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MOVE SUMMIT 19 – 21 February 2020 Edinburgh, Scotland

MOVE SUMMIT - Scotland’s Premier Animation Gathering

Scotland’s Premier Animation Gathering


  For the second year in a row, I had the honor to participate in MOVE Summit. I delivered a paper and participated in the peer-review process. I also really enjoyed teaching a session on pitching techniques.

  MOVE is just as inspiring for the guests as it is for the audience. Not only do I come away knowing much more about the Scottish animation industry, but I also get to listen to talks given by to internationally renowned figures in the animation world speak. The symposium brings together creatives from film, television, advertising, games, and the visual arts.

  From its humble beginnings in 2017 as a one-day event attended by 240 people, MOVE Summit has grown into a major event on the Scottish animation calendar with roughly 1,000 participants this year. There were as many as five separate rooms full to capacity at times with workshops and presentations in the Pleasance Compound. This historic compound is also one of the main venues of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and derives its name from the Scottish word pleasance, meaning a park or garden.

  The first day of the symposium was Emerging Talent Day, devoted to college and university students from throughout Scotland along with their course leaders. The morning got off to a rousing start when Pixar Graphic Art Director Craig Foster took to the stage to talk about how It’s All in the Details.

Craig Foster

  Craig joined Pixar in 2004 as a graphic designer on The Incredibles and has worked on nearly every Pixar feature since, including Toy Story 4. His attention to detail was obvious as he spoke about how, just like in real life, everything in a film, down to the tiniest detail, has a story. He and the team that he works with do extensive research to make sure that the label of every can in a kitchen cupboard, everything in an antique shop, is accurate and believable down to the smallest detail.

  Craig told the packed audience that “ . . .by building in rich detail into all of the things that you see on screen, we ( at Pixar) are making the world more believable and authentic, so that you the viewer can relax a little and accept that you’re not watching a movie about toys that talk, but rather are being led into this hidden world and going on an adventure right alongside the characters”. He emphasized that this concept weaves itself into all aspects of Pixar films. To illustrate his points, Craig showed us close-ups of objects in the antique shop sequence from the then not released Toy Story 4.

  On Thursday Foster gave another presentation titled Behind the Lamp. For this talk, he gave the audience a look at his career and told how he ended up at Pixar. He is a very entertaining speaker who liberally peppered his talks with numerous pictures which made them extremely entertaining presentations. Craig was kept busy during his visit to MOVE. Along with his two talks he also gave a workshop about art direction for the screen.

  I enjoy being part of Emerging Talent Day. The room seemed to throb with energy, crowded with young people eager to soak up knowledge. My contribution to the day was my talk on How to Pitch Your Animation Idea. It was exactly what the title suggested. Beginning with how to structure your presentation, I stressed the importance of visuals such as a storyboard, puppet, etc. I also gave basic commonsense tips that beginners often seem to forget such as don’t turn your back on the audience and talk when you put a visual on the screen.

Students at work on The Creative Challenge

  My presentation was followed by the Creative Challenge. Students were asked to form into groups, preferably with people that they did not know. Working together in these groups they had to create a pitch for an animated television series that filled an untapped niche in the market. They were given 1 ½ hours to come up with an idea and create a pitch and visuals. Then each group took to the stage to give their pitch to the audience. During their working time, professionals circulated between the different groups to get them back on track if a group seemed to be stuck. It was very rewarding to see the students go from their initial reaction of “oh no, I can’t do that” to being proud of what they had accomplished in a short time.

Students presenting their creative challenge pitch

  As well as my work with the students I gave another presentation on the final day of the summit. Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling was about the present state of women in the animation industry. Although things are slowly getting better there is still a long way to go to achieve equality. I am happy to note that MOVE has achieved almost 50/50 representation in the gender of its speakers. It is also nice to note that of the three directors of the festival two of them are women.

  MOVE Strategic Director Caroline Parkinson is also a freelance consultant currently on contract as section leader for Creative Industries with the University of Edinburg’s Data-Driven Innovation Program. Lucy Teire, Summit Curation Director, in her other life is Head of Production at Interference Pattern Animation Studio in Edinburgh. Last but not least is Tom Bryant. He is the Operations and Finance Director of MOVE as well as a co-founding member of MOVE Summit. Tom is also the founder and Managing Director of the Edinburgh based animation and visual effects studio Interference Pattern.

James Baxter

  One of the most entertaining and informative presentations was given by James Baxter, Director of Character Design at Netflix. He used the entire stage to demonstrate My Top five Animation Tips. They are:

1. The only sin that you can commit is to fail to communicate.

2. Performance – Pose big, strong, and crisp. Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.

3.  Timing and Spacing – How you are relating a movement to the next one is vitally important.

4.Inertia – How the world really moves.

5. For a more realistic performance, weight and balance must be a major focus to get right.

  British born James certainly knows what he is talking about. He left college after 2 years to work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit in London. He then moved to California to work at Disney as the Supervising Animator on such classic characters as Rafiki in The Lion King. As well as having his own studio, he also worked at Dreamworks before joining Netflix.

  His other session was a live animation class on Emerging Talent Day. The full audience of students was treated to James taking them through making a character move step by step. As he talked and demonstrated his technique, he and his drawing board were projected onto the big screen behind him so we would not miss seeing the smallest detail of his work.

  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Chris Musselwhite and Paul Hamblin of Treehouse Digital in Bournemouth, England. As well as being great fun to hang out with, their MOVE presentation on Visual Production Using LED screens and the Unreal Engine was fascinating.

Chris Musselwhite on the set of THE BIKER

  Saying that I am not a technical person is a vast understatement, so I was afraid that I would not understand a word that they were saying. Instead, I found their presentation totally fascinating. First, I learned that the Unreal Engine is an advanced real-time 3D creation tool.

Paul Hambin, Chris Musselwhite and me at Drink and Draw Night

  The example that the pair used was a car crash scene that they shot for The Biker, a series that is in production. As Chris later explained to me, “We shot The Biker car crash sequence against a large LED screen background displaying a moving environment we built and ran in the Unreal Engine from Epic Games. Our car, bike, and characters were all the live-action foreground elements”

  “Using the screen is great for capturing your effects directly in-camera by eliminating long hours in post VFX,” he said.

  “This is helped by the screens actually lighting the live-action assets and actors which makes for a much more immersive environment and again saves hours of post lighting in VFX. The live-action foreground assets add the depth that really helps sell the look and this extends to the use of set extensions that the actors interact with, e.g. they may be sitting on a rock against a rocky hillside environment or climbing the first couple of steps on a thousand step pyramid.”

  Chris went on to enumerate some of the advantages such as they can shoot a sunset all day long, the LED screens make perfect green screens at the touch of a button, and they can shoot in any landscape which might otherwise be inaccessible, dangerous, or just pure make-believe.

Paul Hambin, co-founder and Head of Operations at Treehouse Digital

  As for other advantages, he said “As far as rendering goes, changes can be made in real-time so no more rendering and hoping that it looks good. For example, if the director wants to change the position of an assist in the environment it takes seconds!”

  “By combining real-time rendering, LED’s, and advanced camera tracking, the background perspective shifts relative to the camera’s view. “According to Chris, “This means that the background looks and acts like reality: a moving parallax shifting thing of beauty!”

  He went on to say “Lastly and possibly the most exciting for us at Treehouse is the process of combining miniature/bigature models and set extensions with the more advanced technologies. This delivers an incredibly awesome look and feel.  It really sells the reality of anything that you can imagine up! Our mantra at Treehouse is Old Tricks, New Tools”.

  You can watch a behind the scenes video about the making of The Biker car crash scene at:

After you see how they do it, watch the test shot at:

    MOVE is a platform for anything and everything to do with animation from the highly technical to model making.  Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation Collections Manager Connor Heaney’s presentation titled: Celebrating 100 Years of Stop-Motion Magic was as informative as it was entertaining.

   I had not known before that when the great master of model making Ray Harryhausen passed away in 2013 he left his collection, which includes all of his film-related artefacts, to the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation which he set up in 1986. The foundation looks after his extensive collection and furthers the art of model stop-motion animation. Ray’s wife Diana had strong ties to Scotland and was the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Scottish explorer David Livingston so the foundation is located in Edinburgh. 2020 is Ray’s centenary and the foundation is planning a series of special commemorative events to celebrate the occasion. The largest exhibition of Harryhausen's work ever put on display titled Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema will be mounted at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art this summer. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the opening date is uncertain because of the quarantine we are all experiencing.

  During Ray’s lifetime, he threw almost nothing away so the foundation’s collection contains a treasure trove of over 50,000 items. These include his original armatured models, hard rubber stand-in models, armatures, original models, artwork, miniatures, stills, and negatives, as well as his original equipment. There is also paperwork, screenplays, various tests, and dailies footage.

  In conjunction with the exhibition, a book titled Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema written by his daughter Vanessa Harryhausen will be published. In this memoir, she selects 100 creatures and objects that are most memorable to her as well as relating her personal memories growing up with the master of stop-motion puppets. Vanessa, who is one of the foundation trustees remembers that “Growing up around dad’s fabulous creatures was just everyday life for me. I even had the T-Rex Gwangi in my dolls pram”.

  You can learn more about the foundation, exhibition, and ordering Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema at:

Trying VR in the Exhibition Hall

  Along with the numerous talks, presentations, and workshops there was an Exhibition Hall where you could try out VR demonstrations and visit the recruitment desks and learn more about working at such studios as Axis, Blue Zoo, Industrial Light and Magic, Interference Pattern, and Heehaw. Creative Europe Media was also represented. It is the European Union’s support program for the film, television, and digital media industries. There was also a display case with some of Ray Harryhausen's models.

Camille Fourniols from Axis Studio demonstrating her hair and fur grooming techniques at her workshop

One of my favorite parts of MOVE is participating in the Creative Portfolio Reviews. Students and recent graduates can sign up for one on one meetings with many of the speakers at the summit. The students seek advice on all matter of things from career opportunities to a review of their portfolios. Sometimes they just want the opportunity to talk more to a speaker about their presentation. This year the Creative Review was expanded to cover all three days of the summit. I feel it is a privilege to take part in the Creative Review process.

Craig Foster mentoring at the Creative Portfolio Review

  The MOVE Summit team is well organized and take excellent care of their guests. Lunch was served every day to guests at a beautiful former church which is now a performance space close by the Pleasance.

   One evening there was a speaker’s dinner at an Indian restaurant and on another night Drink and Draw was held at a local pub. For the closing night party, we took over yet another pub.

Drink and Draw

  A very big thank you to Caroline Parkinson, Tom Bryant and Lucy Teire for inviting me to be part of the MOVE Summit. You can learn more about the summit as well as who other speakers and topics were at: