Marco Polo – The Space Between

I really loved the artistry in the title sequence for Marco Polo – the art direction is just perfect, drawing as it does on traditional Chinese painting, but with the underlying themes coming through in the imagery.

There’s a great article over on The Space Between, the Mills own behind-the-scenes blog, on how the title sequence was put together and where the art direction and themes came from. It’s well worth a read.

The most interesting part for me was the creation of the ink effects, using a high-speed camera so they could better control the timing of the footage later on, and recreating the artwork with water on heavy stock paper – when the ink was added, it spread out following the invisible water artwork. It’s an great technique that works really well for the piece.

How To Improve Capitalism

Or at least, here are some ideas on ways that we could change it – I always feel that a video like this works best if it prompts you to at least think about the questions being raised, even if you don’t necessarily agree with all the answers – thinking about these problems (rather than just accepting the status quo) is the first step to finding workable solutions.

This is also the most recent project that I’ve worked on. The client in this case was Alain de Botton – a contact that I picked up through Twitter.

Starting with the script and voiceover provided by Alain, I had a chat with him to go over the project, check what his requirements were, who the intended audience were and so on. I was also able to ask if he had any specific themes or styles in mind for the piece (he liked the Guardian piece that I’d worked on with Alex Purcell, so I went with a similar art style). From there I created all the concepts, worked up the art direction for the piece, built all the art assets in Illustrator, and animated everything in After Effects. Sound design was done by Jonny Elwyn.

One thing that I specifically wanted to avoid was the use of maps when talking about countries – it’s used everywhere (as it’s frequently the shortest distance between information and understanding) but ultimately it’s just not that interesting. I felt the capitalist machine concept, with different countries being represented as machines painted in their respective flags, would work well for the subject matter (and I was able to play around with it a little bit – for example, Sweden has a lot more furniture on it’s conveyor belts).

It was a fun project to work on, as it’s always great when you have a bit of creative freedom. The release into the wilds of the internet has also gone well. At the time of writing, it’s been viewed over ten thousand times on YouTube, with likes far outweighing dislikes (always a good sign!).

Rufus Hound seemed to like it.


But the main thing is that the client was happy with it. It’s always great when you get feedback like this:

“The film is terrific, everything I could have hoped for. You’ve done a fantastic job. Thank you so much.” Alain de Botton

Forgive the absence…

I had a rather busy end to 2014! I’ll be posting more stuff here soon but I just wanted to quickly draw your attention to this motion graphics piece featuring an Ira Glass quote that I’m very fond of.

I’m not a hundred percent certain who created it, but I’ve been told it was probably Saar Oz. Really lovely work – and thanks to Dieter who’s tweet sparked this post in the first place.

Characters In Motion

A quick post, as I just saw this and loved it. This is going to be very much an animation nerd post, so ye be warned.

Big Hero Six is the new film from Disney, and by all accounts it’s a great film – we in the UK won’t actually know until the end of January because apparently oceans are still a thing.

There’s a great bit of playlist that’s been released as part of the marketing, a character study for each of the main characters in the film. It’s a great exercise to do as for animators who are developing a character, to feel out how they should be animated for a film – you pick a simple action, such as walking into a room and sitting down in a chair.


It’s a straightforward thing to do, and mechanically animating it to feel believable is one thing – but animating with character is something else. Every single one of the tests has different choices that speak to who that person is, what they feel about themselves, how they treat others. Now you’re not just moving things around on screen, you’re creating the illusion of life. Really brilliant stuff from the guys at Disney and I’m seriously looking forward to the film. As I said, animation nerd.

Learn All The Things

Never stop learning. Words to live by. At least in my opinion, which is pretty much the entirety of blogs that I write. They are about things that I enjoy, am fascinated by, things that I love. Sometimes that’s about work that I’m doing, or music that I’m into right now, or films that I enjoy or … well, you get the idea. Things I like, things I love.

In this case, it’s about learning in general.

I am eternally curious. I find everything and everyone interesting on some level. So a website like YouTube, which has endless hours of video of people discussing things, ranting about things, or just explaining things – it’s a bit like my kryptonite. I can and do spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos, usually coming away enriched by the experience. Now, I may not always agree with what I’m finding out about, but that’s where thinking critically about the things you are told comes in – learning about something is always only the first step.

Make-up tips? Not my thing. Discussion of historical minutiae with an astoundingly British accent. More my thing.

I wanted to highlight a couple of channels that produce content I particularly enjoy. The first is CGP Grey and the second is called CrashCourse.

CGP Grey produces interesting fact-filled videos that have demanded the death of the penny, highlighted oddities of geography, and really specifically detailed the relationships between certain nations (including the one I happen to live in).

He also did a video on of my favourite things ever – coffee.

CrashCourse takes a wider view. Hosted by brothers John Green and Hank Green, their videos feature a combination of pieces to camera, animated motion graphics and a tone that’s light but informative. I’ve watched the entirety of their historical output (World History and American History) and am finding time, when I can, to watch their more science-based content. I also really want to dip into their psychology material.

Of course a lot of the time on YouTube I’m watching tutorials – there’s a vast amount of content out there. Some of it is incredibly useful, some of it … less so. But with tutorials I always bear in mind not only the techniques someone is using, but ways those techniques could be adapted, tweaked, changed, so that it becomes a new tool in the creative workshop.


P.S. I am a fairly strong consumer of content as well as making it, so I’ll be doing some posts in future that are spotlights on things that I particularly love – books, films, music, whatever. These will be categorised as ‘spotlights’ over on the right so should make them easy enough to find. I’m sure you’re thrilled.

You’re Going To Need A Bigger Camera

Sequoia are big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big they are. I mean, you may think you’ve got a big tree down the end of your garden, but that’s just a sapling to a sequoia… (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

The largest of them all is called the President and is so huge it had never been captured in an individual image before, until a team of photographers from National Geographic back in 2012 decided the time had come for the President to have his moment on film.

Some of the photographs they captured during the work are just astonishing. This article header in particular is a favourite of mind – just how small and insignificant the team look compared to the awesome majesty of the tree.

Most astonishing of all is that the President is still growing, at a rate of a cubic metre of wood a year.

Ice Caves Are Cool

Um. Sorry about the title, I couldn’t help myself.

Strapping a GoPro to a drone is one way of getting some fairly astonishing footage – as the fireworks from Florida have shown – and here’s another example from Alaska. The drone pilot in this case took his little flyer right into the ice caves of the Mendenhall Glacier, getting floating POV shots that would be far too difficult to get any other way. I’m really excited to see what kind of new techniques and images are going to come from drones as they become more and more prevalent (let’s leave aside the privacy issues for the moment, which are troublesome for sure).

Drone Flights and Fireworks

One thing that I have stumbled across – and am eagerly awaiting the release of – is the new drone from Parrot. Called Bebop it’s got HD video and all that jazz, but even more interestingly, it’s got support for the Oculus Rift.

Which is, frankly, bonkers.

It’s the first drone product that has genuinely grabbed me as ‘something that I want to own’, although I’m also desperate to know what song they use in the video for it (answers on a postcard! Or preferably, in comments below).

And when I have my drone, I wonder if I’ll be brave enough to take it through a fireworks display, as one enterprising chap from Florida did recently. Some of the footage he captured is astonishing. At least I won’t have to strap a GoPro to my Bebop in order to get similar shots.

Glen Keane – The Duet

One of the great things about being an animator is that every now and then, you get to sit back and just lose yourself in something that’s utterly masterful – someone producing stuff that’s heartfelt, beautifully rendered and just perfect.

I know, I know. I’m gushing. That’s because I finally got around to watching Glen Keane’s new short film ‘The Duet’, entirely animated by Glen himself, and you can see his style in every frame. Enjoy.

Japan Cubed

So I was experimenting with a technique in a video tutorial that the guys over at Greyscale Gorilla put together a long time ago (I would highly recommend the training over at Greyscale if you haven’t checked it out yet, there’s some great ideas for people looking to bring some 3D into their motion graphics projects – and their products are also fantastic).

I made the choice of using photos from Japan as a little throwback to when I lived there (and not at all because I’m feeling a little nostalgic for Nippon-koku, honest). The technique from the tutorial allows for a huge amount of flexibility in the images that are used and the timing of everything, and it’s perfect for transitions and photo montages. I’ll be playing with this idea in future as I already have some thoughts on things I want to try with it.

Of course there’s always things about it that I would tweak, but for a five second test done in a couple of hours I’m happy with it.