Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Weirdness Dept: The Urhu Revelation

While Ron and I were working on art for a web site at my desk today, he noticed the Halfland character sketches clipped to a folding screen nearby. He made a double take on the one of the serpent sage musician in the film called Urhu and asked me if I knew there was an instrument exactly like that made with snake skin, exactly like that, that is played, exactly in that position (only bowed by hand, not tail). I got a pain in my stomach as he said that, like a mule kick.

Oh yeah, the NAME of that instrument?... an Erhu. Erhu/Urhu. Now what's particularly odd about the coincidence is how I arrived at creating my Urhu. The name was a play on an esoteric Sanskrit word meaning "God", Hu. The character's name UR-HU was my own private meaning of the enlightened character realizing that "You are Spirit" (U-R-HU). He is the half serpent/half wise one in the desert spending his eons playing this instrument contentedly as metaphor for the breath of spirit we ourselves vibrate to, as the strings do, like a god. The fact that there is an instrument like it in every aspect, down to the curve of the head, as Ron pointed out, that I *made up*, named so much like the character, made of snake skin itself? The mind boggles.

Ron even has an Erhu himself that he bought while in China and plans to play it for me next week.

The material for the giant sky backdrop arrived this week and I've been putting it together the last couple days. I was intending to use it horizontally, as you see it partially laid out above (with a "Cloud" on it, HA!), but a subsequent paint basecoat curled the edges so that when Ron walked in today he assumed I had meant to use them vertically so they make a perfect SHADOWLESS curve around the set. That got my attention, updates coming...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Macro Obscura and Getting the Real Dirt on Pseudo Soil

dreamBosqYou've found it, the real Halfland. Is the snoring cat Bosq seen in a dream, is he a memory? No, he's in Halfland.

I'm posting this first because it is quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen to Halfland yet, at least one of the most. Let me put it this way, I cried a little in some kind of mix of joy/relief in finding an answer when I couldn't even ask the question.

Here's what happened, last year I stumbled upon an amazing video artist called Remyyy on Vimeo. (first found him through the popularity of his masterful pairings of vintage dance footage with new music.) He's a lovely French fellow who makes some of the most viscerally evocative art films I've seen. So fresh, so innovative.

One fine day he comes out with a simple film that looks precisely like I'd always envisioned for Halfland, not megapixel clean, not hires, not digital, even as it was shot with it. I was wanting Halfland to be filled with an abundance of natural atmosphere and a certain aesthetic mood--is it a dream, is it a memory? No, it's Halfland--but how? Ah, Remyyy did it.

When I found his tutorial for what Remyyy calls his Shoebox a while back (first cry). Flickr photo of set up.

In a nutshell: you use a magnifying lens of some kind and size of your liking, find its focal length and have it project an image of the world around you onto a semi transparent "screen" positioned inside a darkened box, upside down and backwards. Then, position a camera of your choosing at that screen inside the box to capture the wonderful organic distortion and blurring of the world. Wiki page on Camera Obscura.

Finally, over the last two days, I've followed the general instructions and experimented to adapt the technique to stop motion using every magnifying lens and loop I had in the house. I made several sizes and shapes, used various screening materials, etc. I got it working and began to understand the process. The general shoebox is excellent for "infinity" photography of real life landscapes, capturing light, shadow, and subdued color. Sensational. (I plan to make a shoebox for the little digital video camera I'll be sending to Jessica and Hans for the forest live action sequences as well.)

But could it be adapted to miniature stop motion? YES!! I did it today (cried again), the image above is my first successful effort. I call it Macro Obscura. After dozens of experimental test videos I happened upon using an orphaned Olympus 50mm 35mm lens and a strip of simple tracing paper (seems to work best for translucence and opacity for this) and my little silver box for a rough test. There is about a 1/4" depth of field with the naked lens, and it's a very strong macro.

There are technical adjustments still to sort out with my methods, for example my naked eye looking into the box sees a perfect magical land before it, but when I snap a picture or shoot a video of it, there are crass artifacts of tracing paper texture or white point hot spots, etc. I'm hoping to iron these issues out and arrive at a combination of magnifying lens and recording camera that can be used to create at least some of Halfland's footage.

surfaceprogClick on photo for Flickr page; go to "all sizes" and click for full screen view. Only slightly less exciting Clockwise from left; surface texture base coat complete, half (HA!) of the landscape surfaced with vermiculite/mulch combo adhered with clear gel adhesive, close-up of the pseudo soil between towel grass patches (awaiting green dye), it takes two layers of the ground cover (sweeping off excess in between layers) before it looks suddenly like real earth.

Announcing new Pseudo Soil happening on set! I completed surfacing the entire set with grassy towel and batting patches and blending the edges of them with stippled plaster. Then developed a Faux Earth methodology. I'm thrilled with how it's looking, far more real than I thought. What works best is a bold layer of super thickened art paste (Attention People of Elmers: This is not a paste and should be called clear gel adhesive instead.) with a sprinkling of lighter than air VERMICULITE (organic certified no asbestos) mixed with pulverized bark (aka: MULCH) both found at garden centers for pennies a pound. (use gloves and respirators for when the dust gets kicked up from sweeping off excess between layers.) The first layer can be tinted with dilute dye for richer color and deeper look after two layers (dried in between) are applied to all the built in mache undulations.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Covering A Lot of Ground

Paul: "How'd you get that cool grass like texture there?" Me: "Um, I used a towel." Paul: "A what?" Me: "A towel." Paul: "A towel?! As in one of our towels, a towel from the house?" Me: "Yeah, and I think I'm going to need some more."

Only a few, duh. Actually, Paul is so supportive of the Halflanding that he's be ok if I used anything for it, bless 'em.

Yesterday began the surface texturing, course up close fine further one gets away. Below you can see the texture hierarchy (left to right); washed sand, polyester batting, The Towel, railroad diorama meadow fabric, and painted synthetic lawn. The later of which will be cut into small tufts and crammed into rocky outcroppings. Woo.

This is The Towel painted with just a flat base color, edged with polyester, plaster, and sand. When I hit those sweet sweet blades with an vivid apple green highlight--Look Out!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Basecoat!

Color virginity LOST!: I gave up trying to arrange the mise-en-scené-mess of how to size and place the distant mountains and was able to fill in the seams in the afternoon and slop apply an olive green basecoat to the main set before sleep last night. Getting rid of the chaos of the surface is satisfying.

Painting the boulders with Ralph Laren's river stone flecked paint was a real thrill. I had bought a pint on sale years ago for this purpose. They will need a lot more detailing and shadow to show as stone on film but in person they look like real granite stone. This morning as I was dropping Paul at his workplace I noticed about 200 cans of dirty rusty old paint cans were sitting by the dumpsters there. Turns out they had just cleared out their paint shed and it was trash to them! Scored several gallons of great quality low VOC/fume free paint (yay) for sky, ground, and clouds. That's some fancy good timing right there.

The shot of (and on) the bottom right is a rough mock of where the distant mountains are so far. I need to position them far enough away to look distant but not so far that there's a gap between them and the edge of the main set. This puzzle is giving me fits so far. I'll keep working on it.

Here's little mock up clip of the opening shot sequence. I've been making dozens of these, to get the idea of how much background needs sky and mountains to flesh out the shot.

Christmas in August: Today Ceri Watling's wonderful package from the UK arrived! And I was absolutely delighted when I opened up the box and found the truly beautiful, witty, and well done school Alphabafish inside! Ceri, they are so incredible! And the hand-crocheted Woolly Glove Fish is equally a WOW! You are so great at making these woolly beasties! I was so excited I made little clips with each of them. THANK YOU! I adore having these works of art in the ensemble of wonderful undersea things!

Ceri Watling made a totally rad bonus fish for Halfland, a school of them. So pretty, especially in person, each hand-painted and embellished with gold eyes and transparent seed beads, all perfectly animatable. I left her epoxy/wire armature and flying rig in this quickie play so you could see how well it works! (catch the word in the middle?!) Well done, Clever Ceri! I love love love these!

(*shot these for heck of it on my new $150 Nikon L15 silverbox with spiffy 2,000 frame stop motion onion skinning feature right in it. I had autofocus on but that can be switched off. Not a bad way for folks to make their first movies. The first hit's free, people.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ranging Mountains

The Set-Beast Grows... man, this thing is taking Ovah! Big score: managed to reattach the set pieces to each other.

Today I moved the paper craft station in the shop to the house side of the space here. The chaos is spreading. I felt the need to convert the set's back-40 acre piece into a long far away distant mountain range instead.

The one big unwieldy piece was sliced into two slim unwieldy pieces with a small saw, easily done. Upper right shows a set dissection, cardboard and crumpled newspaper under several layers of starch maché, plaster/burlap shell, and brown bag top coating. I positioned them as far back from the main set as the space allows. The sky backdrop will call for even more space be made behind them.
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