Still in the brainstorming part of how I'm going to create something a bit different, but have settled on a subject for this project:

Stop-motion animation, and its unchanging passion and discipline, from Harryhausen to Barry Purves to Aardman.

Just collecting a few videos that are something along the lines of what I'm planning:

Just a quick short I thought I'd do while I was stuck inside, and make use of the model I built a while back:

Just putting these online so I have a spare copy incase my memory stick should fail:

I saw this as a real freewheel of a project; having just been given a script and a deadline, in something none of my group had any experience of. It was exciting and frustrating, interesting and difficult, but never dull.

First I want to talk about this trial-and-error approach to this project, which in itself is very useful but starting from a 2D grounding in animation did not prepare us for the kinds of basic problems which cropped up throughout the stop-motion work. From building the armatures and sets to rigging and lighting, we were pretty much left to our own ideas and in some instances this worked, but in others it left us wanting.

Working as a team:
As we had a fairly small team to begin with (just the four of us) it made the project much simpler, but also increased each of our workloads respectively. With four main characters to build, with a possible horse and any ancillary characters too, as well as two sets we each had our work cut out. We had everything built on schedule though and everyone's models came together well. When it came to filming, four seemed to be the magic number: One could be operating the camera while one or two were animating depending on the complexity of the scene, with the third working on planning for the next scene or overseeing what was going on. Having a group of people who are as passionate bout the animation as you are yourself is exactly what you want, and what we got.

Early Ideas and Designing:
After first deciding on and choosing the script, the first step was storyboarding and deciding on the feel and atmosphere of the piece and its scenes. The script was split into three with each of us working on a separate section of it. These were then combined and the creases ironed out with much group discussion and idea-mingling. It was great to see a wide variety of ideas for each of the different team members, and see how people approach the same story differently. Any differences of opinion were discussed until we came to a conclusion about what would be best for the animation, and no real hard barriers were hit.

One of the first obstacles to crop up was the building of the armatures, with basic instructions and references to work from, I thought my best tactic would be to produce as many as I could before having to create any 'proper' pieces. This would hopefully eliminate any basic errors discovered through trial-and-error as well as give me some grounding in the fundamentals of building them. I also discovered a few tips and tricks of my own for making them more practical, such as using stripped electrical cable connectors to attach major limbs/heads, making them fully replaceable if they should wear out. Clothing turned out to not be as difficult as I first feared, however I was only gluing the clothes together, not sewing. But it held perfectly well enough for its purposes and was probably a bit quicker. (Claire's sewing of the hats and other items of clothing was amazing, and the tiny stitches did add to the intricate feel of the final models incredibly well) Also in the building process, realising that some of the more spindly models would need some sort of rigging structure paid dividends in the long run.

Setting up the sets and lighting took a little time, but could have been worse if i hadn't had most of the equipment (except the spotlights) myself. This was a fair bit of kit to keep lugging back and forth but was more than worth it in the long run as it allowed us more time and flexibility when filming. Several DIY inventions came up when films, such as greaseproof baking paper to diffuse the harsh spotlights for the indoor scenes, when using indoor dolls house lighting was too dim. It is crossing these small bridges when we come to them that keep stop-motion so interesting and challenging.

Finding that getting focus effects and pans was going to be somewhat more difficult than anticipated we cut a lot from the animation in favour of still images that could be pann across for a much smoother action. The shallow depth of field shifting we tried though came out very well, and I was more than happy with the results. I do feel I let some scenes down though as sometimes the auto-white balance would shift and I wouldn't notice, or something wouldn't be in good focus as it was hard to tell on the small screen infront of the hard spotlights.

Editing and SFX:
However, the applied old-timey filter that went over the animation covered up most white balance issues and even enhanced the 12fps look, really giving it a good hand-cranked camera look and feel. It was in the editing stage you could really feel the atmosphere of the piece truly come together, with the high-tension sections working especially well, and not feeling out of place with the almost comical music. A few sound effects were added, such as the yawn and burp, to add a little more character to the piece, but we felt we didn't want to add too many as then we should go the whole hog and SFX every detail. I think keeping a few signature sounds as well as the simple but effective soundtrack of silent-film-piano-music worked really well. (all the sounds were found online, without copyright restrictions, and I was surprised at such a selection freely available).

To summarise; I'm very pleased with this as my first ever scripted stop-motion animation piece. Yes, some things could have been done better, and there are things I would change if I were to do it again, but it works as a whole and completely captures what we first set out to achieve. I have learnt a lot from actually getting out and trying things and making the mistakes as we wen't along, and I can't wait to start the next one and put into practice what I've discovered!


Here is the final piece for assessment, big thankyou to everyone on the team, Claire, Jon and Toby

Anyway, have a watch and let us know what you think!

Here I have gathered some of the test shots and scenes used throughout filming, If you'd like to see the full collection, check out my Vimeo account

Possibly my favourite scene, the eating scene, as you can see here was a little quick and choppy before editing. A few doubled up frames and a bit of photoshopping and its all ironed out now.

The door swings down perhaps a little slowly to be realistic, but works well enough for out purposes.

The following two scenes were filmed backwards and then revered, as it was much easer to (1) push the guy in then let him go than grab his collar and drag him out, (2) pull the boots off than attempt to get them onto his feet while filming, although I admit a better angle could have improved the clarity of this scene.

Filming was serious business, so there are our serious business faces.

Planned solutions that succeeded: Making sure the set had removable walls so that we could vary the types of shots we could do in the animation. A nice example of pre-planning having a good payoff.

Planned solutions that failed: Dealing with sand; I thought some super strong rare-earth neodymium magnets would be enough to hold the characters up through the thin layer of sand on set. I was wrong, all the magnets did was stick both of the feet together, making them unable to be animated properly. Sand turned out to hold a lot of problems for animating, as is it not a stable base, for anything at all, and the constant re-smoothing of fingermarks and lines added a lot of time onto filming.

Other issues were numerous, some with simple solutions, some not. Here is a brief collection of some of the problems we ran into, which I made notes of:

  • Loose clothing - we should of found a way to stick hats down to stop them jumping all over the shop.
  • Auto White Balance - needed its eye keeping on while shooting.
  • Character build - longer legs next time, little ones are the devil to animate, also top-heavy characters are not the easiest things to work with either.
  • Pan shots etc are hard to do well on a cheap tripod, but we had to make do as MILO training never happened.
  • Stills can make effective shots with a bit of simple Ken-Burns effect.
  • Greaseproof baking paper makes a nice safe light diffuser for soft lighting (picture above)
  • Balsa wood looks like (surprise!) balsa wood unless you give it a wash/paint it/distress it a bit.
  • In fact - distress everything, it all seems to add character and make the set less bland.
  • Everything should be glued down unless it needs to move at some point.
  • Blu-tac is an essential item - I've never used it so much for anything in my life.
One of many, many, many light test photos
  • Light testing was essential to get a feel for the mood and atmosphere of a shot.
  • Shot testing, getting a good shot composition to make it clear what was going on in the shot, ie strong silhouettes. Some shots were better than others in the end.
  • If in doubt - do it again.

The original credits scene was going to be a pan across the wall of "Wanted" posters, which would have worked nicely, but turned out to be too impractical to do well enough. It did make it into the background of the DVD menu screen though.

I though a nice finishing touch would be a nice DVD case for the final film to go in, so I quickly photoshopped one together, but have yet to find a decent quality printer to print it off with! 

A scene-setting still with a planet Toby created in Photoshop, the whole purpose of the opening shots was to set the level of suspension of belief in the film; the audience need to know where they stand from the beginning. In this case, in space, but with cowboys!

Combining these two stills in photoshop, playing with the image elements until we get a suitable image for a zoom-in shot which sets the scene and shows some scale:

Little bit more digging on this Pope-visit visualisation:

£20,000,000 of tax payers money to be spent for a visit for only 4,500,000 practicing Catholics in the UK.

If we were to do the same for other religions to be fair, we would have to pay;

Over £1,700,000 to fund a visit for Mark Hamill or George Lucas, for all the registered Jedis (390,000+) in the UK.

Technically just as relevant as both are official religions in the UK.

Would be fun to illustrate.

Oh and another nice little bit of visual information I found:
Looking at personality and character:

Studies in Ink:

Pencil drawings from taxidermy:

Hand studies:
Mini Task:
Plan a motion graphic piece on a recent news item
Chosen Story:
Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom in 2010

Firstly; what are motion graphics? Some examples:

And perhaps my favourite:

So motion graphics are a sort of animated info-graphic piece that conveys information in a visually appealing way, able to convey a lot of facts and figures or opinions without boggling or overloading the audience.

Next; deciding on a topical news story I feel passionately enough about to work with. My first idea was that of Steam coming to Macs (natively) but this seemed a little lightweight and trivial, so I moved onto something that got my blood flowing: The Pope's planned visit to the UK in 2010, at the cost of approximately £20 million to the British taxpayers.

The dimensions and details of the information I want to convey:
+Some facts about the Pope himself and his 'special' views on discrimination etc
+Brief stories on how the Pope has 'helped' other countries in the past
+Information on the Vatican
+What the cost is to the UK and its taxpayers

Some facts about the Pope himself and his 'special' views on discrimination etc:
- His views on discrimination the the church - ie, there should be some.
Considering wealth is a sin...
-"The Catholic church is the biggest financial power, wealth accumulator and property owner in existence. She is a greater possessor of material riches than any other single institution, corporation, bank, giant trust, government or state of the whole globe. The pope, as the visible ruler of this immense amassment of wealth, is consequently the richest individual of the twentieth century. No one can realistically assess how much he is worth in terms of billions of dollars."

Brief stories on how the Pope has 'helped' other countries in the past
-Italy earthquake; on the Pope's backyard - Told America and Europe to fund the relief effort.

Information on the Vatican
-Smallest country with:
-260 police - that's 1 officer for every 2 residents, but yet:
-Highest crime-rate in the world
-Recent population of 492, with 341 civil cases and 486 criminal cases, but it has:
-No jail, and:
-90% crimes go unpunished

What the cost is to the UK and its taxpayers
-for only 4.5million practicing catholics in the UK
-Would we fund a Mark Hamill tour for all the registered Jedis in the UK?

Style of info-graphic?
Simple but quick moving, stylized and quirky, almost cartoon-like.

For several of the scenes we acted them out prior to shooting so that we could get a good feel for the character and scene, and in this case we each did our own interpretation of the scene so that we could combine the best aspects of each one to create the perfect 'waking up' scene.

Bit of blue card and, voila, instant stream (with blu-tac ripples)

The 'Saddle Cam Pro' rig - balsa wood and masking tape

Embiggenning the set for wider shots: