Sunday, April 30, 2006

You Say You Want A Resolution

late night snap after Clare's opening of his piece at the x1 art show at Transport Gallery downtown last year

Clare is Brilliant

At Himself's urging, I made an official date today to go (downstairs) and talk over next steps for better armatures with friend and multi-talented artist/builder, Clare "The Killah" [name deleted]. (no, I don't know what that means but it made me laugh, I guess because it makes him sound like a pro-wrestler.) And it was a struggle of sorts, of the mind...

Clare has enjoyed many many (ok, not THAT many) years as many many things, one of which was one of those union construction dudes at the Music Center in Los Angeles, working to build sets and gags for big ballets and such. You name it, this man can build it right. And, as I mentioned, he used to be heavily into the model steam locomotive world and would machine fabricate perfect miniature trains that would run like the big boys.

I brought down print outs of ball/joint armatures and splained what I wanted something like that for. He said that he could see clearly what I was after but did not have all the equipment here to do it. Undaunted, I asked him if he had any ideas for a way I could get what I wanted without the toxic silver solder and big noisy presses or other herculean amount of work, and he did!

He had what I think are three very clever and more-my-speed solutions to offer, two for the armature and one for the rigging. Get ready. Well, you may have thought/known of these options already, but I hadn't.

The first thought he had was for me to go toy shopping, find a jointed doll/figure in the right size and use it inside my fiber-filled, latex-skinned and dressed puppet. You know, I think I will, even if it just works for a smaller side character. It might save me a great deal of time and effort using an already made skeleton. I'll report back.

The second idea he had was for me to buy and cut the rod/pipe bones and essentially sculpt a ball/socket joint (like a Loc-Line unit) around them, make small 2-part molds of them, and then cast them in resin. I love this idea but--I'm going to have to see about finding a non-toxic, rigid substance to cast these joints out of because I run a strictly No-Tox Shop. Latex is as fumey as I'll go and that with a cartridge respirator.

The coup de gras was his notion for how to keep ma feets to the floor. Clare understood my walking and staying put issues (after a thorough and dazzling pantomime on my part) and he agreed that plumbing flanges installed on the ceiling o'er the set, with flexible wire attached to the individual shoulders and spine, like a marionette, would do the job with one addition--magnetic flooring! Flexible magnetic sheets (something like this that I could lay in the set and be painted to look like wood planks (a compromise over the little wood planks I have--but if it works it'll be worth it). Mighty magnets ( or perhaps even plain metal pieces would go under the footal areas and voila foots held down enough during walking.

You know, I think the best part, much like what we do for eachother online, was to present a puzzle to someone that really had me stumped and at a loss to resolve on my own and have the act of saying it outloud bring about the opportunity for a resolution. I surely would never be working through these many blocks to making Halfland real without The Other. It's Mike, Clare, Himself, and every other person reading, that gets me past my personal limitation of thinking up new ways to get things done. It's like my brain can only go to 3 or 4 on a dilemma and then someone else comes up with an 11. And we all know that's better.

Thank you, Clare!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Intoxicating Apples

Apple on Vimeo
Today's clip is about trying out the luxury of having the animation only two feet from the computer--nice--and as a bonus the spacebar was reachable by rubber-tipped pole when my hand was stuck holding the puppet up. It's about more practice with the wire armature, this time with no-fabby-dressing of straw hat, Rana's hand-woven skirting and shawl. I wanted to see how much anicrime I could get away with if the costuming covered the legs. The answer was none because I couldn't see the legs to move them and the hip rig still wasn't able to hold well enough. I've got to figure out how to affix down the handle end of the rig better. This test was about futzing further with iMovie and Quicktime compression settings (I used Mike's link to Jason's tut), which I'm starting to grasp a wisp better. Today is about not trying to animate per se so much as practice animating while working out my system for what to shoot with, what framegrabber and editor to use, ideal compression settings, etc.

Today's clip isn't about smooth animation, or even planned motion. It isn't about the rich detail and colors that I see in front of me coming across via the Darkstrider Unibrain Webcam Patrol of Joy. (I went back and looked at all of Mike's test clips just now to see if the ones he shot with the DUWPoJ had captured more clarity then I'm getting and I was struck by how great all his work is. I'd seen it all previously but now I can see even better the level of artistry he has, like the Ahab leather jacket and sculpts from that era. Plus, I saw some of his fantastic 2D art there that I hadn't seen before and was very impressed! Mike, you are so talented.) Himself said tonight that this is the Halfland stage for me of making my improvements in large chunks and later it will be in small, but equally important, refinements. The main thing to me is that I'm doing it.

Today's Textbook: I either need an armature that holds positions more rigidly, like I imagine a ball-joint would, or I need several surface gauges to mark where parts like elbows are as I move the arm. Thinking that won't do in actual animating though. Maybe just further practice will provide more adequate results. I think I need to put sharp pins in the bottoms of feet as I've been using sticky wax and it doesn't hold the placement as I try to change positions. (The puppet would fall over during the walk and I would keep it going because... say it with me... today isn't about smooth animation.) One thing I notice as well is that the camera's pov is different than I imagined it would be. Positions and the relationship between things look surprisingly altered through the camera's eye than my own.

The Good News: Seeing a puppet in animated-looking positions was another stoking kick-ass experience. (I took the still shot below so you could kind of see what I'm seeing.) Man, this is it. And by *this* I mean stop motion. It's intoxicating.

See, See What Happens!?!!

Okay, here's what happened, I turned on my computer because I had some graphic work to do, yeah, and I only spent an hour visiting blogs (it IS a leisure day afterall said the whisper way in the back) As I puttered around the house, Leo Laporte (the tech guy) radio show was talking about new ways of posting hi res video to the web* and suggested checking out for an example of tv quality compression settings. It's getting good folks. In pursuit of more understanding (just for a second), I bloggy linked from there to for a stop motion video college final by Katrina Whalen.

Here's the things I liked about it; I liked how the music, action, and materials used had a total cohesive and integrated feeling. I liked how the paper puppets looked in the middle of the clip and how the lenses winked at the end. I liked how she called the animators "movers".

I'm going to try to salvage some animation practice time later, pinky swear.

*Leo's advice: "I recommend one of two encodings for the best quality and lowest file size for streaming video:
MPEG-4 or its sccessor H.264
For DiVX you might want to try the new, free, open source Dr. DiVX.
For MP4 or Quicktime, buy the pro version of Apple’s Quicktime.
For free storage, try"

Wanna Buy a Blanket?

Cate Blanket on Vimeo
Brief raw test of iStopmotion just for fun of it.

Boinx iStopmotion ( frame grabbing software is interesting, greater control in some ways over Framethief. Once I grubbed around like a monkey and figured out the way their onion skinning works (it has multiple frame overlay capability) I liked it better in some ways. But I know both programs too vaguely at this point to compare them properly.

My lighting array currently consists of two old reading lamps and I think I could get better effect from mini stage lights. I liked working with the new practice armature more than any so far, but as Mike schooled me, it is missing a top joint on the legs for kneeling and the character will need to move her shoulders independently.

The cinder block counterweight that held the Swiffertm hip rig wouldn't lower for a kneel either (so I made a "I'm outta here" leap). Oh, and the work table was 10 paces away from the keyboard again so shooting was like a blindfolded dart game in a cuckoo clock.

On a brighter note, I moved the whole workshop around yesterday (!) Now the main set for all future shooting is as close to the desktop computer as possible. Couple funny things about that, one is that now my "messy" art (crafts/animation) is integrating with my "clean" art (computer graphics) literally and figuratively for the first time. I'd previously kept these worlds apart, even in terms of separate work areas. When I slowly caught on to the need for the keyboard and monitor for stop motion, I had to meld them together in my head bone.

Secondly, I look forward to the day I grasp the software I'll choose to use and the frame rate, compression, et al, so that I will be able to know that I could, say for example, get hold of a laptop on a wheelie cart that I could maneuver around the set? And I look forward to knowing what camera to get (like Mike's?), what lighting, rigging, backdrop, editing software, and cheap backdrop material. The rest I already know. ÃLÃ

A luscious day of animating awaits me tomorrow...yum.

See you then...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Thinking About Us

Feeling good, thanks!

Thinking about impulse control and discipline. Decided that discipline is doing what will provide the greatest pleasure overall, even if it seems to go against the pleasure of the moment.

Thinking about whether my armature will break in no time once I start animating. Wondering how many armatures I'll end up making.

Thinking about how it's dawning on me that I don't want to be **an animator** so much as I want to express my artistic vision through the medium of Stop Motion.

And further that I'm super digging how some artists are leaving traces of the process in their finished work, like hands in frames and armature structure evocatively part of character design.

Realizing I haven't yet mentioned here about how I view these films as I would a painting. Film as painting is a large part of the philosophy behind Halfland. That's why it's just my hand in it rather than say a roster of people on a credit roll.

Although, the surprise spirit of collaboration found through the web is stunning me. I deeply appreciate everyone who stops by here.

Do we collaborate with ourselves when we produce our own stories?

Does anything interesting ever really happen without a culture of collaboration? When I look back at remarkable things happening there seems always to be a friendship, or a circle of people that had joined their enthusiasm to produce something altogether new.

Is this the Web of the Early Otts?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Just In Under the Wire!

Starting at 6:30pm tonight I made my first wire/block armature, mach III based on the Rana sculpt.

Thank you everyone for the comforting support and good solutions to my time management affair. It really was a relief to hear from each of you that I'm not alone in the matter. I realize having days clip by at a race pace isn't something to complain about, I was just at a loss for how to better apportion my time. This 6pm browser boot may work out well!

I'm happy to report I completed the armature I wished to but I'll have to wait a bit to see how she moves, realistically Wednesday, wait, that's a lie to myself, *realistically Friday. (*if you don't know what a "Mittlesmurch" is, a.) good for you! and b.) it's for me, an intense, regularly occurring health issue that lays me flat out for a few days. c.) you don't wanna know. d.) I may need a code word to post so you'll know why I drop out; "Back Later, Gone Mittlesmurchin'?!")

On to the specs: I chose a three strand braid for the arms, two Almaloy, one galvanized 18 gauge wire. I wrapped the braids in flexible wire mesh to enhance the longevity, should the braid snap with use. I made a 6 strand braid in this same fashion for the legs, which are in the (confusing) backward knee action of a goat, so I can practice Rana's movements first. The wrapped braids were hot glued into drilled holes in wood blocks. The bones were lengths of small dowels, glued and wrapped with 30 gauge wire.

The rig: This morning I spied an extra Swiffer© mop in the pantry that I thought might make a good universal joint hip rig for Rana. It is utterly movable in every direction and stable, lightweight, with a handle that could fit in the channel of a cinder block for counterweight. If it tests well, I can paint it Chroma blue.

Next stop: Reading more about iMovie importing and compression, trying out Boinx iStop Motion software for the heck of it, getting either a copy of Muybridge on animal figures in motion or a digital clip to single frame study so I know how to work the backward bending knee joints, and testing the new mach III Rana armature in a short clip.

I wish you great success with what you are working on this week!

Friday, April 21, 2006

My Odds and Ends Ate the Meat of My Day

This image is one of my references for the feeling inside Rana's cottage, artist unknown to me.

"Compress time, even an instant counts. in a battle of life and death a second is an eternity, an eternity that may decide the outcome. aim at success, compress time. don't waste an instant." (this quote, I gather, was taken from the sixth principle in a Castaneda work?, as used in someone named, Eotiv's Flickr photosteam.)

Do any of you ever have this happen? Please say that you do. Day after most days, I wake up early to get a leg up on the marvelous new morning, so filled with promise. Only to have the darkness of night fall on me like a sack of potatoes. Where the endless hours of planned productivity morphs into the cruel end of the line, arriving with seemingly nothing I wanted having gotten done, again. That going from that first moment to the last passes in a literal blink.

I find that I keep saying to myself; "I'll JUST do __________" meaning a small, "quick" simple task that I could cross of my crowded list before I get down to my main tasks of the day. I have "JUST DONE" myself out of many, many days, more than I can count. The things I do get done enrich my life, made me happy, made someone else happy, educated me, or all of the above, so I can't rightly begrudge them. Nor do I really see my interests in so many things a liability. I am grateful for the energy to go-go all day over anything.

I notice my biggest weakness though seems to be my spending too many hours on the Internet. I learn so many sensational things, visit so many terrific people that I find it wholly diverting and too difficult to pull away from. "I'll just check Mike's blog", "I'll just answer this kind comment from a new friend.", etc., Boom--9 pm.

I write this here on my Halfland blog because it has everything to do with my needing to introduce myself to some foreign discipline that I have never met, in order to make choices that produce time for working on it.

In my past, I used to answer this dilemma by staying up all night to complete my tasks or my art. I ran my health aground severely with that after about 20 years or so. The last few have been about repairing; eating, sleeping, water, exercise, profoundly de-stressing in general. So I'm going to have to satisfy my situation now with a more mature response. I'm going to have to keep the browser unbooted until 6 pm each day.

If you've run into things like this, how did you resolve it for yourself?

TOMORROW: The promised new armature and clip, a day late. I feel like such a wuss.

Another Great Art Day with the Girls

Wednesday with the kids: Sophia made an original necklace featuring a tin parrot that she adapted for a bead, as well as some creative papercraft, and her introduction to needle-felting wool. Her big sister, Natasha, continued to make additions to her ongoing project of a detailed, miniature, wooden, display house, complete with an angora wool throw at the foot of the 4-inch, down-filled bed. These girls are as sweet as they are beautiful and are welcome here to create as often as they possibly can make time to in their supercharged lives.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

In Halfland News

UPDATE: Mike gave some direct links to tutorials and instruction in the comments yesterday that will go a long way on improving my technical relationship with Framethief and the Darkstrider Unibrain Webcam of Joy. I plan to read these and test out my new spunky prowess with it shortly.

IN OTHER NEWS: I still need to break out the Almaloy and get to twistin' tomorrow, at least a start, utilizing my patented illegal "paid" work avoidance tactics no doubt.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: I've got a few youngsters coming over Wednesday for arts and crafts. (Hmm, I wonder if I can tell them that moving my workshop furniture around is an important artistic experience to have?) We'll see how that flies.

UNTIL NEXT TIME: I'm going for a completed new armature and a bit better looking short clip of it by Friday (if I don't report progress even earlier.)

SIGNING-OFF: See you then! Be well.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


View this clip on Vimeo
This is a test of the better settings Mike Brent suggested for me in Thursday's comments. Manual video source settings and frame averaging at 15 fps. I think the image is more clear, sufficiently at least for practicing animation.

I'm going to have to study up some on iMovie. I'll be the one going through the SMA handbook ( for some education.

Sampling of glitches today:

• imported the Framethief frames to a Quicktime clip and imported it into iMovie but that didn't seem to provide any scrubbing capability.

• imported the individual frames instead but they came in a random sequence and the 106 frames had to be placed in the timeline by hand.

• couldn't "Split Selected Clip at Playback Head" as it was greyed out and I haven't been able to figure out why yet.

• wasn't sure what formatting to use when compressing to QuickTime or anywhere else for that matter, etc.

I didn't get to the armature today because I foolishly spent most of the day, I had set aside for 1/2 Land progress, feasting on the Banquet that is the Interweb instead.

One thing done nearly on course, was to download an eyebrow raising music app called; Virtual Composer ( $50 shareware/demo download free. I fiddled in it for a bit and stumbled into a feature where I could throw random notes on a staff and then select several 1/2 Land sound effects as the "instruments". I made a serviceable rain, footfall, door creek, birdsong, stream gurgle, as well as some cello and violin renditions of several sample pieces with it. The music language/controls were way over my head, I was every bit a chimp driving a spaceship. But when I get to the soundscape stage of this I may be able to fake it enough to get some sound tracks roughed in. There may be better solutions, but that's for later. I just couldn't resist exploring a possible sound solution a bit.

Layers of Meaning

Jeffery at Ubatuber Productions ( asked a great question: "How much has the story changed for you over the years, in your mind or on paper?"

The answer in this bizarre case of a story emerging over such a lengthy period is that it came out of me and my psyche deeply all at once but it gathered context and detail as time went on. It's become a multi-leveled exercise in an art form I dearly love, stop motion, and a genre I most respond to, the folktale, along with idiosyncratic purposes on the way.

Halfland was all "there" in one go when I was given the chance to create the project, in a way. What I mean by that is that when they said to the craftspersons; "ok, now you can use this space to work on your own project." Halfland burst out of my mind's eye because I had just been immersed in the single most creatively stimulating environment of my life. I had just somehow managed (through begging and coercion) to spend several months working building props and literally giant theatrical puppets for THE most rapturously gorgeous production I could ever imagine could exist. It was Julie Taymor and Micheal Curry's Oedipus Rex for the 1992 Saito Kinen Festival in Japan ( Pure Genius. (Ask me about why sometime.)

I'm certain that this, my initial exposure to Ms. Taymor's immense creative vision, and technical director Micheal Curry's creativity with mechanisms and castings, affected my own sense of what could be done with art. Inspired and influenced by her earthy, beautiful, meaningful theater production direction, I first imagined a plain mermaid coming to life through puppetry on a real beach. I saw her turn to the camera and exhale a kind of "tone" that transported the viewer to her realms. I saw an old heavyset goat woman preparing food in a wonderful rustic cottage in a forest, I saw a lithe young male hunter with moth wings laughing, I saw a dark wounded crow woman who represented all the negative feelings I'd known. Each character being partly human, partly animal. It was only about 9 years later that I considered that the characters could in fact be aspects of my own psyche. The project then became a kind of healing art that was somehow working on sub and unconscious symbols in me, that what was continuing to compel me to work on it was beyond it being a pleasing folktale film.

I never had a finalized narrative for Halfland all these years until I wrote one in this journal. I just had moments of life in Halfland, vignettes of little beings and actions. The story elements were built through many years of ideas and characters popping up in my life and mind that "fit" Halfland. I would get very enthused inside and write down dozens of new Halfland ideas on scraps of paper until I had these 13 supporting cast of background characters to the main four. Why these beings? Why these 13 little symbolic moments? Why such a simple unimaginative name for it like Halfland? I never understood consciously but I knew what was a part of it when I saw it.

Maybe you have this happen to you as well. Maybe you're out in the world living and you see, or think you see, something that isn't what you thought, but it's intriguing. For example, I once caught glimpse of something dangling down from a woman's ear that looked to me to be a spider suspended on a thread of web. I looked again more closely to see that it was only a normal earring but that was enough for me to have the Decorative Spider idea and figure out where it might fit in the 1/2 Land scheme and to apply it to one of the characters--Boom, Rana will walk through a web on door frame and her movement through it causes her spider and other insect jewelry to be layered onto her. This same process happened for each item; the Time Frog, the Snoring Cat, Birds in Hats, etc. Each idea has it's own meaning and story behind it. Often too, the Halfland items can be puns that tickle my mind, like the Knitting Beetles (instead of Knitting needles, they're beetles that actually knit, that sort of thing.) No real purpose per se but these are part of this film and there's no wavering about that.

I'm in the "making it real" stages which seems to be bringing yet another 1,000 layers of, this time technical, detail to getting this done. I don't think I would want to go through the work involved in bringing a story to life without it holding some highly significant substance for me personally.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Today I bought a package of Almaloy armature wire at a nearby supply shop. I'll likely start cutting lengths of it and beginning to assemble the next practice puppet tonight and tomorrow but I want to tell you quickly what insight about Halfland I caught today.

I have been greatly confused about why, even though I ate, drank, and slept this little film project for so long, was I not actually getting much of anything done on it. I wanted to do it. I could have. But even after carting the cement molds and supplies for it from house to house as I moved through these years, it didn't ever even move to the nascent animation stage I'm in now. I couldn't make any sense of that until...

I realized today after this week of my first little toe whetting of actual frames and puppets that it's no wonder why I hadn't moved on it before. I look at the skills required to complete Halfland as I envision it, the highly complex set fabrication, the puppet finishing (that's the only bit I knew I could do well), the technical/software aspects of shooting, the equipment/software mastery of shooting and editing, the animation performance being smooth and expert enough, the digital editing (would be easily half the film's worth in my case), the sound track syncing, you get the idea. Heck, if you're animating, you may have even felt this way. I look down the road at all these skills that I currently don't possess and have wondered, way under the surface, if I can pull it off like I'd like.

I quit a life in ballet at age 18 because I took a hard look at the career of dancers and coldly determined that, while I had certain gifts at it, I lacked some essential factors to make a go of life in that world. I quit it, rather than fail at it.

So, I look into this passionate (and shockingly everlasting in my heart) project and know that I hadn't started before in earnest because I didn't think I could. I really had no idea that was going on. No longer an inexplicable quandary, doing a little animating brought my hesitations to light.

My answer back to those doubts is a hardy, "Hell, Yes!" I'll do it, as I can, good or bad. I know that I'm privileged for the opportunity to work on it. I'm grateful for the ability and health to work at it. I have no timetable on it other than to make real progress daily. And it is more fun than I ever imagined it could be. So that's good.

When it comes to pass, you'll all have a ringside seat for it, or as my lifelong friend Jerry says; he'd like a visa to visit Halfland one day.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Spring!

It's sure been feeling like spring here in beautiful, sunny California, hoping it's getting to be nice where you are.

Below is a "sketch" clip using a pickle picker mechanism I had in mind for the Flowering Thoughts sequence (Film 3; scenes 2 & 3). I bought several little kitchen gizmos that are made to slip into pickle jars and retrieve the last crisp pickle or what have you from the bottom of the jar without getting your fingers frigid. I broke them apart to analyze how the gadget works and added two of the spring wire finger pairs onto one spring loaded plunger to make a six petal flower. I covered the wire fingers with hand-painted, thin, crepe paper so the finished flower could compress very tightly into a small tube for the blooming trick/gag. I set the rig in front of fresh cat grass and proceeded to push the spring wire flower up through the tube and then to plunge the extender syringe up to make the flower appear to grow taller.

View this clip on Vimeo

This clip is 77 frames that had to be edited one-by-one by hand in Photoshop in order to adjust the color, levels, texture, and rubber stamp over the seams in the tubing, which also seemed not to work. The stem moves as if made of clay by a child when done in the cursory fashion my timeline allowed.

I have long thought it would be clever to smoothly animate the blooming action up through a tube rather than having to move each petal in unison. But I've learned by today's exercise that this isn't so. So, it's been another Halfland Win with this blog, knocking over yet another erroneous notion I had for so long in mind. Being forced by this daily journal to move forward with something, anything, on the project, is forcing me to negate and/or affirm these many thoughts I've held onto. Boom--that sound you hear is another one hitting the drawing room floor. Good!

I'll have to go back and look at Mike Brent's early clips shot with the "Darkstrider Unibrain Webam of Joy", that he has so generously loaned to this (a-hem, mature) neophyte, to see if and how he managed to get some detail with it. The DUWofJ is perfect for my practice practice practice but I can't seem to get sufficient detail or appealing lighting with it for later shooting.

Tomorrow... A little study in wire and block armature action.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A New Day

Everything's much better here, things are done.

We've been having a mini conference on the virtues of wire over other material in the comments, beyond that even talking about whether machining armature parts, like Sven and Mike have done, is really within my grasp. I've always been a brick wall when it comes to doing metal work myself due to the additional equipment needed, time involved to make them, and noise, etc. Buying custom machined armatures are outside my budget and approach to this.

Then like a dawning day, a stream of sunlight broke through... I remembered that my friend and neighbor just downstairs, Clare, a fine fine artist, has had an expert hobby interest in making steam locomotives to scale. I'm talking; he machines and fabricates all the parts himself on the equipment he has downstairs!!! Duh--never occurred to me to connect these two things up before this! We've always just talked about paint and paper and ballet and music and sculpture and--I may have to speak to him about how I could make a few pieces down there!

Next step: Practice making wire and block armatures with what I have bought already to try and order some Almaloy per Mike's advice to try as well. I'll report back with further test clips.

In the meantime tomorrow, I'll show one way to make thoughts flower.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


View this clip on Vimeo
I haven't eaten or slept. Not because I've made 18 hours of fantastic animation but because I'm obsessed with making any animation. My cats' litter is unscooped, my laundry is undone, I am unwashed, dishes are stacked in the sink, work undone thus far today and it's now 6:50 pm. I'm acting like a heroine addict on a bender even more than ususual. This is bad. After this little report I'm getting caught up on those vital life things straight away.

I just couldn't resist taking a couple faux Loc-Line doll armatures this afternoon and slipping in some small lengths of dowel inbetween the links in an attempt to make more proper bones and joints for the new and improved stand-in practice puppet. It looked promising as the thing moved more like a person while I fiddled with it, until I started to animate it. Then I saw that I couldn't tell where the joints were nor could I get the much of it to stay put. It was pretty foolish scene too because I was walking 10 steps back and forth back and forthback and forth (that's me in the far background) and therefore I couldn't use the onion skin feature well. The knock-off Loc-line I used couldn't hold a position well enough and the overhead rig wasn't anchored above the puppet's head so it didn't have enough lead room. The feet were loose gooses and these factors combined make it an unworkable test. But even with all this going on and even with not being able to control the figure's movements it was still fun.

I've now got to build a more serious, controllable armature. I can't imagine going so far as to machine ball joints like my friends. That's just too much to add to this Monumental Table of Tasks on the project for my likes. I don't mind baking the whole wheat bread for Rana's kitchen table or fabricating microscopically small reading glasses out of gold micro wire for the Reading Mouse, etc., details forever--but creating perfectly round steel ball joints? and safely soldiering an armature out of metal?!--Well maybe, when I typed that description it suddenly didn't sound so bad! A proper working, reliable armature is after all of utmost importance to good animation performance.

Stick Figures

The cottage set wall mechanics still need to be worked out for any porch or interior shooting, so today I set about animating a test of flexible hosing material, called Loc-Line (, as an over the head puppet control system. I thought I'd better see whether I could animate a quick simple stick figure, without any bones or real attention to the movement, just to find out whether my rig notion might work. (below is an unedited montage of my experimenting with the general idea.)

I found out that a "top control" would be better for me than holes, magnets, or any other tie-downs on the feet of my puppets. A pipe fitted with a fully-positionable ball joint arm, attached to the ceiling via plumbing flange, over the set (roof panels removed when shooting inside) and attached well into the puppet heads may be well worth testing out. I could either edit/key out the rig in PS and/or shoot most often without showing the tops of heads.

I found out that Loc-Line may also be highly promising to use for armature material as well. The entire linked ball and socket chain remains hollow and has an unchanging 1/4" diameter all the way through. Stock wooden dowel fits perfectly inside and could become the bones of an armature and its joint nearly bend 90 degrees without any spring back. I plan to take the amount of it I have here and and make-up an armature that will fit the Rana sculpt. I could use that as her Mach II stand in for additional tests. All I will need to do is add weight inside the feet or install push pin tips to grab and anchor to the flooring.

I found out that Framethief kicks butt. I lost all memory of how to use it since August and messed up formatting and settings but I felt elated while animating anyway. I thought that stop motion was supposed to be a big drag that required bucket loads of patience and endurance to work. But while I was moving and clicking and checking the positions hundreds of times all I could do was grin. I see the long road ahead of improving my performances but I can also see that the road is my home.

I found out that to animate these detailed puppets as I envision them I will need to truly practice how to get the movements more convincing. They'll need a sense of natural weight and more believable choreography. Making the next armature with bones and right angle bends at the joints will help me practice.

I found out that I absolutely loved animating today. This is good. I do not think the animation is any good, but my promise to post something here today forced me to work without finesse. This is also good.

View this clip on Vimeo

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mashed Potatoes

Remember in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Richard Dreyfuss' character was compelled to create ever larger and larger replicas of Devil's Tower mountain? He started by looking funny at his starchy side dish and ended up with a highly detailed 1/4 scale model or something? We are about there people. Yep, big ol' mashed tate-tee mountain sitting in my shop. Monomania.

My starts at actual animating for today came in the form of some preliminary, yet valuable, decisions on the set instead.

I cleared all small props as all I'll need right now are main furnishings to block rough camera moves. I gulped and struck the cardboard wall guides (posted earlier) in order to re-position the walls around a better placement of furniture. This was by far easier to do since I wrote up a story outline and knew the action, a far more logical order of things in my case. Furniture first (knowing the general action) then walls set up around the furniture.

I cut a 2x2 up for support posts and hot glued them temporarily to the set floor after struggling to get the bay window right. I cut pieces of crumbly (but free) Styrofoam for wall panels and cut new windows into them. (don't worry the walls will be wrapped with wire and essentially dry walled in during the cottage fabrication phase) Everything right now is thrown up in place with sealing tape and chewing gum but spending any time doing fine craftswork for these tests would be unnecessary and way off point. It's all about how I'm to shoot the story right now. (She says in head over and over.) Knowing exactly how I will be shooting will confirm important things, such as the scale of the puppets, before things go too far into their fabrication.

Tomorrow I'll take sample shots for two hours and then coarsely edit them into a rough clip with iMovie for posting here.(Later, I plan to move into an editor like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere with After Effects, or another program that's perhaps new on the scene) as I suspect I'll need more control over digital effects than iMovie can give. I may edit in an easy to use program and then embellish the footage with more of a special effect program, like Premiere. Again, I'll know more after experimenting with these upcoming tests.

Hey, here's a couple of great innovations that came out of the Action Only® filming methodology employed today... You see, I have my computer in one corner, and my set is on saw horses "way over there" which means that although I smartly purchased an extra long firewire cable for the USB to webcam connection, I neglected to connect in my head until today that I'd be using my keyboard to click the shutter and needing to view the monitor for onion skinning (permission to snicker at this granted). Himself helped me think through how to reconfig the shop so things will be rosier in time for the real shoot. For these tests though in the next few days I'll be either bumping the camera to click off frames and/or mightily wearing down some major shoe leather.

And in another advance, I saw that once in the new position, there will be one side of the set I won't be able to get far back from for long shots. So, I thought of slipping in a large piece of plywood/turntable under the set base in order to swivel the whole shebanggg on the tabletop when needing to shoot that side. Heck, if I could stabilize this very lazy susan to the table well enough I might be able to keep the cameras tied down and rotate the set in front of them! I'll report back on how that goes.

A Production Philosophy Moment:

I'll say right here that I'm not looking for necessarily smooth animation in this, my priority is in A.) Using what materials and equipment I already have, or can gracefully get my hands on, and B.) Making the film in a way that is a pleasure for me. I can't get everything or do the things that would make it ideal, but I am doing it period. If there are lighting flickers from electrical surges or jiggles in the movements from my choice of tiedowns, that's going to be part of the art for me rather than a detracting from it. I expect the animation to be better than "Maus" my casual software test (posted below) but after this week of shooting roughs I'll know more about the style I'll be settling into for this.

Small clip tomorrow.

See you then!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Halfland News

Next post; Some starts on; Film 2; Scene One; Sunday.

At Dark Strider's suggestion, comments now open to everyone in the whole wide world.

Thanks to my "intensely" supportive animation coaches.


Made From The Same Mold

These are the step by steps taken so far for the Time Frog character, from armature to mold ready to pour with latex. It will be finished like a regular green frog except one of its eyes is rather a clock face with ornate hands (below) that I snatched from an antique pocket watch found in an attic.

My grandfather was on the Academy Awardtm winning team that made the special effects for the original Planet of the Apes at MGM. And it was only when I started making plaster molds as an adult that I flashed back to being in his dusty workshop as a little girl, looking up to see the entire room lined with plaster life masks of Hollywood's biggest stars. I was gripped by the thought of interests and inclinations being so powerfully linked to genetics.

Character Development

By Special Request from Sven over at Scarlet Star Studios (, Here's a little more on the Pink Snail's construction. It's in two separate parts; the snail and the shell. The snail part is currently a fired (hardened) ceramic master sculpt that will be cast in a soft silicone, lined with wire along the outer edges to make those slow undulating ribbons of movement that snails do as they travel over uneven ground. The finish will be flesh pink color and will glisten. The shell is nearly finished as you see it above, it's fully furnished too with age-crackled tiny floral patterned wallpaper and a portrait of "mom" inside. I wasn't kidding about the porch light being wired, I've got a teensy model train lantern light rigged in there which will be connected to a small transformer hidden inside the shell house when shooting the outside.

The shell started out as a softball-sized frame of chicken wire which was papier mached and finished with layers white paint and of ochre/brown glazes. Its front door, window box, and window frame were made of cut, textured and tinted balsa wood. The brass door knob and decoration on window box were the tops of pins with the points cut off. The lantern was constructed out of thin pieces of cardboard, taped and painted to look like iron. The roof was a spiral of hand-cut balsa crammed with moss. Curtains by Dior. Kidding, but I did dip the bottoms of them in dirty paint water to stain them.

Cheers, Thanks for asking!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Today put the GAZzzaa! In Gazebo!

Today while driving around, I passed a gazebo (like this one) and I swear a cartoon light bulb appeared over my head. I've seen these large fanciful outdoor frameworks forever but only today did it strike me as a genius solution for the cottage structure. I'll scrap the matboard I was planning to use as the guides for the walls, eaves, and roof, down they go. In their place I will cut lengths of stock lumber 2 x 2 I have for the vertical posts, drill threaded bolts into the bottoms so they can slot into the set base. The spaces in between the posts will be panels of Styrofoam wrapped in hardware cloth (perfect amount of which appeared by our dumpster today--snagged.) These reinforced lightweight walls, positioned properly for the final furniture arrangement, will be slathered with pre-mixed Flexall (a flexible plaster filler) which when dry will be aged to a nice old village cottage finish.

Another advantage of this solution is that I can splice the walls where they meet the posts. This will allow me to slide each wall panel up and out of the way for all the groovy close up interior shooting. I was wondering how I was going to slice up the 360 degree set easily. Now I know.

And I realize now, it should have always been designed as a more open nature, tree-like structure anyway. Of course! (smacks forehead with palm.)

Some of the cottage exterior features will be; cedar shake roof (I have bags of little doll house wooden roof tiles), cupola, double roof, odd peaks in order to avoid hitting the tree's branches as if the cottage grows with the tree rather than cuts into it (let me know if you want to see links to people who actually grow their houses and even the furniture from living trees--not even kidding), small eaves for windows, weather vane at top, and most fun... Classic Tudor hand-made glaze patterned windows with simple edge frame and occasional colored panes (sample diagram shown above) This will add a wonderful, subtle color change to the surfaces of the windows as I shoot them and shoot through them. You heard me--that's right rippling poured glass panes--don't hate. I'll be using twigs for the mullions!! (Love that idea, it's a way to integrate a human building with natural woodland.) The raw wooden shutters posted earlier will have scroll shapes cut out of the middles and rusty hinges and latches added.

By the way, here's a link to the finest model architects I've run across, model gods indeed, and my inspiration for happily half of their level of detail and craftsmanship; Noel and Pat Thomas ( (They have a remarkable bow window, kind of paned window that curves outward, tut in May '92 issue of Nutshell News available here for $3.50 )

And Phil Dale's mind blowingly gorgeous piece, The Periwig-Maker ( also has that astonishing quality of authentic place, a tiny world, fully realized.

I'll be striving for this grade of excellence but have wisely knocked the bar down a lot of degrees to a more rustic, primitive, folk feel. It's what I want and a good cover. :^}

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Casting is Complete

This is the master sculpt and finished shell house of the pink snail. Her window curtains get filthy as she drags them through the mud. The warm glow from her porch lantern rocks back and forth as she lumbers along into dusk.

4 Main Characters:
(in order of appearance)

Black Mermaid (Kyra)
Goat Wise Woman (Rana)
Moth Man Hunter (Yanu)
Wounded Crow Woman (Tarn)

Main Character:
(special cameo appearance)

Ancient Serpent Musician (Urhu)

13 Supporting Cast Members:
(in order of appearance)
Reader Participation--I welcome any ideas for naming any character below without a name already...

Writing Mouse
Decorative Spider
Painting Chicken
Queen Bees
Handicapped Butterflies
Time Frog
Snoring Cat (Bosq)
Birds in Hats
Knitting Beetles
Pink Snail
Tortoise Hare (T'Har)
Marching Ants

Environmental Characters:
(in order of appearance)

Green Hills (human body contours)
Stream Stones (human body contours)
Hearth Flames (human body contours)
Flowering Thoughts (human figure animation)

The Halfland Story Outline

Updated 01:02:03 04/05/06

(Action starts on the ground.)
--Film 1--
scene 1:
(Landscape--Sunny Shore--Live Action/Rod Puppet--fade up from white)
The camera startles Kyra meditating on a large rock; she looks deeply into us, pursing her mouth making the sound "Poeh" as she exhales. She smiles and slips gracefully under the waves.
(fade to black)
scene 2:
(Underwater Set and Photographic Composite/Stop Motion--fade up from black)
Camera POV submerges under and we can just make out Kyra's figure swimming quickly away into the darkness, we follow. She finds an old wooden door that leads inside an underwater rock; opening the door she grabs a silver rope floating there and we are taken along as she is pulled swiftly inside the darkness.
(fade to black)
scene 3:
(Surface of Ocean/Live Action/Rod Puppet/Composite--fade up from black)
We emerge with Kyra in another world's ocean. We swim after Kyra towards the land ahead.
(fade to black)
scene 4:
(Underwater Set/Stop Motion--fade up from black)
We follow on land as Kyra's swims through stream waters moving through woodland until we see a cottage on a hill ahead. We see something darting in the shadows of the tree branches as we go.
(fade to black)

--Film 2--
scene 1:
(Exterior--Cottage Set-Afternoon--fade up from black)
We approach the cottage on a green hill, intro Rana on her hands and knees on the cottage's porch trying to coax a tiny writing mouse from a hollow in the tree. We see the hind legs of a goat under her skirting and assume it's a goat in clothes until she rises off the ground, unaware of pulling a spider web onto herself as if jewelry, to reveal she is in fact an old motherly wise woman with a twinkle in her eyes.
(fade to black)
scene 2:
(Exterior--Cottage/Woodland Set-Afternoon--fade up from black)
Kyra calls to Rana from the stream shore; Rana greets and welcomes Kyra from the porch; she picks up the rain water barrel at her front door and walks down the walkway through her yard toward the stream; we see a chicken painting in the yard, queen bees and handicapped butterflies buzzing through teacup roses, When Rana reaches the stream we see the time frog half submerged in the water. Rana collects Kyra in the barrel and returns to her cottage.
(fade to black)
scene 3:
(Interior--Cottage Set-Late Afternoon--fade up from black)
Rana enters her cottage placing Kyra, still in the water barrel, down by the over-stuffed easy chair with the snoring cat, Bosq, as she moves to stoke a warm fire in the hearth. Above their heads we hear tiny birds making a ruckus in a lower tree branch inside the cottage as they fuss over decorating their fancy feathered hats. As we are looking up we notice a darting, lithe figure moving through the frame in the canopy of the tree several times. We see the delighted face of Yanu, the moth-man hunter smiling down on us through the open spaces in the cottage roof.
(fade to black)
scene 4:
(Interior--Cottage Set-Dusk into Night--fade up from black)
Rana continues to prepare a meal of soup and herbal tea for herself and Kyra to share, there are wool colors to sort by the fire. As it darkness, the candles are lit and Yanu laughs as Rana makes her way into her cozy bed. As she closes the shutters we see a pink snail with a fully furnished house on her back move through the garden leaving a shiny silver trail as she travels on the grass. We watch a moment as the snail's front porch lantern rocks slowly to and fro as she lumbers into night. Rana snuggles into her comfy bed stuffed with cattail down and hay. Her pillow, a cloth caterpillar, inches closer to her like a warm hug. We hear rain fall and all is quiet.
(fade to black)

--Film 3--
scene 1:
(Interior--Cottage Set-Morning--fade in from black)
Rana, Kyra, and Yanu awake to the clamoring of the half tortoise and hare, Torhar, being ridden by a darkly dressed, wounded woman, Tarn, with one womanly arm and one black raven's wing, a large beak hiding half of her face. She climbs off of the tortoise shell saddle on the hare, bridled as a horse might be, and stumbles through the cottage door and collapses onto the floor. The birds stop singing and we hear glass shatter and fall and babies cry.
(fade to black)
scene 2:
(Interior--Cottage Set-Morning--fade in from black)
Everyone is alarmed for Tarn's well being and Yanu becomes frustrated with the fact that he can't leave the branches of the tree as Rana tends to her. Rana retrieves a lump of white chalk from her waist pouch and draws a circle around Tarn lying on the wood plank floor. As she completes the circle the scene fades to white.
scene 3:
(Bright Landscape--Desert Sands--fade in from white)
We, along with Rana, Kyra still in her barrel, and an unconscious Tarn appear in the middle of a sea of sand. We see a bit away the lone camp of a half man/half serpent musician, Urhu, playing an ancient string instrument. He greets the band as they make their ways to his camp. As Rana indicates what the distress is, Urhu seems to understand what can make it right. Stocks and shoots begin to emerge from the top of his head and they begin to bloom into living flowers. We can even make out their resemblance to human figures. Tarn awakens at this and these stocks begin to grow up through her hair as well.
(fade to white)
scene 4:
(Landscape--Desert Sands--fade up from white)
Rana and the band of main characters watch in awe from Urhu's desert tent and woven carpet in the endless sea of sand as Tarn lifts into the air slowly, shedding her black heavy wings and beak. They fall to the ground. The flowers of her thoughts continue to bloom and begin to cover her entire body as she rises higher still.
(Action ends in the sky--fade to white)

4 main characters; 1 cameo appearance; 12 minor background characters; 1 main detailed built set with digital distance and sky; 2 digital digitally fabricated outdoor landscape settings based on real photos with small simple built sample sets.

Twelve scenes total: one minute each scene: twelve minutes total running time. And you thought I couldn't do math!

No dialog, no vocals for any character, with the exception of sighs and special exhalations sounds as punctuation to the action. There will be background music, likely classical chamber music for violins and cello, something Peter and the Wolfie. (There is a radio ad out right now for SBC Yellow Pages that has a storybook piece that would be precisely what I'd like for this, but alas I haven't been able to unearth the name of it.) There will be many layers of sound and sound effect; buzzing bee, wind, rain, birdsong, baby's cry, laughter, glass breaking, crackling fire, etc., which will not necessarily match the action. More of a symbolic soundscape.

Rana's ethnicity isn't specified by time or specific culture. It is Folk, which evokes the same feelings for me in every peasant life from ancient Greek to East Indian to Asian artisan, et al.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Testing the Wares

View this clip on Vimeo
"Maus"; Animation test from last August. Literally my first time animating anything. Bosq the cat on Rana's chair being harassed by her writing mouse, all on loan from Halfland for this scene, just so I could see whether the camera and the software worked. (On my desk, no tie downs, natural light at end of day, Unibrain web cam, Framethief software, edited in iMovie.)

Keeping An Eye On Me

I bought every single thing I would need to complete Halfland while still living in New York. Let's face it, where else on earth could one go to an eyeball store?! These are the most amazing hand-blown glass eyes I bought from G. Schoepfer, (212) 736-6939 for the various characters.

From the comments, a couple of times:
himself said... "This is getting really exciting. When does shooting start?"
You all see what I'm dealing with?! Actually, I really appreciate the lack of slack.

You sir, are a taskmaster. I am looking into how to post video clips on a third party site and I will start shooting after I fill in the script outline from yesterday, a very helpful exercise, and move the windows around on the temporary walls.

I'll cut a piece of paper out to stand in for the Rana character and then I'll rig up some temporary lighting and begin shooting with Mike Brent's Unibrain Web Cam of Joy on a tripod and my Nikon Coolpix 950 propped up on and taped solidly down to a work table. I'd like two streams of content to edit together later.

I can do it.

I'll say Sunday, if not sooner.


Slow Build Up vs. Action Only©

Had to share, this cartoon says it all. I found it in a New York paper right after I decided to make Halfland in 1993. I've lost the cartoonist's name I'm afraid, but it's such a brilliant, insightful peep into the mind of us looneys. First guy says, "I started with a vision and a flip book.; Next guy says, "I sold puka shell necklaces for 12 years to finance my movie." and the last guy says, "I cut every sprocket hole in the film myself." I laughed outloud at the hard truths this little gem exposed in me, even back then. But I thought, "Not me!" Ha.

So here's what I've learned straight off with this new (to me) "doing" rather than "planning" approach to producing these projects of ours:

1.) A Plog is gold. This is the way to go for me. It's got me engaged in the project in daily real action as opposed to very exciting but ultimately worthless mental pictures and thoughts. Doing is good--and I had no idea how much of a push forward logging some of it would do.

2.) After twelve achingly long years of thinking about this project, adding daily ideas and image clippings to the files for each possible aspect of the film, being excited by imagining how the film could look... I was going about it all wrong. I can see already that laying out the script with both eyes on actually having to shoot it before building a single thing is, unexpectedly to me, a by far more effective approach. I thought that grabbing bits of time here and there as able to build what I could until everything was ready to begin some disconnected concept of filming would be fine, 40 years in the making--if ever--but fine.

Maybe the slow build works well for developing concepts and ones sense of what to say. Maybe I had to gather myself to a point where I not only knew I wanted to work with stop motion and create a folktale like Halfland but also to have a greater perspective on what, how, and why I wanted to do it. Maybe I had to wait for himself to buy the magic clue that I couldn't see on my own. Time has a way of putting everything in place. I see that I could not have done this project for real any sooner than this moment. I owe the wonderful Mike Brent and the SMA boards (http:/ and a sea change in the democratizing of independent filmmaking with my being able to see things moving ahead in earnest. Finally, sheesh.

Looking at the same project through an Action Only© (:-}) approach has made important details about how characters should look (and why) newly obvious to me. I'm finding that thinking it through is providing far more "thought through" results.

The First Moment

This is a sketch for a beautiful main character, Kyra (black-mermaid). It is based on a photo of a 16" maquette sculpt done after a life-sized Kyra (photos shown below). The larger puppet was cut into pieces and Ultracal 2-part molds were made of each piece years ago; head, torso, right arm, left, fin (not as in foreign film but as in fishywench.) The smaller sculpt was kept whole and a 2-part Ultracal mold was made of her as well.

The plan was to use the large, perfectly detailed and finished, puppet as a rod puppet--not stop motion, on location at a soft sandy shore location here in sunny California. It would have been just be enough glimpses of certain of her movements to establish her nature and allure before she disappeared under the surf to take us through an underwater doorway to Halfland. The smaller puppet would be used for the stop motion in a small underwater set and when she arrived via nearby stream to Rana's cottage. I say the plan "was to" because the large front half of her torso mold was "lost" during our last move and I'm re-thinking the necessity of creating the full-sized puppet as a result.

New York, late 1992, Kyra's head was the first thing I ever sculpted and it was the first thing created for Halfland. My life was utterly changed at that time by a gift. Despite any rational reason I found myself working on building ravishingly gorgeous props and set pieces with hugely talented artists. The Chelsea loft was rented for a couple days longer than the production required and the technical director offered everyone the space to work on their own projects. In that flash Halfland entirely occurred to me.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Birds in Hats

Here's a little sketch of some of the planned background action taking place in the cottage, vignette characters if you like, carrying on in their nest on a lower branch. They are tiny birds that wear fancy hats adorned with feathers. They try on various styles and take turns admiring the variety of styles they select from a stack of decorative hat boxes kept in the nest. I call them directly enough; "Birds in Hats."

Tomorrow I'll outline the plan for the 1 minute short series.


Saturday, April 01, 2006


This is the sculpt for the Rana character. The original drawing of this mythic half-goat woman is seen behind her, circa 1994. Her goat skins and hand-dyed and hand-woven skirting fabric is seen on her right.

This is an aerial view of the set. The tree will be finished with textured bark and lush greenery. It will my version of a Red Oak. You may just make out a hollow in the side of the tree that will be Rana's cooking fire with its three smoke stacks trimmed in stone. She'll sit on the roots to stir her soup. You'll see her overstuffed chair with her sleeping cat, Bosq, napping there. In the far left you may see the deer kill that hangs on the branches, a prop for another character, Yanu, a youthful, moth-man.

This is a shot across the cottage looking toward the kitchen. You can see where I'll have to move the window away from the bedroom alcove wall.

This is a detail of some of the food props.

This is a close up of the hand-sewn top quilt on Rana's bed and the soft pillow that will become a caterpillar.

Next raft of work is to move several window positions and to create a bay window alcove for the sitting chair area.

More photos tomorrow. Cheers!
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