I Am Moving – New Blog In The Works


Those of you who have been following my activities on here know that I have been freelancing for some time now. For the last few months I’ve been getting myself more organised and becoming more business-minded. I’ve worked with a mentor through the Prince’s Trust to develop a business plan and I’ve started to work harder at marketing myself.

I used to think branding was a dirty word, but, I’ve tried to be creative with it and it’s been an interesting journey. The lovely Deborah Ballinger has drawn some beautiful illustrations for me that I’ve already begun to use on my business cards (above), my facebook page, my twitter and my new website which should be finished any day now. Please follow me.

Some of the illustrations are based on characters from my animations who you might already be familiar with, like Wolfy here. I think Deborah’s done an amazing job of capturing his personality. The whole website is designed around my love of early cinema, such as the cameraman at the top of my post.Image

I also have a new blog so you’ll find me over there from now on, writing about my projects and experiments in film, animation and makeup.I’ll be copying over some of the posts from here too. I hope you’ll join me.


Living for the City

This summer I was working on an animation project for the Brighton Photo Biennial, working in partnership with Photoworks, Brighton & Hove City Library Services and the Youth Arts Project, part of Brighton & Hove City Council’s Youth Service. The brief was to provide a series of animation workshops for young people exploring the Biennial’s theme of the Politics of Space and to create digital stories for an exhibition at Jubilee Library. The project is called Tales of the City.

As an animator I am drawn to methods that are comparably low-tech by today’s standards. I’m fascinated by antiquities such as Zoetropes and Magic Lanterns and I love the organic nature of traditional drawn animation and stop motion puppetry. I think it’s important to be hands on and to have a physical connection with your work. Animation is a method of performance because your work is the result of your own personality. Your characters are born of you. The relationship between the animator and the world that they create is one that is very personal.

I was eager to introduce the young people to as many different animation techniques as possible so as to really allow them to experiment. Experimentation is what animation is all about. It was through experimentation that moving image was born and that experimentation allows the medium to evolve constantly. I wanted to include some examples of this evolution in my work for this project.

I started with simple optical illusions based around the concept of persistence of vision – thaumatropes, zoetropes and flick books. It was important to me to begin by demonstrating how animation can be created without the use of cameras and computers, especially when working with young people who may not have access to such equipment at home.

For me, the digital process is necessary to my work, but secondary to the drawings, puppets and sets that I create. The computer is there as a capture device and to refine the work in post-production but what an animator can produce with their own hands is the true magic of the medium.

The young people began by making thaumatropes – optical toys that create an illusion by combining two images on either side of a disk when it is spun quickly. I wanted to start with something small and simple that would produce an instantaneous result. Animation can be so time consuming and requires such patience that it can be off-putting for beginners and the real joy for someone having a go for the first time is to see their creation come to life in front of them. As important as it is for people to understand animation methods and techniques, it is vital for them to experience that little bit of magic for the first time.

As well as an understanding of techniques, it was important to also build an understanding of the Biennial’s theme into the work. The Politics of Space is a difficult concept to engage with and the challenge was to distil it into something that would engage young people and lend itself to creative work. The key was to make it relevant to them, to allow them to engage with the ideas and relate them to their own experiences. I decided to focus on local identity and the relationship that the young people had with their environment, using this to introduce them to the underlying politics within their space.

To begin with, we explored Brighton’s identity through discussion and drawings, creating a palette of Brighton iconography to draw into our animations. The young people created imagery that typified Brighton and then translated it into a beautiful hand drawn animation.

We then explored particular spaces on a closer level, discussing where the young people felt safe and welcome, where they liked to hang out and what places they avoided. It was interesting to explore Brighton from their perspective and to examine the different atmosphere and personality that you will find in different areas around the city. I wanted to make the young people aware of the politics of space by getting them to consider the rules and social norms they observe around the city and how these can change or influence their behaviour differently in different places.

After discussing Brighton’s various neighbourhoods I asked the young people to choose one space which they had all been to and that they thought had potential to explore through animation. The young people selected Brighton Marina, which is close to where a number of them live.

Brighton Marina is an interesting example of the politics of space at work in our local community. By its very location it is separate from the city with only one main route in and out by car and minimal pedestrian access, making it an almost self contained space. There is the obvious geographical divide between land and water. The residential part of the Marina is gated, restricting access to only those that live there, creating a landscape of barriers and exclusion. There is also a social divide as the expensive boats of the Marina are symbols of a lifestyle that only few can afford and yet its location, just south of Whitehawk means that some of the city’s least affluent residents use it as their nearest source of leisure.

The young people explored maps and aerial photos to create a bird’s eye view of Brighton Marina, which they animated using paper cut out techniques. We started by creating our set and then breaking it down into moving elements such as the sea, cars, buses and boats. All of these were then combined to create a day in the life of Brighton Marina.

The young people then discussed their own relationships with the Marina – how they get there, what they do when they’re there and where they do and don’t go. These experiences were recorded as voice over, so that each member of the group could tell their own story. Finally, each member of the group made a paper cut out version of themselves to animate their part of the story.

Every Saturday throughout October the young people will be sharing what they learnt through drop in animation workshops at Jubilee and Whitehawk Libraries. The sessions will run from 10am-12pm at Whitehawk Library and from 2pm-4pm at Jubilee library. The sessions are for children aged 5-11. They are free to attend and no booking is required.

There is currently an exhibition of all of the work created for this project in the Young People’s space at Jubilee Library. The work will be on display from 6th October to 4th November.


We Have The Stars

Christmas is the best time to be working at Props Studios. It’s like being in Santa’s workshop. There was fake snow, sleighs, polar bears, giant candy canes and glitter by the sack load. I went into Props to help them with these silver stars as part of Liberty’s Christmas decoration scheme.

The star shapes were cut out of a light silver aluminium that was embossed with a pattern. They came in two sizes. For further variation, some of the stars were rubbed lightly with tiny amounts of black spray paint to bring out the embossed pattern and give an antique look. Then, we used a jig to score and fold each star so that it was 3 dimensional. There were thousands of them.

The stars were to hung in the atriums on each floor of Liberty using wooden rods and fishing line. The rods had to be measured and spray painted. Each rod of stars had to be made to measure so that it would fit perfectly into its allotted space within the department store. This included measuring the exact length for each strand of stars so it was a lot of work to prepare and organise.

I was also part of the team that took all of these decorations down when the season ended. We worked through the night while the shop was closed and had to be careful not to make a mess or damage any of the displays. It was fairly easy for the most part, until we had to take down all of the stars in the ceramics department which was a bit nerve wracking as everything looked so fragile and was precariously stacked up around the edges of the atrium. A lot of splinters and tangled wires later, the store was back to normal and it was as if we’d never been there.

An American Werewolf In London

ImageHalloween is my favourite time of year! Are you surprised?

Taking a break from being a zombie, I planned a different makeup challenge for myself last Halloween and went to my friend’s party as Teen Wolf.

To create the costume I bought a costume store Varsity jacket, made a fake fur tank top and fake fur mittens and a giant brown wig. Then I bought a werewolf makeup kit and a few metres of crepe hair. The crepe hair comes in long plaits and needs to be straightened out to be used. We found that ironing it was the best method. The makeup kit came with a brown palette of greasepaint with several tones, translucent power to finish and the dreaded spirit gum.

I wouldn’t rate the kit that highly. First of all, the colours in the palette weren’t labelled and trying to figure out the difference between mid brown, light brown, tan, dark brown and olive was actually a bit difficult because there wasn’t much difference in tone between some of them. Secondly, there were a lot of stages to the initial shading and contouring (around 12 to 15) which took ages and then didn’t show up through the top coat or the hair anyway so it seemed a bit pointless.

I can’t claim all of the credit for this look as I had to ask for my boyfriend’s help with it. As I’ve mentioned before with spirit gum –  to get it sticky you have to be tactile with it, so before I was even halfway around my face with the hair it was stuck to my hands, my face and the bottle of glue in a big hairy mess. Two hours later the hair looked great. It was a 3 or 4 hour makeup job in the end. Next time I’ll skip out all of the contouring stages and just use one or two shades of brown all over as the effect would be the same.

I was really happy with the finished look. It kept me warm out in the cold, but unfortunately the wind and the long night of partying meant that I spent a lot of time molting.

My boyfriend went as Edward Scissorhands. His makeup had to be done quite quickly as we were pressed for time. First, I masked Nick’s eyebrows using a pritt stick – the tips you learn from youtube! Then I gave him a base coat with white face paint. In hindsight, white face paint was a bad choice as it had a chalky finish and didn’t provide a good base to then add contouring and shading to. It also faded, smudged and rubbed off easily as the night progressed. I’d love to get my hands on some dermablend concealers and a foundation palette or two but for now I’ll work with what I’ve got.

I used purple, grey and black eyeshadows to contour his chin, nose and eyebrows as well as hollowing out his eyes. From my bruise wheel I added a tiny purple tint to his lips and gave him some scratches and scars.

Nick’s costume was from a store, although he trimmed the wig a fair bit to give it some shape and we added extra belts to the black suit.

It was a great party with some brilliant costumes – zombies, mummies, serial killers and comic book heroes but my favourite of the night were a troop of Black Swans who had great makeup and a really original costume idea.

Now to start planning next year’s look…

The Dead Will Walk The Earth


October meant one thing – zombie time! After having such a great time at last year’s Beach of the Dead, my friends and I were really excited about attending this year. Our zombie wedding theme from 2010 was fun, but we saw a lot of zombie brides that day and wanted to try something a bit more original for 2011 and decided to go as the Zombie Village People.

As you can see from our lineup we were missing a couple of members. Organising a group theme is tricky and our Leather Man, G.I. and Traffic Cop ended up dropping out at the last minute. We were left with Laurie as the cowboy, Roisin as the Indian and myself as the Builder. Later in the day my friend Sam stood in as our Leather Man because she had a leather jacket on. Clearly some people aren’t as dedicated to zombieness as others, but we were determined to make the most of it and we still had a great day.

I put more work into my base coat this year. I used black face paint and purple tones from my bruise wheel to shade around my eyes, contour my cheeks and give my lips a cold dead blue tint. I then coated myself in a thick coat of white face paint and blended the colours together. I picked up some of the purple bruise wheel on my sponge as I layered the white, which created a nice grey blue hue.

In my camp builder outfit I was showing a lot more flesh than last year so I had to paint my neck, arms and legs too. You can see my short shorts in this photo. Thankfully the weather was great for October so I could survive being exposed to the elements for a few hours.

Once my base coat was complete I used my red eyeliner to give my eyes a sinister, unhealthy look, which contrasted really well against the blue and white. I decided to use less latex than last year and created lesions in the usual way by layering it up, ripping it open and then applying reds, purples and finishing up with fresh scab.

I used left over latex from last year and I think this was a mistake as it had a gloopy consistency and went a bit yellow when it dried. It wasn’t as sticky as usual and the finish was more uneven. This wasn’t so bad though as it added to the decaying look. I’ll be sure to use fresher latex next time though.

We had a new kind of viscous blood in our kit this year that was great. It partially dries but remains glossy. It created a great dripping blood effect as it would run off wherever you applied it and then dry in big dangling drips. You can see some of it on my face above and I also had some on my knee.

You can spot us briefly in this video from the day at about 0:44

Diamond Dogs

Last summer I was back at Props Studios to help them make these Denim Dogs for Oasis. We received a prototype from the client that we had to stick to closely and I think we made around 30 in all.

The team at Props constructed a metal frame to form the skeleton of the dog, consisting of legs, neck, spine and tail. We then used stuffing and bubble wrap to mould the body of each dog. As none of this was going to be seen, we used parcel tape to attach the wrap and stuffing and to manipulate it into defined shapes such as the nose and the belly.

Once the dogs had taken shape, we used recycled denim from Oasis jeans to finish the dogs. We started by making feet with a little extra stuffing. Then we wound strips of denim up each leg and around the body until the dogs were fully covered. It took a long time to cover each dog as trying to fit the irregular denim pieces together was a bit like doing a puzzle. We also had to try and cover the ends of each piece of denim so that the joins weren’t visible.

We cut ears out of plastic that we coated in denim, attached jeans buttons for eyes and used waistbands to create collars for the finishing touch.

I really enjoyed this job as I found that shaping the dogs was a lot like the puppet making I have done in the past for my animation work. If you’ve seen any of my animation work you’ll know how much I love to bring different creatures and characters to life.

The nature of the design meant that no two dogs looked alike and each one seemed to have its own personality. It was quite fun watching them grow in number around the workroom until they were sent out to Oasis stores around the country.

I Wish That I Could Bake A Cake Made Out Of Rainbows And Smiles

My largest job to date with Props Studios was making a range of table decorations for Lady Barbara Judge’s 2011 Summer Ball at the Royal Academy of Art. The event is a fundraiser held every three years at the Royal Academy of Art. The 2011 event was sponsored by Faberge.

The centrepieces for the Summer Ball are always cakes, sometimes real, sometimes fake. The cakes are usually decorated with flowers, crystals and petit fours.

Props Studios were tasked with creating cakes that looked as if they had been iced and, as the event was sponsored by Faberge, decorating them with giant Faberge style eggs that looked as if they too were made of cake.

We made three different types of cake for the event, in varying sizes – a medium sized round cake that formed the base of a column, a medium sized square cake with an arched sturcture on top and a large three tiered cake. All of the cakes were adorned with flowers by Simon Lycett’s team of florists.

The below picture only shows a few of the cakes that we had to make. This was a huge job which took a good two or three weeks to complete in the studio and several hours to complete and install up at the Royal Academy.

The bulk of each cake was cut out of polystyrene. In order to smooth the texture of the polystyrene we coated each cake in papier mache. Once dry, the papier mache cakes were sprayed with a combination of paint and plaster and then sanded down in order to create a thick, royal icing-like finish. Getting the consistency of the paint and plaster right proved difficult, which meant that the cakes needed to be sprayed, sanded down and repainted several times.

Draoed cloth pieces were created for the three tiered cakes, which we painted with plaster so that they would set and then spray painted white. The draping was then fixed onto the cakes and decorated with fake flowers.

For the square cakes, we spray painted drawing pins in pink and cream, then we used a template to plot out the patterns onto the side of each cake and stuck the pins into the holes.  We then added bunches of tiny fake flowers to complete the pattern.

On top of the cake we built a wire structure with a metal rod in the middle and a hollow round ball holding it all together. The rod and ball were spray painted gold and we glued strings of tiny pearls to the structure, which was to house a floral display on each cake.

We used drawing pins and fake flowers to create a similar decoration for the small round cakes. The round cakes formed the base of a column of flowers that we then fixed eggs on top of.

Up at the Royal Academy of Art we had to work in stages alongside the florists as they added arrangements to the cakes and then we added the eggs and finishing touches. The flowers looked incredible.

The eggs also started out as polystyrene shapes in varying sizes.

We coated them in a thick layer of a polyfilla-like substance that was spongy and set like a lightweight plaster. We had to put all of the eggs in paint pots and sit them outside to dry. They looked completely bizarre all lined up in the sunshine and they kept wobbling around in the breeze. It reminded me of the egg farm in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Once dry, the eggs were sanded down then painted in the same plaster/paint combination in matching colours to the cakes and sanded again. We then decorated the eggs using various fake flowers, crystals, gold ribbons and paints. The final effect was completely surreal!

When I went up to install the work it was amazing getting to see the preparations going on behind the scenes of such an enormous event. It seemed like there were hundreds of people there to decorate, arrange flowers, set the tables and put out goody bags. I also got an opportunity to look around the Summer Exhibition which was great.

I like to use movie quotes and song titles as titles for my blog posts. In titling this post, only one cake related movie quote came to mind, which is one of my favourite moments from Mean Girls. It was either that or MacArthur Park. If you can think of any others then stick them in the comments below.

I Wear My Sunglasses At Night

In 2011 I worked with the lovely people at Props Studios on a variety of projects. My first project with the team at Props was to construct this giant chandelier for Liberty’s Sunglasses Hall.

The chandelier was made out of dark brown, mid brown, clear and rose sunglasses lenses. I drilled holes in each lens taking care not crack the lenses as they broke easily. The lenses also had to be kept clean throughout the construction.

We then had to measure out and cut varying lengths of wire that we could suspend the lenses on. The wire was rough and frayed, everyone went home with little splinters of wire stuck in their fingers and clothes.

We  arranged the lenses to get a good spread of colours, threaded them on to the wires and attached them with grips. Then we fixed each length of wire into a light box, arranging them in rows by length.

The chandelier then had to be hung in the van and surrounded by bubble wrap to stop it from swinging around and getting tangled on its way up to London to be installed.

…Go To War

In my last post I talked about my role as a Make Up Artist on the short film Crossed Paths. I talked about how I created make up effects for each of the two leads and gave a brief synopsis of the film, which was made by young people in Crawley.

I also worked as the Art Director for the film, making key props and dressing the locations. A lot of the action in the film takes place in a small square with shops and a pub where the characters hang out.

One scene required filming in a shop where Aaron gets a job. We were lucky to find a shop in the square where we were shooting that allowed us to film on their premises over night. The shop was closing down and the owners agreed to leave behind their remaining stock for us.

There wasn’t enough stock to fill the shop, which was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to fill the front of the shop, the till area and a central aisle. It was a good couple of hours of shuffling stock around while the crew filmed scenes outside. As often happens with set and props work, the crew only ended up using a portion of the set but I was very happy with how it all looked under the lights.

Aaron’s neighbour Hasan has given him a job in his shop, but they soon come to blows over Aaron’s growing right wing views. When Aaron’s new friend and N.E.M. member Joe asks Aaron to post flyers about their march in Hasan’s shop, Hasan objects and Aaron quits.

We used a local pub as the meeting place for the N.E.M. which was conveniently located in the same square as the majority of our shooting, in Gossops Green. The close proximity of our locations lent itself to the sense of confinement and the intensity of these different cultural groups struggling to live side by side.

The staff of the Windmill Pub were extremely accommodating and nothing like the scary looking thugs we filled their pub with. The pub was already decked out in England flags, which made for a perfect backdrop for the N.E.M. meetings. My work at this location consisted of lighting the scenes and rearranging the pub’s interior to accommodate our equipment and make the most of the location. I repositioned a lot of the furniture and decorations to suit the blocking of each scene, added some more patriotic embellishments and filled the pub with N.E.M. flyers, advertising the march.

We first see the pub when Aaron meets Joe and they go for a pint. Joe is in a similar position to Aaron, out of work and angry at the lack of opportunities. He tells Aaron about the N.E.M. who blame immigration and multiculturalism for the lack of jobs. Joe takes Aaron under his wing and encourages him to come to the next meeting.

In the next scene at the pub we see Aaron becoming indoctrinated into the group as the N.E.M.’s leader rallies them for the march. It was a tough scene to shoot as the interior of the pub was quite dark and the number of wide shots necessary to show the whole group meant that we were limited as to where we could place our lights.

As the N.E.M. are preparing to march, a group of college students plan a counter-demonstration to oppose the right wing group. We filmed the scene in the canteen of Central Sussex College in Crawley.

I decorated the canteen using Stop the N.E.M. flyers, which the protest organiser also hands out during the scene. I created a range of placards for the protest scene, some of which I left unfinished and placed around the canteen along with marker pens, paint and brushes so that our extras could be seen working on them. I also created a large banner to be used later at the protest, which I hung as a backdrop.

The action of the film all builds up to the day of the protest when all of these groups face off against each other.

As this was a Council funded projected we were able to close the roads where we were filming, which was great. It also meant that we had police officers with vehicles on hand who were happy to participate, which really added to the look and feel of the scene.

I made a range of banners and placards for the protest scene, some of which were also used in the earlier canteen scene. I wanted the various signs to look homemade and so I used fairly cheap materials. I also tried to create a difference in style between those belonging to the N.E.M. and those belonging to the students.

It was a strange experience creating protest signs for both sides of the protest, a bit like having split personalities – switching from extreme right-wing hate-speak one minute to anti-fascist imagery the next. I was also a bit worried about what my neighbours would think when I had to leave a lot of the placards outside to dry.

The film was used as part of an anti-extremism project by Crawley Borough Council. It was distributed to schools along with an education pack to help teachers explore the issues raised by the film. The pack also contained further interviews with the characters, which lent more context to the story.