Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Make the Bed... and pillows... and lamps... and...

Made animateable bedsheet today, added the metal lined wool blanket and ran a wee test. Works exactly as I'd hoped it might. Better actually, I didn't know it would work.
I laminated several layers of heavy strength aluminium foil with white gesso to act as an animateable substrate inside fabrics in the set. (on left) I use an old plastic card to smooth on a thin layer of Stick Flat glue on it. This was encased inside wrinkled, stained natural muslin for Rana's top sheet. See it in action in test above.

I've been stitching various fabric pieces for use as throw pillows for Rana's chair and window seats. (in middle) is my version of Rana's "Slow Cloth", in spired by the marvelous textile artist at Spirit Cloth by embroidering the reverse side of a textural piece in Rana's colors. (on right) I'm in the process of making botanical doilies for Rana's reading chair. I've also added a piping detail to the chair's cushion. Both things really add a reality to the chair prop, breaking up the dark field of maroon color.

While waiting for the xmas cards to arrive last week, I ducked into the incredible Liz's Antique Hardware on LaBrea in LA. They have thousands of pieces of salvage hardware of every variety there, well organized, with an intelligent staff ready to help. I poked around and found this beautiful antique iron wheel (I believe may have likely been part of a pulley many years ago?) It looks wonderful on the cottage porch next to the rain water barrel. The price I paid? Let's just say the lovely salesman at Liz's is a patron of the arts. He asked if I could use an intern for Halfland! I told him to check out the blog and email me if it looked like something he'd like to do afterall. I don't expect to hear from him, but it was a fun thought.

I recently came to realize a new story development for Halfland. I realized that the Time Flys get caught in the spider's web and end up on Rana's pin cushion. This is how we get more time. I plan to build the upstairs window in the cottage as seen on left above and go for a quick shadow shot as shown to suggest the spider's web.

I have spent a lot of money through the years in a desperate attempt to recreate a little oil lamp chimney for Halfland. I've bought blown glass hollow balls, tiny glass Christmas balls, plastic candy-filled Christmas lights, small chandelier light bulbs, etc., all in the vein hopes of creating the exact look of the plump little one such as the real-life Rana, wonderously gifted painter and storyteller Rima, has in her little portable cottage (on left). I was getting crazed, fixing to sculpt and cast one to scale in that shape when--eBay--swooped in to my rescue instead! I found and ordered the tiny 2-1/2" glass chimney you see on the right. I sketched it to scale and fitted the paper in the mini lamp ring I found in New york and held the pair up to the Rana sculpt for size. I think it'll work. I plan to build the rest of Rima's little lamp from odd bits of metal. It's an important prop that will sit on the table next to Rana's chair by firelight.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Our Christmas [Card] Story; 2008

Final Animation Wheel Art

This year, our Holiday greeting cards were custom designed Early Cinema Phenakistoscopes, Motion Picture Illusion Toys {circa 1833}.

Before film, before cameras, inventors discovered that movement could be generated optically from a series of drawn static images. I've always been interested in early cinema and techniques of animation that can be made without electricity or even photography. I thought a Phenakistoscope would be an ideal holiday card, given our vintage toy theme from year to year.

*Viewing instructions that accompanied the wheel and spindle: Gently thread the paper image wheel, art facing outward, onto the wooden spindle included. View the little Elf Puppet dancing & juggling for you by spinning the wheel with one hand while looking through the blur of holes in the wheel from behind hold the spindle,(about a foot from your face) making sure the face of the wheel is well illuminated, up to any mirror.

The final animation was made in Adobe Photoshop from a scan of a paper elf puppet (our 2006 handmade cards). The art was printed on cardstock by a digital printing service overnight.

The amazing laser cutting was done by friend and reader Mark Fullerton of Precision Graphic Systems, Inc.. Mark took a great deal of care on this for me and turned the job around overnight, thus saving our Christmas. Thanks, Mark and Angela!

Crafting the Wheels
I started by downloading vintage Phenakistoscope wheels from the internet to understand how they worked. It was a thrill when I discovered the art actually did animate when the drawings were viewed from behind the wheel by a reflection into a mirror! I also found some tips for this sort of limited animation from a book I bought in New York years ago called, "Making 'Movies' Without a Camera"; by Lafe Locke. It was clear the animation needed to be made to be a perfect unending loop, for example.

An early great challenge of the project was creating my own dieline for the wheel and its precise circular series of holes without any ability to do math. (see lower left) I may be the only person right now who could create this in a page layout program that doesn't space and align items in a circle automatically.

Early attempts (on crazy tight timeline with the holiday approaching fast) were epic fails. The animations I initially made were way too subtle for a Phenakistoscope and I quickly learned that the action needed to be more simple and reduced in size in order to fit more "frames" on the wheel.

Building Wooden Spinning Spindles
(Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)
I used store-bought miniature toy wheels and banister spindles. One stem on an end of each spindle needed to be sawn off and sanded smooth. Each part was them polished with only natural Eco-House pure Linseed primer oil and liquid Beeswax.

The colors of part sets needed to be matched up and then attached together with brass washers and decorative upholstery tacks, that were dotted with red oil-based paint pen dots on each center. Festive festive.

Getting Them Packaged and Out
(Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)
I made 100 wooden spindles for recipients to spin their Phenakistoscopes on, running out of parts a couple times.

The project was so squeezed by time I literally spent a crucial day in my car waiting for the laser cut disks to arrive via FedEx so I could tie on a spindle and numbered instructional tag with a ribbon, tuck them into expandable cd mailers and dash them to the nearest late night
Post Office.

The first batch went out last Thursday to the people furthest away from Los Angeles. Two more large batches were shipped out on Friday and Saturday.

I've heard from people as far away as Hawaii but you may not have received yours yet, especially if in the super slow UK. Whenever it arrives to you I hope it finds you in good health and cheer.

It was a lot of fun to put the pretty sets into their envelopes. Paul and I were thrilled with this years' results and wish you all a merry holiday.

Here's how they look in action! (Photos will click through to larger versions on Flickr.)

(PS: If you are not on our Christmas card list, the printer over printed about 10 wheels, that are a hair off center in their laser cutting but still work. Let me know if you'd like a wheel and a tag mailed to you to check out in person.)

Merry Christmas to All!

Friday, December 12, 2008

SPECIAL FIELD REPORT: Kit Kraft Art Materials

I'm deep into Christmas Elf mode today but I couldn't wait any longer to tell you about my long awaited visit to Kit Kraft, Inc. a remarkable craft and art materials supplies store in Studio City, California.

I had found them online about a year ago when I was looking for a source for (allegedly non-toxic resin) Magic Sculpt to use in armature building. The site was extensive and pretty much indicated that they carried absolutely everything one could ever wish for to build a movie. Reading what they carried, I pictured a vast old space with room upon room of stock on shelves. I thought someone there would say, "The casting material ROOM is this way, just past the clays." I'd been dreaming and panting to get there for so long but it was so hard to arrange the trip.

When I finally walked in on Wednesday I saw this... and was crest fallen.

My first view from the door. I was so disappointed to be able to see all four walls of the place and not even a little second floor!

Surely this small shoebox of a place can't have much of anything?! WRONG!!! In about :30 flat of looking more closely what I found was a mind-blowing kick-ass well-run and thoughtfully curated mega art supply shop.

Every aisle was perfectly organized and fully stocked with huge variety of goods in a wide range of materials. This is only a small sampling of a few. Every wooden shape one could need in perfect bins (I bought the rest of the Christmas parts there!) Every size and shape of scale lumber and plasti-struct, all kinds of leather and plenty of styrofoam on hand. There were aisles filled with just metal stampings, and the best selection of jewelry findings I've ever seen (and I've been everywhere). Can you imagine, there was a box of walnut shells!!! And to make matters more spectacular--I NEEDED walnut shells!!!!! They had me right then.

I noticed a man moving quickly and efficiently to restock a spot high up on a shelf. This guy was on it. Clearly for this store being merely ok was not enough. This store is managed with a high regard for its customer's delight. I'm sure that's why there was a steady stream of customers the whole time I visited. When other art supply stores are run like cold heartless big-chain supermarkets with employees who hate you and hate working there (I guess I was bitter about it and didn't know it) this place is like the artisanal village establishment that warmly cares about what you need.

I was raving about the place to the owner, Mike Sitkin, and asked him if he would order me a larger-sized bag of Ultracal for my large puppets that need molding. He said that he would although he stopped carrying the 100lb sacks as they were too hard to handle. He suggested a building materials place where I could fill up pails that I could carry (for a bit better price than his as well) and besides, he said, he was using the former space in the back room to stock his newest passion, GLITTER!

Mike showing off part of his gorgeously curated selection of fine grain glitter in his stock room. Treat yourself to a creative rush, go visit Kit Kraft and the fine people there for whatever you're into. (They'll even fire your precious metal clay pieces there for $1 a piece!) The store's been thriving since 1946 and let's keep it that way. Hours: 9-6 Monday through Saturday, one block north of Ventura Blvd. East of Laurel Canyon.

I found a lot of great Halfland stuff there. Here you see the wooden ornaments that will embellish the exterior of the cottage and its furniture. They had a large selection of carved wooden items in both human and small scales. I used one of the rectangles as Rana's front door plate. I got the brainwave while at Kit Kraft that Anthropolgie's huge array of vintage style drawer knobs would double for Rana's front door knob. I rushed over there and found too many great choices (above bottom left are just a few I found in their bins and would be perfect. I finally boiled it down two based on correct size and color, one is crystal and the other embossed ceramic.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Easier Chair

Another 2 days' work on a single prop, but again, this one was a biggie. It's the only major piece of furniture in the cottage interior and has loomed large in my mind as a giant question of how I was to do it.

It's a cheat in that I bought the chair (for $10 (!) from a discount department store several years ago) You should have seen my glee at finding a ready made perfect-style upholstered chair for Rana to settle in while sipping tea in her home. It was pale green satin and a shy too large for the cottage scale however.

Dyeing the damask fabric was easy, I just doused it with tons of intense paints and pigment until it was for the most part a fit for Rana's interior palette of wines, ochres, and pinks. I used the dyed chair in a few test animations (see below's before shots) but avoided chopping it down for ages. 1. At one point I took the chair completely apart with the thought of using the pieces as patterns. I intended to reduce the fabric pieces on a copier, buy new fabric and build a chair from scratch from that exact pattern. Then I thought--wait, I'll just axe this guy down and refashion him. It'd be faster and easier and that's good right now.

2. I sawed off about 2" in the length of the arms and reduced the width by about the same. 3. I used Gorilla duct tape to reassemble the cut down pieces. 4. I cut down the original foam and taped it on as well. I took off about 1/2 HA! an inch off the height of the legs as well. The chair remained extremely sturdy surprisingly. 5. Then began the laborious task of re-tailoring the existing fabric pieces onto the newly smaller chair. 6. By the time I got to closing off the last part on the back I was able to use curved needles to stitch an invisible seam.

(A rough idea of the size change.) I believe that having the store bought chair to work from made the result better and more quickly done than if I'd started with nothing.

UPDATE: Completing Things (more on that concept later)

I'm delighted to report that workshop guest, Nicole did actually finish the artwork she started here and sent along photos of it! (It struck me how so rare and wonderful it is to see someone actually finish something they started without the grueling burdensome delay that drags on them for years. Ahem. Memememememeeeee) So, hats off to Nicole. I really love what she made. It represents to her a wonderful experience she had in China recently. And I especially love that when the little fabric flower lanterns she'd made here wouldn't fit inside the small shadow box, she simply added them on a dangling wire to the assemblage. Beautiful job, Nicole!

Goodnight from Halfland. Stay warm and cozy where you are.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I stared at these stairs for a long time. How exactly could Rana the goat woman walk down such a steep path (on the left)? Rustic steps were in order.

I let me hands work without my head once again and sawed some branches for risers and braces with newspaper/cardboard-based steps to fit. I checked the stride with the Rana stand in puppet, looked great, really charming on the set. I'll keep going until the pathway from her door to the stream makes sense.

I Googled for images of a "primitive natural steep footpath" (Don't you love using the Internet this way?!) and got a series of truly helpful reference images (below). I had no idea how to make it happen, especially since I thought I was done with building the set. But I realized the steps on the pathway had to be built up with papier maché and be be made to look like ground before I could begin to plant the grass and other foliage.

Christmas 08 Workshop has begun as well
This year the Vintage toy is animation related and far far easier to create than any so far. I believe I can do this in the time allotted before mailout. Hmm, I wonder what can be made with these wooden shapes for Christmas? hohoho. You'll see if you're on my card list! (email your mailing address (kept private always) to nobledesign[at]sbcglobal[dot]net with "xmas" in the title and you're on it!)

And... KIDDING! Found this on Cuteoverload.com and couldn't resist pretending that I'd made an even tinier caterpillar! Willyou look at how small those wild whiskers are?!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Felt the Need

The last two nights I've stayed up until 4am gluing whiskers into a little caterpillarie puppet. Did I mention the whiskers were real?

The venerable pet, Catalina, seemed to drop whiskers over the span of her 18 years of life and for some reason they seemed too cool to throw away. I would stick them into a bulletin board next to her photo and every so often I'd chuck them into a little box.

When Paul said he missed Catalina and named the puppet after her I thought I'd go ahead and use the tips of the real Catalina's whisks (I was surprised to see a couple hundred in the box) as only real whiskers taper to nothing at the very tips. This could be the weirdest thing about me.

I poked holes with a needle and then tried to jam the whisker tip into the end of the one inch long felt puppet with glue. I liked the way the wild splay of them (as it was last night on left) looked similar to some types of woolly hairs on real caterpillars, their feelers.

Today I finished the felt ears and added a striped tail. (the rear view on right shows the crawl away angle--and that IS what you think it is!) I changed the felt color to suggest a Tabby breed, gray by dusting with graphite powder and a whisker brush's worth of black and white paint.

This is sure to be Halfland's smallest puppet of all. While it doesn't look very much like her, I like having this tiny tribute to her in it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Herman's New Sweater

Herman has a new plaid sweater that buttons up nice and cozy.

The idea to add little twig buttons (like the ones I made last summer for a rustic jacket with matching woodland bracelet, shown below) to the rubbery caterpillar puppet, named by Stephanie as, Herman! (Rich added the !) came over me as great fun. But when I went to find him to do that he had disappeared. In one of those obsessive moments I kept looking for Herman! where could he go? Paul thought the cats ate him.

When I found him, I felt so glad that I spent some time sprucing him up. To get wooden buttons small enough, I tried slicing tiny dried twigs and toothpicks as dowel, but they each and all split, no matter what tool I used to cut them. I tried using punch tools on thin wood veneer to get little round wooden cookies but they wouldn't stand up to drilling micro button holes with a needle. I tried cutting reed beads in half but while they were a better scale, they didn't read as being buttons. It wouldn't have been clear what was going on. I finally overcame my aversion to plastic and used store bought mini buttons in bone color that I aged with, what else, walnut ink. Works every time.

I also improved the uneven texture transition from Herman!'s woolly felt coat and his shiny latex belly by using colored flocking fibers. He was looking a little rough there so the flocking allowed me to paint a line of glue just where I wanted to neaten up, at his hairline(s), on his back, and dust it with flocking sifted through an old tea strainer. I got into the technique and now his sweater has a plaid pattern. I like to think he's wearing a little cardigan for winter.

I used four of the sliced reed buttons that I had cut as eyes for the two fellas. They really have a comic personality now that I like. Paul named the little one, Catalina, after his pet cat that passed away a while back. He said he missed her, I didn't know. I may add whiskers on that one.

Belated Art Bonus (made last June)
Great linen jacket came with ugly (plastic) buttons. I went to the massive Halfland tree branch supply, where there are branches, well dried out, ready to use, in any size imaginable. I chose the porch support branch diameter and sliced off a bunch of twig buttons, drilled holes. Replaced the jacket buttons and went crazy crafting a matching bracelet accessory with a small hand carved wooden bird bead and antler beads on a base of soft dried vines.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mini Cooper

(A cooper is one who makes or repairs barrels) hee.

Two days to make one prop? a.) It's an important prop that features a lot in the film over several scenes. b.) I'm now enjoying the satisfaction of starting and finishing things for the film in a single push and finally getting things done.

I've been worried about how I was going to make this rainwater barrel for Rana's porch for over a decade. So, now instead of having to worry about it, it's done. I had the idea to use a carved base block of Floral foam [1] reinforced with 2 layers of Durham's water putty and tissue paper (in my favorite plaster maché technique) so the shape would be durable enough to be used as a mold for the barrel's shaping.[2] It worked and became sturdy and rock hard when dry. I sketched where the rings and staves might go. I thought I would use real copper for the rings that I bought for that purpose in New York But watching several barrel making videos on YouTube (! praise G-d for internet references!) I realized the four rings would be minimal and there wasn't enough of it. [3] When the balsa wood planks I bought to use were far too brittle to curve over the barrel shape, I got resourceful and decided to use a piece of scrap 1/16" hardwood snagged from the trash somewhere and cut it up into the right size using a straight edge and utility knife. [4] I deliberately used the board's frayed rough edge on the top edge for added texture and detail. The videos taught me that each stave had to be narrowed at each end in order to conform to the bulging shape of a barrel at its middle.

In order to get the shaped wooden staves to shape themselves around the blank block I used the combination of Gorilla duct tape and long nails hammered into the block's ends. [5] Then, in order to keep the planks shaped that way I had to find banding material that was strong enough to corral boards that would want to resist and sproing out if they weren't there to keep things that shape. I came across a stash of magnet tape in house that could be riveted into hoops and looked exactly like iron with a rust patina when finished later on. [6] While the ends were still firmly capped with tape, I slathered on a thick layer of stainable wood glue to fill in all gaps and to secure the rings to the wood so they wood be permanently fixed together as one unit. [7] In the morning, after the glue had dried I carefully wrenched the tape and nails off of both ends with pliers. [8]

Like cracking a poached egg, I cut through the hard shell of maché at the top and tore off the top third of it, leaving the interior of the wood to show above the "water line" that will appear to be in the barrel later on. [9] I scooped out the rest of the green foam all the way down to the bottom of the barrel (don't anyone dare say it o-0) leaving the hard maché shell in place. Gave the inside a thick coating of more wood glue. [10] Made a paper pattern of the barrel bottom, used it as a template to cut out more wood, glued it securely in place. [11] Stained the whole thing when dry with watered down acrylic and walnut ink. [12]

When I placed the finished barrel on the set where the cottage porch will be, it really brought the place to life. Very exciting! It will be used to keep the mermaid in during her visit at the cottage and also on the trek through the desert to see the wise man, strapped onto Rana's back with a fabric sling.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tip the Scales

Halfland's Pink Snail, a semi-sensuous, fleshy, undulating garden background character with an elaborately self-sufficient home on its back. The larger, fully furnished shell house, complete with aged wallpaper and portrait of mom, was completed back in New York. But the snail sculpt is still just a fired ceramic that needs casting into a suitably flexible material. The little snail was made all day yesterday.

Trying to sort out the best way to make the puppet, I made a mini test snail out of fluffy air-dry foam clay that stays flexible and lined its underside with black metal foil that is used to direct gobo spotlights (Shel kindly threw me a swatch of it). All I wanted was to get the ruffled edges of the snail puppet to ripple. It works perfectly well. Then, in a reckless move I decided to go ahead and make a full replica of the Pink Snail's shell, you know, since I had the small one and all. You ever notice how such simple innocent (foolish) ideas just crunch about 10 fold the amount of time the idea could possibly take? Yeah, so it was 10 hours on the mini snail. Doh.

I was determined to finish it in one go, especially since there wasn't any reason for making it and I had wanted to do something on the set that made a larger impact of progress. Now that the .25land scale snail is done I'm kind of glad because I can throw it on the actual set, and animate it in the background, in the distance. Then I can use the larger one for cut away close up garden trail-making action on larger scale greenery. Shrug.

I got the idea yesterday too of needle felting the mighty magnets and wire armature into fuzzy woolly little flexible caterpillars. I made one (the left 2 photos above) just an inch long. His gallop across a silk leaf as a test last night below (Please click play twice to see it once it's cached as it's so brief.)

gallopinginchworm from herself on Vimeo.

I also built up the worm puppet from the other day and gave it additional flexi-layers of latex. But I wasn't satisfied with the texture, shiny layer and then a woolly fuzzy layer, kept going back and forth. Finally I needle felted him a striped woolly coat for his back and built up tiny leg nubbins on his underside. (clip below shot late last night shows the result which I like, please click twice to see it as it's very brief.) Again, there was no call on Halfland's character production list for a caterpillar puppet but now there's one done. I guess it was just one of those days.

Caterpillar, now with legs. from herself on Vimeo.

Bye, from Halfland, hoping your projects are fruitful.

It looks like I'll have another chance at the set tomorrow and I bought the materials today to build the important water barrel prop for Rana's porch. The project lust I feel is intoxicating on a daily basis.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Worm's Turn

Made a little build up puppet earthwork for Halfland today. Took some nice black rubber flexible tubing, filled it with a twisted a length of the fine aluminum wire the brilliant Nick Hilligoss sent me, and added a couple of the crazy smallest Mighty Magnets I've seen to both ends.

I glued and wrapped the outside with fuzzy wool yarn and wire to shape the body segments, painted it and liked how the frizzles of the yarn looked when painted. Added more yarn and wire then dipped the whole critter in gloss medium and left it to dry.

Even through all the layers, the magnets hold pretty well on metal (see it crawl over the bench vice anvil in the shop). This gives me the option for animating it in the background of the garden sequence on fabric leaves by using additional magnets or metal on the back of the leaf or stem.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taste Test

Now, {hyperubertalent designer/artist} Stephanie {who requested I post this test clip in the last post's comments}, this test doesn't begin to show what can be done. I was just chucking veggies every which way to see what it all looked like.

I can totally imagine that your boiling clear liquid in a clear container, with bubble beads moving just so, and certain clever lighting... total realistic art.

Go for it!

Hair gel Hair Gel HAIR GEL!

I bought cheapo bargain stuff and was afraid the horrible fragrance would be noxious (as Christine had her trouble with the awful peach stuff she bought at the 99¢ store for the stream in her first film, Blood Tea Red String) but this one smells bearable so far and won't break down like naked gelatin would.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fancy Food Fully Finished Finally

I feel gratified to announce that I believe and declare all food for the film is now made. Today I finished the last few morsels.

I wouldn't have felt complete without an avocado for some reason, so, done. tremendous fun to make, I used 3 shades of green rubberized oven-fire clay with a seed sculpted over the right scale bead. The skin was textured with a piece of dried avocado skin before baking which looks utterly convincing in person. I love it when the props fool my own eye for a second. I'll pick one of them up and think it real--only 2/3 too small to be real.

The chunk of cheddar cheese, another blend of baked rubber clay, walnut ink, and clay crumbs added as patina after baking, looks for all the world like what it's supposed to. I took a bite of it upside down so my bottom teeth would scale for Rana's top teeth.

I hadn't planned on making a pumpkin almond pie but now that I wrangled fluffy air dry clay into the right scale mini tart tin I found this summer, on top of a painted air-dry earthen clay crust, and topped with little sculpted almonds, I'm glad I did it. It'll rest on the kitchen window sill to cool, of course.

Bottom right is the first of dessicated real flowers that will fill Rana's vases. I pick them on walks and park them in silica powder for a few days to dehydrate. Works well.

I improved the pomegranates. They had become too dark on their interiors to where the individual seeds weren't reading on camera. Being as it's now pomegranate season, Paul and I have been feasting on them. Looking more closely at a real seed (upper left) I thought it could be better replicated by using a white seed bead coated in a diamond clear gel that was tinted. I used an intensely rich fuschia silk dye to make a transparent coloring for a select number of accent seeds intended to break up the flatness of the darker beads. The result, finally arranged on a stained muslin tea bag lining my cake pedestal creation, made from metal odds and ends found at Canal Surplus in NYC, looks drastically more natural. yay.

It feels wonderful to have truly completed a big category of tasks for the project, especially since much of the food had begun 15 years ago (Paul did the math).

*There were a few fails today as well such as; an attempt to make the pink snail puppet ended up a sticky mess. I blended a lot of pink out of bake and bend clay (flexible oven-fired clay) pressed it over the ceramic snail sculpt that I'd made back in Ojai and baked it. It came off the sculpt nearly in one piece but the rubber clay wasn't flexible enough to animate as I'd hoped. I'll have to forget about the sculpt I'd made and try instead to make it as a build up puppet out of foam. I could always make a proper mold of the sculpt and cast the snail in latex, etc. but because it really is such a background character it doesn't seem that time would be well spent. Unless creating a build up puppet would take up the same amount of time. I'll find out.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Rooting for Me

Had a blast over the weekend and finished off several more vegetables, many of them root veggies, for Rana's abundant kitchen! Really pleased with how they turned out.

I had sculpted the yellow squash, turnips, carrots, and apples way back in New York circa 1993 but only completed them, and made others from scratch, just now. It was a lot of fun to sculpt in the leaves and greenery onto the vegetable bodies inspired by nature. In the upper left background above you can make out the blurry root bundle I added to the vegetables as tails. You see, I had grown a plant cutting a couple years ago in water that grew a nice root system but then I kilted it by mistake. Never to be one to throw possible Halflandian gear away, I saved it. So this weekend I spent snipping off little curly bits and gluing them into poked holes in edibles. yay.

I'd like to tell you what I learned from this Halfland episode, it's something that I've been coming aware of about the project, something probably everyone's project does for them. Profounditty alert: I've noticed that as I begin to craft the various elements for the project I become more aware of the object(s) in question. I don't mean that I simply see them as I'm out and about, like a reticular activation phenomenon. I mean that I slowly begin to see and understand their creation in an expanded way.

Example: I've been sub-consciously thinking of crafting say the flowering vines on the cottage, well, I'll not only see flowering vines in neighborhoods while I'm outside but I'll begin to notice the ratio of blooms to greenery on certain varieties. Or I'll suddenly understand the structure of the flowers and their relationship to the birds and their seeds, etc. It's like an awareness moves in my head and I enjoy a greater understanding about creation.

How this surprisingly showed up as I was painting and making the vegetables, was that silly little things, that probably most people already know but that I had no idea about before come more clear. Like how the roots are not to be colored because they wouldn't get light underground. Or that often the coloring in the greens of an edible plant will telegraph the nutrients in the growing thing, if one could decipher its "label". Point is, everything we eat has it's own method of perpetuating itself and insects and animals adapt to utilize those systems and vice versa the plant adjusts itself over time to be better used. It's all so utterly gorgeously integrated.

It isn't that I attempt to precisely reproduce anything for the project, it's ultimately going to be whatever pleases me to do rather than accuracy. In fact, the visual style in Halfland is extremely rustic and primitive and above all textural. It's my visual expression of nurturing and contentment. But the added benefit of gaining a little more understanding about this world is a definite unforeseen bonus of making it all. [end of insight]

The vegetable soup was very successful! I had the little round wooden box painted along with all the other kitchen ware for Rana from the early days but it wasn't yet a kettle until now. First I had to route out the interior with a nasty drill bit that looked like a miniature mace, chomp, in order to push out the vertical sides like a kettle's would be. then I used (a very handy tool) the hand drill to pilot holes for the handle rings on each side. To make them I cut an "s" hook in half (HA!), glued them well in. The handle ended up being strong pounded wire, formed the ends with my jewelry making tools to have opposing hooks (how I knew to make the hooks go into the loops in opposite directions I'll not know). These were both finished with coats of steel paint, saw dust, and black acrylic wash to imitate sooty iron.

The soup's chopped vegetables were made of things like chucks of white airdry clay sprayed with walnut ink and then cut to make convincing mushroom pieces or painted yellow neoprene foam squash with their mangled centers and painted green and white seeds, and green crinkled wax paper cabbage shreds. The whole lot got sprayed with a clear spray sealant [The first tox thing under protest but it was essential as tests proved the soup would return the naked chopped props back into blobs; respirator; on back staircase.] then mixed into a batch of strong hold hair gel tinted with sheer walnut ink to make it a rich soup stock color.

Serve on a plank with whole wheat bread, baked back in New York, animate a few times this afternoon and you've got some steamy good eatin'!

My roots are showing in a basket on left, one of Rana's water jugs in back of her clay jar of cured and herb olives, mini loaf of wheat bread up front. (image processed with fabulous free French Polaroid image maker, PolaDROID)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lettuce Have Peas

I was on the couch this week but managed to complete a few more of the food props for Rana's kitchen.

A yellow platter holds a sculpture of green peas that were built up from layers of porcelain and paint on real flower seed pods that grew here at some point.

I spent a lot of time finally finished the ravaged ripe pomegranates, my favorite food. Each little seed bead encased in a drop of clear glaze. The hardest part was adding layers of porcelain coating to create the white rind over the round seed pod bases.

The red leaf lettuces were made by gluing embossed fabric leaves around a styrofoam ball, making them rigid with porcelain liquid and finishing with paint.

Lastly, I took apart a red silk dahlia, cut down the rings of petals, painted them with many layers of porcelain and white paint, sculpted lotus centers and sewed and glued them into two little lotus blossoms ready to be added to the Time Frog's pond near their floating pads and roots.

Still wobbly, but staying in again tomorrow with high hopes for planting some growing things on the Halfland set.

A Political Note, at this historic moment for my nation:

Of all the very moving sweeping grand and beautiful images of Barack Obama in the news this week, this one, by campaign photographer, Callie Shell, taken late during during the 2008 US presidential campaign reaches in for the gripping essence on my emotions. It captures the faces of two small African-American boys at the end of their many hours long wait to see this candidate, their eyes drinking in, memorizing, watching every movement Barack made as he passes near them. Their expressions tired, scrutinizing, yet also having a quality of dignity with them. The power of a man to inspire and influence the young as never before. In that, this has become, to my mind, a whole new day.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Standing Ovation, Yuji

"Hey Shelley,
I was wondering if you would like to have my armature I built a while back. This was made during an armature making seminar I attended given by Tom Brierton when he was in the Los Angeles area. I will not be using it because it is way too big standing at about 14" tall but I remember you had a few characters that were pretty big. It has a ball and socket in the waist and wrists. All the other joints are dowel/swivel type joints. --Yuji"

Yeah--what do you think I said.

I can't quite get over the fantastic, giving, talented people around the Web-o-matic! These hand-machined marvels are hella valuable because of how much time and expertise they take to make and here's one given so freely?! Insane. Thank you my inventive motion controlling camera rigging super-brained friend, Dick "Yuji" Kaneshiro. This armature's a marvel and so fun to animate. I spent the day making little tests like this:

Art Day Guest: Nicole
This pretty young woman (how do I get 'em here, boys?!) spent a smashing good afternoon here yesterday making all the elements for a meaningful shadow box with brightly colored Chinese style lanterns made of velvets, sequins, and beads. She left happy with a to-go box of the elements ready to compose inside the frame. (Have fun, Nicole, and please send us a photo when it's finished!) Paul has known her since she was a teen in Australia. He had invited her here in the sly hope she'd fall in love with stop motion and become my new intern. But who in their right mind would do this stuff?!

Friday, October 24, 2008

'Xcuse Me While I Kiss This

It was worth it. I had to marathon without booting up to get it done. I had to get to a violent level of ambition to make it work. But done I must now declare the Noble Design Infinity Sky backdrop to be.

Hey, Here's an idea... Why don't I build a HUGE tree for my stop motion set?! Wow, that took every bit of grit I had to do. Well, better build a suitable landscape around it so it has a setting, ooooo, wow, wasn't expecting that to take more work than the tree, well, this is the only big set of the film, so. Hey, better go ahead and put the sky backdrop behind the set so I can see where to put the distant hills to finish the set... um, whoah, THAT WAS WAY MORE WORK than all the rest put together! --What next--I'm afeered to axe.

I heard the new Charlie Kaufman film involves an artist (hilariously) building a life-sized replica of New York in a sound stage, hiring 1,000's of extras to act as population, as he rehearses his actors in a play for decades. How, one might ask philosophically, is that art different from someone living a "real" life. I see a slight connection to that concept in my building a total world called, Halfland. How about in your art?

Small portion of the 25' x 20' dropcloth being rubbed with a thin tint layer of acrylic phthalo blue; I got my cloud mojo working by making 4 small strip paintings on scrap wood before beginning the set's sky. Making them, I discovered a new technique of building up the layers of color with exquisite pigment pastel powder burnished with sticky wax, layer upon layer in each painting; A lone painted cloud on the middle layer of the sky's "cloud curtain"; The Infinity Sky set up seen from the side view (lower left), painted cardboard far background, cloud curtain on clear plastic drop cloth, blue tinted drop cloth pulled taut and supported by pvc conduit and small bungee cords; The dry tinted sky awaits being installed in front of the cloud curtain layer (center bottom); The conduct supports were installed into the floor via plumbing flanges and fitted rod reinforced bamboo segments; Looking through the clear curtain back towards the set as a cloud begins to form (middle right) painted in situ; The gloved 10' pole acted as an extra hand as I struggled to begin hanging the sky layer by myself, not easy to do.

It looks exactly as I'd hoped. I had to keep working the sky layer until it was smooth as a drum, which it is for 2/3's of it. The remaining third needs additional bungee magic to be further tightened up. Plus, there's a pvc support running across the 2/3's point. I am resigned at this point to facing a post production rub out of the support and any sags that show on the few wide shots in the film. Of course, how the set will be lit will make a vast difference. In the main, this sky set up is giving me what I wanted in spades already.

Some things turned out better than I thought. This is the sky shot straight up from inside the cottage. I had no idea the Infinity Sky would allow me to get these angles. This means I can show the Mothman character up in the tree's branches, as well as the bickering little Birds in Hats.

Up next: Get ready! The beautiful Foliage goes on!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch

Look out, Stop Mo Gents. Shel Wagner Rasch and I made time for lunch today at a great little French café downtown. Truth be told, we shut the place down. We were yakking away so long, we didn't even notice all the chairs stacked and the staff waiting politely for us to buy a clue. (photo by great cappo-making waiter)

It was a fantastic afternoon for me as Shel is a remarkably supportive and wise person to have on your side and always pleasure to share a meal with. She asked me my next production steps; finish sky, finish land, finish cottage, dive into puppets, etc. And diagrammed my new sky plan on the paper tablecloth as I tried to describe it.
During our conversation, I got to hear some of she and Justin's project plans coming up. And based on what I heard, I believe the just desserts they receive for their future work will be just as sweet as she is.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Paul can't conceal his obvious delight at one of Mr. Huber's most charming puppets, Taffy the dog. Mr. Huber was extremely generous with his audience after the performance, bringing out several sensational puppets and describing their construction in detail.

Paul, being a great husband, (selflessly*) selected a life-enrichment adventure gift last Sunday for us. There was a very small puppetry festival in Santa Monica last week that ended with a live performance by renown marionette puppeteer, Philip Huber. (*Not entirely, Paul LOVES fine puppet work too! and as you can see he was delighted by the show!)

Paul had the master puppeteer on his radar since he'd first seen his incredible work in the film Being John Malkovich:

The audience of about 50 people gathered in a well kept theater in a park by the beach. We all sat enraptured by Mr. Huber's mind-bending skill as a puppeteer. My jaw was open the whole time. He brought so much animation to his self-made characters it was astounding. He designs and makes all his own puppets (Celastic heads), including the highly creative and detailed costuming.

There were about 20 puppet acts in an original caberet musical, Suspended Animation, that day, some were a bit, shall we say, gay? Said as a short-hand way to describe a certain typically associated aesthetic that favors glitz, torch song chantueses, Liza with a "Z", Bette, ice skating, sequins, loads of sequins, that sort of flavor of the business that is show. It all was in there. There were definitely shades of Liberace mixed with cirque du soleil. However--even if that's not your taste, if for some reason, Mr. Huber should be performing near you--I can't recommend going highly enough.

Behind the glare of ritzy spotlights, there was the rare pleasure of an artist, devoted to his art, so completely mastered, watching him share his talents transcends the matter style entirely. For an impromptu demonstration and discussion with Mr.Huber aprés show, we learned he was given a hand puppet as a small child of three, given a marionette bought with green stamps at age 8, making his own and performing with them by 10, and announced it would be his life by 13.

As with Stop Motion animation, there is an entire universe of people deeply involved in marionette puppetry. There's a bit of cross over between the two arts. I defy any stop mo head to not be excited by this little 8 minute mini doc of a John Roberts' marionette carving workshop given last year at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre in Islington, London.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More Actual Notes from Halfland

Too exciting, I had to share a couple of new inspirations for details of the film.A cosmetic company posted this gorgeous image as part of their inspiration for a new color line and it grabbed me hard as the most perfect solution for blending the crow with the woman in the Tarn character I could ever imagine. I even bought the beaded veil 14 yrs ago in New York FOR THIS REASON without knowing how I would use it! Hoooray!!!
This beautiful hill and sky landscape is a frame grab from a stunningly gorgeous 2.5D animation motion graphic by Bas van Breugel called, Nostalgie.

Nostalgie from Bas van Breugel on Vimeo. I love the way he's poetically literally added a layer of patina or grunge that adds so much emotion to the image. I want to employ this type of technique to blend some of Halfland's 2D elements into nearly the 3D. This hits the mark precisely.
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