Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blue Skies Ahead


After many notions of how to construct a sky background, I believe I'm much closer to what I'll be doing. I took a little bit of advice from everyone, then modified the concepts to be even cheaper and easier for me. Where I'm at today is 9 large panels of single-wall cardboard, er, double-faced corrugated sheets! (about $3.60/ea.) attached together, seamed and painted. The top row is cut to form an almost-cove curved up and over the set. A large stretch fabric scrim is hung in front of the cardboard partition on a steep angle, over set at top and far back from set at bottom. (scale model and schematic above, click to read) The whole 12'x 24'backdrop is lightweight and moveable so as to stay opposite the camera in wide shots. I've sourced the 4'x 8' panels, and will get a price from our handyman for helping me build it. I may order about 15-20 panels, in case this idea is so easy to construct I'll be able to essentially cover the entire scope of the set with it.

I watched Suzie Templeton's Peter and the Wolf dvd's Making-of featurette again with an eye towards how they handled the sky for their enormous set. It was extremely valuable to see, partly because after taking 5 long years, and an talented army of over 250 people working on it, their sky solution was to place a blue screen card behind the moving puppet and digitally place the sky in the majority of the film! The rigs were treated the same way, giant brass, heavyweight, jointed, contraptions setting on the set in every shot! That film wasn't animated--it was painted! I adore the film for it's detail and thoughtful workmanship but it was both encouraging and dis-heartening that after all their preparation and effort there wasn't an affordable way to backdrop such a massive (gorgeous) set as theirs.

That set is so huge it makes Halfland look tiny. They could get away with simply painting the giant stage they were in with sky blue and fixing everything in post because the ceiling height there must have been 30' if it was an inch. And the space was so extensive beyond the massive set that there was actual sky in their background!

Giant hole in sky on the set that had to be digitally painted out, around all the tree details! madness! (Image copyright© 2006 BreakThru Peter Ltd.)

My dear friend, Esther Jantzen, came by last week to trade working on Halfland with a brainstorming conversation about several of her literacy projects. She's an amazing child advocate working to get parents to speak and read more to kids. With her help Speed Maché layer 4 was DONE! twice as speedily and so much easier! Thank you, Esther! You showed me collaboration truly can make a project easier.

Intern Sophie came by last Monday too (I guess denim is a must have in 1/2L!) This time I gave her a....brush! Thus making her job of sculpting over the blobs of hot glue with flexible cement so much easier! Duh! I had forgotten that little point the first time.

During our work conversation about her first stop motion project, we hit upon the idea. Sophie will make her first film about a little kitten, Socks, in a basket and all the adorable business it gets up to in there. (We were inspired by the real life wittle kitten that her sister brought over for us to audition living here that day. The sweet kitten went home but the sweet idea stayed.) Now Sophie is planning out the moments, the notes, she knows she'd like to hit in the film on blank business cards and next week we'll shape them into a story board.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to Drawing Board

UPDATE: My Team of Kindly Experts have weighed in... NO WAY! on the shelter solution. R u qwazy beeeotch!?

What a ride! Today I saw a very sturdy 10' x 10' garden gazebo in the hardware store for $199 bucks. That got me thinking. If I were to spend about $300 to construct something--and lugg up heavy panels, etc. why couldn't I spend $200 for something already designed and built, lighter weight and strong enough to be stable?

Hey, maybe I could even find one for less? Googled crazy and stumbled upon an amazing solution. It's a 15' x 15' geodesic dome nylon shelter for, well under $100. THANK YOU SRI LANKA!

I'd need to construct stilts extensions under the legs to have its roof reach to the max ceiling height but that I can handle.

I'd still need to backdrop the interior with a painted surface, maybe actually painting the nylon? and I'd also like to scrim that surface with painted stretch nylon, as shown in the lower right photo in yesterday's post.

My only bum out over this idea, is how much it closes down the environment. I love the expansive feel of how the set looks in the giant space of the shop. Ah, but all that chaos must be covered so...

If I don't hear a disparaging word from you clever readers, I'm buying one of these doggies tomorrow! NIGHT!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Scrimming the Surface

Been giving huge brain pan real estate over to how the heck I'm going to backdrop this monster of a set, how to composite in the sky, how to block the window light, etc. The solution has to be satisfying to me and be in keeping with a papier maché budget. The entire ethos of the project is that it be handcrafted and affordable for anyone to make. Seen here is my current cunning plan.

I saw many wonderful options online, unfortunately all very costly and therefore not workable. Some available products, like the foam-backed blue screen linked on Mike's sites, are wonderful but would be astronomical to buy for a set the size of Halfland. Not to mention the professional stands to support it.

I got clear during an acupuncture treatment, you know, laying there, with several needles jammed in... that I was certain I wanted to make the backdrop out of materials on hand, like cardboard. I've decided against digital compositing via blue screening, opting instead to do as much as possible in camera, as they say. I thought I could construct scenery flats out of large scale cardboard, etc.

But then dropped that idea and got what I thought was an even simpler and more elegant solution.

What's all the (B)racket?
I'd still use the cardboard but this time just as scored, curved coving around large brackets (see mini mock up above). The brackets could be attached directly to the workshop ceiling, right through the coving spine, and then a backdrop substrate could be attached to the coving and drape down all the way to the ground if large enough. The idea is to soften the junction of the ceilings and walls to make the transition invisible in order to affect a sense of endlessness, just like how long this project is taking. Perfect. It was simple, elegant, inexpensive, and easy to install and move.


But at the Home Despot yesterday buying the gear, I spotted 12' sheet metal roof edge @$2.49 ea. I bought three to test a new idea they gave me. I would curve end of the pliable struts and drill through it right into the ceiling, attach a large backdrop material to multiple struts, and anchor the bottom ends with plywood bases attached through the metal into a length of 2x2. (see first model upper left)

Then came the matter of how to disguise the two ceiling fans over Halfland. Take them down and paint the entire ceiling sky blue? How about covering them with backdrop? I took the largest material on hand and taped it up to see. The actual backdrop material would be large enough to drape the entire ceiling and as Yuji (aka; Dick K.) smartly pointed out when visited Halfland last week, if I were to chromakey out the background I'd have to use blue rather than greenscreen, otherwise the tree's leaves would flicker out. Yuji is actually the one that got me to start thinking about tackling the question of the backdrop. He commented that Halfland was much larger in person, if you can imagine that. (Mysterious Yuji signed the guest artist board while he was here, lower left).

My current thought is to drape the entire space with ____blank? huh wha?_____ (a 30' x 12' wide StudioCloth™ @$30/running yard? $300(?) too much; a few 5ft x 10ft GREEN-SCREEN CHROMA KEY BACKDROP panels found on Craigslist @$35/ea.?) paint it to my liking as a cyclorama, and then stretch a massive scrim material in front of that to soften the imperfections. I could additionally project skyscapes onto the scrim and/or get fantastic illuminated sun effects by well-placed lighting in between the two layers. Or by spot front lighting a metallic sun.

I mocked up the sketch at the top of the post, nearly to scale, of what the Halfland set would look like in such a sky set up (It's an upsidedown version of the bagillion dollar dream backdrop set up seen on the left. I'm thinking of making the stand of trees on the left side in the fashion of Ulla's paper theaters, except on an enormous scale. There is a structural support column there and large cardboard painted trees in layers could be just the trick...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Speed Maché: Fly on the Wallpaper

Set Maché layer 3: DONE! Looks a little like snow in Halfland.

It's getting to the *good stage* where the shapes are holding form more strongly. It's a pleasure to press the paper firmly into the sculptural texture for solid contact and strength when dry. I switched over to my big tub of wallpaper paste to use with the newspaper as the liquid starch made such thin material too delicate to press well down.

Kathud:
There are cat shelves high above Halfland where our 18 pounder, Jeremiah, took to sleeping all day last week. I was working on the creek when--BAM! he fell straight down onto the far left side of the set while still asleep! It was a particularly reinforced part and he was a bit stunned for a while. He limped that night from landing directly onto a front shoulder without knowing he was going to hit. Poor babe. He seems perfectly fine since then and has returned to his rigorous 23 hours a day of sleeping (not kidding), on lower ground.

Last week I spent a goodly amount of time creating the creek enclosure or lipped edges of the waterway that will hold the billowing material where it belongs to better approximate flowing water. I twisted newspaper into cords and taped it all along the 17.5' (5.334 meter) (!) streambed. Then I incorporated that contour into the set with additional brown bag paper maché.

We are nearly out-of-doors here (no window screens) and are visited by various kinds of small animal life; bumble bees, wasps, sparrows, crickets, etc. The other day this large black beetle fellow paid us a call. Dig those fancy feets! He kept climbing up to the top of a folding screen and falling off. I snapped this picture which only then revealed to me what he was trying to do... it caught his surprise wings as was trying to fly off! I haven't seen him again, I hope he made it.
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