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, 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.