Tapocketa: the ‘enchanting, often intricate’ animation studio

UK animation studio Tapocketa uses Affinity Photo and Designer as integral parts of their quirky workflow. We chatted to them about the merits of ‘bits of paper and a sharp pencil’ and how they bring their inspiring characters to life…
Tell us a bit about Tapocketa and what you do.

Tapocketa (pronounced ta-pocket-ah) is an animation partnership creating bespoke animations for businesses and individuals whilst pursuing in house our love of creating inventive animated digital stories and searching out new and exciting possibilities and collaborations.

Our business work includes everything from short animations for websites and social media to high end commercials.

What are each of your backgrounds and experience and how does it inform the work you do at Tapocketa?

Essentially, although our backgrounds were in different creative fields, they come together very well to inform our work style and all we do here at Tapocketa.

Trevor—I spent over 15 years in the world of visual effects for feature films (including big franchises like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Hellboy to name drop just a few). This involved working with some of the industry’s top directors such as Guillermo del Toro and Terry Gilliam. My work involved leading teams and supervising sequences tasked with compositing the digital effects; this is the final stage of the visual effects process when all the elements of a shot are brought together.

Eleanor—My past career is deeply rooted in fine art. Graduating with a masters in sculpture from the Royal College specialising in glass, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my architectural glass work adorn buildings around central London including Regent Street and The Royal Geographic Society. But also, like Trevor, I’ve had the pleasure of working on feature films too, creating the props and sets. In fact we found out much later that we had both worked on some of the same films.

Early pencil sketches from Galdo’s Gift.
Your animation process seems very hands on, can you explain a little bit about how you start with paper mock-ups and progress to digital?

So in neither of our previous experiences had we created our own animation, we had to find our own way, building techniques as we went along.

A photograph of part of the Galdo’s Gift storyboard on the Tapocketa studio wall.

We’ve always liked to straddle the digital and real world and our techniques very much fit with that goal. We simply start with bits of paper and a sharp pencil. Once we have sketched out our ideas, we draw out all the various parts that will come together to make up the characters and the scenery from which we can build sets and character models and work out placement.

Paper models made for Galdo’s Gift.
A comparison between the storyboard image and the final image.

We then scan in all these bits, add colour and texture and assemble them in 3D space (in our 3D software) to replicate the real world paper models. There we can adjust and position each component as we please.

When it comes to animating the characters, for instance, we manipulate the real world paper versions, as if we were putting on a puppet show and motion track this movement (similar to the motion tracking you see in movies when they get actors to move around in body suits with sensors on them).

A printed and constructed character puppet, with markers ready for motion capture.
A screenshot showing motion tracking in Blender. Trevor is holding the paper puppet which is moved by him and tracked by the software to be turned into a 3D animation.

This means we capture certain subtleties and idiosyncrasies of handheld movement you simply wouldn’t get if you attempted to create the animation from scratch within the computer. These sort of techniques were born out of the necessity of two originally inexperienced animators to find a way to animate that would get us a good head start!

Creating and animated commercial: an overview.
How has the Affinity suite become part of your animation process?

Affinity has become a crucial part of our workflow. We’ve become very no-nonsense in our demands for software that performs well and doesn’t get in the way and we love using software which is made in complete service of the user; no strange quirks, no demands or distractions. Affinity has been our mainstay for a long time now.

We use Affinity Photo for the colouring and texturing process, using the really useful selection brush to isolate areas ready for colouring. We then convert these selected areas into mattes grouped with adjustment layers and scanned textures to build up a ‘texture sheet’ which is used to add material texture to the 3D models.

Affinity Designer is used to create the SVG shapes, based on our final ‘texture sheet’ that forms the structure of the final 3D model.

We also use Designer to create our branding and design layouts that we send to print. Designer has all the settings we need to create colour bars, crop marks etc. and to make sure we output with the correct embedded colour profile for the particular print shop requirements.

A screenshot of one of the character puppets being made in pieces in Affinity Photo.
How do you retain that hand-drawn look in your finished, digital product?

It’s really important for us to keep a handmade quality to the visuals. When you don’t have the budget or resources of Pixar you can always take the handmade charm route!

“When you don’t have the budget or resources of Pixar you can always take the handmade charm route!”

We like to create our mark-making and textures in the real world as much as possible, that means experimenting with paint and pencil before any computer work is started. It’s a very therapeutic part of the process, away from the sometimes distracting environment of the computer. We then bring all these elements together in Photo and use various blend modes and colour corrections to create our final texture sheets.

Tell us about your award winning project Galdo’s Gift—The Boovie.

Galdo’s Gift is a children’s picture book, downloaded onto a tablet, that comes to life and speaks to the reader.

The main character, King Galdo, is an animated little frog character that narrates the story from the page as the words are highlighted (voiced by the wonderful veteran TV sitcom actor Brian Murphy). Children can tap on a word to read its definition when it pops up onto the page (all definitions written by ourselves!), watch the detailed animated illustrations and add their name into the story.

An overview of Galdo’s Gift…

If they find the four hidden numbers within the book, they unlock a secret page with paper activities to make and play. They can create their own animations and build their own tabletop game for example.

We’ve called it a Boovie®, a book-movie mashup, combining the reading experience with little animated movies. It’s our first digital publication and we’re excited that it has picked up six international awards so far including best book at the Digital Book World Awards.

You plan to make Galdo’s Gift into a print publication, can you tell us a little about this and why you’ve chosen Affinity Publisher to make this reality?

We are very eager for Galdo’s Gift to have a life in print too. That will require a certain amount of re-engineering to make sure it utilises the best aspects of print based media. Now Affinity has come along with Publisher, we will be using it to create our print version of Galdo’s Gift.

We have built up a confidence in using the Affinity software and having used Designer extensively for print, Publisher is the natural progression for us moving into printed publications. It’s ability to deal with text styles, double page spreads, master pages, page bleeds, colour profiles etc. was crucial to the decision to go with Publisher. It’s also not ‘weighed down’ with a whole host of unnecessary features that just get in the way; very much an added bonus.

A double page spread from Galdo’s Gift.
How did you first discover Affinity and what made you stick with it (are there particular features you use all the time)?

We were looking around for alternatives to the subscription pricing model. We were concerned that, over the lifetime of a piece of software, we could be outlaying thousands of pounds and ultimately not own it; once your subscription comes to an end, after paying a lot of money, you no longer have access. We understand why that payment model is used but it certainly isn’t right for us.

Affinity’s feature set was just the right balance between being comprehensive whilst not overloaded and, over the course of its use, it has proved robust when the demands we’ve placed on it has been high. We’ve been able to use it for a multitude of different purposes and it’s become a vital part of our pipeline.

What other software do you use and how does everything work together?

As well as Affinity, we use Blender and Hype. We are really happy we chose Blender as our 3D software not least because it is completely open source. The feature set for Blender is jaw-dropping for free (to donate) software but a big factor was the huge community of users sharing knowledge that meant we could learn how to use it much faster. It also has the perfect balance of features and useability which, for our needs, was paramount. Their newly released version 2.80 takes Blender to a whole new level and it continues to be adopted by professional studios.

Tumult’s Hype allows us to create interactive animated content for our digital publications and online work. It was instrumental in creating the interactive elements for Galdo’s Gift but we have also used it to create interactive content for client websites. Currently available solely for Mac, it has some key features that make it invaluable for content creation, allowing you to instantly mirror your progress on an iPhone or iPad, so you can see how it will behave on those devices. It also gives plenty of feedback on how changes you make affect your animation’s performance in different browsers, so you are always aware of any compatibility issues.

Behind a 3D animated scene in Blender.
Your style of illustration is really distinctive and enchanting, what have been your influences over the years in developing this look?

Very early on we actively pursued inspiration from a wide range of sources to bring together to influence our own style. We went to exhibitions, museums and on theatre tours. We collected books and perused antique etchings and map archives; anything that fed our curiosity. The Victorian paper model theatres of Pollock’s Toy Museum, British folk art at Tate Britain, eccentric follies and grottoes in Portugal, antique gadgets and gizmos, the list goes on but the common theme was the enchanting, often intricate, inventive sideways approach to the creative process.

Your work seems very much about storytelling, what stories have inspired you growing up and as adults?

Growing up with loved classic and unusual stories like ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ but also the ingenuity that went into the illustrations and pop up books of Jan Pieńkowski and the graphic novels of Raymond Briggs; anything that explored the boundaries and brought something new to the world of books. As children we both enjoyed watching Jackanory on TV which inescapably draws the viewer into the magic world of every story.

What’s on your desks?

As well as our iMacs we have amassed quite a bit of high tech and low tech supporting hardware that allows us to create our animations.

One little star of the show is our Zoom H2n Audio Recorder microphone. We use it for capturing sounds that we can use later for sound effects. The sound quality of the recording is stunning so we also use it when creating our behind-the-scenes videos.

But alongside the tech, our main piece of equipment is the good old pencil and paper which is never far away (as are the scissors and sticky tape!).

A work in progress.
You seem very passionate about going into schools and inspiring children to create their own animation—what tips would you give to young creative people wanting to create their own work or seeking a creative career?

Always experiment and find your own style if you want to stand out from the crowd. If you want to make a name for yourself outside of the big studio genres then putting in the time to experiment with different methods is so important. It’s also fun!

“Always experiment and find your own style if you want to stand out from the crowd”

Who is a tougher audience? A class of school kids or a company you’re pitching a project to?

Kids can, of course, be brutally honest. In the early stages of Galdo’s Gift we took it into schools to perform the story and get feedback from the children. We made up fun little questionnaires where the children could give each character a star rating and said what they like and if there was anything they didn’t like. With that feedback we revisited certain parts of the story and made tweaks: it was an incredibly important part of the process.

What’s next for Tapocketa?

As well as continuing our commercial work we have two new in-house future projects in the pipeline. One is again aimed at the younger market and involves playing with how the storybook can develop and change in real time. The other is for a more grown up audience and has a central theme of a psychological journey within both a story and a landscape of puzzles and discovery.

We are really proud that we have found our own path. In a very crowded creative arena it’s important to create your own unique route. It can be a bumpy road discovering your own style but ultimately well worth it.

Some concept images from a future project called the Locksmith.

Tapocketa is Eleanor Long and Trevor Young. Join their mailing list to keep informed about their future projects.

You can see more of Tapocketa’s work and get a glimpse of work in progress at tapocketa.com.


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

All artwork is copyright © of Tapocketa 2019 and used with permission.