Saturday, August 16, 2008

Macro Obscura and Getting the Real Dirt on Pseudo Soil

dreamBosqYou've found it, the real Halfland. Is the snoring cat Bosq seen in a dream, is he a memory? No, he's in Halfland.

I'm posting this first because it is quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen to Halfland yet, at least one of the most. Let me put it this way, I cried a little in some kind of mix of joy/relief in finding an answer when I couldn't even ask the question.

Here's what happened, last year I stumbled upon an amazing video artist called Remyyy on Vimeo. (first found him through the popularity of his masterful pairings of vintage dance footage with new music.) He's a lovely French fellow who makes some of the most viscerally evocative art films I've seen. So fresh, so innovative.

One fine day he comes out with a simple film that looks precisely like I'd always envisioned for Halfland, not megapixel clean, not hires, not digital, even as it was shot with it. I was wanting Halfland to be filled with an abundance of natural atmosphere and a certain aesthetic mood--is it a dream, is it a memory? No, it's Halfland--but how? Ah, Remyyy did it.

When I found his tutorial for what Remyyy calls his Shoebox a while back (first cry). Flickr photo of set up.

In a nutshell: you use a magnifying lens of some kind and size of your liking, find its focal length and have it project an image of the world around you onto a semi transparent "screen" positioned inside a darkened box, upside down and backwards. Then, position a camera of your choosing at that screen inside the box to capture the wonderful organic distortion and blurring of the world. Wiki page on Camera Obscura.

Finally, over the last two days, I've followed the general instructions and experimented to adapt the technique to stop motion using every magnifying lens and loop I had in the house. I made several sizes and shapes, used various screening materials, etc. I got it working and began to understand the process. The general shoebox is excellent for "infinity" photography of real life landscapes, capturing light, shadow, and subdued color. Sensational. (I plan to make a shoebox for the little digital video camera I'll be sending to Jessica and Hans for the forest live action sequences as well.)

But could it be adapted to miniature stop motion? YES!! I did it today (cried again), the image above is my first successful effort. I call it Macro Obscura. After dozens of experimental test videos I happened upon using an orphaned Olympus 50mm 35mm lens and a strip of simple tracing paper (seems to work best for translucence and opacity for this) and my little silver box for a rough test. There is about a 1/4" depth of field with the naked lens, and it's a very strong macro.

There are technical adjustments still to sort out with my methods, for example my naked eye looking into the box sees a perfect magical land before it, but when I snap a picture or shoot a video of it, there are crass artifacts of tracing paper texture or white point hot spots, etc. I'm hoping to iron these issues out and arrive at a combination of magnifying lens and recording camera that can be used to create at least some of Halfland's footage.

surfaceprogClick on photo for Flickr page; go to "all sizes" and click for full screen view. Only slightly less exciting Clockwise from left; surface texture base coat complete, half (HA!) of the landscape surfaced with vermiculite/mulch combo adhered with clear gel adhesive, close-up of the pseudo soil between towel grass patches (awaiting green dye), it takes two layers of the ground cover (sweeping off excess in between layers) before it looks suddenly like real earth.

Announcing new Pseudo Soil happening on set! I completed surfacing the entire set with grassy towel and batting patches and blending the edges of them with stippled plaster. Then developed a Faux Earth methodology. I'm thrilled with how it's looking, far more real than I thought. What works best is a bold layer of super thickened art paste (Attention People of Elmers: This is not a paste and should be called clear gel adhesive instead.) with a sprinkling of lighter than air VERMICULITE (organic certified no asbestos) mixed with pulverized bark (aka: MULCH) both found at garden centers for pennies a pound. (use gloves and respirators for when the dust gets kicked up from sweeping off excess between layers.) The first layer can be tinted with dilute dye for richer color and deeper look after two layers (dried in between) are applied to all the built in mache undulations.

22 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:28 PM

    I love it! "Macro Obscura". You need to copyright that right away.

    -Yuji

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  2. Thanks so much, Yuji! That's really encouraging to hear!

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  3. Yeah, it looks awesome!!! I wish the image had just a bi more clarity toward the middle though.

    The set is looking incredible!!! Hmmm... it's seems almost a shame, all the great detail you're putting into the set and then you're going to shoot it all through such a powerful distorting device! But then I guess you'll still be able to make out detailing at the center of the frame. That could look really cool, especially if the camera keeps moving slowly just over the ground.

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  4. Yeah, it looks awesome!!! I wish the image had just a bi more clarity toward the middle though.

    The set is looking incredible!!! Hmmm... it's seems almost a shame, all the great detail you're putting into the set and then you're going to shoot it all through such a powerful distorting device! But then I guess you'll still be able to make out detailing at the center of the frame. That could look really cool, especially if the camera keeps moving slowly just over the ground.

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  5. Hey... is there an echo in here?

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  6. awesome. i always know i'm on the right track if it makes me cry. :)

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  7. Wu Hu2:24 AM

    Progress in two directions - getting Halfland well grounded, and getting that etherial vision of it!
    I'd like to see a shot of your cottage beneath the tree through that Macro Obscura device, so it's easier to judge whether it strikes the right balance for the viewer, between seeing and having to imagine - but I think you are onto something here!
    - Wu Hu, Chinese god of spontaneous enthusiasm.

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  8. Beautiful lens effect Shell, congrats! (....cant wait to see it in action :)

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  9. Hello hello Darkstrider, you got it, yes, the final magnification lens will be perfectly clear at center and will "make out detailing at the center of the frame... [as] the camera keeps moving slowly just over the ground." is my evil plan.

    HI gl, yep, me too on the crying, except I know when I'm on track in general or at least always think that I am, but the over-burst of emotion that causing the crying means "this is something really exciting and meaningful" for me. I remember having that happen when I was a lot younger when there would only be little flashes of the creatively empowered life I am lucky enough to lead now. Maybe the same thing is happening now.

    Welcome, Master Wu Hu! You are as funny and supportive as Master Nick! Thanks! I agree on the longer view shots needing to blend with the macro. I will need to experiment with more magnifiers to get one for medium and long view and/or develop a more subtle digital distortion effect that will flavor the rest of the shots.

    I suspect that I'll have to use a combination of different Obscura devices for each type of shot in the film(s).

    HI Ubbie! Thanks, I made a few frames of Bosq's ear wiggling with the stop motion setting on the silver box but to test it really, I'd have to set up the Macro Obscura on a fixed tripod and do it for real. But from what I saw, it looked as good as I could have possibly hoped! So dreamy!

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  10. Very very cool camera tech.

    I hate to see you loose all that beautiful detail in your sets, but I love the dreamy look of the images.

    Of course the detail is still there, its just dreamy detail.

    Have you tried different brands of tracing paper, velum or even frosted glass lots of great possibilities there.

    The hot spots may be coming from any light leaks around the lens or pin holes in the box and possibly from kinks or dings in the tracing paper. A small ground glass plate would give you the most pristine image, but maybe too clean? Also try different sides of the paper toward the lens, may be some subtle differences.

    If it hits you in the tear ducts it must be working.

    mf

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  11. Sniffle, sob, boo hoo! You did it, yep! Great ideas there, Mark, thank you.

    Perhaps I'll try a curved piece of frosted glass? I'll get more creative with the materials.

    I was really thinking that my for real animation camera to be, copying Mike's famous Lumix, with more manual control, might be a way to get down on the chip closer to what my eye registers in the box.

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  12. (^ there was this great short film I once saw of a frustrated punk of a kid who was bullying his younger brother wo was playing in a refrigerator box.

    (6 one of those huge boxes a fridge comes in?
    9^ anyhow, he started poking holes in the box with a stick to torment his brother who was inside playing "camping"
    and long story short, embedded marbles in the holes..
    and yup. camera obscura, right inside the box: like a little upside down movie theater of things happening across the street.
    (^ really nice piece.
    wish I remember its name..

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  13. Dangit! I posted 2wice on this....and niether one worked!!

    well to sum up.

    Awesome look - cant wait to see the efeect on a moving image.

    Test?

    and Emotion and ART is Fish and water. Keep kikin ass Herself!

    jriggity

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  14. Wow, lovely set work Shelley! Reminds me of those big open sets in Peter and the wolf. Really nice texturing and a very believable landscape. What scale ae you working at? Looks biiig. :)

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  15. (^ well gorsh, I've been swamped trying to figure out pram of late, but I think that's fintoed for the moment: so back to halfland:

    (6HEY! I showed Don Carlson a CUSTOM cmare lense mount that you might find of use, shell: too bad it's not likely to be available in your standard camera store.
    (^ you should try calling me on the phone today or something.
    you know how to find my phonne number. I'm pretty open with it.

    (^ but I'll be headed out the door to a child's birthday party, so may have to get back to you some other time.

    (^ let me talk to Doug first, if I can:
    and danged if I shouldn't get this old casette from 1994 of me discussing which computer to buy firsdst with jim Auperl.
    9^ it's pretty funny to hear how nostrodonussy like 17 years in the past conversation about the future of cgi has come close to the exact mark.

    I still want to get a bunch of folk over to your place to get a look see at the full set: bickford included: which most likly won's happen without a little intertrining of soulsearching.

    nice to see seamus here.
    (^ toodles!

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  16. Hi Seamus, the scale is indeed huge! 1/3 of life with the main puppet standing 16 inches, the main tree stands 6'. I believe this is about the same scale as Corpse Bride, etc. But without an army to craft it, I can't recommend it!

    For me it happened because I made an apple this scale in 1993 and then all other props had to follow that size. By the time I got to the main set, the size needed to be far larger than was imaginable. Too much time and material required to be reasonable.

    Having said that, I love it! And as a plus, it will be easier for me to animate the puppets at this scale. All I have to do is to keep making up forest stories and I've got it MADE!

    Good work with Pram. I'd love to see or hear about the lens mount you think I'd dig, Prosser, yes.

    Everyone, over here, eh? Could do. Although, how cooler would it be to see the fully finished set in a gallery near you with the finished film running next to it?! eh, eh?

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  17. Hi Seamus, the scale is indeed huge! 1/3 of life with the main puppet standing 16 inches, the main tree stands 6'. I believe this is about the same scale as Corpse Bride, etc. But without an army to craft it, I can't recommend it!

    For me it happened because I made an apple this scale in 1993 and then all other props had to follow that size. By the time I got to the main set, the size needed to be far larger than was imaginable. Too much time and material required to be reasonable.

    Having said that, I love it! And as a plus, it will be easier for me to animate the puppets at this scale. All I have to do is to keep making up forest stories and I've got it MADE!

    Good work with Pram. I'd love to see or hear about the lens mount you think I'd dig, Prosser, yes.

    Everyone, over here, eh? Could do. Although, how cooler would it be to see the fully finished set in a gallery near you with the finished film running next to it?! eh, eh?

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  18. It's that Strider echo,o,o,ooooooo

    o

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  19. Woh! Great stuff Shelley.. the whole thing is really taking shape :)
    I LOVE this camera obscura idea ... it looks excellent. I like things to be a bit sort of scrubbed out and aged a bit, and I guess this is the film equivalent.
    What a great idea to use towel grass!
    And I remember my dad using vermiculite for some part of his sculpture process... can't remember what tho.
    Happy halfland creating... such a great work!

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  20. I haven't been here for a while... and... O - WoW!!!

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  21. HI Rima!! YES! I've always wanted this film to appear as though it were shot through a vintage spyglass from a shipwreck!

    Towel grass rocks as does painted Astroturf(!) for that in-between growth stage!

    The only other art use for Vermiculite I know of is for lamp work glass bead making, a pile of it to bring down the molten glass temp pronto. Does your dad make anything real hot like that? Raku maybe?

    Thank you, thank you!

    HILA!!!! YAYAYYAYAYYA! yay. You're back! Woo hoo! I love it when you're here! Thank you, thank you!

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  22. The camera obscura is a great idea, although I notice that the French guys stuff is only images to music and it'd be interesting to see how it went with acting and dialogue.

    In fact, I liked the idea so much I thought I'd try out that effect with a digital effect version, giving more freedom with the camera in terms of focal length and shot size, etc. I've posted it on my blarg.

    PS. Hi *waves* btw

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