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Peppa Pig, CelAction 2D and the Future of British Animation

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You can tell that Astley Baker Davies are serious Premier League animators by the Bafta nomination certificate nestling in the corner of their studio. You can also tell that they are more worried about the animation than the accolades by the fact that they have framed the Bafta certificate but not quite got around to hanging it on the wall. The creators of the award winning Peppa Pig, their studio (not surprisingly called Peppa Pig studio) is the venue for the first week long Cel Action 2D course open to independent animators. Not unnaturally, for such a very sought after computer programme, the limited places for this intensive course were snapped up weeks ago. The course is slickly organised by the Peppa Pig production manager Claire Wexler who, if the pig peppered (alright, alright!) studio is anything to go by, must occasionally wake up in a cold sweat dreaming of brightly coloured pork based cartoons. The course tutor Joris Van Hulzen, who is also one of the creative forces behind Peppa Pig, took each pupil patiently through their animated paces. Every so often a gem of insider wisdom would fall from his lips such as the ever changing arm colour of Peppa Pig to fit in with the different backgrounds. If my children have noticed this going on they havent let on to their poor old father.

With the CelAction 2D programme, creator Andy Blazdell has a system which is currently being used on some of the very best animation coming from these shores, including Peppa Pig as well as the eagerly awaited Collingwood OHare series The Secret Show. Such quality animations amply demonstrate the adaptability of CelAction which can be tailored towards a sharp pre-school classic in Peppa Pig or a very sixties, swing style for The Secret Show. The joy of CelAction is that at one end of the spectrum it is a highly professional programme capable of producing top quality series and at the other end is a system of such simplicity that in just a week it can be picked up by animators who have never previously been exposed to any computer animation. The only way this is possible is because the system is totally based on the working methods of animators and constantly tweaked by Andy Blazdell who fully understands and appreciates the needs of the animator. The layout of the screen can be adjusted to differing work methods, allowing the animator to work with greater depth whilst keeping track of what is happening. A simple to use Dope Sheet sits neatly down the side of the screen and as one pupil said as an animator, I immediately recognise where I am supposed to be. It is very much a computer programme for the animator. Simple really.

Joris Van Hulzen as with any training, spends as much time teaching what to do when you press the wrong vutton (sic!) and lose work but there is no doubt that the animators present are mightily impressed by the system. Beverley Isaacs, who has animated in traditional 2D, stop motion, you name it, opts for the long eyelash approach to persuade Andy Blazdell to part company with a copy of CelAction. It is an approach which would melt any mere mortal. Not Andy Blazdell. Hes a man on a mission.

You see CelAction is not available in a shop near you. It would be prohibitively expensive, if Andy would indeed sell it to you and leasing the programme is only available to animators for specific funded projects. This may sound like economic suicide particularly as CelAction is marketed largely by word of mouth, but it is a measured and deliberate policy to provide a fully tailored and technically supported system to top level animation projects. Like Astley Baker Davies, the animation comes first and I am sure that Beverley will be back with eyelashes and the killer project.

At the end of the week Mark Davies and Neville Astley are mightily impressed by the quality of the work produced by the animators and it is heartening to see talent that walks into any studio without too many problems. It would be churlish to name check any but I would certainly recommend that a look at Shaun Askews www.holistic-hamster.com website is well worthwhile.

It seems to me that with such talented animators, focused and intelligent programme producers in Andy and market leaders such as Mark and Neville, British animation is in a pretty good state. I think the Bafta nomination should go on the wall. I’ll be round with my hammer.

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