Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gregor paint

I feel pretty good when doing scenic painting on sets a props. It's not my strong point, but it's fun and works for my style of film. In the set painting, it's big with lots of washes and sanding and dry brushing and all sorts of things to distress and scale up everything. Fun. Character sculpting is much harder for me. The heads are about 2.5 inches tall and I will be shooting lots of close ups so they can't be as broad-stroked as my usual painting technique. That being said, I don't think they need to be precise or clean. I want everything to be a little rough (which ain't a problem with me at the helm).
I have been looking at a lot of paint work I like and something that I'm really into is non-realistic colors. A friend Brett Superstar ( paints with some crazy pallets and you don't question them. Blue face with red highlights? Looks great! So I am trying to get some of that into the paint jobs.
On Gregor's head, I did a fleshy base coat and then lots of funky washes. Some red nose and cheeks and he's done. Now he just needs brows and pupils. And it's on to the other characters!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gregor Puppet Build

For Gregor's puppet, I want a big blocky sculpt, but I don't want the mess and hassle of foam latex so I decided to build the puppet straight on the armature. I want ball-and-socket armatures for all of the puppets, but I don't have that kid of money so I decided to try out one of the armatures from. They came as a kit that took an hour or two to assemble and in the limited playing around i've done, it feels fairly smooth. I don't have much confidence in the armature's strength, so I was careful not to tension it too much. Just enough to stand on it's own. I got it from .

Gravity is the mighty enemy of stop-motion so it's important to make you puppet as light as possible. Chair foam is a great light spongy material. I traced a general outline into a block of foam and then cut it out. I then cut that shape in half, front to back and sandwiched the armature into the middle using some Barge. I carved the shape down with a razor blade until it was close to the right shape. The torso was so choppy that I laid some thin sheets of foam to make it a smooth surface. Now I had a naked foam Gregor.
There are different ways to costume a stop-mo puppet. My favorite look is having the cloths sculpted in foam or foam latex and then glueing the cloths to the surface. This is nice because it adds all of the texture and detail of real fabrics but maintains some sculptural quality that you'd lose if you made pants and put them on the puppet. What you glue with depends on the foam and the fabric. I have a stretchy material thats pretty thin for Gregor so I put pros-aid directly onto the foam and let it dry. 

 Then a cut a loose pattern for the parts of the suit and stretched them over the foam. I rub the fabric to get all of the air pockets out. Then I used some fabritac here and there to really secure the fabric.
Once the suit was basically done, I sew some seams and then glue strips of it to the puppet so the suit looks sewn and not glued together. Add a few buttons and cuffs and he's ready.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gregor Head Sculpt

I love sculpting! It's one of the most fun and rewarding parts on the production that on commercial work I never get a chance to do. For Gregor's head I started again with some very rough thumbnail drawings to find the shapes. I looked at some Russian royalty from the olden days and used that as a basis. When I had a few things that were starting to work I jumped right into the sculpt. I used sculpy because I wanted to be able to sand it down and make it really blocky in places.
Gregor will need replacement mouths, so when things were starting to get close, I cut his mouth off and worked on them separately. After some sculpting, baking and sending the mouth fit pretty well into the head. I put some half spheres in the back of the mouth and then propoxy into the head, pressed them together and then pulled them apart. This gives the mouth registration so it will always lock into place.

I took the two pieces and made a silicone mold of each. In the head mold I roto casted some plastic. Basically I wanted the head to be as light weight as possible. I filed the face half of the mold with the two part plastic, quickly closed up the mold and rotated it until it cured. A good trick my friend Scott showed me for this is to leave a little of the plastic mixture in a cup so you can see when the plastic has cured.

For the mouth, I casted plastic into the back of the mold (where the registration spheres are) and then pressed fresh sculpy into the front of the mold. Then I sculpted the mouth into the correct position. I had some sanding to make it fit, but not too bad. There will be big seams on the face where the mouth meets the head, but as I've said before, I love showing the process in the final product as long as it's not distracting. I am making a puppet film after all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hands part 2

So I Had two sculpted hands, ready and prepped for mold. Now I need to make the mold. The last mold I made was 10 years ago so I went back to my friend Marty for some pointers. As expected Marty took me to school. 

Because Im making silicone hands, I needed to make a stone mold. First I needed to build up a wall of clay ( to block off the plaster for the first half of the mold. I start with a wooden board as a base and rolled out a thin layer of clay. This way if the hands get presses down during the process, there's a water clay buffer between the hands and the board. I put the hands on top of the clay and press them in lightly. The I roll out some more clay. My hands are between ¼ and ½ inch ( they are thin in fingers and thicker in the palm) so the sheet of clay I rolled out was about 1/8 inch thick so that it come halfway up the fingers leaving one half of the hand exposed. I loosely cut out the shapes of the hands in the clay and then lay it down around the hands. Then I smoothed it up against the edge of the hands. You have to get it pushed tight against the sculpt your molding so the plaster doesn't leak in between the Klean Klay and the sculpt. Then I used a rubber sculpting tool and my good old fashioned fingers to smooth it out. 

Then I built up a wall about three inches high all around the mold. I smoothed the wall into the base again with tools and fingers. When I was done, it didn't look professional, but it looked good enough to do the job. 

I then put some “keys” onto the surface of the clay. The keys are shape that will help register the parts of the mold. Like teeth in two gears, they will fit the halves neatly into each other. I used some silicon keys that we have at bent, but in the past I've uses plastic spheres pushed halfway into the clay. I put some pro-mold release that we have at bent on the hands (you can use Vaseline too) and if I had used the plastic spheres I'd have put Vaseline on those.
Here's where I followed Marty's process very closely. I mixed up the hydra-stone. Starting with a small batch and keeping it pretty thin. Not watery, but not as thick as pudding. This fist layer is about getting into all the crevasses of the hands and getting rid of any air pockets. With a chip brush, I drizzle the plaster over the hands and then shoot a little canned air at it to push the plates into every crack. Once the hands are covered I let this layer set up for 15 minutes or so. Then I did the same thing again this time with a bigger batch of plaster. After that sets up, I grab a little hemp (I've used burlap in the past too) and ball it into little nests under the watchful eye of Marty. I dip those nests in some hydrastone and lay them on top and the drizzle the rest of the mixture over them. After this set up, I did one more thick batch of plaster and put it on. I left the whole thing for about 2 hours to dry.

Next I turned the whole thing over, and pulled out the Klean Klay. You can clean off the rest with a little bestine, but don't rub it too hard on the hands because it will eat through the pint and clay. ILastly I put in a few little squares of clay against the edges of the walls to be pry-points so that I could use a screwdriver to pry open the mold. Once it looked pretty good, I coated it all with Vaseline and did the plaster prosses the same way I did on the other side. 2 hours later voila! I have a mold. It ain't the prettiest thing, but now when my hands break in the middle of a shot, I can make a new one. I casted the hands in silicone, which is a whole other process Ill get into at some point. Its hard to do unless you have access to a place where they use it a lot, so not ideal for your basement. In the past, I have painted liquid latex into the mold, closed it around the armature and squirted in expanding foam, which might be a simpler solution if you have only your basement to work in.
Damn thats a long post.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hands Part 1

So as I begin the puppets for this film, I have started breaking down their parts and pieces. The first full puppet I am working on is Gregor. He's a big Russian dude. I have done some rough designs, but kept it loose so I can really design as I go with him. He's going to be a built up foam puppet over an armature with sculpted hands and face. So lets start with hands.
Hands are often over-looked and under utilized in stop-motion. You'll hear a lot from animation masters about the importance or eyes and faces in character animation. I agree 100% but somehow hands are often approached as an after-thought. This is partially because stop-motion hands are hard as hell to do on your own. I have the advantage of working in a commercial studio with access to the necessary elements. Traditionally, when you have to get things done fast or cheap or both, you use a dipping method. This is where you make an armature for the hand, and dip it repeatedly in latex until it builds up into a hand. This is great for those Rankin bass elf style hands and I have even had some luck using fun-foam as a base to get more shape out of the final hand. This is fine if this is how you have to do it (I've done all my hands this way until now) but I decided that I wanted more sculptural hands for this film so I am sculpting and casting.

To start, I built a wire armature glued with epoxy into a brass tube below the wrist. This way, when the wire breaks (which they always do) Ill be able to switch out a new hand fairly easily. Hands get a lot of wear and tear. You constantly move the fingers in the same places but they are small so they need to be smooth enough that you can get some subtly out of them. For me, those subtle hand poses really bring the rest of the pose to life. Look and an elegant dancer. When they strike a pose all the way to the fingers, its ten times more beautiful than a flat hand. So you want strong, but small and smooth. The standard for this is floral wire that you can get at any craft store.I usually do a mix; small gauge aluminum wire for softness and a doubled up steel floral wire for strength. When you are figuring out your wire mixture, play with it. Try to image the amount of material (cloth, latex or silicone) that it will have to fight against. Its a good rule of thumb to make it just a little stronger than you think it needs to be. When I have my wire mixture figured out I bend it into my desired hand shape and glue the wire into a brass tube with epoxy. Use the 2 ton stuff and let if cure over night. There's nothing worse than getting it in front of the camera and having it break out because the epoxy isnt strong enough. At thins point I start dipping it in some hot clay to coat the armature and then put more clay on that until its roughly the right shape. I like to carve away at my sculpts so its good to put too much clay on to start.
Work both hands at the same time. If you do one and then the other, you're likely to waste a lot of time trying to match things. If you take them both to rough and then to finish simultaneously, They are more likely to be symmetrical. For these, I wanted blocky squared edges wherever I can get them. I sculpted smooth and round until they we close to finished and then started breaking them down into planes and squaring corners. I added square knuckles for fun. I like things to be fairly clean, but not as clean as commercial stuff or toy sculpts. That style of sculpting is beautiful, but for me, if you are doing stop motion, it;s great to see the process in the product. Leave a little tool mark in there and it'll be more human in the end.
When they are done being sculpted I prep them for molding. This is something I've done many times before, the wrong way, so this time, I went to some friends for help. My friend Marty who does lots of puppet work at Bent Image Lab. He walked me through doing things the right way, and although I am always a bit rough around the edges, it wasn't too anal.
I sprayed the hands with grey primer and then marked with a black sharpy where I wanted the mold to divide. You make dotted lines along an imaginary edge so that when you build the walls of the mold you have a guide of where you want the seam to be. I made a simple 2 part mold so my dotted line went along the side of the hand and around each finger. It's important to note that if you want a simple mold, sculpt your stuff flat so that there aren't a ton of under cuts. If I sculpted the hand in some clawed position the mold would be a nightmare with all of the undercuts. Then I coated the hand with a thin layer of Vaseline. There are fantastic release agents you can get, but if you're doing this at home, Vaseline works great. Just be careful not too thick, or your mold will have a lumpy or brushed texture. So now we're ready to make a mold. This post is long enough, I'll get into that on the next rant.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Pep-talk for Getting Started

So the things that get me started on making a film are largely based on things that haven't worked before. I get an idea I am excited about, I think on it until it starts to come together, and then I procrastinate over fear from my past failures. I have never made anything on my own, that I don't cringe when watching days after completion. 

How do you get past this? The only way I have found is to accept this as reality and move ahead as if this will be the one I'm not going to be embarrassed by. In forging ahead, I try to pin point a few things that didn't work last time and change the approach on the newest film. One of the reoccurring problems I've had making films is boredom. Stop-motion, hell animation, is a long drawn out process. I heard once that tim burton prefers live action because he can be done with three movies in the time it takes for one animated one. So little old me, by myself? Its' gonna take at least a year, probably longer. What idea do I have that will be as fresh and exciting a year later? None.
Some people have said that unless your idea is good enough to keep your interest you shouldn't make the film. I disagree. I think if that is the case, the only films out there would be over thought, overworked bores. I have listened to songs that are great songs. I listen to them over and over for a month. After a while I can no longer hear them as I did in the beginning. Is it because the songs now suck? Were they not worth creating because I am tired of them? There is already enough out there t discourage film makers without some unrealistic expectation for film concepts. If the idea feels right, and you are not high or drunk, I think its a good idea. If you can't get it out of your head, do it.
I use other things to trick myself into continuing on the film long after the idea or story is a little stale. The best technique I have found so far is to compartmentalize the process, and leave each as open as possible. When I direct a commercial or music video, my goal is to communicate my ideas to other artists so that animation can happen in a shorter timeline. Thats a bit of a simplified version of directing, but it works well enough for this rant. In my own work, I try to only make decisions on what I have to and leave as many decisions open as possible. This way, six months down the road, I get to enjoy the creative process and come to everything fresh, instead of putting the peg in the predetermined hole for a year. 

Part of this blog is a way for me to keep track of the journey when I look back at the end. I have a script,but have not casted or recorded voices, nor have I storyboarded anything. I did however start making puppets. Ass-backward? Yes! But fun!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bert part 2

I originally intended to have Bert be a build-up puppet with silicon hands and feet, but later decided to sculpt his body as well. Not because it had to be that way, but more so I could really find his shape and more of the style of the film. I built a crappy wire armature, not for animation but just for sculpting. I painted on some warm clay and then added more clay once the wire was completely covered. Then I sculpted until he got pretty close. Because I am covering the body with real cloth, the surface doesn't have to be very smooth. The hands ad feet are more important because they will be casted in silicon, but even with them, I don't want my own work to be super smooth (not that thats is a real danger). It should show the process a little bit. Lots of accidents and flaws to prove it's all real. It would be really nice if I could take a few in-focus pictures