Date published: September 14, 2018

Our Favourite Jam – The United States of Salford’s Experience of Anijam

Four students from the BA (hons) Animation course took part in a national competition this summer, in which multiple teams around the UK were given 48 hours to conceive of and create an animation on a specific theme.

Adam Frith, James Lawson, Leah Peirson and Munty Chowdhury, with the help of non-student, Paul Reynolds, entered under the team name “The United States of Salford”. They’re currently sitting in first place in the public vote element of the competition. Here, Adam, James and Leah detail a bit about their experience.

Adam: I first heard about Anijam through our lecturer Annabeth. I immediately contacted, Paul, my writing partner, and James, as we’ve worked on a few things together in the past year. They were both onboard straight away. I’d been planning to work with Munty throughout our first year on the Animation course but hadn’t managed to yet, so this was the perfect opportunity. And when I asked James about animators from his year group, Leah was top of the list. Having seen everyone’s work, I was really excited by the prospect of working with the team.

We met at the university’s Media City campus a few days prior to the jam, so we could watch entries from previous years and discuss art styles and strategy, but there was little we could do really until we got the theme a few days later. Hearing that teams were taking part from all over the country – Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leicester, London, Manchester and York – with professional animators taking part, our expectations were low. We just wanted to have fun.

The format was simple. At midday on the 10th August, we were given the national theme of “Together”, as well as a regional theme, which said we had to include Manchester landmarks in the animation. We then had 48 hours to make a 15 – 90 second animation. We wasted no time and started generating ideas straight away in the car journey to Media City. In fact, the idea that would become “Flock Together” was one of the first ideas we had. Regardless, we spent another two hours brainstorming ideas and had about 15 we really liked to choose from.

We’d decided that we wanted to have a storyboard and animatic done by around the six hour mark, so once we’d narrowed it down to four of our favourite ideas, we quickly thumbnailed them, discussed and chose the one we thought was best – Flock Together – a tale of two love-struck pigeons and a fearsome cat. We scanned in James’ storyboard and I threw an animatic together, while Paul sourced sound effects and Munty, Leah and James worked on character designs to ensure we had a consistent art style.

Once final designs of the characters had been agreed on, we set about dividing up the jobs. Since Paul was the only non-animator on the team, he was tasked with editing and sourcing sound effects. Leah has a particular interest in facial expressions, so she took most of the close up scenes. James is pretty good with action, so that dictated his workload, Munty had designed the cat, so he preferred Cat scenes, and I’m pretty comfortable with walks, so I took walking scenes on, along with some action scenes.

We all went home and started to work remotely. The first evening was a real struggle. I tried to have as little sleep as I could, but had to put my head down for a few hours. When I woke up, we were much further behind our schedule than we needed to be. I think everyone was probably feeling pretty doubtful and like we’d given ourselves too much to do at that point. However, determined, we all got stuck in and did our best.

For the second and final evening, Paul brought his computer round to mine to edit video and sound. Although the levels are a bit ropey in places, all in all, I think he did a really good job building up an auditory environment to accompany the story. The cheesy 80s music was found by Paul and when it all finally came together, everything seemed to fit perfectly.

As the sun came up, and Paul napped on my couch, we could see light at the end of the tunnel. It looked as though we were going to make it – and we did! We were all a very strange mix of happy, exhausted and proud of what we’d accomplished in just 47 hours (we even had an hour to spare). After submitting the video, we all had a well earned sleep and waited patiently for some news

James: There were definitely moments over that weekend that felt like we were out of our depth but we managed to push ourselves to see how fast our animation skills could be put to use.

There’s something very satisfying about finishing a project on such a quick turnaround with a team of talented animators, writers and artists. This project really highlighted how resourceful my teammates were when working in high-pressure situations. I was happy to see that we all were up to the task.

This experience is really good for up and coming animators because it gives us a chance to show that we are up for a challenge and hopefully get our work seen by people in the industry.

This animation was purely for fun and doubled as a really useful way to test out our skills. The fact that we could win a public vote or get a chance to have our short screened at various festivals across the country is something else entirely!

Leah: I was honoured when I was asked to work with people whose work I admire, and anticipated what we had the potential to create, despite worries of clashing art styles, and myself underperforming. After completing the project however, I'm pleased to report that my expected potential was well and truly exceeded and my worries turned out to be complete non-issues.

The freedom that I was offered in the animation process made the whole experience even more enjoyable than it already undoubtedly was. I selected scenes that were tailored specifically to my areas of interest, giving me a head-start on practicing what I intend to research further in my third year of uni.

Through a day of solid work I'm usually lucky to achieve 5 seconds of animation, so the thought of contributing to a 1:30 minute long animation from idea generation to the final product, with a deadline of 48 hours was admittedly daunting. I was put at ease though when I realised how dedicated each one of the team members were, but that's not to say I didn't feel any panic and stress. The tight deadline helped me to work a lot more efficiently than I otherwise would have, so in future personal projects, I’ll definitely consider setting myself deadlines to get things done quicker.

In conclusion, the final product is something that I am incredibly proud to have my name on and display within my showreel. Despite all the initial worries and ongoing stress, this was an incredibly enjoyable experience and would love to work with these writers and animators again, as well as attempt similar competitions and ventures myself.

Voting for the public choice award opened on 1st September, and is open until 31st October, and I’m really pleased to say we’re well in the lead. Something we never expected against some really high calibre teams. It was really cool to see all of the different responses to theme of together. And we’re looking forward to meeting some of the other animators at some of the screenings taking place at festivals around the country.

If you want to check out the animations and vote for your favourite, you can do so here by clicking the star below the video:

Also the films will be screened at the following festivals:

Glasgow Film – 27th September

Encounters Film Fest – 29th September

Glasgow World of Film Fest – 30th September

Borderlines Film Fest – 18th – 21st October

Manchester Animation Festival – 15th November

The Public Choice award and judges’ Grand Prix prize will be announced at Manchester Animation Festival on 15th November.

We absolutely loved every second of Anijam this year. It’s such a fun format and a great opportunity to meet other animators and have your work seen by people from around the industry. We would highly recommend any aspiring animators take part next year. We know we definitely want to!

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy the films.

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