Yesterday, ten year-old SketchBetter student and budding animator, Brendan and I took a trip to London to meet Tom Box, co-founder of multi-BAFTA winning studio, Blue Zoo animation. Brendan joined SketchBetter in 2016 and at the age of 8 had already taught himself how to make stop-motion animations by watching youtube videos. He has a huge collection of hand-crafted plasticine characters and heaps of character drawings - many of which he has invented himself. It's because of this natural talent, self-drive and his incredibly kind personality that led me to begin mentoring Brendan.
Back in December 2016, Brendan met Sam Berry, VFX Rigger for Moving Picture Company (MPC), who gave him a copy of 'The Animators Survival Kit' - a must have text for all budding animators. Sam's worked on movies such as Oscar-award winning The Jungle Book, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Unsurprisingly, Brendan has not put the book down since then, but did have a heap of technical questions. So what better way to ask those questions and to see what working in animation really looks like, than to visit a working studio.
Blue Zoo Animation is one of the UK's leading animation studios, renown for making creatively playful CG character animation for tv, film and games. They have over 16 years experience making engaging stories, memorable characters and intriguing worlds. Their projects include children's TV shows Digby Dragon, Miffy, Tree Fu Tom, Q Pootle 5 and Alphablocks. They work with clients such as the BBC, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Kelloggs, Microsoft and Disney. Here's their 2016 showreel:
Blue Zoo Studio Tour
When we arrived, the first thing Brendan spotted were the BAFTAs! Not one but there are three of them. Then we met Candice, the lovely Office Manager who offered us a seat whilst we waited for our meeting. We were soon introduced to Tom Box who kicked off our tour by showing Brendan the very first animation he made when he was Brendan's age, 10 years old. Tom then talked to us about the work Blue Zoo does and showed us plenty of examples of their animations.
We then had an amazing tour of the three floor studio, meeting loads of the animators, riggers, illustrators, artists, and editing teams. Brendan saw - for the first time - how a 2D drawing or illustration (just like his) is put onto a computer and stage by stage is turned into a moving 3D animation. Brendan even got to have a go using a graphic pen to trace around a hen illustration and tried out the sound booth.
After our tour, Brendan got the chance to show Tom his portfolio of well over 30 character drawings, and got to ask Tom a few questions that he had prepared beforehand.
Brendan interviews Tom Box
Brendan: What was your first animation?
Tom's first animation was made when he was between 8-10 years old, using his mum's camcorder! It was a stop-motion animation of a dragon. He made all the sets for it too.
Brendan: How did you first find out about animation?
Just like Brendan, Tom loved Aardman animations and anything that involved stop-motion techniques. He also enjoyed watching animations like Postman Pat, which he explained maybe weren't as cool as what the other kids were watching but he just loved the style. It definitely paid off.
Brendan: What advice would you give me?
Tom advised Brendan to "keep doing what you are doing! Practice practice practice. Try new things and experiment. Whenever you can go to animation exhibitions, festivals and events too."
Tom mentioned the upcoming Canterbury Anifest (29-30 September) - an animation festival for people of all ages - where you can experience animation and get involved in workshops, masterclasses, talks and films. Tom is presenting there and Brendan and I are hoping to attend and report live from the festival. Stay tuned.
Brendan: What software could I practice on?
Tom recommended a few options. You can download free software from Aardman, or like Brendan if you are ready for something a bit more advanced, try Blender and Sculptris - both are free to use too and are a good introduction to the sort of thing Blue Zoo use. You can watch tutorials online to learn how to use those.
Any other tips?
Start. You have the tools and tutorials available to you. You too, just like Brendan, might get a chance to meet some famous animators and movie-makers. The first step is to pick up a pencil and start drawing, or grab some clay and start modelling! Start. Experiment. Play. Check out the Blue Zoo blog for their Top 10 Storyboarding Tips and 5 Simple Tips for Animating Cartoony Characters.
Thank you Tom Box and the team at Blue Zoo for such a wonderful tour and warm welcome. Well done Brendan for your hard work and for continuing to embrace new challenges.