Duke of Uke: My GIF

Although I’ve never desired to throw myself head first into the deep end of animation, I had always fully intended to dip my toes a little, so, naturally, making my first GIF seemed like a good way to get a feel for animation techniques without needing a dedicated team of staff to animate around the key frames. Heaven forbid I ever do it all myself! I went online and searched for GIFs and how to make them. After watching quite a few of them, I decided it was essential to have a GIF that looped in on itself.

I had intended to use the crow-man mascot as a key character and wanted to take the opportunity to use my inherent illustration style, which isn’t always visible in my work (at least how I perceive my ‘style’). I figured the crow should play a ukulele to a small gathering of people, promoting inclusiveness and fun and all that, and that, as he was playing, the camera would go down his throat and all the way at the end of the tunnel would be the original scene of the crow-guy playing the ukulele to a small gathering of people.

It was something of a gamble going in for this. Simple knowledge of photoshop will familiarise you with the concept of layers, which when I explain what they are, I usually compare them to the acetate layers used in traditional hand drawn animation. I presumed, with my moderate knowledge of the program, that I could use that infrastructure in such a way, and after establishing the key frames, as one does in animation, fill in the gaps in movement using photoshop’s opacity options as a makeshift light-box.

My assumptions bore fruit and I was able to end up with a GIF which was not so far off what I had imagined in my head. It is worth noting that in photoshop, solid foundations bare the heaviest loads; the way I constructed the characters and applied block black was not optimal. As a result, I had to redraw several key frames to facilitate the slight movements I had planned. And as always, failure to ensure that you’re working on the right layer at all times will lead to disaster.

I had always intended that the GIF be black and white, perhaps with a hint of red for the bow tie. This would have suited the existing representations of crow men on the Duke of Uke website. I believe it also dramatically simplified the corrections I had to make when something needed to be redrawn. It would have been great to offer a full colour alternative, since presenting a variety of options is good professional practice, but there’s what you want to do and what you have the time and skill to do before the deadline.

At the end of the project, Matt and Paul from the Duke of Uke came into the university to see what all the students had done. After seeing mine, they gave me some helpful feedback. Firstly, the frame by frame speed was perhaps too long and should be shortened. Matt said that he was really looking forward to where this thing was going to end up, once the camera went down the crow’s throat, but was a little disappointed to see it just loop back on itself. To the first comment I would reply that I animated the whole thing out of photoshop, so I suspect my frame by frame options were more limited than if I had animated it in another program. That said, since photoshop is one of the core programs I use, I reason it was worth using this old war horse in a new way, for my own future reference. Of course, I’m not against changing the speed or anything, you can only do your first thing once, right? As for  Matt’s comments, I had really only conceived of the GIF as a technical test. The core parameters for success were that the animation frames were all in the right order and that it looped back on itself seamlessly. His idea that it should lead somewhere else opens up the possibility of turning the GIF into a series of sorts, with the destination always being different, like linking to a new product on sale, or to the same scene, but with variations, like more crow guys, or more people in the crowd.

My Duke of Uke GIF
My Duke of Uke GIF

The absenteeism which plagued some other projects took its tool here as well. Had I been present regularly, I would have been able to make those improvements instead of just talk about them. I still can, of course, but just not in time to be marked on them.

All in all, a very useful, enjoyable project, which helped me achieve one of the primary goals I had, when I enrolled on this illustration course: to do a little animation and not die of exhaustion in the process. This is definitely something to revisit in the future.

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The Duke of Uke: Introduction

Duke of Uke is a ukulele shop in East London which has been conducting its business in it’s current form since 2005. We students were tasked with producing something to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. We were to create a window display, animated GIF, series of images for Instagram, or something else which I can’t remember. 

The Duke of Uke shop
The Duke of Uke shop

We went to the shop and listened to shop-owner Matt and in-house designer Paul talk us through the history of the business, ukuleles in general and some of the core design elements they incorporate in their public image. Chief among them was a 1950’s crow mascot (which may or may not have had underlying racist connotations. I find racism is like bad kerning; once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere, and I did just finish writing an essay which delved into race politics, but I digress.) I wanted to use the crow-man in my work, since I gravitate towards illustrating people and focussing on form more than colour or pattern. Then we all the left the shop for some communal idea generation up the road at the university.

Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let's say no, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.
Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let’s say ‘no’, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.

One of my fellow students struck on the brilliant idea of telling a fictional history of the ukulele, using famous paintings such as the colonial Americans meeting the native Americans for the first time and exchanging ukuleles, as well as parodying the Lincoln/Calhoun portrait by having a ukulele in it. Naturally, all heads would be replaced with crow heads. It was a good idea, and no artist worth his salt is above stealing good ideas, but I didn’t want to rip him off (firstly, he’d do a better job with it than me and secondly, he’s my friend, so that would just be a dick-move), but like I said, it was a good idea. I decided to play around a little with very quick mock ups, I did one of Lincoln just because the irony of sticking another head on John Calhoun’s body was just too good to pass up, but then I veered off into parodying famous musical album covers. Actually, I think I only did the Beatles Abbey Road one…

My crude Lincoln mock-up
My crude Lincoln mock-up. They say Lincoln’s head was painted on top of an existing portrait of John Calhoun, to create a ‘heroic’ portrait of ol’ honest Abe.
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The Beatles, but not as you know them…

I wasn’t especially inclined to continue this line of inquiry, so I dropped it. While I make a (lifelong) habit of referencing the work of others through parody and laugh in the face of copyright law and it makes sense, as teaching customers to play cover versions of famous music is a part of what the Duke of Uke offers, even I balk at taking references from the music industry. #shiver# 

At this point I had decided that the outcome I wanted to move towards was to create a GIF, so I went of to do some research in that area.

But that is a tale for another day…