Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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...)

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