Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Dennis the Menace at the VFX Festival

Jellyfish animation is one of London's leading animation studios, specialising in TV work such as the new Dennis the Menace series.

At the recent VFX Festival in Shoreditch,  Jellyfish's lead animator Denis Jose Francois introduced the series, and talked about some of the challenges faced by Jellyfish in bringing this well-loved comic character to the small screen.

And, at the end of his talk he also offered some useful tips on what Jellyfish looks for in an animation demo reel.

Denis Jose Francois described his namesake Dennis the Menace, as a "bit of an anachronism", making him a "bit of a challenge" to create in CG. His design was tough too; his "shoulders disappear into this head", his "eyes are joined together, and he has a monobrow".

So, Dennis the Menace had to have a makeover, a big challenge for the animation team at Jellyfish. They also had to bring the character himself up to date, changing him quite a bit along the way. 

The Beano - how it used to be
The artists at Jellyfish did lots of character designs, to nail the look of the characters.  Darkside Studios was also involved in the early stages.  He also had to look less like a Menace, and "more like a likeable boy".  Dennis "had to look happy", not the Menace of the old days.

They also had to figure out the personality of Dennis's vicious dog Gnasher.  And Walter the Softy, he had to be in there too. But you "can't have Walter the Softy these days". The client decided to re-cast him as the "son of the richest kid in town". Also Cuthbert and Bertie - they got an upgrade too. Cutherbert "looks a bit like Boris Johnson". But the designs had to be simple, without too much cloth simulation and detail.

Also, there were no girls in the original comic, and this needed to be changed. The client wanted a female character in a wheelchair.  She is Ruby, the daughter of the original inventor, the daughter of Professor Screwtop.

Building BeanoTown & the sets
Beanotown looked crazy in every episode in the comic, "completely bonkers". But, this "makes it a nightmare from the point of view of telling stories in an episodic format", where the sets have to be consistent from week to week.  So, Jellyfish had to build a Beano Town that would work in CG.

The first thing that Jellyfish built was Dennis's classroom, where all the characters needed to have their own seats in the class.  Beneath the school there is a "system of caves" (believe it or not!). It's called the "confiscatorium" - where all the confiscated stuff gets put. There was lots of work to figure out all the locations, what props are needed, and what camera angles will work.

The backgrounds have to work in multiple languages - so there could be no English text on the backgrounds.

They also had to build Professor Screwtop's lab.

Schedules & Software
Jellyfish only had three weeks to make one episode. They would have a staff of 7-10 animators, working up storyboards using PanelForge. Then, they did the animation in Maya, rendering in Redshift - taking around 10-15 minutes to render each frame. Composting was done in Nuke, the edit was done in Premiere.

Animation Style
The animation style is very much about "pose-to-pose animation".  Denis offered some advice for animators - enter the 11 Second Club, get involved in online animation training. Put your work out there; get past your fears, get used to criticism; get past this as early as you can. Clients will chop you down, and you need to learn to take criticism.

Demo reel rules (for any animators applying to Jellyfish):
  • Put your best work first
  • Don't worry about music. You can leave it out.
  • Have different reels for different things (eg cartoony animation). Don't have a one-size-fits-all reel
  • Rigging reels: If you are a rigger, get someone to animate the rig, that way you can see if it's really working or not. Are the UVs stretching?
  • If you've got something that you're proud of - stick it on your reel.
  • Keep it short - less than 2 minutes.
The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our BA/MArt in 3D Animation, follow this link.  To apply for our storyboarding evening class, visit this page here.  For the next 12 week animation course, click here. And to apply for the next evening class in Producing Animation, see this page.  

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