Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I wouldn't touch it

This isn't the successful reveal I was expecting. It's more like an unretouched update on what I've been working very hard on and where it stands as of right now. I couldn't stand trying to make it work any longer. I found and used levels of more commitment and resilience on this phase of the set building than I knew I had. I dug in, failed, and dug in further, day after day.

My initial concept for creating the sky backdrop excited me with it's elegance. So simple, so little involved. It was linking two flexible pvc pipes together, making one long span on each side of the scrim, filling the bottoms with a length of dowel, inserted them into steel flanges firmly affixed to the floor. I was deluded enough to imagine that I could plug n' play the sky easily, moving it effortlessly as needed. HA! This last month has been a dizzy decent from that original idea dissolving into desperate grabs for making the stupid sky go up by any means available period. I did everything in the most difficult and time consuming way possible, which I wouldn't mind if I had good results now. I will get there, I'm just not sure how as I sit here.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.--Winston Churchill

I started out the sky meticulously and ended up sloppy without apology. As of tonight, the far backdrop is finished and a plastic drop cloth is hung across the span as best as I'm able. The drop cloth has permanent creases from being folded at the factory, I can live with that. It's the drape and ripples that I can't remove that have me hornswaggled. I finally admit defeat with my approach.

However, I have another drop cloth (2 were cut down from a 20' x 50' roll) that has been tinted pale transparent blue by hand that I may come at tomorrow in a new way...

This clip, shot through the plastic scrim and a magnifier over the lens gives the idea of the depth I'm hoping to reach. The camera moves from sea level to the clouds overhead. Natural, dreamy, right!?

Here's few highlights of what took so long:

1. Constructing the 8 backdrop panel uprights. 2. Attaching uprights to panels with gorilla tape and washers and screws, including folding the scored cardboard into a reinforced coving at the top. 3. Doing the whole thing totally alone required touching a lot of things with 10' poles propped up against chairs and walls to steady them before I could get them screwed into the ceiling. 4. I had to use poles with gloves on the ends as tools to press the score lines I put in the boards to create the coving curves.

After the entire 24' long x 10' high backdrop was positioned, I set about trying to hide the harsh transition between the panels as much as possible. I spent a long time concentrating on the first 4 panels as I will use that portion for all other set skies in the film series. I filled the score lines and vertical seams with FlexAll patching compound, let them dry and sanded them, repeating the process several times over, trying my very best to get a nice smooth alcove of sky. (you can see some of that special attention area bottom right below) the rest of the backdrop still has nasty seams that I'm hoping will fade like a dowager's wrinkles under full flush of light on them. Bottom left above you see me pulling the flexible painted layer of cardboard off of the painted backdrop scraps. I used these cloth like pieces as matching camouflage on seams and ceiling conduit after ceiling I had two fans were removed from the set area.

The panels attached to the ceiling were edged with more masking tape and then painted to match. The ceiling was painted blue and white clouds were rolled on overhead. Middle left shows the plastic scrim in front of the bare finished backdrop. Bottom left shows the handmade paintbrush disguising the mount for a removed ceiling fan. Bottom right, the blending of the cyclorama sky was especially challenging as I had only odds and ends of paint and had to mix a gradient that would marry a wide gap of tone and shade.


  1. So now Hafland has its own version of the Sistine Chapel!

    I can see how those seams are driving you crazy, but isn't it great to discover a reserve of commitment and resilience you didn't know you had.

    I know you will solve this– probably dream about the solution.

    The shot below you painting the ceiling looks real nice, everything blends. Careful lighting may help to hide the seams, but it's a tricky one no doubt.

    Maybe really wide masking tape or long strips of paper taped on the edges only across the seams will help "build out" the seam without filling and sanding? Or maybe you need a layer of real cotton clouds right at seam level?

    I like the cloud ceiling lots!

    Your shoebox camera technique should also cover alot of that.

    Keep it going you will get there.


  2. Jessica9:42 AM

    I really love your shoebox camera! I really want to build ne by myself!

    And it's looking so bad as you thought.
    Animation is all about problem solving, isn't it? Always think positiv, the next time you can just use your expiriences... ;)

  3. Thank you Mark, I'm not discouraged, although I should be!

    I plan to use the macro obscura technique or a version that approximates it such as using an achromatic diopter (simple magnifier) in front of my animation camera lens, on only the close up footage. The wide shot will likely be shot with something with a greater depth of field.

    You're right though, a lot of flaws and sins will be blurred during shooting.

    Believe it or not, I did use the seam covering idea (you should have seen them before I did!). The problem with doing more of that now is that I'd never be able to match the gradient, which would be worse than the seam shadows.

    Nope, I think the thing to do now would be to blur the backdrop with layers of cloud drop cloths and flood it back there with balanced light full on the seams.

    Between that and the blurring from a relatively short depth of field, and the nuclear solution of hand rubbing in post, I should be alright.

    Hi Jessica! I'm sending a shoebox for the Flip cam (soon soon soon) you can play with that and even use your own on the shoot all you'd care to! I'd love it.

    You're right, I do feel as though the work done so far helps me know how to do it better in the future. It will all end up very well I'm positive.

  4. Wow ....that was alot of work right there!!

    so fun to watch herself!

    youll figure this problem out Im sure.


  5. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I really like the effect in that little clip. Have you tried bridal veil? It adds a bit of depth to shallow sets. A bit of haze if you will.


  6. What? You didn't think of using a giant glass bubble outdoors so you could use the real sky? :p

    It's truly impressive Shel. If you're going to flood it with light to compensate for the joins you can't match 100% (which is a totally valid tachnique - scrim your lights to soften the light though), you may need to darken the shades of Blue a little more because if you adjust the aperture or gain of the camera to get the colour correct it'll end up showing the joins again.

    PS. Don't forget the magic of Photoshop and AfterFX. Not ideal because of the extra work but for the occasional long-shot with a flaw in it it's sometimes the easiest fix.

  7. Thanks, Yuji, I'd love to use real scrim textile (bridal veil is a tulle or netting which is different) both would apparently show a moire pattern when photographed from my testing because of it being two layers. The woven nature of any fabric makes a grid, two grids, that's a moiré!

    The other trick is the size. I tracked down second-hand theater backdrop non woven scrims but could see the advantage over the plastic. Will see.

    I'm going for a "haze" effect though--you are quite right!

    Thanks Rich, you are obviously more 'sperienced with set ups. I will indeed most likely end up touching up the few frames with seam problems by hand.

    I was trying to avoid a lot of post editing, at least as much as possible. But in reality, who am I kidding? I will likely wash each and every frame of this movie with my own eyeball effluence.

    The camera I intend to use is great in low light (thanks to Mike for the discovery) I might just shoot the film in the dark. Looks good that way.

  8. Nick H6:38 PM

    I've been checking in daily, and I can see why it's taken some time to get to this point. You are indomitable!

    I'm thinking that bridal veil or other gauzy fabrics can be pulled tight so there are no wrinkles, unlike the plastic, but it can do a similar job of softening the sky or adding extra depth. Maybe a little cotton cloud on the gauze to cover a particularly bad change of angle in the background sky?

    But you're breaking new ground (er, sky) here, I've never attempted what you are doing. My skies are much simpler - one flat painting against one flat wall. For a change of angle, I rotate the set on castors and move it down to the other end of the backcloth so you don't see the same cloud behind every angle.

    I think you will make this work, but here's an off-the-wall idea if all else fails:
    Don't disguise the changes in angle where the sky bits join, celebrate them - add more partial edges where you don't have to, so the sky is like a collage of illustrations joined together. Use a more drawn/painted, less realistic style so it all feels like pages from a picturebook randomly joined up to form a whole.
    I'm picturing in my mind a Japanese folding screen with a background covered in gold leaf. Instead of a seamless colour, you can see the individual sheets slightly overlapping, a slightly irregular pattern of little rectangles. (And then, you can see the lines between the folding panels as well.) It adds a richness that a perfectly smooth expanse of gold would lack.

  9. Oh dear Nick! I'm so sorry you had to click on the page so often to see the same blooming picture. I hate that. I wanted to post so often but I was determined to get through to success. Didn't happen in the end, so I think I'll just keep posting what happens as it happens.

    If you subscribe to this blog via a blog reader, you'll only have to click through when there's new post. I use Bloglines for my 104 blog subscription that I keep up to date with daily. Click click click.

    It's so wild that you mention the gold leaf wall, Nick! Paul and I painted a beautiful one here in the loft when we moved in and just last night Paul suggested that I paint the sky like that. But I couldn't understand what he was saying!

    Your explanation gets it across to me a bit more but I still want a great sense of depth in the background, painterly yes, but a sense it goes endlessly beyond a painterly surface.

    By the way, you were way right about the flattening out on the curve of the scrim. It'll work, but it doesn't stay with the curves on the supports as you said it wouldn't.

  10. Your skies look great...and I like the atmosphere of your video clip!

  11. Anonymous7:58 PM

    Never surrender! But go ahead and stop for a cup of tea once in a wile sheesh!!!! Personally I think it looks great...you are the David Lean of stop-mo...

  12. Thanks, Grant! That photo looks as though a plastic drop cloth is strung up across the space! Ha! I'll cut it down right now and try something else.

    Hi Melvyn! I laughed out loud at the David Lean comment! Ha! (After I looked up who it was) even though I loved Lawrence of Arabia. Hee hee! Yeah, he and I love us some big skyscape. Just you wait until I get the desert set going! w00t! (;$}

  13. Kick H10:09 PM

    Hey Shelley, it's ok, you have to make the film, not keep us entertained!
    Anyway, think I got it, you want painterly depth in your sky, so the flat patchwork effect probably isn't going to cut it.

  14. Nnnnick H10:11 PM

    Damn, can't spell my own name - lest you try and read some meaning into "kick", it's just my fat fingers losing their way.

  15. Kicknnnnnnnnnick, I lov eyou! HA! I thought two new people were visiting and commenting!

    I think you are right. I've got to go with the handcrafted vs. the slick/expensive look.

    The plastic, at least unpainted, just read like it sounds it would. Maybe the painted sky will look better or maybe just like a painted plastic drop cloth.

    Last resort is always buying a second-hand theater scrim. I'll know soon enough.

    I think posting what happens as it happens isn't really about entertaining readers here. More like keeping the story real, like a diary* rather than a documentary after the fact.

    (*I typed dairy first)

  16. It looks great, like a dream.

    Good work girl! :)

  17. Thanks, Turvid, A dream... with a plastic drop cloth in front of it! hee. I'll get there.

  18. I think that Kick H whoever he is might just be brilliant or something. I certainly can't think of anything that could solve your quicker. 'Build extra angles into the sky to mask the ones that are already there; call it a style'. With focal depth, ie. The focus on the character making the background blurry, you'd have a highly textured beautiful sky... I'm thinking something you could end up with something akin to this.

  19. Hi, Yes, Rich, I see, food for thought! I could see where going with a camouflage of the background unevenness would hide the sins and still give the depth with a scrim layer or two in front. Hmmm.

    Thanks to you and Kicknnnick!

  20. you have SO much more patience, determination & faith than i do, shelley! i think you can get away with a lot based on the style of film you have said you want, but if it doesn't look right to you you'll wince every time you watch it, and after all this effort you want to love each and every frame!

    meful: i actually laughed when i read about halfland's "Sistine Chapel". :)

  21. Hi, Gretchin! or more crazy! I'm formulating a solution along the paint as camoflaguery line. It'll work out.

    I had to improvise tools to get this far, cutting pvc pipe into makeshift clamps to hold the drop cloth in place, while sewing, etc.

    I had to use a mallet as a weight hanging from a rope attached to a piece of moulding wedged against an upright and a wall to get enough pressure against my drill to secure the backdrop, etc.

    So, you're right, loving the frames, each one, is in order, yep.

    Like JRiggity says, hard work is the easy part.

  22. oh no! The plastic tarp layering idea sounded so promising... I'm sorry it's turned out to be so frustrating!

    Sounds like you've taken it down and moved on... The scrim or gauzy material sounds like it would work! OR even if the plastic was made more matte, with matte spray of some kind? To remove the glare (and emphasis) at the points where it's sagging?

    Anyway I'm sure you'll figure it out! I love the effect of this layered, soft-focussed sky. It'll be fantastic, and well worth the effort of all your R&D in the end!

  23. Awww, thanks, Stephanie! I'm still going for the layered scrim for sure, just matte as you say. And textured to hopefully disguise the sags. (Hummmmm, maybe a sky face veil would be good on me too.) Anyhoo, you are right, the R&D is always good for something in future.

    It's all still up actually, I've been occupied with work and cramps.

    Looking forward to the next phase of skying.

  24. WOW Shelley!

    This is EPIC! That backdrop painting looks impressive and massive... I really like the clouds. And that isn't to mention how great the set itself is looking.


  25. Big it is, Paul! I'm about to post on the next sky iteration just completed this minute! Stay tuned!


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