Friday, 10 July 2015

Dreamy Cartoons

Last time I went to the Art Science Museum in Singapore I was slightly underwhelmed by an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. This time, however, I was truly overwhelmed. The DreamWorks Animation exhibition does just that - makes dreams work. 

As a writer and sketcher (a newbie sketcher too) I was sure I'd be interested. And an hour and a half later the only thing that made me leave was the extremely cold aircon. 

I could have spent over an hour just in the first section, Character, learning how initial sketches are drawn, what they used (graphite, pencil, marker, etc), the advice they give, and how well they capture the character even in the earliest stages. 

I will let you see for yourself, and do please read the instructions on the lion, from Madagascar, my favourite being "Even though these characters are 3-D, try to exploit the graphic quality in the design, to keep shapes simple and crisp".

 Christophe Lautrette, Pointing Crane, Color pencil, Kung Fu Panda
 Craig Kellman, Alex Crouching, Graphite, Marker, Madagascar

I came to the Aardman Productions display and grinned even more.
Nick Park's original sketches were there, along with other artists' work. 
Of course, Chicken Run wasn't Aardman's first film by a long way ... or even 'by a just tiny amount' (for fans of The Fast Show!)

If the exhibition had stopped there, I would have gone home a happy bunny .. or panda, or dog, or whatever.

But it didn't.  Story came next. And a mock-up meeting table covered with papers and pens and cups of coffee - yes, we get the picture, there's a lot of brainstorming that goes on! 
For lovers of script, there was a piece from Mr Peabody and Sherman. And two walls of videos, intriguing young and old alike!

Noble Prize in Physics?

This video showed an actor (I think it was an actor) reading through the storyboards of Shrek - the Gingerbread man, using all the voices, fascinating. There were mock-ups of piles of storyboards, to show how many are used per film. It was a lot, believe me!

And then we came to World.  And hands-on stuff, like models.
A model of Shrek's Swamp House (above). 

Wallace's kitchen garden (actually that was earlier, but, well...)

and sketches of backgrounds, including these two lovelies for Kungfu Panda (gorgeous trees!) 

and How to Train your Dragon (Pencil, Marker by Emil Mitev)

Finally, we were allowed to get our mitts on the actual Animation Desk. Though all I managed was peering over someone's shoulder.

Oh well, an excuse to go back again at a less busy time! And I'll arm myself with warmer clothing too. 

Thank you,  DreamWorks.  

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Amy Ng: Staying Curious

Amy Ng: Staying Curious

Last week I was asked to be the moderator for a talk entitled Meet the Blogger. It was a free event as part of AFCC 2015, held in Singapore’s newest library, Library@Orchard on June 4th. I hadn’t met Amy Ng before, but I jumped at the chance when I took a peek at her blog, Pikaland, “Connecting the dots between creativity, illustration and entrepreneurship since 2008”.
       Amy has been blogging for seven years; she teaches illustration in Kuala Lumpur, and runs online courses as well, attracting students from all over the world. Her Facebook’s reach is an impressive 25,000!

Amy snaps her own advert at the entrance to the library

It was my first experience of being a moderator, and so I prepared myself with loads of questions, but was thrilled when the audience came up with their own. And instead of keeping an eye on the audience, or doing anything else a moderator is supposed to do, I was so enthralled I took notes and photos. One question I did manage to squeeze in was, “Which illustrator, alive or dead, would you like to meet?” and her answer was Canadian illustrator and animator, Jon Klassen. You’ll see why:

We started by watching a video of Picasso painting, going over lines, changing, building up the image. “Don’t give up just because it’s not the right shape or size,” said Amy. “It’s ok to be wrong or fail.”

Below are the ideas I managed to jot down:

Art resides in the quality of doing. This was a quote from someone famous, but I scribbled it down before I had time to snap the pic. 

“No one knows what they’re doing, so do what you want.”

Ways of seeing – seeing patterns, and not just visually, but in your behaviour too. Playing games with yourself, eg, looking at a street scene and seeing how many yellows you can spot.  When you sketch, identify patterns. 

Amy has been writing personal journals ever since 2007 when she gave up her fulltime job, and she keeps them all.   Above left you can see two book covers created with needlework - another way of seeing. 

Write down the important things. Read a lot. In response to a question from the audience, Amy told us that she reads when she gets writer’s block.

And finally ... a painting in an exhibition communicates a new idea, or an old idea in a new way. 

About Amy

Amy took a degree in landscape architecture, because it was the most creative degree on offer in public university in KL. But she discovered that architects don’t spend their time drawing! After working in the media, especially for architectural magazines, she left fulltime work and started her blog. She and her husband did up their house, existing for two years without a kitchen. But she never gave up. She knows how to make herself happy. And her followers would definitely agree that her enthusiasm and her vision is infectious. 

Amy's loudest message, and one I shall certainly follow: Stay curious!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Waltzing Dinosaurs in Singapore

It might have been because I had succumbed to an afternoon nap, and was feeling kind of dreamy. But the combinations of sights and sounds this evening really made me smile. You see, I only went out for a stamp, but then I wandered inside the mall to buy some sorbet for my other half. And then I heard them, low moans and groans ... animals with constipation, I thought.
The main mall music was something from the charts – and it clashed with the groans as badly as chilli sauce on meringue – but I had to stop and peer down into the basement.
You see, it’s school holidays here and United Square being the mall that entertains and educates kids (as well as clothing and feeding them), there are all sorts of surprises. This one really did surprise me. I wasn’t going to cry, like one toddler, or point and gurgle, like another, but I did have to lean over the balcony and gawp. And that’s when the music changed.
            The Last Waltz – we all know the song by Engelbert Humperdinck. Love it or loath it, it’s as stubborn as a ... whatever stubborn thing you can think of. Even now, twenty minutes on, it’s playing in my head – including the line that goes tra la la la la la la la la. That takes some writing!
            So what’s she on about? What was going on? Well, dinosaurs, of course. The moans and groans came from life-size models with moving heads and limbs, smoke and lights, arranged around the basement like a zoo. Very realistic. At least to me and the surrounding toddlers. Not especially scary – the bright lights and the music put paid to that. But fascinating. As I said, maybe I was in a dreamy mood, no need to rush home to cook, as the other half’s flight has been delayed. And I would have stayed longer, gazing at the nodding triceratops and the flying pterodactyls, and humming along to Humperdinck, only thankfully I remembered the sorbet ... and the sorry state it would be in if I stayed too long.
And then finally the short walk home which was all the shorter thanks to that song and the thought of Mr E waltzing with one of those friendly extinct folk.
            Thank you dinosaurs, thank you Mr E, you’ve made my evening.
            Tra la la la la la la la la la!


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Here is an interview I wrote for GatheringBooks 

Thank you so much for featuring me in your fantasy reading theme issue, Myra.

- What was the inspiration behind Princess Petunia's Dragon?

I started writing ‘Princess Petunia’s Dragon’ as a picture book because I love the format. The story was about a child who wanted a difficult pet, a dragon - who finally came into his own when the weather suddenly turned cold. Each time I did a draft I found myself developing the plot, until it ended up at 7,000 words for a reading age of six to nine. I don’t make many conscious choices as I write, rather my imagination makes demands on me.

- Princess Petunia strikes me as a feisty, determined, self-possessed girl who works for things that she wants. Was she a bit like you when you were younger?

Like you say, Petunia is a feisty little girl and is probably the child I’d have liked to have been. Writing about a quirky, determined child is exciting, especially when she starts shouting back! I love the randomness of writing fiction.

- Tell us about BBB and gobstoppers and cobwebs. Clearly they are important elements in this story.

There are elements in the story of Petunia – such as the gobstoppers – which grew out of the drafting process. Gobstoppers are a mainstay of strip cartoons in the UK and even saying the word outloud makes me smile. Freddy keeps one safe under a flap on his ear. I was teased as a kid because I have a dent in one ear too. These ideas jump up out of my tombola brain when I’m half asleep. (I'll just add that BBB is the big bottom in brown trousers, aka big brown bottom, belonging to the gobstopper trader, Gordon. Just having a bit of fun!)

- You worked as an editor. Tell us a little more about that.

My first job after leaving university with a degree in French and Spanish and a year’s teaching abroad was (obviously!) not teaching or translating. It was at a children’s publishing firm doing everything from typing invoices to packing books. All good experience, despite the chilblains and the blisters. As I worked my way up in different companies, I collaborated with designers, illustrators, authors and other editors, and it was great fun. The editor’s name was never put on the book, but an author might compliment me with a ‘you do it, you’re the expert’. I also worked as a freelance editor in non-fiction – a calmer job, but rather lonely.   

-You also worked as a language teacher. What are some of the insights that you have gained in your teaching that helped you become a better writer?

With language tuition, I showed my pupils how to view the world. Each language has its own mindset, rather like a character’s viewpoint in a novel. As well as speaking languages, I’ve always loved drafting translations over and over again until I’ve done my very best.

What led you down the path of becoming a children's book author?

Why do I love children’s books? Well, in the beginning there was an imaginary friend and I told her stories. And then I told stories to my little sister, who was not imaginary. Later, my daughter had two imaginary friends at once – oh dear, such competition! I also grew up surrounded by fabulous books and parents who loved reading out loud and often quoted our favourite characters. The rhythm and sound of the text is magical to me. 

When did I start writing fiction? When a very feisty friend decided that I should provide her with a taxi service to a writers’ group. Shades of Petunia in the making.

- You are an active member of SCBWI. How do organisations like this help aspiring authors and artists?

Although a writer is somewhat of an ‘outsider’, being an insider of a supportive organisation like the SCBWI is fun. It doesn’t matter if you have to move to a new country, you can still find great people for mutual feedback and moral support. And get involved in activities such as workshops and retreats.  

- What are some of the best fantasy stories you read as a child, and to your own children?

For me, fantasy is inherent to all stories. It’s the author’s imagination which introduces the reader to characters who can do things the child would love to do, or at least witness. Paddington Bear, Little Mrs Pepperpot, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland are the stories that took root in my imagination. Later I read Tom’s Midnight Garden where fantasy plays a role in a realistic setting. And I should add that humour is the thing I remember most about the stories I read as a kid. My children were lucky enough to grow up as the Harry Potter series was being published.

-What do you think is the role of fantasy in children's literature and its impact on children?

All good stories are stuffed full of imaginative writing that allows a child to relax, dream, and create their own world. I wasn’t asked to discuss the fiction I read in primary school - I would just slip into a book and puzzle things out, or not, owning my reading of the story in my head. I don’t know how fantasy affects children other than the fact that young readers will naturally pick books containing the type of emotion or action they find most intriguing and satisfying. Allowing them to own this space for personal pleasure is so important.

- What should we look forward to from you in the coming months?

As for me, I am working on an adventure for nine to twelve year-olds, set in the tropics. The characters find their inner mojo in a believable setting, though an enhanced version of reality is obviously integral to my fiction. There are other similar stories in the pipeline. There may be more stories about Petunia and Freddy, so please watch this space.
I am excited to be giving a talk at the AFCC in June 2015. I will be doing more school and library visits as I love sharing ideas directly with my readers. My next trip is to Mumbai at the end of April!
Please see my Facebook page for updates
Emma Nicholson Children’s Book Author More options