Evaluating "They Call me Trinity"

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!


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