Tag: animation

Beef Eating Walk cycle testing will be the death of me.

Okay, yeah, I know that’s a dramatic title, but animating with Beefy is so hard, his poor little legs are too short, and his back is too long. Which in hindsight is the same affliction as my family, we all have short legs and a long back. I’ve decided I’m happy enough with him as he is and its time to move on to the next character.

What is my animation going to be about anyway?

Every time someone asks me, “What’s your Masters about?” it changes. And at first, I was worried that this was a bad thing. now I see that it’s actually a good thing. This most recent update to this was this morning when I was asked and I really liked the answer I gave.

An animated investigation into the generational Romany ethnic identity of my family. 

It feels more in line with what I am trying to research and say with my work.

This means I will need to interview my Dad again because I want to look further into the reasons why my parents moved to New Zealand. I would also like to talk to my siblings, and also to my own children to see how our relationship with our ethnicity has changed over these three generations.

Research New Direction

I labelled this ‘new direction’, which is a little misleading because I am not taking my research in a new direction per say, just redefining what it is I am focusing on, and the best animation aesthetic to achieve this.

My heart has stayed with 3D since I first discovered it, way back two decades ago, and this is a thing that hasn’t changed. But the sharp focus of modern 3D characters didn’t feel authentic, or able to resonate with the message I want my animated documentary to achieve.

After spending what felt like weeks considering what voice I wanted to use, and what story I wanted to tell I finally recalled an audio recording I made of my Dad a few years back when he asked me to ghostwrite his autobiography. It was in this audio I found the thread to pull for my first animated sequence.

To start, I narrowed down the 30 minutes recording, highlighting one segment that I felt really illustrated how my father truly felt about his family being forced into a sedentary lifestyle.

Scientific Racism: Catalyst of a sedentary lifestyle

Dora Yates Scientific Racism
Acton, 2016

I have found academic writing that comments on the Hampshire councils stance on travellers in the 1960s, and how they used ‘scientific racism’ in academia to support their opinion that Gypsy’s should not be allowed to continue living a nomadic lifestyle and that this way of life was damaging somehow to the youth in the camps. Writings by a woman named Dora Yates conducted what she felt to be adequate research by going amongst the Travellers on the New Forrest and judging for herself that the pupils of the local school were not of Romany blood.

This study directly affected my family, and their way of life. While this essay touched on what happened to the Travellers, citing their forced move to the mud floor huts, it lacks the personal voice of the Romany and their experience of this internment.

As a child my Father recalls this time fondly, remembering how enjoyable it was to be with other children his age, he speaks of one time when toys were donated to the camp, and the children could have their pick of what was in the wardens back yard. But on reflection, when he starts to explain how they lived, and where the camp was situated it became obvious he hadn’t considered how terrible the living conditions were, and how wrong it was for the government to decide this way of life was better.

The negative effects of forcing Romany into a sedentary lifestyle far outweighed any perceived rightness of the act. The work families relied on to feed their children dried up, with so many with the same skill set stuck in once place, this caused many to think creatively to provide for their families. For my Father, being a young boy, the reality of the situation was hidden from him, my Grandparents worked hard to conceal how hard this new way of life was. They did their best to ensure that their children felt safe and secure, while the reality was a stark contrast.

Animated change

After cobbling together my 30-second sequence from my Dad’s story, I worked first on the sound design. I have learned over the years the this is an aspect of my work that I have neglected. With my Dad’s story being the central point I wanted to place the most importance on what the viewer will hear. It is from here that I launched my ideation of the look and feel. I knew that I wanted to use 3d animation, but not in a conventional way. I want my film to tactile, and grungy in a way that reflects the ex-prisoner of war camp my family were moved to. I want to capture the despair of having autonomy over your life taken from you, while also capturing the closeness of family ties.

Rubbish Dump Gypsy Character ideation
Rubbish Dump Gypsy character ideation

It was fairly obvious to me, that from this point on that I could not rely on any of the 3D character rigs I have available to me. (both paid and free rigs) I need my animation to maintain its authenticity, and to do this I will need to create all the characters within it. Above is the first iteration of my Romany family, based on photos of family members. to capture this textural landscape I want all the characters to have the feel of a hand made toy, something that Romany children might have made and played with.

Faceless doll inspiration

Faceless Doll Ideas
Faceless Doll Ideas 

I am investigating the idea of dolls without faces, my reasoning for my characters in this sequence having no mouth is symbolic of having their voice taken away from them. These travelling families had no choice but to move into the camps. The government worked systematically to close down stopping places until they were all funnelled into the same camps. There was no way for them to speak out against how unjust this was. Couple this with the general distant and mistrust of travellers they genuinely had no voice to counter the argument for the sedentary mandate. (I need to confer with my research and add some linking academic papers) The representation of Romany and Travellers still very present today, in social media, news media, entertainment, academia, and in our own homes. There is even misunderstanding within my own race, which is bound to happen when we have all be labelled under one umbrella term, despite our diverse histories which is why my characterisation here is so important.

I am looking at the history of dolls such as the Waldorf Doll, The Haudenosaunee ‘No  Face doll’, Hayao Miyazaki animated character Kanoshi (No face) from Spirited Away, and Motanka, Traditional Ukrainian Doll as a foundation for my own no face doll.


From this, I have created my first character, Little John. This is the first iteration, I have run into several issues along the way, and with each version have created something closer to what I have visioned in my head. I have used a combination of Maya to create the base mesh, and Zbrush to create the textural detail. Using a combination of bump and displacement maps I can convey a layered, and complex character, that feels real, in the medium of 3D.

Little John character sheet
Little John character sheet
Beef Eater Character Sheet
Beef Eater Character Sheet
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy and LJ 3d Character
Beefy and LJ 3d Character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ 3D character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
LJ, Beefy and Vardo 3D Character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
Beefy 3D character
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip
LJ wip


I still have a lot of characters to design and create, but seeing these first two have really filled me with joy and a renewed sense of purpose. I decided on reflection of my first iteration to include eyes with my Romany travellers. They are silent observers of what was happening to them. This was also an aesthetic choice, as having no ideas left me with an underlying sense of dread.

At this stage, I am working on rigging them with Rapid Rig, and ensuring I can animate them in a way that conveys the emotion that this piece needs.  I’ll be back later to upload some animation tests. Below is the first test from Beefy before I changed the rigging structure. The new rig means I have greater control over this body, and means I can also animate this hat.



Acton, Thomas A. ‘Scientific Racism, Popular Racism and the Discourse of the Gypsy Lore Society’. Ethnic & Racial Studies 39, no. 7 (June 2016): 1187–1204. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2015.1105988.

My own ‘gypsyiness’

I have a lot of different thoughts and ideas whirling around my head. I really want to create something poignant, and powerful, but I am at a point with my research where I’m not sure what direction to take, so I am just working to create content for every idea that fly through my brain.

I want to communicate how it feels for me to be Romany, and kiwi, and Gorjio. That I never felt quite Gypsy enough to fit in with my Romany family, and never quite Gora enough to fit in with the kids at the school I went too. And then slide this into how I feel now, trying to own my ethnicity, but still feeling like a fraud. How much discrimination can I claim at this point in my life? How much disadvantage has it put me at?

When I was a teenager at high school in New Zealand there were girls who made fun of me, called me a Gypsy Witch, even dramatically throwing themselves into lockers to ‘get-away’ from me and my supposed curses.

But now, at 40, I can’t say my Gypsyiness has disadvantaged me because I really don’t have much left. If I had much, to begin with. My Dad moved us away from his family, and the stigma that went hand in hand with being a traveller. But with that move and gain of the white privilege, my skin gives me, I’ve lost the chance to learn the Romany language, and be part of the travelling community, in a way that popping in once a week on a Sunday never afforded us.

I’m same/same/different on both sides of the fence. And the fence does exist, as surely as the gatekeepers stand at the border and keep a mental tally to who has the right to claim themselves Gypsy, Traveller, Romany.

Mocap: Final Product

The question I was trying to answer for my Motion Capture project was: Can I use motion capture to successfully animate a non-human character?

The answer, much to my surprise, is YES!

It’s safe to say this motion capture final render won’t work its way into any award shows, however, I realise that I shouldn’t be so hard on my self. I took a risk and tried to achieve something that was outside my comfort zone, so it’s also safe to say I actually managed to pull it off, if not somewhat awkwardly.

This is one project that I will be spending more time on though, so check back later and hopefully, Vardo will be doing some pretty inspiring things.

Motion Capture: Vardo, and the test results

What I have learned throughout this experience is, that I have managed to create a solution that will work for previs, I have a way to go before I can call this avenue of research finessed enough to satisfy me. I need to create a solution that will keep the wheels reliably on the ground, and also have them move more easily with the body, I need to figure out how to add doors, and windows to Vardo that are able to be keyframed and move seamlessly with the Vardo’s body.

I have concluded that the best, and a somewhat easiest way to achieve a good result to have the motion capture actor stand with their feet together. This way, when weighting the skin to the foot controls it is easier to maintain an equal distance from the wheelbase.

While running my tests I compared both methods, and although I do love the way Vardo jumps all about in the version where the entire mesh is parented to the rig, I much prefer the usability of having the wheels and base separate. Going forward, I will consider trialing a blendshape, or ncloth simulation.

Overall, I am happy that I made it work to a satisfactory level, but I would love to see this through to a more usable and versatile solution.

Below is a comparison of the two different models I trialed.

I have dozens of other test videos!

Modelling Vardo for Motion Capture

I have a tendency to overdo things, so after my first few trials, I realized I had to pull it back to be able to test my mocap without taking HOURS repainting skin weights. Below is a super sped up video of the modeling process.

I do have footage of how terrible this model worked out and will include it in my making of the video, one thing I soon realized what I wasn’t going to be able to make the wheels, doors, and window shutters move independently of the while ensuring the travel with it in a seamless manner.

Below is a schematic of how I finally managed to put Vardo together. But parenting the wheelbase to the foot controls I could move the entire vehicle with the main character controller, and by parenting the wheels to the base I could place keyframes on them.



UPDATE I just had a brainwave about how I could make this better!

Treatment & Mood boards Version One

Capstone: Treatment & Mood Boards Version One

I am going to prefix this post by stating that this the starting point of Vardo’s story. I am sure, not unlike the hardships he takes on his journey so will my capstone project. For a start, my treatment ended up over 1500 words long! Although after rereading in the cold hard light of day (and a few hours sleep) it was pointed out to me that I use the word ‘forward’ far too many times. I just went back and checked, I used it 7 times in one paragraph, which happens to be the only paragraph that word appears.

Below are my first iterations of the Mood Board and my epic treatment. Some of the other feedback received in class is how can I refine my story so he becomes more concise, and how could I tell Vardo’s story in a two-minute feature. I do not want to shorten my blue sky version of the story, I believe this animation would work in a longer format, but for the capstone, I aim to create a quality animation so will need to keep in mind the relatively short time frame I have to work with.

I am considering creating my final animation as a trailer for the longer format Vardo. If you have any feedback that you believe would benefit from hearing please do comment or send me an email.


Title: Vardo

Treatment: Version One

The scene opens on a caravan wheel, above it is a clear blue sky, below the lush green grass, and nearby the sound of a church bell swinging gaily and a group of people cheering in celebration can be heard. The camera pans out to reveal a young Romany couple celebrating their marriage.

The Romany couple hand over the money to the coachbuilder and in return they collect Vardo. The young couple is overjoyed and Vardo responds, coming to life, his paintwork sparkles and glows as he basks in the praise of how beautiful he is. The young Romany couple poses proudly in front of their home for a photo (Polaroid or old-fashioned?) and the photo of them both smiling is inserted into an old-fashioned pocket watch case.

Vardo’s family, now with the new edition of a child travels with his family pack, several other wooden caravans travelling together. The people who live in the caravans are smiling and happy.

The caravans stop to camp for the night, dinner is being cooked, and Vardo snoozes peacefully. The quiet night is interrupted by the sound of a police siren. Police on bikes round them up and urge them all to move on. Vardo rousing himself from sleep is scared, he struggles to organise himself and get away from the police. In their haste to get away items from their campfire get left behind.

As Vardo travels through the small village near where they were camping with the police in pursuit villages alerted to the hubbub by all the noise start to take to the streets, they are carrying pitchforks and cricket bats to defend themselves from the perceived intruders. The cobblestone pavement is bumpy and the road is hard for Vardo to navigate, as the wheels bounce up and down over the bricks items fall from the caravan.

Vardo is exhausted and finally finds a space to rest he sinks down, feeling all of his weight as the adrenaline leaves his wooden frame.

As night falls some of the village youngsters creep up to Vardo, joking quietly with each other they place wooden chocks under Vardo’s wheels.

Morning breaks and Vardo prepares to start the journey to the next campsite. He releases his breaks eager to put this unwelcoming town behind him, but his acceleration is thwarted. He tries to move forward again, pulling and straining until rocking back into place with a judder. He pauses to consider his situation for a beat and then starts rocking back and forth, his motions becoming more frantic as his panic mounts, but he doesn’t stop. Items fall from his walls, but he ignores them, focusing on this task until finally his wheels loosen enough so that one last spring-loaded motion ejects the wooden chocks and Vardo catapults himself so fast that speed wobbles shakes his planks. Slamming on his breaks he jerk forwards, the momentum shunting what is left of his equipment to the front of his carriage. Now in control Vardo drops to a more sedate pace.

Vardo reaches a new town he pulls up next to enormous motor homes, the camera pans up to reveal the sheer size of them dwarfing the tiny wooden wagon. Vardo refuses to be cowered by them, he is a Romany, and proud. Safe with the knowledge that his family adore him.

As Vardo travels through the town he notices more shiny new caravans for sale on a sales lot, there are some older wooden wagons dumped behind the building. The old wooden wagons are falling apart, faded, and discarded. Vardo looks at the old wagons with pity, safe with the knowledge that his family treasure him. Perched on the back of Vardo, unbeknownst to him, his family eye the shiny fancy caravans with interest.

When Vardo pulls up to a signed posted ‘Designated Gypsy campsite’ he notices several fancy new caravans there. Vardo’s family demonstrate how interested they are in the fancy new caravans walking over to admire them and talk to their families.

Vardo watches his family, creeping closer to try and hear what they are saying, Vardo finds comfort from his family’s child, the child notices Vardo and waves, then blows a childlike kiss before their mother takes their hand. The family are listening to fancy caravan owner as they animatedly share how amazing it is, Vardo looks on in horror as his family disappears inside.

Vardo and his family approach a fork in the road, the entrance to town is guarded, with a large sign post stating ‘NO GYPSIES ALLOWED’. Vardo slows in trepidation, unsure what to do.

The fancy new caravans travelling with them get through the cordon with ease. Vardo decides to follow suit, getting in line with the others. When it’s Vardo’s turn to pass through the men at the gate standing in front, crossing their arms and shaking their head. They tap the sign behind them and point the other fork in the road. The road in that direction is dark, with the signs of an obvious storm brewing.

Dejected, with no other choice, Vardo and his family travel the harsh road. The road is hard to navigate, everyone is nervous as Vardo creeps along a narrow road on a mountainside. His wheels are right on the edge. As he nearly slips down the side rocks are worked loose, Vardo shunts hard into the left to prevent losing traction, and an item that works loose plummets to down the cliff face making a loud crashing sound as it tumbles down and down.

With relief Vardo’s family make it to the relative safety of a hooded forest area. The clearing is damp, and low lying fog shrouds the family. They are all cold. The family heat bricks in the fire to warm their bed for the night. They sleep together dressed in their winter coats and hats for warmth. Vardo tries hard to provide enough heat to warm them in his tiny hearth, but his family still shiver.

Finally, Vardo and his family make it to the next designated campground. Vardo’s lustre had faded, the harsh journey has broken and splinted his woodwork, and his paint has peeled. His family are welcomed into another’s fancy new caravan and don’t come out. Vardo is left watching and waiting for his family to return.

Time passes indicated by the sun tracking across the sky and Vardo still waits. Shadows are cast long by the time his family return and the perplexed Vardo sets off with once more. Vardo knows that they are supposed to be at this campsite for a few weeks.

The family travel sales lot similar to the one they had seen previously. Vardo starts to get nervous, he slows, finding every bump and pothole in the road in an attempt to slow his journey towards the shiny new caravans and his inevitable fate. His protests only serve him negatively as the final items on the outside of his body fall to the ground, being left behind.

Shrunken with failure and the grief he is being left behind his watches helplessly as his family unload their belongings from his interior and take them to their new home. His one last hope is their child, who refuses to help them. Their child tries to put some boxes back into Vardo, but the child is scolded by his Mother and finally gives up. The enormous motorhome purrs with self-satisfaction. The couple takes a moment to pat Vardo one last time, and walk away from him the reluctant child in their arms. The child stares at Vardo with a tear-stained face, one last tear falling down his cheek.

Vardo’s wheels are cut off and lay inertly against him. He is used as a storage shed, with old discarded items flung haphazardly inside him. Many years pass, freezing winters, scorching summers, wind and rain lashing at his neglected body. Grass and weeds grow up around him, root him to his resting place, imprisoning him. Vardo’s wood has become silver with age and parts of his once proud roof is caved in.

A Romany man approaches Vardo. Vardo has been inert for so long he barely registers he has company. The man walks a loop around his exterior, tugging at the weeds that cover him like a carpet. The Romany man smiles pats Vardo’s shameful exterior. Vardo falls back dormant.

Vardo is shaken awake with the awful feeling of being ripped from the ground. He is being lifted up by a tractor and carried away. He is panicked by his sudden change of pace.

Vardo is taken to a workshop, where the man starts to cut large pieces from him. Vardo realises that this is his final end. He will be hacked apart piece by piece until nothing else remains. He decides stoically to give himself over to his end.

However, instead of being torn apart, he experiences the strange sensation of rehabilitation. Piece by piece he finally comes back to himself, until he feels the gentle caress of the paintbrush, as a new vibrancy is restored.

Elated Vardo and the Romany man exit the workshop, the Romany man, sitting up front pulls an old-fashioned pocket watch from his pocket and flips it open. Inside is contained a weathered photo of the Romany couple standing proudly in front of a newly minted Vardo.





The Siren Situation – The final animation!

Plastered around my desk and home is a quote by Nelson Mandela, ‘It always seems impossible, until it’s done.’ this is a quote that keeps me sane when I feel like I will never complete a project or figure a problem out.

This animation was a hard slog to start with, I kept saying all I needed was that one good idea, and guess what, I was right. It came just as I was committing to creating my animated documentary in 2d, using Adobe After Effects.

After a conversation with my lecturer Miriam I decided to dedicate a few days to try it out in a 3D space. It didn’t take long to realise that is what this story was missing. Which led me down a path of modelling an entire school set, complete with 3d corrugated cardboard. (which took a lot longer than I anticipated.

After a short fight with the Autorig in Maya I rigged my characters with Rapid Rig, which although took time to learn how to use, it was time well spent. It is a LOT easier to animate with a good rig! I have to admit to wishing I had spent a bit more time with the skin weight painting, but I have to keep reminding myself, it’s cardboard, you can get away with a few broken polygons. Sadly the perfectionist in me is screaming FIX IT!

I am also grateful to my tutor Hossein who taught us how to use Substance Painter. Although I am still quite the novice I already see how useful it is to have a photoshop type product that allows you to paint on a 3d surface.

I am looking forward to employing my new found skills in a new project over summer, I’ve got my thinking cap on. I will also be looking for some work experience before next year, not just to work towards the 60 hours we have to do as part of year three, but also for my own personal and professional development.

So without further ado, here it is! My very first animated documentary. The wheels in my head are already turning about what my next one can be about.


Below is the ‘Making of’ video.

The Animated Doco – The Siren Situation, Animatic

I’m happy with the over all aesthetic of this, but I’m just not sold on the ending. But in the interest of not getting too far behind with Motion Capture,

I am going to put this on the back burner for a bit and hope that I can smooth it out a bit when I come back to it.

Reflection on my work so far:

1.  Is the meaning/message of the sequence clear? Why/why not?
I do think that the meaning of this is quite clear, but the end part seems to be a bit weak (to me anyhow) I plan on strengthening this by adding another scene before the girls turn into super hero, adding the kids running past an open door and then a teacher poking their head out of the door to investigate what is going on.

2.  Are there areas that seem too fast/too slow? Why? How could these be corrected?
As mentioned above the end of the sequence seems a bit flat after the drama of the chase and wrestle. I have considered adding a scene, but I also think I might go back to the audio and see if there is something else that can be added.

3.  Are we hearing or seeing too much, or too little? Are there areas that could be pared down, or pauses that could be inserted for a breathing space? Are there gaps in information that need to be filled in?
I need to add in a few more cuts, such as over the shoulder shot  after the boy cuts the wire, she shouts stop and the boy looks down at an angry Violette.

4.  Is the sequence sufficiently interesting? Do we get involved? What kind of adjustments can be made to increase the degree of interest? For instance, could we consider making changes to: the proposed visual style, the characters/elements depicted, the emotional tone – poetic/humorous/action-paced/light and breezy/contemplative etc.? Why? Would the changes communicate meaning in the way that you want, or would they introduce new dilemmas?
I believe these changes would strengthen the narrative by adding more context to the interchange between the girls and the boys trying to steal the speaker.