Saturday, February 23, 2008

My First Date with a Dragon

Here I've attached Mike's camera to the scaffolding and am pressing the capture button with my left hand as I rotate the set with the right. I wanted to make sure the mechanism looked smooth enough and it does! The actual film will likely use Mike's discovery of a giant RV jack (scroll down in this section of his wonderful site) attached to the set base as a lower-tech camera control system to bring the camera right down into the scene with each turn of the crank. Something I'm grateful the Dragonmaker taught me.

After trying to buy a 6-pin to 6-pin Firewire cable at three places yesterday (none are to be found in shops anymore) I borrowed one from Paul. It was for two purposes, one to see whether The Darkstrider Unibrain Webcam Patrol of Joy was still working (She LIVES!!! It was a broken cable issue before!) and secondly to finally actually connect myself to the [trembling with excitement] Dragon 3.1.

I'm in the throes of a debate over whether to go whole hog and purchase a very costly to me new DSLR camera with a live feed to begin to animate in earnest even before the main set is complete or to piecemeal the equipment together more economically. Even though it is less "practical" or even logical, I am currently leaning at 95% towards going for it. Here's why, many of you know that I started this film 15 years ago, before the internet, before digital photography, before Mac desktop publishing, before framegrabbers, etc. I started by sculpting characters and building props, biding my time, although I couldn't have consciously known that.

Here we are, 2008 and everything I wanted/needed is now in place and obtainable for me. The very last item dropped into place last month with the release of Dragon's stop motion animation software built for the Mac platform. My friend David said it was as if I am technically being born now as he congratulated me on my moment arriving.

My inclination is to seize the moment with gusto. (I will have a hefty windfall project payment for designing my first website in a few weeks that will take the sting out too.)

Part of the Halfland film ethos is that filmmaking be doable with the means of the maker. Nothing bothers me more than desire and talent being stifled by waiting on someone else to provide the funds to make it real. (Don't make me bring up Leni Reifenstahl again!) No more movie producers, agencies, studios need be involved any longer. Narrow, deep, direct interaction between maker and audience rules the day as far as I'm concerned. And I couldn't be happier over that.

All this to say, I finally hooked up, roughly rooted around with her, and found Dragon to be exactly as I wanted her to be, built for what I'm doing, natural to understand and use, thrilling.

The other day I came across a real life Rana Cottage by accident! Some guy built this home in the wild country of Scotland for about $4000 (hats off!) but what really caught my eye was how much it had in common with Rana's rounded, quicklime-washed, rustic dwelling.

A book design client gave me a sample from from a fabulous hotel in Mexico that used naturally twisted twigs to spell out it's name (seen at top). I freaked in a good way. I spent a couple hours tracking down botanical typefaces online and got a few ideas along the way. There is no written language in Halfland as it takes place before civilization existed, before language was needed, before time, truth be told. So when I create the titles, using branches, shadows, and marking on leaves will be the way to go.

Readers here will recall that the Answer Tree hears your questions and grows your answer out on its leaves. Several have been waiting to hear what their's is. Wait no more. Some answers have emerged today...


  1. love those letters!

  2. Letterforms rule, gl, I'm with you! xox

  3. Woo hoo!! Shelley's Ridin' the Dragon!!!

  4. Shelley,
    I will go without almost everything else in order to have good tools. All the years, all the work and vision should be shown to the very best advantage. Not just for this project but to carry you into the future. Just my humble opinion regarding the camera. Isn't camera at the heart of your project?

  5. Everything looks fantastic! I love the leafy letters especially, and that hut - beautiful!

  6. @Mikeeee, Very kind of you lend your support like that. Thank you!

    @Hi Kathy! I didn't know you read over here, thank you for visiting! I truly appreciate your encouraging words in favor of going for the quality equipment that is so central to something like this.

    Other animators I know successfully use free framegrabber software and equipment that doesn't cost them an arm and a leg. But everyone's got to have the tools that they are most inspiring to use for themselves. I don't mind cutting my corners lots of other ways, like using recycled cardboard for sets. But Dragon software and one of the newer cameras that work seamlessly with it seem to be tools that I personally need for this.

    Thanks for the clarifying perspective.

    @Hi Jessica Marie, my little Rose... If you ask a question of the Answer Tree (
    I will send you the actual leaf with the answer to your question on it as a souvenir! (Those who have already asked will get one as well!)

  7. If your gona do it.

    Do it right!!!

    go for it!


  8. Dude, Justin, you're talking to my heart! I'm going to explore a board thread that Mike sent about a way to work with Dragon before I buy the big camera.

  9. I've always gone ahead and bought equipment. Sometimes it's expensive, sometimes it sits around for ages doing nothing, sometimes it expensively sits around for ages, but in the end it does get used for both my projects and other peoples and we can all appreciate it when the time comes. I get involved in a lot of other shoots and bringing equipment is a nice ice-breaker. You wont regret buying it.

    Mmmm... what is this dragon thing?? Let me see...

  10. Hey, Rich, Thanks for the solid encouragement. I'm agreeing. Really leaning in for the going for it now. Between the web job and a US consumer incentive tax credit, Dude, I'm getting a camera! hee.

    Dragon am for Macs I should have said, amn't you a pcer? If so, not exciting for you. But for me, very exciting. I know there are others for Mac, but I like this program in particular.

    Take good care, there.

  11. hey shel,

    soooo coooool to catch up on your BEAUTIFUL and INSPIRING progress....

    i've been on a no-blog-till-i'm done-editing diet. but i had to touch base cuz i've been thinking of you and got too curious to not at least peak.....

    thanks for the YUMMMY! break.....

    love, shel

  12. Yoinks! The Spinto Band thing in your sidebar is unbelievable. Animating things while they melt is one thing but to do it while they're on fire is just crazy, no, brilliant, no, crazy.

    Great find!

  13. Thanks, Shel, xoxo, I bow in AWE at your speed and skill at editing "the Movie". Hah! I'll be saying that I knew you before you were famous.

    Thanks, Rich! Yeah the fire was mad crazy. I can't imagine being laid back enough to set A SET ON FIRE and then do stop mo on it?! Nerves of Plutonium.

  14. Hello Shelley .. thanks for your comment on my writing :) Pleased to find you here animating :) Interested to hear of this dragon software. I am using framethief at the moment for my stop mo animation. Will add you to my links... best wishes to you. Rima

  15. Dear Rima, Your writing is so special to me. When I read your words I wish I had written them myself, but I don't have your gifts.

    I found you because your avatar Blogger struck me as close to my main character in this film, Rana so I explored who you were at your site.

    What I found was a remarkable human being, so attuned to the realms of nature and beauty, a woman supremely skilled for her artistry and life. Someone who's life, in fact, is uniquely at one with their art.

    I am intrigued and hold your life and work in the highest regard.

    Dragon is for Mac's, as is Framethief I believe, not sure what platform you use for your art films, which I love by the way. The above link will take to their site, where they are now selling the first release for $250, as I understand.

    Framethief is great, I've used it a bit, not as much as you. I just appreciate Dragon's innovations and streamlined functionality that make it easier for a novice like myself to use. Reminds me of when Mac's themselves came out. All of a sudden I could get involved.

  16. Hey Shelley, just wanted top let you know, I haven't been able to get my mail accounts working since hooking up the new 'puter. That's why I seem to have dropped off the map! Very frustrating... it always seems to be the hardest thing to get set up on a new machine for me. Tonight I'm going to plug in the old Mac again and see if I can get the info I need through it.

  17. Dear Mikee, If you can read this... I totally understand. Setting up new is such a slog. It's all different in there! Re-tooling is suckafied. I hate having to learn new apps too, learning curves can bite me.

    Good luck and you'll be plugged back in in no time. With nun-point-nun trouble.

  18. Coming in loud and clear! Everything else is working smooth as silk.... it's only mail that won't cooperate. That's been the biggest bugaboo for me from the beginning.... always mail!!!! Setting it up in the first place, and switching accounts to new computers.... something always stymies me!!!! Each time I got a new computer, mail always had to wait a week or two before I could take care of it!!!!

  19. Oh hey, I know you don't do the message board, so I'll tell you here.... iTunes has Peter & the Wolf for a freakin' dollar ninety-nine!!!! Also Madame Tutli-Putli and Petrov's oil-on-glass My Love, all Oscar Nonimated shorts. There's also another one.... the CGI one, don 't know what it's called. But I especially wanted to tell you about Peter & the Wolf because I don't think you have seen it, and you NEED to!!!!!!

  20. Congrats, Strider! Woo. I'm as excited for your having a swa-eet new machine as my own. I was actually just daydreaming about your having it and all the new animations joy we'll be seeing from you.

    And thank you for the breaking short news, that is something. I saw all the nominated shorts. I think the CGI one you mention is the French one when Even Pigeons Get to Heaven or something close to that. I enjoyed it too.

    I have indeed seen the Wolf and his pal Peter! Many months ago. Through magic. And the Leg of the Boot. I even have a copy via a duplicate of that leg with the making of video on it (you seen?). I will be delighted to buy a copy outright from iTunes to make it kosher, at $1.99, even sweeter.

    Stealing isn't cool in Halfland, actually that's not true--their ANIMALS around here! But still, I can't condone it. However, seeing top drawer stop mo via YouTube or any means necessary is permitted if it's the only bloody way to see it!

    I wouldn't sell or otherwise profit but educating myself and sharing in the art must be served. That goes for anything I theoretically make as well. What good is it if works remain unseen?

  21. I completely concur! Especially when it comes to obscure or hard-to-find stopmo or animation, such a rare commodity.... if there's no other way to see it, see it however you can!!! But when it becomes possible, try to get a little money to the animator. I bought the DVD from Amazon UK (yes, complete with the behind the scenes awesomeness!) AND bought the iTunes download (for Madame T-P and My Love as well! - well, no DVD for My Love, but the iTunes download). I don't recommend anybody else do that, I was sort of dumbstruck by the coolness of downloading iTunes movies direct to this incredible new monitor (and didn't realize that I could watch any and all of my DVD's, no matter the region or system, through VLC!).

  22. Video Love Child? What's VLC?

    I was able to enjoy Nick Hilligoss' incredible movies via my computer too, as my plain jane dvd player wouldn't run PAL.

    Did you know... that Netflix is building up their digital arsenal for instadownloads!? They already have over 70,00 titles you can order and watch right then on your screen.

    Soon, every movie will be a moment away. Good times, good times.

  23. Hah! It truly is a video love child!!! In the more prosaic world though it stands for Video LAN Client (???) and is the bestest video player I've ever found. Just look up VLC.

    I had to open System Prefs and tell it not to automatically open DVD player when I pop in a DVD, and now I can open VLC and select Open Disc from its pulldown menu.

  24. Hey Shelley, you use SBCglobal same as me.... any trouble with your email? I've heard a lot of people are having problems through them. Still can't get mine working.

  25. I would love to create one of those natural signs to go at the entrance of the backyard. How glorious would that be? !!! xoxo


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