Saturday, 13 September 2014

Sneak Peak ... work experiance @ Aardman

On the 26th of February I was lucky enough to travel down to Bristol to start a week and a half work experience at Aardman, to help with their current feature film 'Shaun the sheep movie'.


Once I arrived at Aztec West, a excited and slightly nervous Nicola, I was let in by a lovely runner where by I entered the reception area filled with puppets, images and memorabilia of the previous films & series. Which was mind blowing for for an Aardman fan, but there was much more to come.

Puppets from the Shaun the sheep series, and Pirate captain and friends.

Bitzer and Shaun were also in the reception waiting to say hi, they didn't say much though. The runner then took me through the maze with is Aztec west to get to the Art department, we went down a extremely long corridor to see this crazy creature graffiti, shown below:

Once I was there I was introduced to everyone within the department, then Helen (assistant art director) took me around the entire building showing me; the model making department, the different units where Shaun was being film, wood & metal work shops, and most importantly the canteen. 

After the tour I had a small safety briefing, then on to the nitty gritty.
Helen set me the task of creating some shopping bags from paper templates a previous person completed. I carefully scalped out the nets using a metal ruler, once cut I folded along the lines and stuck down black coil paper to make them more ridged. Once assembled with glue I began to thread wire through various coloured string for the handles, then adding the handles to co-ordinate the bags nicely.

Below is all the different variations of bags I complete, About 21 bags in total. 
Keep ya eyes out for these little beauties in the film!

FACT: Did you know that Aardmans art department not only create props and set pieces  but they are also classed as set dressers. Two jobs in one!

During my first day I was able to help Helen out on set, moving various 2D and 3D background piece. To do this I had to attach clamps onto the wooded background, then placed a knuckle onto a tripod, the background was then slotted onto the tripod and moved into the correct position. I also had to rearrange two tree, the 3D background and a small model bush to ensure the composition looked great on the display screen.


Day two started a little bit hectic, as I took an very large detour down the M5 by accident. Got to Aztec west on time in the end. 

Today I was set a new task of making small wired towels that could be used during an animation shot or modelled into various ridged shapes. To do this I smeared multi-purpose contact adhesive around the material and on the pre-shaped wired. I then used the hairdryer on the adhesive slightly to make it tackie, and then placed the two pieces together. To finish the towels I folded the material over the wire and on to the adhesive.

The next model making task was to create a variety of different bottles. I began by sawing plastic tubing into two distinctive parts, a smaller part for the lid and a larger tube for the base. Once I had cut enough for four bottles, I began to fill the tubes with polyfiller. To make the props whole and ready for the silicone mold. Once the polyfiller had dried I sanded the bottles into shape and then spray painted with a primer. The primer helped to pin point any areas that wasn't smooth enough.So after another fine sand all the bottles were ready to be made into a mold.

During this time making the bottle above I also created another variety, much like a squeeze tube. Again I used the white plastic tubing which I saw into the correct sizes, I then placed in a clamp and by using a heat gun began to heat the plastic and closed the end with pliers. This created a ridged effect on the plastic from the pliers grip pattern. I also carved into the bottle with a scalped to create the allusion of a tube lid, all of which helped to create an realistic bottle shape. Once again I filled these bottles with poloyfiller and sanded until completely smooth, ready for mold making.


Once my props where lovely and smooth it was time to create the silicone molds. First I created a small boxed area around the props with corrugated foam board, that was glued together with hot glue to ensure the entire thing was water tight (ensure there is a least an inch between each prop and the sides of the box). When complete it was time to mix the solution for the silicone. Prime solution and then the second which is the fixative. The fixative amount added always needs to be 10% of the first solution. So when I made these particular mold I used 600g of the prime, then only 60g of the fixative. Once you have the correct measurement, mixed the two well until a light blue colour (depending on the second solution colouration) ensuring not to create a lot of air bubbles. The pot of silicone solution was then placed into an air tight vac form to remove the majority of the bubbles in the silicone solution due to mixing. Once this process is complete, slowly tip the solution into the mold (Not directly onto the props as this may trap air on the props, and therefore ruining your mold)

Once the props are completely submerged leave the solution to cure for about 12-24 hours depending on how much of the second agent you used.

FACT: The less of the second agent you use the longer it will take for the silicone to cure. However the less you use the more times you can use the mold.

My next task that day was to create some more towels, but firstly I had to dye the fabric. In a pot of warm water I added different amounts of yellow and pink dye to get the vibrant orange colour. Then submerging the fabric into the solution to gain the colour, when the colour was even throughout it was placed on a radiator to dry. Once dry I began to add wire to the fabric like I did in Day 2 to create the various towels.


The silicone molds had tried nicely, so I removed the hard props from the molds ready for the next step. Helen kindly showed me how to accurately and safely measure out the solutions for the resin. Once mixed I pored the solution into the different molds I had made ensuring that when poring it didn't over flow. As this would entail even more sanding. Once the moulds where 'full' we left them to cure for about 20-30 minutes. After that time had past I popped the resin out of the moulds, easily said then done sometimes. This is the result of what came out, shown below:

After repeating this process quite a few times, I had plenty of props to be getting on with. To create a large diversity between the bottle props, I super glued different lids onto them. That I created out of plastic tubing or from little tiny resin pieces.

Below is an image of all the different resin bottles, now it was time to sand them all down. I think this took me a few days to do, between different jobs.
I even ended up sanding part of my thumb nail off … 

Lots of props, lots of sanding!


Day 5 started off a little differently then most days, I was asked to help Joe to dress a set. So off I toddled happily. This time I had to physically get myself on top of a beautiful set, I was slightly apprehensive to do so as I didn't want to break anything.
So my task was to hold a couple of boards up right in the correct position whilst Joe screwed them into play from below.

Once complete it was back into the art department to do some more props. Joe then asked me to create some more silicone molds for him, as he was walkie talkied to another set to dress, no problem.

FACT: Each member of staff has a walkie talkie to communicate with other members of staff,  because Aztec West is so large. May I add these talkies were not always used for work reasons, more for sending silly messages. Very amusing.

As well as continuing to sanding a large amount of props (this time with ultra fine sandpaper) and mold making, I was also asked by Laura to decorate these miniature 'soda' drink containers. I simply masking tapes the lip area, sprayed the bottom with he corresponding flavor. And then applied adhesive to the paper design and rapped around. Whala ... a beautiful miniature drink cups in all your favourite flavors.  


Making some HAYYY ... simply glue, paint and hay. All combined onto some left over silicone, left to dry to created hay segments. A simple and quick method of making hay for a miniature farm near you.

Most of day six was spend enjoyably with Joe helping to lay an entire set floor. The pictures don't really show how large this set actually was. Luckily the wooden slabs were pre-cut, To create this effective paving effect, we painted onto the set with PVA glue and then placed each individual block into place ensuring the spacing and staggered pattern was perfect throughout. Around the curved curb area Joe and I had to cut the wooden blocks into the correct size which became rather time consuming. I found the whole thing extremely satisfying and charming to complete, good conversation also helped.

Top left is a cheeky shot of the building going on the set, but what is the building?
Top right is the completed paving,


After several days of sanding and loosing some of my thumb nail, Och. I had finally finished sanding the MANY bottles. Helen then decorated the bottles accordingly to the surroundings, but I wasn't allowed to post a picture of the final thing. As might spoil apart of the film, and that is forbidden. 

Another simple prop I was asked to create, little bill boards. Created out of a sheet of plastic cut to size, and a plastic boarder added by using super glue. These were very fiddly to get right, making sure they were all the same size and not getting my fingers glued together. Finally made I sanded the entire boards, and then I created a silicone molds for quick resin replicas.

Next prop task was to create 30 napkins, white fabric cut to 4 cm squares and like the towel I previously made on Day 2 I added wire along the edges with some adhesive. 

Third task of the day, putting handles on cups for a test shot. To see which style of tea cup would suit the surrounding set. Sanding the edges, gluing the pieces together and then being painted accordingly. Wallah miniature cups. 

Day 8 

My very last day at Aardman, it was safe to say I didn't want to leave! But I needed to crack on with finishing my props I'd been asked to do.

In the morning I was also given the task of decorating some miniature take away coffee cups. The design was supplied I simply made sure the design was placed on correctly and neatly. Easily said, the concave miniature shape made it more complex.

Once complete I took them down to Zoe and the set which needed them. She kindly advised me to add a corrugated material around each cup to make the props more believable. The image below shows the edited coffee containers, the tiny corrugation adds more texture to the entire thing. A simple change can make a load of difference!

30 tiny dinner napkins complete, just in time!

On my last day I also started to create my Bitzer model as a memento of my time, by getting the whole art department to sign the figure. See the below links to see how Bitzer progressed:

Here is the final 360 of 'Grom-zer'

After a lovely 2 weeks at Aardman I was VERY sad to go, to leave the art department and all the people that made me feel so welcome. This experience has not only improved my making capabilities but it has only made me more determined to gain a career in model making. To work my way up the creative ladder and eventually arrive at Aardman the big guys in stop-motion animation.

I have to say a BIG thank you for May Jay & Alex for letting me stay with them again in Bristol, I had a great time with you a little Domo you are always so welcoming and generous. A thank you to Will for contacting me initially about work experience at Aardman, it came as a shock but I was and am still very appreciative of this opportunity you gave me. And of course to Helen Javes for allowing me to work in the art department showing and learning me the tricks of the trade, and for making some AMAZING CAKES. Wow this lady can bake. Yum! 

I think Domo (above) didn't want me to go!

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