Character Design

This week, it was time to roll out the new Character Design unit, or Introduction to Methods, Materials and Making Processes, to give it its show name. We kicked off with the old classic 25 Expressions worksheets.

Before springing it on them, I gave the students about 25 mins to come up with a character and then draw him/her/it [head only] from the front. As I’m not a complete bastard, I did give the students a few clues before they started, which would make for more “expressionable” characters, such as advising them to use the full complement of facial features and maybe also include eyebrows or ears, etc.

In spite of that there were still a few groans of dismay from those whose characters were of a more ‘inscrutable’ bent, when I produced the 25 Expressions character sheets and asked everyone to see if they could make their characters run the gamut of emotions from Anger to Zoomorphism… er… actually, that’s not strictly true but these things always need a bit of an A to Z vibe going on!

Anyway, since it was one of those lessons where everyone is scribbling away furiously on good old-fashioned dead trees and not pecking my head every five minutes to help them with some software problem, I had time to play too. So, at the top of this ‘ere’ post, please meet Kevin Peterson, one of my characters who is waiting, poised to spring onto the internet and take the world of animation by storm [Just as soon as ever I get a spare week or two to do some of my own work!].

Kevin Peterson’s claim to fame is having huge teeth, a stupid voice and thinking he has the most unique name in the world. Honestly, it gets lost a bit in the translation. Inside my head it’s a hilarious concept. Just you wait!

After 25 Expressions sheets were complete, I asked the students to take their character and work it up into a finished artwork in Illustrator [it never hurts to practice pummelling those vectors!] and then design a poster, promoting the character and giving some info about him/her/it. Said poster could use any kind of suitable visual analogy; Wanted Poster, Trump Card, Pokémon Card, Movie Poster, etc.

Here are my rough scribbles for a few possible Kevin Peterson posters:

And here are a couple of them worked up into a semi-presentable format in Illustrator:

The other day an old work buddy asked me if there was a way he could listen to BBC Radio on iPlayer, without having to install that notorious collection of security holes known as Adobe Flash.


I thought about various ways this might be done, ranging from installing Flip4Mac [hmmm… a Microsoft plugin to replace an Adobe one. Talk about ’out of the frying pan into the fire!] to using VLC to try and open the live streams, but everything I came up with seemed to be almost as dodgy, or more of a pain in the arse to set up, than even using Flash would be.

Then I had one of those forehead-slapping moments where you realise the answer is so simple, you wonder if someone nicked your brain when you weren’t looking: Given that the BBC is quite happy to serve up a non-Flash version of the iPlayer for anyone visiting the site on an iOS device [Steve Jobs famously banned Flash from iOS], why not just pretend to be visiting the Beeb’s website on an iGadget and enjoy the non-Flash version of iPlayer. And, what’s more, it’s a piece of cake to set up.

So, here’s the how-to, for anyone else who fancies some iPlayer action, but hates Flash. These instructions assume you are using Safari. If you’re the kind of person who overrides OSX’s default browser, you’ve probably sussed this out for yourself anyway:

1: First you need to enable Developer Mode in Safari. This is as simple as ticking a box in Safari’s preferences


2: This will add a new ‘Develop’ item to Safari’s main menu, underneath which are several menu items useful for web developers. Amongst these is an option to change the User Agent, which is your browser’s way of identifying itself to any website it visits. Changing the User Agent effectively allows your browser to pretend to be a different browser, which is handy when building websites, as it allows you to test code that serves up different versions of the site to different visiting browsers. I think you’ll already have spotted where this is going!

Simply change the User Agent so Safari pretends to be iOS Safari running on an iPad


3: Now try loading the BBC iPlayer pages again



Ha! –We’ve fooled the BBC website into thinking we’re viewing on an iPad and it’s served us up the iPad friendly non-Flash version of the iPlayer.

Enjoy! –but just remember that, every time you open a new browser tab or window, Safari will revert to identifying itself as Safari on mac again, so you’ll have to reselect the appropriate User Agent, each time you want to view iPlayer in a new tab or window.


OK. The bones have been rattled. The entrails have been studied. The huge balls have been stroked. It’s time for the latest round in my occasional game of making a few predictions for the year ahead. So here, in no particular order, are the first ten visions which manifested themselves to me through rips in the very curtain of time itself. Remember to check back in January 2015 and marvel at how uncannily accurate these were:

  1. US [with pet poodle in tow] will find a new 3rd world country to drop high explosive democracy and freedom on. Most likely in the Middle East again. Although it will not be Iran, don’t rule out Egypt getting a bit of a kicking, as things continue continue to deteriorate there.
  2. Prince Phillip will snuff it. Probably at a strategically opportune time when either the Royal Family is ‘getting a bad press’ about some very dodgy scandal rumours. These and all other considerations will be swept away on the usual tide of sycophancy. The Daily Mail will publish a stupendously unfunny cartoon, showing a shocked Prince Phillip being greeted at The Pearly Gates by immigrant worker angels


  3. The Scots will wimp out and fail to vote for independence by an embarrassingly wide margin. The turn-out for the referendum will be embarrassingly low. SNP will blame UK lies and disinformation. Tories will crow jingoistically about how it shows how much the Scots love Britain and being part of Britain.


  4. Nokia lifeboat company Jolla will bring out a breakthrough model which will start competing seriously with what’s-left-of-Nokia’s Windows Phone offerings. What’s-left-of-Nokia will be forced to release a few Android handsets to avert further crisis.

  5. India’s Mangalyaan Mars probe will unfortunately ‘do a Beagle’ and disappear whilst attempting a landing. Meanwhile, Discovery will continue to fail to find any signs of life ever having existed on The Red Planet. In more positive astronomical news, an exoplanet will be discovered which tick all the “Goldilocks Zone” boxes.


  6. The biggest cultural hit of the year will be a film/series/dance craze, paying homage to the Second World War era. Cue lots of tacky supposedly 40s-inspired clothes and tat adorning the ‘tracky-bottoms and trainers’ fraternity for the five minutes it takes for the fad to pass.


  7. Outbreak of civil strife in South Africa as, with the grand-paternal calming influence of Mandela gone, the disillusioned poor start agitating for a bigger share of the pie. Comparisons with Zimbabwe and dark murmurs about “white flight” all round.

  8. Major diplomatic incident caused but full-on conflict narrowly avoided, after a ship sinking incident in the region of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Trigger-happy US most probably the cause.


  9. Humongous shale gas discovery in Scotland will intensify the pre-referendum political fighting.

  10. 2014 will finally be “The Year of Linux on The Desktop” [Sorry. Only joking. Couldn’t resist!]


This morning as I stumbled bleary eyed from the shower, I spotted this tiny piece of paper on the bathroom floor and bent athletically to read it. Even allowing for the apparent ‘txt-speak’ of the ‘U’ it seemed to bear an enigmatic message:

“Infinity Will Speed You”.

"What can it mean?" I thought, stylishly. "Who has carefully cut out this tiny missive and left it here on my bathroom floor? What are they trying to tell me?"

"Infinity Will Speed You". It could be an intimation of mortality, enshrining in words the headlong rush towards the unending blackness that awaits us all. Or it could be a rallying call, a cry of encouragement to get on with what you want to achieve while you still have the chance.

I should point out at this juncture that, in addition to the earliness of the hour, I was verily [and quite possibly forsoothly] hung-over this morning after yet again being dragged to a pub against my will and forced to drink beer all night, the previous evening. So my usually razor sharp mind was not exactly firing on all cylinders

Thus it was that I stood there for a few moments turning over the small fragment of paper in my hands, with a gormless expression on my idiotic face, before I realised that the eerie message was nothing more sinister than a piece of some junk mail I’d put in the shredder at the weekend and which had somehow wafted into the bathroom. And the import of those mysterious words?

[BT] Infinity Will Speed U[p your broadband]

I need to stay in more!

Feet of Clay


Time for some more ‘WiPs’ or ‘works in progress’.

I like that phrase. It neatly combines an impression of having had to be dragged kicking and screaming away from where you are straining to give birth to a work of monumental genius –with the removal of any expectation whatsoever on the part of the viewer that s/he is about to see is anything worth writing home about, at this stage.

Meet Kolin The Kidney Bean. A character I shamelessly lifted from an idea by Johny Byrne and which I’m planning to use in a bit of stop-frame animation over the Christmas* holidays.


[*You’ll note that the author cleverly avoided saying which Christmas holidays]

Primary Lesson

Yesterday I metaphorically ‘broke the sod’ on a wee project that’s been rattling about in the nether regions of my otherwise vacant skull for a while now. I’m not giving away too much at the minute –mainly because the idea is still in the embryonic stages– but if I say it involves a reindeer with a red nose, you probably get some idea of where this is going.

Anyway, as the following sketchbook scans show, Initially I stupidly tried to draw a cartoon reindeer from my imagination, with the result that it ended up looking like someone had chewed up a load of pencil shavings and projectile vomitted them onto the page.

Chastened by my incompetence, I quickly flew to Lapland fired up Google Image search and found some real photos of real reindeer to work from. Although the results aren’t masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, I think they prove the value of always working from life [or as near to it as you can get], rather than imagination. For me anyway.