Monday, November 3, 2014

"Art-In" workshop, "Of Mice and Moose", and other things.

In my last post, (many moons ago) I wrote about my experiment with vinyl figurines, and how dysfunctional they are to animate!  My attempt at creating a simple animation puppet was not successful.  But I still needed a simple animate-able puppet for my upcoming Art-In class.

Falling-back to familiar puppet making techniques, I made six simple build-up puppets from furniture foam.  I made a basic wire armature from rosin core solder and epoxy putty.  The puppet's leg armature extended past their feet about 1".  These were used like tie-downs to secure the puppet to the foam-core stage we would be animating on.  I sprayed the foam figures with a few coats of diluted Rit dye.  Tada!  A sturdy, flexible puppet ready to be personalized!.
This photo shows our simple foam and cardboard stage:
The class was super fun!  After meeting at the Comstock Art Gallery, we set up shop a few miles away in the historic Dowse sod house.  We had a lovely huge space to spread out our supplies.  We started with an introduction to animation and film making, and the basic principles of stop-motion animation.  Next, I shared with the class a compilation of short animation clips, showing a few of the many styles and sub-genres within the medium.  Then, we started making our blank puppets into characters!  Rachel was a huge help in assisting the kids in sewing and gluing the clothing, hair, and features onto their puppets.  Four of the six kids were boys, with not much sewing experience between them.

We split the group in half, with half the kids animating puppets with me, and the other half animating captions with Rachel.  She used small crates and 2x4"s to create a simple platform to secure my iPod to.  We captured frames with the iPod camera using Aardman's "Animate It!" app.

Rachel's animation station was fast-paced, less tedious, and more creative/experimental than the puppet animation station.  Some kids (obviously) have a shorter attention span than others, and this was a great way to keep everyone busy.  The kids could could go back and forth between stations, and everyone was happy.

At my animation station, we animated with a laptop and an SLR.  I brought our TV along to the workshop, and hooked up my laptop with an HDMI cord.  It made it very easy for the whole group to see and use the frame-grabbing software without crowding each other.  Rachel and I made a script of shots, and we animated them in sequence.  It's hard to explain animation timing to someone, and until you watch your first sequence of frames, you don't comprehend how very small your moves need to be.  And how slow the whole process can be.  The kids did a super job, and caught on quickly!  We attempted some simple ease-in and ease-out.  If I remember correctly, only one of the kids had animated before, so with that in mind, we had SUPER end product!:)

  The day flew by so quickly.  Rachel and I were forced to simplify our already simple script, but we were very proud of what we and the kids accomplished in only five hours.  Post-production was fast and furious in order to show the whole group our day's accomplishment:

I burned a few copies onto discs and mailed them to the kids.  I got a nice thank you note a few days later:


That's all I can remember at the moment, and all of the photos I have to share, so moving on...

It only took me 23 years to FINALLY visit sited the most magical place on earth.  Disney World was an experience like none other!  So much awesome in those four days of our vacation!

Hee hee!  So fun.

Anyway, since this my ANIMATION blog, I had to show you our awesome "Nightmare Before Christmas" souvenirs:

Rachel's favorite blanket EVER:

And now, I will write about my latest and greatest animation project:

The September monthly challenge theme "Woodland Animals" was too good to pass up.  Nearly all of my animations feature some sort of cutesy, anthropomorphic animals, so...yeah.

I did things very out of order, and built my puppet set first.  I normally write a script, draw a simple storyboard, make puppets, then build and light the set last.  You do things in a certain order to avoid issues and save time, right?  But hey, it sounded fun at the time.  <snort>

Lucky for me, my set worked okay with my puppets and story.  Not perfect, but okay.  The
trees were made from leaves and branches cut from the bushes at my shop.  I recycled my favorite model train grass and sky fabric for the bazillionth time.

I was really pleased with rosin core wire armatures I made for the "Art In" puppets, so I made my Moose puppets in a similar fashion.  The wire pieces extending past the hooves anchored into the foam core so well.  It was easy to bend and hide them when I wanted the bottom of the hoof to be showing.  The mice are just little bits of Plasticine clay.  I don't have a ton of patience or experience working with clay, so they were a bit sloppy.  <shrug>

"Cloud Clay" was the perfect lightweight material to make the antlers on the male moose.

This project went together very quickly, and was super fun to animate.  I think it's some of my best story- telling to date.  
The online community voted my film the best of the five entries!  John Ikuma of StopMotion Magazine sent me a nice prize in the mail, a hardcopy of their latest issue, featuring "The Boxtrolls."  John visited LAIKA studios in Portland, and interviewed the CEO and directors of the film.  Lots of great photos and info about the film!
If you would like to read about "The Boxtrolls" and other stop-motion projects, this issue can be download free as a PDF on your computer or e-reader app here.

Speaking of Boxtrolls, Rachel and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it in the theater.  It's a beautiful, imaginative film, with charming characters the most advanced stop-motion puppet animation on the planet.  LAIKA's use of 3D-printed facial features is really mind-boggling.  The practical special effects are also spectacular.  Definitely adding it to our collection when it's released on DVD!
Super crummy photo of us at the theater:

Changing subjects one last time, the innovative folks at Stop Motion Pro have updated their software yet again!  This past spring, they asked for volunteers to help test a beta version of their new software.  I offered to help, and a few weeks later, I had a call from down under!  After a nice chat with Paul, I was emailed a trial version of the software and a list of tasks to try.  I wrote down any glitches I found, took screenshots, and filled out a detailed feedback survey.  It was a really interesting project, and exciting to be a part of!  The testing process was pretty informal, but I was told repeatedly to please not share my findings with anyone.  The software was finally released to the public a couple weeks ago!  You can read my statement on their shiny new website here!  (I'm at the very bottom).

Ooph, I think I'm finally caught-up!  Sort of.  Thanks for reading along!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Robot animation, Shakespeare, Birthday gifts!

While celebrating our first wedding anniversary, Rachel and I wandered through a Michaels craft store in Omaha.  I saw these adorable little figurines, and thought of my upcoming "Art In" animation class.  I offered this class last summer, and while the kids thoroughly enjoyed it, we didn't have NEARLY enough time to write a story, build puppets, animate them, and edit our creation.  We have about five hours total.  Soooo, this year, I wanted to simplify the puppet creation process, so we have more time to animate. Because that's the fun part, right?

After experimenting with one of these figurines, I decided it's really not such a great idea, especially for someone who has never animated before.  You can communicate so much more with knees, elbows, a waist, and a neck than you can with twitching facial features.  I knew that.  In "simplifying the process of puppet making", I will severely restrict their animation options.  Plus, the one I used was super top-heavy.
I will say, I think my puppet is cute.  Sad to say, that's about all he's got going for him.

This was my entry for the monthly challenge theme "skateboarder."  It was voted the best of...two entries.  Yeah.  But hey, I won some free animation software from a sponsor!  I never turn away free.  I downloaded the software yesterday, and it looks like it could be lots of fun!

Anyway, here he is all naked, showing the dowels I used to hold the bobbin spools on.  I applied a couple coats of silver spray paint.

His antennas are made from a plastic wiring staple and aluminum armature wire.  I used wing nuts for ears, and the gear on his tummy was from one of Rachel's sewing tools.  The skateboard is made of wood, the wheels from a dollar store model car kit.
I used two circles of tin foil to create the whirling propellers.  That's pretty much all I have to share about this guy.
Moving on...
Character concept for Puck, the mischievous jester to King Oberon.  By Levi Williams.
A little over a month ago, I completed the first draft of a new script!  My big project is a Western-style adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."  My goal is to modify the environment and dialogue, but keep the story and characters true.  I'm working very hard to create a tight, entertaining story with fun, creative characters.  This is a big undertaking for me!  I really don't know how long the finished film will be, but my current script is around 40 pages long.  Right now, I'm working on story boarding the scenes, and working with my amazingly talented brother-in-law on character designs.  I am blown away by what he has created so far!

Titania, the vain and stubborn Queen of the fairies.
DeRoy, the blacksmith betrothed to Honey-May.  And his ever-hopeful admirer, Elmyra.
Forbidden lovers, Sandy and Honey-May.
Oberon, the selfish and manipulative King of the fairies.

<Clap clap clap clap clap>
There's some tweaking to be done, and many more characters to design.  I can't wait to turn these sketches into three dimensional puppets!  Ooph, where do I even start?  My head is about to explode with ideas.

I will leave you with photos of my awesome stop-motion birthday loot!  Rachel wins the prize!

Here we have an awesome "Fantastic Mr. Fox" tee.  A stop-motion classic "Chicken run", which I totally need in my collection.  And a beautiful book all about the art and design of Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie."  Filled with photos, sketches, concepts, and prototypes of puppets.  Like this:

Evolution of Sparky?
That's all for now folks, thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

AnimateClay commercial

If it wasn't clear, this video is a commercial for the weekly web-streamed live show.  Our January monthly challenge theme was to create some sort of commercial for the website.  It could be promoting the tutorials/freebies, the web forums, the live show, just something about the website.  The very talented Ron Cole volunteered to do narration/voice work if we needed it.

 As is usually the case, my first idea was too ambitious.  I wanted a good-size group of classic, distinctive stop-motion characters sitting together, each character speaking the praises of the AnimateClay weekly web show.  My script was okay, and maybe if I had 6 months to devote to the project, I could finish it?

After struggling for two weeks to create just one lousy, dysfunctional puppet, I canned the idea.  It was a puppet of Victor from Tim Burton's "The Corpse Bride."  He was very cute, but he wasn't working at all.  He was poorly designed.  And I needed roughly 6 more characters for my script.  So, it looked like no challenge entry from me.

On the closing day of the challenge, another member of the AnimateClay community shared that she hadn't finished her commercial entry, and asked the moderator if he could extend the challenge one more week.  And thankfully, he did!

So, with one week to throw something together, I tried to think of a way to re-write my script for a single puppet character.  I thought of a song in Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas", where the main character, Jack Skellington, finds himself in the land of  "Christmas town."  I thought his over-the-top enthusiasm in discovering something new would make this a great song to parody for a commercial.  Plus, I've always wanted to make a parody.  This was my chance!

Ron Cole did such an awesome job recording Jack's voice! If you listen to the original song, you will see how eerily similar he sounds.  I think he really captured the essence and inflection of this character.

A little creepy, no?  I really appreciate him going out of his comfort zone for me!  He's such a good sport.

There are different ways to make your stop motion puppet talk/sing.  I chose to make a bunch of replacement mouths for the different mouth shapes.  This was something new for me!  I've only had a couple talking characters before, and they only had one or two mouth shapes.  Jack's head is made of baked Sculpey.  After his head was baked, I molded my replacement mouths.  I cut a little notch out of the back of each mouth, and after they were baked, I super-glued a small magnet to the back.  The teeth were made from toothpicks.

In this photo, we have "L", "U", "E", "O", "V", and the "M" mouth is obviously flipped to show the magnet.

Here is Jack without any replacement mouths, showing the washer that the magnets stuck to.  Yes,  it's crooked.  No, not on purpose.
As crude as my system was, I think the end result was convincing enough.  It was really fun to experiment with.  I would love to try again and do it better!

Sewing Jack's suit was tricky, it's supposed to be very fitted.  The jacket sleeves ended up a bit baggy, but it worked!  Suit construction in progress:

Green screen!  New territory for me.  The poster board seemed to work okay.  Jack was secured to a paint tub.:)
This photo is of the poor innocent pocket knife, from which the the miniscule flashlight was removed.  I wanted the computer monitor to shine light on Jack, so I drilled a hole in the computer, placed the light in, and diffused it with a bit of plastic.

Sadly, it didn't make much of an impact.  I couldn't see much difference with it on or off.  I'm glad I only wasted six bucks on it.

Chair in progress.  The chair and desk were loosely based on movie props from Jack's tower/study.

Here is the entire set-up!  This is the shot where Jack reaches up to spin the globe, as you can see on the laptop screen.  It also shows the audio clip broken-down for lip-sync.

A few of you may recall, had a commercial challenge back in February of 2012.  Audio clips were assigned to members, and then compiled together at the end of the month.  Ron Cole recorded that audio as well.:)  My contribution was the man watching the television commercial.  Here is that finished project:

<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

I conclude my ramblings with a photo of my siblings and I in the front of  "The World" theater in Kearney. Sadly, there were no stop-motion shorts up for an Oscar this year.  But they were all beautiful, entertaining, and technically AMAZING!  The Luxembourgish-French CG film titled "Mr. Hublot" won the award.  You could summarize the film as "Clifford, the big red robot."  It was not my first pick of the group, but what do I know?  I kept thinking what a thrill it would be to have your film distributed in theaters around the world!  <sigh>

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Various exciting things!

Christmas presents for me!  Mwahahaha!  Rachel wins the prize!

<clap clap clap clap clap>  Each and every one of these films are stunning works of art!  I'm  so happy to add them to my growing collection of stop-motion classics!

And here is my gorgeous t-shirt from Rachel!

My sweetie really out-did herself on this one!  It was created with freezer paper and bleach.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this.  What can I say, I'm a spoiled little husband.:)

Moving on...

One week ago, I had an opportunity to share my love of stop-motion with the local art club!  Rachel and I managed to pack 10 people in our tiny living room for our January meeting. For about an hour, I explained different styles and uses of stop motion, materials and techniques, and showed a bunch of different video clips.  I brought home 2 small sets with props and puppets, and did a brief demonstration of the process.  It really was fun showing my films, and cool to see how much I've advanced over two years!  Rachel was the perfect hostess, and had snacks and drinks ready  to serve.  It was a lovely afternoon.  I'm kicking myself for not taking any photos!  On Monday, I received a very sweet email from our club president, Sue Dowse:

"Your program was so informative. I enjoyed every minute and have a new appreciation of what it takes to produce a piece.  Your wry and warped sense of humor comes across in a way I thoroughly enjoy."

Moving on...

For those of you who don't know, the folks at Stop Motion Pro software company advertised a contest in their December e-newsletter:

I sent them a link to my video Sassy's Perfect Pet, which they shared with the other entries on their Google+ page!  Last week, I received an email saying they picked my animation as the winner!  They asked me to write a little article about myself and share some photos!  I will be sure to post a link to it when it's online!   I'm so excited about this, it's really great exposure of my work!   Here is a link to to all the entries.

In a few weeks, I will post about my latest creations!  I have a very big project planned for this year!  Can't wait to tell you all about it!

Monday, November 25, 2013

"After The Fact" and mold experimentation

We kept it short and simple this month!  The unicorn puppet from Sassy's Perfect Pet was really really fun for me to make and animate, so this story was written around his character.

The tree was made from bush clippings held together with hot glue.
The apples and worms were made from plasticine clay.

I wanted to try shifting the focus from the unicorn to the apple by turning the lens in small increments between frames.  I normally try my darndest to avoid touching or bumping my camera or tripod when animating.  A little nudge comes across as a huge earthquake.  So this felt weird to do, but I was pleased with the results!  I was quite close to the tree.
The worms are pretty sloppy, and the bouncing apple could've been cleaner.  But considering the shorter amount of time I invested, I am happy with this little animation!

Moving on...

Following a YouTube tutorial, I tried creating a plaster mold to use with my liquid latex.  It sort of worked.  I sculpted the character's head in plasticine clay, did some smoothing with rubbing alcohol, and covered it in petroleum jelly as a mold release.
Sculptors won't be impressed, but for my limited skill in this department, it's pretty good.

I made the walls and base out of foam core scrap, and placed the clay in upside-down.
 After the plaster dried, I heated the clay with a hair dryer and pulled it out.  Right away, I saw many many small air bubbles in my cast.  I had followed the package instructions, and added it in quarters, tapping it over and over to get rid of air bubbles.  The google tells me I probably mixed it too dry?  Grrrrr!

Since the clay sculpt was obviously destroyed anyway, I tried painting three coats of latex into the mold.

And  later, out came a little pimply rubber face!
Minus the air bubbles, it's pretty accurate to my original sculpt!  There's nothing supporting the inside, so it looks a little saggy in this photo.  Needless to say, I want to try this process again!

That's all for now, thank you for reading along!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sassy's Perfect Pet

I'm so very proud of this animation!  Rachel and I worked so hard on it.  I have a handful of behind-the-scenes photos I would like to share.

Believe it or not, our original story was more elaborate and complex.  After two weeks of intense set and prop building, we had to simplify things.  Sassy was originally a gingerbread man, but about halfway through production, I told Rachel I wanted to have the Sassy character instead.  Because Sassy WOULD live in a gingerbread house.  She just would. The existing Sassy puppet was too heavy and didn't fit the scale of the set.  Or the props.
Not gonna fit!  So, I made a new Sassy puppet that was smaller, much lighter, and able to be pinned to the set through the wooden blocks in her feet.  

The original Sassy is covered in fabric.  But on a whim, I bought some liquid latex mold builder from Hobby Lobby land.  The printing, or lack of, is hilarious and disturbing.  It's kind of fun figuring out what letters and words should be printed.  I colored it white with acrylic paints.  It would be translucent yellow by itself.
Anyway, this stuff smells terrible, but it was very easy to apply in a build-up fashion.  Here is Sassy when she was just foam and wire:

After one coat:
I believer I applied four coats of latex all together.
Almost done!
The original Sassy puppet has fake eyelashes attached to her clay eyelids.  Painted eyelids and eyes were much less frustrating to animate.  Before I made the executive decision to ditch the eyelashes, I bought some cheapos from the Dollar General:
Is anyone else REALLY super grossed-out at the thought of wearing someone else's hair on their eyes?  Nasty.  And no, they didn't have any plastic ones.  The scary checker made this transaction as awkward as possible,  OF COURSE she asked me if I intended to wear them?  I told her I was buying them for a puppet,  BECAUSE THAT DOESN'T SOUND CREEPY WEIRD?  Yes Jacob, it really does.  <sigh>


The unicorn's guts were made in a similar fashion.  And then sprayed with silver spray paint.
My original black velvet mane looked just a little too creepy.
I thought the tinsel would be too big and floofy, but it actually was totally perfect for this puppet.

I actually made a larger unicorn puppet out of foam and fabric.  I was still in denial regarding the use of tie-downs, and put magnets in hooves made of sugru.  Bad choices.  The sugru broke off and the magnets could not support the rather heavy puppet.  This puppet is cute but ENTIRELY dysfunctional to animate.  The second smaller puppet was sooooo much easier to work with, and I feel a far more original and expressive character.

Another failure was our over-ambitious attempt at a manual panning shot.  Rachel and I spent about 5 hours constructing a track with which to slide the SLR down in precise increments, at the perfect angle.  We were soooooo careful with our moves, but the camera rocked ever so slightly side-to-side.  If we wanted the perspective of a drunk clown descending in a broken hot air balloon, it would have been perfect.
On that dismal note, thanks for reading my first blog post!  I hope it was somewhat interesting!  This was a fun learning experience for us!