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My 2 weeks in London with Little Howard
A new world.
Well today was the 15th of February 2009. After contacting employees of the BBC through emails and phone calls I set out to find some travel information. The search was over when (With help from my family) we found a cheap return coach fare to Victoria Coach Station.
My mum contacted a friend who knew a young couple in London. They were happy enough to have me for the two weeks for £50 a week.
The landlady happened to be the daughter of actor Edward Woodward.
I am writing from my current room now, I will be swapping soon into a more private room to work on my college assignments through the free days and hours (If I find time).
The coach was not bad, sat in a row of three. Three different personalities. On the left the person was moving around a lot impatient from the very beginning. On the right was the experienced traveler whom knew the best idea was to sleep. Then there was me, the one reading the personalities and trying to stay awake in case one of the two had a desire to steal my possessions. One of those, a pc laptop borrowed from the college equipment centre.
So, no work today. That all starts tomorrow. At this point I should be sleeping on the idea of it. The coach had a rest stop, space for fresh air and a bottle of water.
Then it came finally to Victoria Coach Station. Where I had to catch a taxi to my new home for the next two weeks.
But first I needed the toilet; the stations loo was closed off at that point in time. I eventually found another one in another building. 20p to go the toilet. Absolutely insane, though I have seen it before I did not expect it for foreign travelers. I gave an Indian lady with no concept of English currency 20p and she said ‘God bless you’. Everyone needs to go to the toilet!
A contact of ours got the address written down wrong so I had to call my house hosts personally.
The taxi driver was friendly though I did not like watching the fare slowly… (Actually fast) rise up as we drove (and paused for traffic lights). It was a very long drive (It was only long because I kept expecting us to turn down the right road so that fare would stop rising.)
We arrived at the flats and I paid the taxi driver “Good luck!” he says. Unfortunately I am placed in Wimbledon and far from Sheppard’s Bush (The BBC).
As I want to get there on time in the morning I plan to catch another taxi (From a cheaper firm) straight there. Then after a long day I will attempt the tubes and try to get back home. If I fail, there will not be a day 2... Or there will be but it will be written on day 3. If I succeed I will try to catch the tubes up to the studio every day…
That is my only fear, understanding the tubes. After watching a bit of tv and setting my alarm clock I am ready for tomorrow.
(Warning: May contain un-recognizable references)
I set my alarm clock for 8.00, this would give a taxi time to get here and time for it to take me to the BBC for 10:30.
“See you at 10:30” the email said. Unfortunately that was not to be.
I found myself awake at around 7:30 so instantly got ready. I called a number for a taxi to Sheppard’s Bush. I waited outside and the taxi man arrived at around 8:44. I don’t think I have met so many new people in two days before. From taxi drivers to executive producers.
The big BBC building finally stood before me. As I was half an hour early I ventured the long street noticing the tube stations and the other BBC offices. I bought a sandwich.
I knew right away that this first one was the right building; it had a van ‘The Prank Patrol’ van sat in its car park from a children’s television series as well as the TARDIS. I recognized two people from TV but could not put my finger on which shows they were from. (One of which I recognized weeks after arriving home as the nanny in a Doctor Who episode and many other TV parts. Her name was Sarah Lancashire and I sat near her trying to work who she was as I waited. (She’s also a smoker))
The reception was big and full of TV’s for the guests to sit and watch the channels. After some ‘gaining courage’ I went up to the man at the counter and asked about my work experience. He contacted someone and asked me to sit. It was a long time before anything happened. I eventually got a phone call from a Beth Thomas who was asking if I was on my way. I told her I was in reception waiting for her.
It seems that Eric, the man that originally phoned me had been… well, fired from the BBC. Not sure why but it seemed a real shame. Beth took me through the spinning doors, up and through to get an id card for me. They took my photo in a small office. The building seemed rather quiet and full of empty halls. I am sure everyone was busy at work. Walking and walking until soon we left the building and entered the cold once again. This is when I saw the TARDIS, apparently brought out for one of the BBC tours that they do. The CBBC (Children’s television Centre) was a separate building, tall, old and grimy, but brilliant.
The lift only reaches the 11th floor. We had to walk the rest of the way, up to 12th. Through 2 rooms, one protected by a code, I met Howard Read, writer, creator, actor and animator of the television show. A second animator turned up soon. The executive producer spoke to me and then it was down to animation. The team was behind schedule, the work seemed more challenging than they’d expected. I set up my laptop and spoke to the other animators.
We are working on Adobe Flash CS3. A small part of the television show is a ‘fake advert’ in the middle of the show. He asked me to make one myself, so this is what I did today. I animated an advert based on an audio track given to me.
The day went on and we had a break at the café (Which I would not be able to find again myself if I tried… as well as the toilets). Finding a toilet is quite rare in the CBBC building, running down stairs to find one, walking through offices and crashing through doors.
The window light brought darkness. Petria, an animator left earlier and soon Howard and I did as well.
I asked the man behind the desk everything there was to know about the tubes and that helped me get home, switching trains station by station with the direction of my address book.
Tubes and Toilets
Well today was a full days run of the TUBES. The famous London Tubes. A system where you have to be prepared to think fast incase trains are stopped unexpectedly. I had the tube directions at the back of my diary so I would constantly sit or stand staring into the book making sure I knew what I was doing.
Today was a day of discovering new toilets. Toilet number 1: Morden Library. The train station did not have a public toilet so I went in search of another one not knowing exactly where I was going. The problem with this big bunch of city is that the only places you can find toilets is in shops and not any street toilets. But of course usual street shops rarely have them. You have to look for big establishments or very public venues.
After a lengthy morning run with three train swaps (Not as difficult as it sounds) I coincidently met the Producer on the train to white city. She told me about a vase that she had bought that did not actually hold water. Vanessa Frances was very friendly.
There is the rush of people squeezing in to get their trains. This is silly because if everything is on schedule the trains end up coming three minutes after each other anyway. SO CALM DOWN.
We finally reached White City, I was able to use my temporary ID card to get inside the BBC. (They were worried that it may not work). Back up to the empty room at the top of the CBBC building and back to animation work.
Howard Read and animator, Petria directed me on finishing my advert animation for the TV show. We took my fla animated file and placed it in front of a back-drop of a kitchen image.
Another great thing about working with these guys is when they have succeeded in finishing a scene they’d suddenly ring one of three bells.
Toilet number2: To get into our room from both doors I had to type in separate codes. (One I am not sure of). I discovered another toilet on the 11th level, placed in the centre of a block of offices (Awkward place). You must make sure you’re walking in a casual form or people will stare at you, a lot of office eyes.
To finish off Petria helped me make the animated characters pupils point at the camera, like a personal glance staring at the viewer. Then it was bell time *Ding*
Lunch came and went. We had Indian at a giant shopping centre just outside of the BBC, Westfield (I think). After waiting for the right time to ask, I found out where Toilet number3 was, right behind me.
Why do you not notice the signs when you are looking for them?
Back at HQ they set me on my next piece of work. First off was to design a background of a kitchen. I drew a blue kitchen with a shelf, oven, sink and a big pot of soup.
The characters have already been made for me; all I have to do is animate them to a sound recording. What could possibly go wrong?
Find out on the next installment of, the DAY series.
When the lights went out and I left the building the day had not ended. I caught the tube back to old Victoria Station, I knew the place from earlier so thought it’d be recognizable and a nice place to stop and eat. I was contacted by my friend from college/the coach up. Her and her family were going for an Italian meal with a half price voucher.
So I tagged along. I did not want it to get too late so I decided to dash home on the two trains. The last toilet of the day, number4. Run across the road, Indiana Jones style and made it finally to a 30p toilet. Then I went home and had some chocolate mousse cake that was free for me to eat from the wonderful couple.
Day 4 and 5:
“Can I try that line again?”
Well the days have flown by, almost the end of the week. You start a day ambitious to finish a scene and soon enough it is the end of the day and you’ve only done half.
From mumbles of the animation team and a very stressed out Howard it seems the guys at the top have no idea the long and winding process of animation.
Yesterday I continued working on the chef’s animation and then it was time to leave. Changes are continuously made due to the informative suggestions from the other animators.
The tubes were the same as usual, except 80% of the journey I was not looking at my tube map in my diary. They have horrible busy times, I am normally the sort of person that will just stand up and wait for my stop but getting crushed with other people is not so nice so i can see why people leap to the first seat available. But there is the problem of when you’re sat down, or far away from the doors you need to make sure you’ve planned a people ‘path route’ to get out of the train. “Which person looks like they can be pushed easily?”
Yesterday I was happy to stand and listen to a man playing the accordion in the tubes. Whilst watching the many people rushing through to get their train. Did EVERYONES’ alarms not ring that morning? Oh yeah, I had not set mine this morning and woke up an hour late. Not so luckily Howards family are very ill so he could not make it in till later either. Yesterday I had a sandwich and a giant pizza. The large pizza was going cheaper than the small pizza in Morden. I thought that a good idea to buy, was a nice pizza, very filling. I left one piece in the box; I am not sure where the box disappeared to.
Well, as I said, time had flown so fast I still do not know where I am now. I am writing this in a surrounding dash of blurs. Thursday was broadcasting day of ‘Little Howard’s BIG Question’. We all sat down (After searching for a room with a working television) to watch the show. The episode was a masterpiece, I had not seen it before, nor seen any working on it from animators.
Apparently when I finish the animation I am doing at the moment I will be able to start working on animating LITTLE HOWARD himself. (Possibly tomorrow)
I had a notch different experience today; I followed Howard down to a recording room. He read all of the character lines out and they were recorded with the producer and sound man present.
After that it was back to animating.
From then on I bought some snacks, chicken roll, grapes and a fredo frog after a big pie and mash lunch in the BBC café.
Day 6: End of Week one
Half vomit mexican.
Today was the day I was assigned a new project and officially completed the chef animation for the tv show dream sequence. *Ring the bell in joy* I also met another brilliant animator on the team named, Milo.
But as we all know life is never as simple as pie, or vomit flavored burritos. Computers are faulty. Completely usable on this laptop, but error format on other computers. Both PC and Mac.
So working together we went through different ways of fixing this problem. After the lip sync went horrible action script wise we had to recreate a file using all of my earlier animation symbols. Which took the day over the 6:30 pm mark.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The day began smoothly, chicken wrap, bottle of water, chocolate bar and another man playing an accordion in the tubes.
In the mornings I catch the (Northern up to STOCKWELL. From there I catch the Victoria line up to Oxford Circus. Then I swap to the central line towards White City. Then I am finally there ready to show my id to the woman. She then swipes her card and the doors rotate for me to scatter though.
Every time I get through I feel I have succeeded in something. Which I have, getting into the BBC.
I walk up the stairs and through the hallway on the right. Keep on walking, go past a BBC (Possibly a bar or café) then a WH Smith and a tiny Starbucks coffee shop. I then turn right and walk in to a big room, looking like another reception for tour visitors. The doors on the left open automatically and then I am out in the big circle area. I walk across there and pull open some double doors.
Then I walk through a door that says “To Drama Building” (Possibly) I am in a tunnelish hall. Soon I reach the outside once again breathing in that polluted air. I turn right and keep on walking until I see the CBBC building/ entrance in the distance.
I walk through and click the ‘up’ button. The first door opens and I hear a dangerous sound as the lift goes up to 11 (Or 9 if I want to go to the toilet. What is with all this toilet talk?). From 11 I walk up the stairs looking at the coloured foot print pictures on the walls. I open some heavy doors entering a permanently dark area. On the left is a code pad, I type in some random numbers and the door unlocks.
I walk through the ‘Techno Lounge’ (For students and others to try out the CBBC websites and other gadgets.) Then through a computer room, and then I reach the animation room.
3 Animators in the room (4 including me) and a fifth doing lip sync somewhere else in the building.
Hard work peoples!
We all had lunch as a Mexican dine in past Westfield shopping centre. Min e tastes like vomit with a side taste of yum… a very small side taste.
At the end of a day I catch the central line to Tottenham Court Road (Name most likely spelt wrong) from there I catch the northern line straight down to Morden. Hurrah! Sleep time I think. Oh no, I have to write this.
I have very much enjoyed my first week of work experience. I hope next week brings me more fun
Day 7 and 8 (Weekend)
The 2 free days
A late morning, watching dvd with the home owners. Went out for lunch, tikka sandwich/roll and a chicken wrap once again + a freddo frog to keep that taste for chocolate.
I finished off moving an animated mouth of a live action horse and hope they are happy with it Monday morning. I took a fla file of Little Howard to play around with over the weekend, the character is very simple yet so fun with the voice and wildness of his movements.
It will be fun to get started on animating him for the television show next week (If I am asked to). I am stressed about coursework though. I was very behind before I left and now I am on a type of holiday. Living with different people, having a different daily experience. Doing coursework just feels alien to me. And my mind is stuck on the thought that ‘I’ll do it later’. It is horrible, last year I got so used to the coursework being fun and interesting… now I am just not ready for it.
The weekend was full of season three of PRISON BREAK. It was very well written and always kept me wanting to know what happened next.
“We used un-manned cameras near the explosion”
Today no one turned up for work, no animators that is. Either working from home or very ill. So I sat for a while having a look at the horse’s mouth until I got a phone call.
It was Beth Thomas, one of the shows organizers. She originally took me through the building to meet Howard at the start. Though I was a bit scared, not knowing her that well.
She wondered if id like to come down and watch the BBC Health and Safety videos whenever I had the opportunity. Well, I had finished the horse’s mouth. No time like the present!
Level 5 she said. So I went to level 5. The horrible thing about the building is that a lot of the work places are just giant offices, behind giant fire doors.
Boy I must have looked a fool to the passersby. I ended up getting stressed about looking in the offices; I did not want to be asked if I needed any help. In the end I did not want any communication confusion. I am always scared of that so attempt to avoid it. One of the reasons I am afraid to do anything, in case it causes a reaction from someone.
I walked around level 5 staring at doors and searching for information on where Beth Thomas lived in the building. There was nothing, I wondered around continuously. Soon a woman asked if I needed help, I politely shook my head and wondered off. (Or was it a man? ... oh no the man came later)
After this I started avoiding that level. This was sure good for exploring the building but otherwise that, she was expecting me. I kept getting the lift back to the level to see if I could catch her walking past and failed. I walked up and down the stairs many times on each side of the building.
Soon I found myself sitting on the stairs feeling rather lost. Finally I brewed up courage to walk through one of those big fire doors. I didn’t walk too far in; I was listening for a voice I recognized but never heard it. So I ended up walking back out of the room. I felt like everything had gone great until now where id suddenly ruin the impression of me.
The phone rang again, Jen, from LOCOMOTION.
Locomotion is the company contributing on the production of the series. They take the footage; edit it together to send to the BBC animators. The animators then put the characters in, send it back and it soon gets meshed together to become the final piece seen on television. They may also edit all of the footage as well.
Of course I did not know anything about this the first time she called about the cook’s animation. But luckily this was call number 2. She wanted the horse’s mouth.
I got even more stressed. Petria was meant to be coming in today (Monday morning) to fix the horse’s mouth and send it off. But nor she or Howard were able to come in.
I have a feeling that I sounded really stressed on the phone as well. Well she communicated with Beth and she soon found me. Apart from the tiresome way I looked after the worry walking I don’t think she knew about my big office phobia.
She took me with her to a place id been before, the desks of the producer, Vanessa and lip sync animator, Monisha. There was a life size little Howard cardboard cutout in the background.
But they were away, so I sat at the desk. Beth forwarded some emails to me. Jen gave me directions for sending the flash file to Petria through email. There was also a message from Howard asking if I could do a scene.
Apparently the lip sync was fixed and sent off to Locomotion fast. I was happy to hear this, after a week of comfort working I was unprepared for a step outside the box. I like to be prepared for these things.
Health and Safety videos!
I found them quite interesting, although not so relevant with ‘animation’, more on live action. That took a very long time, and I am happy it did. I called Howard and he did not know exactly what I was on about with the scene I had to do. There was a video of a man eating a hotdog and dying. The narrator was advertising a food tasting service in case your school dinners are disgusting. It was obvious some invisible character was MEANT to be there, with camera cuts filming nothing at times.
The day ended with me watching an extra behind the scenes video of Eastenders, and a usual tube trip back to my comfortable Morden flat to watch Prison Break season 3 with Andrew. (Landlord)
I had a steak and Guinness pie
I love the mornings. Wake up by alarm clock at 9 o clock; get ready, drink of water. Coat on, laptop over my shoulder… Sainsbury’s, chicken wrap mmm, maybe a Cadbury bar. Take it to the tube, Oyster card out of my pocket (upgraded to weekly pass for 30ish pounds)
On the tube, catch the train to Stockwell, keep catching the trains. Somewhere in the transitions I may eat the chicken wrap, or leave it till I reach the BBC. The only bad side to the tubes is of course the packed people. It was funny to see people getting their bags and jackets stuck in the doors. What idiots Indiana Jones’s it into the crushed crowd hoping not to be pushed out or stuck in the door? I suppose those who did not set their alarm clock properly… like me, twice. Luckily the animators are quite calm about that sort of thing.
At white city I get my BBC pass out, walk through the big revolving doors of the reception. Show the pass to the security woman/man. They swipe their cards and I penguin step through the tiny revolving doors. Then the BBC is big, big hallways, all glamorous. That is of course, until I get to the CBBC. But it was just right for me.
Level 11, walk up to the 12, code in the door, 2 rooms in I’m meeting up with Howard and Petria. (Or sometimes before any of them arrive)
Today I was working on my first big Little Howard scene, the food taster advertisement. I did fine I think! Apparently I picked up Little Howard’s movements and personality pretty fast which I am glad of.
Although I did weirdly in my first attempt make Little Howard completely evil laughing at the dying man. That soon changed to complete shock and worry. I am not sure what I was thinking.
For lunch Petria, Howard and I went for a nice PIE. Steak and Guinness. It was lovely, although the gravy was a bit strong. I’d like to go there again sometime. It is nice to chatter to them after working most of the day.
After lunch we ventured back to the BBC and continued our separate work. Over my time there I heard many bells rung as scenes were completed.
Vanessa the producer came in as I was finishing. She said tomorrow would be a good day to check out LOCOMOTION (Mentioned early as the big editing suite of Little Howard’s BIG Question).
She printed out a map and drew some great and easy to understand directions…
…But I still went the wrong way.
The alleyway studio; ‘Locomotion’ and animating Little Howard.
Well today came in three parts.
1Locomotion, 2Museum and 3Little Howard animation.
I caught the train, but got off at Tottenham Road instead of straight on to White City. Soho. When I got off the train, walked up the busy steps and came up to the surface I needed to find streets I recognized from the map. I followed signs instead of referring to the map.
I ended up going a longer way and then actually walking past the building! (A street away mind, sort of difficult to miss that big purple LOCOMOTION logo.)
After turning around I suddenly understood what the map said.
Locomotion was in a wide alley way, not so bad. So, like I normally do I walked past the building afraid something would go wrong. Something always goes wrong!
The big door had a door bell, but also a pad of numbers and buttons. I stayed there for a while pressing the door bell which did not seem to work.
The door suddenly opened and a very friendly receptionist appeared greeting me. She said that the button on the pad must not have been working but she saw me on the camera standing by the door (They also expected me).
Inside was lovely, and everyone knew my name, that was scary.
At first I thought the receptionist was Jen but then she said ‘Jen will be here in a moment’ so that idea flew into the wall (There were no windows).
I followed a small smiley Jen through a hall. Each big, comfy edit suite working on Little Howard scenes.
Basically this is the building that gives Little Howard his shadows, edits footage and rotoscopes (Makes humans and real objects go in front of cartoon characters and objects.)
In the end the whole programs process is time consuming. With Howard doing the most work out of everyone throughout the whole run of making the show.
The episodes are written, filmed, edited, animated, edited again, dubbed and then released! A heap of work for the animators every day.
But as I soon found out, Little Howard’s character is very fun to animate.
The man I was watching work (Sorry, forgotten his name) but he was a very friendly person and a friend of Petria’s (She’s everyone’s friend).
He soon left, as did I. The receptionist just thought I’d gone for lunch. I unfortunately forgot to sign out. When id finished, I texted Howard, he said if I wanted I could come into the BBC and work on some Little Howard scenes. Wahoo!
But before that I went to the British Museum and saw some brilliant old clocks and Egyptian history on display, and a hot dog stand. It was very nice but I very much rushed it so the day would not run out.
I caught the tube to the BBC and was given some short Little Howard scenes.
Little Howard broadcast day.
Little Howard is strange looking but actually very well designed. With no nose and not detailed hair you can move his face around in an almost 3d manner. This makes animating him extremely fun.
Today is Thursday. Last Thursday we watched the ‘Can the dinosaurs come back?’ episode with the producer, lip sync animator and a sound recorder who was also very friendly. (This was the day Howard recorded his lines). This week Little Howard asked the question ‘Why does time fly when you’re having fun?’.
The viewing of this episode was only me, Howard, Monisha and a man who I believe is … some sort of... idea, advertising, producer man. I am not sure of his occupation or name but apparently he thinks big and was there from the start of the series.
He put forward the idea of a DVD and a commentary over the episodes from Big Howard and Little Howard. (Cross fingers that it will end up on DVD)
The episode was great with its usual extremely funny moments. There was also a fantastic scene of Little Howard driving a car down a hill, it was amazing!
I also continued on some short little Howard moments always cautious and worried I’d do something wrong when animating.
Just a sandwich and maybe a chocolate bar from the snack shop today, not fussed. Howard had a bit to work on and I was having fun with animating.
Home = Prison Break season 3.
The big finish
Well today was the last day of my two weeks work experience. A sad day if I am honest.
The last day I’d buy a chicken wrap, catch the tubes and walk into the BBC. I finished animating the very short scenes, so Howard gave me a big finale scene.
Almost every episode ends with Big Howard and Little Howard doing a stage comedy show for an audience of school children.
I was asked to animate that scene so was VERY EXCITED.
Petria, Howard and I once again had some nice pie lunch in Westfield shopping centre.
Petria was also able to print a nice picture of Little Howard holding a sign up; she changed the words to my sister’s name. When Howard returned he signed the picture as a gift.
Then everyone had to leave early. Everyone shook hands and said bye bye. I said I would complete the animation and send it via email.
Soon the white room was totally silent. Outside was night time. But I wanted to stay there for as long as possible. I made some phone calls and then just spun in my chair.
Eventually I had to leave, left the BBC, got a free newspaper from the London newspaper man and caught the tubes back to Morden.
I woke up; made sure the house was ok and left. There were no chicken wraps in Sainsbury’s. I caught the tubes to Victoria. Where I had first arrived.
I followed the signs to a coach station. My coach was meant to arrive at 1.
I then had a SUBWAY, it was tasty and relaxing.
Walking around to use up time I noticed the Victoria Coach Station was ACTUALLY across the road. I was at the wrong one!! I am lucky I found it; else I would have been waiting for an invisible coach.
The coach was nice; double decker and pretty much everyone got their own two seats to relax.
I arrived back in Plymouth to a new house, wide house. I really like it.
From here I finished animating the final scene and sent it off.
I hope I stay in contact with everyone I met on my adventure, from the BBC workers to the house owners of where I stayed.
- Nathan Viney