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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Credit where credit's due.

As is our custom after watching particularly awful films, Chuck and I looked over the DVD special features of Beowulf. We often watch these behind the scenes features in an attempt to see someone we know in the VFX scene as they disingenuously chat up the benefits of computer animation, or we're grasping at straws, hoping to make some use out of the hours lost. The hours were irretrievably lost because there is, of course, no measure of satisfaction after a film as awful as Beowulf.
But then came a little gem among the tech drivel and twirp boasting. Neil Gaimen (who I'm pretty certain hasn't actually done anything good, or at least good enough to deserve his enormous cult following,) went right ahead and took credit for a truly lovely quotation by G.K. Chesterton. The original quote goes as follows: "Fairy tales are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."
How lovely is that? How eloquent and thoughtful and encompassing a concept. What a fantastic tribute to the fairy tale as a genre.
But then back to the DVD features where Neil's bobbing and talking head spoke this same quote, but as if it was of his own design. He followed G.K.'s words with his own, adding "and that is a huge true thing."
What a word-smith.

Let's just hope the editors, on a deadline, just happened to cut out the part where he gave credit to G.K. Chesterton and his marvelous quotation. I hope it's not too unlikely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Puppet couture

Holly hand knitted Mawk's sweater and beanie with tiny needles and yarn not much thicker than sewing thread. She magically finished the sweater in less than a day. The beanie was done over a cup of morning coffee.
Chuck's super hero moniker for her is "The SilkWorm," which is pretty appropriate for a woman who doesn't miss a stitch even while knitting in a dark movie theater.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Workspaces continued.

While taking a breather from the rigors of animating, Chuck winds down by painting the miniature dock house. We're under such a tight schedule that down time ends up being just another time to work.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Puppet's with no soul.

It's tough to bring a puppet to life. A good deal of the illusion comes from the animator's performance and an engaging narrative, while some believability stems from the puppet's design. The better the design, the more fluid and natural the movement. The smoother the movement, the more life-like. But is 'life-like' the goal?
I'd argue that 'magic' is the goal. Something more than realism (otherwise you should simply film live action.) Somehow, it's a balance between the familiar and the unbelievable. It all comes down to a 'suspension of disbelief.'
From the start, Chuck and I agreed that our puppet's eyes needed to be as expressive as possible. We put so much weight on them, that at one point we removed them all together and opted for a hollow face. When we finally came around, Chuck found an old man who hand crafted glass eyes for dolls [contact information to be added.] As a finishing touch, Chuck added a little drop of lube which gave a great deal more depth to Mawk.
As an example of going the full distance, take a look at Chris and Maciek's film "Madame Tutli Putli" to see just how powerful eyes can be alongside skilled animation.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Miniatures continued.

To further illustrate the benefits of Y2Clay, I've added a picture of this very rough miniature sculpt of Mawk. At under 1 and 1/2 inches, it's not too difficult to get fairly intricate. After forming the armature from thin wire and getting a basic shape, I added melted Y2Clay in bulk to the areas I knew would be needing bulk. When the clay was a bit cooler, I carved out the general shape with an x-acto blade.
Once it cools completely, I'll go at it with tiny tools to get the little details and textures.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mister's Tutli Putli

We were lucky enough to have both Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski stop by our studio for a visit before heading to Los Angeles and the Oscars. Their film "Madame Tutli Putli" is nominated this year for best animated short film.
These two, and their film, are simply wonderful.

Friday, February 15, 2008

To make an omelette you have to...

...break a few quail eggs.
It didn't take much to destroy this fragile egg moments before it was to be on set.
I mentioned in a earlier post how many eggs I've sculpted in the past that couldn't compare to the original and how happy I was to be using the real thing. After blowing the innards out, I filled the egg with wood glue thinking it would solidify over the next 48 hours. Unfortunately, I forgot that the glue wouldn't set in such a dense volume.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your feedback.

If you're an avid blog reader, and specifically a reader of our blog, let us know what you would like to hear more about.
The only blog I've read more than once or twice is John August's screen writing page. His is more a reference tool, a wealth of tricks and tips for screenwriters. If you're curious as how to write a phone conversation between three people without wasting a page's worth of "cut-to's," then his blog may be helpful.
Aside from a daily update to keep a fire under Chuck's ass, I'm trying to imagine what the few stop motion folks out there might find useful. Documenting every detail of our film from puppet fabrication to storyboarding may prove useful to some, but tedious to others. Would this blog better serve as a resource? Let us know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Villains. Introduction to one antagonist.

We're not planning on giving away too much.
Then again...
Here's an early sculpt of one of our villains. I began by wrapping wire around an approximately 2 inch square block of wood, then added hot clay and built up the basic form using Y2Clay (this clay's fantastic because it melts into smooth hot chocolate then hardens strong enough to take carving with a razor blade or sculpting tool.) We get the clay from D&S (Douglas and Sturgess) in San Francisco. It's pretty tough to find anywhere else in the Bay Area. Once the basic clay sculpt was finished, I added some dried alien flowers for bone-like feathers and prepped it for molding. At the time, I was working in a model shop in Bay View Hunter's Point with Martin Meunier and Erik Dunn -- they're master fabricators and mold makers with a shop right next to Merrick Cheney's (who I mentioned in an earlier post as the one who machined Mawk's armature.) I then poured the mold out of Platinum-Cure silicon and cast several resin figures. These I cut apart into their basic componenst: head, body, wings, and legs and then re-molded each part individually so that I could cast those pieces seperately. Now I had a complete puppet somewhat like an action figure.
By grinding away bits of resin with a Dremel to make room for armature parts and movement, I managed to make our villain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How low?

I've read that when a film shoot goes too smoothly, chances are good that the movie will be bad. Problems in the narrative or cinematography or direction that aren't addressed during the shoot, simply slip through. The same can't necessarily be said about a rough shoot though. It still may not be any good.

We had a rough set up Saturday for a fairly insignificant close up shot. 3-5 seconds of mostly camera movement, but it took an entire day to set it up -- and this using the same set pieces and lighting. I was the first to lose patience, barking ridiculous statements like "why bother with a storyboard if we have to rework each shot during the shoot anyway!"
After a cool down, Chuck reminded me of all the behind the scenes stories, all the rewrites, all the experiments, all the risks that go into the DVD extras of Criterion films. I'm not normally one to find comfort in sympathetic suffering, but it's nice to think that well planned shoots by seasoned pros see rough days as well.

I find comfort in knowing that a film's made at least 3 times: the screenplay's written, the film's shot, and the footage is edited. It's good to have safety catches. As many as you can.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sticking to it the only way we know how.

Barge is fantastic glue.
It can be hard to work with though, especially indoors, as the toxic fumes demand quick work of it. Even this little bit immediately filled the room. Chuck still managed to shoot 140 frames with traces of the acrid smell still in the air. What a champ.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Side X ediS

In order to match a vertical camera move with the frame grabber, we made this mount for the video camera so it would move in tandem with the Bolex. Our tripod head included a 1 1/2 inche deep quick release plate. We wrapped two boards around it, then secured it with metal braces and hot glue.

Friday, February 8, 2008

POV of our laundry.

Taking a break?
I don't think so. If we take a break, it's to catch up on chores, like laundry. We both watched the spinning long enough to wonder what the clothes were seeing.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Will takes a spill.

Will Groebe, from Tippet Studios in Berkeley California, helped extensively with fleshing out the story and single handedly drew each frame of our storyboard. There's a post coming soon dedicated solely for his drawings.
I heard this afternoon that he had an accident while riding his motorcycle. A Ducati none the less. He's supposedly fine. A little broken, but fine.
If you know him, send him a note.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Camera move.

Nothing says 'computer animation' more to me than an overly dramatic and complex camera move. Sometimes a story necessitates a simple pan or push to link movement or make up for lens limitations. There's something so lovely about a subtle Kubrick-style push in, a movement so slow you hardly notice it's even happening. But a gross misuse of extravagant motion seems to generate a more diluted sense of tension. It's not really more exciting or hectic, just more complicated.
We shot this test with an older frame grabber to see how smoothly a Mitchell head, that we mounted on a borrowed track, could move. To make things worse, this image was filmed with a camera phone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Quail eggs are simply beautiful

I've fabricated eggs.
And when I did, each one turned out egg-like or egg-ish.
But none came close to matching a true egg.
I'm not talking so much about the shape, but more about the color and texture. The shape is easy to match because it's naturally roundular, easy to roll in the hands with warm or semi-warm clay. The texture is another problem all together. If the clay is dry enough, you can use stand-by tricks like orange rinds or dry sponges to dent and ding the sculpted mass. Then you can air brush, dry brush with acrylic paint, maybe a smudge of oil paint, a little spit and shine for either the flat or glossy finish...
You can blow out a lovely quail egg from the market (99cents for 10.)

Monday, February 4, 2008

When to worry you worry worts you.

Having lost Monaco Labs (our local film lab,) we sent a precious 100foot roll to FotoKem in Los Angeles through the regular old USPS. No fancy pants film delivery service. Just the USPS -- folks walking around in nifty striped slacks or driving white bread boxes.

The film was shipped out Friday.
We both began losing our minds late Monday morning after a check-up call to Foto Kem. "Has the film arrived?" Chuck asked. "Not just yet," they replied.
120 hours of work lost and wandering between Northern and Southern California.

*A plug for the people at FotoKem who called us when the film arrived early that same afternoon setting us both at ease.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cinefex, are you reading? Or watching?

This candid picture of Chuck on set could make it into the December 2010 issue.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Expressions not Ex'pressions

I'm currently teaching at a college in Emeryville called Ex'pressions. The picture above of Mawk's heads are 'expression tests.'
I couldn't resist.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A miniature of a miniature

Chuck built our dilapidated dollhouse from scratch with a little help from nearly everyone who passed through his workshop. Each adding their 2 cents...
A scrap or wood here. Broken shard of glass there. Little bit of paint and moss.
It was built for another shoot. Chuck even went so far as to build a life size interior in his apartment so he could match live action with stop motion. So for several years he lived in an over sized dollhouse.

When we adopted the house for Rung, it didn't take long to realize how much we needed an even smaller version.
I'm not sure what scale this is. I simply eyed it.