Category Archives: Lighting

Hard to Believe

It’s hard to believe,  but I am finished shooting the puppet / 3D set scenes.  Finished, after almost two years of working (on and off) on these scenes.  This is a big relief, as these shoots seemed like the hardest part of the filmmaking process, with all their unknowns… but of course I also feel a bit sad, as I do enjoy the process so much. Earlier this week I said goodbye to the puppets, and all my rented & borrowed equipment.

So since I last posted here, I have shot over a minute of cabbage shots, as well as the final three scenes, which involve the family of puppets sitting at a dining room table.  For the final scene, I rented a 3 foot linear bed from Whites, which allowed for a zoom out.  Let me tell you, these things are *amazing…*  There are so many possibilities to introduce smooth, easy camera moves with these things.  So easy to use — this one was perfectly smooth-sliding yet immovable once fixed — and easy to animate, as there’s a handy aluminum strip that my ruler measurements fit perfectly onto, and the little rubber stopper bit provided just the right vertical marker.  Marcus suggested a few other possibilities for this contraption, like of course dollying through a shot sideways, either hanging the bed and camera from the ceiling and flying through, or… or… well the possibilities are endless.  Camera moves are exciting!

Here’s a little video of me playing around with it…

Here is what went on behind the scenes.  I’ll do up a little post on the lighting setup when I get the chance.

This is the way I animated the camera — made a ruler in photoshop, complete with eases in and out…

Also had to animate most of the practical lights, dimming out at the end.  So their dimmers had circular rulers as well.  The notebook was to keep track of what I needed to animate — it was easy to get confused!

And finally, here is the precious, dear equipment that I had to return…  I’ll miss you, dedo kit with projection lens, and you too, my newfound friend, the 3 foot linear bed… sniff, sniff.  Maybe one day we’ll meet again…

The final scene —

So in terms of my progress:  all 3D stop motion scenes, including cabbage scenes, are done.  Next up:  opening titles, which will also be shot stop mo, and then I’m onto my 2D / 3D ink painting effects…  This week I build yet another miniature set for the opening titles.  Hopefully it’ll turn out the way I’m picturing it; I’ve had a couple false starts so far, but I think my current idea will work.

Final Scenes!

I have so much to write / post about here… but I am a very bad blogger.  Hopefully once things settle down I can post up some of the things I’ve been working on.

In the meantime, here’s a quickie… this scene feels like a culmination of a lot of people’s hard work… and I’m very excited that it’s going so smoothly so far!  I have two weeks left to finish up these final 3 scenes.  And let me tell you, I am SO thrilled about how they’re going so far.  Thanks to everyone who’s helped out — Marcus, Alli, Brian, Irene!!!  You guys are the best, and I simply cannot thank you enough!  I’m so, sooooo happy. Oh and those are Miriam’s little white chairs!  Thanks for those, too!!

This is just the WIP lighting setup — still a few things to tweak, and a few camera angles to figure out.  But I’m showing it here anyway because I’m just too excited about how it’s coming together…

In a short 2.5 weeks or so, ALL of the puppet / 3D set filming will be COMPLETE!!!!  Hurray!

Click to see the full picture…  Oops, there is fun-tak on the floor… Ah well it is just a work in progress…

Sabela Cutting Cabbage: Lighting Breakdown

I’ve put together another little lighting tutorial — how ironic, since lighting is the one area I knew nothing about when I started this project.  However it seems to be going pretty well, helped swiftly along by the quality of the pre-established setups by a pro cinematographer — Marcus Elliott — and the things I’ve learned from him.

There are 8 lights on this scene, and 5 of them are either cheaply made or relatively cheap to buy.  So I thought a description of this particular setup might be helpful.

Sabela Cutting the Cabbage — Lighting Tutorial from Stephanie Dudley on Vimeo.

  1. Dedo w/ projection lens, angled from above, lighting the front of Sabela
  2. 150W Arri, also from above, shining directly down, from the side (highlighting Sabela’s left arm, and the rim of the cabbage)
  3. LED taped to a piece of white card, shining fill light to Sabela’s right side, and to light the copper pot (here is where I got the LEDs…  from a local dollhouse company.)
  4. LED light nested on the floor of the stage, shining up directly beside (and slightly behind) Sabela, providing a rim light on her left side, and a sparkle in her left eye
  5. LED light tucked behind counter, lighting the back wallpapered wall
  6. Home-made soft box lighting back countertop (for a how-to on making these, see this post)
  7. A second home-made soft box lighting the front countertop (which really only lights the face of the cabbage in this scene)
  8. A softbox built around a 150W Arri, lighting directly above the fridge in the BG.

A lot of these lights were “discovered” by moving the existing lights around a bit, turning them on and off (kind of like what I did with this video tutorial), nudging them left or right, and seeing what worked and what didn’t.  Same goes for camera… a little higher, a little lower, a little closer, further, until it’s just right.  Throughout the film, it has taken longer to set up each scene — camera, rigging, and lighting — than it has to shoot them.  This is the result of a personal philosophy… I feel like the beauty of a film is in the details, the things that contribute most dramatically to the overall mood of the piece… and for me, the animation itself is almost secondary.  Almost.  I certainly don’t sweat the animation as much as I do everything else.  In fact, I enjoy the animation process so much that the end result in this almost does not matter.  Almost.  (Perhaps what I’m saying here is sacrilege for many animators…)

I’ve been trying to arrange and organize the sound processes, recording, sound design, and mixing, many months down the road…  sound and lighting both add SO MUCH to a film’s atmosphere.  I’m very much looking forward to that stage, as well… sitting in a recording studio in Montreal, recording voice and music… I really can’t wait.

Anyway, about the lighting, I’m finding that it just needs to be meddled with until there is an “aha” moment.  Sometimes that can take a couple of days.  (This 10 second scene, for example, took 2 days to light and rig, one day to shoot.  Many of the scenes have taken much longer than this for setup…)

The Big Climb, and Some Underlighting

Last week I shot the next scene on the list, scene 19.  I picked a relatively easy one to start with, because I need to ease my way back into the project slowly… How easy it is to forget everything and lose momentum.

Anyway, in case you have also forgotten what scene 19 was all about, I’m filling in the shots outlined in this previous post.  I decided to go with version one of this sequence, in which Sabela examines the cabbage, and takes it over to the stove.  A simple enough set of actions… but how do we make it interesting?

So, after all the anxiety (and fun) that has gone into this project so far, I somehow decided to approach these sequences a little differently.  The previous shots here and here were very thoroughly planned… and they had to be, I think.  There was a lot happening, and because of the rig removal, I needed a repeatable sequence, so that I could create a backplate to paint out the puppet’s rigging.  Not yet sure if that idea will even work… but I got the feeling at the end of that shoot that there was a little something missing.  Maybe it lacked spontaneity?  Or could it have benefited from more walk cycle practice?  Yes, and yes.

There’s always a fine line between improvisation and practiced effort.  The balance is fine in any art form, but it seems to be particularly difficult in stop motion, because things happen so slooowwwly.  I imagine improvising music, for instance, might be a very different experience than improvising animation.  When it takes an entire day to contemplate the motions that, when played out, will eventually happen in a few seconds… well, the spontaneity takes on a different flavour.

Someone once explained the physical power inherent in Tai Chi by comparing the practice to the stretching of a rubber band.  If you stretch the rubber band to its limit, and colour it with a black marker, and then release the stretch, the black ink becomes much more concentrated.  Similarly, if you practice a martial art in slow motion, with greater attention to detail of each motion, and then speed up these movements, your movements will contain more force and precision.

It’s the same with stop motion, I think.  We are slowing down each movement, studying it in its smallest, 1/24-of-a-second detail, and practicing this kind of awareness of the world.

So, to just go into a movement without much thought… well it becomes difficult.  I experimented a little with this clip (and, after all this pontification, I should remind you that I am not the best character animator in the world… usually I feel like I am just practicing) by just winging it.  I knew I wanted the little girl to end up kneeling on the stool, and I kind of knew how she might get there, but I didn’t practice it beforehand, or do much planning (other than pretending that I was climbing a stool myself, to see how I would do it.)  One step followed the next, and somehow she ended up on top of the stool.  Whew!

I had a couple of problems with the animation — one of course is that she is supported from above, so there was nothing grounding her feet as she climbed.  The foot that her body is supposed to be weighted on was sliding all over the bar stool lower rung, and the only way I could really make it still was by toggling between frames until it lined up (more or less) with the previous frame.  This made her movements rather imperfect… But these days I am embracing imperfection, and just going with the flow.  She managed to go from A to B, and I find the pause in between kind of cute.

In the name of spontaneous animation, I am 95% resolved to do only one take for the remaining shots left of the film.  We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, here is the (very short) clip:

Another thing I did last week was set up the lighting and camera for the next shot.  I’m quite proud of the way this turned out, because, though I’m using Marcus’ previous lighting setup, I modified it to suit the camera angle myself.  I put together a little animated clip of all the test shots, so you can see the progression.  Hopefully I can remember more or less the thought process that went into these decisions:

Unfortunately a lot of the nice details are lost here in the YouTube compression…  I’m still in the process of figuring out what to do about this, but I’ll probably switch everything over to vimeo soon…

Anyway, the breakdown:

  1. Here the lights are pretty much as they were in the previous shot, which was taken from an angle perpendicular to this.  Therefore the fridge behind her is in shadow, and the front of the cabinets aren’t lit very well.  She is being blasted by a single light — the overhead Dedo with the projection lens.  This light seems bright, but I’m not sure what to do with it yet.
  2. She is also looking a little scary when lit this way.  I try repositioning her, and moving the camera a bit, to see where she is framed best, and what her best angle is.  Do I shoot from above slightly?  Or below?  Just figuring this out.
  3. Trying a different position for the Dedo that is lighting her from the front.
  4. More of the same.  Also playing around with the softbox that is lighting the cabinets — it doesn’t seem to be reaching the front doors very well.
  5. Trying a more symmetrical camera framing.  Also moving the small softbox that was lighting the side of the fridge over, so that it lights the face of the fridge a little better.
  6. Now playing around with the background lights, catching the highlights of the fridge handle.
  7. Here I try lighting Sabela from below, using those LEDs that were lighting the back stage wall before.  Interesting?  Spooky?  Not quite sure yet.  But the light is creating a little glint in her eye, which I like.
  8. Moving around the LEDs, and the puppet…
  9. Trying a far-away fresnel, heavily scrimmed and gelled, to light the fridge and countertop doors.  I feel like this washes everything in light too evenly.
  10. Nix that light.  Now it’s just the overhead softboxes (one over the counter, one over the fridge), the LEDs shining up onto the puppet, and the overhead Dedo with projection lens, which I have now tilted down so it’s just hitting the cabbage.
  11. Now we’re getting somewhere… more moving around these lights…
  12. – 18.  More of the same…

19.  I pull the two LED lights a bit further away, to make the light less dramatic

20.  I turn the overhead Dedo off, just to see what it looks like with MORE dramatic underlighting…  Also add another LED in the background, with some diffusion paper, to add a bit of interest and contrast there…

Final — voilà!  I’m liking this effect.  I have moved the cabbage lower so that it’s not creating harsh shadows on her face.  She has a nice glimmer in her eye from the reflection of these lights, and the cabbage looks good.  The background details can be picked up, but are not too prominent.  I like the shadow of her that now appears on the fridge.

I’m shooting this (purposefully) with a really shallow depth of field.  The camera is set up with a macro lens, a 100mm, set wide open — to f/4.5.

Here are some shots of the lighting and camera setup:

Here you can see the low camera angle, and the fact that it’s upside down!  Luckily Stop Motion Pro flips the image right-side-up for me 🙂

Of course, I have to set her up with proper rigging…  the clothespeg / clamp setup is just temporary.  Since we can’t see her feet in the shot, I’ll have to come up with something sturdy that will hold her legs and clamp down to the set somehow.

Here’s the overall setup.  Some lights are not really being used in this shot, but I’ve left them there for future shots in this sequence where we might see more of the set.  I’m basically just using the two overhead Dedos — one at the far right, and one at the far left of the overhead grid — as well as the two softboxes — one over the fridge, one over the countertops.

The adventure continues… thanks for reading!

Walk Cycle — Check. Plus Lighting Tutorial #2

So, there’s good news about the Walk Cycle dilemma; I went ahead and got the shot done.  It’s done!  Though far from perfect, I’m pretty happy with it.  There were a couple of lighting mishaps that are fairly major, but not unfixable:  LOTS of sudden flicker in those LEDs for some unknown reason; two of the fresnel lights had shifted before the shoot, but can be painted out with a corrected RAW file in post; two of the practical lights didn’t come on when they were supposed to…    And in terms of the animation, the character kind of looks like she’s stumbling.  But at least her walk isn’t as robotic as it was in my test cycles.

This scene was such a challenge!  Not only is the character walking, but everything else is animating onto the set behind her.  Luckily I had a couple of gracious helpers in animating this scene.  While I animated the character and cabbage, Miriam and Alli were animating the set elements and lights.

I can write an entire post on all the meticulous prep-work that went into making this shot.  One cool discovery is that I figured out how to (very simply) make a logarithmic scale of motion using After Effects.  This technique allowed me to chart out movements that had an ease in / ease out to them, or a gradual increase in movement.  For example, I wanted the walls to gradually speed up as they were lowered.  This would have been agony for me to figure out with a calculator (it’s been a while since I learned this type of thing in math class) but After Effects and Excel can figure it out very easily.  (More on this later if anyone’s interested).

The specs of this shot are:

1-second shutter at f/5.6, Canon EOS Mark III with a 45mm tilt shift lens.  The lights were very dim, allowing us to have a wider aperture and longer shutter speed.  The wide aperture was in the hopes of minimizing flicker (which, unfortunately, we encountered anyway) and the long shutter speed was to allow me to move the camera for a nice motion blur on the whip pan.  Because the halogen puck lights that were used in the two softboxes were very dim, we had to dim all other fresnel lights with multiple scrims and ND filters in order to balance this out.

The lighting breakdown is as follows:

1.  Front spotlight on Sabela and Cabbage.  This was a 150W Dedo light, with projection lens attachment, iris, and orange gel.

2.  Back spotlight on Sabela.  To fill in shadow left by light #1.  This was a 150W Arri with narrowly open snoot, also with an orange gel.

3.  Overhead light:  plate shelf.  Pointing straight down, directly above the plate shelf, was a 150W Arri, with barn doors open just a slit.  Flagged to cover just the front portion of the plates.  Warmed up with an orange gel, and dimmed with scrims and ND filters.

4.  Overhead light:  cookbook shelf.  150W Arri with snoot, pointing straight down onto shelf.  Filtered and gelled as above.

5 & 6.  Countertop softboxes.  These were positioned directly above the countertops, and tilted slightly back, so that the light scrapes the front of each cabinet.  These boxes were constructed with hardware-store halogen lights and art-store materials.  (See the tutorial here.)

7.  Chair softbox.  This could have been built the same way as the others, but this one was built quickly with what we had on hand at the time — an Arri.  The box itself was built in the same way, with fomecore, diffusion paper, and an aluminum grid, but it was attached to the barn doors of a 150W Arri.

8.  Pot highlight.  This was another 150W Arri positioned in the front right corner of the stage, pointing back to the stove at a 45 degree angle.  The light was flagged by foamcore that had a 2mm (or so) slit cut into it, to limit the amount of light.  Flagging right next to the light softens the edge of the flag.  The flag (gobo?) was covered with orange gels and ND filters to achieve a subtle glow.

9.  Bounce card on outer wall.  This was to light the wall in an overall way, for the whip pan into this scene.  The card was angled away from set in attempt to avoid any spills into the theatre.  It’s a 150W Dedo with flags open just a slit.

10.  Scallop light on outer wall.  This light is also for the whip pan wall.  It’s a 150W Arri with a snoot, pointing down close to the wall in order to create a scallop effect.

11.  LED backlights.  These are positioned 3-4 cm away from the back theatre wall, between that wall and the 2 walls that are lowered down.  They are animated to dim up as the scene progresses:  at first they are there to create a soft warmth at the back of the theatre; then as the kitchen walls are lowered down, they become backlights, and need to be brightened so they can be seen at the top.  There are 4 strips of LEDs here, with 4 lights on each.  They’ve been warmed up with orange gels.

12 & 13.  Stove light and Window light LEDs.  Again these are strips of LEDs.  The stove light has been warmed up with an orange gel, while the window light is gel-free.

14.  (I forgot to mention this one in the quicktime breakdown below…)  The Pendant light.  This is a tiny incandescent “candle” bulb that I bought at a dollhouse store.  I made the fixture out of various things — I think the round bit was a gourd.  This one also animated up as the scene progresses, though the light wasn’t working for the first 20-30 frames as it comes in.  (Fix it in Post!)

And, nervously, I present you with a rough edit of the three scenes shot so far:

Hard vs. Soft lighting, and How To Build a Small Softbox

Marcus and I have finished (more or less) the lighting setup for the next shot of the film:  the intro to the kitchen, above.  It was a crash lesson for me in the differences between hard and soft light.  I mean, I vaguely understood the difference before, but this setup made it clear what works best for small, intricately detailed sets.  (For some great little tutorials explaining hard light vs. soft light, try here, and here, and here.)

The verdict (for now) is:  small, controlled soft lights work well for larger spaces of gentle, moody lighting, while tiny pools of hard light work well to accent specific textured areas.  The key here is keeping ALL light sources small and controlled.  Most of this set is lit from above, which is what would happen anyway (pretty much) in a real theatre, but also it allows the light to scrape the surface of the items in the set, showing off their textures well.

The problem as Marcus described it is that our small 150 Watt fresnels are designed to light up sets at their regular, real-world scale.  If you were to scale up these lights along with the kitchen set to match the kitchen’s real-world scale, the lamps would all be at least a foot in diameter.  That’s pretty big for all the moodiness, subtlety, and texture we wanted to achieve here.  The soft lights (made by bouncing hard light off a large piece of white foam core) we had used in the last setup don’t work well in this context, because they would be too hard to control.  There would be too much spill to where you don’t want any light, creating too much ambience.

So we went for two solutions to the problem of overscale lighting.  We either used snoots on the lights, to create the smallest of spotlights, or, for lack of snoots, made flags as close to the light as possible, so that the lights only emit through a tiny area.  (When flags and gobos are close to the light, they create soft shadows; when further away from the light, the shadows get harsher.)  These were our hard lights (used to bring out some textures, like the stack of plates on the wall.  The harsh shadows caused by the hard light emphasize the linear pattern of the plates.)

For the softer lighting effects above the countertops and lighting the fridge and chair, we built some custom-made softboxes.  We made two versions:  one was attached to a fresnel, taped on to the barn doors like an added snoot extension (for lighting the fridge); and the others (for the 2 countertops) were made using very cheap puck lights from Home Depot, some foam core, and a few other things, which I will explain below.

Here’s what you need:

1.  Lights.

These 120 volt halogen puck lights were very cheap — $19.99 for 3.   They’re dimmable, though slightly warmer than our other fresnel lights, so the other lights needed to be warmed up with orange gels to compensate.  These each had their own power source, which is important — you don’t want the type of puck lights that string together onto one power cord.

2.  Diffusion Paper.

This stuff is just vellum, as far as I can tell.  Just make sure it’s heat-proof.  I’ve read that parchment paper can work for this too, as it’s designed to be used in an oven.

3.  Tape.

I used a layer of aluminum tape that’s usually used for duct work, available at a hardware store.  The advantage to this stuff is that it’s heat resistant.  I also used black duct tape to cover up the shine of the aluminum.

4.  Honeycomb grid.

This was a present from Marcus — it’s been sitting in his garage, unused, since 1984, apparently.  It comes from an airplane hangar?  Or the plane wing?  Or something.  But it’s commonly used in lighting, just for this sort of application.  You can also use the grids that cover those institutional-type fluorescent fixtures — kind of a white plastic grid.  The honeycomb pattern is a little more advantageous, but the square pattern of those white plastic lighting covers will do.

5.  A large-ish sheet of black foam core, 3/16″ thick.  It has to be black, so it contains the light and doesn’t bounce it everywhere.

How to build the softbox:

1.  Cut honeycomb grid and diffusion paper to size.

The size should basically be the area that you want to light, and fairly small.  These lights don’t spread much across the diffusion, as they’re not too powerful — these ones were built to be around 4″ by 10″.  The idea was to have one softbox hovering over each of the countertops, which were about this size.  Tape the edges of the grid with aluminum tape (if they’re sharp metal), and attach the diffusion paper to one side.  This side goes on the inside of the box.

2.  Cut foamcore into shape to make a box.  I cut one large sheet that was the full dimension of my box, 10″ by 22″, then scored creases so that it folded into a box shape.  (Sorry, I didn’t take in-progress pictures!)  So, the final box was going to be 10″ wide, 8″ high, and 5″ deep.  So I knew one side would be 8″, the top 5″, the other side 8″, and the bottom 1″ (to allow for a 4″ opening for the grid.)  Total = 22″ in length.  I then scored one side of the foamcore into these dimensions, and folded it up into a rectangular, open-ended box.

I cut 2 pieces of 8×5 foamcore for either side of the box, and taped all the seams (including the scored ones, to reinforce them) with the aluminum tape.

3.  Measure the diameter of the light casing, and cut a hole.  You could put 2 puck lights per box, depending on how bright you want the source to be.  We used 1 for each of these.

4.  Secure the grid to the open space at the opposite end of the light.

The light shines through this, down through the diffusion paper, and through the honeycomb.  The diffusion paper softens the light, while the grid contains the soft light and prevents it from shining all over the place.

We taped a grip plate to the side of the box, because that was what worked best with the set — we could only put the grip in from the side.

I then covered all the aluminum tape with black duct tape, so that the aluminum wouldn’t reflect onto the set.

5.  Insert the light.

The light should be pretty snug, so that it doesn’t drop into the box.  Then it can be taped in place with a few pieces of the aluminum tape — not too many, in case you need to adjust it.

6.  Carefully poke a few air holes through the top of the box.  These lights will get pretty hot, so it’s important to let heat escape.

That’s it, then rig in place!

Just for comparison — here is my original, lame attempt at lighting this same set.  There is some soft light on the fronts of the cabinets, making lots of ambient light, and soft shadows, but not really being controlled well.  Then there’s a hard light lighting the fridge and chair in the corner — hard frontal lights create ugly harsh shadows.

In fact, if you just compare that area of the set, you can see the difference between hard and soft light.  The image on the left has a 150 watt Arri directed at the fridge, and on the right is the final lighting setup, where this corner has been lit by a small foamcore softbox.  It’s a tricky comparison, because some other things changed — the focus, for example — but you can see the difference in the quality of light and shadow pretty clearly (click to enlarge):

I’m off to Vancouver and the BC islands for a couple weeks, surfing, hiking, and yogaing, but I’ll do a more detailed post on this lighting setup when I get back.  It’s a good one — lots of lights, flags, and the new softboxes!

Happy Spring!

Lighting Breakdown for Scene 14

As promised, I’ve documented the setup for Scene 14, which is the one following the Amelie-like shot of Sabela looking out the window. Here we see her from the other side of that very same window. What started out as a simple 7-second shot somehow turned into a mammoth lighting and dolly setup that took about 2 weeks to design and build.

I’ve made a video and some panorama collages of the setup, in the attempt to explain what’s happening there lighting-wise. The info is second hand from Marcus, remembered and repeated with 90% accuracy, guaranteed 🙂

It’s 10 minutes long, but be sure to watch til the end, where I show a little timelapse of the lights turning on sequentially to light the scene, so you can see what each one is doing.

We used a total of 11 lights on the scene. Three Dedos, eight Arris — all 150 Watts.

The Breakdown (more or less in order of how they were added to the setup):

1. The Main Light: Dedo with barn doors, orange gel. This is the warm side light to illuminate Sabela and the window wall. The light bounces off a large white foam core card: the card is the light source here. (Bouncing lights off cards helps to soften them in such a small, delicate set.) The light is flagged by four pieces of foam core, which help crop the light into a vignette on the wall, and limit the light on Sabela’s legs, so that they fall off into darkness at their base. (We will have to bring back this vignette effect in post, as some of it was lost when lights #9 and 10 were added at the end… Those two bounce cards spilled a lot of light everywhere, which you can see happening in the timelapse at the end of the video above.)

2. Special Dedo. This light has a projection lens and iris unit, which allows us to have a precise spotlight on Sabela’s face. The light is filtered through a diffusion gel to soften its edges, as well as a pinkish-orange gel, as her face was looking a little sickly green without it. (Maybe because of the green hue to the glass?)

3. Blue Gel Arri from Below. This one shines up onto a piece of white foam core on the outside of the wall, opposite to the orange foam core of the main light. This bounces to create a soft blue moonlight on the outer wall, as well as a 3/4 backlight to Sabela’s face. It also helps fill the shadows created by the Main Light.

4. Back Blue Gel Arri. A light shining through a flicker rig, as well as diffusion paper-backed black wrap. The black wrap has been punctured with strategically-placed and -sized holes, creating a small starfield in the window.

5. Far-Away Dedo. This orange-gelled light has barn doors that are open about 1mm, just creating a soft-edge highlight on the red theatre curtain, which is reflected in the window.

6. Line of 4 LEDs. These are lined up at the back of the theatre set, out of sight. They are placed about 5 cm from the back wall of the theatre, and cast a gradated glow there. Since LEDs tend to be cooler than incandescents, we’ve added orange gels to them.

7&8. Pair of Arris with snoots. These are placed at a sharp angle above the extra theatre wall to create two scalloped beams scraping down the side of this wall.

9&10. Two foam core bounce cards (lit by another pair of Arris). These fill in the details of the wall that weren’t lit by the scallops: the wood below the chair rail of the wall, and the wallpaper detail to the right of the scalloped lights.

11. Hair Light Arri. This was brought in at the end of the lighting design process: the finishing touch. The back of Sabela’s head was getting lost in shadow; it seemed like she needed a highlight in her hair to add some dimension to her head. The light is flagged to avoid spillage onto the window frames.

The Star Field (& Apparatus):

To animate Sabela more easily, and — particularly — to add and remove her eyelids when she blinks, Marcus suggested using a piano hinge to rig up the window wall. This way the wall can lift up between shots, making Sabela more accessible. The hinged wall locks into place with rare earth magnets at the base, ensuring that it lands in the exact same place every time.

High fives to Marcus for his awesome lighting job on this one!!!

Now to tear it all down…

*Edit* — Here is the shot itself, pre-post FX.

In the Meantime… Darkness & Dolly Tests.

I’m very close to shooting the next scene, but have been working out some wobbly dolly issues.  I think I’ve figured out a solution, albeit a temporary one — it’s the Fix It In Post solution, I’m sorry to say.

The good news is that it’s exciting to see the scene move in 3 dimensions as the camera pullback.  With our 3 main planes — the theatre set, window pane, and starry sky — there’s an interesting parallax to the scene as the camera moves through space.  And, of course, the lighting that Marcus has set up is so lovely.

On Friday the west end of Toronto had a power outage for 24 hours, which threw off my schedule a bit.  I can’t believe this kind of thing can happen here, but we had no power in the house (and studio) for an entire 24 hours, in -20 degree C (-4˚F) temperature.  The inside of the house was 4 degrees C (40˚F) at its coldest.  Memorable moments include trying to pour olive oil out of the bottle onto a salad and finding out that oil can completely solidify in cold temperatures; seeing my breath in the air while talking on a dying cellphone; huddling with 2 cats under quilts and blankets; and actually wishing I had access to a dozen or so Snuggies™ so that I could read a book in bed without taking my arms out of the covers.  (Clearly delirium had set in…)  I was eventually rescued by friends in the area who had heat and power, and kindly plopped me down under an electric blanket, with food and tea.

Now, all warm and cozy, I love and appreciate furnaces and cups of tea more than ever before, and I’m back to figuring out how to fix the matter of the wobbly dolly.

My best solution for now is this:  Tracking the corner of the window frame in After Effects, but not actually repositioning the shot… just analyzing it.  Then using the image of the path of tracking points, attaching the footage to a Null object layer, and repositioning it (via the Null) frame by frame, by eye.  If anyone out there knows AE, and a way to do this with expressions, please let me know; but for now, the “by eye” method doesn’t seem too bad.  I don’t want to stabilize the footage, because the window does need to move through frame — I just want to see how the path deviates from a straight-ish line, and fix that.

Here’s what the tracked path analysis looks like, above left, zoomed in 800% to the upper left corner of the window frame (which made a good high-contrast tracking point.)  To the right is the Null object correction for the jitter.

The “Before” footage of the dolly move.  There are a couple of lighting pops, in the overall lights and in the starry background, but I know what’s caused them and I’m mainly looking at the dolly move here.

And the “After,” which is my stabilized version.  I think it worked out pretty well…  Not perfect, but I didn’t spend TOO much time on it as it’s just a test.  I only did the AE test to see if the footage COULD be stabilized without compromising the overall effect, and I see now that it can be done.  So, for now, the dolly will be fine!

I know I promised a lighting setup diagram, but it’ll have to wait til I get these issues sorted, and shoot the darned shot.

Groovy New Clothes and Dolly.

I don’t know what it is about the holidays — the non-stop eating, visiting, socializing, languishing in PJs til noon every day, or what, but it’s been extremely hard to get my butt back in gear this past week or so.  Not so long ago I used to get up at 6 or 7 am and work pretty hard all day, getting lots done, and feeling pretty accomplished.  Lately I’ve been dragging myself out of bed no earlier than 10:00, and my brain does not wake up fully until later in the afternoon.  The simplest of tasks takes three times longer than usual.  I feel like I’m in a bit of a daze.

I’m hoping to get back to my usual schedule and frame of mind soon.  It’s been a very sad week — we found out that our cat, Nova, has lymphoma.   Her health has been slowly deteriorating, and there’s not much we can do other than try and keep her comfy and give her lots of TLC.

In film-related news, here’s what’s been happening:

Alli has finished two of the puppets’ clothes.  Here’s what Sabela’s mom and dad are looking like:

So this is Liberdade and Xosé Luís, clothed in their 70s-inspired grooviness.  I’m particularly fond of the velvet pants on Xosé Luís — I could not stop laughing when I first saw him in his outfit, he was just so adorable.

These guys will be sitting, along with Sabela and her sister Abigail, at the dining room table in the final scenes of the film.

So that’s what’s happening with the puppets.  There’s also been lots of rigging and planning going on for the upcoming couple of shots.  Marcus has spent hours and hours building dolly tracks and rigging his 3-way geared head with scales for tilts and pans…

The tilt scale, above.

The base of the geared head, with rigging for the pan scale.

Here’s the pan scale, which is sandwiched between the head and the dolly.

The dolly, with geared head attached.  Marcus built this mostly of plywood, with a box housing the geared head that slides on two 5/8″ aluminum rods.  The rods are slightly bendy, which isn’t a problem with this shot, but may be later on.  The dolly is strapped onto the arm of our studio stand, extending beyond the arm into a diving board, which has been stabilized by several 2x4s screwed into the floor.

The next scene of the film involves a track back with the camera, which uses the entire length of the dolly.  The setup for this shot takes up most of the studio, so it’s hard to capture on camera, but here’s a glimpse of what it looked like a couple of days ago.  It’s 99% done, so once it’s done, I’d like to figure out what Marcus is doing here.  There are about 10 lights, and 20 little cards scattered everywhere on grip stands, either flagging or bouncing light.  I’ll take a series of pictures, trying to capture the setup, and draw out a diagram / map of what each element is doing, as best I can, in my next post.

This setup was complex — this is a continuation of the previous shot, looking over Sabela’s shoulder, towards the opposite side of the window.  We see a reflection of her face, as well as the theatre set in the window, and some sparkly stars beyond the window.  Lining up these three planes for the camera was quite a task…  this setup has taken close to a week to do.

The little window opens up via a piano hinge, so that I’ll have access to Sabela (who’s standing behind the window) while animating.  The last shot was difficult, because she was standing so close to the window, and surrounded by gear, so I couldn’t access her face at all to add her eyelids when she blinked.  I had to reach delicately through a forest of arms and cables and lights to blindly place her tiny eyelids.  I was so scared I would drop them into her dress, or somewhere that would be unretrievable!  But thankfully it worked out OK.

(This image is taken with the house lights on — I’ll have some pretty “lighting” shots with the next post…)

We also had great news about our lighting and equipment rental, which we’ve been given a huge break on — thanks, Dan at White’s!

Lights! And Tears…

Oh, the drama, the highs and lows, the exaltation and abysses of stop motion animation…

These past couple days have been extremely exciting, but today ended in tears as my very first shot of the film failed.  About a second in, I started to notice that the puppet’s head was looking a little distorted, but was convincing myself it was a trick of the light or bad resolution of the preview.  As it got worse, my excuses lost their footing, and I suddenly remembered that the very first edition of Sabela had a flaw in its design.  How this flawed head made it onto the final puppet, I don’t know.

But here’s the good news!  Marcus Elliott, SuperDOP, came by 2 days in a row and built a most elaborate setup for this first shot of Sabela.  Somehow I think he used every single grip stand, every scrap of black foil, and almost every light to light up this little scene.  And I thought it was a simple scene, with just the puppet and a window, backed by a blurry, moody stage!  I was so, so wrong.

Here’s what our setup looks like:

Here’s one of our last test shots for this scene — isn’t this beautiful lighting?

And then this morning, I came bounding into to the studio with well-rehearsed dope sheets in hand, eager to start the day of making tiny objects come to life, when alas, now, at the end of the day, the champagne goes unopened, and rather than watch my little puppet sigh, Amelie-like, at her windowsill, I have instead caused her wee head to squish up into a sad, elongated doggy chewtoy.  Can you hear the violins?  *Sniff*

Here is the sad two seconds of the momentarily ill-fated Scene Thirteen, take one:

But the show will go on — I have to expect things like this to happen, especially since I haven’t really animated much in a long while.  Hopefully I’ll get there on the next try.  In the meantime, I need to modify the puppet, crowning her with a new and improved head.

Again, the good news — Just Look at this beautiful lighting!!!  Thanks Marcus, you’re a genius.  Even though ’twas I who figured out the causes of the mysterious flicker issues.  Haha.