Category Archives: Set Design

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…

Scaling Up

So, the past couple weeks has seen a return to set building, once again.  It’s been a while.

I had to build a scaled-up version of the copper pot, so that I could animate what’s inside of it in an overhead closeup.  I found a white plastic container at a local favourite junk store — Active Surplus — and modified it by lopping off the bottom (to make it the right proportion to the original pot), attaching a new, clear, plexy bottom (so that I can underlight it), sanding off a decal on the top, adding handles, etc.   (Thanks to Phil and Alli for their help with the copper paint and the vegetable modeling…)  The “3.2” written in the above pic was my formula for scaling the elements — I measured all the dimensions of the miniatures and multiplied by this magic number.

I think it turned out to be a relatively convincing version of the smaller stovetop and pot.  I added a few embellishments, just because it looked sorta plain without them:  black handles, and a more detailed, 70s-ish pot lid, also with a black handle.  (The plastic pail happened to come with this very lid — isn’t it a perfect pot lid??)

I wish I had taken “before” pictures, but I’m very happy with the transformation.

The miniature stove on the left; the larger scale one on the right.

Testing out the size of the font — will this cabbage leaf be legible?  🙂

70s Kitchen Spookiness

OK, it’s not really spooky.  At least I hope not.  But here is the kitchen set for the film…  with all freshly installed lights.  (N.B. the set isn’t properly lit yet; I’m just using the practical lights within the set, and in most of these images, the main light overhead lights of the studio.  In the images where the lights are off, the effect is similar to that of a face being lit from beneath with a flashlight, Blair Witch style.  Or maybe it just feels that way because it’s almost Hallowe’en.  Anyhoo…)

Happy All Hallows’ Eve!


I love stop motion.  It’s the only thing I can think of that brings together all the things I’m passionate about, all in one place.  Design, writing, carpentry, puppet-making, animation, poetry, photography, music, and… painting.  However, I now have a love/hate relationship with painting.  Way back in the 90s I studied figurative painting for 4 years before finding motion design by accident, or more specifically, being called into broadcast design in my last year of college and saying yes.  So there’s always been a mild remorse at the thought of a lost career as an artist.  But these are just thoughts, and they don’t mean much…

Anyway, let’s just say I began this painting having mixed feelings.  Opening up that old paintbox (above) is scary for me.  But I really wanted to feature a painting of a Galician landscape in this part of the set.  The landscape goes into a 3-panel frame, which makes a room divider screen that separates the dining room from the kitchen.  I have a particular painting style that I like,  (I like GRIDS, and TRANSLUCENCY!) so I had no choice but to paint it myself.  Here are the progress shots:

My reference pic, found on the web and printed out.  I was specifically looking for some farmland.  A cabbage patch in the Galician countryside, perhaps?

My technique for these types of paintings involves gridding out a source photo, and first roughing the image in on a similar grid on rice paper (coated with acrylic gloss medium).

Once the image is roughed in, leaving some areas translucent, I go square by square and paint one square at a time, as if each little square were an abstract painting.  I am selective about the squares I want to focus on:  in this case I just do the town in the BG of the scene.

Here’s the final screen, lit from front and back.  I had gessoed the middle area where the cityscape is, to make this part opaque, while the field and sky are both translucent.  It’ll be interesting to see this lit properly on the set.

Here’s what the screen looks like from the back.  It’s kinda interesting to me to paint this way, because it’s a 3-dimensional object rather than flat.  You can do the underpainting after you do the main painting.  So here I added the grid to the back, as well as some turquoise and teal underpainting highlights, and backed it with the gesso, in selective spots.

Here’s a kinda rough shot of what it’ll look like in the set.  The colour palette works with the dining room, and overall I’m really happy with it!  Though again, it should be lit so that the sky is more glowy.  But that’ll come.

If you’re interested, here’s a blast from the past — old paintings and artwork from college days…  I think you can see the similarity.  I have made many more grid paintings since, but these are some of my favourites.

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Button-Plate Wall

The set I’m building has three main designs.  It’s a theatre, containing 3 miniature sets on its stage:  one where it’s more or less empty, one where there’s the 1970s kitchen, and one with a dining room.  Here’s the dining room, in progress, but almost finished.

Again, I’m using a minimal palette for this room.  The colours are pale yellow, pale green, a warm brown, a deep brown, and a deep teal.  Earth and Water colours.  The palette is also partly inspired by memories of my grandparents’ living room, accentuated with fragments of Galician and Ukrainian cultures.

First I made a wall out of 3/8″ plywood, and covered it with some textured fabric, acrylic paint, and a strip of miniature molding.  The fabric started out as a pale teal blue, which I dyed with acrylic paints to get it to this colour.  The fabric (and colour) is reminiscent of the couch cover my grandparents had.  The couch is where we used to sit on our visits when I was a kid, so I had a lot of time to examine that fabric, and elements of the room, when I was bored.

They also had a lot of dark wood, and a plate rail in the dining room.  I devised a similar plate rail here, but rather than making mail-order Norman Rockwell plates like they had, I painted the plates with patterns inspired by the Sargadelos ceramics from Galicia.  I had to give up the trademark colours of the Galician ceramics, though — the beautiful blues and whites — to fit in with my colour palette.  There is no white in the set really, and the royal blue wouldn’t work, so I improvised.  I also didn’t want the images to be too high-contrast, as they would stand out too much against the pale wall.  I really just wanted some subtle detail there.  There is not a lot going on in this dining room, so I didn’t want the subtleties of the drawings to overwhelm this part of the set.  (The plates are made from buttons taken from my other grandmother’s old button collection…  I never met her, but she used to sew a lot, so these buttons are pretty special.  She saved them in an old Black Magic chocolates box.  Note the old girl guide button above — be prepared!)

I had just seen Ishu Patel giving a talk and presentation of his work last weekend at the NFB, in which he spoke about his Paul Klee influences, and showed some Paul Klee slides… I think those images sank in as I was reminded how great he was.  I’ve always liked Paul Klee’s drawings.  So you can see that influence here as well.

Erín sent me this awesome pamphlet straight from Sargadelos, which outlines the meanings behind their mysterious amulets…  some of which are quite bizarre and fascinating…  (Plus some info about horns and witches!)

The chairs were inspired by my favourite architect and furniture designer, Roy McMakin.  They were built by Miriam, who has proven herself to be the chair-making queen.

More quick notes:  the tabletop is made from a small bamboo cutting board; the plates on the table are also buttons; the bowls are those rubber things you put on the bottom of metal chair legs to protect your floors; the clear “glass” cups are rubber thimbles; the copper pot and platter (which will soon hold an empanada!) are made from copper pipes and pipe fittings; the lid of the copper pot is a metal button shank coated with copper foil; the candles are fimo but are wired to tiny bulbs which will be on dimmers to create a flickery candlight; and there will eventually be a landscape painting in that folding room divider / screen-thingy.   I plucked a few interesting-looking grasses from the garden to make the dried flower arrangement… and the little bundle of grasses on the floor is a nod to Ukrainian traditions, a tiny didukh.

Dinner at Susie’s

I had dinner at my friend Susie’s last week.  What is the significance of this, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

Sometimes I feel like I was meant to make this film.  There have been many, many magical moments when things fly out of the universe towards me in a way that make me stand back in awe.  An example of this would be my friend Susie’s latest revelation.

The film, as you may know, is based on a Galician poem.  So I’ve been trying to incorporate Galician elements, here and there.   Until reading the poems from the book Little Theatres I had never even heard of Galicia before.  So I don’t know much about the culture, other than the brief glimpses given in Little Theatres.  Susie heard about this important aspect of the film — its language — and suddenly came out with the fact that she herself is Galician, even though all along she has been saying that she’s Spanish.  As far as I had always known, she spoke Spanish, and grew up there… but all this time she had sneakily been born in Galicia and not told me.  Or “Galithia,” as she pronounces it.

So, we were both thrilled at this discovery — she at the fact that I’m making a film in her parents’ native tongue, and I at the fact that she still visits there, and brings back beautiful Galician ceramic artwork and craftspieces.  Last week she offered to cook me a (semi-)traditional meal, introduce me to her kids (whom I’d never met before) and show me her lovely ceramics.

The relevance of this dinner, and the ceramic pottery, to the film will become apparent soon.  I will (later this week) show pictures of my dining room set, which is looking smashing, if I do say so myself.  More pictures from Dinner at Susie’s behind the cut…

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Process… the Parts.

Here’s what I’ve been working on the past couple of days, and where things are going.  I’m back into crazy detail mode!

I’ve made a set of hands for each character.  After wiring them up and filling the palms with Milliput, I dip them in some slightly-watered-down liquid latex.  Like tiny candles, I hang them up to dry vertically, so the fingers form the right shapes.

I found this awesome electrical wire (right) at Active Surplus.  10 cents a foot!  So I bought 6 feet.  This 60 cent length of wire will make about twelve thousand tiny hands.  Woohoo!

I also plan all my hands to the finest detail (left)… measuring out each tiny length of wire insulation… not so much because I’m particularly obsessive when it comes to these types of details, but so that I can remember how I did them when I make duplicates.  Huzzah!

And, last but not least, I’m planning the colour palette for the dining room set.  Most of the set has already been constructed, but it’s all sitting nakedly in its pale balsa wood form right now.  Soon I will paint everything in these bedazzling colours…  Kapow!

Note how I’ve cleverly changed the numbers in the “Total Parts Needed” column to make myself feel like I’m more ahead.  I can build the backups once I know everything’s working perfectly — in other words, once I start animating.

In my estimation, the first 4 puppets will be finished sometime next week — painted, assembled, finito.  Then I can hand them all over to my friend Alli, so she can finalize the costumes.

Then: dining room, wiring up the practical lights, final set touch-ups, animatic tweaks, test animation, meetings with Marcus about the lighting, setting up rigs, renting fantastical lights, and we’re ready to shoot.  Whoopee!

Charts and Graphs, Odds and Ends

A couple of lovely friends, Parki and Kim, spent their Saturday morning helping me out with various  film-related things.  Their Saturday morning!  They arrived bright and early, fueled by lots of coffee, the crisp fall air,  and the desire to make miniature things.  Kim helped with a task I had originally thought of as tedious, but that’s now being called meticulous.  I think that sounds much better.

She helped me out by making all these tiny fingers for Sabela.   These are electrical wires casings, gutted of their fine wires and replaced with jewelry wire.  Tiny glass seed beads act as joints.

Parki wired up and spraypainted these spotlights.  They’ll have tiny functioning incandescent lightbulbs in them, and he’ll eventually attach them all to a dimmer so they can be animated.

The spotlights themselves are made of metal bottlecaps, wood, and some heavy card for the barn doors.

Here are Sabela’s backup legs, unpainted, with magnetic feet, standing on a pretty metal box.

And here are the tasks I’m facing right now.  I thought I’d put it together in a chart so I can keep track of the progress.  It seems a little daunting at the moment.

I’m using the same molds for the legs and head of Abigail, who’s Sabela’s little sister.  They should look a bit alike, anyway.  Liberdade is the Mom (she now has a name!), and Xosé Luís is the Dad.

I’m making backup parts for all the puppets.  Hopefully this will be enough; if not, I guess I can make more while shooting, though that’s obviously not ideal.

The main character is going to (of course) be featured the most, and is going to be moving around more than anyone else.  She’s the only character who will be walking, so I figured she’d need lots of extra backup legs for sure.  I think she’ll be in the film for about 1.5 minutes, at most…  The other characters will be on for about 45 seconds.  The 3 “side” characters are all sitting, and mostly moving their upper bodies.

I wonder if this is going to be enough backup parts?…

The Avocado 70s

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the sets for my film is a 70s kitchen.  I grew up in the 70s, and have fond memories of those colourful appliances, the wall phones, and oddly combined colours.  Avocado, orange, “gold,” deep brown, and turquoise were popular choices for interior decoration.

I try to go with a sense of realism for my sets.  This means doing some research:  finding references, carefully measuring things and following a formula for miniaturizing them, as well as researching and choosing the colour palettes.   For the kitchen I went with a very typical avocado fridge and stove set, along with orange cabinets and “gold” formica countertops.  The little cannisters on the countertops are covered with a fake wood grain, as they would have been at full scale.

Luckily I happened to have a couple of Eaton’s catalogues from the 70s to rely on for research.  These catalogues not only provided colour and style reference, but they had specific measurements for everything they sold.  Super handy!

They were also fun to browse through.  Here’s a sample:

I had a lot of help building the props for the set.  One of the wonderful prop modelling helpers is an OCAD stopmo animation student, Miriam, who is in her last year of university, and about 13 years younger than I. When I asked her if she could make a 70s avocado wall phone, she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.  Oh well, sometimes you just have to laugh about such things!

Here is a tiny glimpse of the set, with the avocado stove peeking out in the corner:

Kitchen Sink Alchemy

One of the sets I’ve made for the film is a 70s kitchen.  Part of the fun in building miniature sets is trying to think of objects in terms of their shapes rather than their names or functions.  It helps the construction process along if you can link shapes you’ll need for your set to shapes in the real world.  Because their scales are so different, this requires a little shift in thinking, or some creative brainstorming.  If the shape already exists as something else, then there’s no point making it from scratch.  Especially fun is rescuing things that were going to be thrown out.  There’s a certain thrill in the alchemy of turning garbage into something pretty.

For example: this kitchen sink above.  The sink is actually a single-serving yoghurt container.  OK, I bought the yoghurt just for this purpose, but it was still pretty cool to find JUST the right shape already sitting there on a shelf in the grocery store.  I had to chop it in half to make it more shallow, but it worked out pretty well.

The drain of the sink is made from a random plastic thing that I noticed on the sidewalk.  I wasn’t sure what to use, and I guess that sink drain was in the back of my mind while going for a walk in the neighbourhood…  because I just happened to see it, this tiny piece of black plastic by my feet, and think Wow, that would make the perfect drain!  (Isn’t my life exciting!)

The faucet and handles were taken from toys:  I had a kid’s firetruck from a junk store that I tore apart for its plastic parts, some of which I used for these handles.  I used some armature wire for the neck of the faucet, and a decapitated toy pylon for the base.  All plastic parts were assembled with 5-minute epoxy, then spraypainted silver.

Oh, and the countertop is made of someone’s discarded linoleum tiles…