The Silly Robots process

I think its important to lay down where my head was at before I even started this project as I think subconsciously it influenced my initial direction and where I eventually ended up going.

I’d been working on rebranding YLLW for a while, nothing too big just tweaking my brand look and feel. Switch to a new colour palette, changing the fonts I was going to use, creating some kind of uniformed language in how I spoke about projects etc… Along the way I’d been playing around a lot with simple shapes, merging them, creating random new shapes from them. I didn’t like any of it but I think its good to point out that I was playing with simple geometric combinations.


The idea:

I didn’t have one, I had some downtime after a really long client project and I was planning on messing around with a bunch of plugins that I’d bought (rubberhose, rayTexture, rayColor, goodparents and rollingRig2).

I tend to buy things and forget I have them so I really wanted to at least do something with the new ones I’d bought. Even just to learn what I could use them for in future would be great. I opted to create a simple silly walk cycle, added some simple body shapes and for some reason added this little head rolling around. I used my new brand colours to make it nice and bright and sent it over to Oliver Sin to try and make him laugh.


He kindly encouraged me to make another one. I did, I made something completely different from the first one. Different method of movement, different things happening but still using simple shapes, same colours, similar overall length and same silly head doing something.

Suddenly I had an idea, lots of ideas. Tons of silly looping walk cycles. All of my initial sketches below, click to expand.


The knowledge:

I knew that I was going to post my animations on twitter/dribbble and instagram. It’s worth noting what restrictions each of these have and how it might affect your animation or idea. At the time instagram had a minimum video length of 6 seconds and mp4’s don’t show tiny details that well. So I know I wanted the animations to be big and bold and over 6 seconds in length. Gif’s tend not to work so well when you add transparencies and gradient colours. I had a limit of 6/7 colours so I figured I could get away with one gradient texture and still make it look half decent and smaller than 3Mb. It’s worth researching and testing things out if you’re unsure.


The rules:

After making the first two robots I had an initial set of ground rules and boundaries;

  • Each robot had to have a head somewhere in it.

  • Each robot had to loop.

  • Use the new brand colours.

  • Be silly but conform to general physics and look as though these things might actually work as robots.

  • Work to an 8 second timeline, so either each loop was 8 seconds, 4 seconds or 2 seconds. That way I kept some kind of timing consistency to the collection.

  • I was to spend no more than 4 hours on each one (I broke that only a few times).

Whatever I had created by mid afternoon got posted to social media, it didn’t matter if the robot wasn’t quite finished or polished, that was never the point. I just want to see how I could conceptually think, design and animate within the strict rules and timing restrictions. It was a great exercise for me.

Along the way these rules were golden, my only addition was to rotate the background colour after each one and I eventually created a sequence of colours. This helped keep things fresh and forced different colour combinations throughout.


The journey:

I tended to have spurts of inspiration for the robots or some particular movement that I wanted to try out. I scribbled everything down in my notepad. I then skipped illustrator and worked directly in After Effects. I wanted to work quickly and there’s nothing quicker than working straight into AE and animating as you design. Some shapes and objects like the heads and some feet were reused throughout the project. Very occasionally some arm or leg rig would be reused otherwise I kept building each robot from scratch each time. They were all so different and fairly simple in design that this wasn't a major issue or stumbling block.

In the beginning I was juggling making robots with client work. This meant that if I wanted to release a robot daily (strictly Mon-Fri only) I’d have to work a few evenings/weekends initially. I was enjoying myself and it certainly didn’t feel like hard work. On days when I didn’t have client work I’d sometimes manage to get two robots done and save some to release for later in the week.

It was all about managing my own work against client work against burning out.

I struggled to keep up releasing dailies when I had some pretty intense client work and I think they took a backseat for a month or so. I was just getting back into the swing of them when I then took a month off to go on Honeymoon. Before I’d left to go on Honeymoon I had completed 39 robots. I had stupidly at some point said to myself I wanted to make 50. It seemed like an easy target when I’d already done 10. The more people I told about the 50 robot milestone the more I was determined to reach that total. My honeymoon also coincided with a trip to Vancouver and the Blend animation festival.

Blend was great, a ton of inspiring talks but personal projects were a big theme over the two days, it really connected with myself and many of the people I’d chatted to had already seen some of the robots and had kind words to say. I felt highly motivated and buzzing to finish the project.

I returned home 4 weeks later, slightly heavier, slightly more tanned and totally determined to finish what I’d started. I turned down paid work for the next 2 weeks to focus on completing my project. I then hired Wesley Slover of Sono Sanctus who in turned roped in Ambrose Yu and Trevor Richardson to work on sound and music for the ‘Silly Robot’ compilation video. I tweaked a couple of the robots for the final compilation just to sort out some tiny errors otherwise everything stayed the same. The guys did a cracking job with the audio and I’m really happy with how the compilation turned out. It's a tricky thing to take a ton of square animations and make them work at 16:9.


The conclusion:

What did I learn? What happened next? Did the robots take over?

I learned how to use most of my plugins which was my first goal!

I finished my first personal project, I've started many and this is the first one to have got past the notepad stage, perhaps because I didn't think too hard about it and it just evolved.

I gained a bunch of new followers on twitter and instagram.

The Silly Robot compilation animation didn't manage to get a staff pick but it did pick up good traction on different blogs and magazines. It even made it onto TV being broadcast by ITN in the Middle East and by DW in Germany. I was interviewed by WERTN and also by MaisonTangible. Different animation festivals approached me wanting me to submit the robots piece, it didn’t win any. It was a finalist in Animography’s Motion Awards and was featured as part of a Vimeo ad campaign.

If you follow my Instagram feed you'll have seen that I'm trying to go one step further and make a robot. It's early days but I'm excited about that side project.

Finally if you've read this far I just want to say thanks, one of the best things I've taken out of this project is how much joy my silly creations have given you, thanks for sharing your love and all the kind messages.