25 November, 2010

Mind the Gap Theatre Group Photographed in the Foyer for Denis Darzacq Project

A very well known French artist, Denis Darzacq, stopped by the Museum today with Bradford based theatre group Mind the Gap to take some photographs for a new project they are working on together.

Museum visitors watched as the group was photographed moving across the Museum floor together.

Denis has been capturing similar images across the city which will feature in an exhibition he plans to show across large scale exhibitions in Bradford and Paris.

More of his work can be found on Denis' website:


12 November, 2010

Fay Godwin Cameras On Loan from the British Library

Our Fay Godwin exhibition 'Land Revisited' recently received a welcome addition when a delayed loan from the British Library was finally installed.

Colin Harding, Curator of Photographic Technology, who curated the show, can be seen here installing several pieces of Fay Godwin's photographic equipment. These include two of her cameras, together with some of her original printing notes and contact sheets.

There are two of Fay Godwin's cameras on display - a Hasselblad 500C/M camera fitted with a Planar f2.8 50mm lens and a Leica M6 camera fitted with a Summicron f2 35mm lens. Both of these cameras would have been used to produce some of the images included in the exhibition.

Also on display is a folder containing some of Fay Godwin's contact sheets. Contact sheets show an unaltered positive print of the original negative that has not been enlarged. They are useful to show the quality of the negatives and are used by photographers to select which print to enlarge. Colin has chosen to show the contact sheet for one of Fay Godwin's most celebrated images, Flooded tree, Derwentwater (1981). Careful study of the contact sheets reveals that she photographed this location several times on different occasions, waiting until the conditions were exactly what she wanted.

A folder containing Fay Godwin's original negatives is also added to the display, open at the page containing her negatives for the Flooded Tree image. She made careful notes on a pencil sketch of the photograph to remind her how best to print from the chosen negative. These notes show areas highlighted to 'hold back' and others which need additional exposure. Such detailed attention resulted in the final exhibition print, framed and on show next to the display case.

These loaned objects add a further insight into the absolute clarity of Fay Godwin's photographic vision, her meticulous attention to detail, and her quest for technical excellence. It was this approach which ultimately resulted in the beautiful exhibition prints currently on show in Gallery Two until 27 March next year.

Thanks to Colin for this post.

11 November, 2010

Nexus Retrospective - BAF 2010 Part 5

Professor Paul Wells sat in conversation with three of the Nexus team: Alan Smith, Adam Foulkes and Jim Le Feuvre, before which the audience were treated to a retrospective of their work, which includes (impressively), an Oscar nominated short, Grammy Nominated and MTV Award winning music videos, and Cannes Grand Prix, Gold Lions and Black D&AD pencil winning commercials.

The three talked about how they got into animation, and early successes during the Channel 4 animation boom. At this time, animation was embraced by the commercial market, and though there is an assumed schism between arts culture and commerce, the commercial world provides the necessary revenue to move individual talents forward.

Despite this, Nexus advocate choosing work wisely and trying out new styles wherever possible rather than returning to a comfort zone. All three are still very much exploring the craft of animation, remembering that 'form follows feasibility'.

When asked about the tension between old and new school animation styles, their resounding opinion is 'Digital Tools? Bring them on!". For Jim, sometimes the most satisfying thing is the context of the animation, not the visual finish - he cites as an example the Beefy and Lamby series of adverts.

An interesting discussion took place around the issue of archiving - obviously something that's very close to the Museum's heart. Adam, Alan and Jim say that they almost never think about it, though they recognise the importance of preserving their output for future generations, having experienced animation being exhibited alongside art which is generally considered as belonging to 'high culture'.

Somewhat surprisingly, according to the three, animators don't consider that their work is worth saving even though they realise the importance of other people's work.

Thanks to Adam, Alan and Jim, for their insight into animating for the commercial world, and their resounding passion for the art of 'making stuff move'.

BAF Game day 2 overview - BAF 2010 Part 4

Tom Woolley, Curator of New Media at the Museum and BAF Game programmer, provides an overview of the final day of BAF Game at Bradford Animation Festival 2010:

The second day of the BAF Game talks took place up the road from the National Media Museum in the luxurious surroundings of the Great Hall at the University of Bradford.

Tim Heaton, Studio Director at the Creative Assembly kicked things off by talking about the history of the company and explaining all the different roles in the team behind the BAFTA winning Total War franchise. Tim also talked about the devout following the Total War games have attracted and revealed that the award-winning strategy games have nearly 1 million players with an astounding average play time of 91 hours.

Next up was Adam Green, Director of Assyria Studios, a small independent development house Adam formed last year during his University gap year. Assyria specialise in addictive, casual games for mobile platforms and have already caught the attention of Sony and Apple. Adam’s talk was an inspiring presentation with lots of practical advice on the challenges of setting up your own studio. Continuing the casual game theme, Simon Barratt from Bradford based studio Four Door Lemon then spoke about the ins and outs of making games for Apple devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

3D glasses were given out to the audience in the afternoon so they could enjoy Ian Bickerstaff's talk about the history and uses of stereoscopic 3D technology. A Senior Engineer at Sony, Ian is heavily involved with the recent push behind 3D technology. He explained how to get the best results from using stereo 3D in games to create more immersive experiences. A fervent crowd then welcomed Andy Brunton to the stage. Lead animator at Lionhead, Andy has worked on both Fable 2 and Fable 3 and revealed how the animation team works with coders to produce seamless interactive game characters. Andy showed lots of examples of animation tests and even added a few rather brutal execution scenes that got cut from the final game.

The concluding panel session chaired by Game Republic’s Jamie Sefton offered perspective on how technology impacts the games industry, particularly relevant considering the day’s release of the Microsoft Kinect peripheral. The discussion carried on over drinks in the University atrium before the Street Fighter 2 tournament took place in the Museum’s Games Lounge.

Enslaved: Ninja Theory - BAF2010 Part 3

Based on an ancient chinese story, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the latest game produced by Cambridge-based studio Ninja Theory whose Lead Animator, Guy Midgeley and Senior Animator, James Stevenson joined us to talk about character animation, narrative, and the involvement of actor Andy Serkis and writer Alex Garland in the project.

It was important to consider character interaction and realism: Originally Monkey had a brutish nature and Trip was a futuristic goth, but the two characters need to relate to each other as their relationship builds, and so their physical forms were toned down for congruity.

For fidelity, ease and so the characters can perform actions in-game that you can't recreate in real life, the in-game animation was hand drawn rather than produced using motion capture. We were shown a series of videos shot at Ninja Theory HQ with the team acting out some character motions used as a reference point for their animations - a process which the team highly recommend in order to understand how the body works and create realistic looking in-game movement.

To avoid videogame cliches, Alex was brought in as a story writer, and Andy Serkis came on board as cinematic director and actor for the cut scenes which were shot using motion capture - he had worked with the team previously on Heavenly Sword. The cut scenes drive the story, develop characters and give the game a cinematic feel. To avoid the pitfall of disconnction between cut scenes and game play, Alex was involved throughout the process and played through the game to ensure its integrity.

In summary, the talk was a useful lesson in story and character development with the audience being taken through Ninja Theory's creative process and what to consider when you want a cinematic game with a decent story.

BAF 2010 day one came to a close with the Guardian Tech weekly podcast captured live in Pictureville cinema. Hosted by the Guardian's games columnist Keith Stuart, the session featured interviews with the aforementioned games guru Charles Cecil, writer and journalist Keiron Gillen. and games artist Dan Pinchbeck.

Look out for the podcast or listen from the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast page.

10 November, 2010

Doctor Who: Adventure Games - BAF 2010 Part 2

BAF welcomed back legendary games developer Charles Cecil (last seen at the Museum acting as an official invigilator when we beat the World Record for simultaneous Nintendo DS gaming) alongside Sean Millard from Sumo Digital and Anwen Aspden, BBC Executive Producer - all here to talk about their involvement on the Doctor Who: Adventure Games series.

So why did they do it? The BBC had planned on producing four interactive episodes for the latest reincarnation of the series, but went one step further and created something special with free downloadable games - over 1.6 million downloads so far, and more episodes to come.

The pitch went out all over the world, but landed in Sumo's lap. Charles had worked successfully with the Sheffield based company before (Broken Sword) but it was their grasp of the brand and production values in only two scenes of their pitch video which sealed the deal.

The Doctor - with sonic screwdriver acting as a skeleton key allowing him to go virtually anywhere, and his tendency to negotiate rather than fight, is an unlikely game hero, but Sumo overcame these issues by using avoidance, discovery and infiltration. The developers also need to ensure that they didn't assume gaming knowledge nor make the game too complex for Doctor Who's expansive audience range.

Sean is obviously thrilled that he was given the opportunity to create a Doctor Who character - the Cyberslaves - which could potentially appear in a televised episode; he claims it's the coolest thing he's done during his 20 year career. Charles went through the process of creating the cyberslaves under the protective guidance of the Beeb, and concluded that it is the human behind the monster which is most frightening.

The actors movements (Matt Smith and Karen Gillan) were shot using rotoscope rather than motion capture, which enabled Sumo to animate the characters in game. The resulting facial textures were too realistic and the BBC felt that it was "too dark", so removing the texture and smoothing out any lines was the computer equivalent of putting the actors into make up. An interesting analogy.

"The second coolest thing" for Sean is seeing his company's game advertised during primetime - this level of publicity is generally a rap on the knuckles for disrupting the nation's youth.

Charles revealed that his experiences working with the BBC on the Doctor Who Adventure Games are "a lesson in how to market": Keep it a secret, then blitz it and surprise everybody.

During the Q&A we learned that the funding for the game came from public service money, but it created such a buzz at Comic-con that there are plans in place to sell it abroad.

The audience expressed a desire to see some of the Doctor's previous incarnations crop up in the game, and the team, as passionate as they are about the brand and their product, clearly hope so too. And so the celebrated heritage of the Doctor continues.

09 November, 2010

Brink: Splash Damage - BAF 2010 Part 1

Bradford Animation Festival is here once again. Day one of the biggest annual event at the Museum, indeed the biggest animation festival in the UK, and the crowds alreading gathering in the foyer and Pictureville show signs of this being yet another successful year.

BAF's audience is always a joy to see - a devoted bunch of enthusiasts, industry professionals, industry hopefuls and students just starting out on the road to a hopefully brilliant career. Enough of the scene setting... on with the show.

The first session of the day was an exclusive with Tim Appleby and Lauren Austin from Splash Damage who talked about the concept art and character design behind one of the 'most queued-for' games at this year's Eurogamer Expo: Brink.

A round of applause followed the cinematic trailer - there is a definite buzz surrounding this game. The pair took us through the story, the style of the two main factions, how they developed those styles, and then on body types, character customisation, overlays and tints. Everything from initial concepts to facial hair.

One thing which does stand out about Brink is that there is not one recognisable character - but about twenty of them, each with their own name and identity - a useful tip for game character designers.

"Customisation doesn't lend itself to quality", but Splash Damage wanted to focus on the quality, and in doing so discovered that "limitation spurs invention". Now, I couldn't go into too much technical detail* - partly because you might not understand it, mostly because I certainly don't, but it does make a lot of sense.

For example - all heads need to be the same width to ensure the head gear can be used for all characters, so instead they played about with length.

Lauren clearly had a lot of fun developing these characters, sometimes taking her inspiration from celebrity mashups (Danny Trejo vs Jason Statham, anyone? Sounds post-apocalyptic to me!)

And in a sea of post-apocalyptic first person shooters, this game stands out. Not only is it colourful, but it has a whole range of characters and customisation options which helps with player investment and gives Brink an instantly recognisable look.

So, here's Splash Damage's three golden nuggets:

1. Start simple and protoype early.
2. Make sure there is close collaboration as you develop your characters.
3. Designs need to reflect technical limitations.

*If you want to hear the finer technical detail, look out for all the podcasts from BAF 2010 which will appear on the new National Media Museum website in the very near future.