Sunday, 10 January 2016

Episode I


This is a very belated Star Wars related (accidentally rhyming with excellent timing) piece of writing. I'm not going to delve into my own review, because I'm not a film critic and I'm certainly not capable of writing anything mildy serious. Instead, I'm going to write a few words as a Star Wars fan, a cinema goer and a twenty nine year old child.

I ******* loved it. I loved the film. I love Star Wars. I bloody love you. I went to the midnight viewing, opening night, with my good friend Daniel James after an evening of blue milk (courtesy of Aunt Beru), the Christmas Special (courtesy of bad taste) and watching the loveable BB-8 patrol the room (simply a courtesy). I was very nervous; I could feel my heart pounding the closer I got to screen 7. I honestly don't think I have ever felt so excited, scared and emotionally drained in such a hypnotic way. 

I have since watched it two more times, bringing the total to thrice. And if the Odeon cinema prices were a little more fanboy friendly it could easily have been double figures. I just found it so rewatchable. There were absolutely loads of easter eggs and nods to the original trilogy; I pointed out, in a flailing fashion, Luke's training remote, a box droid, the hologram chess set, Luke's lightsaber (which actually played a vital role in the film), the Empires' mouse droid, quotes from Obi-wan and Yoda and even a trash compactor reference (eep!). Here is my conclusion in the medium of video...

I've had rather an intense December, regarding Star Wars, due to the convention I attended early on in the month and, of course, the lead up to The Force Awakens. To summarise, I have had more Star Wars toys, costumes, books, comics, badges, limited editions, signed photographs, outtings, tshirts and socks than I did when I was a child. Being twenty nine at the moment, I have the same affiliation with toys in general to the ten year old Thomas. This puts things vaguely into perspective, roughly placing my peak of intelect and maturity at the age of twenty two (second year of University and career driven) and gives me a forecast into how my life might pan out. Thus speaking, I predict that my next peak of responsible obligation will be at the ripe age of forty eight. Here, I made a graph;

Regardless of such extensive calculations, there is certainly a pattern emerging. This is exactly why I'm so lucky to be working in the animation industry; everyone has toys, mascots, models and can quote from Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future and Indiana Jones (to say but a very few). You have to be a man child to work in a place like this!

So proud

So it's 2016 now, hey? Well, shit. I have already eaten several pounds of leftover cheese and not batted a chubby eyelid on exercising. But I have thought about my productivity in a creative sense, especially when I realised that I hadn't used my SLR camera for nion a whole bloody year. So I have a list of things I either need to finish or have wanted to make for god knows how long. Here we go...

  • Stoppit & Tidyup sculpts (paint them!)
  • Bird feeder for Nan and Grandad (assemble it fool!)
  • Millenium Falcon and Tie Fighter Airfix (build, paint, admire)
  • Finn & Jake Adventure Time toothbrush stand (incredibly belated Xmas present for Lucy)
  • Helms Deep model [Warhammer scale] (what? Dream on!)
  • Illustrate and paint my own card range 
  • actually use my digital SLR camera

Ultimately, in light of a new year, one might consider an absolute new venture. And mine is the possibility of working abroad. I've already started to look at other studios in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, some of which are rather big (*cough* LAIKA). This is nothing to do with my current work at Factory because, like Yamination Studios, it has made me the model maker I am today.

I am more than happy to stay here in Manchester, I absolutely love working at Factory, but when you hear that a fellow colleague has had job offers at both LAIKA and WETA Workshop, you can have the tendency to feel outrageously jealous. Jealous of YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE YOU LUCKY BASTARD!!! hehe *grits teeth*.

I haven't been idle. I have begun the ol' CV revamp, showreel updating and googling everything else. But with a new hope comes a phantom menace in the form of a very despairing electronic mail. It was from a chap called Nick from across the pond and from what I gather, the studio is no more...


It sounded very Hollywood; I actually imagined King Theodon's voice when reading Nick's email. But I shall quest on. If anything gives me more ambition in life, it's to keep the stop motion going. Or in true fashion of The Tribe it's to 'Keep The Dream Alive' (Have you seen The Tribe? It used to be on Channel5. It's really amazing, I have the DVD box sets of all five seasons if you want to borrow? I couldn't recommend it enough!).

Speaking of must see television, now that Scream Street has finally hit our screens, I do believe (whilst raising an eyebrow) that I am allowed (looks from left to right) to show a collection of my props and on set photographs! I do have an entire gallery, folders upon folders, but have selected a meagre handful to portray the goings on within the art department of Factory Create. You'll find out in the next blog post whether this has gotten me fired or not.

Yamination Studios. As I forementioned, this place has made me the model maker I am today, which is largely down to Drew Roper and Yossel Simpson. I firmly believe that I have kissed enough ass on this blog concerning these guys, so I'm going to hold back the praise. Sorry gentlemen! But this week was pretty huge for the studio and all those involved with Drew's animated film 'At-Issue'. It only bloody premiered on SkyArts! There is a fantastic article in the Birmingham Mail here which outlines the scale of production from start to finish. It also includes a stirling photograph of the original Yamination crew from days of old, where I am the proud owner of a new name. Tony Grainger anyone?!

There's been a fair few blog posts covering my time at Yaminations, so feel free to peruse. I remember starting out in the studio and helping Drew with the beginings of the 'street set', which is present for the majority of the film. This was back in September 2012 people; well over three years ago!

A few models of mine; and on set in Barts home.

The years have whizzed by since the start of this production, but nothing has gone to waste. From working with Drew, I have been a part of two other animated projects (advertisements for Coca Cola and Cravendale), met a huge amount of talent from within the industry and learnt a very particular set of skills that Liam Neeson would be jealous of. And for that I am eternally grateful.

So wherever I am in 2016, be it Manchester or a Galaxy, far far away... you can always find me on here! Or on Youtube doing things like this...

Friday, 27 November 2015

Episode VI

Something to start us off with...

Although I never went to any of the Manchester Animation Festival (hashtagMAF), I still place myself in a position to say that it was an utter success (hashtagFreeloader). I really should have booked a couple of days off from work as the whole thing sounded tremendous but, alas, I did not. Perhaps it was just another event that passed me by; I hate that. I seem to be doing it more often, which is possibly why I feel so distant from animation, regardless of working alongside it on a daily basis. What I mean (to save confusion) is that I haven't animated for well over two years and I'm not happy about that one bit. 

Needless to say, after meeting up with my old University tutors Laura Weston and Daryl Marsh, amongst many more animation folk, it sounds like this newly titled animation festival will most definitely be an annual event. And when surrounded by such prestigiousness (ha! it's actually a word. I thought I'd get a squiggly line underneath!) you can become very much inspired. 

I also met Joanna Quinn! But embarrassingly had no idea it was her. And crumbs was I embarrassed, because I casually sat by and allowed my job history to be told, courtesy of the ever obliging Laura Weston. For those who don't know, need reminding or revel in my regaling of such times... I used to work at Princethorpe College as a dinnerlady-man. 


But hey, it eventually led me to this point. And I like to think of the experience as an absolute positive. How else would my model making skills 'cater' for all... *huge proud grin*

Something tremendous happened in the Clangers household; they won the 'pre-school animation BAFTA' award. The Clangers studio is wall to wall against our Scream Street studio, so you can only imagine the raucous and lashings of champagne (one professional glass each, of course) that carried throughout the day. And deservedly so! The BAFTA trophy was also brought to the forefront of the celebrations...

Hey! I worked for three months on
this production. Little bit of credit
where little bit of credit's due!


Scream Street is currently running on Wednesdays at 5pm on CBBC. Alternatively, if you're a modern day technological braggart you can catch up on iplayer with the most recent episode Zoo of the Weird. I haven't actually watched this one, but I've heard that it's the best one yet. Hmm I thought I heard that last week. 

There are usually about five to six members of the art department working on Scream Street at any one time (freelancing in and out; as is our adventurous trade) and each one of us has our own personal projects. This is obviously not in the midst of working hours, but during lunch or if we arrive outrageously early.
     For example, Lorna has been building a Boba Fett outfit for her chap, Rachel is working on a BMO, from Adventure Time, sculpt for her boyfriend (of which I'm pretty sure is a surprise, so don't read this if you're currently dating Rachel Crook) and my good man Josh is constructing a wooden X-Wing starfighter for a gerbil cage. How's that hey? And as for me...

...I am going back to the days of Airfix and those glorious cast models of all your favourite flying things. Besides, I couldn't possibly resist the Millenium Falcon now could I?

Oh good grief, did I have an outrageously busy October? Yes, yes I did. And it took me from Manchester to London and all the way to bloomin' Budapest. But I shan't talk about the latter as it was a messy messy stag do (hashtagLADSONTOUR). I worked for two weeks down at Elstree Studios, north London, with the art director I met on Newzoids. This was a terrific experience as it was for a live action childrens tv show Gory Games, a spin off from the popular show Horrible Histories. So I was part of the art department, working very long hours, making props and prizes, designing logos and graphics and most importantly learning how to make gunge!

I couldn't help myself. Elstree Studios is sacred land.

A pencil drawing of my cousin for his 21st birthday. 

And finally (this may well be a running theme; the ol' two cents of Tommy Grainger) I shall leave you with a masterpiece in stop motion... Head Over Heels by Timothy Reckart. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Episode V

Sometimes the call of duty may surpass your average daily routine, where enjoying those strange, random, albeit hilarious, YouTube videos is simply not enough. Sometimes you need to become the fool and create a rather special video with a good ol' chum of yours. Welcome to TommyRob Shimuu. We're not quite sure of the whys or hows of the situation; more so the why nots and how the bloody hell shall we film that eh? What I'm trying to say is; I am a fool. And so is Rob Millard. So please watch how we've used this to our advantage...

But tomfoolery aside, I have actually been doing some productive and creative work to advocate my place in the art world; in the fine medium of sculpting. Now, unfinished they may be, once painted these models will hopefully play a role in the bigger project of which I shall one day pursue. Stoppit and Tidyup was a children's animated television show from the late eighties, and something that I was always enthralled with when I was younger. Each episode was named after the character, whose turn it was to lead the narrative, but the beauty of these strange characters was their names. As you may notice, Stoppit and Tidyup are short 'sayings' that a grown up may say to a child. This seemed to be the point of the show; to give a novel and fun perception to these sayings. Other characters included Eat Your Greens, Take Care, Bee-have and Bee-Quiet and the villainous I Said No

I still need to figure out how to sculpt Tidyup's hair (the
dude on the left) and give Clean Your Teeth (the chap
on the right) a bit of a colour introduction.

And here are the dynamic duo themselves

I attended Manchester Comic Con back in June (extreme past tense here; it's been a while since I last wrote an entry) and it was so much fun! It was the first Comic Con I had ever been to, so I needed to make a fashion statement. And in true Tommy Grainger style, this meant home made fancy dress. 

I have realised that this episode seems to revolve more around fancy dress and costumes than animation and model making. I have been making things, but the majority of which remains in the studio (and this can absolutely not be published on a blog!). But the new series Scream Street is airing soon, so I suppose (in theory) as soon as I see one of my props on screen I can highlight, screenshot, photograph and point frantically to my hearts content. Scream Street has also begun its promotional campaign, where the first two episodes have been screened to the press. Reviews, TV spots and behind the scenes videos [click HERE for once involving the voice actors] are popping up everywhere. There will even be a cinema spot before the screening of the animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 which is both a great and a scary concept due to the size of the screen and the extreme close ups on our attention to detail (or coincidentally, lack of).

Marketing for Scream Street has gone bananas. This is the new website.

It seems so long ago since I started this production. Granted, I haven't been working on it full time, but enough to earn myself a credit. Which is AMAZING. I will hopefully be working on Scream Street for some time but there are still many opportunities up at Factory Create. So if you're a budding model maker or set dresser and actually reading my blog, then stop reading now! I'll forgive you eventually, but for goodness sake get your ass up to Manchester (twinned with Portland, Oregon; the other animation capital). 

Oh, and before you go...

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Episode IV

Sod off, I've been on holiday.

And now, as I very gradually slouch a little lower in my lazy stupor, I have almost succumbed to day time television; and I'll tell you why. I have just returned from a beautiful and glorious jaunt around parts of Europe, but now realise that I need to jump start my creative mojo. I mean, do you know how long it takes for me to write these bloody things or paint a picture? A day! (this is, however, calculated by adding up all the twenty minute sessions from the past three months). Either way, it's just bananas.

Although, today I did find an inspiring saviour and I'm baffled to why I hadn't listened to it before: the Skwigly Podcast (above). Why am I only discovering it now? Tell me that! I've got 29 episodes to catch up on now, so Come Dine With Me can go f**k itself (no wait! I'll still have it on in the background). The Skwigly website is something that I was aware of but hadn't fully explored, mainly due to my arch nemesis and fully capable distraction YouTube. But these podcasts are really great and I would highly recommend them to anybody who is interested in all things animated.

A perplexed woodpecker

I've decided to pull my finger out (excuse the term) and finally get my British wildlife paintings finished. Admittedly it is hard to distinguish your own style, especially if you want to sell them in a card range for example. I have noticed the surplus in watercolour and fine-liner card designs, usually of quirky animals with flailing limbs, which is why it proves quite the task to be original. But my style has always been the same and I've been meaning to do this for bloody years, so I can't change my stripes now! Here are a few of them...

A ravenous fox

A courageous field mouse

A patient kingfisher

I don't think I will ever understand, or ceased to be surprised at, the career tangents of a model maker and where they might end up next. Duly noted; there are many aspects of model making, however, going from set dressing on Newzoids to constructing mounts at Manchester Museum just simply baffles the mind. It certainly shows that in the majority of cases (and this is by no means a snub) you really don't need a CV or even a degree; it's who you bloody know. And in this case, I know Alan!

It is really great to remain in the model making industry, one way or another, and I do have my good friend Alan to thank for that. He introduced me to John; the sugar-daddy of the workshop at Manchester Museum. He has furthered my skills within the workshop, of which I have been very grateful. So for now I am happy to have that option of working in a non-animation environment, because it's still me making things. 

The job was, in fact, to make mounts for the objects in the collection. These  were made from acrylic sheets and reformed in bespoke ways to fit whatever shape the object in question needed. So for example, the wooden 'mallet' required a couple of padded slots on the mount so that it wouldn't slide off. It was a combination of acrylic rods, holes and bending of the acrylic sheets that allowed us to create each individual mount. 

To bend the acrylic sheets I used a strip heater, which was basically a table fitted hot wire. Levers on the side of this 'table' allowed you to lift and bend the sheet over (to your chosen angle) once it was hot enough. Leave it to set for a few minutes and hey presto! Admittedly it was a repetitive process, but because each mount was so specific to the ancient object it was never tedious. I was the Indiana Jones of the workshop. Yeah, you heard.

The Pharaoh sarcophagus was really the paramount object of the Egyptian collection that needed mine and Johns full attention. To make things doubly problematic, it was in two pieces! Madness ensued. It didn't really, it was relatively straight forward. The folks from conservation (keepers and preservers of all the artefacts within the museum) were very impressed with how the sarcophagus looked upon the mount. It wasn't quite finished before I left, but the acrylic hooks and MDF 'shelves were in place. I was rather pleased with it all. 

The video above, Amaro and Walden's Joyride, was something that the Skwigly podcast actually recommended as they talked about new and upcoming animated shorts. This is such a great idea; the filming alone, in and around the remote control car, is an amazing feat. Then you add in the 2D characters and it just becomes a joyride to watch. 

I was pondering whether I should divulge in to all the incredible panels, trailers and movie news from this years San Diego Comic Con. But I could be here for ages, for there were treats galore! Of course, the highlights were the Batman v Superman trailer and the Suicide Squad trailer. I think there was a pretty sweet Deadpool trailer too, but it's not been released online just yet (not a HD version anyway, just a bumbling iphone version). But there was something rather special from the Star Wars panel. Not only did all the cast members appear, including the legacy trio, to much gusto, but JJ and co premièred a reel that showed us a little more from The Force Awakens camp. Take a look guys, it's absolutely bloody marvellous. 

And finally, watch a few episodes of the Clangers because they really are amazing. Factory have done such a spectacular job on sustaining the sentimental value, but also pumped some 21st century knitomation (this will become a word; knitted + animation) into these wonderful characters. Follow the link to BBC iplayer HERE and get involved. Just remember that I made the cotton wool trees!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Episode III

With the Newzoids production under way, I've been auto piloting for quite some time and not necessarily had the energy to do anything creative. I work long hours dammit! The only drawing I've done in the past month has been a caricature of my friend Andy (something for his wedding invitations), of which he piped up with what's wrong with my head? Perhaps the bastard's right. Maybe I am out of practice and need to get my pencil fingers back into gear. Pencil fingers; that's a phrase right? I did paint a glorious watercolour picture of my Aunty Val's house in the countryside for her birthday, but regretfully forgot to take a photograph.... so why on earth should you believe me?! When this production ends and the weeks return to normal for me (I work Friday-Tuesday, giving me a midweek weekend. Confused?) I might begin making props and sets for an animation I have in mind.

It all began when I uncovered an ancient storyboard that I had once drawn up in my years at Staffordshire University. It was Star Wars related, so naturally it received my undivided attention. It takes place on the forest moon of Endor, during the aftermath of the battle, and follows a group of troopers as they rally together and figure out how they were beaten by furry, yet savage, Ewoks. I read it a few times and realised that it did have potential. My original plan was to use the forest set from The Money Tree animation and introduce my Star Wars figures (fully poseable) as the puppets and stars of this short episode. Anyway, I am currently finishing the storyboard and hopefully there might be some progression on the designing front. Or it could all be another elaborate ruse to pay with my Star Wars toys.

I follow various movie news and review channels on YouTube. They're informative, interesting and if you find the right presenters then you're having a right ol' time. Anyway, this one chap Mr Sunday Movies has quite the sense of humour and this might well be one of my favourite videos from him. It also helps that it's animated. And, you know, I'm an animator. And I like that sort of stuff. AND YOU WILL TOO.

I still do watch as much animation as possible. I recently finished the entire series of Star Wars Rebels, which takes place between episodes III and IV, and was incredible. But I think I'm talking about this as a fanboy and perhaps not as an animator enthusiast (but I am one!). For those connoisseurs of majestic animation, I have invested in The Illusionist on DVD. I have only seen clips of this traditionally drawn masterpiece and it does look absolutely stunning. So when I have time, I will sit down with some chocolate hobnobs and a glass of milk and in the words of T-Rex; Get It On.

Stuart Messinger and Suzie Templeton preparing for the talk

I was lucky enough to get invited back to Staffordshire University, not for the oatcakes, but for an audience with Suzie Templeton; inspiring animator and Academy Award winning director for her short film Peter and the Wolf (2006). So, accompanied by my esteemed colleague Daniel James, we drove magnificently towards the city of Stoke-on-Trent to get involved in this privileged event.

If you haven't already seen this rendition of the classic fable, then you're a bloody fool missing out on something rather special. And after listening to Suzie talk about her film, you can begin to understand why it holds up as a quintessential, and very recognisable, piece of stop motion. For instance, her decision to ditch the dialogue (inspired by a Pet Shop Boys concert, accompanied by nothing but striking visuals) allows the music to emote the characters and their relationships with each other. Along with the beautifully huge sets and charming character designs (which was a joint collaboration with a group of younger adults. By which I mean... TEN YEARS OLD!) it still looks and feels bloody marvellous. Check out her website, especially the behind the scenes section on this film as it's truly flabberghasting.

Speaking of awesome things...

I am actually nearing the end of my time on Newzoids; I believe there might be a month left on my contract. So apart from revisiting my epic Star Wars animation (working title being 'epic Star Wars animation') I shall be searching for yet another model making quest. And what shalt thy quest be? Thus far my adventures have been rewarding and full of awesomeness, hopefully they will continue, but when? where? how and why?

Find out, in the next episode of The Adventures of Tom's Thumb...
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