Thursday, 5 November 2015

Halloween and Fancy Dress

Happy bonfire night! Dan and I are recovering from both a jetlag-inducing but wonderful trip to Toronto, and our annual Halloween costume insanity which this year began with papier mache and glue in August and ended shortly before we got into a cab on Halloween to go and party. This year, continuing my obsession with 80s fantasy films, we went as an ensemble from Flash Gordon.

Aura (my sis); Flash Gordon (bro in law); Ming the Merciless (me); Voltan (Dan)
Having used cheaper bald wigs before, I invested in a proper Mehron bald cap kit which comes with liquid latex and a bunch of different foundations for blending. Should you need to appear hairless, I recommend this approach. 

Fancy dress (or cosplay as the younglings call it) has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. My mom was a wizard at making something out of nothing, and the challenge for me is always to make a costume as cheaply and inventively as possible. I'd no more hire a costume than dress as a sexy zombie.

I also firmly believe that costumes should be something you always wanted to dress as, something you love. If you love it then it doesn't matter if anyone else has a clue who you are. 

Last year I dressed as Prince Colwyn from the incredible 80s British fantasy film Krull, which hardly anyone has seen. You'd know if you had, it's nuts. Dan went as the cyclops character from the same film but ran out of time to attach his latex mask. I've seen better cyclops, I won't lie. But the effort is the thing.

The weapon is called a glaive. The facial hair is called a beard.

A few years back I made a costume that I'd wanted to do pretty much since childhood. You've seen the Tom Hanks film 'Big', right? Dan was Kuato from Total Recall.

I couldn't pee all night cause this was strapped to me
The year Ray Harryhausen died, my costume was a tribute - his Medusa from 1981 film Clash of the Titans. Not sure I'd do a full body paint again, pretty much impossible to keep intact even with a layer of hairspray over the top.

Getting eviller as I went
When a friend had a 'golden age of TV' themed party, I could finally fulfil my ambition of being Richard O'Brien from The Crystal Maze. Dan ran out of time and had to buy a Teletubby costume, which would have been an unforgivable sin had it not been so funny.

See? Cheap bald wig, not so good.
The Rod Hull and Emu costume below will be baffling to non-Brits, but trust me, it's a corker. I made a fully working Emu puppet from crepe paper and faux-suede, and chased people around the garden with it. By the end of the night my arm was dead but I think we can all agree it was worth it.
I am him

There have been many, many more costumes over the years. So many more. Most pre-date camera phones, and are delegated to memory or a dusty album under the bed, but it's always been worth the effort. If you're tired of playing dress-up, you're tired of fun. Let's see your real character.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Spiders - What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

There are few phobias more wretched than arachnophobia. A proportionally tiny, almost certainly harmless creature will inevitably cross your path now and again, and your reaction is to scream black leggy murder and either run away to find someone who will deal with it, or - if brave - to batter the life out of it with whatever is handy. In the olden days that was a rolled-up newspaper but these days you have to smack spiders with either an iPad or a shoe.

You know it’s stupid, but the shock can last for hours, or even days. Your body, for no apparently rational reason, invokes a huge flight-or-fight response, fills you to the eyeballs with adrenaline, then proceeds to make you jump at shadows, your own hair, a slight breeze, or that green stalk on a tomato, for as long as it takes for the temporary PTSD to pass. That’s Post-Twatting-Spider-Disorder, a condition which should be nothing but instead is stubbornly something. WHY?

Any article on why humans are afraid of spiders is always illustrated by at least one photo of a spider, rendering it unreadable to the people it’s about. It doesn’t really matter though, cause no-one has a definitive answer on why. A combination of learned behaviour (thanks mom) and maybe some evolutionary throwback (although that’s always tricky because not everyone is an arachnophobe, and some studies show greater prevalence among females). 

Anyway, I’ve always had a hefty fear of spiders, and over the decades it’s developed into a pretty debilitating phobia. The list of things I can’t do is large, and although each alone is trivial, combined they become more than an inconvenience. I’m constantly anxious and watching out for spiders, I have to check every corner of a room before I can relax - under pillows, behind curtains, in shoes. I can’t walk around barefoot, either indoors or out, I won’t stay anywhere that has spiders, so no country cottages or camping for me. I won’t use outdoor toilets, I won’t sit on the floor in my own home, I jump at nothing and have thrown up and even fainted upon encountering a spider. I will have night terrors for days after, and have done since I was small. It’s bad. 

What’s the worst that can happen?, well-meaning idiots will ask. Oh my god, have you no imagination?! A spider might GET ON ME. It might crawl across my skin and into my ear and lay eggs and the eggs will hatch INWARDS and EAT MY BRAIN AND EYEBALLS, I don’t know. It’s not a rational fear! You can’t reason me out of something I didn’t reason myself into.

But…then…something happened. The worst happened, or at least one version of the worst. I was lying naked on my belly on the bed the other night, maybe 3am, happily watching some Netlfix on the iPad, when I felt a tickle on the back of my thigh. Usually such tickles are one of the three cats we own, but this was too fast and leggy. I turned to look and yup, there was a large chunky spider pegging it up my leg, in my bed.

A faithful reconstruction of real events

I don’t remember how I got down our spiral staircase (those things are hard to navigate in a rush so maybe I slid down the bannister, no idea) and into the arms of my confused boyfriend who until that moment had been peacefully playing PS4. He said I was screaming so loud he thought there was an intruder. I do remember following him upstairs (by this time I was wearing shoes, but nothing else) and him finding the bastard intruder, going “ugh its big” and me shouting “STAMP ON IT DAN KILL IT NOW” like a Tarantino baddie.

He killed it. We slept downstairs for three nights. Stupid, no? It is what it is, or so I thought. But weirdly, since that was a version of the worst that can happen, I’m somehow ever so slightly less afraid of spiders now. One did crawl on me, in the sanctum of my bed, and I survived. I am brave. I am unharmed. There was one in the bathroom last night and I laughed as the cat paffed it to death. I am not nice. But maybe I am finally getting over this pointless fear.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Chris Hadfield's It's Not Rocket Science

When I was a small girl I wanted to be an astronomer. I also wanted to make cartoons. My best friend and I spent hours writing and drawing a planetary guide for kids like ourselves, mostly copied from the Osborne Book of Astronomy which I still have. It’s hilariously outdated now (poor old Pluto). My cartooning developed in a weekly comic strip about a hunky scientist and his amazing hair, a coincidental prediction of Brian Cox. I wasn’t the best artist, but I didn’t care. The point was to say something that I wanted to say, whether a big important point about the universe, or a daft joke. They hadn't invented Twitter then, you see.

Many years later I had a career in marketing and a copy of what was then new software, Macromedia Flash (since acquired by Adobe). Anyone could learn to animate in Flash, and so I did. Badly, but again the point was to make something rather than just thinking about making something. I made stop-motion comedies from LEGO, pilots for kid’s cartoons that would never be finished, and the beginning of a science CD-ROM inspired by Incarta. Not at all sorry I didn’t finish that one. 

Then the marketing career took over, and I left my ambition alone (but not forgotten) until Thursday December 18th 2008 when I saw Tim Minchin perform his beat poem Storm at Robin Ince’s 8 Lessons and Carols For Godless People at the Bloomsbury Theatre. That night I said to my partner, Dan ‘DC’ Turner, “let’s make that poem into an animation” and three years later the world said “hey that’s great!”. So we quit our day jobs and started an animation company to make, in the main, science cartoons.

If you’d said to me last year “if you could make a science cartoon with anyone, who would it be?”, I’d have said the astronaut Chris Hadfield. So when Chris tweeted that he was planning a YouTube series and was looking for animators, I emailed. I explained about our work, our passion, our ambition. I sent Writer/Producer Evan Hadfield links to our work, and we created some concept art. “He needs a funny sidekick”, I told Dan, “does Chris have a dog?”. Dan Googled, “he has a pug!”. Awesome. Pugs are hilarious. We put Albert the pug in our pitch. It worked. 

So this is the series, It’s Not Rocket Science. We’ve launched a Patreon if you want access to making-of stuff, exclusive videos and photos, even signed Chris Hadfield books. The series will launch on YouTube this Autumn, and I’m very, very excited. I hope you are too.

PS If you’re thinking “yeah but what of your failed ambition to be an astronomer?”, as a kid I variously wanted to be an air hostess, a dancer, a lawyer, Prime Minister, and a truck.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

My Favourite iPad Games

One of the benefits of iPad gaming is that it's portable and games are often designed for extremely casual play. It's not surprising that games you can pop in and play for five minutes here and there are popular with the half of the population that continues to bear the bulk of childcare and domestic responsibilities. When game reviewer Yahtzee described the game Peggle as "crack for housewives", he accidentally (and insultingly) stumbled across the crux of the demographic - not women who have nothing to do, but women who have too much to do. Too much to do for a 100-hour RPG, when evenings and weekends do not represent an empty stretch of free time.

I don't have kids (three cats do not count as children), but I run a business and a home and my intense gaming days are mostly over. I rarely have the time for anything more than a game I can pick up whilst on the toilet or in bed, and put down again when the phone rings or a client emails. Sorry, giant sprawling open world game, it's not you, it's me. IOS is the perfect platform for super casual gaming, not least because I have my iPad or phone with me all the time.

So without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you some of my favourite/most played (in short bursts) iPad games. Some of these are also available on smartphones and in browser, so don't be accusing me of Apple bias.

Kingdom Rush 
Developer: Iron Hide
Genre: Tower defence
Price and link to buy: 79 pee
One of the loveliest things about the Kingdom Rush games is that although there are now two sequels alongside the original, the developers continue to put out new levels and content for the first iteration. So, that's where I recommend you start, but all three are equally wonderful. Dotted with sci fi and fantasy pop culture references, amusing Matt Berry-style voice acting (not actually him though), and cute charaters, each level is an an area which you must protect from invasion by building different types of towers and upgrading them. If you don't generally enjoy tower defence games, you probably won't like this, but I think it's the very best in the genre and funny to boot.

Joe Danger Touch
Developer: Hello Games
Genre: Stunt racing (is that a genre?)
Price and link to buy: 99 pee 
Originally a console game, Joe Danger is probably the best mobile port I've ever played. It's nigh on perfect, which is no mean feat. You are Joe, a stunt motorcycle daredevil type with a big quiff, and you have to complete levels by jumping or ducking or pulling off a stunt in exactly the right place. It's fast and satisfying and the achievements are that brilliant balance of frustrating and winnable. All you do is tap or swipe, it's more about timing than anything, and levels are really short so you can just pop in and pull off one or two stunts while you're doing your Kegels waiting for a bus.

Developer: Amanita Design
Genre: Point-and-click puzzler
Price and link to buy: 3 of pounds and 99 pee 
If you only buy one game from this list, make it this one. Or any of the others, actually, whatever. But this one is the most satisfying standalone iPad experience of the lot. It's pretty old, the iPad version was released in 2011, so let's call it "a classic", but the art style and gameplay hasn't dated at all. You play a wickle wobot called Josef (he's named after the dude who coined the word 'robot', cool) who goes on a perlious but hilarious adventure through a robot-populated city and...well, spoilers. The developers made the equally weird 2005 point-and-click PC game Samorost, which you can play for free here:

Civilisation Revolution 2
Developer: 2K
Genre: You're basically a mix of God and that bloke from Grand Designs
Price and link to buy: 3 of pounds and 99 pee 
If you've played the PC classic Civilisation before, you know the gist. If not, it's more or less explore/uncover a map, start cities, build the Hanging Gardens or some other important Wonder, get invaded by the Zulus for some reason, crush the damn Zulus, launch a nuke at Gandhi. Win. Turn-based and grid-based, the iPad version is a very stripped down incarnation of Civ but extremely satisfying for casual play. Civ Rev 2 is basically a slightly fancier version of Civ Rev, so you're not missing anything by not playing the first version.

Peggle Classic HD
Developer: Popcap 
Genre: uh...arcadey puzzley?
Price and link to buy: 79 whole pee
A game so great, I named my kitten after it. Peggle is a big handful of luck with a sprinkle of skill. You aim and release a ball, and it bounces through a series of pegs, lighting up any it touches. The skill kicks in once you've cleared most of the pegs and need to aim like a snooker player, but the sheer joy of accidentally getting an achievement or really high score is as important as careful strategising. The original is by far the best, but Peggle Blast is a perfectly acceptable freemium version if you don't want to risk the upfront cost.

Plants Vs Zombies HD
Developer: Popcap
Genre: Tower defence again, yeah yeah
Price and link to buy: 79 English pee
Bit of a tower defence theme emerging here. Plants vs Zombies is both cute and just the right level of difficulty to keep you coming back. So far I've played through from the beginning a good three times. The gist is that you plant flowers or vegetables that have specific abilities (the squash squashes, the pea shooter shoots peas, you get the punny idea) to defend your house/self from an incoming zombie horde. I hate zombie games usually, but PvZ is adorable. If you're going to nibble my brains, at least have a traffic cone on your head while you do it. Don't bother with the freemium version, PvZ 2, it's a hot mess.

The Room and The Room Two
Developer: Fireproof Games
Genre: Spooky pokey mystery puzzler
Price and link to buy: 79 pee
If Willy Fog got depressed, read a load of HP Lovecraft then decided to make a game, this might be the result. The Room and its successor The Room Two (and soon, The Room Three), are deeply strange vaguely steampunk horror-ish puzzlers that will make you feel simultaneously smart and stupid. It is light on the scares, but heavy on tension and atmosphere, and most importantly, incredibly crafted. You won't resent paying upfront because the journey is unique. Don't skip ahead and buy the sequel first, that's stupid and wrong and I'll send a creepy antique locked box to your house with a secret note inside saying "redrum".

Farmville 2
Developer: Zynga
Genre: There's a clue in the name
Price and link to download: freemium/your soul
Are you SERIOUS? Farmville???! I know. I know. But...its actually really fun. A stripped-down version of the Facebook game, Farmville 2 has you growing crops, feeding animals and making recipes which you then sell in a little farm shop. It is cute as hell and funny with it. The achievements are knowingly cheesy (Get To The Copper; Here We Goat Again; Sheep Thrills), the animal design and animation is wonderful, and there is a genuine community spirit once you join a co-op and start helping your fellow suckers...I mean farmers. Yes, of course as a free game it pushes you to spend real money, but not to the detriment of your progress. Now and again Zynga partner with a major charity, which is the only time I gave it actual cash (all of which the game assured me would go to the charity). So that's kind of okay. It's a little too easy to spend the game's premium currency, keys, by accidentally tapping the wrong bit of screen, but don't spend any real money on keys. If you waste a virtual key, whatever. You can always watch 15 second adverts to earn more keys, which is horribly Black Mirror but I usually spend those 15 seconds looking at Twitter anyway.

That's it for the first run, don't send me angry tweets saying "what about MY favourite game, you IDIOT?", because either I haven't played it, don't agree with you, or it didn't make the list this time. And no, Minecraft will never appear on my top iPad games lists because it's rubbish on iPad and you should know better. Go and play it on PC or console.

I'll put together a part two as and when I get chance, and please let me know on Twitter if there are any iPad games I should be playing, and have a good time with your bad self.

(Disclaimer: I did not receive any free games or money for this article and the opinions represented here are my true and honest own, guvnor, but also I would really like a Plants vs Zombies plushy).

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Western Digital Creative Champions Competition!

Equipment isn’t everything, but there are some tools you don’t want to work without. When DC Turner and I wanted to make our first animated short, Tim Minchin’s Storm, we needed a Cintiq. You can animate with a regular tablet, but it’s a lot easier to draw directly onto the screen. We were very lucky that the cost of the tablet was covered by supporters of the project, and some fifteen thousand hand-drawn frames later, Storm was complete and has since garnered some 3.5million views.

Another essential tool is digital storage. Rendering is a resource hog, and backups are massive. Anyone working in film or animation runs into storage issues sooner or later, and independent filmmakers don’t necessarily have budget for adequate HDs.

DC Turner and I are on the jury for this lovely competition for aspiring filmmakers and animators from Western Digital to win a frankly enormous amount of storage. It’s open to anyone in the UK, France or Germany, and the closing date is April 19th 2015.

Win this loot!
Winners will receive the following prizes: 2 x WD My Cloud EX2100 OR 1 x WD My Cloud EX4100 4 x WD Red 6 TB 1 x WD My Passport Pro 2TB OR 2 x WD My Passport Ultra 1TB That's 26 TB of storage altogether, with an Approximate Retail Value (ARV) for each prize bundle worth a total of 2,138 Euro to help make your project a reality.
If you have an amazing idea for a feature film, short, documentary or animation, enter here. We’re looking for “fresh ideas that challenge, redefine and inspire with a twist of brilliance and a dash of amazing. Something to believe in, to support, to champion”. Best of luck!