Week 3 of Ladders got off to an exciting start on Monday morning at Mayfield Studios. The students had been told in advance to prepare a short weather script which they could record against the green screen at Mayfield and then learn how to key out the background in After Effects. Each of the students had prepared a very different script; some went for very formal weather reports, while others mixed it up a little and made their scripts a bit silly and humorous. Tim Lozinski was on hand to explain a bit about the equipment that the students were using. For example, each of the lights on set uses 800W of power, so they must each be plugged into a separate outlet to ensure you don’t cause a power shortage! The students used radio microphones to record their audio. Each student had a go at doing each of the different jobs on set which meant that they could get a good idea about whether they might light to specialise in a certain area of film production.

After a spot of lunch, the group headed over to Bridge + Tunnel Productions, a BAFTA-nominated film, television and media production company founded in 1997 by Tina Gharavi, an Iranian filmmaker raised between the UK, New Zealand and New Jersey. Tina showed everyone around before taking the group into the office to tell them about herself and about Bridge + Tunnel’s latest projects, giving some great advice about the industry. She was keen to stress that anyone interested in becoming involved in film and television should get themselves out there and embrace their passion by watching as much as they can and getting started on their own projects, but pointed out that they should do it for the right reasons. She joked that she gets barely any sleep and that filmmaking can often be a thankless business which is stressful and unlikely to make you rich and famous. However, it was clear from the way that Tina spoke about her past, present and future projects that if any of our students are serious about a career within film and television, their enthusiasm and excitement about their work and the industry will mean it is ultimately very rewarding. Bridge + Tunnel’s main interest is in encouraging and supporting “unseen voices” and “untold stories”, so alongside their production arm they run an independent community media charity, Bridge + Tunnel Voices who work with communities to create mainstream projects with activism at their core.

On Saturday, the group had the opportunity to speak to TortorSmith via Skype about their work as an animator. Tortor specialises in stop-motion at their company, Animatortor and has worked on several big projects including Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and stop-motion films for The National Film and Television School. Tortor also has their own YouTube channel which they mentioned has helped them in terms of confidence. It was great to hear from someone who has found a niche in stop-motion and works to respond to a wide range of creative briefs in their own unique way.

After speaking to Tortor, the group headed over to the Tyneside Cinema where they were able to learn about the history of the Tyneside. The cinema opened as the Newcastle News Theatre in 1937, and showcased news footage to audiences for whom the only way to get world news previously was to listen to the radio. The Tyneside was founded by Dixon Scott, a local film entrepreneur and great-uncle of Sir Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Prometheus) and Tony Scott (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, True Romance). It was interesting for our students to learn more about the history of cinema in our region, and to discover more about the role of independent cinemas and what they can offer compared to bigger multiplex cinemas (a lot!).

Arriving back at the library, our students heard from Dennis Sisterson, a freelance animator who specialises in 2D illustrative, cartoon, infographic and character animation for TV, corporate, education and advertising. Dennis showed our students one of the first animations that he ever made as a student in 1996, Advice for Hamsters, which Dennis hand drew frame-by-frame and then photographed. It was intriguing to see how much the animation industry has developed in the last twenty years from traditional hand drawn or cel animation to the dominant form of animation today, computer animation. Dennis told our students about how this film was seen by Bob Godfrey, famous for the children’s television series Roobarb and Custard and how this led to his first job once he’d finished studying on a satirical series called Margaret Thatcher: Where Am I Now? So, it just goes to show that if our students can make a lasting impression with their work, it could be beneficial to them in the future!

For the next session at the library, our group had the opportunity to talk to Mark Jobe of Quay Animation Studios. Mark launched Quay Animation in 2005 with some assistance from Sunderland University and since then has gone on to work on numerous art projects, short films and commercial projects. Mark’s work has been shown all around the world, including in Hollywood! Rather impressively, Mark has taught himself how to use all the software that he uses for his work; he joked about the fact that his University only got Macs the year after he left! He mentioned the great wealth of resources on the internet for teaching yourself software, including Greyscale Gorilla, Blender Guru and Digital Tutors. Hopefully our Ladders students will find these helpful in their own work and could perhaps teach themselves a new skill for their final project. Mark was keen to stress the need to have great people skills within the film industry. “Collaboration has been key for me”, he said. “Being able to work with others has given me access to so many amazing projects”. Mark also works with his partner, the Canadian artist Kelly Richardson, creating VFX for large scale video installations which tackle issues surrounding climate change in a dystopian, sci-fi landscape.

Chloe finished off the week by teaching our students how to key out the green screen from their weather report footage. Everyone was quite surprised by how relatively easy it is to achieve a professional looking effect!

The following weeks are very exciting, including a visit to the BBC so make sure to tune in!