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Films in your pocket

Now is the time to be a motion picture maker! At no other point in history have we had everything we need to create our own films and animations by simply using whats sitting in our pocket.

Mobile devices have become so sophisticated, that we can now record all of the sounds, dialogue, video footage and stills that we need, in the creation of our own animations and films. From these devices, we can access the software needed for editing and publishing, as well as self promoting these projects, build an audience, and in some cases, we can even be rewarded for our efforts.

To show that this is possible, we embarked on a mini project that was created on a standard laptop, using images and footage taken on a mobile phone. Sounds were either recorded on the phone or created using clips downloaded from royalty free websites.

The two minute short is about an alien ship sent to planet Earth, to begin a campaign that will conquer the human race. It soon becomes clear however, that they have miscalculated their own size and standing in the universe.

In this blog, we wanted to show you some of the techniques we used to integrate the 2D animated assets into footage and stills, taken on our mobile phone. Hopefully it will give you some ideas and inspiration, and you will try and make your own motion pictures and animations.

First lets identify some of the techniques used, and you can keep an eye out for some of the tips we have shared. Later in this blog we will share a link for you to view the short.

Trick 1

Below is a still image taken on a walk in the fields behind our studio in Devon. You will notice we have circled some areas of the image. View the image and read the points below it, then when you view the short remember to look out for these little tricks.

1 & 2: As this is a still, we wanted to fool the viewer into thinking it was footage, so we employ a couple of tricks to sell the idea. In the circled 1 & 2 areas above, you will see some dark blurs streaking across the sky, seemingly moving in the same direction. These are in fact some small triangular shapes that we animated to emerge from the trees as the alien craft flies past the tree line, to suggest birds being startled and fleeing for safety. This coupled with some sound editing of birds at the point they emerge makes the brain instinctively recognize these as natural events. This movement helps to sell the effect that we are watching footage.

3: As the craft flies into the distance watch the field floor, and notice the shadows of the ship.

One last thing to watch for, is that we keyed a small amount of position movement to the image, to give the effect of the camera moving with the craft to add a little bit of parallax.

Trick 2

Never use animals, unless you have an acting cat!

We took some footage of our Directors handsome cat 'Ming' on a phone, and was lucky enough to catch him looking at something and reacting to it. To this we added the scout robot to move and follow the line of Ming's gaze, making sure to add some motion blur to the robot's keyed movement. Watch the short and notice how clever Ming is! A tip when filming with your phone is to try and keep you hands very still or build a tripod type support, unless you are trying to create that 'Blair Witch' effect.

Trick 3

Make your own tripods.

You can easily buy tripods for a phone so that you can take great footage, but in this project we wanted to have 0% expense, so our designers built their own! They created a cardboard case from an old tea bag box and used the flaps to secure the phone in place. We could then stand the box on any flat surface in the knowledge that the camera will be filming at a fixed angle, with no camera shake.

We deliberately chose an angle that would capture the actor moving as if it wasn't a staged shot, hence why they are in the corner of the shot, with a good section of garden space for the craft to fly in. We also didn't want the actor to be acting like they were gardening, so made sure their hands were not in shot, until it became relevant to see them in action later. In actual fact, the actor is in part of the garden where there are no plants in front of them, but you wouldn't know that from the framing of the shot.

Trick 4

Be creative.

To sell this shot, we wanted the 2D asset to feel as if it was in the environment, whilst retaining it's cartoon look. As this is a 2D project, we had to play with the balance between making the assets react in the environments, as well as effect the environments. Using a few tricks from our CGI experience in creating VFXs for films and TV programs, we added some shadows and reflections to help give that feel of the craft actually landing near the items in the footage.

1 & 2: When you watch the short look for the reflections on the blue plastic and the yellow ceramic. Also, look at the colour of the craft, one side becomes tinged blue and the other side tinged with yellow as it approaches the plant pots.

3: Using masks, you can help cut out the 2D assets at the points where you want it to appear behind things. This really helps to make your assets sit within a scene.

4: Shadows have been used to help strengthen the idea that the craft is moving closer to the land near the rocks.

Trick 6

Know your angles!

Finally, to create interest and sell the idea that the craft is 'living' in the real world, we shot some footage on the phone from the opposite angle of the main landing shot. By editing between these two angles, it helps to give an interesting perspective of the same environment. This is to establish in the viewers mind that they are actually seeing the same area of the garden, but also from the space craft, thus strengthening their belief in the story. As animators and film makers we should always look for different angles to create interest for our viewers, as we want them to enjoy our creations and visual offerings.

You can see all the above in action, by watching the short film below. We hope you have enjoyed the blog and found these tips interesting and useful. Feel free to contact us if you have any queries or questions. We always appreciate our followers sharing our work, whether professional or experimental, as this piece is, so please feel free to post this blog out and share it through your social media.

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