Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Urhu's Instrument

A first draft sketch of the Urhu, serpent musician character for Halfland.

Anxious to get back to Halfland progress, I chose to rough in a sketch of the Urhu character that I knew could be done relatively quickly. What prompted my turning my attention over to this character now was that I had recently found a line drawing of a Middle Eastern musician in the wonderful book that I'm enjoying about color. The sketch in it caught my eye because the musician was holding a very similar instrument to one I had bought in New York 14 years ago for this exact purpose. Seeing it answered an important question about how the instrument should be played for the character. When I bought the prop on the street or in a shop I didn't really know what it was but thought that it would be in the film.

The sketch above shows the line drawing from the book composed with a photo of that actual instrument I bought with some serpentine sinew added to this half wise man half giant serpent/musician. You may notice that his desert sandscape is shaped like the contours of a woman's body. The real setting in the midst of the endless stark landscape for the character will include opulently dressed tent and carpet where he'll sit to play his inspiring songs.

Making the sketch has helped me realize a few further things regarding the character. One, was an idea of how the human arm and serpent arm might actually hold and play the instrument. Another is that his serpent skin coloring can be in pretty hues of teal, turquoise, and violet. It showed me that I could have fun with his turban and robe in rich saffron colors. And that I might also embellish the instrument prop with a bit of gold leafing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blue Skies Ahead

The Canvas Report is a happy one. Downstairs Clare has made a fantastic improvement in his energy and vitality and has taken up brushes on his new work once again.

I'm delighted to reveal that dear neighbor and friend, Clare, has adjusted very quickly to one of "modern medicine's everyday miracles". A couple of life-saving procedures and treatments has made him look, and he agrees feel, better than he has in ages.

I heard opera music drifting up from his place downstairs the other day and I was hoping that meant what I thought. Yep, Wet Paint was going on! w00t! I just love the scrubbed-in clear-skies-ahead blue that he has washed through the composition on his wall-sized, giant, "strung" canvas.

Welcome back to your work, Clare.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


(Looking past any unfortunate ramifications of the American forefathers "interacting" with Native Americans.) A day set aside to gather together with those you love to reflect on abundance and gratefulness always warms my heart.

Wishing each of you, and all those you care about, all the joys of the holiday season.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Polite Kutsey Kraftsey Korney Korner

Now, I'm sure the brilliant "negative space paper sculpturist", Peter Callesen could simply will his cut out designs to remove themselves from their letter-sized paper prisons using only his sheer mind power. Himself and I, however, are forced to discover a method for cutting such small intricate curves in paper that we mere mortals could utilize.

We stopped into Soolip Paperie on Melrose in West Hollywood on Sunday for a hit of inspiration and by chance came across a paper cutting tool from Japan we'd never heard or seen of before that may be the answer. It's a hand tool whose ceramic blade swivels 360º as its button is depressed. (I understand there are meds for that these days.)

There's a brief Japanese video/commercial/demo which I'm certain the chyron for it says; "Polite Kutsey Kraftsey Korney Korner" with that pink swish. (One can see how the item works about midway.) Look past this insult, people, into the gaping maw of godsend. Harac International makes this ingenious mouse-shaped paper cutter with which "You can cut a paper along curving line. Paper cutter blade will spin toward the sliding direction like a chair caster." They say the cost is about $15.95 US.

I've been Googling for another US distributor in Los Angeles as Soolip was SOLD OUT for the moment. The clip above says it's available from Hamonoichiba but I could only find it on their Japanese page and couldn't see if they'd ship to the US for 1 or 2 units. (I wouldn't mind a pair of those crazy soft squishey self-customizing hand hugging scissors listed there either! Woo.) I've emailed them an inquiry.

If it proves to be the life changing item it appears, I'll produce my own raving webcast to that effect. In the meantime, we're going to get our grubby mitts on one somehow and report back here on the actual experience of using it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Look... I'm a Pie

November is a great month, as each of them are. The Thon has been and continues to be so useful for me. It just isn't daily, exactly, for now.

My cohorts and I have given up the daily, for now. Rest assured that I am LOVING my project more than ever and am so chuffed to see the storyboards bringing it closer to reality frame by frame, image by image. It's a thrill that can't be described. I just don't want to keep having to have late late nights in order to do it, as that makes all the bad things come back. Hypomania, is not a healthy choice for me.

So what does take precedence for my time? Yesterday, as an example, I invested a full day's worth of work in crafting a proposal for a possible paid design contract. I learned a lot about what I have to offer a client now as opposed to say, 7 years ago, which was the last time I ever agreed to show my samples, as it were. Being more mature is a fantastic sensation these days. Knowing more, having had more experience, has got to be one of my favorite life experiences to date. Being younger, everything was so tense and neurotic, far less so now. Ahhh. Nice. I also addressed all my Christmas card envelopes as they stand ready for the really cute cards we're making this year.

Ballet, Graphics, Eating, Housework, Halfland, Crafts, Art, Himself. I've got to work out a way to share my glorious fun more equitably.

Look... I'm a pie!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meet Bosq

Bosq, the snoring cat with the human nose, is caught directly under a fallen cap with tassels in this frame from the Birds in Hats 2D animatic.

I couldn't stay up late last night to do this illustration like I could tonight. But yesterday I was able to charge several batts to get the ol' camera going. I took several good shots of the sleeping cat on a miniature chair I had handy. It will be fun to animate his part of the BnH sequence. The hat will fall, it will land on his head, his ear will perk up, his eye will open for a beat or two and then close with a shrug. It will likely be similar to his action in my very first animation ever, Maus.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Haven't Got the Power

The only shot of Bosq, the snoring cat with the human nose, I was able to grab tonight for the Birds in Hats animatic.

Weird. I spent more time trying to locate, re-charge, or scavenge AA batteries to power my digital camera than to create illustrations tonight. All at once, all my rechargeables went flatly unrechargeable and my whole supply of regular batteries ran right out. I was reduced to scavenging any I could find in the house, even stooping so low as to bogart the two in the remote.
I noticed a DC input on the camera itself but couldn't find a matching adapter. All this in a camera with a busted battery cover closure anyway so either from this or that or the other, power ran out mid-snaps.

Meanwhile, I can give a visual update on how the Christmas card workshop is coming along...

A variety of scraps of festive papers made from cutting out various parts for our holiday cards this year. It has only begun.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shot Glass Peep

Birds in Hats Animatic Test on Vimeo
Postage stamp-sized, super low res version of the first few frames of the Birds in Hats animatic sequence. It was made to test (my theoretical) method of creating an animation this way and to see how the movements might look.

Well, that was completely enjoyable to do! I could create these frames all day. It's so easy, it makes me wonder if everybody else has been doing this and I just didn't know. Animate the prop, save a copy of the frame, rinse, repeat. iMovie, which I love now, can craft the frames into a workable little animation test. I believe the actual 3D puppet animations in Halfland will have more personality and hopefully their performances will be more nuanced than I'd care to produce with these 2D illustration clips. They really are just fancy storyboards.

The mini clip above is 13 frames with cross dissolves inbetwix each one. The sounds were at hand, already loaded into iMovie. The box thumping sound is a manipulated "footstep". I made this first test, of a test, so low res and small because I didn't want to jam my ram with trying to edit large image files while I was just after a quick answer as to whether this technique would work at all. I'm happy to report I think that it will.

Tomorrow I'll try to create a bit more of the scene and render it at a higher resolution so we don't have to view the story through a shot glass.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Scene is Set

I've set the stage with all the elements for the 2D illustration animation for the Birds in Hats scene.

Having lots of fun doing it too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another Brief Pause for Ladies Distress. Back soon.


This was a pretty big day in Halfland. It started early this morning when I realized that Sven was suggesting I create the storyboard panels in Flash while I was thinking about importing ready art into iMovie to test the animation. Once I figured the difference, I threw yesterday's gifs right into an iMovie project and started playing around. It felt good use something I already knew a little. The pan and zoom effects looked great, the scrub through looked pretty animated, enough for an animatic anyway.

Later, while admiring the finished character sketch posted to Flickr, seen above, that was finessed with an elaborate combination of Photoshop filters to look more like a painterly, storybook illustration, that I thought--hey, why should I go through the effort of creating an animation with the less charming sketches when I could use the sketches as a guide to create the panels with the finished illustration instead?! I looked at how difficult that would be, not very. I added some chirping, crickets, and thumping audio files to the test clip, that'll work fine for a quickie clip.

I realized that the sequence will end/transition with one of the hats falling down onto a sleeping cat below after the birds go into a proper tug-o-war, something that I love and could only have been thought of by working on the action like this in earnest.

I realized that I want to use giant projected sky scapes behind my sets (possibly on white sheets attached to the floor and curved onto the ceiling (just thought of that and how it could be done) rather than green screen compositing, for two reasons. One, I love the way projection gives an illumined quality to an environment perfect for the Halfland world, such as the sky seen in Adam Bizanski's (brilliant) Pink Bullets music video. And two, I love the idea of actually advancing the sky's frames every few film frames, almost like they did with Nightmare Before Christmas' fireplace flames, to give the sky more breath and life.

I realized that I'll need to make metal rods jutting straight down from under the bird puppet's feet so the rods can be inserted into the tree branch as "tiedowns". I realized that I'll need to wire the wing feathers very securely in order to articulate them for picking up and holding the hand mirror. I realize that if that doesn't work I may have to switch to having them use their legs and claws as hands. I realized that the hat that falls onto the cat will be a woolen cap with tassels as that would be the funniest style to see land crookedly on his head. Woompf. (Comedy will ensue--in my head. Alone.)

I realized that this sequence will be entitled, "Quarrel". (Even though there won't be any written language in the film itself, I will have special, single-word titles for each sequence on the files.)

I realized that the mister bird will have feather markings that look like an ambassador breast sash and the lady bird's will look like the decolletage of a gown.

And finally, I realized that I cannot draw a free form sketch for sure! I tried drawing little quick line art renderings by hand tonight and it came out worse than I care to admit (notice I'm not showing it.) I even tried making postage stamp sized thumbnails of the now extended and completed action but it was impossibly tedious to do, especially since I'd already worked most of it out with the other version yesterday. I may try that method again for story ideas that I haven't thought out at all.

And I also realize that anyone who has read this far in this post is either as nuts as me over stop motion or is married to me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Useful Marker Sketches or Just Bad Animatoon?

(1) Cottage Interior: Daytime; Rana and Kyra inside the cottage, upon hearing a clamorous yet muffled peeping overhead, we look up to see a beautiful hatbox sitting in a nest with decorative hats hanging on various branches.

(2) The twitter continued and was increased with the arrival of a tiny blue-green birdie flying through the open space in the roof. We noticed the hatbox lid shifting a little as though something were inside.

(3) The tweeting grew more active as the little bird began to land and we swung around to get a better look at what he was after.

(4)He landed near the hatbox and we notice there were more hats hanging nearby, along with a miniature hand-mirror. The box lid still fluttered and rocked.

(5)Mr. Blue-Green picked up the mirror to admire himself in his newest purple silk Tophat without noticing the box lid rumbling.

(6)He delighted in seeing how the shiny green leaf he's just added to the satin sash matched his feathers handsomely, as he flitted around in excitement.

(7)All at once, the hatbox burst open, just as Mrs. Orange and Brown popped up from inside chirping loudly in exasperation Mr. B-G's annoying knack for removing the mirror from where she had obviously left it for her use. She had given Mr. B-G quite a start and the glass tumbled right down.

(8)Mrs. O&B took hold of it with the tips of her wings just as the mirror was about to fall out of the nest.

(9)Her happy chirping let everyone know she was pleased with the chapeau she had selected from her collection inside the box.

(10)Little B-G felt quite put out at losing the chance to look at the glass and protested the matter with his noisy chirrups.

I was able to complete the now 10 panel storyboard for this sequence. (I hope I made the images low res enough so as not to bog down viewing the page, please let me know.) Again, it was very valuable for planning the animation to create this storyboard. But, in future, I think I should try doing simpler line art drawings by hand like the terrific floating ones Sven has been doing to develop one of his film exercises. I like the way his drawings look as finished art even though I think for Sven it was more about exploring the action more freely and quickly. Making this storyboard in Photoshop took too long to be practical for future scenes, I'll see. I have to go pack my eyes and mouseing arm in ice for the night.

At Sven's suggestion, I also downloaded a trial of Macromedia Flash (Basic 8) along with print outs of relevant instruction for creating 2D animation with it to see how making the storyboard into a little 2D clip would work. Let's find out.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Here's the Story

Took me a while to get going, but I got the hang of how I want to make storyboard thumbnail sketches. I have to stop now (noy do I) and am posting as far as I got in the process of creating the first draft of the BnH sequence. Finished color and adjustments to action planned for tomorrow.

Ooooooo. I started late (oops), and began by making several further refined illustrations of the Birds in Hats image posted yesterday (oops). (I plan to post them to Flickr tomorrow and will post a link in case you'd like to see them.) After a couple hours of that, I started in to develop a method of storyboarding my scene (good). The next step was to create a storyboard blank sheet in Quark. It came out nice (great). (I can post a pdf of it tomorrow, in case anyone else could use one for their own project.) I took it into Photoshop, (yeah?) and began to make simplified sketches from the photos and start blocking the elements into the squares in many multiple layers of props and characters. I tweaked and shaped them as needed, each element on its own layer. (sounds complicated) After a bit, it got quicker to do and from now on it should go as swiftly as quick line drawings by hand might, if I could do them (you should try that instead). The cool thing about this method is that now that all the components are set up it is an easy matter to change the timing/action/animation. (ok, that's true) That's always the case with computers I find. It takes a long while to set up initially but revision is a click away. (That's a good point.)

In any case, this was helpful exercise again. It again assisted me greatly to "see" the action in a relative aspect view. I learned from doing the board so far that I need to add hats closer to the nest/box in order to capture the full idea in frame. I learned that the hand mirror will hang on the branch too. I learned that the blue bird has use of the mirror first, before the red bird pops out and scares him into dropping it.

Here's the scene the little dears appear in to help give the action some context:
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)

Birds in Hats--Beginnings

Inspired by Sven's storyboarding for his project, I decided a great way to start my mini-animation exercise for Halfland (as Mike had suggested I do) would be to sketch out the action, even before I begin to create the puppets. This is my first attempt to realize the Birds in Hats supporting cast characters.

I don't draw. My sketches are hybrids of photomontage and illustration. I can only illustrate with images in Photoshop. Making this sketch tonight was EXTREMELY helpful towards making the film. I thought I would never need to sketch or storyboard my project because it was just--me--after all, I didn't have a crew that would need the concepts communicated to them. HA! What about communicating the concepts to myself!!? So the biggest lesson tonight was that, yes, sketch everything, and further, storyboard the action. Preliminarily put it down on paper/screen sufficiently to be clearer about how to block it out on set.

Tonight I also learned about my little birdie friends here. What I learned, that I didn't know before making the sketch is...

That their little hats hang on the branch!

That the biggest hatbox sits in a natural nest!

They don't fight over hats like I thought but rather over the hand-mirror! This is obviously because they both look so adorable they each deserve to see!

The male's hat isn't decorated with a feather--duh. He decorates his silk top hat with leaves that he collects!

This is so cool. I can't wait to sketch out the action tomorrow!


Friday, November 03, 2006

It's A Set Up

Here's a diagram of how I'm currently set up for the cottage set. The two large grey transparent rectangles indicate the two doors on four saw horses that make up the set support. The three white box outlines, A, B, & C, show the three separate "flats" (shown an inch or two apart for this demo) that make up the sections of the cottage support. Numbers 1 through 6 are the wall panels. Panel 1 and panel 6, flanking the tree trunk, will be incorporated into the next phase of tree mache/girth increase, and will no longer be removable. Wall panels 2 through 5 will be removable for INDOOR filming and animating access. Outdoor filming will be 360º when the walls are fully assembled and locked down with "L" brackets.

Butt wait, there's more!
Here's my current plan for animating characters, such as Rana's stand-in here, inside the cottage with tiedowns in the floor. I'll remove whichever wall panel is in my way, slide whichever floor section isn't needed in the shot apart a few inches, slip my hand under (I can reach all the way to the middle of each section from either end.) I won't know how this will all work until I get into doing it but at least I've started thinking about it.

It's SuperNOVember!

Announcing, the next in a series of Daily Progress Push-a-thons here in Halfland has begun! A little something done on the project, doesn't much matter what, is to be done each day, along with the rest of life, or I'll know the reason why!

Anyone is welcome to partake for their own creative project(s) of any form, writing, photographing, journaling, painting, sketching, sculpting, animating, what have you! Anything especially challenging that could do well with a little extra support.

We go until Thursday, November 30, bask in our results, and then decide what's best next.

Here we go... (thanks Mike!)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Online Project Therapy--The Newest Sensation Sweeping the Interhoo!

Freud by Warhol

Good and true friend and Professional Master Steel Armature Builder (!) Sven Bonnichsen at Scarlet Star Studios wrote to me a couple posts ago in the comments (which, if you've ever been written to in your comment section, then you know how it can tickle!) asking some very excellent, supportive questions to get things moving again on the Halfland project. And then when I didn't answer them promptly he wrote again asking what he could/should do to help get me what I want. I thought my situation might be universal enough, in what must be more than just my private difficulty, to bring it out of the comments and talk about it here.

SVEN SAYS (after a dearth of action on Halfland for more than a week.):
So, I could see myself asking one of two questions at this point:
What's the next step in making 1/2L that you feel excited about? or
What's the thing that's getting in your way right now? (That you either don't know how to do... Or fear/dread doing... Or the outside obligation/habit that's stealing your time?)

SVEN SAYS; DAY TWO (after I didn't initially reply to the above):
Hey Shellsy --
Are we done with the "*nudge*" portion of this online relationship? ...Nudging is not something I naturally do -- I tend to feel like the best way to support artists is not with ass-kicking, but with dreaming and wishing together. But you seemed to want to "be held accountable" for a while there... What would you like a friend to do?

I wrote to him personally to clarify that I indeed do welcome his nudges, niggles, and any otherwise coaxing cajoles, elbows of encouragement, prods and pushes, as I'm seriously interested in getting further along. Does that seem a direct contradiction to yesterdays' claim to simply being content to enjoy the whole affair? I don't. I see them as both true in the same moment. I want to make real progress but I don't want to be uptight about it as I do.

So, here are my attempts at answers to Sven:

What's the next step in making 1/2L that you feel excited about or what's the thing that's getting in your way right now? (That you either don't know how to do... Or fear/dread doing... ?
The next thing I feel EXCITED about is dressing the cottage set in fabrics and props with delicious detail, but that seems a bajillion steps away from now. I'm also excited to animate the Birds in Hats puppets on a branch, but in between that and now again is a myriad of unknown steps. I'd like to finish the bleeping windows but realize it would be wise of me to size the openings exactly when the cottage walls are more finalized. I'd like to fatten up my tree with more foam, papier mache and a coating of Flexall compound. I'd like to get the roof beams cut and installed but I am tired of trying to coordinate getting assistance from my friend, Downstairs Clare, as he's got other more important things going on right now so I'd like to not rely on anyone else and modify the roof design so that I can cut them myself. I'd like to buy some pink insulation foam panels and begin blocking out the landscape around the cottage. I'd like to figure out how to configure the cottage walls so that they lock firmly together as a whole but can be easily disassembled for shooting. I'd like to figure out how to use tiedowns on my set as I can't imagine how I'm going to reach up and under in spots. I've left a gap between the two tables the set rests on but will I be able to crawl under there and and squeeze my hands under the 2x4's the set flats rest on 24 times a second? Will I be going under/tiedown, up/animate, under/tiedown, up/animate, under/tiedown, up/animate, under/tiedown, up/animate, etc.? And what about the camera? What kind? What editing software? What background? What lighting to buy (whatever Mike Brent's tutorial says is the answer to that) but I still need to acquire them and work out their rigging here.

Or the outside obligation/habit that's stealing your time?
I recently completed a huge work project, my first overseas printing of an innovative book design and a very inventive mailing device for that book, of which I'm very proud. I've got two more similarly exciting projects lined up from the same client and have a week and a half left to develop and produce comps of both before my next presentation/meeting. I also have to design a less complex item and get it printed ASAP. For my physical health and tremendous value and pleasure, I take my three ballet classes each week, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, which take more time than just the class hours as while I'm out I usually take advantage and run errands the weekdays and go to cafe with Himself after class on Sunday. (I know, rough life!) So that leaves the other days to keep house and take care of intermittent projects for pay. And then there are the seemingly ever present exceptions, like making special birthday cards for special people, cooking for ailing friends, or this or that holiday/occasion popping up to make something for. (Since I started this plog I have cut out nearly every other craft projects I used to spend time on. It was a great creative outlet for me but I had to choose a priority and 1/2L. won.) Oh, and the BIGGIE, the Internet!!!! I have noticed that I can sit surfing for HOURS online without the slightest idea that so much time has passed. On Monday I kept the computer off all day and night for the first time in at least two years and that undoubtedly was why I made so much progress on the Christmas Card Project. And then there is also an ongoing health matter that semi-regularly stops my momentum with all of this--cold.

What would you like a friend to do?
I want to "be held accountable." If Sven, or anyone else here, has anything to suggest I am open and very interested in hearing it. If you've found a way around this sort of thing yourself or handle/approach your tasks a certain way that works for you, I'd love to know about it! If you want to call me names or otherwise set me straight, that's great too because I believe in the wisdom of crowds, well, a select, intelligent crowd, in this case. Or maybe, we can just encourage each other through our endeavors even more. I'm willing.

"I'm afraid our time is up." --Sigmund Freud
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