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DuckManBoy Behind The Scenes

Thanks to everyone who has watched and shared DuckManBoy so far. It was an honour enough to be a Vimeo Staff Pick but it’s now become one of Nickelodeon’s most viewed International Shorts. Here’s some material around the making of DuckManBoy, including a podcast interview Ian and I did with Skwigly Magazine‘s Ben Mitchell:

PRE-PRODUCTION:

Originally DuckManBoy started life as an off-the-cuff pitch for Channel 4’s Blap series. It was a much more adult orientated version of what we pitched to Nickelodeon, involving a man-child addicted to savoury meat shakes facing up against Fat Barry, an evil pub landlord. There were a lot of things we really enjoyed about the pitch, particularly the influence of the low-budget nature of the 1960s Batman. We also wanted to make the most of the mixture of mundane and surreal that’s encompassed a lot of our work.

At the time it was called Duckman. We hadn’t heard of the 90’s TV series of the same name. Still haven’t watched it.

When we found out we were one of 8 pitches selected from over 600 submissions we set about refining the story and characters. We spent a lot of time working on the dynamic between the characters and their own motivations. Specifically, Dwayne needed to be motivated enough to drive his own plot, but still retain enough flaws to make him absurd.

A lot of the writing process was spent replacing foes with equally left-field characters who better served the plot. Originally, a crew of Nuns looked after Dwayne (“Nun&Nun&Nun&Nun&Duckman“) before we pitched to Nickelodeon. We then changed them to be evil minions. The very good point was quickly made that the U.S. are particularly against the idea of religion in kids’ entertainment. Ian subsequently reinvented Fat Barry as naturist-gone-insane, Richard Battenburger, ruling over an army of zoo animals. Suddenly all of the ingredients of the story were literally using themselves up, which freed up a lot more time for energy and jokes. It also meant we were making a kid’s short based in a sort of nihilistic abattoir – in a good way.

DuckManBoy Character progress

The design style took it’s cue from Don’t Fear Death, with an eye to fit the characters in more elaborate watercolour style backgrounds. In terms of character design, Neil, started his stern life almost fully formed. He felt like the perfect embodiment of someone clinging onto their dignity but by their very nature can’t. Having a daft duck’s head also puts him through a kid’s perspective of how adults are always trying to be adults. Neil became the irreplaceable part of the film and so the other characters started to follow his lead.

Dwayne took the longest to work out even down to his proportions. In the end I was happy with the style of scruffy kid who might turn into a stoner one day, but it would have been nice to have completely cracked his look in the way that Neil manages to sums up his character.

Battenburger was a lot of fun to design because his personality shifts so much. He quickly established himself as a flabby riff on David Attenborough with a dash of Alan Whicker thrown in. He was also an excuse to have most of the main characters wearing suits…. Maybe Dwayne should have a suit too.

CASTING:

Ian’s already written about our experience of the casting and voice recording HERE. In brief, we like to prioritise specific casting so that the characters’ performance can really live. Recording sessions are always the most exciting part of productions. The script, rhythm and character foibles are all set in place. It draws a line under many tweaks of the script, and it injects a huge amount of inspiration for the long manual slog of animation production. When you’ve captured a performance from a great cast like Rasmus HardikerMike Wozniak and John-Henry Falle you feel obliged to try to match the gold they’ve given you.

DuckManBoy Cast Photo

 

Animation Production:

As usual all of the scenes were animated in Flash and composited in After Effects. Flash was the first animation software that I learnt and I still use it for most productions because so many other freelancers have access to it through the Adobe Suite. Which means that people are either already trained up on it or have access to it when working remotely. It’s certainly never been perfect but hopefully it will be slowly redeemed now that Adobe have refocused on it as ‘Animate CC’.

We had a few people working in the studio. Ross Butter was on board for the longest. He travelled down from the Highlands to to help lift a good chunk of the animation. He also designed all of the animal henchmen, including Hendrick riding a meat trolley pushed by Party Cow. We sent him off with at least a fortnight’s worth of Polish cheese and a duck caller.

Other notable shoutouts go to animator Tom Lucas, who I now call the Miracle Man Of Cardiff, and Vanessa Hill who powered through the vast majority of colouring of the film.

Ross Butter and Hendrick

Leaving CheeseDuck Caller

 

BACKGROUNDS

The watercolour effect for the backgrounds came about as way to be more ambitious with the style but not compete too much with the central characters. The washiness of watercolour lent itself to a more stained, shabby world. The backgrounds were drawn in Flash so that it would be easier to control how characters interacted with them. The line art was then given texture and painted in Photoshop. After a search I found some watercolour brush presets designed by Michael Koran. You can download a copy of the brushes at his Stumpy Pencil blog. The results were surprisingly believable and the technique was quite forgiving. I’ve now discovered Kyle T Webster‘s watercolour brush pack which is really flexible and can produce very realistic results for the right sort of job.09 Lair wide shot 08 Zoo07 Skyline 06 Bedroom high angle 02 TV Sponsored

11 Portrait Curtain

Music:

Rob Connor created the music and Mark Ashworth did the sound, working in a similar way to how they did on Don’t Fear Death.

For the opening sting we gave the brief of a surf/garage version of the 60s Batman theme, and Rob nailed it. Also, an impressive amount of craft went into orchestrating the bad-guy lair theme so that it co-ordinated with the jokes and different tones. A lot of the humour comes from people bigging themselves up and being immediately undercut, so demanded a lot of drops in the music and playing around with percussion.

Mark’s work really brought everything alive. Like last time, we focused on a realistic soundscape so you could really feel the environment. The exception being Neil’s duck-torrets. The call is actually a sample from a poor quality YouTube clip of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Mark did a great job of cleaning it up, but it still retained a dirtiness that made it really jar in the best possible way. We gave both Mark and Rob duck callers to integrate into what they were doing, but when it came to Neil there was no need. Here’s Rob noodling around with the newly found lyricism of duck call samples:

 

Nickelodeon UK:

We can’t understate how thankful we are to everyone at Nickelodeon for believing in us and letting us go through this process. Particular thanks go to Alexi Wheeler who’s emphasis was on being creator lead. We started out fully expecting everything would have to change, but all of the notes and meetings were very limited and concise. The rest was left to us to express ourselves and work in the way we felt best. That was really empowering and helped us retain the personality that we were going for without second-guessing what was expected too much. Here’s a present I painted for Alexi afterwards:

DuckManBoy WatercolourHere’s the full cast and crew credits:

Rasmus Hardiker – Dwayne
Mike Wozniak – Neil
John-Henry Falle – Sir Richard Battenburger

CREW:
ProducersLouis Hudson & Ian Ravenscroft
Director – Louis Hudson
Writer – Ian Ravenscroft
Additional WritingRob Frimston

Animation – Louis HudsonRoss ButterTom Lucas, Matt Walker
Studio AssistantsVanessa HillAlex JolliffeWaheeda Rahman

MusicRob Connor
SoundMark Ashworth
Dialogue RecordingSoho Square Studios

Executive in Charge of Production – Alexi Wheeler
Production Co-ordinator – Matt Kilroy
Consulting Producer – Suzanne Lang

Special Thanks to Nina Hahn, Jules Borkent

 

If for some reason you haven’t watched it yet, here’s DuckManBoy:

Vimeo Staff Pick for DuckManBoy

Our Nickelodeon short, DuckManBoy, has finally gone online and within a couple of days it became our 4th Vimeo Staff Pick!

As a curated website that is geared toward creators it’s a real privilege to be featured on the front page of Vimeo. Having that Staff Pick badge is as nice as any festival laurel because we’re aware it has been chosen by someone who sees tons of great work daily. The exposure we’ve had from the Staff Picks have changed our career and the way people receive our work so we’re really grateful that the people at Vimeo keep thinking our work’s worth their attention.

Vimeo Staff Pick

NRC – Lessons From Baghdad


In 2014, we were approached to create an animation to promote new guidelines developed by the Norwegian Refugee Council for humanitarian shelter response. It was an incredibly interesting project that could help organisations use less resources to instigate long term change in areas that may be to aid.

After digesting the very complex subject matter, we spent a lot of attention with the commissioners working out an entertaining way to illustrate an overview of the concepts while still getting across accurate information. Care was also taken to avoid criticising the existing work that organisations were already doing, and instead offer this as a way to retool their current skills.

The guidelines used quite a lot of roadmap analogies, which helped us to develop a visual language. From there it was a case of nudging wording and working out what benefitted from spoken dialogue and what needed visual explanations to get across the dense information in the most concise way.

These new guidelines came from a case study of shelter crisis in Baghdad. Visually, we wanted to depict the scale of the problems and the diversity of everyone involved, but in a way that treated them with the sensitivity they deserved. While this case was specific to Baghdad, we also wanted to make the visuals general enough to make it easy for organisations to imagine using the principles in the environments that they were dealing with.

research

NRC Character Designs

NRC Mock Up city clearingNRC Mock up 5
NRC Mock up 8


NRC Mock up 4
NRC Mock Up ArrowNRC Mock up 2NRC-Mock-up-3




 

 

Written by Ian Ravenscroft

Designed and animated by Louis Hudson

Music by Rob Connor

Voiceover by Richard Heathcote

Commissioned by in.tar.si.a for Norwegian Refugee Council

Funded by UK Aid

 

 

Louis’ animation for Wonky on Samsung film

Here’s some more digging up of the past. In 2013, Bristol-based Wönky asked me to be the lead character animator on a short film called, Dot, Circle, Box, which introduced the Samsung GALAXY Note 3 + Gear. The video racked up 1.5 million views… which is nice.

I was also tasked with working out the best way to reproduce the paint texture in Marion Deuchars‘ illustrations. In the end we went for a combination of layering semi-transparent layers in Flash and adding a washy transparency in After Effects.

Dot-Circle-Box-1

Dot-Circle-Box-2

Dot-Circle-Box-4

Dot-Circle-Box-3

Dot-Circle-Box-5

Dot-Circle-Box-6

Animation for Joseph Farms Cheese

A few years ago I created the animation for this advert for Joseph Farms Cheese in California. Originally, I storyboarded it not long out of University in 2009. All went quiet for 3 years until I was given the go ahead again in 2012. Two years later it found itself online with some extra live action added to the end. I guess cheese just isn’t something you rush.

sample-storyboard_00072Originally, the style was going to be a more expressionistic style drawn by hand to emphasise the natural qualities of the cheese. However, the client fell for the look of the Flash animated animatic, so I just cleaned that up in Flash and added some texture.

Visualising the natural way cheese is made is an interestingly disturbing fine line. I think people know well enough without having to be reminded directly.

Here’s some design variations:

kid designs cow designsPencil swirl-crunch

 

 

 

 

Don’t Fear Death at BritishShorts

DFD-06 Pool
Don’t Fear Death is still going on the festival circuit. This time at BritishShorts, aka LichtSpeilKlub Short Film Festival. We’ll be screening at the Animation Special Screening at Sputnik Kino on 25/1/2016, 8pm.

Slimmer Of The Year

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Here’s a video with all of the most Christmassy things in it: Santa, Rudolph, Snow, Cheer, drink driving, loads of spare skin, parasailing… the list goes on.

Despite a hectic schedule Santa’s taken some time out to celebrate reaching his goal weight with a spot of spare-skin-parasailing.

Sound design and ‘Joy To The World’ interpretation was by our recent collaborator Pete Styles.

The animation has also featured on Skwigly Magazine’s Advent Calender as a looping GIF:

_-Slimmer-of-the-Year-Square

Croissant at HA HA Shorts


haha shortsOn 27th October, we’ll be back at Bar Shorts at The Book Club in Shoreditch. We’ll be screening Man In A Cat and road-testing our new film Croissant as part of this evening’s theme, ‘HA HA Shorts’.

Massive thanks to Dog and Rabbit who put the night on. It looks like a great lineup and worth going just for Chris Shepherd’s presenting style. There will be a few of us there so come along if you want to say Hi.

It’s a free and doors are open at 7pm for an 8pm start. You can tell them your coming here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ha-ha-shorts-tickets-18971531361

Here’s the Facebook Event if that does it for you: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504715969821607/

 

*EDIT* Croissant got a great reception. Here’s a video of the reaction:

 

New Showreels and a Revamp

After finishing DuckManBoy, and other projects we can’t chat about yet, we thought it was time to finally make a showreel. It’s also been about 5 years since starting production on Man In A Cat. Since then we’ve created stuff for Channel 4, Nickelodeon, BBC Comedy and Oxfam, and worked with some amazing people in the process.

 

That was fun. Everything is with Italian 60’s Pop.

It’s also been 6 years since my last freelance reel, so it’s nice finally showing off what I’ve done for other people between our Dice work. More Italian 60’s Pop:

 

We’ve also got a new website design and silly Dice ident to suit us better. We’ve always had an awkward relationship with the formality of ‘Dice Productions’. It’s like an embarrassing band name that’s too late to shake off. So, instead of starting again we’re styling it out with a silly rubbery neck, yellow paint, and a slide whistle.



Skwigly Advent Calendar

We’ve had Ross Butter in the studio for the last few weeks animating on DuckManBoy. As he was leaving we collaborated on a heart (and lung) warming Christmassy GIF for Skwigly Magazine’s Advent CalendarI think it was the first time I’ve ever jammed on the same scene with someone. It’s nice having a little idea and then just piling things on top of it without worrying about the consequences.

Don’t worry Rudolph. Santa will need his oxygen mask… any… second… now…

Also, here’s Ross looking like he just invented Christmas.
Ross Butter