Tuesday, 15 December 2009

an extra sheepish post

I did, however, learn that Heartstrings is one of three finalists for 'Best Student Film' at the British Animation Awards 2010. Again I am suspicious of the similarity to a TV talent show and pray that my invitation to go to London doesn't include selling my soul to Simon Cowell. Even if it does, it's still amazing news.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

i wonder if there's a real Cafe Nervosa...

Today Heartstrings is screening in competition at the 2D OR NOT 2D festival in Seattle. It is by far the best named animation festival I've found, which is reason enough to enter, but the awards are called 'Golden Pencil Awards' and they are, as you'd expect, giant pencils. With most festivals I'm happy just to get a screening and the awards, although great, aren't the reason for entering. This festival is different. I want a giant pencil.
I'm sad not to be going. It's one full day of animated shorts and features, Sita Sings The Blues and The Secret Of Kells, with a couple of talks by the film makers. The screenings take pace in an IMAX theatre so my little film will be enormous! Knit and Purl will look like something Godzilla should be fighting and I expect it will be the only chance I get to see that. Last year the festival played host to a talk by Michel Gagne. I'm such a fan that if he were there this year I would've posed as the pilot to get my flight over. I've seen Catch Me If You Can, it looks easy.
I'd love to see Seattle, home of grunge, Bill Gates, a monorail, a space needle, Bruce and Brandon Lee's graves, a walking tour of clocks, lots of gardens, a hammering man statue and the Fremont Troll. It's also the only city in the world where I would feel that a coffee in Starbucks was justified.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

it took iron willpower to not stop at a hedge puzzle on the way

The hard to read thing on the right is a Mackinnon and Saunders Animation Award and the harder to read thing on the left is a Grand Jury Award, both from the Exposures festival in Manchester. If you could read the one on the left you would see that it doesn't have a name on it, which is because I was a joint winner with Stuck On The Edge by Jennifer Fearnley, and they clearly didn't plan for that. She kindly allowed me to keep the award which normally I would feel bad about, but she had already won two other awards and only has two hands.
Whilst there, I met Peter Saunders who was ridiculously complimentary about Heartstrings and informed me that in all the years they have been judging the award, mine is the first stop motion film that has won. I feel very honoured. Apart from this lovely rectangle of glass my prize is a tour around Mackinnon and Saunders who are currently working on the puppets for the new Tim Burton feature, Frankenweenie. I also now own Peter Saunders' business card which takes pride of place in my wallet, ruling over all the other business cards. Words cannot describe how glad I am that entered this festival.
Manchester had a huge German Christmas market, it just went on and on, and made me wonder who is left to man the markets in Germany. It was still November at the time so I was a Grinch and refused to enter in to the Christmas spirit. A giant, cute, light up Father Christmas almost made it happen but I resisted.

Monday, 23 November 2009

a sheepish post

Heartstrings has been shortlisted for judgement in the 'Best Student Film' category at the British Animation Awards. Yay!

It's all very exciting but I don't really know what it means. It sounds suspiciously like a TV talent show where I've made it through to the next round. Hopefully I don't have to go to London and animate on stage in front of hundreds of people and a panel of judges.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

award update

I was awarded 'Best Student Film' at the Norwich Film Festival which was pretty exciting. It was the first festival to screen the film, the first one to give me an award and it was also the first year of the festival. I wish it much success in the future.
Last weekend I went to Canterbury AniFest. It was the first time I'd seen the film with a biggish audience and it was a good feeling. It was great to see Barry Purves again as he talked about things that influenced him. Also one of the judges is Peter Firmin, co-creator of Smallfilms, Bagpuss and The Clangers, who was very complimentary about Heartstrings and a pleasure to chat with. I walked away with the 'Runner Up', 'Technical Accomplishment' and 'Audience' awards. I won them I didn't just walk off with them. A huge thank you to everyone who voted for me and to the festival for being so supportive.
While in Canterbury I learned of a fireworks display near by organised by the British Fireworks Champions. It would've been rude not to go. I can report that it was excellent and also that the people of Kent don't appreciate how lucky they are.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

asian premiere

Today is the first day of Aniwow! and much to my amazement Heartstrings has made it into the final competition for the White Poplar Award. This means it is screening on a loop for the next two days at the CUC in Beijing. I am very lucky that the theme of my film fits with the theme of this year's festival and so I get to be included in a programme of the best student work from around the world.

As it is in Beijing I am imagining all sorts of Olympic style ceremonies. My favourite is the giant firework hand prints that travel across the city. The hands only have three fingers of course.

Friday, 23 October 2009

north american premiere

This weekend is the first year of The Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival. There will be a strong Newport presence in the academic competition with myself, Lorna Bailey and Joseph Wallace all being selected. There may be more but the website hasn't posted the nominees so I can only report the facts as I know them.

I will be thinking positive thoughts about one of us winning the award. The trophy is an armature which is extremely useful. I think other festivals should take note and make their trophies functional too. A statuette that is also an external hard drive, a framed certificate that is also a graphics tablet or for the festival with a tiny budget a trophy that is also a pencil sharpener.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

live and covered by dots

This event coincides with the opening of the shiny and newly renovated Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. It will probably still smell of fresh paint but don't let that put you off.
A fantastic opportunity to hear Gareth Bonello's wonderful score live from his banjo to your ears! If you've already seen the other films then this is the chance to see them again but with a new soundtrack which will transform them into brand new films.

It's also a chance for you to see me try and talk in front of a room full of people without exploding in panic. On second thoughts, I'm sure you all have better things to do that night so maybe you should do those things instead.

Although this event is very exciting, what made my heart sing with glee was being printed in the Chapter programme, of which I've been a flipper for many years.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

if i could turn back time, would i have found a way

I have just discovered that Heartstrings has been selected to screen at ReAnimania which is on from 3rd to 6th October. Today is the 8th October so if any Armenians can let me know how it went I'd be grateful.

Congratulations to Nick Parki, as he's known in Armenia, as he's won yet another award for A Question Of Bread And Death.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

world festival premiere

Heartstrings has been selected to screen at the Norwich Film Festival, and been nominated for the 'Best Animation' and the 'Best Student Film' award.

It is showing on Friday 18th September during the opening night screening and on Monday 21st September before the BAFTA nominated animation screening. I'm very pleased to be part of BAFTA Film Night 2, as for just one night I can pretend that I was in with a chance of winning one.

Friday, 11 September 2009

no nay sayers please

With the ending of the degree show, so ended the making of Heartstrings.

Or so I thought.
Thanks to the involvement of WONKY Films in Bristol, Lefty and Righty have become Knit and Purl. I've been working on some animated shorts to show around to industry types which could eventually bring Knit and Purl to a media device near you.

As part of this I have an E4 sting posted on the E4 website. At the moment it is doing quite well but if any extra YAY! voters want to make themselves heard I'd appreciate it.

I am also now the owner of a very strange pin cushion.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

show's over folks

The Graduate Show has now finished and this is what it looked like.
Above is the stop-motion exhibition, and below is my board.
In the middle I put a digital photo frame that played my showreel and the making of heartstrings on a loop. People seemed to like the puppets and it was fun to come in and see them in odd positions after they'd been moved around.
Here is the timelapse edited together to become 'The Making Of Heartstrings'. The music is some of Gareth's banjo fiddling during recording. Am I moving them or are they moving me?
I also fixed the pixely problem I had by re-editing the whole thing and exporting as an .avi. It looks alright now, all ready for festivals.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

my first award...ever

Bit of a shock considering had no idea that the award existed this year. I'm not good at talking in front of people even with prior notice so I ended up sounding like an idiot when I collected it. I didn't put any thankyous on my credits because of the time it took to spell everything out in wool so it could've been a good opportunity to at least thank my tutors who were in the room. Instead I just ran away, like Roadrunner, leaving dust clouds behind me.

It's awesome though. Great to know that people like the film.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

poster-it notes

The gradution show started last night and to decorate the corridor we all made a poster for our films. These were my post-it ideas. My favourite is the one with a close up of the character's faces with the title in the middle but I didn't have the time to set them up, light them and photograph them. These are the ones I managed to throw together last minute.

I went for the last one. It has the awhh factor, plus I think it's the one I can hang on my wall afterwards without getting sick of it.

Monday, 25 May 2009

mac and pc...can't we all just get along?

Finished the final cut today. Woo hoo. To celebrate I had a nice cup of tea.
I'm having compatability issues due to my lack off mac vs pc knowledge. It's a major frustration when everything is done but the accepted format for submission is .avi which my mac doesn't acknowledge. The mac vs pc adverts make it look like they just throw snide comments at each other...they should change the adverts to a UFC style cage fight, it would be a better representation of the lack of communication
A quick round-up of the last week. I spent Wednesday and Thursday filming the title and credits. Spelling words with string is not as easy as it might sound, and I spent about 5 hours stitching the copyright words, but it worked ok. There's a lot of flicker on the footage but it looks handmade and I don't mind it.
Friday I fiddled around in After Effects until I learned how to paint out the rigging, which I think looks alright but I'll reserve judgement until I see it on a projector. Friday afternoon Gareth came in to uni to record the banjo track. We spent about an hour and a half setting up and then working through the story to fit the music he'd already composed to the extended film. To be honest he did it all. I didn't need to give much input as I liked everything he did. It was interesting to watch his progress with each take.
Then until today I've been editing it all together. It's final running time is 2min52secs. Quite a bit longer than the original 90 seconds. I'm concerned with the image quality at the final export as I haven't compressed anything yet from the original HD image but the Quicktime movie looks a bit pixely. I can only put it down to the fact that I put a slight vignette on it. Also the volume is quieter than I'd expected, but the levels are right so I don't think I can do anything about that now.
Anyway, no time for a rest, on with the work for the degree show.

Monday, 18 May 2009

barry purves used my magnets

Ta-da....the animation is finished. It clocks in at 2 minutes 25 seconds, a full minute longer that I planned for and unfortunately I think it shows towards the end. I had to rush and so lost the characters a bit and just did the movements that were most economical.
It's a relief to be on schedule though.
The puppets held up alright really considering the length of the shot they were in. It wasn't until I scrunched them both down on the floor that I struggled to get them upright again, so the final shot isn't as good as I had in mind. Also, the final shot is supposed to be them hugging, which they are capable of doing, but on camera it looked wrong. One was coming towards the lens and the other away so it ended up looking like one had a giant head. I just had them hold on to each other instead. The eyes started to fall out too because of the amount of holes made in the polystyrene, but I managed.
Barry Purves came to do a masterclass on Friday and saw my film in it's half finished state. He liked it and advised that I be careful to let the acting read, which was a major concern I had about a movement I had done the day before. It's where Lefty points at Righty and then tugs on her string, and I didn't let Righty's reaction to being pointed at settle and read enough, so I think the viewer loses the tugging action. Annoying too because if I had just taken one more frame I could've duplicated it and it would've been fine. Grrrr.

Friday, 15 May 2009

concrete floor + 20 hours of animating = foot pain

So this is from today and yesterday, which were sort of continuous because I didn't go home. I have now experienced what it is like to sleep in the studio and be woken up by a cleaner emptying the bin.
Not fun but it was productive.
I spent 28 hours in the studio, 5 of which were sleeping, and shot 28 seconds. Some was of good quality, some was bad, and at one point in the early hours I became like Mr. Clumsy and kicked the camera tripod. It's at around the 11 second mark in the timelapse and it took my sleep deprived head an age to re-align it, I almost gave up and went home to bed.
As long as I continue to not fuss around with it, I'll have the rest of the animation shot by Monday. Then I can rest my poor aching feet.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

these are the good times people

This is the work from Monday and Tuesday. It took a lot longer than it looks but I m not sure why because it's quite simple stuff. It could be because it didn't go very well, and the computer crashing caused me a 2 hour delay so stopped my animation flow. With 5 days left to shoot I'm starting to worry about finishing, especially since I won't get much done on Friday, due to Barry Purves visiting the uni, which would be stupid to miss, and the studios being closed at 5pm for the uni ball.
As I feared, I might have to rush some of it, but it's better to get it finished than to fuss and have it unfinished.
Good times.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

banjo music rocks

Animated a lift today and it was easier than I thought it would be. I think the puppets took pity on me, came to life and held each other up. Unfortunately they weren't so helpful with the subtle movements that followed. Some days are just bad animation days where you just know you wouldn't get director approval. Lucky I am the director and I say it will do.
In more exciting news, I had first listen to the music written for the film from Gareth Bonello, a very talented and helpful musician. The feedback was that I love it and grin like a particularly amused cheshire cat on hearing it. I've edited it into the animatic and posted it below. I asked for a simple bit of banjo which would tell the story from the string's point of view. Gareth has got what I wanted completely and other than a little tweaking I'm more than happy with the storytelling. Once the filming is done he'll rewrite it to the animation and I will have an awesome score.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

t plus one minute and counting

Finally passed the minute mark. Today I animated Lefty being pulled down to the floor. It's the move I was most worried about getting right which is why it took so long to do. It wasn't that it took long to animate but I spent ages thinking about it, putting it off until I got up the courage to at least try.
After all that...it looks alright. I now have my next big obstacle due to the fall, some rigging that needs compositing out. I know the theory but not the practice, and the HD aspect scares me a bit, but it can't be that hard can it? Surely it's just a big pixel jigsaw where you're allowed to force the peices together.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

drunken monkey walking

56 seconds completed.
In the original animatic that would be almost two thirds done. As it's going it looks more like half done, which is ok because today is half way through filming.
I held off on using the rig today to see how the walk would look without it. It looks a bit ridiculous from this angle but in profile it's not so bad. A bit shuffly and uneven but I can get away with it because of the puppet's shape. He has to hurry back on set in a bit though and I'll probably need a rig for that.
A problem I didn't notice 'till it was too late is that he's casting a shadow as he gets closer to the fill light, and then when he gets to the end of the set i take him off and the shadow dissapears. It's gonna annoy me but I can't afford to re-shoot it. Hopefully the audience will be watching Lefty and not notice the Houdini shadow.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

a day of three parts

Only managed 2 seconds today. Partly because I spent 4 hours trying to edit what I have together for the project deadline, partly because I'm animating my first real walk (which I'm struggling with), and partly because everyone else's relief at finishing their films just brought me down.
I made the deadline with what I had, although I'm still not sure it's in 16:9, it kept on squashing it when I rendered it. In the end I'd spent enough time fussing and just handed it in. The walk is looking bad, very uneven as you can see in the video, and I may set up the rig tomorrow to try and salvage it which will of course take up more time than it should. And I have no-one to blame but myself for not being finished today like I should've been.
Extra focus is needed tomorrow to try and make up the seconds.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

shooting after the fade

I spent some time this morning re-hanging the backdrop as for the rest of the shoot the shot is continuous. Hopefully it won't sag too much.
The poses of the puppets needed some fiddling with to try and make them look as if they are leaning on each other. Shot 8 seconds today which I'm quite happy with. I should've finished earlier and edited the footage into the animatic ready for the hand in tomorrow, but I felt like carrying on, so I'll have to do it in the morning.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

sunday is always a bank holiday

The first section of the film is done. In the animatic it's 30 seconds. I've filmed 42 seconds.
I animated the two puppets being pulled together by the strings and then the string wrapping itself around them. To contradict my previous post I'm so far quite happy with the way the string is working.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

bright light, bright light

I tried a new angle for the web cam but it hasn't been very successful.
Almost 6 seconds done today. I am on track to finishing off the first section of the film before Monday, which is a bank holiday, so the studios are closed. I can then begin the second part on Tuesday, so even if the camera falls over and the set fall down it won't matter.
The image is quite plain so I've been thinking about how to make it look a little more finished. So far I'm considering some sort of border around the edge, like a picture frame, maybe made of a tangle of wool or lace edges. I may not have the time, so perhaps just a simple vignette effect will work.

Friday, 1 May 2009

pinch, punch...no returns

Another 5 seconds done. It was a slow day again but I think I found my animation groove today. I'm pleased with the quality of those 5 seconds. I remembered how to animate and so I enjoyed doing it a lot more. So far the string isn't causing any problems but it's still quite short at this point.
I was fussing with the camera this morning and managed to knock it. The onion skin tool on Stop Motion Pro was very useful for fixing it.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

little miss slow

Today was a slow day. I was slow to start and slow to animate.
26 seconds completed. I'm running behind the animatic by about 5 seconds which could stop me finishing in time if it continues.
I'm happy with how the eyes are working. I wasn't sure moving them around the head would work but it does and it also allows the head movements to be more subtle than if the eyes were fixed. I feared the heads would overwhelm the animation due to their size.
The eyelids are made from Fimo. I mixed the colour and then wrapped greaseproof paper around the buttons before sculpting the lids. I've made thin lids for normal eyes, half lids that work for smiling and frowning, and full lids for a blink, which are stuck to their own buttons.
To match them to the wool I made an imprint of an off cut of the material on a flat peice of Fimo. I then used that as a stamp for the eyelids.
The buttons were primed and sprayed with enamel. The fasteners on the back that are used to sew them to things, needed sawing off. I still have a wound on my finger from doing this 3 weeks ago. I then used Milliput to secure a small nail tack to each eye.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

imagine the flight of the bumblebee

Quite a productive day today.
21 seconds down...many more to go.
When I started this morning I found that the camera had moved. Minor crisis. The film is one long continuous shot so any camera movement will stand out. Luckily I had taped the tripod down enough to minimize the amount of movement so it was easy to re-align.
I'm going to try and get a better angle for these videos but because of the brightness of the set it's hard for the webcam to see the puppets front on.
Did the first bit of string animation today...I forsee future posts about how stupid it was to try and do string in camera.
The string itself is fairly simple. I tested a few ideas out first and these three were the most successful. The top one is normal parcel string with beading wire doubled up and wrapped around it. It's black because that's what I had lying around. It definitely looks the best and although it could be manipulated it couldn't hold it's own weight so could've caused trouble. The bottom one is 4 lengths of aluminium wire twisted together and then I also tried some heat shrink tubing on it to see how it would look. It is very strong and it holds its own weight but it's also quite stiff and I need the string to move fluidly. The middle one is a plastic type string, like a washing line, with 1mm aluminium wire wrapped around it. It mostly holds its own weight and is fairly strong, but it's the easiest to keep looking fluid so it was the winner.
This is the same orange plastic string with a slightly smaller 0.8mm copper wire wrapped around it. It's then been primed and sprayed red. The paint also helps to give it some rigidity, although it tends to flake off onto the set and puppets which is annoying.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

imagine the music from benny hill

Here's my day distilled to 10 seconds. The backdrop needed rehanging after fixing the foamex sheets as support. Then it needed sticking down. The backlight was faulty and needed replacing...twice. My key light was sorted yesterday and my fill light needed a reflector so I used a peice of polystyrene attatched to a light stand...which proceeded to block this camera's view of the set.
I stuck down all the stands and cables and made a start on the film. 5 seconds so far.

Monday, 27 April 2009


So the idea I had for a background was a huge failure. I want something simple and plain that will allow the redness of the string to stand out. With the theme of the film being string I decided that using packaging materials for a background would tie in nicely. I had a massive piece of cardboard with a collage of bits of envelopes and brown parcel paper to use but when I put the puppets on it they looked wrong. The brown-ness was too much and too dark. The puppets ended up looking stuck on.
I had two other ideas. One was carpet (pic above), the other was a thick sheet of material (pic below). I think both worked ok, and the carpet had the added advantage of already having holes for tie-downs, but the material just looked better. It was lighter so the puppets stood out and it had no pattern so gave the illusion of infinite space, which is what I was hoping for.
I spent today setting up the studio, finding working lights and fighting with a huge sheet of material. I need something to support the curve as it leaves the wall and hits the floor. Foamex is being generously loaned to me but it'll have to wait untill tomorrow. Tonight I will be finishing off my rigs and hoping I won't have to use them much, 'cos I'll also have to learn how to paint them out in post production.
In other news, here is part of the test animation. In my mind the actual animation will be better, in reality I might have to rush it and it will all look like this.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

storing zeds for future use

By now I hoped to have at least 15 seconds filmed.

I have 0 seconds.

I had the studio booked last week from Monday to Thursday, 10am-5pm, before uni shut for Easter, and I managed to film 10 seconds of test animation. Monday I was completely confident but I hadn't had the chance to test the puppets out fully before starting, so Monday was for doing that and setting up the lighting. Lights about 2 hours to do leaving me all afternoon for testing. I did about 12 frames before both of their heads fell off. The problem was that the polystyrene wasn't solid enough to support the glued in pieces of K&S, so as I turned the heads the polystyrene was breaking away. I went home about 3pm, optimistic about the next day when I would've fixed the heads and could start filming.

I unpicked the stitching of the necks and performed what felt like keyhole surgery on the heads. I used Milliput, an epoxy putty, to cement the K&S into the polystyrene and left it over night. In the morning I was pleased to find that it had worked, the heads turned well, but I decided to perform thorough tests before sewing the puppets back together.

I thought about putting them through extreme conditions just to make sure. Giving them to my dog to play with? Strapping them to the roof of my car (in a seated position) and doing a few miles on the motorway? Putting them in the tumble dryer (with a sheet of Bounce to mask the perfume smell while I'm at it)? As I thought about it I twisted and turned Righty's head which proceeded to come loose. That meant my Tuesday would not be spent filming but attempting to make the heads secure. In hindsight I should've left the Milliput longer to dry, the instructions say 24 hours to be completely dry, and I gave it about 16 hours. I did still believe that the Milliput would work so I spent the morning digging out polystyrene and squishing in Milliput.

They were done by noon so that I could give them 24 hours to dry and still have a few hours the next day to get animating. I was starting to feel less optimistic about what I could get done in a day and a half. This also tied in to the doubts I had about the background I was using. It wasn't working as I thought it would and it would have been difficult to match up for the next filming session in 2 weeks time. I decided it best to use the day and a half filming for testing, using a very simple background, to see how much I could get done in the time I had left and get an indication of how long the shoot would take. I would then work out how much sleep I would be losing and start storing it up in preparation.
So this is how I ended Wednesday. I managed 3 seconds in 4 hours. The heads were functioning well. Problems were with tie downs. I had magnets which I tried first, just because they saved a little time and also meant less post-production without holes in the set. I think the wool was too thick for them to function properly and the feet tended to swivel too much. So I switched to threaded rods, which worked great but were hard to fix to the feet through the wool soles.

The idea of moving the eyes around the face was working. I was using plasticine to make eyelids when I needed them but it left a residue on the enamel of the eye and so they became less shiny. I'm going to see about making replacement eyes if the shop has enough of the buttons left. If not I'll try making replacement eyelids. Putting screws on the back made the eyes quite secure but when I unscrewed them the screws caught in the wool and pulled it a bit. I'm considering switching to pins or small nails instead.
Thursday I managed 7 seconds. It wasn't great animation but I got a feel for the limitations of the puppets. One of Lefty's hips became loose and refused to tighten, which is why she has all her weight on one hip in the picture above. Righty's head became loose again too so he'll need another operation soon. Other than that it was great to get in to a studio again and just get lost in animating. I look forward to starting properly in 2 weeks.

For the testing I averaged 1 second of animation an hour so it follows that I'll be able to shoot the film in 90 hours. However, once the string shows up each frame will take longer and I want to have better quality performance than achieved in the test so I'll double that to 180 hours. That's 1 frame every 5 minutes which is plenty as I'm working on 2's (2 frames for 1 picture), so it's really 10 minutes per movement. I have the studio booked for 18 days, including the weekends so that's 10 hours of animation per day, which is quite reasonable and doesn't cost me any sleep.

But, I left booking the studio until the last minute so officially I have 8 days before the project deadline, which works out to 22.5 hours animating per day and 1.5 hours sleep. That would involve storing 48 hours worth of zzZZs over the next 2 weeks.

Hmm...the film won't be finished for the deadline but it will definitely be finished before my studio time runs out. Who'd have thought maths could be comforting?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

big, beady eyes

Finding eyes for the puppets has been a difficult search. Given that they're made from wool it would be logical to use big buttons for eyes. At any other time they would be perfect but with the release of Coraline imminent I think it best to stay away from anything buttony. I have hunted through bead shops, charity shops, markets (normal and super), diy shops, craft shops, toy shops and virtual shops. I'm sick of shops. I even checked peoples' clothing as they passed me on the street just in case I saw the perfect eyes. I don't know what I would've done if I'd found someone with the right buttons on their coat...stalked them I suppose in the hope of gathering enough evidence on their shopping habits to determine where the coat may have come from. Asking them would have been easier but I'm quite shy, plus the chance to be a spy for the day and tail a perp is too much fun to ruin by being direct.

After finding many potential eyes, most of which were smaller than I wanted but would've worked, I finally found two possibles of the right size and shape I had been seeking. Typically they were both in the same shop.
One is flat and plastic the other is rounded and metal. You can sort of see me and my living room in the metal one. Hiya. I thought the flat ones would be the more successful so I tried them first.
The roundness of the head makes them look oval straight on and in profile. I liked them but they still felt a bit too buttonish, so I primed and sprayed the metal ones to see how they looked.
I'm really pleased with them. This is Lefty finished (apart from eyelids) and I think the way the eyes catch the light helps make her look more alive. It'll be even better in the studio. I think the shape will lend itself well to the different eyelids and so help express emotion. I've attached small screws to the back of the eyes to fix them to the head, but also so that I could move them around. The eyes have no pupils so for the puppet to look around the head will have to move instead. I'm going to test the idea of moving the eyes around the face when they look around and I'm hoping it'll look cartoony and save too much head nodding.

I'm fairly happy with the finished puppets. They have larger shoulders than I planned but with the thickness of the skin it was difficult to make them much thinner. I don't get as much control over the hands as I'd hoped but the important movement is the grip and they can do that fine.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

master of puppets

So begins my attempt at model making. Having never made a puppet I have no idea if what I'm doing is right or wrong, but I'm learning and that's what's important. The armatures are kits bought from animationsupplies.net, which come with helpful instructions. I've drawn up the armature to scale as a guide. On the drawing the head and pelvis are too small and the legs a little too long so I rectified this when cutting the threaded rod.
I spent a good few hours hacksawing at the rod before deciding that the junior hacksaw I had was managing to hack but not saw. With an aching arm and sore fingers I ventured out to my nearest hardware store to buy some sort of power tool so save me from the pain, cursing myself for being a weedy girl. However, when I got to the sawing aisle I decided to be a man about it and replace my clearly faulty tool with something big and shiny... a more expensive hacksaw. My new saw cut through the 2mm rod like a hot knife through butter, well, if the knife was blunt and the butter already on a particularly stale crumpet. Anyway, it worked much better and I finished cutting the rods without much arm ache.
The rods needed filing so that the threaded balls and fixing components could be glued in place. I left them to dry overnight to make sure they were as solid as possible.
Success! After screwing the plates together I found that it stands and supports it's own weight. I was worried that the feet were too small to balance the frame, especially with the size of the head. I glued a peice of K&S to the neck section to attach the head. I also bent a picture hook and glued it to the chest peice (not shown in picture above) ready to hook the string on to during filming.
Using upholstery foam I snipped a body shape, leaving access to the joints for tightening. The hands are made from a sheet of pewter which is strong but gives a fluid movement. They look a bit like shovels but hopefully they'll work.
The next step was the skin. I bought a cardigan in a sale that still stinks of someone's sickly perfume. Maybe I should''ve bothered to wash it first. It is a close match to the square I made but is thicker and so has larger holes, which are easier to get a screwdriver through for joint tightening. I used wadding to fill it out a bit and snipped some more foam for the feet. I have to admit that this part is mostly the work of my mum. I had used a sewing machine before, but I was 11 and making a baby's picture book in Home Econmics. I'm not sure why, I didn't really know any babies to give it to. So my mum stepped in as chief sewing machinist. I stuck to the hand stitching to finish it off, which I have done since I was 11.
The heads are made from hollow polystyrene eggs. Righty's head just needed the top sanding off but Lefty's needed a bit more sculpting to make it oval.
Above is Lefty's head after being sanded and covered. Even though it's big it's very light so shouldn't cause any problems to the armature's balance.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

string squares and huge heads

Here's some concept art for how Lefty will look. I've purposefully designed these characters without thinking about armatures. I don't want the thought of how it will work to get in the way of how they should look. Their shape is fine in 2D, the challenge will be to create the armature to make the 3D shape as similar as possible.
There are two main problems with this design. The first is the size of the head. She looks really cute but the actual puppets will need a smaller heads to be able to interact. I want them to be able to hug each other in a realistic way and not have their contact restricted by their bubble heads. The second is the thickness of the arms and legs. The size of the ball joints will dictate how thin they can be but I will try to keep the aesthetic of this concept design as best I can.

The plan is to have a knitted skin for the puppet around a ball and socket type armature that is stuffed with wadding. I'll flesh out the shape with polystyrene but I want them to look like little sack people. They need to look like they have weight while standing still, hence the volume being around the belly, the hands and the feet. To discover what knitted string looked like I made this...
It was my first attempt at knitting and all those Hollywood actresses are right, I found it very addictive. Part of me thought I should've attempted something a little more useful than a square but I was happy to hear my Nan say that they used to knit dishcloths out of string and sell them at fates. I don't think mine would fetch much though. Anyway, the point was to find out how string moved when it was knitted. Surprisingly it seems like a good material to use for a puppet. It has enough stretch to enable movement and is tensile enough to keep the puppet's shape. Even though I would love to knit Lefty and Righty myself, it's just not practical. The reject dishcloth took me a whole day to do and I'd have to learn how to knit more than just squares, so the idea now is to find a ready made knitted garment that I can cut up and stitch together.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

start at the beginning...

These are the doodles of the initial idea. Two characters meet, fall in love and become connected by a length of string.
The film follows the breakdown of the relationship as each character fights for control and ownership of the string. In this early stage the puppets were going to have big holes in their chests that would become full of red string when they met each other, but when I pitched this idea my tutor James suggested that the puppets could be made entirely of string. I liked this idea as it made sense that they would be giving part of themselves to one another.
The character concepts are inspired by Morph, voodoo dolls and Sad Sack from The Raggy Dolls. The puppets are simple but hopefully expressive. The film will be all mime based performance so no mouths are needed. They are designed so that the same armature could be used and each puppet filmed seperately to bring down costs.
I've named them Lefty and Righty because for most of the film they will occupy the left and right side of the screen respectively. They are genderless because the aim is to show which is male and which female through the performance. However, I have given them different shaped heads with their gender in mind.