Session 5:

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The third week of the Ladder’s programme kicked off with a day in Gateshead visiting studios and getting to speak to experts in the production and animation fields.

The first stop of the day was Jam Jar Studios in Gateshead. Home to various companies, we headed to SuperKrush’s sound stage where founder Chris Taylor was able to teach the students about operating the equipment. Although the company has only been running for a year, it has already produced an array of projects such as music videos, business tutorials and even a promotional video for insoles! Before filming began, the students were introduced to the three stages – creation, production and post-production. Having already prepared a script for a weather forecast, the students were ready to be shown how to operate the kit.

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Chris gave plenty of advice on what kind of shots the students should be aiming to get, recommending some takes in a wide angle and then some close-ups to give a variety of options when it came to the editing process. The students were also encouraged to use a three-quarter shot for the weather scenario based on the idea that you should always ensure the camera cuts off at the joints in order to maintain the correct proportions. Once the students had been trained on how to manage the camera and sound, they took turns at presenting, filming, taking charge of the sound and directing.

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It was amazing to see the students confidently present their pieces and encourage each other to keep going even if they messed up. As Chris said, the “biggest thing is to be respectful of people on camera” and boost their confidence in between takes in order to make them feel more relaxed and get the best results from them, something the students took on board when they were playing Director.

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After each person had perfected their script on camera, we watched the clips back to look for any issues such as the green screen being visible on the presenter or any lighting problems. Giving the students the opportunity to experience working on a sound stage and taking on the different roles was so exciting and as one student put it, made them “feel all professional.”

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Next, we visited the Northern Design Centre, the base for numerous creative studios and companies. Our first chat was with the Arcus Animation team – set up in 2010 with the help of Digital City, the company specialises in 2D animation and is one of the leading businesses in this area north of Manchester. Mainly producing broadcast and promotional pieces for brands such as CBBC, Macmillan Publishers and the NHS, the business has recently started working with games companies too.

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After an introduction on the background of the company, the team were keen to answer any questions the students had, one of which was whether drawing was an essential skill to have in order to get involved in animation. Reassuringly, the students were told that, while they should certainly practice it as it is such a useful skill in that field, it is possible to progress without being the most amazing artist, making the discipline of animation more appealing to many of the students.

The team were also able to answer the student’s queries surrounding software in terms of which ones to use, how to learn them and how to improve. The key message from this was to use online resources, such as Creative Cloud, to access multiple programmes, as well as the importance of continually learning and updating key skills. One thing co-founder Michael Gandham said the company is extremely passionate about is keeping talent in the North East and with the emergence of companies such as this one, it is refreshing to see that there are more opportunities opening up in the area enabling new artists to work from the region.

The final visit of the day was to speak to Stuart Howard, creator of Kuro Dragon. The company was established in 2010, produces both 2D and 3D work and has clients ranging from Al Jazeera to Metro.

One of the main things Stuart reiterated was the importance of networking and cementing relationships in order to commission work and retain clients, something that everyone in the industry we have spoken to so far considers a vital aspect. He even revealed that he had acquired two projects from travelling First Class on a train and makes the effort to communicate with those he is travelling with in the hope that they might have a job for him, demonstrating how you can find opportunities everywhere!

Stuart also highlighted the importance of focusing on one thing at a time rather than getting in too deep too soon. Having previously co-founded a multi-media business before starting up Kuro Dragon, he clearly knows how to go about business in the right way and how to become successful, as he and his team are currently the busiest they’ve ever been!

The main piece of advice from Stuart was that “you make your own luck” – you won’t catch that lucky break you’re after unless you’re in the places you should be.

Session 6:

On Saturday’s session we heard from animator Tortor Smith over Skype. She is based in London and has recently been working for ITV in the development department with a varied workload – coming up with show ideas and prepping treatments. She also creates stop motion animations, using the platform Vine to share her work. It has helped her to get noticed as many clients are looking to create short and fun moving pieces for their social media platforms. She shared her approach to networking and described her how she developed confidence by creating videos for YouTube. She also told us about Vidsy.co – a virtual creative community producing content for big brands like Lipton – and getting paid to do so! Her enthusiasm and passion for her field of work really came across through the conversation which was very encouraging to those just starting out.

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Next we headed over to the Tyneside Cinema for their guided Heritage Tour. All of us had been to the cinema many times before without noticing all of the many ‘hidden’ historical features of the architecture which map out the decades that the cinema has been running for. We learnt about the cameras and projector displayed in the exhibition wall – huge newsreel cameras capable of capturing an incredibly short duration of footage and an old reel projector from the Tyneside. This really made us appreciate how much technology has advanced in a relatively short number of years, with pocket cameras now capable of recording 4K footage. We also watched an old news reel which had a very different feel to the delivery, pace and presentation of the news today.

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In the afternoon we were visited by Dennis Sisterson, a freelance animator who is currently working in the region after many years spent working in London creating short films, children’s tv and ads. He showed us a number of great films which gave a fantastic insight into his development as an animator – starting with his first flip-book experiments in a notebook when he was still at school to directing the infamous butcher Irn Bru commercial for Sherbert. Dennis has a very playful sense of humour and we loved seeing the development of his personal work – frequently involving hamsters. Dennis shared many entertaining stories with us including his experiences with the late Bob Godfrey. (Creator of Roobarb and Custard) We also got into a great conversation discussing the balance of censorship in film and comedy – a very relevant topic, particular in today’s climate of extremes with internet trolls and political correctness.

We also took our first look at compositing software After Effects, which is used to create animated graphics and is used for post production and effects on film. Chloe had mocked up some graphics in Illustrator and we used these layered files to create an animated tv ident with a rotating globe and 3D layers – created by changing effects and using keyframes to create motion.

This week proved to be very productive for the students. Not only did they get the chance to work on a sound stage and get hands on in the production process, they got to speak to experienced people from the film and animation industries that answered so many questions and gave priceless advice. The students certainly seemed to enjoy their day and no doubt learnt plenty!

Olivia Carr (& Chloe Rodham)