light, when I saw it in the ‘See Through’ exhibition at MoDiP. (

We want to do the same for animation. Taking a familiar art form that most people see everyday in one form or another, and making you take another look – making you think again.

Utilising the phenomenal ability of plastics, to help us keep order to the chaos of the world around us, is exemplified in the Tupperware display MoDiP is 
currently showing. ( Tupperware can keep all manner of things separate and keep important substances apart. 

Our response to this is to create a 3D plastic printed animation displaying the chaos of disorder, which only becomes clear motion once a flashing light and rotating table are added. For us animation is the chaos in which only 3D printed plastic and a rotating table can find order.

The Team – An evolution

Our initial team of ten has slimmed down as members of our 2nd year animation CG pathway have made decisions to leave CG work behind. However, 3rd years interested in the project have stepped in to join us to produce this project. As we currently stand the team is:

Producer: Jonny Strutt
Supervising Director: Merlin Voss
Animator: Sam Elphick
Assistant Modellers/Riggers/Animators: Calum Avery, Mitchell Shilling, Ciara Davis
Supervising Lecturer: Ian House

Where the project is now:
fig. 2 - GIF of the line test done for the animation

The zoetrope has moved along the pipeline of production well. The conventional parts of the 3D animation process (line tests, modelling, rigging, and key-posing) have been relatively smooth.

fig. 3 - Rigging and modelling progress shot

However, one key element of the rigging process called ‘Weight Painting’ has been a cause of some grief. Without it, the skeleton constructed during rigging would move independently of the model, leading to no animation. Not much help. When it is done badly, or as in this case, it is the first time using the tool, the model can not only animate badly, but break apart entirely. The loyal cart horse that is the phenomenally complex computer code behind 3D animation can easily buck and takes quite some calming down if it does. 

fig. 4 - pictures of broken weights

However, once a few pose tests were done, and the tool was grasped, the rigging was complete and the animation could progress smoothly to its eventual conclusion: a shot of a character viewed from one side only, as dictated by the filmmakers.

fig. 5.1 - Picture of fixed weights
fig. 5.2 -  Animation GIF

Bringing the animation into a 3-dimensional space will allow an audience to see and enjoy the subtleties of the animation from any angle they can crane their neck to see. This prospect excited me greatly, as when animating in CG I have often found ‘animating to the camera’ has caused the work to look good from one angle alone, so when moving around the animation in virtual 3D space, it suddenly looks much less effective. (On more than one occasion legs have been stuck at bizarre angles simply by virtue of being off screen and therefore irrelevant to the film.) 

Displaying animation in such a way as to be able to look at the whole body, from any side, has forced me to improve my animation. The overall movement must read from any angle, the arcs need to work in a 3D space, no longer just a 2D plane, and the action has to read clearly from as many angles as possible. It is no longer animating on a virtual set, it is animating on a virtual theatre stage with a mobile audience.

fig.6 - Models placed on the virtual zoetrope

fig. 7 - Zoetrope GIF test

From here more characters will be added around the one I have done, by the other members of the team following the same process as myself.

The next stage – Virtual to Reality

A good chunk of the usual process is complete. Now the transition begins - breaking the veil of Maya, pulling the curtain back between the illusion of the virtual world and the tangibility of reality is all that’s left to do. Simple.

The plan is as follows:

1. 3D print the ‘frames’ of animation as individual models using the wonder material that is plastic.

2. Clean the models of any unforeseen elements of the printing process.

3. Laser cut a disk for the models to slot into perfect alignment for the animation. [see fig. 8 below of the plan for cutting.

4. Put the parts together on a turntable using nuts and bolts.

5. Add the motor and flashing lights.

6. Watch the models come to life in an exhibition space.

fig. 8 - template for model placement

Each stage may pose new problems as this is the key challenge of the project – getting an animated performance sculpted in three dimensions. This challenge we will take one step at a time.

Taking on a challenge is what animating is all about, we wouldn’t do it if it was easy.

Written by Jonny Strutt

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Student Creative - Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

When making a pattern it can be interesting to use shapes from real life. The bowl that I used as my inspiration had a lovely bubbly shape to it. 

At first, for my Final Major Project, I was going to use Lectra - a pattern cutting software - to make the skirt. Then I started playing around with another pattern cutting software called Clo3d. I realised that the 3D virtual avatar in Clo3D, is much more realistic than the Lectra avatar. 

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Out came the shape I was looking for, and I am happy with how it moves when I make the Avatar move. 

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Image credit: Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir

Since this is a virtual reality project, I want to make not only the skirt, but a top to go with it. For my final outcome I am going to have an outfit on virtual reality, that represents the inspiration I got from the MoDip museum. 

Adalheidur Agusta Jonsdottir - Student Creative

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Student Creative - Fiona McTaggart

The last couple of months have taken me on a journey of discovery, in pursuit of making my heroic doll for paediatric cardiac patients. Recently this has seemed even more pertinent as February has been ‘heart month’ with social media flooded with stories from those waiting on the transplant list or having come through it, all emphasising the importance of organ donation. Moreover, ‘Max & Keira’s Law’ has been granted and will come into effect in England next year. An ‘opt-out’ policy for donor donation will replace the current ‘opt-in’, with the hope that there will be an increase in organ donation, as has already been seen in Wales ( For those unfamiliar with the background of this law, Max received his life-saving heart transplant from a young girl, Keira, who died tragically in a car crash. The brave and selfless act of her parents at such a difficult time meant that Keira was able to save four lives through organ donation, including that of Max. 

Heart Awareness Month, Max & Keira's Law

Although my overall intention is to provide an educational and positive doll for children suffering with heart conditions, time constraints have meant that I have focused specifically on creating a doll that will have an interchangeable heart that illustrates heart transplantation or heart improvement through medical management. Practically, I have been very fortunate to have had the help of Ben Diamond, AUB Technician Demonstrator. Without him, I think I would have struggled to get to the place that I am currently. So, what have I achieved so far? I designed my first doll, based on some heroic poses of my son. 

Doll designs. Image credit: Fiona McTaggart

I then modelled him from polymer clay. This medium is very appropriate for this project as it is made from a plastic PVC base and perfectly suits my intentions for casting in resin. This was the first time I had used this product and initially I found it easy to model, however it soon became too soft and difficult to keep its form, especially when I attached the torso to the legs. A few YouTube videos later and I learnt that you can harden it in the freezer for a short while, to prevent it becoming too soft to work with. I completed my figure and made a small anatomical heart to insert into the heart-shaped space I had created in the torso. Unfortunately, I did this a bit too big so will have to consider this in my next, and final design.

Polymer clay figure.  Image credit: Fiona McTaggart

Once baked and hardened in the oven, I made my silicone mould (another rubberlike plastic medium) and utilised the expertise and resources of the model-making workshop to cast my model in resin. This is quite technical, and I hadn’t anticipated this being the most difficult aspect of the project.

Silicone mould.  Image credit: Fiona McTaggart

My first attempt resulted in a resin figure filled with bubbles and unevenly dispersed colour resin powder. The heart was ok but still contained some bubbles. On Ben’s advice, I decided to use a slower setting resin that would allow time for the bubbles to rise and disappear. This did work much better although, with the bubbles disappearing, the resin sunk, and the feet of the figure were not filled fully. Despite this, the quality of the resin was much better, and I now feel confident to create a new design and figure. I might simplify the design and also refrain from using an iridescent resin powder, preferring the clarity of a colour tint instead. I also intend to simplify the facial features as the detail was not so effective in resin. I hope that the translucent figure will complement the more opaque heart/s and intend to use magnets to make these interchangeable. My intention would be for this doll to be placed by a child’s bedside, perhaps with a table lamp lighting up the figure and projecting a sense of hope at a time of uncertainty. 

Resin figures. Image credit: Fiona McTaggart
Hearts. Image credit: Fiona McTaggart

Fiona McTaggart, Student Creative

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Plastics & the home front

MoDiP’s latest exhibition Plastics & the home front accompanies Dazzle & The Art of Defence currently on display in TheGallery until 25th April 2019. With the main exhibition concentrating on the military aspect of defence, MoDiP wanted to explore the museum’s plastics collections from the perspective of life at home. Our pop-up exhibition features three themes: Keep calm and carry on looks at the in-it-together spirit celebrated within the civilian population, Make do and mend examines objects related to extending the life of clothing and Beauty as duty considers the popular wisdom of the time that being well groomed was a patriotic obligation.
I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a few of my favourite objects from Plastics & the home front.

Plasfort Helmet. Image credit: MoDiP

Similar in shape to the well-known MKII steel helmet used extensively by the British military throughout the Second World War, this hard plastic substitute was commercially produced for the civilian market. Although steel helmets were initially sold for use in air raids, after Dunkirk all steel was diverted for military use. Enterprising manufacturers came up with various alternatives such as this compression moulded, phenol formaldehyde example. Anecdotal evidence suggests they were quite robust: one report describes a building contractor purchasing several for his men after witnessing the Plasfort ably surviving a blow from the foreman’s sledgehammer! Rubber chin-strap versions were sold for use in munitions factories.

Darn-a-lite. Image credit: MoDiP

The repair of clothing has been an important skill throughout history and aids such as darning eggs or mushrooms made a neat repair easier by keeping the material stretched and taught. Throughout the Second World War darning thread was unrationed and readily available and this Darn-a-lite, dated to the same period, contains a small bulb and reflector within the green, urea formaldehyde top. Illuminating the fabric repair would have been particularly useful during the blackout or in an air raid shelter but unfortunately the batteries required for the power were in short supply for most of the war. When I was a child I recall that my grandmother had one of these which I was allowed to play with and MoDiP has both the yellow and green versions in the collection.

Clip-on broochesImage credit: MoDiP

Housewife magazine reported that ‘looking better on less is going to be our duty in 1942’ and a wartime memo from the Ministry of Supply stated that make-up was as important to women as tobacco was to men! Wearing make-up was seen as a patriotic duty, adding a much-needed dash of glamour and as increasing numbers of women were required to wear their hair tied back under caps or helmets at work, hairstyles also became an important way to express individuality. As clothing became more plain and serviceable, accessories were commonly used to change an outfit from day to day. Jewellery, such as these phenolic, clip-on brooches, provided an accent of rich, glossy colour. They have a dress clip fastening at the back with small prongs to attach to the clothing as opposed to a pin stem.

To see these objects and other home front plastics such as the British Restaurant tokens, visit the pop-up exhibition at the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP) on the first floor of the AUB library, running until 25th April 2019.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Plastics at War

MoDiP is proud to be able to contribute to TheGallery, AUB, exhibition Dazzle & The Art of Defence

Following AUB’s collaborative contribution to Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art, curated by James Taylor and held at the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington, this major new exhibition contextualises the artist Norman Wilkinson’s First World War ‘Dazzle’ schemes of disruptive camouflage against the wider contribution of the arts and creative industries to the defence of Britain in wartime.

Reflecting on the roles of photographers, artists, graphic designers, acknowledgement, and fashion designers during both World Wars, the exhibition includes paintings by the Dazzle artists Norman Wilkinson, Cecil King and Leonard Campbell Taylor, as well as scenes of Dazzled boats captured by John Everett and Geoffrey Allfree; wartime information posters by Abram Games and Eileen Evans, uniform fashion photography by Cecil Beaton; and models, photographs and costumes made by the staff and students from BA (Hons) Modelmaking, BA (Hons) Fashion, BA (Hons) Costume and Performance Design and MoDiP.

MoDiP recently acquired the cockpit canopy from a Hawker Sea Fury.  The canopy is thermoformed from a single piece of polymethyl methacrylate, also known as acrylic and we think it looks very handsome on display.

MoDiP’s Hawker Sea Fury cockpit canopy on display in Dazzle & The Art of Defence, TheGallery, AUB.  AIBDC : 008190

In 1936, the Supermarine Spitfire took its first flight. Its iconic bubble canopy, which led the way for other fighter planes, such as the Hawker Sea Fury, stood it apart from anything that had been before.

Supermarine Spitfire.  © IWM (CNA 2220)

Hawker Sea Fury FB 11 © IWM (ATP 16371F)
Hawker Sea Fury, October 1951, on board the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle © IWM (A 32015A) 

The earliest planes had open cockpits exposing the pilot to the elements.  In the First World War, glass windscreens were used to protect the pilot from the turbulent air created by the propeller.  As planes became faster and flew higher, enclosed cockpits became necessary to protect the pilot from atmospheric pressure.

Cockpit canopies were originally made of small panes of flat glass held within a rigid framework that interfered with the pilot’s field of vision.  The transparent acrylic bubble canopy was lighter than glass, and could support its own shape without any additional framework, providing good all-round visibility.  The production of these canopies was simpler than glass.  The acrylic was shipped to the plane manufacturers in flat sheets where it was heated and moulded to shape.  This avoided the inevitable breakages that occurred during the transit of large, heavy, awkward shaped glass.

The First World War saw much energy put into the development of new materials, especially plastics, and as such, the roles that plastics played in the defence of the country during the Second World War were many and varied. Plastics were seen as essential to the war effort; with the scarcity of natural materials, all sides focused their development of plastics into their use in conflict.

One significant outcome of this development work was the introduction and use of plastics in military aircraft.  The diagram below depicts just a few of the sections of a plane that could be made of plastics during the 1940s.  Other uses included polyethylene to provide electrical insulation for airborne radar systems and polyamide (nylon) for parachutes, an alternative to the unavailable Japanese silk.

Plastics parts on airplanes from Plastics in American Aircraft, British Plastics and Moulded Products Trader, February 1942.

Plastics were used over other materials for a number of reasons, but most significantly for the fact that they could do a better job.  A fuel tank supporting rib made of metal, if hit by a bullet, would be torn into large fragments with the potential to penetrate the tank and cause a fuel leak.  If the framework was to be made of a synthetic material instead it would shatter on impact into relatively small pieces.  These small pieces would then have insufficient power to cause further damage.  The use of plastics in the casings of electrical equipment, such as radios, helped to reduce the total weight of the plane itself meaning that it could carry more troops, more bombs, or more essential equipment.

Plastics were not only vital to the military war effort; they played significant roles in the domestic lives of the people. Find out more about some of the impact plastics had at home in the pop-up exhibition Plastics & the home front at the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP) on the first floor of the AUB library.

Louise Dennis (Curator of MoDiP)