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:

10 thoughts on “Walk Cycle — Check. Plus Lighting Tutorial #2

  1. Shelley Noble

    Completely brilliant, Stephanie. It’s gorgeous in every detail. The richness of color and texture are especially appealing.

    Thank you for saving me four years of film school by making and sharing the best stop motion lighting breakdown ever made.


  2. Don Carlson

    If you have trouble with flicker and you’re using a PC, you can get Virtualdub and download the Deflicker plugin from Donald Graft (on Google).

    It really gets rid of it, but it would be a good idea to run the plugin on each shot, as opposed to going over the whole film with it once you’ve finished shooting. The reason for that, of course is that the light variances are going to change throughout the course of a several minute film.

    Best of luck to ya! Everything’s looking great.

  3. castlegardener

    I agree with Shelley, this is one of the most in depth and excellent lighting tutorials I have ever seen. Thank you very much.

  4. rich

    wow. Looks beautiful.

    Thank you for making that breakdown video! Another reason I will be constantly referencing your blog and videos.

  5. Nick Hilligoss

    Nice job with the lighting, and thanks for going through what each light is, and what it does!
    A couple of those Arri lights and a Dedo would probably cost more than my entire lighting collection! (But fotunately there are cheap alternatives.)
    I eventually solved my flicker problems by installing a double-conversion UPS (converts AC to DC, then back to DC) to filter my lighting circuit. It turns out there was a small fluctuation in the mains voltage that varied the brightness of the lights. DSLRs like my Canon 40d and Nikon D50 seem to be more sensitive to these tiny variations than 16mm and 35mm film cameras. I’d check to see how successful the flicker-fixer software is before shooting everything. I tested Deflicker and it improved it, but did not completely fix it.

    Looks like a great project!

  6. justin rasch

    excellent production here!

    you work is looking very very professional!



  7. stephanie dudley

    Thanks everyone!

    Don, I’ll try the Deflicker plugin — thanks for the info. I have heard of another one, an AE deflicker program by Tinderbox, so I’ll try both and see which one solves the problem better. It’s really dramatic flicker in this case — I might have to leave most of it in there and accept it as part of the charm of stopmotion.

    Nick, it’s a really strange situation, because that flicker problem was not there a week before the shoot. I had tested these LEDs before on previous shoots… and all lights are plugged in to a voltage regulator. I have 2 regulators covering the whole set, so perhaps they’re being overworked, but it’s really quite puzzling. So thanks for the info! I will check out these UPSs too…

    It’ll take some more experimenting to figure this one out.

  8. Pat

    Hey Steph-
    Man, your blog is incredible!
    Great recap of your set up,
    it’s really cool you’ve documented this so fastidiously for people to use as a reference, great work.
    See ya soon,

  9. Miriam

    Hey Stephanie!!

    Omigoodness……I’m always so excitable to see rough edits – to see if the shots go together like you imagined, and I’m really impressed with how good it looks! The cuts are smooth, and I love that you follow the motion of her hand marking the window – and then pan the camera around to the next shot (which looks luverly btw – I’m proud I worked on it with you!). There’s a good continuance of the motion there – I’ve got to work on my transitions. I’ve still nervously trying to figure out lighting, so I’m glad you wrote so much about your setup. What scene are you working on now? Or are you still tidying up the post on the last shot?

    Hopefully I’ll help you again soon!


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