Thursday, December 15, 2016

Moving PIctures

What you see here are images taken during Eliya Eizerikova's miraculous month long visit to Halfland.
She brought herself and her talents from across the planet into my world and made it better than it ever would have been without her. She taught me so much with her numerous skills and kindness. Has anyone ever had an experience like this? Where the PERFECT person arrives at the perfect time to do the perfect things in the perfect ways?! It's inexplicable.

She made easy friends with everyone, especially all our cats who will miss her signature head massages.
She was a total delight to be with. A tough, Jedi beauty whose devotion to Halfland was staggering.
Not sure I'll ever get over it.

If we never see her again, I will cry. We all would.

First Scenes/First Reactions!

Halfland begins to move with Eliya Eizerikova's generous artistry and technical help.  I never thought I'd be able to actually animate. I mean I always assumed I would, but after Eliya came and started me off, I now think I never would have without her! 

Russian-born filmmaker, Eliya Eizerikova, flew herself here from her home base in Israel to help me with Halfland (!) She stayed for a month (!) and we animated together each day as much as possible (!)
[Don't read this*, Eliya]  *She gets embarrassed when I gush over her.
She is an extraordinarily talented and giving person, clearly. She listened to me talk for 400GB, she endured me hitting the camera tripod with my foot out of nerves. She taught me how to light without sunlight. She showed me what it looks like to edit footage on a laptop like a tornado, faster than I could follow, she'd craft these scenes together.

She loves the project as much as I do, except Eliya has a terrific director's eye for seeing how a desired action could be shot that gives it more texture and interesting movement. And a courageous approach that will never hesitate to take action.

"The secret, Shelley, is not to know, but to try--and see whether it looks good."

She faced many limitations; my feeling un(never)ready, the Rana puppet being heavy and stiff, there being very little space around the giant set in this bedroom. Her military officer training and stop motion course instructor experience came in handy with me. She simply had no tolerance for any excuses. Sky not ready, pin it up. Puppet won't stand, rig it. Fish tail won't fit under the plastic water, cut it. It was FANTASTIC! Exhilarating to actually be shooting after so long! Doing whatever it took.

She was, in each moment, so gracious and supportive. You'd have to imagine what it's been like having an intelligent, multi-lingual, beautiful, fun and funny, kind, talented, patient, advocate, stop motion, director, videographer, editing, professional appear at your door from another country and volunteer to help make your dearest dreams come true.  She refused any offer of compensation, so pure is her desire about this. What can I possibly say.

I sent the link of her rough cut above to long term friends, family, followers, and fans of Halfland as sneak peeks. Some of their excited reactions follow below. I thank each of them for waiting so patiently for something to happen here. I am convinced nothing ever would have moved in Halfland had Eliya not been so moved to come and help.

Throwing some love back her way... Can't wait to animate more thanks to her!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!  Shelley, it looks amazing!  What an awesome surprise at the end of a mildly crappy day :) Rana is beautiful, she reminds so much of my mother-in-law, R's grandmother Bella!  J said the same when she watched it with me.
Everything is absolutely gorgeous!!  The sets are amazing, I loved Rana's little ear animation, and how you handled the water.   I can't wait to see more <3

I watched this like five times it is so delightful so thrilled to see Rana and I love her ears oh my god she's so darling the water the water the splash, the spider, you know I adore every little detail. The mushrooms the cabin the porch I miss it all so much so wonderful to see it again.  I'm so proud of you, very very proud of you, good work! Thank you!
Love you,

(ee!) congratulations,

OMG how precious. How in the world did you do the water? Loved the butterflies. Loved the front door. Loved it all. And it made me miss Constance! So much fun those times!
Love you,

What!? That is beautiful!! I just got the chills. :-D Congratulations! Hooray for Eliya! I'm glad she turned up on Halfland. I REALLY love the foreground elements. Keep it going!

How magical! The intricate details are charming and captivating. The work to create each little piece amazes me. I love the butterflies in her hair, the spider web, the weaving and her eyelashes. Bravo! Well done. I look forward to seeing more. xxx
Hugs to your creative soul!

♥️ to see it come to life

Dear Shelley: That is so wonderful, I’m very happy for you. I love what you have so far.
Love, R

Wow Shelley!!!!!
How exciting!
Congratulations :)
I love it!  The camera moves and lighting look so pro. The colors are beautiful and how exciting that your gorgeous details shine through :)
Great job with the water too!
Wow wow wow!
Can't wait to see more!!
Thanks so much for the peek :)
Big warm hug,

Super exciting stuff!!
Thanks so much for sharing... it's looking great!! 

Pure magic to see it brought to life like that!!! And even with music and little dust motes (or insects maybe?) drifting around out of focus! Who is this person helping you with it - have you written about her on the blog? I'll check on that. The name sounds Eastern European, which would be perfect. 

I love it!!!!  What a thrill to see your vision come to life.  I'm soooo happy for you.

Vaowwww... This is sooo beautiful!! What you have done here is just so amazing. Thank you very much for sharing this clip. I could not help crying seeing the first shots... I know how much you have put into this film. Every single detail in those scenes are well thought and created by you. And now it is coming alive. Bravo my friend!! I knew it was going to be amazing and now it is becoming real.
Love & peace, Y

Rana finally comes to life! GO SHELLEY!!

Studio Guest: Dick Kaneshiro!

I was lucky enough, just before Eliya arrived, to welcome animator Dick Kaneshiro to Halfland so he could help me plan the Bug Party shot with the Lunchbox Sync he had loaned me four years earlier to use.

Halfland is a good long distance from Dick's place but he squeezed in a day to come all the way out to help me, in between freelance pro gigs. And I have to admit here and now, He was RIGHT! The Lunchbox Sync is a fabulous solution with the Panasonic FZ50 which has no live feed frame grabbing features.

After we measured the tracking distance and timed the pacing, he tried a few passes for speed to get the best incremental measurements. Using the Lunchbox that day, I really got the hang of its controls and saw how well it worked. The best thing about it is that once the camera is connected, you've got all the frame grabber functionality needed, right through the camera's position.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started actually using it for the shoot a few days later, my camera's port failed and I had to scramble for other means of previewing. What Eliya and I came up with doesn't come from the camera and so doesn't show precise angles while shooting, regrettably. But I still would feel worlds better returning the Lunchbox, the monitor, and the CRT cart back to Dick ASAP. He's been so gracious about it, but I am so rough on stuff, I will feel much less stress to get it back to his pad safe and sound.

Thank you, Dick! In looking for these images, I found so many of you doing huge and hugely important things for the project over the years; soldering lights, constructing stage tables, and always there for panicked emails over my technical dilemmas, always rooting for me and this story.

Thank you, dear friend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It's a Miracle!

This amazingly beautiful (inside and out) young woman, whose birthday happens to be today (!), flew here from another country to help me bring Halfland finally to life. She's expert, patient, kind, supportive--forget that, she could not be more of a fan of the project. She understands it, in some ways better than myself. And she coaxes it into being through her strength, experience, and enormous kindness.
She knows what it wants to be and is able to bring it about. She's saved me from my heavy concrete blocks of inability and is leading me out of inaction into frames. Finally.

For those of you who have been waiting, I thank you. Eliya is what we've all been waiting for.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Well, Shoot!

Typed up and cleaned up the whole shooting match tonight. Thought y'all might like to see it. There's a reason I've written this up. Let's just say I had to get organized for working with... OTHERS! Hope genuine hope for actual scenes being made, Mates!

UPDATED TO ADD: There are more brief scenes written though not included here. Separate scenes will feature the Writing Mouse and the interior of his house. The Chicken Painter puppet, Motif, is built by Deborah George and can have a vignette insert all his own in the Dawn landscape wide shot.

The titles will be suitably creative bookending and between Akts. Details of that in next post....

Thank you for visiting!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Went to the Color Shop

If you request it, they will likely mail you your own wickedly beautiful hand-painted color chart of what they sell. Sure beats trying to get excited from a printed sample or from a chip on a website.

Unsponsored, promise. I'm just insanely crazy about Nova Color paint, as readers here know. Every thing they sell can be ordered via their site but that would cut out the fun of going to the tiny shop in an alley in LA and touching all the jars and jugs and looking at all the deeply inspiring hand-painted swatches on boards hanging from hooks on the walls, and talking wonk chemical make up of different mediums they make with their expert staff, petting the shop cat, and watching all the other artists in LA get buzzed in to get MORE!
Whenever I get to go there I always feel like I've been to a magical shop where I could buy COLOR, like a shop that sells "color", not colored paint, but actual Color-Color. A Color Shop. And I try to pick up a new swatch sheet as I've usually given mine away during the interval between shopping trips. This trip's haul is mostly for more landscape set painting of earth and grasses.

Part of my Nova purchase ritual is to smear a circle of fresh paint on the top of each jar to cover the price marked there and to show me visually what the color does, thick and thin. Then I mark the color off with a green highlighter on an old swatch sheet to track every Nova item I've purchased since I first found them. I also make a little swipe on a journal page along with the color's number for fun. Then I crack a few jars and start mixing to see what they can do, what happens.

Nova is one of my creative secret weapons. Everything I do is made-with or excited-by them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Queen

Today's sketch of the Queen Bee. She'll be built to fit an existing crown made several years back, from a jeweled top of a pomegranate, with a bright robe of flowers worn over her gold brocade bodice. Her ruff will be like the hairs on a bee's body and her compound eyes left enigmatically blank and metallic. Her scepter bejeweled with a cut emerald stone, tiny sapphires beneath gold fringes on her impressive abdomen.

A friend knows how I love Gardenias and always gives one from her garden to my husband to bring home to me when he visits. The last one had a little bud attached that became more of a gift than she could have known.

When it dried (below) I saw in its attitude and shape what I had been looking for for Halfland's Queen Bee puppet. There was something fabulously insectile about the way it had shaped itself. Even the gesture of the arm was regal. I'd found my Queen. A Halflandian Coronation.

The key element that had been missing was the way the flower bud had dried itself into what looked like a very tight >>>corset<<< over an extremely large bustle. Yes, it was a plant, my flower, but it suggested precisely everything I needed in order to visualize this particular insect with human characteristics better than anything else could.

The smallness of the head I never would have thought to do without it. Even the placement of the wings was there as was the start of a crown. This is another minor background vignette character and will be made at the level of the Twig Man. She'll need a small entourage of two attendants who will be made even more quickly and simply, being merely for symbols of the Queen's importance.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hide and Seek

The Birds in Hats Are Fully Here! (and I'm finally satisfied with them.)
After three attempts, the Birds in Hats puppets are both complete. Here you see the blue green fellow with his flight wings on. I like how the newsprint feathers show a bit of the lettering through the paint. A slight hint at the materials used in making the film.
A new kind of glue to me, hide glue, was the ingredient that made these puppets work.
Here's what happens, I'm minding my own business when my mind wanders over to a Halfland build problem. How to accomplish this or that. I do NOT have any answers about much of any of it. So, my mind is chewing on some part of it--or more often, my HANDS pick something up WITHOUT my mind and starts to do things to it. I'm watching confused as it's generally new, with unknown materials.

Then I suddenly catch on and get excited. Son of a gun. So that's how I can do such in such! Then I immediately feel chagrin over having thought of this new solution. I become a pigeon to my own excitement. The next thing I know, a week has passed and I've worked hard everyday, solving each problem as it appears on the project, and voila! A new blog post about it. This time, it's Halfland's Birds in Hats!

Hide glue and kraft paper shapes were set with masking tape before additional layers of glue and paint. Legs were made of Almaloy base wrapped with 30g annealed steel coated with flexible polymer glue. beaks and eyes were wired and secured within the bird heads along with steel wire cradles for the flight wings and aerial tiedown hardware. The head movement is so expressive! It's done by connecting the head and body with a rod that swivels and tilts while remaining in place at both ends. I love all the emotional looks I'll be able to get with these darlings.
I found the hide glue, normally used for chair caning repair at a local cane supply shop in town. It was expensive for me and something I'd never seen before but my intuition told me it was something to have. In order to see what it was, I put a thin smear on layers of heavy kraft paper scraps and let it dry well. The result surprised me in that it was extremely tough, almost like thick rawhide itself. It was interesting. (I loved it so much I Googled it to see whether it was toxic. From what I found, it is not. MSDS for hide glue states in part that,  "Hide glue is an albumen of animal connective tissue and therefore biologically degradable." "The main components are water and glutin, a scleroprotein.") Probably good practice to wear a glove in case a skin reaction develops suddenly, but for how I got only small amounts on my fingers for such a short amount of time I felt comfortable with it. And it washes off hands, brushes, and tools cleanly with just plain water.

I decided to construct the Birds in Hats by making two hard shells for the body and head, like miniature coconut shells with small scale paper mache, alternating kraft paper and newsprint, and the hide glue. It worked incredibly well, iron tough. The desired forms had to take on a lot of internal infrastructure without losing their shape.
Once constructed, the Birds were given an undercoat of color and two sets of wings took shape, one for when landed and one set for flight blur movement. (upper left) I used small patches of faux fur for their breasts in differing colorways, topped with complementary tracks of wool roving glued to the forms with fast grab tacky white glue until they looked all ready for a haircut.
Tiedown hardware was hidden on their bodies. Color was built up slowly with colored roving held in place with pins until dried. Their hats were built years ago, in 2009, which is great because I would NEVER take the time nor have the patience to make them today so having them ready to put on was a great joy and they really make the puppets work. When they turn their heads the wool sort of twists just at the neck leaving the breast glued down to the painted fur underneath. I wanted that soft feather illusion in that area.

My hands also brushed newsprint with the hide glue and laminated it to plain tissue paper and let dry (upper left) The resulting sheets were wonderfully CRISP and lightweight. They screamed to be used for the Bird's feathers. Loose shapes were used, at first in white and then later made by the bushel by layering colored tissues to make the wings. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to resolve mechanical issues while sitting at my work table in the living room (upper right). The still wings were made and are secured to the puppets via hearty small t-pins topped by small feather pieces to help blend them in when attached.
Early flight wing blur tests.

I had been trying to sort out the Birds in Hats flight wing problem for a very long time. I made a decision about 5 years ago to drop any notion of imitating the real movement of bird wings in flight. Instead I wanted an impression of how their wings look to my eyes in life with a motion blur.

I tried many different materials to simulate the effect finally settling on natural cotton glued to flight wing shadow shapes attached to brass rods that can be rolled between thumb and fingers to rotate into a suggestion of flight.

Later they evolved into having splayed paper feather shapes in a dual-ended wing set idea. I used a spiral cradle in the bodies to allow me to (hopefully) inset the flight wings when they are up in the air and to remove them from place to add the still or closed wings when the Birds will be resting on Answer Tree's branches. There will be some body movement so will have to see how it looks and work around any flaws.

Above is a brief clip of the finished pink and orange Bird's flight wings in action, so get what I'm going for during filming.

Finally, the hand mirror prop for their scene was wired with a small loop on the far end so it could attach to the still wing pin and support its own weight when used by the Birds to verify how charming they look. I hope to get some beak-and-leg mirror swiping action into the scene as well.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Bug Me a Little!

Wanted to test Jeff Gatesman's instructions* to me while it was still fresh in my mind. Took the week to put final pre-shot touches to the bug party, set up the camera on Dick Kaneshiro's Smooth Mover, used a small LED as a moving keylight and started getting a feel for how the bug puppets would like to move.

They are NOT fully fledged stop motion puppets and are not meant to be. The whole bug party sequence is meant as an appetizer for other more meaningful scenes with main characters. And in the clip, I just fiddled with no video assist, no preview, no Lunchbox, no onion skin software, just the camera. I didn't measure the pan and am using the random key light to add an atmosphere layer to the scene.

I've crammed myself in this room with the full main set up and the foreground pieces for the bug party for over a year in an attempt to force me to start to shoot. Didn't work at all. And ironically, I might move the bug party set component to another table so I can get further back. The test above is too close up. I'd like the viewer further back as if peeking at the goings on. Plus, I think it will look more interesting/convincing if these little puppets are just animated without a lot of detail. It's all in the concept in this case.

Tomorrow I'd like to show you the set up and how it finally got down to brass tacks.
All I can say is. It was so much FUN FUN FUN!... we're off to the races.
Jeff's instructions worked flawlessly and I understood everything. I even used Adobe Premiere Pro for the first time and found it the easiest editing software I used yet. Even easier than using the newish Photoshop animation features that I thought might be better for me.

 Pure gold.

*I have shared Jeff's suggested workflow with you, fellow animators, in the Underground for those who may like to check the approach out for themselves.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Halfland's Fairy God-Brother: Jeff Gatesman

Can you tell how warm and sincere this individual is? How about how fully-loaded with professional
filmmaking know-how he is? Jeff Gatesman, Director of Photography, newly met, talent to spare.
I see wings of kindness on this artist with an eye for capturing emotional imagery.
After a conversation on the beach Easter Sunday, my friend Riayn asked some industry-pro friends of hers if they knew of anyone who knew stop motion in LA. One of them asked another of them, who then suggested Jeff because of his experience in shooting a children's web series that involved a mix of live action/cgi/stop motion. I can't thank the whole chain of people enough for the perfect suggestion.

Part of my delay in actually shooting Halfland scenes was a.) my love and comfort with fabricating puppets/sets/props, b.) my assumption(s) over what software I would have to learn to use to assemble frames and make a majority of edits with.

Jeff, within 10 minutes of discussing my animation workflow, had blown all of my "facts" out the nearest window and blown my mind with his wholly different approach.

That would have been enough, but he then proceeded to spend a few hours here walking me through the process from frames to render, including a clever solution for outputting in the proper codec.

I took notes. And posted his later instructions on my wall, like sacred text. He checked my computer for competency, tipped me to which cloud backup he used, shopped external RAID backups with me, being careful to cover what I needed but not more than I needed to keep costs modest. Jeff made excellent suggestions for lighting and scrim material as well, all of which was enormously helpful.

It's like being lost in the dark and having a kind, patient person lead you to your path. I can see how to get where I'm going now. Thanks to Jeff and the people that sent him over.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Incredibly Moving

"Young birds are not pushed out of nests they know, as we’ve been told.
Instead, parents remain a distance away, urgently calling them forth."

-- Shelley

This man is one of the most important figures in my life. Over and over.
I can guarantee that hundreds of other people would say the same thing about him as that.
He is extraordinary.  A Master of Classical Dance. A transformer of lives.
These photos were taken of him coaching me during class in 2006.

For an explanation of what I've been doing other than Halfland for the last while and why,
I wrote it up at length on the Underground.

Things are moving. The wheels are in motion. Stop Motion. And I hope to show you soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Little Character Folk Swatch Painting: Rana

One of our cats pees over everything. Every. Thing. I spend a lot of time each day scrubbing and cleaning up after her. I had two 10" tall prints of Rana's portraits on my desk to use as reference for retouching the file to order a poster-size version when a wind gust must have dashed them into a pee puddle in the corner. Having them ruined for sure gave me the courage to try a painting technique I'd been curious about, since I would be trashing them anyway, why not try?
Gluing down strands of sheep's wool and costume fabric swatches to the finished folk painting of Rana.
I glued the trimmed print onto watercolor sheet and blue taped a border on the paper. I taped that to a lap-sized desk of gypsum board that had been wrapped in brown paper with the second print next to it to refer to as I went. I was obsessed as soon as I began.

I've never painted before and considered adding the layers of color on separate leaves of acetate, in paint-by-number style before just trying it out to see how it was. I LOVED it! I wouldn't stop working on it for 3 days, stealing moments right from waking up to right to going to bed.

I was hoping to have it be very rustic and folk, to fit with the film's visual style. Very rough with high impasto texture, almost as an impression of the character rather than a portrait. I used a new medium from Nova Color that is nearly as matte as my trusty matte medium but a much thicker, #208 Matte Gel (satin finish thick paste; dries clear), to build up the areas I wanted to be most dimensional.

Even though she's positioned in her cottage, I only detailed the fire-lit hearth behind her shoulder and the dripping honeycomb near her hand to indicate her setting.

I used acrylics with unrefined (cheap) brushes in what I now believe is called dry brush technique, lots of blending colors and off-loading paint on a cloth until it could do what I wanted.
I made up a purpose for doing it (Needing a reason for doing something besides it being illegal amounts of fun.) and now consider it to be a "Swatch Character Painting", with all the little squares of Rana's costume added on as well as a bit of the hair and moss on the kettle lid (above, right) her spider web lace skirt peering out.

I hope to make one for each character eventually and have them bound into a book for viewing at the Halfland exhibition, should things go that way.

Please stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When Your Answer Appears

When your Answer appears on Halfland's Answer Tree, you feel the tender sweep of soft green leaves awake you from your deep sleep. You realize that you lay in perfect comfort on the grass covered ground near the trunk of the Answer Tree and that the tips of its branches have caressed your forehead to awaken you.

You open your eyes in mellow sunlight, feel warm breezes blowing, hear birdsong and insect wing abuzz. It's almost as if you can hear the Wind's voice in the branches above you saying that your answer is ready and waiting for you. You scan the canopy from where you lay, wondering what the Answer Tree will tell you.

Then you see it. The glint of sunlight shimmering among hundreds of other leaves. One gilded leaf has unfolded itself and grown amid the rest. All the wisdom of all the world has been brought to bear upon the question you most longed to satisfy. And now, what you've waited for so eagerly, so longingly that you finally fell into sleep, has, at last, been realized.

All you must do to know is to reach up... and grasp it.

Dear readers, the above story happened to me today. Well, nearly. I sleep under a large tree each night. It's one of several large potted plants and trees in containers that we keep inside our home. This morning, I was gently awoken by its tender, soft, new green leaves brushing across my face. And even still asleep, I knew what had happened. I knew that I was given the feeling that the tree was tenderly waking me, as if it were my care taker.

In that instant I knew that this touch was the way in which Halfland's inhabitants were alerted that their Answer had appeared on the Answer Tree above them.

Several weeks ago, I painted a large fallen leaf with shades of gold. It gave me the idea that the answers on the Answer Tree would turn golden when an answer had emerged. That seemed so RIGHT. And now with what transpired and inspired today, it all came together in a wonderful FLASH! I added a bit of transitional "golding" to scale Answer Tree leaves for steps in the sequence as well.

PS: I still have the original questions that some of you wrote to the Answer Tree and they will be among the first to become real.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Akting Up

Draft of scenes and shots* outlined for the Halfland film series in; a Prelude, Four Main Akts (ordered by Time of Day and Season), The Final Akt ("The Secret Season"); and bonus story featuring "The Answer Tree".

There are also bonus stories written that feature the "The Time Frog" and the "The Bug Party", which I hope to also translate into oversized printed scene illustrated storybooks.

(*made prior to reading ggrandma's book and may be subject to refinement.)

Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Thank You, Dear Great Grandmother, Tiny!

Great Grandmother's original dust jacket. (Didn't order this copy with the cover ($42) as I grabbed the first copy I saw ($20) in case it was the only.) Planning however to get a color print of this nice photo of the cover and frame it for inspiration.) Only problem with it is that the inset of the inscribed name and date obscure the rest of the cover text and I can't uncover who, if anyone other than herself, wrote the book's foreword.

My copy came in the mail today and it was a pretty surreal experience. I mean, here we are, exactly 80 YEARS (!), EIGHTY YEARS since my namesake matron published her book on motion picture shooting scripts right as I'm in need of this exact information. C'mon. This is insane.

Not for nothing, the times we live in are utterly remarkable as well. I'm holding in my hands my ggma's book two days after hearing about it for the first time. Something I would never have known even existed in the first place without the web working wonders.

I feel this book will be all the information I'll need to make Halfland the way I'd want. And somehow, that's perfect.


A vintage velvet leaf had a nice gradient of brown to green on it. It was rolled around foam with a wire core and steel wire loops were quickly added and then clipped into legs. Built up with glue and bent, the legs were painted burnt umber. Flower pips and seed pods made up her features and party hat.

Decorating her hat are the finest clear seed beads that came in the treasure box Maggie Rudy gave me. They came from her great grandmother's wedding dress, for goodness sake. To me, they look like caterpillar eggs that usually decorate the underside of leaves.

I think that's why her expression is so bewildered. It's as though she's just looked for her eggs where she thought she left them on the leaf, not remembering she used them around her hat.
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