Wednesday, July 29, 2009

100 Days: Peggy's Paper Forest

Multi-talented artist, animator, eFriend, Peggy Fussell, wrote to me the other day that she would be stopping in LA during a family trip last week and might have an afternoon to visit Halfland. I was thrilled to meet her in person as Peggy has been so personally supportive of what I'm doing. She sent me 2 incredible, (1) creative (2) fishes to use the famous underwater scene in the film. I knew she was creative and talented and supportive but what I didn't know until she walked in and gave me a big warm hug, spent the day warmly chatting, tying up her skirts and creating perfect work for Halfland, looking at finished film props on the floor, sharing stories about her life, etc., is that it would hurt when she left.

I literally felt like crying when she said goodbye. Let me tell you, whomever her friends and neighbors are in Maryland are the luckiest people on earth. Peggy is so big-hearted and fun, so sensible and wise, so humble and kind, a loving wife to David, and mother to two flower-like girls (with an add'l lovely girl to spare just for this trip). She is an active and successful freelance illustrator who manages to create wonderful works of art for herself and her family everyday. She has many years of experience in 2D animation and is currently collaborating on a fascinating poetry animation concept.

I wish I photographed Peggy's bag-of-tricks as she calls it. She carries a durable electrician's tool bag filled with drawing supplies with her wherever she goes. She can live without the Internet but not without her journals, she says. She used her pencils to render for me the most graceful and superlative tree trunks out of cardboard. Man, did I pick the right task for the right guest artist. We laid out acres of cardboard panels on the floor and Peggy began sketching with poise and ease. As an illustrator, it was no strain for her to make easy lines that felt real and proportioned properly.

Armed with utility knives, we cut them all out while we talked about life. It was a revelation for me to have professional help on the project. I showed Peggy my paper cutout reference images and discussed the concept and she not only understood my ramblings exactly, but BOOM she quickly executed it without a flaw. I'm spoiled now.

Just as her family arrived to collect her, I violated several child labor laws and recruited the girls to fill in a base coat on Peggy's drawn foliage shapes with white gesso. They all got to sign the Guest Artist board for contributing though.

The next day, I used several greens blended on top as a background for suggestions of leaf shapes. I cut them out, sliced them down the middle, and hot-glued them back on the shape in places to add dimension.

I painted all the trunks with white gesso today, attached supports to the reverse sides so they can stand up. Single-ply cardboard is too floppy to stand on its own.

I propped a few of them up on the edge of the main set to begin to work out what I want to do with them. The idea was to use then as theatrical proscenium and a blending from Halfland's 3D reality to my actress Rose Red's live action 2D paper puppet play version of the tale. But I've got to develop how to marry their 2D cartoon-like form with Halfland's near-realism, at least in part.

Peggy, If there's ever anything I could ever do for you in return, I'd welcome the chance with acute delight. Admiring all you do :)... from way over here :(

100 Days: Flock Together

I knew I could never tame the feathers to get them to look less shaggy, it was beyond me. I had tried using thick hair styling gel and even glue. No, it was time to say "flock it." I painted on a coating of matte medium, then used a tea strainer to sift on cut polyester fibers called Fun Flock. (I wear a dual cartridge air mask as even though the material is technically non-toxic, I didn't want to have to process a lot of it through my lungs.)

It took several dustings and shake offs to get the flocking into all the crannies in all positions. I made the feet on both birds larger too. The eyes were made by sticking Vaseline coated dummy beads into blobs of hot glue to make the raised rims before dusting with flocking. Final eyes get permanently glued in with quick blinks to be added in post. The beaks were made with carved wood pieces, secured with wire to a strip of copper, embedded well inside the hollow head, which acts like a hinge. These puppets only have limited simple movements overall but they only have to suggest the furtive behavior of charming little birds. In hats.

On the left is the bird that was my best effort at the time when I urgently wrote to Mike in a panic. On the right,. is the currently improved puppet after reworking. His wings had to be removed and re-positioned higher on the body so that he could fold the wings into a relaxed position as well as outstretched.

It's getting there. I believe they will be as cute as I had hoped for the film.
I start feathering the second warm browns bird next. She/he will have the advantages of the many things I learned making this one. So far, I call her Frankenbirdie.

100 Days: Birds in Hats Taking Shape

Once the hats were done, I began making the two Birds in Hats supporting cast puppets themselves. You can see the flexible neck cowls made from strips from dishwashing gloves in the top photo. You can see the straw neck pivot mechanism in the 2nd row left photo.

I wanted the necks of the birds to move as if they were a rubber tube with feathers glued on top, which is how real sparrows on my window sill look to me. I started with store bought "dried mushroom" craft birds as the base. They are made on a durable hollow vinyl shape that I stripped down to and cut off the heads, legs, and wings from, replacing them with my own Almaloy twisted wire armatures instead. The head was fitted with a extending juicebox plastic drinking straw that fit neatly inside its partner straw that was secured in the body/neck. (Normally, if the puppets had major screen time, I would of course use more durable metal K&S tubing for this, but it seems to be working well enough and was faster than going out shopping.)

I made supplemental rigging for each bird that matched the tree they would be acting on that I plan to erase frame by frame later. They'll need add'l tiedowns as well, but somewhere other than in their feet. I accept that it may not be possible to animate these characters in great detail. Their action may have to be indicated in montage/stop motion hybrid effect as I'm unclear on how I can hold their bodies still enough while their wings are flapping, beaks are chirping, heads are pivoting side to side, as they both try to look at themselves in a mirror. I will resolve the problem during filming and editing but how exactly is one of those unknowns at this moment. It's got to read to a virgin audience that the birds are vainly interested in how they look.

I loved how the puppets looked once cobbled together and painted beige to see their forms. Then I started the grueling process of applying real feathers. The feathers had been collected in New York when I lived there and began this film project, including some purchased from a large millinery shop in Manhattan. (How appropriate.)

I started with the blue/green bird. First, I cut off fluffy down parts of dyed feathers to glue down all over the form as a under color. I continued adding feathers on top of that, including pieces of peacock feathers on the neck and breast. The wings and tail got longer feathers glued on the rubber-wrapped wings in fan shapes that were then blended with more matching soft down.

It was functional, the wings opened and closed fairly realistically but much to my frustration, it didn't look Halflandian. I put the puppet in the tree and thought it looked horrible, like something that would be rejected from cheap mass-production. I wrote to Mike Brent at 4am when I finished the feathers and suggested I might give up Halfland on the spot as I was unable to make a decent puppet once outside my imagination. I slept on it and waited until morning light, hoping the bird would look prettier by magic. Didn't happen.

Paul thought the problem was that the bright jewel-tone colors that I had planned on in my mind all these years were proven just too vivid, and competed with the hats too much. I thought the puppets would be done as soon as I added the feathers but little did I know that it was really only the beginning.

I started toning the color back with olive chalks (bottom right.) Mike didn't see anything worth quitting over and encouraged me to persist. I decided that birds and feathers were highly challenging, perhaps some of the most challenging to make work properly than any other type of puppet in stop motion. I had picked a great first puppet.

(continued in next post...)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

100 Days: Lookie Glass

Added a top layer of clear gel paint on top of the aged silver foil hand mirror I made a while back. It makes the mirror look authentically reflective in person, like thick glass mirror, instead of the scraped painted plastic and silver leaf that it is.

Thinking the mirror will have to be wired onto the puppets' wings, or their rigging, for animating. I also converted Sharon Ferg's lovely woodland tray into a carved vanity mirror so I could side step the wing-holding problem, but it wouldn't make as a good a joke as them tussling for a hand mirror.

100 Days: HabaDASHery!

Working quickly, I finished fabricating all the hatboxes, hatbox nest, and miniature hats for Halfland minor characters, Birds in Hats the other day (top). You see them propped up and stacked on a branch of the set's tree, shot from underneath, as in the film. The hats will be hung on little hooks around the area, along with a little hand mirror that the birds will fight over to see how they look in their new chapeaus.

The top two are what the Birds will be wearing. The top hat, upper left, was made from a plastic cap, scrap plastic disk, ringed with wire, to give it a rolled edge effect. (More detail below.)
The trick to this I think is in using stretch fabric, this was a scrap of gold lamé. The weave is a bit larger than I'd like for the scale, so if I made another, I'd use a stretch satin instead. (Take note Mark!) I covered the hollow plastic glue stick cap separately from the wire rimmed disk and then glued them together. Once all dry, it was an easy matter to cut through the disk, thus making it instead a brim. I found that using mini clothespins to hold the fabric in place as it dried left gathers that had to be cut away. (Use flat planks held with larger clamps instead, Mark)
I radically cut down the Peruvian knit cap hat prop too so it would match the proportion of my sketch better. I dyed it chartreuse as that seemed to emerge as a theme color in several of the mini hats. (The photo on the right is actually the back of the hat by mistake, the other side has a fine brown stripe like in the sketch.)

I'd been thinking about making all these hats and boxes for many many years. There will be one more hat finished, but it's weird to have most of them actually done now. Liberating?

100 Days: Nutty

Looks like a bus stop in the fall, ha!
Um, yeah, I decided that some of the acorns on the Answer Tree shouldn't just have natural or natural looking caps. Oh no, Halfland's Tree of Wisdom's acorns will of course need to be KNITTED caps!

Made from (moth-eaten) fine-scale Japanese woolen knits stolen from Paul, embellished thrifted felted-wool sweaters, and embroidered knit glove fingers. The behatted acorns will hang on the tree near the Birds' hat collection without further explanation. Makes you wonder.

100 Days: Beside Her

The Halfland version of the spider Rose Red found.

It's such a minor puppet, he won't be featured at all, just weaving his lace webs on the front porch in the background, he wasn't even on the official to-do list, so I tried to make him as quickly as possible.

I grabbed a wire and clay armature I had made in 1993 from the discarded ideas bag (upper left) and built him a dowel slice/wired disk top hat.; Papier machéd over tooth pick "bones" glued to the wire legs; it made a surprising;y life-like puppet in motion.

I started a lengthy process of adding fuzzy texture to the dry puppet. I sheared off fibers from bright orange faux fur and glued the fluff on everywhere. I tried multiple methods of getting white bristle hairs on his legs, including downy feather boa fluff cut from white turkey feathers (3rd row, left). I finally developed a good technique for it of using sharp trimmings from a lock of sheep skin fur, dropped into glue just on the forearms.

I gave him a big mustash and goatee from the same sheep hair and added eyes taken off of an unused store-bought bird. I obsessed for several coats of hair trying to get the orange to work for me, but it just wasn't happening. Finally, in a Hail Mary, I dusted the whole beast in pure graphite powder which gave iit all a great monochromatic nearly-black sheen.

One more white bristle layer and I called him done. I also call him Clare because he reminds me a little of dear Downstairs Clare somehow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Webs We Weave

Reader friend, Elva, posted the picture of the comical adorable spider (above) and suggested it was screaming for a silk top hat, I agree!

In Film Two of Halfland, I'll build a spider puppet like that and a proper silk top hat to fit him as he sits in his bejeweled web. Thank you, Elva! (paper puppet props coming this coming week!)

I have been looking for years for the perfect material to make the Halfland spider webs out of. I knew I wanted them to be more than natural spider web pattern, more like lace. I found several pieces of woven fabric that had a lacy web like feeling but they didn't have stretch to make those great spider web distorted shapes. I tried painting hair nets, etc. but the net pattern didn't look random enough.

Then, again at Target (wtf ?), I found the perfect thing. Floral stretchy trouser socks in white, no less! I had to buy the whole package of socks to get these babies but boy are they going to look great wildly stretched out of shape on the wooden cottage porch with crystal dew drops.

Halfland spiders are such artists!

Mini Millinery

I saw a hat shoved into the crook of a tree branch as I was walking Friday. It triggered a cascade of Halfland connections. Suddenly, the acorns on the Answer Tree would not only have woven fabric caps that look like natural acorns' but actual knit caps and hats as well as a pun on the term "Acorn Caps".

This would tie into the selection of fancy hats hanging on the branch at the cottage entrance where the Birds in Hats fight over the mirror causing a hat to fall off its hook and land on the head of the sleeping cat below.

Inspired, I spent an entire 24 hour indulgence yesterday making miniature hats for the props & bird costumes. I covered anything I could find to use as tiny hat blocks in foil so the matte medium used to fix them wouldn't stick. I used millinery buckram for the unfinished straw hats (top left), felted wool sweaters for the comical Peruvian cap with long tasseled flaps (seen in top photo below). I cut finger tips from knit gloves for tiny knitted caps for the nuts. These will be embroidered with colorful thread designs.

I tried so hard to make an elegant silk top hat for the gentleman bird but kept getting the brim, made from a silk covered grommet (in black above) too broad. I'll need to try again in stretch satin, slightly crisper and taller.

The size of the finished hats in my palm? So small, they'd fit as a hat on the tips your little fingers. Halfland hats have little leaves stuck in the brim instead of feathers, for obvious reasons! (These leaves were made from real leaves the way I made the waxy ones seen here.)

Making these hats helped me determine the size of the Bird character puppets will be. Their heads will be about the size of the stand-in crow's above, on a slightly smaller fluffy more colorful sparrow body overall. I've got everything ready to make the Bird puppets now. Thinking of wire armatures with pin and wire tie-downs to pierce and wrap around branches. Or I might hot glue them down. Got the gorgeous patterned feathers, in warm tones for her, cool for him. I'll construct them so that their heads swivel, beaks open, plug-in wings, in just two modes, open and closed, and eyelids that quickly flash blink.

As a running gag, I think it'll be be really funny for a different hat to fall on Bosq the Sleeping Cat's head from a Birds in Hats fight at some point in every Halfland film! Hilarious!

The sombrero in the middle isn't finished yet, needs embroidered pattern. The sheriff's hat (on bottom) was trying to be a silk top hat, and then a fedora as it was being made. But when I flocked it with yellow fibers and then chalked over them with olive green it just looked too much like worn leather. The star is from my jewelry findings box.

The knit cap on top is foiled and wired inside to animate while falling/landing. I want to change it's color and maybe add some sewn pattern as well to make it seem to fit the cat better. This will be the first hat to fall as the sight makes me laugh the most.

The straw hat in the middle might be a sombrero or it might get frou frou'd up with flowers and ribbons. All the straw hats are very durable with liquid porcelain coats inside after initial shapes were formed.

Made from silk, stiffened with liquid porcelain, the dry hat on the bottom feels as durable as plastic. Style-wise, I didn't really want anything so distinctively cultural or period specific in the film as a Fedora or Western hat, but what the hell, it looks skillfully made in person and besides, anything for a good joke.

In Her Hand

I usually bring along a little Halfland prop sewing project if I'm going to be somewhere for a while. I feel so behind, I feel there's no minutes to waste. Last Sunday, as I sat for hours in a fancy hotel ballroom, next to hundreds of people all sitting quietly, I was likely the only one doing handicrafts during Conference meetings. I usually am the eccentric one, seemingly compulsively working... on you know what.

I've learned to bring quiet things to do so as not to disturb the people around me. This time it was the little embroidered stained cloth Rana will hold in her hand while stirring the kettle of soup. It was a fine Irish linen handkerchief, cut down, layered with foil to make it animatable, with little flowers and hem stitched using plain thread for scale.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Smiling Stop Motion Gods: More Gel Water Experiments

(Please note: when you receive your water gel sample, please use standard safety measures and do not heat it or eat it. I don't wear gloves with it myself but I do wash my hands before I eat just in case. There's no labeling whatsoever, no ingredients listed, it's made in China, use at your own risk. Thank you.)

Packages of gel water samples* are being readied to mail out tomorrow. Let me know if you'd like some, if you haven't already. I've got enough to share. *Some have asked about a trade/pay back. You know what mama want. FISH!!! for the underwater scene. (See details in sidebar>>>>scroll down a bit.)

Some new findings about the material today:

The gel water tints beautifully as long as you use a transparent dye. I used a drop or two from an old bottle of Marshall's photo color to get this watery aqua blue, but one could easily choose red for wine instead, etc.

I added a several sizes of holeless glass beads to the tinted sample to see if boiling water bubbles could be animated. They can. I also found that organic air bubbles can be easily pressed out, if in the way. Gel water can be as crystal clear or as bubbly as one could wish.

I found that the gel can be sculpted with a push mold technique. Here you see a blob after being easily removed (!) from the Ultracal mold of Kyra, the mermaid's sculpt! If you ever wanted to have a face appear in (by reversing the slump/fade away) or disappear into a body of water, this is your stuff. I was wondering how I could get a face to appear for a moment on the surface of water in Rana's water barrel! If one wanted a little life in the water face, there's a little time to move the mouth or eyes as the impression slowly fades away.

It also makes stable controllable stop motion tears, seen here on the sculpt for Rana, the goat woman. Much easier to animate than glycerine I imagine and will leave no trace on your puppet unless you want to paint one in water.

I experimented with chilling the gel water to see if it being cool made it more firm and it does. It might be useful to have a can of freezing spray on hand to cool the material if animating thin streams you want to hold for more than a frame or two. I also tried freezing the material all the way in the freezer with surprising results.

It becomes rock hard and also changes the opacity to something like the frost of beach glass as it thaws back out. The consistency also changes after fully thawing out again. It no longer sculpts/blends, becoming firmer and more rubbery instead. I'm suggesting that if one were to push the room temp gel into a sturdy push mold, freeze it hard in the mold, then demold and let return to room temp, you'd have a semi-transparent stable prop in any color you'd want--oh yeah--that BOUNCES!

UPDATE: Here's who got GW samples mailed out to them today (Friday):

1 Nick H - Australia
2 Mike B - Illinois
3 Rich J - Canada
4 Emmy B - Canada
5 DJ D - Canada
6 John H - Hawaii
7 Jeffery R - Louisiana
8 Yuji K - California
9 Mike LaT - Wisconsin
10 Jessica K - Germany
11 Stephanie D - Canada (unasked, but I wanted to)

Here's who has packets ready but on hold until...:

12 Yaz S-A - Turkey (waiting until she's home)
13 Sven B - Oregon (unasked, but I'm going to anyway)
14 Brian P - ? (waiting for an address - email me Prosser!)
15 Katie - Somewhere in Australia (waiting for an address - email me Katie!)

Anyone else like some?

Thanks so much to everyone for the incredible fish they've already made for Halfland and for those working on making one now! These are the most wonderful marvelous things and will make the underwater scene a total RIOT! Can you imagine all the great critters doing their thing under the water?! I'm hoping to crowd the little ocean floor set with all your creativity!! So great.

Gel Water Demo

Here's brief clip showing the consistency of the gel water material so you can see how it compares to what you might think of using.

I'm making up sample packets of it to ship out this Friday. I can think of several other people that may like to try this for their projects but haven't said yet. So, I'm making up sample packs for them too so they'll be ready to send when/if they holler. I'm thinking of Pram, Stephanie, Sven, maybe Shel, maybe Rich V der M, Mike L., John H., maybe Paul McC, maybe Ceri, Peggy?, Mark F., maybe a follower of the blog that I don't know well yet? Anybody else?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

SCORE! Went straight back to Target today, determined to grab whatever they had left of the water gel on the shelf. Only a few jars were left there but the staff kindly rustled up a case from the back room so I could buy a couple dozen of the yellow and green jars (and a few other gloppy products to check out) all for $1 each. I bought a box of small zip lock bags to flatten 1/2 a jar of the putty into to mail to whomever would like to try some out for their own project. I have to think this kind of gel putty should be a common party favor item, nothing special to find, but at the same time this particular batch works ideally and was affordable so why not grab it?

I wonder too how it would be if left out for a while. I wonder if it would evaporate like hair gel does or if it would get nice and stale and able to keep shape even better. I'll leave some out to check. Nick wrote to report he hunted down something similar, if not the same product, Down Under today that sounded as though it had the same texture. He found it wouldn't hold a stream shape for very long before slumping so perhaps Mike's idea of museum/quake hold wax could work even better?

Here's my list of who indicated they'd like to get a little packet of this stop mo water gel to test, if you'd like to get one too, please just send your name and mailing address to my email in the sidebar>>> (will be kept strictly private, except for Santa).

I already have these addresses:

Anyone else? Bueller?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Novel Tea

Novel Tea
Found gel putty makes convincing stop mo water.

sigh*... Novelty gel putty entirely non-sticky, smooth textured, non-oily, odorless, and (hopefully) non-toxic, made in China.

Comes away cleanly from anything it touches, like puppets or props without leaving a trace, mark, or residue of any kind, yet stiff enough to hold it's shape, such as sculptable pouring water.

Can be worked to develop bubbles for boiling effects, or clouded for increasing level of opacity.

I looked high and low online for a link to the same material I bought in a $1 bin of party supplies but I couldn't turn it up. The closest product I could find was a clear slime novelty toy but I don't know how it compares to the way this material firmly holds form.

The test GIF** shows me that, with properly secured props and more careful animating, this substance will be an ideal solution for Rana's tea, soup, and other liquid props.

*Wrote this post then lost this post. Found Blogger "help" not found helpful. Re-wrote without same finesse.

**Made from frames stacked and animated in PS CS3 and saved to GIF format--really missing that sweet easy stop motion feature on the earlier Coolpix model for no fuss tests.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lovin' Spoonful

I haven't been able to really dive into the set yet. Instead of diving in for a gorging feast of work progress, I've only continued to sip on little props. I bought a set of wood carving tools in Little Tokyo over the weekend so I thought I'd try them out on carving Rana's wooden kitchen soup spoon. They work great and it's much easier to make things out of wood than I imagined it wood be. I also found two perfect scale metal cups at the same shop and a small tub of super thick clear gel that may be great for animating tea pouring into the cup for $1.

I carved the first spoon from one of my actual soup spoons that broke but it split. For the second spoon I drew a symmetrical pattern in card before tracing it onto a tightly grained plank.

I carved slowly and carefully so as not to slip and cut my fingers (succeeded) or through the bottom of the bowl (didn't manage that, but the hole wasn't a deal breaker). I sanded the carve grooves down and oiled it. I finished it by smearing brown and black chalk and gloss medium all over to give it the charred look my real spoons have.
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