Wednesday 31 December 2014

So It Came Back After All...

I'd got to the point, this time last year, when I really didn't think Arbitrary Stopframe would be coming back, having been replaced on the slate by things like Papercuts and The Murkum Show.

As of this Christmas, the allegedly-defunct series has aired another 25 episodes.  So much for predictions.

I won't bore you by recapping the tale of how Episode 14 got made.  If you don't know already, you can read it here.  Having written off Series 2 back in January, though, I promptly came down with a new idea for how I could go ahead with Series 2 - as one does.  The phrase 'animated advent calendar' popped into my head, I realised that it would mesh nicely with the AS format, and that was kinda that.

In the earlier stages of development, I considered various stylistic options, e.g. trying to set up the title sequence so it would do a traditional Advent Calendar opening-door effect, but I never got round to implementing that; the actual title sequence ended up being very short (which is probably a good thing when it's going to get used 24 times in rapid succession), cutting out the signature segment and Zooky's appearance at the end, giving everything a vaguely-frost-ish colour-grading, and reverting to the original AS theme tune, albeit in a specially-commissioned jingle-bell-ified remix. The format of the episodes in general ended up being broadly similar to the original episodes, although a bit shorter, and of course featuring the number of the day in each clip.

I had hoped to have a bit more of the series in the can before December rolled around, but I didn't, so that was that.  When I published Day 1, I'd only finished editing up to Day 5, and filmed up to Day 9.  I spent most of my spare time throughout Advent producing the remainder of the Calendar in a bit of a frantic rush, and there were two days (Tues 9 and Tues 16) when I actually ran out of finished episodes and had to spend the rest of the day editing some more so I could carry on publishing without an interruption!

In case you haven't seen it already, here's the complete Advent Calendar playlist:

And finally, here's a selection of behind-the-scenes fun facts from the project, in a vaguely chronological order:
  • The Animated Advent Calendar was written by the same four people who have penned The Murkum Show Series 1 and 2 - me, Tim Johnston, Sarah Johnston and Sam Arthur.  Sarah was the most prolific guest writer, bucking the usual trend of Tim taking that accolade.
  • The episodes weren't written in anything like the 'correct' order - the first storyline I came up with was the one with Monster Movie spitting bits of another chewed-up DVD case at Murkum, which became Day 15, and the last episode written was Day 22.
  • Some episodes contain less-than-subtle back-references to the original series, most notably Odom weilding a Sharpie again on Day 1, Cylinder making a nuisance of himself on Day 3, Zooky interfering with a jar of instant coffee on Day 5, and of course Monster Movie making a few more appearances and usually roaring a lot.
  • Some of the cast had only been in one episode each by the end of the original series; this time round I wanted to make sure everyone had been in multiple episodes.  In the end, Arthur got two more outings in the Calendar and three overall, and every other character (apart from the webcam, which arguably doesn't count) had been in at least four overall.  Murkum has made the most appearances in AS overall, with six.  Harrison is the only character whose AS appearances have all been solo.
  • The episodes have individual titles - although they don't appear within the videos themselves or in the YouTube descriptions, they will be published soon on the AS page at
  • This was the first animated project I filmed using my new Nikon D7100.  As a side-effect, it's also my first animated project with source imagery created at a higher resolution than 1080p.  I could shoot 4K stopmotion if i wanted - but I can't edit 4K with my current version of Sony Vegas, so that'd be a bit pointless.
  • The first five episodes, plus nos 9, 12 and 24, were filmed in the correct sequence, but the rest were all shot out of order - 7 and 8 were shot before 6, 11 before 10, and 13 to 23 were hopelessly scrambled.  The reshuffles were made for practical reasons, such as availability of the kitchen (which was why I pulled 7 and 8 forwards), or filming episodes with a shared character or prop together (most notably 12 and 21, which were shot as a pair, and the three with Monster Movie - 15, 20 and 23 - which were all shot on the same day).
  • You might not have realised it, but if you've been watching my other animation output this year then you'll already have seen that little battery-operated string of LEDs several times before - it was an integral part of the lighting setup for most of the episodes of The Murkum Show Series 2 and its spin-off Greasy Food with Gonce.
  • The longest episode in the Calendar was Day 3 (52.44 seconds), and the shortest was Day 14 (33.72 seconds).  All 24 days were shorter than the previous-shortest AS video, Episode 2 Fruit Pastilles (56.52 seconds).
  • Murkum's little grumble at the end of Day 4 was the first piece of actual dialogue ever used in AS (his screams in Series 1 don't really count as dialogue, and they were stock sounds rather than original recordings anyway); I performed, recorded and processed his lines for Days 4, 10 and 15 using exactly the same techniques as I do for The Murkum Show, except that the AS lines were recorded after I'd shot the videos, instead of before rolling cameras like I would do on his main series.
  • After filming Days 6 and 9, I left the string of blue lights sellotaped to my desk for several days (mostly because it had been such a faff sellotaping them down that I couldn't quite bring myself to rip them off again already), before clearing them up so I could shoot Day 11.
  • The episode with the most troubled production was probably Day 10 - I shot the first half three times, and had to scrap the first two and revise my plans due to technical problems.
  • Day 11 was not only the scariest episode of the Calendar to film, but the scariest bit of animation I've ever done, point blank.  Working with live flame in both that episode and in Day 22 was pretty nerve-wracking, but at least the tealight candles in Day 22 were fairly staid; the matches used in Day 11 burnt a lot faster than I'd hoped, and came upsettingly close to melting Snow to a dirty yellow blob a couple of times.  In the half-dozen-or-so frames it takes her to spin around between lighting the match and igniting the 'fuse' in the crisp packet, I had to film faster than I can ever remember working before (apart from live-action stuff, obviously!) and actually had to swap out the original match in her hand for a new one after 3 or 4 frames, because they burnt so fast.  I ate the crisps afterwards.
  • The most productive filming day was Thursday 4 December - I shot an unprecedented five videos back-to-back: 12 to 14, plus 16 and 21.
  • The disappearing number on the gift label in Day 14 was done with a combination of practical and digital trickery - but I won't tell you all the details because that would spoil the fun.
  • In case you were wondering, the other DVD whose remains Monster Movie spits out in Day 15 was 300.  I didn't want to tear up something from my own DVD collection, so I went into the charity shop a few doors up from where I work and rummaged around for something with a cover that featured a BBFC '15' logo on a suitable background; they were all the same price, and most of the '15' logos were about the same size, so I picked 300 based mainly on the background texture.  As a consequence, there might (although I can't confirm) be a tiny little fragment of Gerard Butler's leg somewhere on-screen for a couple of frames' worth of Day 15.  I haven't actually watched the film, just ripped the corner off the cover and got a plasticene-legged South Korean kaiju DVD to spit out the shreds.
  • Day 15 was also the first episode in any of my animated mini-series to credit somebody else for creating or co-creating a featured character (Sam, for providing the original concept for Monster Movie).  I suppose I could have credited or co-credited Tim for various characters who have featured in Arbitrary Stopframe or The Murkum Show over the years, but there are so many characters in the Murk Army and the history of their creation has been so complicated that it would have added several extra credit screens to each episode trying to explain who was responsible for writing who, so Tim and I have a tacit agreement that we don't bother with character credits for Murk Army videos, for the sake of people's mental health.
  • The idea for Day 18 emerged out of discussions over Tim's pitch for Day 14 - but I ended up filming Day 14 as originally pitched as well.
  • Day 20 was the first time Arthur has ever been heard speaking - his original film Arthur & the Punk was silent.  I had a cold the day I edited Days 20 to 24, and the otherwise-annoying throatful of phlegm came in surprisingly useful when I was trying to do an old-person voice.  I still ended up recording all of his lines twice.
  • Day 23 re-used some of the chocolates Cylinder was messing with in Day 3, and some of the dolly mixtures that Murkum got mixed up with in Day 10.  I don't know if you'd noticed, but I like to sneak a dolly-mixture joke into my stopmotion work every now and then, particularly in the X-Battles GT shorts.  As with the crisps from Day 11, I ate some of the sweets after filming with them.
  • This was the first project to feature the revised mnimation logo - the logo's lighting colours have been subtly altered, the text style has been changed to match that used in the main M.C.Media logo (stronger overall corporate image, and all that... heheh), and the awkward capital N has been dropped, leaving the official stylisation entirely lowercase.  I like the fact that the previous mnimation logo made its debut on the same video as the D80, and this one made its debut on the same video as the D7100.

- The Colclough

Friday 5 December 2014

But All I Wanted...

...was to reply to a comment.  Seriously, I'd got a comment on a YouTube video (which is now a rare enough event that it merits being remarked upon!), and I wanted to reply.  Google, in their infinite wisdom, wouldn't let me reply without generating a new bleeding Google+ page attached specifically to my YT channel... as if one useless G+ page attached to the top level of my Google account wasn't bad enough!

I'm getting seriously hacked off with the whole YT/G+ thing.

Back in the day, if you wanted to be on YT, you had a YT account.  You logged into that account, and you could add videos to your channel and leave comments and stuff, just like what happens on any other website whose designers have brain cells.  End of.

Now?  Sure, you can sign into YT, albeit using your Google account, and post videos, like before.  But it seems that leaving comments requires the existence of at least one (preferably fifteen) G+ pages bolted to various parts of your Google account like so many tumours.  That's basically what it comes down to - unifying YT accounts into Google accounts, fair enough, but now they've gone and given YouTube cancer.  G+ is a hideous, cancerous growth infecting the system and ruining everything, and I FREAKING HATE IT.  You hear me, Google?  I'll bet you don't, but I'm gonna yell at you anyway: I HATE GOOGLE+.  ALL OF IT.  IT'S STUPID AND POINTLESS AND ADDS NOTHING TO THE YOUTUBE EXPERIENCE, UNLESS YOU COUNT FRUSTRATION AS AN ADDITION.  GET IT?

The thing is, it does nothing.  If G+ did anything that was worth doing, then I might not mind adding a page or two, but it doesn't.  It does nothing.  It's one more platform where you can allegedly connect with people, but I've never made a single meaningful connection on that platform.  The people I actually want to talk to, I talk to on Skype or Steam - or, shock horror, in person!  Going through the treadmill of adding them all as contacts on yet another online platform does nothing for me.  And even when I add people there, they don't do anything there to make it worth my while having bothered to add them there.  And neither do I.  The cool stuff is happening on other platforms.  ALL OF IT.  Nothing - nothing whatsoever - of any interest happens on G+.  You go to any G+ page you like, and it's got the same hollow, vaguely depressing feeling that an empty room has.  And I find it very, very frustrating being forced to connect a bunch of depressing empty rooms onto my YT account.

Dear Google: G+ has failed.  Please kill it immediately.  Keep Google accounts by all means, but please delete every trace of G+ code from the system, take down all those soul-crushing empty pages, and let the world go back to the way it should be.  And fire the person who instigated G+, because they're stupid.

Thank you.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 16 September 2014

So, Three Months Later...

I feel vaguely hypocritical - having given Hannah Newcombe a scolding for letting her blog lapse, I find myself having done the same thing (albeit not on such a grand scale).  Three months have passed since I last posted on here.

What's happened?
  • I've helped build a conservatory.
  • I've finished the second season of The Murkum Show, plus spin-off Greasy Food With Gonce, and been putting in some brain-juice on the third run.
  • I've made progress towards filming the next set of Papercuts episodes.
  • I've started writing Cylinder and Miserable Series 4 (as threatened earlier).
  • I've put in a few months of doodling on my second Papertowns drawing.
  • I've bought a new camera - a Nikon D7100, which is very, very nice, and will be used for all future instalments of Murkum Show, Papercuts etc.
  • I went to Root Hill again - my 9th time.  Really starting to feel like part of the woodwork now.  Enjoyed it very much.  Was able to take a car for the first time.  Also took the D7100, and had a horrible moment where I thought it was broken, but fortunately it turned out that the £900 camera was fine, the problem was with the £20 memory cards, which were in fact fakes and have now been sent back and refunded.
  • I launched a new website for YBC... and then had an embarrassing hiccup where I forgot the admin password.
  • Probably other stuff I've forgotten to mention.

So, there you go - a quick recap of all the stuff that I never got round to blogging about in more tedious detail over the last quarter of a year.

Oh... and I might have slightly started writing A Salesman Beneath again, after a nearly-3-year hiatus.  Hm...

- The Colclough

Friday 13 June 2014

Fifteen Miles to Electricity

The broadband at Yateley Baptist hasn't been working very well for the last couple of months.  It broke down, stayed down for a fortnight or so, got fixed, stayed working for two or three weeks, and then broke down again - and it's been down for about three weeks now.  An engineer's coming on Tuesday.

Not very helpful when you've got sermon recordings to upload, or if you'd been planning to screen World Cup matches with free food as a getting-to-know-people-in-the-community exercise, and the screening was going to be done via the web.

However, I had an email last night which offers a timely dose of perspective:

I've recently been helping to prepare some booklets for printing, on behalf of YBC's missionary Ian, who makes radio programmes in French (mainly for broadcast into Francophone Africa) and writes up summaries of the teaching in booklet form.  It's an interesting exercise when I barely speak a word of French, although I can sometimes trace a few words back through their Greek or Latin roots and get some idea of what a sentence might be saying.  But the latest instalment gets even more interesting - it's not the French version (already published), but a translation into Lobiri.  I think I might have heard the name once or twice before the book turned up, but I've got to admit I haven't even got round to Googling it to find out what part of Africa it comes from!  The script uses some Latin characters, but also several others that don't appear in English and don't look much like Greek or Cyrillic, so I can't even guess at what's being said - I have to take it on trust that it's a straight translation of Ian's writing and doesn't contain any raving heresies.

I've been sent the translation in PDF format and it's proving difficult to transfer back into Word for processing, so I've asked if I could have a .doc version.  Then the reply came back, and this is where I return to my original point: apparently my request should be possible - except it might take a while, because the guy who translated the book into Lobiri doesn't have electricity.  The nearest town with electricity - never mind the Internet, just basic electricity - is at the other end of 25km's (or 15 miles') worth of dirt tracks.

Which makes my little gripe with BT Broadband seem a bit puny, doesn't it?

- The Colclough

Saturday 26 April 2014

Eventuality Zero

For the first time in almost eight years, you and I are on an equal footing.

I began writing Cylinder and Miserable way back on the 9th of June 2006, and about a year ago I finished writing Series 3 (as noted in this other post); since then I've been publishing steadily without writing any new material, and as of today I have released all extant episodes (2126 of them!), up to and including the end of Series 3 - which means you know everything I do.  Well, you know everything apart from the [MASSIVE SPOILER] which I'm planning for the as-yet-unwritten Series 4... but that doesn't count, because it doesn't really exist until I get round to producing Episodes 2127 onwards.

The previous two times, there was a big lump of overlap: I started writing Series 2 before I'd finished publishing Series 1, and I started writing Series 3 before I'd finished publishing Series 2; not so this time.  In a way, it's apt that there should be a bit more separation between Series 3 and 4, as I'm planning a few changes next time round.  (You'll have to wait and see what those changes are, though.)

Thing is, though, it's not just Cylinder and Miserable.  It's very nearly everything.

Grace and Caffeine wrapped up back in 2010 (noted in my third-ever post on this blog), and despite me having notes for dozens of potential new episodes, I've never got round to producing any of them.  Knowing It's Called Aspergers seems to have reached its natural endpoint as of last summer.  Alien President was only ever a limited-time deal, and is long since completed.  Tim, meanwhile, has put Brothers in Shells on an indefinite hiatus, and long since finished his C&M spinoff Sidewards.  The only other significant comic strip (or project in a similar format) either of us have been involved with is Fort Paradox.

If you've been reading Fort Paradox, you'll have noticed that we ran out of episodes at the beginning of last month.  Again, completely ran out, with no overlap or buffer - Episode 180 was published, without Episode 181 having been written.  We scripted the next thirteen strips a few days later, though, and earlier this week Tim illustrated Episodes 184 and 193, which is the only thing that stopped us reaching "Eventuality Zero": the point where every single one of our comic-strip projects has completely run out of finished-but-unpublished episodes.

I expect the new Fort Paradox strips will take a while to see the light of day, as it's unlikely that we're going to finish the next two chapters in any sort of hurry, and hopefully C&M Series 4 will be in production before FP runs out again, so Eventuality Zero should still be at least a year or two away.  Beyond that... who knows?

In the meantime, though, I intend to enjoy being able to discuss C&M on an equal footing - at least with Tim and Sarah, even if nobody else is paying attention any more.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Expanding the Paper Horizon

I finished a drawing last Tuesday.

Normally, finishing a drawing isn't such a big deal, as I do quite a few of them.  But this one was different: for starters, it was a whole year (a year plus four days, in fact) in the making.  It's impractically large, at nearly 1.2 metres (4') long.  The scariest statistic - which I only just finished calculating tonight, a week later - is that it contains 150 people.  Although when I say 'people', I don't mean fully-detailed humans, I mean little box people in the same vein as the cast of Papercuts.

I drew a bunch of pictures when I was about 9 to 11, showing various small towns populated by fictional creatures of my own design.  I enjoyed them at the time (all 15 of them!), but in retrospect there are all sorts of problems, such as there being far too many doctors' surgeries despite very few people appearing to be sick or injured, or such as a depressing lack of architectural variation from village to village or from building to building.  But somehow, despite the numerous flaws, I still have a bit of a soft spot for these creakingly awful doodles - but I'm still not publishing them.  I bring this up because in some ways, my new work is essentially the same project, just being tackled again 16 years later by an older and wiser version of me.  Okay, so I've transferred the whole thing into a different fictional world, re-populated it with a different species, and generally shaken everything up, but the basic idea of drawing a portrait of a fictional high street remains unchanged, and the new picture contains all sorts of (usually inconspicuous) little nods back to what I was drawing in the late 1990s.

But despite the fact that it radically reboots my "Let's sit down and draw a town off the top of my head" project, Papertowns: Desmonton isn't a whole new world coming into being from scratch, but is actually an expansion of another world which I began a couple of years ago and which I'm very fond of irrespective of its relatively small size: the world of Papercuts.

The seven Papercuts episodes released so far collectively form what I've started referring to as 'Phase I', and they're pretty self-contained, with few or no hints at what the surrounding world might be like.  I'm planning a few changes for 'Phase II' (Episode 8 onwards), such as making an alteration or two to the title-sequence visuals and letting Tim remix the theme tune; another change which has been less consciously planned, but which I suspect will happen anyway, is an increasing awareness of the bigger universe.  Tim's written a script for Phase II which name-drops Desmonton, for example - in the context that Desmonton, as you see it in the new drawing, is the nearest town of any significance to the Papercuts characters' residence.  I've started thinking through details such as how their currency works, which is briefly hinted at in Episode 7 Debt of Gravy-tude and might become more significant in future instalments.  I haven't yet decided which story will lead the charge on Phase II, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the new material develops, hopefully later this year.

Meanwhile, their world is growing in other directions, the first and most significant of which you can see here:

That's Desmonton, sorta - I don't know why Blogger has darkened and dirtied the image so badly.  I'd very much recommend that you go and look at the higher-quality version I've uploaded to DeviantArt, and click the picture there for full resolution.

And I've already started sketching another town... but more on that later.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Twit in the Breathing Mask Is Back

My last post offered something of a post-mortem on Arbitrary Stopframe Series 2.  This one is rather less morbid: The Murkum Show Series 2 is alive and kicking.  I'd already decided on the new location and started getting scripts together before the camera fell silent on the set of Series 1, and the project has been steadily picking up steam since about mid-January.

If you've been watching my YouTube output, you'll have noticed that my post-Papercuts-7 output included an Arbitrary Stopframe special, and then three new Fifteen-Minute Fortress videos - and if you were really observant, you might even have spotted my clever segue from one project into the next: FMF IV "I'll Explain Later" showed me building a rather odd little structure, which remained unidentified at the time (in terms of what I told the audience; obviously I knew what I was doing...), but later turned out to be a specially-built set for the Prologue to Series 2 of The Murkum Show.  No prizes for having spotted that, I'm afraid, except for the feel-good glow inside.

Fifteen-Minute Fortress IV: I'll Explain Later

...and the explanation - The Murkum Show: A Prologue to Series 2

Having filmed the Prologue, I knocked down the set, and (via one or two false starts) began assembling the much larger and more elaborate one which would represent Fort Murk's new Staff Lounge and one or two adjacent areas, ready to film the fifteen episodes which I'd got lined up for the new season.  (In case you're wondering, the recurrence of the number 15 across multiple projects is entirely coincidental; don't start expecting me to make Fifteen: The Movie any time soon, because I won't.)  Series 2 is proceeding much the same way Series 1 did, with episodes being recorded in batches of three at a time, and episode numbers and production-block codes picking up where the first season left off - restarting at Block F and Episode 16, in case you were wondering.

Progress has been (deliberately) rather headlong for the last month or so, with everything finished up to and including Block H / Episode 24 already, and I filmed Block I (Episodes 25 to 27) late last week, with help from Tim and guest appearances from some of his characters.  Oney, also seen in Tim's Alpha One stopmotion shorts, is one of Murkum's men, and his films exist in the same continuity as The Murkum Show (hinted at in Episode 5 last year, but only by video-conference), so it was nice to finally get both characters filming on the same set at the same time.

Last year, I managed to release all 15 episodes on 15 consecutive weekends, with all but one of them releasing on the Saturday, except that Episode 8 had to be pulled forwards to the Friday to accommodate a family weekend away; with no family weekends away planned for the next two or three months, I'm hoping to improve on Season 1's consistency of scheduling and get all 15 of this year's episodes out on 15 consecutive Saturdays.  Two down, thirteen more to go, with the season finale due to broadcast on the 7th of June.

Those two down, which I just mentioned

I'm also hoping to be able to stop saying the number 15 soon.

Check back to my YouTube channel this weekend for Episode 18...

- The Colclough

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Remnants of 2

Don't get used to this.  Arbitrary Stopframe isn't back on a permanent basis, or anything approaching one - this is just a one-off special.

When I finished Series 1 back in November 2011, after filming Sam's rather excellent literal-Monster-Movie script, I decided that enough desk was enough, and if I did a second series then I'd try setting it in the kitchen.  It didn't take me long to come up with two work-in-progress storylines, which I earmarked for Episodes 14 and 15 - one with Zooky the Alien Dog Thing getting into the kitchen and finding a new food source (which may or may not have ended up being chocolate drops), and one with Emily and Snow making a mug of coffee for their animator.

Two years later, however, neither idea had reached a fully-developed filmable state, no more ideas had presented themselves, my attention was being increasingly taken up by Papercuts and The Murkum Show, and I'd been slowly drifting towards the opinion that Arbitrary Stopframe was dead - good and proper dead.  But then (I think on Sunday 5 January) I had an inspired idea: mash those two stories into a single episode, and produce it as a one-off special after Murkum Show Series 2.  That was followed by an even better idea: why wait?  Why not go ahead and do it right now, before TMS S2 had even got started?

So I did.

The revised title sequence is a hint at what might have been - I designed it at the end of 2011, with a view to using it for the entire second season, but now it'll probably only ever appear on this one episode.  The new music is part of the same 7-movement suite as the original theme tune (thanks again to Tim), and already appeared on the show once, as one of the radio selections which Odom doesn't approve of in Episode 8 Headphones.

Turns out our kitchen isn't a great working environment for animation.  A large part of the problem is that it's almost impossible to block out natural light, which neccessitated filming in the evenings when it'd gone dark outside, and it was surprisingly difficult to find an evening when I could have the room to myself - Episode 14 ended up being shot in two halves a week apart, on the last two Wednesday evenings (I'd be interested to see if anybody can spot the break).

Also worth noting: I had no assistance filming the shots of myself holding the mug, and I'm wondering whether anybody can figure out how I got to the shutter release for the frames where both of my hands are visible on screen... not that I'm offering any prizes.

Anyway, as I said, don't get used to this.  My little Arbitrary Stopframe revival thingy is over, and I'm now gearing up for the second season of The Murkum Show.  But I hope you enjoyed the blip while it lasted.

- The Colclough

In Which I Waffled

In case you were wondering how the heck Papercuts ever got made, here's a little peek behind the lens... thought I'd blog this before hurtling off into other projects.

- The Colclough