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

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