About matthewstep

Freelance character animator. Singer for the Puncture Repair Kit.

Double Release Day! Zoo Tycoon and Tearaway

Feeling a little sleepy today after celebrating the release of two very different games that I had a hand in.

For a wee while now I’ve been busily working on Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox One at Frontier Developments. Yesterday, on Xbox One launch day, it was released! Animating animals running around, getting washed, eating, playing and hugging has been both educational and joyful. A few bits and pieces have made their way onto my latest showreel. Trawling the internet for videos of animals then watching them over and over again isn’t something most people get to do as a legitimate part of their working day. As you might imagine those searches did also inevitably bring some discomforting and downright horrifying results as well. Not all real life zoo tycoons are quite as respectful of their animals as you are compelled to be in the virtual zoos of the game.

On a happier note, the reviews so far have been very complimentary about the way the animals look and move *applauds chums*. The finished game certainly surpassed my expectations considering the gargantuan nature of the task. Everyone involved can be very proud of their achievements. Here’s a video of some of my colleagues talking about the game and gurning at a chimp:

Last year I spent a little time at inspirational game developer Media Molecule (more about that experience here) and the game I worked on, Tearaway, was also released yesterday. The reviews have been pouring in and they are pretty much universally gushing. Media Molecule have created a game which uses the Playstation Vita to create a unique and carefully directed gameplay experience that would be impossible on any other platform. The whole tactile concept of the game arose from the device it was developed for and the new storytelling and game mechanics it creates. That said, if you gave Media Molecule a deck of cards they’d probably come up with a uniquely entertaining way of using them. Here are some of them talking about Tearaway:

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Annecy 2013 mind dump

It was my first time at Annecy and it was tres bon, magnifique, incroyable, really really good fun and fully knackering. Annecy is astonishingly beautiful and the festival is vast. I’m still amazed that my little film (They Both Explode) was in the official selection. Administative error or not, I fully intend to repeat this slight of hand sometime in the future!

Annecy is a place to consider and reconsider where you fit in the grand scheme of the animation world. It is a place to think big thoughts about impossible things. It is a place, most importantly, to ride pedalos and then dance with new friends ’till the wee small hours. I met innumerable fun and inspiring people and only fell on my arse in front of them once (walking in bowling shoes, slipped in someone’s spilt drink. Full slapstick prat fall. Beer retained. Pro.)

It’s only possible to catch a fraction of the films shown at Annecy but I’ll list a few of my highlights here:

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Tito On Ice by Max Andersson & Helena Ahonen

For me Tito on Ice was the surprise highlight of the feature films. A part live action and part animated documentary that defies all explanation. It has a cracking soundtrack with a load of 80s post-punk from the former-Yugoslavia.

But Milk is Important by Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen & Anna Mantzaris

A friendly but troubling creature enters the life of a man who already finds society extremely worrying. A very pleasing film.

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Rabbit and Deer by Péter Vácz

I love it when the animation techniques used in a short film are integral to the plot. This film does that really nicely.

 

Persistence of Vision by Kevin Schreck

Tragic documentary about Richard Williams’ doomed attempts to create an animated masterpiece. Richard Williams refuses to talk about the film to this day and the old interviews with him make the whole endeavor look like a lesson in dramatic irony.

Not Over by Toru Hayai

This one is very short and already online. I saw Toru Hayai interviewed over breakfast on Saturday morning. At first he just wanted to make some nice landscapes but then later decided that maybe a character would help. I think I can safely confirm that it did.

He summarised his own reading of the story something like this: So often in life we just want to get on with the thing we like to do but somehow the world conspires to make everything into a competition. Ain’t that just the truth.

Other goodies:

Taxandria by Raoul Servais – a lost classic mostly live action 90’s Belgian fantasy film. It was screened in a castle courtyard as the stars came out. Magical.

Wildebeest by Ant Blades – funny internet hit, still makes me laugh

A Flood Story by Maarten Isa – my heart sank when this started with some text saying it was ‘a landscape’, a 17 minute installation designed to be played on a loop in a gallery. My trepidation was misplaced though, somehow it proved constantly engaging on a big cinema screen.

The Event by Julia Pott – The brilliant Julia Pott’s most enigmatic work to date mixing video and animation to visualise a poem by Tom Chivers.

In The Air is Christopher Gray by Felix Massie – A twisted sentimental reflection on the blinding power of young love. Darkly funny.

Room On The Broom by Max Lang & Jan Lachauer – Another hit Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler picture-book adaptation from the makers of the TV versions of The Gruffallo and The Gruffallo’s Child. The performance of the cat steals the show.

Ziegenort by Tomasz Popakul – a strange, discomforting and long short (or perhaps short long) film that drew me into its wobbly-lined 2D/3D mysterious world. Mostly black and white and morally grey.

The Big Beast by Pierre-Luc Granjon – A good fable.

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Right, I’m now off to track down some of the films I missed and look-up all the people I met by sifting through my memory and the stack of business cards I amassed. See you next year?

Annecy and other festival news

Annecy 2013 poster

So I’m really very excited, not to mention amazed, that They Both Explode has made it into the ‘official selection’ at Annecy International Animation Festival 10th-15th June. My hotel and train tickets are booked! See you there? Yes.

In other surprise news, the film won the audience vote at the In Motion Animation Festival, Aberdeen and was ‘Highly Commended’ at Animated Exeter.

They Both Explode will have its Italian, South American and North American premiers at the following festivals:

Cortoons, Rome, 17th-21st April

Chilemonos, Chile 8th-11th May

Northwest Animation Festival, Portland Oregon 17-19 May (and Eugene Oregon May 31st-June 2nd)

Jagex/Transformers

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I AM MEGATRON!*

I’ve just finished some work at Jagex in Cambridge on their Transformers Universe project. Jagex are a huge independent games developer best known for their massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) Runescape. They have loads of tremendously talented employees, fingerprint-access talking doors from the future and their very own TANK (called Bertha). A fun place to work all told.

The transformers in the game look nothing at all like this:

80s megatron toy

Me and my brother had this toy when we were kids. It broke really quickly, was replaced and then broke again. It was the only gun-shaped toy we were ever allowed. Look at it! It’s rubbish! A disturbingly realistic gun (for kids!) that turns, seemingly as an afterthought, into a terrible excuse for a robot. We had quite a few transformers and so working on a video game set in their universe was another tick for my list of fulfilled-childhood-fantasies-that-never-occurred-to-me-when-I-was-actually-a-child.

*I am not Megatron

Watersprite debrief

Last weekend I spoke at Watersprite, the Cambridge student film festival. Of all the film festivals I’ve been to, this was certainly the one with the highest number of costume changes and the most beautiful venues! Thanks to Bernadette Schramm for inviting me and to all those who came and listened to my rambling. I hope it gave you some idea of the things a character animator does and thinks about. Thanks especially to those who hung around for extra chat afterwards, I think that was the best bit!

Aside from my talk I took part in a number of other events including the award ceremony in which I was very pleased to don a dickie bow and present the award for animation to Iria Lopez for her brilliant film Jamón. Here’s the trailer:

It was great to see animated films nominated (and winning) in so many other categories. Too often animation gets segregated away from live action into one category but at Watersprite animated films won for their Screenplay (Jamón), Cinematography (Nyosha), Soundtrack (Nyosha) and Sound Editing (Jamón). Yes, two films really swept up this year! Here’s the trailer for Liran Kapel and Yael Dekel’s beautiful film Nyosha:

Before the award ceremony I had a brief chat with fellow Watersprite guest, inveterate name-dropper and writer Neil Gaiman about the genius of Stephin Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields). Apparently they’re planning on writing a Grand Guignol together. Potentially amazing! Neil blogged about the festival here

The festival featured an amazing array of high profile speakers and more about a few of these can be found on the blog of VFX House The Mill.

A brief trip to Animated Exeter

On 22nd Feb I went to Animated Exeter for the first public screening of my short film They Both Explode. I was pleased to bump into fellow animator Linda McCarthy of Tiny Elephants who also had a film showing so at least someone in there knew it was my world premier! The film ran well and warm applause followed. Phew.

The highlight of the little bit of the festival I attended was Helen Brunsdon interviewing stop-frame cinematographer Tristan Oliver who shared many a fascinating film-making tale, praising plywood and Nikon and grumbling convincingly about stereoscopic 3D and the slow demise of matte painting. The dashingly handsome fellow cinematographised many of my favourite animated films including Fantastic Mr Fox, Paranorman, Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Wererabbit so hats off to him.

TrystanOliverNotesSmall

Screening at Flatpack Festival 2013, Birmingham

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They Both Explode will be screened at Flatpack Festival in Birmingham on Saturday 30 March at 5pm at The Flatpack Palais as part of their Pick n Mix selection.

Flatpack Festival is an enticing mixture film, performance and spinny things and I’m extra happy that my film will be shown there. They’re also showing The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger to which my little film owes a big debt.