Archive for the ‘ Progress ’ Category

Mechanical Sympathy Redux – Now with 10 less seconds!

I’ve recently found the time to finally make a few edits to the piece. I’ve been wanting to clean up a few bits since I submitted it as part of my dissertation in late March of this year. I mainly wanted to mix the sound a bit better as I previously did all the audio recording and editing in one day because of a rushed schedule.

I also paid close attention to all the feedback I received during the user evaluations and ignored everyones thoughts and suggestions. It’s my film after all. I did, however, cut some of the still shots at the end of the piece, but not because everyone said to … I just happened to have the same opinion.

I’ve replaced the old version with this one the link is still the same..

Director’s (+ producer’s, script writer’s, editor’s…) cut


Red carpet time

Should have posted this a couple of weeks ago..

Roll up, roll up! Showing all October on a BBC Big Screen near you (if you happen to live in or nearest to the Edinburgh BBC Big Screen).

I was on the bus home the other day and out of the corner of my eye I saw the EKG scene from MS, 25m wide. I completely forgot the Big Screen was showing it. It had the day’s stock exchange figures scrolling down the side and it was quite a strange experience. I really wanted to stand up and point out to my fellow travellers “that’s mine!!”, but social conformity kicked in at the right time and I sat quietly, smiling creepily.

The BBC Big Screen in Edinburgh is showing Mechanical Sympathy every day this month on a loop with other animations (two more of which are mine) between 2-6pm. If you see it, you owe me a fee.. probably.

Making Mechanical Sympathy

Here’s a quick vid I made to document some of the steps I followed in creating the final video.


The dust has finally settled.

Forgive me blog for I have sinned. It has been three months since my last post.

Since then I finished (well not quite, but read on) the project and university and rejoined the human race. I must admit it was a relief not having to log every event in a daily blog, and to be honest even if I did it wouldn’t have been that interesting as all I did was eat, cut my toenails, skype my mam and argue with Virgin Media (I won the argument and got a great discount). I realised that anyone who might have been following the project via this blog would have been subjected to an eternal cliffhanger so I’ve decided to add some closure and help those people back onto the cliff. Their arms must be very very sore at this point, or possibly dislocated.

Previously on..

Okay so the last post was written on Wednesday 23 March, one full week before the project deadline. Now that the audio was in there and the video essentially finished, I uploaded it to Vimeo and set it free. It was a huge weight off my shoulders the get that part out of the way. All that was left was to finish the report and prepare for the presentation session the following Wednesday. Although Wednesday was the submission deadline I had to get it to the printers by Monday morning to ensure it would be bound and printed by the deadline.


Thursday and Friday were consumed with writing and re-drafting the report. I wrote close to 20,000 words in those two days. On Saturday I focused on tidying up my references and formatting the report. While I left a full day for this, thinking that would be plenty of time to get this done, I took it right down to the wire spending a very long day and night ‘fixing’. I also wrote the abstract and acknowledgements that day. It was a funny one, trying to decide who I should thank in print. Plenty of people were helpful but I had to distinguish between the friend-of-a-friend who may have emailed me some inspirational comments and the people who took time out of their busy lives to share valuable knowledge and skills with me. Sunday was spent arranging the user feedback in a manageable and readable fashion. I received an unprecedented amount of comments and feedback and

I’ll have to check with my supervisor but I may be able to post the complete dissertation here.

I got the report off to the printers on Monday which left that evening and Tuesday to design the poster and prepare for the presentation of the project on Wednesday. Since September I had been taking on an increasing amount of stress because of this project and as soon as I emailed the pdf to the printers that Monday it all vanished in one mouse click. This sense of relief made it easy to sit down and enjoy the poster designing process. Here’s the poster I came up with.


The presentation itself would be in the university’s huge computer lab and was open to all students and faculty to come and see our honours projects. We were given a pc to display our work and the poster would be a means of communicating the projects aims and achievements. I chose to display my animation on my laptop as I wanted to play the audio with it and I wasn’t sure if the allocated pc’s were cabable of producing sound. I don’t really remember but I think it lasted three hours. During that time many of my classmates and lots of faculty members viewed the piece, asked questions and gave me good feedback. Richard and my second supervisor Susan popped over to have a look at the final product and told me they were impressed.

I didn’t realise but there was a competition for the best poster that day. I think it was based on a combination of student votes and a final decision by the module leader. Amazingly I won and left £25 (in amazon vouchers..) richer.

I misunderstood the phrase "Ya gotta give head to get ahead"

The award-winning poster in all its shiny glory


The Cleanup

Luckily during the shooting period the landlord/letting agent never dropped by for a visit but now that the project was over I set about transforming the hospital room back into a bedroom. The carpet had to be laid and I had to plug all the nasty holes in the walls. I never got the carpet to fit properly and it was quite creased after I put it back in place but I’ve since moved flat so I don’t really have to worry about that anymore. To give you an idea of how the operation went down, here’s a few pics to illustrate the metamorphosis.

Messiness is next to.. Deviliness?

A bit better, but what about all that 'stuff'?

...and like that, it was gone.

Which is it buddy, carpet or floorboards? You can't have both.

That hoover sucks

Most of this ended up in the bin or I returned it from whence it came - Gumtree!

The holy wall

Hole before..

.. hole no more.

As good as new-ish

instant wall, just add water.



A couple of weeks later I had my Viva Voce. This was a meeting with my supervisor and second supervisor gave them a chance to ask me questions about the project and to clarify any issues based on the report I submitted. Fortunately there were no difficult questions asked and I was able to justify all of my decisions made during the project. Richard and Susan both agreed that I had submitted a very good project but at that point they were only able to tell me that I had passed. The final result would be released on 26 May, over a month later.


Skip forward a month and I got my result for the project, 84%, which turned out to be the highest in the year (there’s no non-smug way of saying that, apart from not mentioning it at all). Suffice to say I was blown away and veryeryery happy.


After I finished uni on 12 April the plan was to go back over the animation and work on it at my own pace and end up with a nice portfolio piece, and possibly something I could enter into animation festivals. A lot of the user feedback agreed on certain changes that I felt could be made to improve the piece and I wanted to make some edits based on these suggestions and also some changes that I never had the time to make during the project. Before I started hacking and re-editing it I wanted to enquire about getting clearance for the audio I used in it. It didn’t make sense to re-edit the video to the songs and then find out I had to change the music. I first contacted the PRS and explained that I had created a short animation as part of a student project and that I was looking for clearance for the music I used. I was told that Mendelsshon’s Wedding March was public domain so I could use it free of charge, but for the ELO and Hank Williams tracks I would have to contact EMI who owned the rights to both. I did so and only last week did I get a reply..

Hi Tom,
Apologies for the delayed response.
After reading over your request I can suggest a fee of £100 (per song) for a yearlong licence to cover film festivals around the UK. This fee is subject to songwriter approval.
Just to let you know, I can go for approval on the Electric Light Orchestra song but I would suggest you look in to using a different song. The approval contact for Jeff Lynne very rarely responds to requests unless they are for big deals. I think the other track will be fairly easy to clear, so if you would like to go ahead with any of the above please let me know and I will seek approval and let you know how we get on.

This wasn’t the best outcome I was hoping for (I suppose the best would have been “yeah you can have all the songs for free! forever!”) and has got me thinking that I might have to change the music. If I do this I have two choices – write my own music or use copyright free/public domain recordings. I’d much prefer to write my own as I really don’t like using songs that everyone else might be using. For me it cheapens the whole project. Initially I had wanted to write my own music for the piece (The ELO track was just a suitable placeholder that became part of it) but as time went by it wasn’t realistic anymore. It’s a shame though that I might not be able to keep the ELO track because I really like how Steppin’ Out drives the emotion of the scene.

Anyway I think that’s enough for now.

Shooting Schedule #3

While I have not been too busy, digitally speaking, I have updated the shooting schedule which accurately reflects the timeline I kept throughout this phase of the project.

Shooting Batches

Schedule Overview

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Video Teaser

Success! I made my girlfriend cry! While I hate to see her upset, this one time made me very happy. I showed her the rough cut of the footage so far and she found it quite upsetting. I’m pleased because this means that I might have been succesful in anthropomorphising an inanimate object. The accompanying music did help the tears flow though. Either way, I’m not a monster and I made up for it by cooking dinner.

I think I’ve nearly got all the shots now. Just the church scene to do at some point over the weekend and I’ll be able to move on to post production. I’m really looking forward to finishing this part now. I’ve enjoyed it but it’s been very frustrating at times. Today alone I’ve knocked over my two lights (which are surprisingly tough) and the camera & tripod (which I caught mere inches from bouncing off the floor), stubbed my toes so many times that I am starting to wonder why I’m not wearing shoes, and managed to unplug my external hard drive half way through a 4 hour render. I can’t wait to throw all this rubbish out and get a nice working environment again but most of all I’m counting down the days before I can open the curtains again!

I realised that I did not have a shot ‘explaining’, or depicting,  the front/face of the machine which is suspended above the patient. This has been nagging at me for a few days so this evening I built the set back up again and shot a few sequences looking down on the face and the machine below. That should do the trick..

Face Off

Here is the tear-inducing rough edit I’ve put together to see how the shots are working together.


This is no way a representative of the final product. It’s just the quickest of renders using un-cropped and untreated footage that were in themselves exported at a low quality. I’m basically trying to build a structure with the clips. I have a few takes of each shot in the video here so even these clips may not be used.

Music – I have chosen Electric Light Orchestra’s Steppin’ Out primarily because of the amazing intro and it compliments the mood I’m going for. I’m not sure if I’ll use it in the final version but it’s nicer than having a silent film to watch. ELO have a knack for writing happy/sad contrasting music, plus they love vocoders almost as much as I do. I was toying with using Pete Drake’s Sleep Walk as it has a great lullaby way about it but it doesn’t have the emotional impact of Steppin’ Out. If I am to use music in the final piece I would like to edit it so that it’s playing from the Reel to Reel player. That could mean ageing the audio digitally, adding artefacts such as noise and pops as well as wow and flutter. If using this song I will edit it so that the chorus doesn’t kick in until after the second flashback. I think it would have more affect then.

I will have different/no music for the flashbacks. The alcoholic scene which shows the tape machine with the bottles will have a section of audio repeating, first a whole vocal line then a specific word or two from that line. Trouble is, I shot the scene but I still haven’t found an appropriate piece of music to go with it. I’m thinking of using a Country/Folk song for the fantastic lyrics they have (most of which contain references to alcohol and loss – perfect!). I’m still searching and I’m thinking now that John Prine may have something to offer.

Close Encounters (Part Three)

I continued taking a few more close up snaps today. These, for want of a better way of saying it, were the death snaps! After examining the rough cut of the footage so far I decided I needed some shots of the machine lying ‘still’ in low light. You would think that I could just pull a single frame from the scenes I have already shot but most of them had the internal dials spinning and they would be too blurry to use as a still shot. I didn’t have the foresight at the time to take still shots so this meant setting up some of the scenes again, mainly the one with the tears in the eyes.

I didn’t spend the usual time on the project today as I had other commitments but I’m hoping to finish all the shooting tomorrow. Though that doesn’t include the ‘wedding day’ scene which I’m still unsure about how/where I’m going to do it. Also, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this already, but I’ve decided to drop the ‘heart beating’ scenes mainly due to time restrictions. I might addthese in at a later stage but for now I can tell the story without them.