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Whiteboard animation: Royal Flying Corps


A few years ago when I began doing whiteboard animations the standard method was still to shoot them live. The first one I did was for GlaxoSmithKline, and it involved leaning over a large table for two days while a video camera filmed me from overhead. The camera crew had only brought an HD video camera - 4K was very specialist and expensive in those days - and the finished video required the camera to track around the huge drawing over the course of the film. As there was no simple way to do that on-set it had to be done in post-production. Because only part of the frame was being used at any time, this meant the final film had to be in standard definition, a format that was already below standard. For subsequent films I was able to discuss technicalities with the photographer beforehand. 4K still being prohibitively expensive, we shot the films as a timelapse series of stills at three frames per second, and the resolution made it possible to focus on a small area of the picture. I seldom do live shooting now, however. Although the authenticity of the technique gives it a certain magic, this is a trade-off against the flexibility of doing the whole thing in the computer. I can do it from the comfort of my desk with whatever brushes and pens the software can provide, giving a much greater flexibility of styles. Also it's much easier to make alterations late in the day, whereas with live shooting everything must be locked off before the shoot, and you can't make any mistakes in the drawing (which of course I never did!), otherwise it could mean hiring the studio and the photographer for an extra day. Earlier this year I felt it would be a good idea to create a demonstration piece specifically to show the flexibility of this approach. For my subject I chose an historical document - a fascinating report from the Royal Flying Corps about early experiments in military aviation, made to the War Office just months before the outbreak of WW1. It's always interesting to see history through the eyes of those who were there. The first challenge was to distil the fifty-page document down to five minutes (still quite long!) without losing the essence or the flavour of it - that of a man just trying to do a very challenging job, fully aware of its massive importance. (Also blissfully ignorant - though was already seems inevitable - of exactly what the next few years would bring.) I tried to capture the feel of the time by imitating, to an extent, the style of illustrations of the period, especially the cigarette cards that were popular at the time, but I also made a 'blueprint' version (below) to show the flexibility of the technique. Both versions were done with the same artwork but the blueprint version was simply altered afterwards to imitate the look of an actual blueprint, with the drawing hand and the colour level left out.

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