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.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I wouldn't touch it

This isn't the successful reveal I was expecting. It's more like an unretouched update on what I've been working very hard on and where it stands as of right now. I couldn't stand trying to make it work any longer. I found and used levels of more commitment and resilience on this phase of the set building than I knew I had. I dug in, failed, and dug in further, day after day.

My initial concept for creating the sky backdrop excited me with it's elegance. So simple, so little involved. It was linking two flexible pvc pipes together, making one long span on each side of the scrim, filling the bottoms with a length of dowel, inserted them into steel flanges firmly affixed to the floor. I was deluded enough to imagine that I could plug n' play the sky easily, moving it effortlessly as needed. HA! This last month has been a dizzy decent from that original idea dissolving into desperate grabs for making the stupid sky go up by any means available period. I did everything in the most difficult and time consuming way possible, which I wouldn't mind if I had good results now. I will get there, I'm just not sure how as I sit here.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.--Winston Churchill

I started out the sky meticulously and ended up sloppy without apology. As of tonight, the far backdrop is finished and a plastic drop cloth is hung across the span as best as I'm able. The drop cloth has permanent creases from being folded at the factory, I can live with that. It's the drape and ripples that I can't remove that have me hornswaggled. I finally admit defeat with my approach.

However, I have another drop cloth (2 were cut down from a 20' x 50' roll) that has been tinted pale transparent blue by hand that I may come at tomorrow in a new way...

This clip, shot through the plastic scrim and a magnifier over the lens gives the idea of the depth I'm hoping to reach. The camera moves from sea level to the clouds overhead. Natural, dreamy, right!?

Here's few highlights of what took so long:

1. Constructing the 8 backdrop panel uprights. 2. Attaching uprights to panels with gorilla tape and washers and screws, including folding the scored cardboard into a reinforced coving at the top. 3. Doing the whole thing totally alone required touching a lot of things with 10' poles propped up against chairs and walls to steady them before I could get them screwed into the ceiling. 4. I had to use poles with gloves on the ends as tools to press the score lines I put in the boards to create the coving curves.

After the entire 24' long x 10' high backdrop was positioned, I set about trying to hide the harsh transition between the panels as much as possible. I spent a long time concentrating on the first 4 panels as I will use that portion for all other set skies in the film series. I filled the score lines and vertical seams with FlexAll patching compound, let them dry and sanded them, repeating the process several times over, trying my very best to get a nice smooth alcove of sky. (you can see some of that special attention area bottom right below) the rest of the backdrop still has nasty seams that I'm hoping will fade like a dowager's wrinkles under full flush of light on them. Bottom left above you see me pulling the flexible painted layer of cardboard off of the painted backdrop scraps. I used these cloth like pieces as matching camouflage on seams and ceiling conduit after ceiling I had two fans were removed from the set area.

The panels attached to the ceiling were edged with more masking tape and then painted to match. The ceiling was painted blue and white clouds were rolled on overhead. Middle left shows the plastic scrim in front of the bare finished backdrop. Bottom left shows the handmade paintbrush disguising the mount for a removed ceiling fan. Bottom right, the blending of the cyclorama sky was especially challenging as I had only odds and ends of paint and had to mix a gradient that would marry a wide gap of tone and shade.
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