Monday, April 27, 2009

John Dods' Ariel Brace Design

Artist, writer, award winning stop-motion filmmaker, prosthetics designer for theater, television and screen, John Dods has graciously allowed these diagrams and images of his design for overhead puppetry rigging to be shared here.

Diagram of the brace drawn by John.

Main character from John's unfinished fantasy short called, Forest Story, shown suspended from the Ariel Brace.

The Brace being used on set of Forest Story.

John working on the set for Forest Story, not showing the Brace, but showing a great deal of John's skill at naturalistic detail.

John's remarkable finished Forest Story set piece. Magical, and believable. Thank you very much, John. And thanks to animator Brian Prosser for contacting John in hopes this design would be of use on Halfland.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Rooting for Me

I can't thank you all enough for coming here and supporting, encouraging, and inspiring me to work on this film. Somehow, knowing there is a large group of kind and interested people out there in the world watching and appreciating what's happening gives me the fiber and fortification I need to keep progressing.

On Wednesday as I finished the nailing detail on the cottage floor, I started to move in on the matter of blending the tree to the made-made hardwood of the flooring. A few years ago I had come across a giant pile of tree roots dug up on public property near the beach and knew I would need them to finish Halfland's tree. I was afraid because they likely had some kind of infestation of bugs or bacteria to have necessitated a tree being removed but not afraid enough to not drag a bunch of the most twisted and gnarled back to our place. I never saw any critters on them BUT in the years they've waited to be used here, there has been much saw dust coming from inside them so I know thousands of someones must be making a feast out of them.

I had no idea how I might use the roots on the tree, or if that would even look good. But I also knew that I would never be able to duplicate the natural quality that real roots have, the flaking of layers, the subtlety of coloration, the buckled shapes. I knew that if I could add them then the entire tree would take on a much more authentically natural illusion. It would bring the tree to life in a greater way. I let my hands work quickly before my head could argue anymore.

I rushed to grab some part of the real roots from the boxes behind the set. I sat crumpled and cross-legged all night long (ouch), essentially sculpting real root pieces onto the existing root tips of my man-made tree. The more I worked it, developing a technique as I went, the more fantastic I thought it looked. My special companion loved to lounge on the pile of raw roots as I worked.

And I was both thrilled and weird-ed out by the fact that... the roots as you see them blended onto the tree, noting the ash-pale grays on the left side by the door and the nearly black ruddy colors of the kitchen area on the right, and growing in and out of the blond floor boards... required no paint or tinting in order to match in color perfectly. None. It's as if these roots were made for exactly this tree.

PS: you can see the little shelf made a bit ago hanging on the wall and the finished vegetable bins. The roots curl and run under the door making the height of Clare's door make perfect sense now too. I couldn't know how I was going to use these roots but now I can't imagine the tree without them. (note: if you scroll down a little bit you can catch the before and after view between this post's last shot and last post's first.)

Next stop: larger pieces real roots, to a lesser degree of detail, on the tree's "outside" view

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nailed It

(I love the way this photographed by accident last night. The blur on the tree roots and doorway are EXACTLY what I'd love Halfland to look like when filmed; smoky, storybook illustration-like.)

Finished trimming out the hardwood floor shape, hot glued it down onto the cottage set's cardboard sub-flooring. Worked perfectly, saved a lot of time and walking back and forth cutting each slat to fit by hand. It was like a hardwood floor carpet rolled out.

I began using the nails that I had been saving for years for this exact task. Felt great to finally be doing what I'd been thinking about for so long.

Little scrap slats were cut here and there to begin to fill in the missed spaces. Some dried wood glue leaks need to be either chiseled off or sanded down before the whole floor gets stained with a light tinted, dilute matte medium. I also need to marry the places where the flooring meets the natural earth, likely with my soil method and tufts of grass. Shoe molding will join the edges of the floor to the cottage walls where they meet on the other three sides.

Closer-up on nailing details on raw flooring.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I was loopy from cramp medicine but felt enough energy to see if my idea for the cottage hardwood flooring would work. Clockwise from bottom left, I laid out a mixture of hardwood slats on top of a newspaper template I had shaped to fit the cottage floor area. I then made cuts at various intervals in nearly each slat to mimic how hardwood flooring starts and stops vs. using only long pieces and secured the whole side with masking tape. (It used up all my energy that day) I then slathered on nearly a whole bottle of stainable wood glue on the reverse side and pressed the paper template down on it with cinder block weights to flatten. When all dry the next day, I began to slice off the excess slat ends with a dowel pull saw, trimming the floor to the exact shape of the paper template. When all done the hardwood floor should drop down easily in one piece into the waiting cottage. Then little nails will finish off the miniature illusion.

I felt the need to make Rana a larger soup kettle than the one I had. She makes a lot of soup and that little thing was not going to be the right scale for her. I knew I wanted a rounded bottom so a can was out. It occurred to me that a vitamin bottle could be easily cut down and have the essentially right shape to it. (What does one do with vitamins in a bottle that has the misfortune to be the exact right size for art? Sacrificed!) I used different gauges of armature wire to shape the rim and handles. I used a small hammer to flatten the ends of the handles and drilled them to attach jewelry nailheads as fasteners. The whole composition was painted with thick iron paint for texture, then several coats of real copper paint was put on the kettle and nailheads. Chemical patina for both copper (green) and iron (rust) were applied when the finishes were dry. The bottom was blackened with gesso to suggest all the charring from use in the open hearth oven/stove.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Catch of the Day

When I opened the box from Nick on Wednesday I couldn't stop making sounds of delight. I couldn't believe how lifelike the puppet looked in person. It's a marvel that only a person of Nick's many years of experience could achieve. It's highly animate-able to say the least. Just the right amount of function and detail to perfectly fool the camera's eye.

Of course the concept of it is hilarious as well, Piano Tuna. I think it should be tempted by a musical note/worm and get hooked for an exit to some tinkling ivory effects.

Everyone has been sending in such phenomenal puppets for the underwater Halfland "Democra-Sea" scene that I really feel I should hot glue together all the puppet mailing boxes that they've arrived in and tie down a bunch and wriggle them for a quick clip test.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cupboard (no longer) Bare

More luxurious Halfland time this week. Glorious. Built the wainscoting and storage cupboards on the bay window's wall in the cottage. Used the same piece of scrap 1/8" plywood I used to finish the bed. Used an awl, knife, nailset, anything strong and metal to crudely gouge/incise a tongue and groove pattern (wood carving tools were very costly and I found Dremel tool again utterly useless.) Fortunately for me, a perfect machined look wouldn't suit Rana's cottage. I mean, wouldn't a goat's cottage in the woods look like it was put together with hooves and teeth?! So, I happily left my chewed up texture and errant lines. moulding was added to the top rail. Leather hinges.

When the fuschia silk obi window seat cushions, woolen throw, etc. are finished and the clear glass tudor style windows are in place, that nook will be a welcome spot for afternoon naps.

bottom left, Halfland under moonlight.

upper left/lower right, finished kitchen cupboard too. Leather hinges, bent flat metal strip into scroll shapes, bound with leather jewelry cording. Putting a faux bois finish on doors of something grown out of a real tree cracked me up.

Lower left, more desiccated flowers and greenery for arrangements in the cottage. Pale blue flowers had to be painted fuschia to match the interior palette with a small brush.

Upper right, built a built-in set of bins in the roots of the tree with crate like drawers for stowing what else? Root vegetables! Likely the garlic and onion props will go here. It's since been painted to match the other kitchen furniture with appropriate marks of wear over time.
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