Lockdown Stories: Final year at Uni

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This is one university student's lockdown story about how he managed to finish his final year university project during the first UK Lockdown.

Lockdown Stories: Final year at Uni

When the whole country and the world even went into their respective lockdowns, just like the virus, it was novel to begin with. The first couple of weeks were easy, thanks to hit Netflix shows like Tiger King to keep us occupied. However, after a few weeks of eating junk food and binging on Netflix things started to get tough.

Some people learned how to play the guitar or some other instrument, some tried knitting or sewing, loads of people got into fitness (thanks Joe Wickes), and D.I.Y projects that were lingering in the background for months finally got some attention.

Whatever you did during the lockdown to help keep you sane was a great thing, no matter how big or small an effort it was.

Students were some of the worst affected by the lockdown

All students had their school term abruptly ended which wasn't nice but certain age groups were more adversely affected, including year 6s and 13s who were preparing to say goodbye to lots of friends in preparation for higher education settings, year 11s who were on the brink of taking their GCSE's and third Year University students who were about to graduate.

In the case of this young man who was staring down the premature end of his final year at the University of Westminster Animation course. He found himself in a dilemma having to complete his final year short stop-motion film project at home, without any resources on offer from the University.

Students who were studying practical courses were at quite a disadvantage

It's no easy task having to make a stop-motion animated film from home but that's exactly what needed to be done so a concept for the film needed to be thought through quickly and a set also needed to be built.

Plastic pollution was already an idea he had floating around in his head so he decided to go with that but also add a lockdown element to the film, just to illustrate how much plastic pollution one person can generate in a single day without even barely leaving the home.

Image 1
Chike working away on the set which took up a considerable space of his bedroom. This would normally have been done in the studios on campus. Lights and camera also made the space difficult to work in.

Now that the theme of the film is established, all he had to do is get to work building the storyboard, set, and figures. Despite not having access to the resources at the university, Chike got his head down and started taking on the jobs ahead of him.

Creating a timetable helps to stay organised

With lockdown in full swing, there was an abundance of time to kill so he made a timetable to help himself with his workflow.

His schedule looked much like an ordinary day at University, except for the time it takes to travel to and fro. Travel times were used to get on with other stuff at home, such as helping his parents at home with the cleaning and going to the shops. Doing normal everyday activities helped break up the day into batches so that he didn't burn out working on his uni project.

Having a routine is a great way to stay sane during the lockdown.

This all sounds great but the isolation from his friends and other students was very challenging, as it was for most young people. Thank goodness for Zoom. Chike spent quite a few hours in the week chatting to friends about life and how they are handling isolation and Zoom calls were also invaluable for getting feedback from his lecturers.

Video games also helped him take the edge off when things started becoming overwhelming. These days, gaming platforms such as Xbox and Playstation have online communities where players can chat with each other while enjoying game time in the virtual world.

Another really big help to manage stress during the lockdown was to avoid watching or reading too much news. With 24/7 rolling news, it's easy to end up over-indulging in the stories of the day and during this pandemic, the virus has played a starring role in news-reels. It's just overwhelming and a waste of time.

Chike decided to spend just 15 minutes in the morning reading the news online and then 15 minutes in the evening to catch up on what's been happening in the world each day. This routine helped a lot to reduce anxiety but also stay in the loop with the wider world.

Image 2
Before and after of the kitchen area of the studio flat set built using MDF and strip wood. Quite a lot of props were needed to fill the space for an authentic look.

So now that there was a strict routine in place which was working for him, his project was coming along nicely.

First step was to research the topic

A big part of any film making project is research and he was astonished to find out some facts about the effect of plastic pollution in this world we call home.

First of all, he needed to know which plastic products are the most polluting on the planet and this is where there were some surprises. Sure there are the obvious bad guys such as plastic bags but cigarette butts/filters was a real eye-opener. Yes, cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate.

According to a list compiled by The Ocean Conservancy, several of the top 10 pollutants in the ocean are plastic products.

Top 10 Pollutants in our Oceans

  1. Cigarettes
  2. Food wrappers and Containers
  3. Beverage Bottles
  4. Plastic Bags
  5. Caps and Lids
  6. Cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
  7. Straws and Stirrers
  8. Glass beverage bottles
  9. Beverage cans
  10. Paper Bags

So now that the list of the worst offenders was detailed, a real storyboard could start to be drawn up and a central character could start to be built, along with all the props.

Image 3
Still image from the completed film of the central character reaching for a plastic bottle of milk from the fridge. Plastic bottles and vessels make up a large proportion of plastic pollution.

A storyboard is a graphic organiser that plans a narrative

The storyboard started with a male character named Sean, sleeping in his bed, nice and cosy. At 8am his alarm clock goes off and it's time to get his day started.

Like most people, he heads towards the bathroom to freshen up by brushing his teeth. Toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are made of plastic and they too do appear in great numbers in our oceans, so he thought it would be a good idea to illustrate that the first thing we do is use a product made from plastic.

Without going into too much more details about the animated film (we don't want to spoil it. You can watch it by scrolling to the bottom of the page), the character carries on with his day, leaving a trail of plastic pollution in his wake until he tucks himself in bed again for the night.

Props and the central character were built using Fimo polymer clay.

Fimo is a modelling clay that is hardened in the oven. It's a popular choice for kids, artists and professional modellers. This particular product is made by Staedtler and they have two versions of the product - oven-hardening modelling clay and air-drying modelling clay. Both come in a wide variety of colours.

The raw product requires a bit of kneading to make it soft and easy to manipulate into the shapes you desire. When you arrive at the shape you're after, 30 minutes in the oven is all it takes to harden. Once hardened it can be sanded smooth, varnished or painted. It's so versatile that once hardened if a piece breaks away from your model, you can easily attach again using super glue.

Chike describes this part of making the movie as the most therapeutic and helped a lot to keep his mind off the restrictions on his daily life due to the UK Lockdown. Fiddling around with the clay shaping the props is easier than it sounds and far more enjoyable than other aspects of the project creation, he says.

Buidling the set, which included a bathroom and studio flat living space was much more of a challenge because it involved lots of woodwork. Unable to use the woodworking facilities at University, he had to borrow and even hire tools such as saws and power drills.

The cost of materials for the set came to around £250 but due to the fact that there was nothing to spend his money on during lockdown, the funds were available.

In all, it took around 4 weeks to create all the clay props and the set for the stop-motion lockdown plastic pollution film.

Image 4
FIMO modelling clay and sculpting tools used to create objects such as the head of the main character which sat on an aluminium wire armature.

Filming the stop-motion animation took just five days

The actual filming of the stop-motion took just a five of days, which belies the true volume of work that went into the whole project. A further three or four days were needed for the post-production work before he could finally say the film was complete and ready to be submitted for marking.

A program called Dragon Frame was used to film the stop-motion, Adobe After Effects to add certain effects, and Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the frames.

Face your footprint was featured in several film festivals

Part of the assignment was to also submit the completed film to film festivals. Luckily, several accepted the film and it was featured in festivals all over the world. Unfortunately, due to world-wide Covid-19 restrictions, all the festivals were held virtually.

Film festivals the movie appeared in

  • Lift Off Online Sessions
  • MM Fest, China International Green Week
  • Festival de Cinema Estudantil de Guaiba
  • Popoli e Religioni - Terni Film Festival
  • 5th Chaniartoon 2020
  • Screentest: The National Student Film Festival
  • CCCL Film Festival 2020

All the hard work paid off

By the time the national lockdown ended, the film had been submitted for marking and Chike was delighted to find out that the movie received a First.

Sadly though, due to covid-19 restrictions, the screening at The theatre at 307 Regent Street University of Westminster Regent street campus was cancelled and worst still, graduation was postponed indefinitely.

Scroll down to watch the full Face Your Foot Print movie.

If you think this lockdown story will inspire someone you know, please use our share button below to share with them directly via email or on your social channels.

This is the final draft of the animated film titled 'Face your footprint' by Chike Okeke. The film looks at the total plastic pollution waste that one individual can produce in a single day.

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