The Ugly

Talking to my dear friends, Darkstrider and Yaz via email, across the country and across the globe. I wanted them to see a dilemma I'm wrestling with regarding the set. Shot a few shots of the backside of the set (that which is not-ready-for-publication) to kind of give them a feel for what it would be like if they visited here in person.

I'm hoping they'll tell me what to do because this sort of thing is not my area. I decided to make it a post instead, to let all the ugly hang out for all to see. If I don't show all the challenges with the project as well as the triumphs then what good is it?

I'm not after making the set "properly built" or even remotely professional. What it lacks in construction will be more than made up for by the overall effect of the film by the time it's done. Creative shot set ups due to set limitations, erasing major uglies in post, etc.

So, thank you for taking a look and telling me what you'd do... (hopefully type/notes are large enough to read when clicked on?)


  1. A little confused... I guess the notes on the pics don't all indicate problems? I'm assuming the problems are the areas where you can see gaps between separate set pieces.

    There are several fixes for this kind of issue, beginning with camera placement. I'd go in with the camera you'll be shooting this with and frame up the scenes you think you'll need... move the camera around and see if you can't just squeeze the ugly spots off the edges of the frame.

    In your first pic there's a note saying "trouble with no idea how to fix". It looks to me like that just needs a little paper mache over it. Build a bank downward from the grassy part and then make it look like dirt or grass.

    General fixes for the gap areas -

    It looks like they'd all be pretty easy to hide behind shrubberies or fallen logs - that kind of thing. But first I need to ask you - why are these areas separated to begin with? I remember you cutting the set apart, but I don't remember why you did it. Were you going to make access ways so you could walk out into the set to animate?

    If so then you'll need to go ahead and remove a set piece or two to widen the gap. You can hide these wider gaps by making the back part lower... a little rise in the ground can hide everything behind it. When you see the upper edge of a hill you can't tell what's behind the hill... it could be a mile wide chasm or just a smooth hillside. It's all about taking advantage of this illusion.

    For an illustration of something similar, take a look at how I hid the gaps in the brick wall for my running rig:

    All it took was a narrow strip of bricks to hide the entire gap. Looking at your last picture I see a strip of grass near the bottom. Something like this would be an ideal way to hide each of your gaps... the grass stands tall enough that it would cover a gap from even a fairly high camera angle.

  2. I've seen pics that show how it was done on films like Were Rabbit (backyard area with fences hiding the walkways) and a few others, but I don't know how to find the pics again. I might be able to draw something up and post it real quick.

    But I now notice another problem I didn't address. There's a column next to the set and also support poles for the sky. You mentioned something about painting out the support poles. I think if you're going to do that I'd try to do the same with the column.

    Start by painting them all blue... try to match your sky color as closely as possible. Then in post you'll just need to go in and blur out any edges. Or maybe better yet... after you've got a particular shot done where the column and/or support poles show, take a frame from it into photoshop and paint sky in so it covers the offending areas. Just do it once. Then copy this image and use it the way you would a "clean plate"... use it as a background and place each frame over it as a separate layer, then use the eraser to just erase the poles or column, revealing matching sky behind!

  3. Thank you thank you, Mike.

    I think you are completely right. I just need to employ some clever camo and git 'er dun.

    I LOVE your idee of painting out the column. Will have to try that for sure, like a clean plate trick. I've been limited by that bugger being there, but then it holds something important up.

    And you're right, the crepe paper grass will save my... as it were.

  4. oh, and some of the notes on the images weren't about problems per se. Just kind of showing you guys around.

    oh, yeah, and the reason the set is in pieces at all is so they could be moved in reasonable pieces. If they were any larger than they are, they'd be impossible. The distant hills pieces are larger and it's like trying to wrangle an unconscious body. Not that I would know what that's like.

  5. Shelley, I am not sure if these ideas would be any helpful but here is what I am thinking to solve some of the problems:

    - Why dont you think about painting over sky scrim where you have distance problems. Where the sky scrim and your set pieces meet and there is not enough distance to create the ilussion of horizon etc.. If the angle you are shooting allows you to do such thing, you can paint over sky scrim and complete the view. This could be done where you say "visible end of stream" on one of the pictures, "distant hill set pieces just laying.." and some others. Something like background painting. You can either paint directly over the sky scrim or paint on another piece and glue in place. You can even take this glued horizon background picture out where it does not look okey depending on the shooting angle and put it back when you are shooting in front.

    - Another idea to fill the gaps or cover the junk on floor or cover the column and get rid of its column shape: Using a lot of cotton. You know the cotton used inside pilows, bed, etc.. You can sprey paint cotton, glue some green grass stuff over and throw over the area where there is junk. I say cotton becuase it will fill the gaps and take the shape of the place.. I dont know. You can cover the columns with some cotton and then sprey paint to get rid of corners. I hope I am able to explain here. I dont know if this idea fits your set but this is what I think about trying for my very very small set to get dimention somehow. If you put light behind the cotton you can see it lit in front. which can be used for distance areas to get even more illusion like the light on the horizon... I hope this makes sense.

    By the way, Shelley everything is just looking soooo amazing! Water... wow. Looking very very good. And the produver cat! Hmmm. she looks serious. You better get to it :))

  6. First, before I comment -
    Got the cutest little mouse-in-a-mitten card in the mail yesterday, thanks Shelley! Makes me want to come up with a story about a character with one mitten...

    With my outdoor landscape sets, I often had big gaps so I could get in to animate, but a mound in the front part of the ground would hide the gap behind it. If I had to shoot an angle from higher up, I might use some temporary stuff to hide the gap, like an extra bit of ground that got screwed over the gap for that shot.

    Since going digital, I've been able to do things like Mike was saying - clone a bit of the landscape in the frame, and paste it on a layer over the top so it sits there for the entire shot. As long as no puppets move through that area, no problems. If they do, it can still work if it represents a bush or rock that is meant to be closer to camera, so it's natural if they go behind it. In fact, putting a foreground bit of foliage near the camera to make the shot look nice was always a risk, as I often ended up bumping it, so adding it in post is safer. If it's the same each frame, you can just erase around the leaves and branches, and do that only once. And one small object in the foreground can cover a lot of set (or missing set) in the distance. A foreground tree or branch could cover the sky pole, or seams in the sky, even if a character walked past. If no puppet goes there, you can patch up the sky on another layer.

  7. Shelley, I also got your card yesterday, and it really made my day because it's such a lovely gift! Thank you soo much for that!

    As the other described it before I'd fix minor things in post, but I also experienced that too much post production really can be annoying. My first thought was like Mike's: just add some bushes or bunches of grass in front of the "ugly" places. That'll fit in your Halfland perfectly.

    The other thing is: you mentioned a distant hill that doesn't look like a distant hill. I had the same problem with my cemetery set. I made the hills a bit higher, and moved the set away from the wall to achieve "real distance" (does that make sense?). I don't know if that is possible with your set at all? It also might help to add another midground made of bushes or so because now your hill is in the midgorund whereas your sky is the background. By adding a more midground midground you'll perhaps "move" the hill more far away (at least visually). Here's the link to the cemetery for illustration:
    Orpheus cemetery-final05.jpg

    Shelley, despite all the issues you have with your setting, I must say: this is all so breathtakingly beautiful and made with/of love... It's just amazing what you (and your Friday crew) do!
    Have a nice New Year's Eve!

  8. Man-O-Man!! Am I ever glad I asked!!!

    All of your ideas are PURE GOLD!!!

    Pure Gold I say!

    What a great EDUCATION and SUPPORT!

    I say YES YES YES to each and every solution each one has written here! BRILLIANT ideas.

    WOW did you all ever get me over this hump so to speak! I think I get it! I'm all geared up now where before I was fully at a loss of what to do.

    I can do this now. I feel like a football player in the "huddle" all geared up ready to get in the game and fight fight fight! ROAR! I've never understood sports in any way until this moment!

    I'm going in!

    I can't thank you all enough.

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  9. PS I'm going to print out these comments of all of yours and refer to them all as I work on the project.

    and xmas PPS: thanks for letting me know you received the comfort mouse cards, y'all. (those who haven't yet, they might just be hung up in the mail so far)

    Happy New Year, Everyone!

  10. Anonymous9:38 AM

    Given this sort of situation, if I had a column structure in the way of my set, I would invite it to become part of it. Could you make it into a jutting cliff while still serving the story?

    Distance hills made to look distant... This can be accomplished with bridal veil. Another trick is to light them in silhouette so you get the general shape but can't see enough that would imply they are close and made small in a sort of forced-perspective.

    Another thing you can do is just blur them in-camera with a depth of field that is shallow enough to make them somewhat indistinct while bringing the foreground to life with vivid detail. Zoom a little and use a an aperture of about F 8.0 and a shutter speed around 1 second (I'm ball-parking these figures as I don't have a camera in front of me).

    That should get you most of the way...To obscure other seams you don't want between set pieces , build a small forest or low cobblestone wall.

    The log struck me as interesting and easy to texture- how about building air-dry clay onto it to give it a bark-y look? Then you can go back over the whole log with a gloss or varnish. It is near a body of water, so it could be wet.. right? Add moss to age it a little and give it character.

    Remember, though, at the end of the day it's the lighting that will sell a set and make it look lived-in and believeable. Also, as long as you keep most shots from the eye level of the characters, it will look massive. High angle shots will make even the biggest stage look like a table-top model. Like Strider said, it's all in where you place the camera.

    The camera can be a character in the story, not just a detached or omniscient being.

  11. Anonymous9:41 AM

    One last thought: In the early days of Vinton's, they used a lot of rolling hills with no backs. Only make what the camera will see- "any more than that", as one animator put it, "is a waste of work!"

  12. PPPPPSSS: Jessica! Look! This is kind of the way we envisioned our production assist site might work!

    Except instead of a central site for everyone's project, we can do it at each person's own corner of the web. I'd love it if everyone posted pics of their project issues so we could all chime in like this.

    It would be nice to have it all in one spot so everyone could gain the know how, like at SMA. I guess SMA does what we were after. I just have a hard time navigating over there. I get lost in the massive forum.

  13. Don! another fantastic raft of ideas! Thank you! All great. Yes!

    I love the idea of staining and aging the log step by the water. You rule.

    By the way.... the camera in this story is the audience itself! The camera primarily follows the characters and action around in this 1/2L world! So your point about the camera being a character is very key indeed.

    As to building more than needed, I KNOW!! so many years of building much more than needed. That's why 1/2L could never be a commercial project--too much detail in relation to the need.

    HOWEVER in one way I know what I'm doing, in this case. Because I was mad enough to build the world inside and out of the cottage as if utterly real (even to the sky being overhead!) I can shoot from nearly any angle with the various characters and all the perspectives and backgrounds will have already been made!

    One of the things I love in these kinds of folk fantasy films, is when it's all not too clean and clear, where there is a great deal of "atmosphere" in the air, a great deal of shallow focus, shading, shadow, fog/mist, etc. So yes!!!!! tons and tons of that are planned for this for sure.

    Right on!

  14. "[…] as long as you keep most shots from the eye level of the characters, it will look massive. High angle shots will make even the biggest stage look like a table-top model."

    – Do you know the feeling, when you already have an information in your "pipe" but you aren't able to communicate it through words? It was like this with your comment! Don, this was really helpful to me! What a lovely and animating start for 2011...

    And Shelley, yes! I'm definitely work on the progressbar this year! Because asking for help needs to be done to receive some support! ;)

  15. You have the "best" line producer in LA right there. I think your good to go with all these lobvely comments above.

    All i can add is this...

    I think for you and the way you are making this, it would be wise to keep some things loose. As you go you will have the ability to improvise,morph etc... It's amazing what you can come up with when you're consciously ready to shoot! as long as you test it out first.

    Sometimes you discover what you can get away with instead of adding.

    Happy New Year!

    ps that mouse and his mitten will sit above my desk all year :)

  16. Jessica, I know! Isn't it great to get this kind of helpful info! WOW! So useful immediately! And very specific. So great.

    I'd love to see the Progress Bar! Now we know how useful it will be.

    Great point, Rich! Yes, I will keep things loose as well for seat of pants invention. I'm sure that will have to be the case. It's nice you've had the hands on shooting experience to offer that know-how now.

    Thanks so much for saying such nice things about the mouse card. I often wonder (usually in the middle of production on them each year) whether I'm stupid to spend my time making so many cards but then afterward I'm so gratified that something in 3D/real world gets to you all in person to tangibly show that I appreciate your friendships.

    Here we go, 2011, good luck all!

  17. It still looks so incredible to me, thought the giant cat *does* break my suspension of disbelief just a bit. :)


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