Experiments In Cutout Animation

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Design Objectives

To create an animation inspired by Smallfilms (Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine etc.)
As a long time fan of Smallfilms (Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin), a dabble in cutout animation a few years ago, (See here) got me thinking it was now time to do a little better. As I now stay away from home for much of the week with work, many of my physical build projects are on hold. Fortunately as I have a computer with me during my travels a little animation work could be done. I am amazed how Smallfilms managed in a barn in Canterbury with a 16mm cine camera and bits of painted paper. We are so lucky nowadays to have computers and effects software which makes this work so much easier and requires much less skill.

More progress on developing an animation style. In order to find a quicker way to simulate watercolours I have been reading up on the net and found that it can be achieved in Paint Shop Pro 8 using a brush stroke effect. The background is separated into outline and colour, then a brush stroke effect applied to the colour and a slight softening of the edge layer completes the look. This also seems to work on stock photos quite well and helps them to blend into the overall scene. The mountains in the following image are done this way with a stock photo and a separately vector drawn edge. I have also added a few more details such a the grass along the bottom of the wall. The characters have also improved with extra shading and correct scaling of the textures. all this work in Paint Shop Pro is helping me learn the software and I am now becoming much quicker a doing what I want. Next job is to develop some more characters and whilst doing so try to improve my technique further. As a CAD Engineer by trade I am used to having everything perfect, so I must resist the temptation to tinker too much as it really is a waste of time and would affect the overall style.


The first task is to have a look at some Smallfilms footage and try to absorb the style which I like so much. It seems the drawings are done with ink pen and water colours which give them such a distinct "overcast day" style. Here is a picture of Thor Nogson from Noggin the Nog. Quite a lot of detail when you examine it closely. The characters have large heads and hands and all seem somewhat overweight and stocky. They all use muted colours and cross hatched detail. I love these characters, so If I can get a style of my own inspired by them I will be more than happy.

As I don't have much equipment with me such as watercolours and ink pens and even less talent as an artist, there will have to be compromises somewhere, so here is what I have come up with so far.

Thor Nogson is traced off screen from Noggin the Nog and coloured by me. The character on the right is a roman soldier drawn by myself in the same style and flood coloured in Paint Shop Pro. Its very flat and 2D in the style of american cell animation. This isn't what I am after.  The character on the left has been textured using images off the net. This is much better and with some more cross hatching to lift the characters from the page I think I may be onto something more like it. This work has got me thinking that using stock photos from the net (see mountains in background) is a bad idea. The simple charm of Smallfilms is lost when you do this. Material textures do work well though and I should experiment to see the best scale for these so they are more visible on the characters. The roman soldier looks good so perhaps a story called "Hadrians War" would be nice...More development still required.