Animating Alex

When the Covid 19 restrictions prevented us from filming on campus, we got animated!

Back in early summer, UoA Collections received funding from the Scottish Book Trust to develop a series of filmed micro-tutorials with the award winning children’s author, Alex McCall as part of the annual Book Week Scotland festival that takes place each November.

Here’s how the story developed…

Episode 1: How to Write Flash Fiction

UoA Collections has traditionally run a Flash Fiction competition as part of Book Week Scotland, the week-long celebration of books, and we wanted to do the same this year, but with a twist!

From the get-go, we knew that things would be slightly different this year. Would we be able to run events such as creative writing workshops in the Sir Duncan Rice Library as we had in the past? It soon became apparent that this would be very difficult and so our small but enthusiastic planning group came up with an alternative plan to go online with our activities.

Our Book Week Scotland Activity Page

Episode 2: Alex McCall

We contact the writer Alex McCall – author of Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens and Revenge of the Giant Robot Chickens – to see if he would help us create some online “How to Write Flash Fiction” videos. In the style of Flash Fiction, these would be very short pieces to camera giving the viewers some ideas and approaches to creative writing. Alex agreed and he set about writing 5 short scripts.

Plan A: Filming Alex in the Sir Duncan Rice Library

Episode 3: Filming on Campus is frustrated

Plan A was to film Alex in the Sir Duncan Rice Library – in amongst the stacks, travelling up the great glass elevator, relaxing in the café, peeking into the Gallery etc whilst chatting about getting inspired by writing.

We aimed to film in the Library in September, but after various meetings, we decided that because of the restrictions, this was problematic. What to do?

Social distancing notice for the Library

Episode 4: Plan Zee goes into action

After a bit of head-scratching, we had a light bulb moment. What if Alex was turned into an avatar? What if the film scripts could be turned into animations? We turned to Zee Allison, the University’s Toolkit Developer (and animation whizz!).

By sheer luck, Zee had a window of opportunity and some new software to try out. The animation was ON!

Zee creating prototype Alex

The new plan was for Alex to make audio recordings of the original scripts and for Zee to story board these. Then, using the new tech, Zee would create an Alex avatar that would respond to her facial movements and actions.

Zee was able to draw an avatar Alex from photographs and then introduced him to it in an initial demo. Quite a strange but fun experience for Alex. We worked with Zee to make a few tweaks then production began on the five 2-minute episodes.

Real Alex and Animated Alex

Episode 5: The Animations go into Production

The finished animations which will be launched on the UoA Collections Book Week Scotland Activity Page and You Tube Channel on November 16th when the Book Week Celebrations begin.

Take a look!


These have certainly been difficult times in which to deliver events and activities for us here in the UoA Collections, but this project has shown how it can be possible to work around obstacles and come out with an even better project than was initially envisaged. This has been made possible by funding from the Scottish Book Trust and by the good will and incredibly talented and innovative work of Alex McCall and Zee Allison.

We hope you will enjoy our micro animations.

We hope you will have a go at writing and maybe even take part in our Flash Fiction competition!

There’s even an opportunity to meet real Alex in a “Collections Conversation with Alex McCall” on Thursday 19th November. Check out the UoA Collections What’s On page for details.


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