Category Archives: Scene Footage

Full Circle

Well, I shot the LAST frame of the film today.  There is still more to shoot, but just elements — text, transitions, that sort of thing.  But the main stuff is DONE!  Or in the can, as they say.

I didn’t really realize it til I was actually shooting it, but the final scene ends right where the first scene that I shot began!  It’s like I knew what I was doing or something.  Haha.   Here’s to seamless transitions!

I’m VERY happy with everything, every scene that was shot.  I have so much more to do, and time is running out, but I will try to keep things updated a little better here throughout the post production process.  At least I’ll be at my computer all day, every day, again!  It’s been a while since I’ve done loads of straight “computer work.”  It’s a very familiar headspace for me though, so it should be one of those easy yet labour-intensive processes.  If that makes sense.  (Three minutes of film is a *lot* to finesse.)

So, here’s the setup of the final scene, which was shot with oils on paper, with projected images.  It was sort of hard to document this setup, but the gist is that there’s a projector hooked up to a computer, and a camera hooked up to another computer — one computer projects the image, then I paint it, then I turn the projector off, then I take the photo.  It took about a month to shoot this section, which was just over 33 seconds long.  Whew!

There’s something being projected into my hair…

Minimal setup — just 2 lights…

Oooh, spooky!  Here’s the final image projected on…

And here’s a snippet of the animation!  This is totally work in progress, pre colour-correction, etc.

Now, I head straight into post production!  OK with maybe a little celebrating in between.  🙂

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.

Introducing… Shelley’s Boiling Water!

A while back, I got a cute little package in the mail from Shelley — it was a little baggy of gel water, along with some tiny glass beads.  Well, I knew I’d get a chance to use this, because I needed to have a pot full of boiling water in the film… which gets turned into cabbage soup.

So, here it is — in two parts.  In part one, I’ve animated the puppet and cabbage leaves; then animated the boiling water as a separate pass.  (I can only handle one or two complicated things at a time when I’m animating, and it seemed like it would be easier to stabilize the pot and comp in the water in post…)

Sabela Cuts Cabbage Leaves from Stephanie Dudley on Vimeo.

I ended up cutting the leaves before shooting, with the intention to clean up the seams in post.  I used blue fun-tak to stick the leaves to this wire as they fell into the pot.  The wire was pretty difficult to control — it may have been too long — but it ended up looking OK.  The gel was really easy to animate — I just poked at it randomly, and moved the beads around with each frame.  I didn’t even need to tint it further than it was already — the greenish hue turned out to be a nice contrast to the coppery pot.  I used only the larger beads, which were about 2mm in diameter, set on top of the gel, as the water is slightly out of focus, so the glints of light seemed to work best as “bubbles” with those.

I’m in the process of putting together a little lighting tutorial on this scene, as I’m rather pleased with how the lighting turned out.  So there’s more to come on this…

Thanks for the water sampler kit, Shelley!  It worked great!

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:

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.

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.