I guess. This year my spare time has been mainly about figuring out how to make games, at least when I'm not playing them. Or thinking about them. Or watching stuff about them. I'm obsessed really, which is why it's ridiculous that it's taken me this long to come to the conclusion that I should be making one.
I dabbled with Game Maker a bit towards the end of last year, but was messing about trying to make some 'animation tool' or something - I want to make a GAME! I want to make a Shmup cos I love Shmups, and I want it to feel good to play, and I want to sell it maybe to people on Steam or PSN or Switch or anywhere that'll have it, and I want it to be as good as something like Downwell, or Resogun (it probably won't be as good as Resogun or Downwell). There, I said it.
It turns out to be bloody hard to do that tho, so here I shall document my struggles!
At the start of the year I bought myself a copy of the latest version of Game Maker Studio and got to work on some tutorials by the likes of Shaun Spalding and Gloomy Toad on Youtube. These guys, and I'm sure others, are great at taking you through the code and explaining what's what. It's extremely daunting at first for someone with zero experience with coding, but concepts and thought processes are slowly sinking in now, and I can start to go off the beaten track a bit and implement ideas of my own, albeit sloppily and inefficiently.
Having followed the Gloomy Toad platformer tutorial until there were no more videos left (footage of the results above)
I felt able to adapt that code into my first idea for a Shmup - a Defender style game with a Zoetrope (my other obsession) twist! The idea being that the player slowly builds up the Zoetrope style animation by activating the frames, while fending off enemies, and then takes on a Boss fight at the end of the level as they accelerate to the right speed for the Zoetrope to come into effetc, providing a lovely animated backdrop for all the violence.
I got the general concept of it working relatively easily (probably about three weeks of struggle that a programmer could've done in a day) - you can get the general idea in the video above, probably best to full screen it as the Zoetroipe effect isn't too clear when small. The feel and theme and context of it all was a complete mess tho, so I took a break from the coding side of things for a bit to try and nail down the visuals and come up with some sort of background and context for the game mechanics.
Click images for bigger images
Hux made a comback for a bit, and I cooked up some silly idea in my head that he was trying to stop an invasion of his planet or something by activating a defense system that happened to work very much like a Zoetrope. Pretty stupid, but it helped me push the visuals forward a bit (and away from the confines of pixel art, which was limiting my thinking a bit I think), and I also took a bit of inspiration from a lovely feeling, looking and sounding game called Gonner, by trying to simplify and clean up the visuals. Which in turn led me to just stick in some frames of an actual Zoetrope I'd made, to see how it might look.
It was getting better, but still felt wrong and a bit forced to me. I feel like someting has clicked into place now tho, with the latest complete overhaul of the visuals. The aforementioned Zoetrope frame I used was from this Zoetrope I made a few yaears ago now, which was essentially utilising an enlarged drawn on film technique...
Like what Norman McLaren done! This is as far as I've got so far, but it feels like I've landed on a good style - it's unique as far as games go (to my knowledge), it's nice and abstract so I don't really need to worry about bothersome story and stuff, and it fits the Zoetrope conept perfectly!
While I've been working on this, I've hired a programmer via the Game Maker forums to help me out with some character movement
coding, as realistically I'm never going to be able to do this all myself. Once he's done with that, I'll start implementing this new style and see where it goes from there...
06/01/17 - Robin Game Test
This time in video game form. I thought I'd have a go at doing some coding in Game Maker, having never done any sort of coding before. This capture footage is all in engine, including the editing and sound, but running at 30 fps instead of 60 because
my screen cap software can't do 60fps.
It's been a pretty steep learning curve so far, and all I've really done is figure out how to change the animation sequences based on what buttons are being pressed, but I'm pretty happy with that. I might try to think up some actual game mechanics to implement with this, but I'm also tempted to just continue refining the animations and to use the game engine as a puppetry tool for animating a film of some sort.
Either way, I could do with a decent Mac version of Game Maker as the only one available at the minute is a pretty old, buggy version that doesn't deal with alpha channels (hence the pixel style, which I'd probably rather avoid, going for something like below instead).
02/08/16 - Robin Studies
I've just been working on some movement studies for a potential short film, trying to get used to animating something approaching a character - the style and design will be developed further at some point, I'm just using After Effects vectors at the moment for the sake of speed.
24/05/16 - Pixels
I did this the other day, it's the first part of a story I wrote ages ago involving trails of kebab meat, a boy in a cage in a forest and giant octopi from space. Subtle stuff. I may do the next picture at some point, although the framing process is a bit of a pain in the arse, so who knows when?
You can click the image to see it bigger, if you want...
25/02/16 - Integral Society 3D Zoetrope
My first paid zoetrope job! I'm not able to show any video of it yet unfortunately, but here are some stills from the collaboration with The Edge Picture Company and designer Garance Marneur.
21/10/15 - A Couple Of Tests
I built a rig out of lolipop sticks for my camera and stuck these boxes to it. Camera rig mark 2 is currently under construction, addressing some camera wobble issues. I'm gonna make a whole film based around these ideas.
This piece of animation is a bit weird out of context, but that's how I like it. It's from a show for early years kids called Dot, Squiggle and Rest, a joint production between Polka Theatre and the Royal Opera House.
This part of the show was developed from a proposal I made during the initial R&D session for the project, the idea being for the musicians to interpret the animated images (in this case a dot following variously shaped lines) as they would a more traditional musical score, similar to the graphic notation technique developed in the 50's by experimental composers. It was good fun playing about with these, and we felt it would be an engaging idea for the kids to enjoy, so once the theme of the garden emerged it seemed sensible to replace the dots with the struggling little Ladybird. I then worked pretty closely with the composer, Elspeth Brooke, to figure out the structure of the sequence, the various kinds of shapes to use and the build up of the mini narrative so that she could write the music for it, leaving some space for the performers to interact with the animation. Here are a few of the most relevant original proposals edited together...
Directed by Joy Haynes
Music and sound design by Elspeth Brooke
Performed by Jasmiina Sipila, Zosia Jagodzinska and Sarah Dacey
Set design by Michalis Kokkoliadis
lighting design by Azusa Ono
Photos from Polka Theatre website
24/06/15 - Laser Cut Zoetrope
This is what I would've exhibited in Paris, had that gone ahead. It's the first zoetrope that I've not actually physically made myself, as you can probably tell. I designed it all in After Effects, Sketchup and Ilustrator and sent it off to the nice people at Flux in Glasgow to get laser cut and engraved in clear acrylic.
It looks pretty good under certain lighting conditions, but it's still not quite what I was after
- the circle animations are probably a bit too subtle and possibly too crowded, and I would've preferred a more solid look I think. Below are some of the mock ups I made...
I'm gonna give zoetropes a break for a bit now (there's another one in the works, coming soon), and make a music video or something.
13/04/15 - That Zoetrope I've Been On About For Two Years
Here it is! This edit's been sitting around twiddling it's thumbs for ages as I wasn't happy with it really, but what the heck here it is anyway. Might get around to doing sound for it one day, but I've said that before.
Ok, a bit more detail, if you insist. The idea for this one was to create this eerie, writhing object that could be viewed as a whole and that would reveal more detailed levels of animation as you got closer to it. This just didn't work, whether it was because of the materials I used, the density of the layers and ink or the lighting set up, I'm not too sure. However, I tried to salvage something from the footage so I ended up layering and compiositing it in after effects, with fairly interesting results I guess - I just don't really like doing that with these zoetropes because I feel it takes something away from the technique. Anyway, next one coming soon...
11/11/14 - BYOB - NeoN Closing Party
Another tentative step towards the Paris exhibition next year, I tested out a zoetrope in public for the first time the other night.
BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) was this year's closing party for the NeoN digital arts festival in Dundee, and they put out an open call for people bring their stuff along to project. I was really just interested to see how it would work in an exhibition-like space, how people would react to it, would they get what was going on, would there be too much going on, would it just look good and make sense etc etc.
Here's the set up (no decent video unfortunately, as my camera was providing the live feed for the wall projection).
It's basically the same as the IPT2 video, but it was all happening live in the space.
I think it actually worked really well and is probably the best way to present the zoetropes, as it's all laid bare in front of you so it's easy to make the connections and understand what's going on, as opposed to the videos I post online, which I think require too much of an explanation of the processes behind them. Looking forward to coming up with something fancy for this exhibition now :)
06/11/14 - Cardboard Quickie
It looks like I'm going to be taking part in an exhibition in Paris next year (more on that as it happens), involving some sort of zoetrope set up, so I wanted to start thinking about the sort of thing I might do for it. The 20 layer stuff I've been playing about with (see previous posts) is far too flimsy to be carting across Europe I think, so I need to come up with something more sturdy for the trip. I put this cardboard thing together without too much thought, over a couple of weeks I had to spare recently.
It has the usual problem of the central parts not really working properly and it doesn't really work well when the whole object is in view (hence the series of close up shots in that video), but I like the pulsating movement and the flickering colours. I've already got more ideas on how to take this approach forward, possibly inviolving a laser cutter for more intricate stuff, if I can get access to one.
Here's a Photoshop mock up.
08/10/14 - Some Abstract Ideas
These are just a few quick animations I put together as part of my research for a job I'm working on at the moment. They're a bit too intense for the 2 year old target audience, so I thought I'd put them here instead. The sound is done in Nanoloop, a bit of software that allows you to play about with the sound chip of the original grey brick Gameboy.
03/07/14 - Zoetrope Update
Hello, I've finished building and filming (pretty much) the latest Zoetrope! Yay!
It's not quite ready to be shown off in all it's glory yet as I'm collaborating with artist Sam Spreckley (he's working on some sound design for it) on a little abstract (very) short film with it. I'll go into more detail on it once the film's done, but here's a photo for now to get you excited!
Also, I've been doing a bit of blogging over on my Film Annex profile about my development of the zoetrope technique over the years, as a sort of build up to this film, with added hindsight, regrets, highs and lows - I'm hoping they might give a slightly different perspective to the generally of-the-moment ramblings I tend to post on here, so please do check them out if you're interested.
Just thought I'd put a couple of things up that I did for SPK over the last year. First up, The Adventures Of Isabel, a dance piece for kids, interspersed with animations and currently in the R&D phase (hence the lack of info in that banner image) but coming to schools in and around Dundee soonish. The gif below is part of the intro sequence, but on a loop. (Edit: I've stuck the finished poster for the show in here now too)
And this is a poster I did for Dundee Dance Partnership's Dance Trail last year, which takes the audience on a tour of Dundee, with people dancing all over it. It was a 50's theme.
29/04/14 - I Have Been Working On Stuff, Honest
Bloody hell, it's nearly a year since I posted anything! It's been a busy year, it's just I've not really done much I've felt belongs on the site for one reason or another.
I've worked on a couple of projects for Norwich Puppet Theatre, both of which were really good fun, but I totally failed to capture any footage of the shows that would do them justice, and the animations just wouldn't make sense on their own, out of context. And the same goes for the two or three jobs I've done for dance company Smallpetitklein. I should get my act together really.
Anyway, I have been slowly but surely plugging away at my latest zoetrope effort in between jobs, so I thought I'd stick a few images and a video up here for anyone who's curious.
This is the mock up I made in After Effects, so in theory the final thing should look something like this.
Having filmed just the few layers in the images below, I'm a bit scared that I'm going to have some major issues when it comes to lighting this thing. The
parts of the acetate that I've roughened up with sand paper are possibly too opaque, so I've stopped that part of the process for now until I've got all the layers in place to see how they work together. I'm hoping that a strong enough back light in combination with some projection from above will solve any issues, but I'm not overly optimistic. This could end up being a rather time consuming lesson to learn...
Fingers crossed though, I'm sure I'll sort something out.
I have plans to collaborate with a sound designer mate on this one, so keep an eye out, should have something to see before the year is out.
29/05/13 - TED-Ed
I've just finished working on this animation for TED's educational website, and
just been published. I was given the voiceover track,
written and recorded by Ron Shaneyfelt, a high school astronomy teacher and educational
program manager for NASA, and came up with the animation in about four and a
website is designed as a resource for teachers, and if you go to the individual
of the animations you can use the video as a starting point to devise a more
discussion or lesson based on the subject.
18/03/13 - IPT2 Projection Animation
I uploaded this to vimeo a while ago and forgot to post it here.
It's the original animation that was projected onto my balsa
wood 3D Zoetrope for the IPT2 Battles music video.
You can make out the seperate circles pretty easily here - these
are the shapes that I mapped out first of all, projecting the
after effects composition onto the zoetrope as I was doing it.
All I did then was figure out what colors and patterns worked
well and then synched up the transitions with the music. I kind
like how something so shitty looking is so completely transformed
when it's projected onto it's intended surface - without that,
it's a pretty embarrassing piece of animation :)
11/02/13 - 20
Layers Of 3D Zoetrope
It's been a while since I've posted anything, but I've been busy
over the last couple of months trying to push the zoetrope stuff
forward while I had some spare
time. This is the first quick test of the new system that I just filmed, trying
to create an overall parent shape and movement before focusing
in on the individual surfaces of each layer...
So I decided a while ago that I wanted to construct some sort of base that would
allow me to accurately place multiple layers of animation in the zoetrope, and
few false starts with various laser cutting, CNC routing and aqua cutting companies (all
of which said my plans were too delicate for their machines), I finally arrived
at 3D printing as a solution.
This is the final design, in Sketchup, that was printed by 3D
Creation Lab. After a couple of re-designs (mainly
to get the cost down, as
is based on the volume of the material being printed) I decided
to go for this modular approach, which allows me to replace any
of the 33 'spokes' that plug into the central piece,
And ^ here's ^ the actual base - I'm pretty happy with it, even
though my massive hands do find it a bit tricky and fiddly
to insert all the layers. I'm just trying out various
designs for now to determine the best materials
to use and how far I can push them with regards to height and
weight etc. and I'll be playing about with transparencies and
printed animations on each of the 20 surfaces as well.
06/08/12 - Sonis Web Advert
I made this little web advert with Garry
Whitton about a year
ago for Sonis' Compact security device, but unfortunately it
didn't get used by the company (hence the unfinished sound
design). We're still quite happy with it though - Garry did
design and animation and I was in charge of
as well as the effects and rabbit animation.
- Within This Dust
I've just finished work on a piece of animation
for Dundee based dance company Smallpetitklein and
their dance piece 'Within This Dust'.
Within This Dust is a dance theatre piece which explores Richard
Drew's iconic photographs of a man falling from the World
Trade Centre during the 9/11 attacks. The animation will
be screened in between two of the dance pieces.
As you can see, I took some pretty direct inspiration from
the famous photo, but decided to focus on the patterns and
of the buildings rather than the falling figures, mainly because
to tackle such a delicate subject head on like that (especially
given the relatively short time I had to make it). I was quite
happy to concentrate on creating and experimenting with more
abstract imagery, and the
crumpled paper (an idea taken directly from the design of the
dance piece) provided a great visual metaphor that neatly allowed
me to avoid
having to tackle a
more literal interpretation.
Within This Dust will be performed at this year's Edinburgh
Festival Fringe from the 7th to the 19th of August at Dance
22) 14-16 Grassmarket, Edinburgh. More
07/07/12 - Dundee Dance Walk
The guys from Scottish Dance Theatre asked me to design this
map for their recent dance walk around Dundee, featuring lots
of dancey things from the Dundee
05/07/12 - Worselings - Teeth and Brain
My mate's band Worselings asked me to do some artwork for their
new EP, and I said 'ok then'. Hear
What On Earth!? premiered last week at the Rep Theatre
in Dundee. Here's a little edit of some of the footage I took
at the dress rehearsals...
The video below, Joan
Clevillé performing Duck's Dream during the dress rehearsals, is my
favourite part of the show I think, and probably the most successful
bit of collaboration between dance, choreography
and animation in the project.
Both Joan and Solène
performs the same part in the other cast of the show) really
bring the piece to life and I love the way they seamlessly
react to what's going on behind them - it's better than I could
hoped for thanks to them, and of course Sally Owen who choreographed
this section. Thanks guys!
EDIT: The soundtrack has been muted on Youtube because it's a Beatles track and I guess they're fussy about these sorts of things. Just imagine 'Because' by the Beatles if you can :D Sorry!
Needless to say, there were one or two technical issues to
sort out during the technical rehearsals, but I guess that's
these things are for :) The biggest (and scariest the first
time I saw it) was that the projector seemed to want to horizontally
stretch all of my animations. This was probably caused by the
lense being used and the fact that the projector didn't seem
resolution I had rendered everything in. Not to worry though,
I ended up simply squashing everything in Final Cut
before rendering it out again so when it was stretched by the
this time it just looked as it should do - not an ideal solution,
but it was all I had time to do unfortunately.
Another slightly trickier problem to figure out was some quite
ugly looking areas of the projection that appeared as
spots in certain areas of some of the animations. It turned
out that these were 'hot spots' on the screen, where
the projector bounces any particularly bright parts of the
image back off the white of the screen at the viewer.
We tried to fix it by playing about with the colour and brightness
well as pretty much every other setting, out of desperation)
on the projector, but I ended up having to adjust some of the
layers in one of the original animations (the clouds in Duck's
Dream) and re-render the whole thing. Apparently this is a
though that could also have been solved by hanging some white
gauze in front of the screen to diffuse the light slightly.
and learn :)
Those were the only major problems though, the rest of
the setting up process was (for me anyway) pretty relaxed.
Emma Jones, did a great job of lighting the whole show in just
a couple of days (so many cues!) and she was really sympathetic
to the animations and made sure they all worked as well as
they possibly could with all that light bouncing about. Thanks
The show as a whole went down really well with the kids, lots
of random laughs and giggles at bits of the show that didn't
seem that funny to us usually, but that's all good :) There
are of course parts of it that I would do differently if I'd
more time to work on them, mainly to add more detail to certain
as the end of the Shadery section where you hear the sound
of the trees being chopped down - it would've been nice to
around a bit more with that transition, as well as a few others,
but it's always the case that there's stuff you'd like to change
I think. Sally and Janet did an amazing job of
pulling the whole piece together during
the couple of days they had in the theatre leading up to the
first performance. It was really interesting to see them refine
all the transitions and connections between scenes and I was
quite surprised at how much of a difference these seemingly
subtle changes made to the piece as a whole. I think they plan
refining and editing it before the show hopefully goes on tour
later in the year...
It's always a bit sad when a great project like this comes
to an end, but it's been such a pleasure to work with everyone
at the Scottish Dance Theatre - huge thanks to everyone there,
especially Sally and Janet for being such generous collaborators,
and of course all of the amazingly talented dancers who brought
the show to life with such energy.
I hope you've enjoyed reading
my ramblings about the whole thing
too. I'll shut up about it now :D