Monday, July 18, 2016

Hide and Seek

The Birds in Hats Are Fully Here! (and I'm finally satisfied with them.)
After three attempts, the Birds in Hats puppets are both complete. Here you see the blue green fellow with his flight wings on. I like how the newsprint feathers show a bit of the lettering through the paint. A slight hint at the materials used in making the film.
A new kind of glue to me, hide glue, was the ingredient that made these puppets work.
Here's what happens, I'm minding my own business when my mind wanders over to a Halfland build problem. How to accomplish this or that. I do NOT have any answers about much of any of it. So, my mind is chewing on some part of it--or more often, my HANDS pick something up WITHOUT my mind and starts to do things to it. I'm watching confused as it's generally new, with unknown materials.

Then I suddenly catch on and get excited. Son of a gun. So that's how I can do such in such! Then I immediately feel chagrin over having thought of this new solution. I become a pigeon to my own excitement. The next thing I know, a week has passed and I've worked hard everyday, solving each problem as it appears on the project, and voila! A new blog post about it. This time, it's Halfland's Birds in Hats!

Hide glue and kraft paper shapes were set with masking tape before additional layers of glue and paint. Legs were made of Almaloy base wrapped with 30g annealed steel coated with flexible polymer glue. beaks and eyes were wired and secured within the bird heads along with steel wire cradles for the flight wings and aerial tiedown hardware. The head movement is so expressive! It's done by connecting the head and body with a rod that swivels and tilts while remaining in place at both ends. I love all the emotional looks I'll be able to get with these darlings.
I found the hide glue, normally used for chair caning repair at a local cane supply shop in town. It was expensive for me and something I'd never seen before but my intuition told me it was something to have. In order to see what it was, I put a thin smear on layers of heavy kraft paper scraps and let it dry well. The result surprised me in that it was extremely tough, almost like thick rawhide itself. It was interesting. (I loved it so much I Googled it to see whether it was toxic. From what I found, it is not. MSDS for hide glue states in part that,  "Hide glue is an albumen of animal connective tissue and therefore biologically degradable." "The main components are water and glutin, a scleroprotein.") Probably good practice to wear a glove in case a skin reaction develops suddenly, but for how I got only small amounts on my fingers for such a short amount of time I felt comfortable with it. And it washes off hands, brushes, and tools cleanly with just plain water.

I decided to construct the Birds in Hats by making two hard shells for the body and head, like miniature coconut shells with small scale paper mache, alternating kraft paper and newsprint, and the hide glue. It worked incredibly well, iron tough. The desired forms had to take on a lot of internal infrastructure without losing their shape.
Once constructed, the Birds were given an undercoat of color and two sets of wings took shape, one for when landed and one set for flight blur movement. (upper left) I used small patches of faux fur for their breasts in differing colorways, topped with complementary tracks of wool roving glued to the forms with fast grab tacky white glue until they looked all ready for a haircut.
Tiedown hardware was hidden on their bodies. Color was built up slowly with colored roving held in place with pins until dried. Their hats were built years ago, in 2009, which is great because I would NEVER take the time nor have the patience to make them today so having them ready to put on was a great joy and they really make the puppets work. When they turn their heads the wool sort of twists just at the neck leaving the breast glued down to the painted fur underneath. I wanted that soft feather illusion in that area.

My hands also brushed newsprint with the hide glue and laminated it to plain tissue paper and let dry (upper left) The resulting sheets were wonderfully CRISP and lightweight. They screamed to be used for the Bird's feathers. Loose shapes were used, at first in white and then later made by the bushel by layering colored tissues to make the wings. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to resolve mechanical issues while sitting at my work table in the living room (upper right). The still wings were made and are secured to the puppets via hearty small t-pins topped by small feather pieces to help blend them in when attached.
Early flight wing blur tests.

I had been trying to sort out the Birds in Hats flight wing problem for a very long time. I made a decision about 5 years ago to drop any notion of imitating the real movement of bird wings in flight. Instead I wanted an impression of how their wings look to my eyes in life with a motion blur.

I tried many different materials to simulate the effect finally settling on natural cotton glued to flight wing shadow shapes attached to brass rods that can be rolled between thumb and fingers to rotate into a suggestion of flight.

Later they evolved into having splayed paper feather shapes in a dual-ended wing set idea. I used a spiral cradle in the bodies to allow me to (hopefully) inset the flight wings when they are up in the air and to remove them from place to add the still or closed wings when the Birds will be resting on Answer Tree's branches. There will be some body movement so will have to see how it looks and work around any flaws.

video
Above is a brief clip of the finished pink and orange Bird's flight wings in action, so get what I'm going for during filming.

Finally, the hand mirror prop for their scene was wired with a small loop on the far end so it could attach to the still wing pin and support its own weight when used by the Birds to verify how charming they look. I hope to get some beak-and-leg mirror swiping action into the scene as well.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Bug Me a Little!



Wanted to test Jeff Gatesman's instructions* to me while it was still fresh in my mind. Took the week to put final pre-shot touches to the bug party, set up the camera on Dick Kaneshiro's Smooth Mover, used a small LED as a moving keylight and started getting a feel for how the bug puppets would like to move.

They are NOT fully fledged stop motion puppets and are not meant to be. The whole bug party sequence is meant as an appetizer for other more meaningful scenes with main characters. And in the clip, I just fiddled with no video assist, no preview, no Lunchbox, no onion skin software, just the camera. I didn't measure the pan and am using the random key light to add an atmosphere layer to the scene.

I've crammed myself in this room with the full main set up and the foreground pieces for the bug party for over a year in an attempt to force me to start to shoot. Didn't work at all. And ironically, I might move the bug party set component to another table so I can get further back. The test above is too close up. I'd like the viewer further back as if peeking at the goings on. Plus, I think it will look more interesting/convincing if these little puppets are just animated without a lot of detail. It's all in the concept in this case.

Tomorrow I'd like to show you the set up and how it finally got down to brass tacks.
All I can say is. It was so much FUN FUN FUN!... we're off to the races.
Jeff's instructions worked flawlessly and I understood everything. I even used Adobe Premiere Pro for the first time and found it the easiest editing software I used yet. Even easier than using the newish Photoshop animation features that I thought might be better for me.

 Pure gold.

*I have shared Jeff's suggested workflow with you, fellow animators, in the Underground for those who may like to check the approach out for themselves.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Halfland's Fairy God-Brother: Jeff Gatesman

Can you tell how warm and sincere this individual is? How about how fully-loaded with professional
filmmaking know-how he is? Jeff Gatesman, Director of Photography, newly met, talent to spare.
I see wings of kindness on this artist with an eye for capturing emotional imagery.
After a conversation on the beach Easter Sunday, my friend Riayn asked some industry-pro friends of hers if they knew of anyone who knew stop motion in LA. One of them asked another of them, who then suggested Jeff because of his experience in shooting a children's web series that involved a mix of live action/cgi/stop motion. I can't thank the whole chain of people enough for the perfect suggestion.

Part of my delay in actually shooting Halfland scenes was a.) my love and comfort with fabricating puppets/sets/props, b.) my assumption(s) over what software I would have to learn to use to assemble frames and make a majority of edits with.

Jeff, within 10 minutes of discussing my animation workflow, had blown all of my "facts" out the nearest window and blown my mind with his wholly different approach.

That would have been enough, but he then proceeded to spend a few hours here walking me through the process from frames to render, including a clever solution for outputting in the proper codec.

I took notes. And posted his later instructions on my wall, like sacred text. He checked my computer for competency, tipped me to which cloud backup he used, shopped external RAID backups with me, being careful to cover what I needed but not more than I needed to keep costs modest. Jeff made excellent suggestions for lighting and scrim material as well, all of which was enormously helpful.

It's like being lost in the dark and having a kind, patient person lead you to your path. I can see how to get where I'm going now. Thanks to Jeff and the people that sent him over.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Incredibly Moving

"Young birds are not pushed out of nests they know, as we’ve been told.
Instead, parents remain a distance away, urgently calling them forth."

-- Shelley

This man is one of the most important figures in my life. Over and over.
I can guarantee that hundreds of other people would say the same thing about him as that.
He is extraordinary.  A Master of Classical Dance. A transformer of lives.
These photos were taken of him coaching me during class in 2006.

For an explanation of what I've been doing other than Halfland for the last while and why,
I wrote it up at length on the Underground.

Things are moving. The wheels are in motion. Stop Motion. And I hope to show you soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Little Character Folk Swatch Painting: Rana

One of our cats pees over everything. Every. Thing. I spend a lot of time each day scrubbing and cleaning up after her. I had two 10" tall prints of Rana's portraits on my desk to use as reference for retouching the file to order a poster-size version when a wind gust must have dashed them into a pee puddle in the corner. Having them ruined for sure gave me the courage to try a painting technique I'd been curious about, since I would be trashing them anyway, why not try?
Gluing down strands of sheep's wool and costume fabric swatches to the finished folk painting of Rana.
I glued the trimmed print onto watercolor sheet and blue taped a border on the paper. I taped that to a lap-sized desk of gypsum board that had been wrapped in brown paper with the second print next to it to refer to as I went. I was obsessed as soon as I began.

I've never painted before and considered adding the layers of color on separate leaves of acetate, in paint-by-number style before just trying it out to see how it was. I LOVED it! I wouldn't stop working on it for 3 days, stealing moments right from waking up to right to going to bed.

I was hoping to have it be very rustic and folk, to fit with the film's visual style. Very rough with high impasto texture, almost as an impression of the character rather than a portrait. I used a new medium from Nova Color that is nearly as matte as my trusty matte medium but a much thicker, #208 Matte Gel (satin finish thick paste; dries clear), to build up the areas I wanted to be most dimensional.

Even though she's positioned in her cottage, I only detailed the fire-lit hearth behind her shoulder and the dripping honeycomb near her hand to indicate her setting.

I used acrylics with unrefined (cheap) brushes in what I now believe is called dry brush technique, lots of blending colors and off-loading paint on a cloth until it could do what I wanted.
I made up a purpose for doing it (Needing a reason for doing something besides it being illegal amounts of fun.) and now consider it to be a "Swatch Character Painting", with all the little squares of Rana's costume added on as well as a bit of the hair and moss on the kettle lid (above, right) her spider web lace skirt peering out.

I hope to make one for each character eventually and have them bound into a book for viewing at the Halfland exhibition, should things go that way.

Please stay tuned...
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