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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pettyt

Making education accessible for children during lockdown

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

The client

BBC Education's aim is to transform lives through education.

They create educational content for every child in the UK, produce classroom content for teachers and create partnerships with organisations such as the Premier League to bridge the gap between societal and educational change throughout the UK.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic changed how children consumed education, they enlisted help from the Tracks and Layers team.

Keep reading to learn how our team helped the BBC through the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver a wonderful, education project.

The brief

As part of BBC Education’s continued commitment to lockdown learning, their team was tasked with creating a new daily programme focusing on key subjects including Maths, English, Science, History, Geography, Art and Music. Each episode of Bitesize Daily required a series of short, animated films aimed to add value, context and deeper understanding of the subjects covered. Through the creation of these videos, teachers can have faith in their students continuing to learn even when not in an educational setting.

BBC Education approached us to create a series of animations focusing on key figures throughout history with each character telling a story of their lives through expertly crafted animation.

The team

Our handpicked team on hand for this project included:

Creative Direction / Art Direction Mike Pettyt

Project Management Megan Ascroft

Illustration Jake Cawthray, Hannah Kirkland

Animation Greg Norton, Jake Cawthray

If there’s one characteristic that defines all of us, it’s our love of solving tough challenges and we were so excited to put our brains together and get started on this project.

The planning phase

The initial first step with any project we embark on is to capture as much information as possible from our client. This is because we want to make sure we are able to get started as soon as possible without any toing and froing with the client.

We wanted to know:

  • Who their target audience was

  • Their tone of voice

  • The educational content required

  • The accuracy of the information they provided

We also needed to know the technical details such as the format, the desired duration and when our client would ultimately want to receive the final assets and how.

The initial development stage included creating a look and direction for the animations.

Early character concepts

In our minds, we wanted to stick with the core BBC Bitesize branding but inject the films with a distinct style and character all of their own. Jake set out to create ous character illustration concepts along with key props that would feature throughout the films. We then collated these illustrations into a single style frame to present to our client with a view to start moving forward into the production phase.

Initial character and prop styleframe

We continued to work closely with our client to develop this concept further. This allowed us to ensure the final creative was of the highest quality and operated within the agreed timeframe and budget.

Putting the plan into action

Once the final concept was signed off, we began the planning and execution stage of the animation production process.

This process was made up of four stages:

1. Illustration

At the illustration stage, we were provided with a list of historical characters we had to illustrate ahead of the final script. We knew getting these illustrations correct was important, not only to the completion of the project but also to the satisfaction of our client.

All 15 characters from series 2

Once we received the script for each film, we began illustrating any key props within the videos.

As the scale of the project grew, we reached out to our community and brought in the talented Hannah Kirkland to help with the illustration work involved in the project.

A sample of Hannah's work on instragram
A sample of Hannah's work on instragram

Hannah did a fantastic job fitting seamlessly into the team, creating some amazing work for us and our client.

The final step in the illustration phase consisted of an illustration contact sheet that included the character and all their props. This was presented to the Bitesize team for any amends and sign off.

2. Rigging

Duik rig example
Duik rig example

The rigging stage involves creating a functional skeleton for our character artwork linked to a number of animatable controls, allowing our animators to easily manipulate and articulate each character.

Greg and Jake used DUIK Bassel - an incredibly powerful character animation tool for After Effects - to create the character rigs.

Improved rig controls
Improved rig controls

Across the 2 series of films, the character rigs became more advanced and streamlined. By making each character follow the same basic form, the rigging for each was quick and efficient.

3. Blocking

The next stage was to block the animations out with key poses for characters. This step also included positions and timing for the props, text and imagery.

By presenting the blocked version of the animation to the client, we were able to make changes more easily and earlier in the process before investing a significant amount of time in animating characters and the scenes as a whole.

4. In-betweening (tweening)

Once all feedback was actioned, in-betweening could begin which is where we create the

frames of animation between the main blocked poses, smoothing out movements and finessing motion curves, adding the final polish, character and personality to the animations.

Throughout this process our client was kept up to date with our progress by our studio manager, Megan, who scheduled all the stages of production with our team. Without the help of Megan throughout this project, things could have quickly gone off the rails.

Combined creativity delivers great results

The project was delivered on schedule, within budget and to a high standard which in our books equates to a very happy client.

The completed series of animations were a great success. We effectively and succinctly helped our client tell the story of some of history's most prominent figures while anchoring each character in a core subject from the curriculum just as our client had set out to achieve in our first meeting.

Across two separate series for our client, we’ve now created over 30 films each with boundless energy and character throughout while keeping education at their core.

Our team benefited massively from creating these films as it allowed us to really knuckle down and sharpen our character animation workflow over the course of this project.

Do you need someone to deliver the perfect blend of creativity and tech wizardry for your next motion design, visual effects, or colour grading project? Let's talk.

We can’t wait to discover your vision and help you realise it through impactful moving visuals.

Email or call us on 01612981214.

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