Friday, April 30, 2010

Catching Up: Playing Koi

The pond is turning out so well, it called for a single koi to be seen rising from the murky depths to the water surface. Behold the Koi of Enlightenment. These underwater shots knock me out!

I had in mind to make a koi that looked like Chinese Joss prayer papers, all bright oranges and shiny gold. I meant this to be quick but it became intense yet incredibly useful. It was such a total blast making a puppet with carved foam that it got me hopped up to make most of the supporting puppets this way. (More on them as these posts roll out.)

Using that toy fish, that was in my mouth in earlier test shots, I snipped out a fish shape from a scrap of upholstery foam. Slit it open to insert and secure a simple twisted wire armature for fishy tail swishing. Here's where it all get ingenious by accident. I used the right-sized mesh nylon tuile applied with heavy gel gloss medium all over which looked for all the world like fish scales when painted. After my cat's eye paint failed to give the illuminated effect I wanted (post on that later) I gold-leafed his top-half (the eye was covered in gold leaf here, but his real eye underneath (see photo below) was made from gluing an acrylic halfdome onto a piece of real joss paper gold giving a most effective illusion of illumination in them)

This is where it got fun. I started hitting the scales with the orange paints and chalks, lightly over-brushing with white for definition. I could have/should have left him there. He looked cool and pretty. But oh no, I had to try new things and go too far. Heck, it's all a new thing, how could I know how far too-far was?

In any case I dropped tiny beads of clear glazes onto each of his scales which gave him a lumpy grotesque look rather than mystical. I then toned all that down with (of course) walnut ink which made it now no longer pretty, even when I tried brightening him back up and filling in his surface terrain with layers of clear medium until it was flush. I added matte medium to real orange feathers for his fins, fishy moustache, and tail. I could have worked his tail further to get that great graceful billow koi tail often have but I'd learned my lesson. In some cases, good enough is great.

Hey, what do you know? This is the Koi of Enlightenment after all! I discovered the technique I'll want to use to create the main character Kyra the mermaid's aqua blue tail now!

Catching Up: Growing a Backbone

(SURPRISINGLY TO ME) Puppet Building has begun in earnest recently (more on that as the next few posts unroll). I bought this tortoise shell on my cross country drive in 1994 for the Torhare character which is a white rabbit with a tortoise's shell that Tarn uses like a horse. I bought it in New Mexico I think for $15. I always thought of using it to cast the character's shell, but it occurred to me to just use this real one and paint it with prettier colors.

I removed the grotty remains of the poor turtle ( you can see the way his spine is part of the shell itself (upper left) as I painted the shell opaque white. I then built up layers of color using finger rubbed chalks (upper right). A jewel-like iridescence was added to that with my special ceramic pearl waxes in lime green and emerald (lower left). The natural veins were made smudge brown via umber chalk after a tone-down with walnut ink solution.

Here the finished shell, ready for the rabbit foam build-up puppet to be made using the pure white rabbit skin bought in New York for the purpose.

Catching Up: Getting Sorted Out

Things have been really rolling here in Halflandville over the last month. These next posts will be my attempt to catch you all up with all the headway.

Everytime I think of some concept or practical method of doing, having, saying, or making something for the film I jot the idea down and stick it in a box. This had lead to an avalanche of notes unread for years, and some very good ideas possibly being missed out on, connections in the story I'd made being buried, etc. Well, I sorted it all, all of it, every scrap, again. I even sorted and pasted up hundreds of image grabs from the web or print material onto more reference boards. It was madness.

I kept thinking I had "issues" but dear Paul, after having to step over them for weeks, laughed and decided the outcroppings of several sorting circles I was making all over the house were my art installations, bless him. I have given this a great deal of thought lately and come to the conclusion that I indeed do have issues but that I have found a way to direct them in a way that I feel good about. I seriously wonder what difference there ever is between an artist and a crazy person except the application. Word.

I was surprised by a few things during the organizing process. One was how many notes I had about the meanings and allegorical aspects of the project, soundscape ideas, etc. The other was how small character details connected in ways I'd forgotten.

I just remembered that one of the notes suggested "Lightning in a Bottle" (see previous post) So, that's how I got onto the idea! The fact that I had co-incidentally found the roots and put them in a bottle only made the dots easier to connect.

The other big innovation that came out of this exercise was that I finally got the idea to write the ideas directly onto the reference images! I can't begin to describe how completely cool this is. I grab a handful of scrap notes and go to the reference images on the wall the relate to that idea in each note and then write it down on the image collage wall. Doing this puts all the concepts for each aspect of the production in one place. When I build each puppet, set area, or prop, and refer to that area of the giant collage, I have all the ideas for that item right there to incorporate into it. Solid gold money idea, folks.

Animator Jessica Koppe and her code-friend and I are developing a project productivity site (maybe that's what got me going on getting the piles and stacks cleared out and in shape). I was testing an online tool for that and got all my current paid graphic jobs organized and scheduled, including all the remaining items needed for the project listed and on the fridge.

Rock, roll, and go go go>>>>

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catch Up: Catching Lightning in a Bottle

I pulled up some dandelion weeds along the street to use their sturdy roots to grow through the roof of the mouse's house. I stuck them in a glass jar for safe keeping and thought they looked really interesting (left). Somehow I got onto the idea of having "lightning in a bottle" on the shelf in Rana's kitchen.

It's an old expression which loosely means doing the impossible, like catching Lightning in a bottle. At first I thought of printing out an image of a lightning strike onto a sheet of acetate, rolling it up to slip down the bottle's neck and there be unfurled with long tweezers, etc. But the effect didn't read properly. There wasn't clearly an actual lightning strike in there when I tried that. Then I thought of the roots...

I painted them pure stark white. They were flexible enough to slip down and durable enough to keep all the fine veining attached. I added a stormy gray wool cap and a focused balloon up light.

Here's a faint faraway test of how it looks when the little light is flashed quickly underneath the painted roots in the bottle. Please cue your own thunder sound effects in your head while watching the storm in the upper right hand side, thank you...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Halfland's Smallest Puppets:
The Marching Ant* Mechanism

The main character Rana will be the largest puppet in Halfland I think. She's about 13 inches (33.02 cm) tall. The Writing Mouse puppet is super tiny for a mouse at only an inch long in the body. But The Marching Ants will have to be regarded officially as the smallest ones built.

I started with tiny 1/2 inch HA! (1.27 cm) black plastic toy ants, normally used for funny picnic table decoration (seen center bottom of the Raschs visit). Using them as a base allows me to keep the entire row of them pretty uniform in size. I tried several ideas, but what is working for me now is to attach 3 pieces of 34 gauge fine black wire to each pair of insect legs, one wire running across the body at each pair of legs. A little, and I mean little, drop of glue to start, and then securing the wire to the toys by tightly winding with black sewing thread until the entire bug is covered well.

These bases will likely be finished with black iron paint and a touch of rust solution, kept fully flexible by mixing with heavy gloss medium, to reinforce their industrious industrial natures.

I plan on having about 10 of them made for a row. In order to animate all of their 60 tiny legs--in unison!--I devised a technique of attaching the long ends of the wires through balsa floorboards to be installed in the cottage. Each Ant will be firmly secured (tied down, attached) at intervals across three separate slats, all right front and right rear legs on one plank, center legs on the second, left set on a third. By alternating each plank forward a bit in turn the ants should hopefully appear (enough anyway) to "march" forward together.

Here's a little preliminary test video to check whether the feet sort of march as I push the floorboards in sequence. A row of finished ant puppets, attached to the slats in the same way can be animated all at once at floor level this way, hopefully, as I get more adept at it. I'll be sliding the slats through a guide to keep them flush to the surface later.

*Extra points to anyone who gets the joke in their being called that!

Pond Bottom Cam: Frog Belly Reveal

Test shots for an under pond water pov concept I had as a way to bring greater dimension to the landscape itself as well as to show better what the Frog character is symbolizing. I tried various amounts of tulle and lighting to see if the concept worked, which I think it fully does!

(The bottom right shot makes me laugh. It's of my head, holding a rubber goldfish in my mouth HA!, captured during the test by mistake. As this was just a quick test, I didn't want to keep crawling under the set so I'd I just reach under the pond with my hands and couldn't see where I was aiming. I got better, you can see the fish "floating" in the lower left shot).

As soon as Cirelle and I installed the moss green ultrasuede-like fabric to the bottom of the set's pond, I realized I could shoot the reveal of the Time Frog's Belly Works from underneath by positioning the camera between the birth canal-like folds of the fabric and shoot up, through layers of sheer tulle water, to the sunlight above the water's surface.

I think it'll be a marvelous way to get a shot of the Time Frog's belly, to reveal the clockwork there. It will be hazy, but not as silhouetted as these tests. I can use a small underwater (:^}) directional spotlight to show off the belly area more clearly.

I've already begun designing the frog's clockwork and eyes. I plan to use photographs and cut out paper gears instead of real metal watch parts. I just want to suggest a working mechanism, not actually fiddle with making one.

Soon I hope to show you how kick-ass fantastic the pond is coming along shore-side! We're having so much fun with it.

Guest Artist: Sherie from the Sea

On Easter Sunday, I was at a big annual Beach Event with a group I belong to. I was sitting making a beaded bracelet, chatting with friends, including Cirelle and Nancy. When right in front of me down plops this stunningly beautiful young woman wearing a crown of bright yellow daisies. I thought she looked so especially heavenly that I grabbed my camera from the bag to capture her loveliness even though I didn't know her.

Before I knew it, bing bang boom, Sherie was excitedly planning on coming to Halfland with Cirelle that Friday! They were good friends and would enjoy working together. People there that day, who knew both Halfland and Sherie, all said YES! of course! Sherie belongs in Halfland! Hooray!

Cirelle filled me in that, "...She is a poet, photographer, collagist and a complete angel." I learned when she came over that she works with autistic children for a living. A difficult yet rewarding calling, I imagine. What a delightful, inspiring person she is.

She went out of her way to get started here last Friday. I only had her for 2-3 hours and truth be told, it was hard to get down to work and stop going deeper into conversation with her. But she was officially introduced to the project and even began cutting crepe paper grass for planting soon.

With her love of collaging, can you picture her face when she walked in and saw the giant reference wall?! It was priceless!

She fit right in and impressed me as a person. It seems as though every time I leave the house these days I come back with a perfect person to help make Halfland happen!

Please come again and again, Sherie from the Sea!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blooming Fantastic! Halfland's 3D into 2D Wallpaper

Before I post about the fabulous pond developments (!), and the NEW incredible Halfland volunteer (!), and show you Cirelle's deft character clay sculpt (!)... And more (!)... a surprise bonus item (surprising because I didn't know I would make progress with it tonight)... (click to enlarge image for detail)

Reader Rich offered an embellishment on my initial idea of having the tea cup rose vines growing into the cottage through the Tudor window panes that I liked a lot. He went further (as I recall), and suggested that the "real" 3D roses somehow growing into the 2D illustration on the wallpaper. How? I didn't know.
(click to enlarge image for detail)
I was spontaneously able to make that happen tonight.

Earlier today, I shot the hand-made coffee-filter paper scale roses on black velvet (to make it easier to select them from the background and not blow out the shadows, see sample screen shot, upper right). It was easy and fun (and fairly quick) to arrange the various images of the blooms into the sort of repeating pattern one finds on floral wallpaper.

What I love about the resulting floral pattern above is that it's wilder and most like the "real" 3D roses on the right-hand side (near the window, with spaces where the "real" 3D flowers can be positioned to grow against the wall.) The color is more like the flowers there and then slowly fades into a kind of old-fashioned, more precisely placed, proper wallpaper as it travels toward the left.

Once this pattern is applied/transferred (via ink jet rub-on paper or other image transfer techniques) to the interior cottage wall from the bay window into the bedroom niche, I think the illusion will be spectacular! Thanks to rich, and for all the readers here for contributing to make Halfland even more wonderful than it ever could have been without you!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Notice the Lotus

I've learned a lot in the last year especially. As I make more props and set elements for the film series, I find that I look much more carefully at how things really are. It isn't good enough anymore to sort of simulate a thing (see previous lotus flowers, bottom right.) I find it now just as easy to go a bit deeper and make things a bit more realistic.

Here I've used wax paper to cut out temple-shaped translucent petals and embossed them with radiating lines using a hand-scoring tool. I wound yellow thread around a piece of copper to form the stamen tufts and painted the tips of each cut thread end with burnt orange acrylic.

I carved a small piece of micro-cell foam (a Japanese cleaning sponge) into the lotus' flat seedcase. I glued small (appropriately named) seed beads into its concave top and used a micro brush to touch a tint speck of dark rum paint onto the top of each bead.

This bloom will rise from the pond water where the Time Frog resides, its budding stalks and buds emerging through the floating leaves on the surface, far above its thick, slinky rootstock.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Don't Pull That Thread

I've long loved pareidolia, naturally occurring objects that can take on the appearance of other things. It's a trick of the brain that wants to recognize something familiar. That's a terribly important survival skill, to recognize friend or foe in a millisecond.

I really am striving to put as many of these types of things-that-look-like-other-things in Halfland as possible. After all, that's really a big point of Halfland, that things we "see" all the time in life might be more than we thought. Is that rock alive? etc.

Here's a couple more planned to be included:
I woke up the other day to notice my sweater had taken on the appearance of a jolly character. (seen above as I saw it lying down (with a slight digital sketching assist), and at right rotated to identify the expression more easily. I'm thinking of making the throw blanket into this sort of quasi face.

Bottom left shows how a scrap of orange thread and formed itself into an insect like shape on my robe. I want a few more ambiguous moments of wonder in Halfland like this to complement the more overt transformations. I would love it if people of all ages started thinking they saw something alive that is usually taken for inanimate. That half-state of reality is where Halfland really resides.
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