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Krampusnacht, the Quietest: a new quick experimental film

Important Note: The film above is uploaded in HD, so you MUST see it scaled up to fullscreen mode!  Click the arrows on the bottom right to scale up… or watch on Vimeo here.

So, here’s a bit of news.  I just finished a second short film!  This one is much, much shorter than Little Theatres, of course, and was done for a local art show, at Resistor Gallery.  The film was conceived of and boarded, with its elements built, lit, and shot, its titles designed, sound recorded, and other fiddly post work fiddled with… ALL over the course of a week and a half.

The film is shown above, and it’s called Krampusnacht, the Quietest.  The theme of the art show was Krampus, who is an interesting character — a demon who comes out at Christmastime to punish bad children.  You can read more about him here…

But I wanted to show finished animation here on this blog!  Isn’t it exciting!  Finally, there is an animated, non work-in-progress piece that I can show.

I also wanted to write a post of my process — how did I actually complete an entire (though short!) stop motion film in 9 days?  HOW?  That’s crazy!

There were a couple of tricks… first, I re-used a puppet from Little Theatres.  And a chair.  So that cut down on quite a bit of time.  But the rest of the sets and props were built from scratch.  Second, I edited the film using a bounce loop.  How tricky!  This means that the film plays forward, then the footage plays back in reverse.  I shot the film so that it COULD be played normally, and end with a fade out at the end… but it just seemed more interesting with the loop.  Also it allowed me to make the film longer, with little effort, and allowed for more of the music to play.  (And I really love this music.)

Here’s how it came together, day by day:

Day 1:  Concept

Here’s where I usually get bogged down, overthinking things and planning and replanning and spinning my wheels.  Because there was so little time, I had to come up with an idea fairly quickly, and not think about it too much.  So I drew inspiration almost instantly by doing the things I normally do… poking around various design / art blogs, and looking at stuff around the house.

So the first very clear influences that triggered the images shown in the film were:  a picture hanging in my office, and a photo I came across while reading the blogs in my RSS feed that day.  Both are shown below (click to enlarge):

On the left is a painting called Grammar Two, by James Jean.  One of my favourite artists… and I have always loved this painting.  It gave me the idea to have the little girl (Abigail) pull the Krampus bits out of a gridded box.

The image on the right is from a great little blog created by local shop owners, who feature works by (mostly Scandinavian) artists and craftspeople — Kitka Design Toronto. The pic is from this post, and I knew right away when I saw it that I needed to string together Krampus bones (or is it the bones of little children…?  Mwahahahaha) and drag the Krampus fur along the floor with them.

Day 2:  Storyboarding, Gathering the Materials

I am not really a storyboard artist AT ALL.  Luckily I do not have to sell the story to a client in this case — I’m just trying to clarify ideas for myself, and nobody else.  So I try to break the film down shot by shot, and clarify the framing, as well as the action in each shot.

Here’s what I came up with on this day, after mulling things over for a while in my head (click click):

So this gets the story going, and the basic framing decided, and the general actions of each scene.  I figured here that there would be 4 shots, which I basically stuck to, more or less.  I crossed out the third frame due to time restrictions — how am I going to make the puppet walk across the room, when she isn’t rigged for walking?  Nixed. Also in what became the third shot, I decided against the disembodied hands reaching through the wall, and instead had Krampus jump through the wall on his own, dragging his bones rather than having the bones pull him.

I based the final scene on a painting I once started, a few years ago, and never finished, of a fur coat hanging on a tree in the middle of an empty landscape…  It was nice to be able to recreate this image for something else!  And to finish it!  But in the “boards” above I had described this tree as spinning on a platform — again, this idea was cut out, due to time restraints.

Also, I did not end up making Krampus mucky and gross… probably due to keeping it simple, and being constrained by time, again.

Here’s a sketch where I refined the composition a little, for the final scene.  I carry this little notebook with me, and sketched this up on a crowded subway one morning.  The wheels were churning constantly…  I have to be ready to draw things out, so I like carrying around a little book like this.  Especially when I’m stressed — keeping lists and notes and drawings really helps me organize my thoughts and calm down a little.

Once I had the scenes clarified, I picked up some materials for building the sets, props, and Krampus puppet:  some clear and ivory fimo for the bones, some fake fur for the creature, and some fabrics for the carpet and wallpaper.

Days 3 & 4:  Building and Lighting the First Set

I spent long hours these two days building all the elements I’d need to shoot the first three scenes.  I figured I’d build the landscape set for the final shot after I shoot the scenes, just in case I was to run out of time, or in case the story changed somehow at the last minute.  Basically just wanted to get the first three scenes completely out of the way before tackling a landscape build.

So on these days I made:  tiny bones, the gridded box, the fireplace, the “fire” (I used sheets of copper to make this), the two walls, the fireplace, the furry monster, the mounted horns, and the carpet.  The wooden floor is also from Little Theatres, along with the white chair in the corner…

Once built, I started playing around with lighting.  The scene is entirely lit using my little LED strips on dimmers and the homemade softboxes.  Two of the LEDs were on the floor, in the shot… so I had to edit them out in post.  Which was easy as there were no camera moves.  (The ‘camera move’ in scene 3 was done in post… Normally I would not have gone that route, but again, just trying to save time.  And I doubt anyone but me really notices…?)

Days 5 & 6:  Shooting Scenes 1-3

I did up a quick animatic in the morning of my first shoot day — taking stills of the set, roughing out the camera angles, and then assembling them in AE.  This way I knew exactly how long each scene would be… and I pretty much stuck to this scene length, to the frame.  (No time to shoot any handles!)

Since these first 3 scenes had pretty much the same lighting setup, I just went through and shot them all in a row… actually in the order that they appear.  So on the first shoot day I shot scenes one and two, since the second one was pretty short…  Then the next day shot scene 3.  It all went smoothly!  It’s pretty amazing what severe time pressures can do…  I guess I work well in those circumstances 🙂

Day 7:  Building and Lighting the Landscape Set for Scene 4

This was by far the most stressful day of the whole process.  I had never built a landscape set before.  I decided early on that the key would be to construct it under camera… Meaning, I set the camera up FIRST, then added pieces, one at a time.  I’m really fussy about composition, and for some reason landscapes seem really particular, in terms of balancing out the sky vs. the ground, and having the tree branches fall at the right angle, etc.  So the only way to really preview this was to set up the camera, and build while viewing the scene through that framing.  I think it turned out OK, but would have LOVED to have had more time to finesse it.  I think the mountains are lame (they are flat cardboard cutouts), I could have done a MUCH better job on the sky painting, and the trees are not that great, but hey… I built it in ONE DAY!

Though I have never built a landscape, I really admire landscape miniature artwork.  There are two such artists that I know of and admire — actually one who I just found out about today (thanks Rob P!) — Adam Makarenko, a fellow Torontonian, and Kim Keever.  My landscape above is embarrassing by comparison, but I will get there one day… in my own time.)   ONE DAY!

Day 8:  Shooting Scene 4

I knew this scene would be easiest shot backwards, so that’s what I did.  It went totally smoothly… I propped the Krampus figure up onto the tree, then just touched his fur, frame by frame, to randomize it as if it was blowing in the wind… then gradually slinked him down the tree.  In reverse, it looks OK.  I always find it tricky shooting in reverse, as I can’t preview what it will actually look like when played the right way around.  But it turned out OK, and in this case it doesn’t matter because it is played both ways anyway.

Day 9:  Post Production

This was my day for sound recording, sound design, title design, and comping.  Gulp.  Actually it sounds like a lot but it was totally easy… I knew exactly what I wanted to do music-wise, and for me, title design and this kind of easy comp work is the point where “it’s all downhill from here.”  (In a good way.  What does that phrase really mean, anyway?  I am using in the riding-a-bike sense — the work is suddenly a lot easier.  But I guess that was obvious…)

I recorded the sound using my new obsession gadget, the iPad.  I didn’t even know it had a mic in it, but oh yes!  It does.  So of course it’s a mono recording, and if you listen closely in a fancy surround-sound setup it’s probably pretty bad, but hey, I had a few hours to select and edit the music!  It was the best I could do.

So the sound was recorded with the iPad being held up to a Regina music box — an old music box from the late 1800s, which plays metal records.  (More about that here.)   It was passed down through my family from my great-grandparents, and it’s now sitting in our dining room.  I’ve always wanted to use it for something like this!  My mom has collected records for it over the years.  So I sifted through a stack of 50 or so records, looking for just the right tune.  I didn’t listen to all of them, because it’s pretty tedious to crank the box and wait for the song to finish before removing it… so I only listened to the ones with interesting titles, or by German composers… (trying to stay somewhat true to the origins of Krampus…)

In the end, Hungarian Melody was the right tune for this project.

For sound design, which I kept extremely simple, I decided on the fire and wind sounds, finding free downloads online.

Then, titles… used my current favourite fonts and their embellishments…  Added a vignetting and some flicker in AE.

So that’s pretty much it…  the other post work was boring, just editing out lights, adding fog, adding a BIT more colour to the sky (cheat!  cheat!) and that sorta thing.  Darkening some areas, lightening others.  Time remapping a bit here and there.

Hope you enjoyed this runthrough of how to make a film in 9 days!  Which I do not recommend doing, by the way.  But, it can be done.

Krampusnacht is this Sunday… have a very merry Krampusweekend!


Well, I’ve delivered the tapes to Bravo.  As of yesterday at 4:30 pm, Little Theatres:  Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage, the film, is officially complete!

I am feeling:  tired, relieved, ecstatic, anxious, breathless, proud, sad, empty,  excited, listless.  When I dropped the package in to the Shipping and Receiving department of CTV, I was almost in tears.  OK there may have actually been a tear or two shed.  But I felt instantly lighter after the package was out of my hands.  Plus the cycling of emotions listed above.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours or so either conked out in a deep sleep or reflecting on the past 3 years.  Yes, it’s been almost 3 years since I first had the crazy idea to start this project.

I remember in the early days.  At first, while writing the proposal, I was enthusiastic, energized, high on the process of coming up with fun ideas.  Then, when I was awarded the grant, it finally hit me that there was a lot of work ahead of me.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could handle it.  Well, in the early days I was pretty sure I could get through just about anything, that I could figure out whatever I didn’t know how to do.  I had an optimism, a sense of adventure, and a carefree idealistic belief that anything I put my mind to, I could do.

But as I started working on it, the reality of how enormous this project was started to sink in.  I started to scale down my initial ideas and techniques.

I used Google and animation forums like to find out how to make puppets.   I read tonnes of blogs, like Sven’s, and Shelley’s, and Mike’s.  I researched which sort of cameras and lenses to use.  I met up with strangers, friends of friends, and people whose work I’d admired, to find out how they did what they did.  I asked a lot of people for help.  When I didn’t know what to do, I would do everything I could to find out how to do it.  Sometimes I didn’t find the answers and was stuck in a frustrating place of not knowing how to proceed.  This happened quite a few times, but most memorably during the puppet-making stage… I really didn’t know what I was doing, and was finding the process really difficult.  Each solution led to a dozen new problems.  I didn’t know how to keep it simple.  It took two months before I found materials and methods that would work.  And they still had faults — my very first shoot had a puppet crisis… The puppets needed to be redesigned at this point.  But then, once rebuilt, they were fine, and they lasted throughout.

Then came the shooting.  Again, I was fairly ignorant.  The most important and complicated feature of photography is lighting.  Where to begin?  Here I was lucky to have a very kind friend (whom I hadn’t seen in years) come to help out… but still, couldn’t entirely rely on such generous favours.  So I would, at first, work on paid gigs between times when he was available, and just wait to set up the next shot whenever he had time… Trying to learn as much as I could as the process unfolded.  This blog came in handy for this — I enjoyed putting together lighting tutorials, to try and preserve and practice what I was learning.  But I still felt incapable.

Eventually I realized that if I was ever going to finish the project, I needed to just go ahead and light scenes myself.  Marcus had lit the most complex ones… so really, how hard could it be to take the bits and pieces of Lighting 101 that I had gleaned from him, and start lighting scenes myself?  How hard could it be to light a single object, a cabbage, on a stage?

Well it turned out to be difficult, but not impossible.  I was imagining a film of 2 or 3 awesomely lit scenes, amidst a bunch of really badly lit ones.  But to my eyes, anyway, it ALL looks really good!  I’m so, so happy with how the little film has turned out.  I could not be more proud of it, or more satisfied.  It feels really, really good to have put this little 3 minutes of imagery (and sound, and music!) out into the world.

I now know how hard it is to make a short film.  I know the feeling of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the project.  In the early stages, when building the sets, I was halfway excited by the ideas still, and halfway terrified of all the unknowns that were ahead of me.  The first two months of set-building and prop-making were easy peasy — I know what I’m doing when it comes to making stuff by hand, and painting little things, and planning and designing.  No problem!  The days flew by, and I got lots of stuff done.  But as I ventured into any sort of new territory, like puppetmaking, and eventually lighting, the doubting started.  What if I can’t do it?  How will I know how to do such-and-such?  And this is just the beginning… look at all there is left to do after that, so many more things I’ve never done before.  Panic!  Abort mission!  Let it drift away!  Go back to designing endtags for Product X!  Forget this artistic stuff, it’s too hard!  And where’s the reward?  Every day I panic and worry and sweat and I’m not even getting paid!  It’ll never get finished anyway.  Every day, there were more and more doubts.

I really don’t know how I stuck to it.  I’m not even really the sort of person who always finishes every project I start.  I have many unfinished paintings.  I have unfinished books, outlines for novels, screenplays, series of poems that have just died away.

A few things blossomed for me while working on this film.  The concept of just doing a little bit every day, and not thinking about the big picture all that often, really helped.  I learned that from my partner O, who realized halfway through his years and years of education that he didn’t want to stay in the world of academia.  How many people start PhDs and actually finish them?  All that work, meanwhile knowing that it isn’t going to be the right path?  Well, somehow he did.  Plus, he finishes books that he starts, pretty much every single one, even if he realizes on page 5 that the writing is horrendous or that he can’t stand the main character.  I mean, conceptually I can say that I get it, I know to take it a single, small step at a time and just do the best I can, but it really took making this film to learn how to actually do that.  How to not get overwhelmed and panic and give up.

I also learned how to ask for help.  I usually dive right in to any foreign element of a project, with the idea that I can figure it out myself… But a project of this size simply can’t be done alone.  So I am indebted to a lot of people, and grateful for a lot of talented offerings that came along.  Sometimes such offerings were in response the desperate cries for help that came out of my mouth, against my usual stubborn working-solo nature.  But sometimes people just offered to help, in any way they could, out of nowhere.  So I learned, as well, a sense of grace and generous creative spirit, that I intend to keep alive for others.

So, I’ve written a little essay here…  Obviously I have more time on my hands for blogging, now that the film is finished… Ironic?  Appropriate?  You decide.

A big, giant, ginormous thank you to you, and you and you.  I’m so happy to have completed this project, and so happy to be feeling so good about it.  I owe this happiness to a lot of people… So, thank you!

(BTW…  I know I have to get back to the working world, back to design, which I obviously enjoy as well… but I’m also starting to plan the next short film, to be worked on during my down time.  So it’s addictive, this filmmaking thing.

Also… going to try and show Little Theatres in some festivals — this is why I haven’t shown too much final footage here.  It’s only a 3 minute film, so every second counts!  I will, however, show off a few stills, as you can see in this post… though they may be somewhat familiar already…)

I will keep you posted here on festivals, the process of applying for them,  whether or not it will be showing at any of them; as well as on any sort of website or trailer that will emerge in the near future.  And of course when it’s airing on Bravo! I’ll be spreading the word about that, too.



Well, I guess it went OK — I am surely not cut out to be in front of the camera.

But I think of it this way — if I were living in a jungle somewhere, where there were tigers to run from, the fight or flight reaction in my central nervous system would be getting a regular workout, as it’s meant to.  But, living in the city, my fight or flight has chosen to respond to a) public speaking situations, b) being in front of a camera, and c) needles at the doctor’s office.  That’s it.  These three things turn me into a brainless mound of shaky jello.  I don’t avoid them, as I would a wild tiger, because I hope to one day get overcome this automatic reaction…  as non life-threatening as these situations are…

So I survived, and the interviewer and cameraperson from CTV were great — Angie and Steve.  They made the experience go as well as it possibly could, under the circumstances.  Angie was so sweet, and had done impressive amounts of research, and Steve got me to press the “capture” button and pretend to shoot frames of animation for their b-roll footage… as well as powdering my shiny nose.  Irene was there too, sitting behind the scenes, reminding me of some things to talk about.

I have a feeling I will owe big apologies to Erin one day if she sees this on air… I’m not entirely sure what I said, but I may have implied that she helped with the original proposal, when in fact she had merely offered a couple of suggestions.  She made it clear at the beginning that this film was my interpretation of her poem, and that she wanted to distance her involvement from it as much as possible, in terms of it being a narrated version of her poem… it’s really quite separate.  So hopefully I didn’t imply anything different… I have a feeling I may have used the word “collaborate” when talking about the proposal, but I’m not sure.  Anyway, this will be made 100% clear in the written credits of the film, and hopefully the folks at Bravo will leave that rambly part out…?

It’s probably not a big deal, and I may be worrying too much about it.  I don’t think I said anything wrong.  But I sure have a new respect for anyone who has to be interviewed on camera regularly.  It’s tough.

Um, anyway, thank you Angie and Steve; I hope you can find a coherent 2 minutes in there somewhere.

Forgot to Mention…

I forgot to mention some great news — I was awarded a FAP grant from the NFB…  an award for new filmmakers.  I am super thrilled to be working with the NFB, if only for now to have help with the costs of post production.  Perhaps one day I’ll be making a short film with them.  I already have ideas 😉

Annnnd I am going to be interviewed Monday by CTV, for their show Bravo!FACT Presents.  I am extremely camera shy, so I am trying very hard not to freak out about it.  I’m sure it’ll go well!  (…psyching myself up.)

Funny Things

Stop motion sometimes makes us do funny things, like put $25 worth of overly coloured hair gel down the drain, through a strainer, to strain out the clear plastic beads and fimo carrots.

Love also sometimes makes us do funny things, like asking at the drug store for some clear hair gel, and testing some different kinds out with the clerk to make sure they’re clear because they’re in coloured bottles.  Having to explain, vaguely and with embarrassment, that it’s for an “art project…”  Then presenting 3 bottles, or over 1 Litre of hair gel, at the cash counter and bringing it home for one’s sweetie.  (I’m glad I didn’t need 1L of KY jelly for this project, though he probably would have bought that, too…)

Chapter Vignettes: Lost for Words

I worked on a project for a friend recently that got my back in the studio building stuff again, which felt great.  I spent about a week and a half from start to finish, designing, building, and animating these titles.  At first I wanted to do them as 2d graphics in After Effects, but I’m really glad Sean pushed for the photographic / sculptural vignette solution instead.  It was much more fun to do them this way!

The film is called Lost for Words, and it’s a short for Bravo!FACT.  As is my Little Theatres project, only Sean’s is live action, and took much less time to complete!  So now it’s done, and he’s got a site and trailer happening.  Way to go, Sean!

Below, you’ll see the final sequences, complete with final audio.  Sean took the files to a colour correction studio, Alter Ego, for final colour, and this changed the images quite dramatically.  The film itself was mostly shot in a forest, and that footage had been treated with cool colours.  I was surprised to see the final treatment of the chapter titles… I had imagined them as being very warm images.  But it’s a good surprise… this treatment works perfectly with the film.  As you can see, they also brought up the contrast in the wooden type, to make the text more legible.

Here are the shots side by side:  the original, un-colour-treated image on the top, and the final treated image on the bottom.  What a difference in mood!

Chapter two (above, right) was lit using a small softbox, built by moi, using the technique described in this post.  I was very happy with the results!  The softbox is only lighting the small inset frame holding the plants.  The softbox opening was designed to fit right into the top of that box, so it’s quite small…  Otherwise these were lit by Brendan Steacy and Sean Wainsteim.

And here’s the animation.  Simple animation, but just enough to add some life, and provide a reason for some fun sound FX 🙂

(I really am back on the film.  I’ve shot one scene, and am planning the next.  Updates on these soon!  Hurray!)