Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trailer is here

Yup, it's finished. I'll post more about it and the future for Gilbert's War later on, but for now, enjoy.

The trailer is also available at:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Trailer's almost done

All the scenes bar one are rendered and comped into a working edit. Now comes re-shoots, gathering/mixing all my audio and music, and knitting the scenes together.

I got a good few hours in this weekend, which helped a lot. The 'To Do' list is now a lot shorter. I might have to get myself a cider tonight to celebrate. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Playing soldiers

I'm currently orchestrating the four second long scene where we fly over the battleground. Here's a screenshot showing the armour and infantry in action. The tanks are basic low-detail models for this shot.

Also, there's a single frame from the opening action scene, where the tanks are creeping into position.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Setting the mood

I've started to work on the final scene set-ups for the trailer. Here's a snapshot of the colour and mood for the opening shot on the battlefield that November morning in Cambrai. I'll add a little more light to the final shot - but not much more.

The shape in the foreground is a British MarkIV tank that's just passed underneath the camera on it's slow, lumbering way to battle. The large shape on top is a fascine - a massive bundle of logs which will be dropped into the German trenches to enable the tanks and men to cross them.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Noises of war

Today is an audio day. I'm picking out sounds for the trailer's scenes. Of course there's tank engines, machine-guns, shell explosions - but I'm also looking at subtle sounds -  wind noises, nervous whispers before the assault, maybe even some distant birdsong. We'll see what seems appropriate.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Starting battle scene

I'm laying out the battlefield scene for the fly-past shot, and notice a soldier running through the shot at about 60mph. He may need his keyframe scale looking at.. lol

Monday, October 8, 2012

A little more animation

Here is a quick look at the 2d drawn element of a track-in shot featuring Gilbert lying wounded in a shell crater. Still to add is the CGI background, lighting elements and practical effects (smoke/fog).

Monday, October 1, 2012

..and the band played on..

I've just had confirmation that the Yorkshire Volunteers Band will allow me to use their music for Gilbert's War. They are the band of  the Leeds Rifles, Gilbert's regiment.

Great news, and I'm indebted to David Stephenson and the band members for their fabulous performances.

The trailer (to be released Nov 11) has already been paced out with a music track, but I'm looking forward to having the band's stirring and atmospheric marches running throughout the final film.

The band have a great history going back to 1860, and you can find details of that here:

After the Strategic Defence Revue of 1998 the band formed part of the Yorkshire Volunteers Regimental Association ensuring over 150 years of "True Yorkshire Grit".

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Now we're flying through it

Progress is good. The scenes are coming together, and I'm just about finished with this Sopwith Camel model for a fly-through - when we're tracking an overhead shot of the dawn assault.

It'll be on screen for all of 3 or 4 seconds, but hopefully add to the impact.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

'The devil is coming'

That's what German infantry were heard to say when they saw a British tank for the first time - as it crested the trench they were defending. I'm re-creating this iconic scene for the Gilbert's War trailer.

These scenes will be very brief, but hopefully convey the mood of the final film.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Giving the beast a voice

Since there are no handily available good quality recordings of what a MarkIV tank sounds like, I'm creating my own. I do have a few clues, in how it has been represented in films etc in the past.

A lot of what is available is no good for me - I need a clean sound, ideally built up from elements that I can mix myself, so that I can create a horde of bellowing behemoths. I can't wait to hear it.

One of the sounds I DO have sorted is that of the trench whistle, a haunting double-tone whistle used to signal a call to action - usually to leave the safety of the trenches and go 'over the top'.

The battle of Cambrai took place on a foggy dawn in November, so there'll be an odd dead echo to the soundtrack, adding an eeriness to it - until all hell breaks loose, of course.

I'm also on the lookout for a Sopwith Camel engine noise.*
*Just sorted the above, via email. Fab!

I have plenty of gun sounds and some explosions - but I need to draw up a list of other audio I'll need, specifically for the trailer.

EDIT: Following on from a suggestion by an ex tank commander (of both Chieftain and Challenger main battle tanks) I asked Bovington Tank Museum if they had any audio of their Mark IV, and they're sending me a recording this weekend. So, Gilbert's War will feature absolutely authentic tank sounds!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lights, camera, action!

Please view the video below in full screen and HD - and it's not pink, honest (dodgy youtube framegrabber).

Currently testing lighting a low resolution/low framecount version of Gilbert's walk cycle, carded onto a polyquad via an animated texture sequence. Alpha works fine, as do lighting keys. Happy chappy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

War - the great leveller

Currently watching the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? about hugh Dennis (on iPlayer). His grandfathers' experiences in WW1 mirror what I've found - and how I feel about it - whilst researching for Gilbert's War.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Getting there

I have a title sequence planned, and all my main scenes are at least blocked out, and some are finished.

Not long to go now until the trailer is released in November. Still plenty to do of course, but I'm happy with how things are shaping up.

I don't want to post much of the action scenes until I can post the whole trailer, but it'll be worth the wait.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Finally, some animation

I wasn't sure if the animated gif would show, but it looks OK. I took out some frames and re-uploaded it, so it plays at a better speed (I also scaled it down a lot - the original is at HD resolution). The orange background is a neutral flat colour that I can 'key' out later - replacing it with transparency. I used orange so that any fringing left by the matte process will suit the scene (battlefield at dawn).

The 3D render has a shadow too that I can use for the scene if I wish. This finished sequence will now be taken back into the 3D software to be placed on a flat card in 3D space and animated through a scene. I can pull focus and add lighting effects to it, to embed it with the rest of the 2D/3D elements.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The weary march

My CG soldier is rigged and ready for animation. I've started on a basic walk cycle - a weary march. I'll add a rifle and produce a cycle for use when the infantry company is following their lead tanks, clearing/flattening the wire across no man's land.

I'll output this and future animations as single frames, bring them into my animation software and use them as reference when drawing. This procedure is called rotoscope and is commonly associated with live-action footage used as a basis for animation, or when animating a moving matte to remove/add elements to film.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Going traditional

Along with all the CGI tools and computer jiggery pokery, I'll occasionally be relying on the old faithful animation disc. This is what I trained with, and it's always good to go back and really get a feel for keying out a good sequence.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A little pain for lots of gain

My WWI infantry soldier maquette is all built and ready to be rigged. Rigging is definitely not a favourite job of the CGI animator, but very satisfying when done. Here the skeleton is matched to the model and ready for each bone to be given it's weighting envelope.

Once done, this maquette can be given a walk, march and run animation cycle. Then I can shoot that sequence from any angle, with any additional lighting cues, render out the frames and use them as a base for 2d drawn animation. The maquette will also be given a basic texture sheet and used as-is for background action.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lead in the air

Legendary Manx broadcaster and journalist Terry Cringle brought a little something to the office for me to look at today, a fabulously detailed and painted lead figurine of a WWI infantry soldier, complete with all his kit - and bayonet fixed for action! This hurriedly shot phone pic really doesn't do him justice.

The figure is courtesy of Terry's huge collection. He has a keen interest in the Great War and the tank battle at Cambrai where Gilbert was injured, and has very kindly offered his voice for narration on Gilbert's War. It's all coming together wonderfully.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New tech for an old soldier

This is work-in-progress of the maquette figure I'll use in 3d to rough out animation. I'll then rotoscope from that to get my 2d drawn frames.

This will also be used, when finished, to generate backgound figures or scenes with lots of troops marching/fighting together.

Monday, July 23, 2012

On the right track

I thought I'd share a little test I did with my MarkIV tank. It's a bout 50% finished, and this one won't be a super-detailed up-close model, but rather be used middle-distance, or as seen trundling in formation from a low-flying bi-plane. It's really a test of how the visual style is looking.

It's moving about twice as fast as the real thing would in this clip, which would be about walking/marching pace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gilbert in colour

I made a start on some colour. Once I'm happy with how he's looking I'll submit a few different views to the Great War experts to assess whether his kit is correct.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Character Sheet

I've started on Gilbert's character sheet - the reference sheet used when animating. He'll be built as a poseable 3d model, and traditionally animated (drawn) using the 3d as reference.

This is a sketch - I've yet to add all of his kit.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gilbert and me

Very busy lately with 'life' in general - but I did find and scan a picture my Dad took of Mum and I with Gilbert. Mum is off camera, holding me, and Gilbert is looking on. I've just been fed a large piece of chocolate cake (which is all over me). This was taken in 1964 and is one of the few photos I have of Gilbert.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good progress

I've made good headway on my MarkIV tank model, I've started to add colour to it, and got the tracks to animate. The drawn/painted look is getting there. Here's a sneak peek at the work in progress.

I've been reading more on the fateful battle at Cambrai on Nov 20 1917 and found that there were more British tanks involved on that day, in that single battle, than there is in the whole of the modern tank regiment.

I also found a 35mm colour slide transparency that my father took, of me aged 1, sat on Gilbert's living room table, with him looking on. I'm so glad I still have it. That picture is the only image I know of that we're both in, and the fact that it's in colour is a wonderful bonus.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New tech for an old story

I'm currently researching digital paint and animation tech for Gilbert's War. I've built a basic MarkIV tank in 3d, and want to see how it looks in test shots, alongside live-action pyrotechnic FX plates and hand-drawn character animation. This is the critical phase where I'll be testing out, then locking down the 'look' of the film.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Little revelations

A previously ordered book arrived today, titled 'Cambrai 1917, The Birth of Armoured Combat' which contains pictures and paintings of the battle as well as detailed maps of troop movements. This is vital for me - to actually 'see' the battle as well as read about it.

It's an extraordinary vision, and though Gilbert's story is essentially human in scale, there will be opportunities for staggeringly beautiful, terrifying and epic scenes. Doing justice to this material is going to be very hard work, but also very rewarding.

I had an email tonight from an eminent French historian who specialises in this battle, and he's offered to help me envisage the battlefield of the day.

It's all coming together.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lost Heroes

I'm currently watching a series called 'Lost Heroes of World War One', filmed when the last few veterans were alive and could relate their experiences first hand. Many were teenage volunteers rushing to the front lines with boyish enthusiasm and a fateful ignorance of what awaited them.

Over the four years 16 million souls died as a direct result of the fighting.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Graceful Swan

Picture a graceful swan - there's not much activity on the surface, but underwater the legs are going like the clappers. That's how I feel about current progress on Gilbert's War. I'm collecting a mass of info, including books and web pages on WW1, animation techniques, video clips for reference and inspiration - lots and lots of stuff. Apologies for the lack of updates until now.

I'm going to start drawing test material for characters and scenery soon. That way I can perform some style tests and get the footage to look how I'd like. Because I'm using a combination of 2d and 3d, I need to put together an efficient workflow, across different software packages and image/video formats.
More soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Music choices

It's never too early to be looking at any aspect of Gilbert's War - and I thought I'd let you in on one of my potential music tracks. The opening bars of this played as my new wife and I left the church on our wedding day - and was heard by a lot of Gilbert's immediate family, so there are wonderful personal resonances there.

So, without further ado...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Animation style

I've just had a breakthrough when looking for a suitable style for the animation in Gilbert's War. I may post up some tests to show the direction I want the look of the film to take. There will be a mix of traditional 2d (drawn) animation and CGI - which can be a very tricky balance. In the meantime, it's back to the sketchbook. As far as the writing goes, my West Yorkshire Regiment war diary should arrive soon - which will be a great help with scripting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Well documented

Just ordered a 2-volume set on the West Yorkshire Regiment during the Great War years. It covers the troop movements in fabulous - almost total day to day detail. I want to make this story as true to life as possible.

There's no chance of it being dull as a result - the facts themselves are wonderfully compelling and very exciting.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The man himself

And here's Pte. Gilbert Myers of the Leeds Rifles age 20 (or 21). The photo is actually fully split in two vertically - so this is a quick patch-up job until I can properly digitally restore it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cambrai footage

During my research - I've found the BBC's 1964 series on The Great War to be a fantastic resource. This clip shows the first large-scale tank battle of WWI during which Gilbert was injured.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A fateful signing

Here is one of the few surviving documents from Gilbert's war service. This is the agreement my grandfather Gilbert signed on the 26th of April 1915 to become a rifleman in the 2/8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (the Leeds Rifles). His handwriting is almost identical to mine, which gives me a chill. I have a photo of Gilbert in uniform, which I'll post soon - it needs a little TLC first.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I'm a big fan of tanks, as my family will testify. I have several books on the subject of armoured vehicles and mobile artillery. One of  my favourite 'rhomboid' design vehicles is the british Mark IV, which saw action in the battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917.
This is the kind of vehicle mentioned in Conan-Doyle's account, and would have featured heavily in my grandad's memories of that battle, lumbering on at a stately 3.7 MPH. Somehow I'm going to recreate these steel beasts for 'Gilbert's War'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Start at the beginning

This blog, and eventually the full website, will document my efforts to produce a roughly 20 minute animated short film about the extraordinary experience my grandfather had in the First World War.

My aim is to have a 1 to 2 minute trailer done for Remembrance Day this year, and the full film ready to show for November 2014, 100 years on from the start of the war.

I've just begun reading about one of the key battles my grandfather took part in, and the following passage is from Arthur Conan Doyle's account:

 "Every company of the advancing units had been instructed to fall in behind its own marked tank.  At 6.20, just after dawn, in a favouring haze, General Ellis gave the signal, his iron-clad fleet flowed forward, the field of wire went down with a long splintering rending crash, the huge fagots were rolled forward into the gaping ditches, and the eager infantry crowded forward down the clear swathes which the monsters had cut.
At the same moment the guns roared out, and an effective smoke-barrage screened the whole strange spectacle from the German observers.
The long line of tanks magnified to monstrous size in the dim light of early dawn, the columns of infantry with fixed bayonets who followed them, all advancing in silent order, formed a spectacle which none who took part in it could ever forget."