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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bert part 1

I started with the main character, Bert, because I wanted to figure out the look through his design. I had a lot of fun with the side characters in my last film “the Machine.” They were designed in 3D studio Max and and flattened out into paper models that I reworked in photoshop. Then I printed them out and folded them into 3D puppets. Designing for paper models forces you to be simple. Any extra polygon means more cutting and folding, which on a miniature scale can loo really sloppy. So you have to get your character out of a minimal amount of plane and surface changes.
So I initially thought that The characters would be papercraft. I love the look and I love the DYI aspect of it so I was excited to do a film where everything had that look. After I talked to a few friends about the script, I decided that although I love papercraft, it wasn't right for this film. As a material it has implications and the viewer is very conscious of the material. The viewer questions “why paper?” “what does the paper mean?” which I think is distracting in the case of this film, so I decided to go with a more traditional stop motion puppet approach. I liked where Bert's design was going, so I tried to keep the squared-off planer style of the design in the sculpt. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hello Internets

Here's the start of my first production blog. I've started it as a journal for my new film "Two Pills." I'm just getting started, but I'll be posting thoughts about making your own stop motion films with very little money and some love.