4.30.2006

A Retrospective (& finally......a name)


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Maybe its a little early to take a look back, but I couldn't resist.  Here are all of my test clips from the first four months of Jenny...all of these frames and bits are about to be stored to disk, to make room for the next four months ;)...thrilled with my progress...

Major side note:  I've finally had an epiphany regarding the little girl's name...seemed a little obvious at first, especially regarding the Katrina metaphor, but it snagged a little piece of my brain and won't let go, so here it is......Nola.

Baby Steps


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OK...superglue and sculpey make good crutches when in a jam :) Here's a few walking tests...I really like what I'm seeing so far, the little girl is coming alive slowly, and the tests are starting to look more and more like real footage...i'm lovin' the tie-downs, though my aching index finger & thumb aren't...

4.29.2006

Introductions and Puppet Failure

Been away from the computer a lot this week, but have added a new link to my growing list of BlogBrothers&Sisters, take a minute to check out Objects At Rest, and watch the trailer for DG's current short, "Man Drawing a Reclining Woman", which is mingling with festival bigwigs as we speak...also have been in touch this week with one of my Tulane classmates who was relocated across the Atlantic after the storm, and has just returned to the states with a new series. Check her stuff out here...Veronica Leandrez...
Received my copy of BrothersQuayCollection vol1 from Netflix, gonna absorb that today...

Also this week....little girl test puppet #1, meet little girl test puppet #2....maybe I should call her version 1.5, since she is not that sturdy...tried to find epoxy putty at a few hardware stores this week with no luck, though its hard to find ANYTHING in a hardware store around here right now, with the rebuilding...so I got frustrated and used sculpey again for the bones, then latex buildup (she is a little bulky, a little 'Popeye' in the forearms :)...I got my completed set piece all ready for a walk test, and after two steps, her right foot broke AAARGH (the sculpey split and out flew the tie-down).....so I spent some time last night fixin' her up a bit (superglue always at hand) and I'm gonna have another go today and tomorrow, if she holds up (fingers crossed).....also realized it will be virtually impossible to animate a walk/run without a framegrabber, so these early tests will not be great, mostly just for me to get used to working with tie-downs...here is the tiny bit of footage I got so far, before the broken ankle...

...a short stroll...


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4.22.2006

"Synchronicity of a Community" or "The Nature of Good & Evil"

There are a slew of great comment threads and posts going on today, and instead of posting responses to all of them, I feel the urge to ramble here, and the word of the day for me is 'synchronicity'. "Plainly put, it is the experience of having two (or more) things happen simultaneously in a manner that is meaningful to the person or persons experiencing them, where that meaning suggests an underlying pattern. It differs from coincidence in that synchronicity implies not just a happenstance, but an underlying pattern or dynamic that is being expressed through meaningful relationships or events." (Thanks Jung, & Wikipedia) One of the things that I have come to rely on and love about blogging is the connection to a community (Scarlet Letters, Darkstrider, Halfland, and all the rest). I have so many seeds of posts in my brain that have yet to bloom, thoughts that come and go, weaving together a series of random ideas all tied to some deeper meaning that I cannot grasp or attempt to put into words...but occasionally a rant by a fellow blog brother or sister does just that. Which reinforces for me the notion that we are all connected not only by the physical process of creation of our respective worlds of artistry, but also by our thoughts and fears. The comment that rings most true to me today was made by Gretchin at the Scarlet Star Sudios blog: "One of the interesting dualities about blogging is that tension between casual conversation and archived expectation. i'd prefer it if the archives were viewed more as the archaeology of a project rather than a contract for it. that would allow uncertainty to be a valid component of the work and release a lot of fear about prematurely committing to an idea." Thanks for a great segue into a post that I was trying to organize for today...

I have been having an internal arguement about the story for the Jenny Greenteeth project, on the surface a simple element of character that has me stricken indecisive. As the story was conceived originally, the girl was an innocent, a victim of "wrong place at the wrong time", which has strong ties to what was happening in my life at the time. I think I've alluded to the outcome of the story, but let me just say it flat out right here. The little girl doesn't survive. This element of the story is non-negotiable for me. She is faced with an obstacle that is completely out of her league, spends the entire short trying to get out of its path, and ultimately fails. At the time, this seemed only natural. Horrible things happen to good people every day.

But as an artist, I began to feel a certain amount of guilt, the pangs I think of a responsibility that we all have as artists and filmmakers. As this girl's creator, the decider of her fate, I found myself attempting to make her demise easier to swallow. My first instinct was to make her a boy, because for some twisted reason I thought it might be less disturbing, more acceptable for a boy to die, but I've really planned to get a lot of expression out of those pigtails, especially in running or screaming mode, so I nixed this thought. Next natural progression for me was to make the girl bad. Not in an omen kind of way, just bad-natured. I ran with this idea, developed a whole opening sequence to set it up, which had me very excited as a storyteller, because there are some great additions to the story that I think would enrich it, add a little humor, but go against the original base concept of bad things/good people. Here's a breakdown of the story tweak...

Opening set-up shot, cave to cabin, all is quiet in the woods until we hear a crunch, a twig snapping, and again, getting louder. A tiny robot bursts from the forest. It is rolling speedily but clumsily, is missing an arm, and flashing red & shouting "HELPHELPHELP". It rolls out of view as the little girl bursts from the same spot in the underbrush, chasing the robot with a gleeful look in her eye. She stops, looks around curiously, never seen this place before. She walks over to the robot, now rolling in circles, still flashing and speaking "helphelphelp". She picks it up, looking at its back, where there is a piece of masking tape that says "Michael". We flash to a quick shot of the little girl snatching the robot from a crying boy with scuffed knees. Back to the edge of the forest and shoreline, she rips of the tape, and chucks the robot into the lake, where it sinks, hitting the bottom, and disturbing whatever lives in the cave.

In the earlier versions, she just sort of stumbles onto this lake, it has a much more magical, otherworldly feel to it, and is a little more mysterious because we don't know where this girl came from, why she is in the woods alone. Makes her almost a magical character herself.

So here I am, stuck in mid-movie-morph, a conceptual roadblock simmering in the back of my brain as I go now to do something more mind-numbing and physical, like continue to clean out my future workspace.

4.21.2006

Red Stick

Today was the first day of the Red Stick Festival, and I should be asleep by now but I think I need to get this post out first. It was great to be around so many people with a love of animation, all in one place, pros, amateurs, and fans alike. My brain was overloaded with short after short, including a dozen or so entries from the Animex Festival in Middlesbrough, England, too many for me to even remember or document or do justice to here, I'm very sorry for that...there was a great sight gag involving two puppets being shocked in that ol' LooneyTunes way, only instead of seeing their bones, we see their armatures...very cool...but really, a disappointing lack of stopmotion, heavy on the 3D/CGI stuff...The highlight for me was seeing a sneak preview, in-progress cut of "Over the Hedge"...It was awesome to see some scenes unfinished, missing lighting or textures or color, and as far as the movie itself goes, let me just say that Hammy steals the show (voiced by Steve Carell, who I hear may be up for the Joker in the next Batman flic? don't quote me on that but it just might be casting genious)...also lending voices to Hedge's cast are William Shatner, Eugene Levy, and...well let's face it, I'd pay to watch Catherine O'Hara boil water. After the film, we heard from director Karey Kirkpatrick, who is a native Louisianian, and has worked on Chicken Run and James and the Giant Peach among others...very cool guy, sat through a barrage of questions, many of which came from tiny little future animators with inquiries like "How come Hammy has to pee a lot?"...after the Q&A I managed to slip him a card and talk with him very briefly, as there was a slowly growing crowd of people behind me...then I headed out for that 2 hour ride home......mesmerizing nighttime highway stripes are evil...

Help Fund an Ambitious Animation Project

Hey, this all looks very familiar...until I devote some time to sprucing up my blog template a bit, lemme just put this right here so you don't forget about it...

Movies are a large part of my life. Since graduating from Tulane in 2000, I have spent a great deal of time working on screenplays, designing characters, conceiving stories...dreaming of making a film of my own...I have notebooks of ideas, and no way to vent them without actors, and locations, and equipment...and then I discovered the thrills of Stop-Motion animation. Everything I need is right there at my fingertips...the vision and the drive to create...I feel as though it is the culmination of an entire life's worth of artistic discovery...painting, sculpting, filming, acting, set design, lighting, it's all on me...and I like it that way...

But unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills. Working a full-time job takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes the REAL work, the artwork, suffers. Until I get that creative film job I'm always after, I am what Phil Dale would call a "grafter"...check his blog to see what I mean ;)...Phil Dale is a man with a mission, a professional animator (Corpse Bride, Monkeybone) trying to make a go of his own project in the UK...and to raise funding, he's started a site called Fund My Short, an innovative and inspirational attempt to remain a "crafter"...check out the site, give him a bit of time, and if you can, $$$...

4.19.2006

Reflective Light Test


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This is mostly me being curious and experimental, trying to get a watery-surface-reflective-light-thing going on, as if she's staring off the end of the pier into the lake...I don't think I'm going to need a shot as drastic as this, because the story takes placein daylight...gloomy stormy wintery daylight, but still daylight...and since most of the story is set near water's edge, I wouldn't want to have to do this for every other shot or anything...but you never know......basically I wrapped a large piece of foil around my tripod just under the camera, crinkled it up, and aimed a light at it...moved it around each frame, but tried to keep the light bouncingup onto her from below...its a little jerky, but with an orange light this could make a great 'campfire' kind of lighting setup...

Hissing Jenny Test


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After crawling up onto the pier, Jenny lets loose a hiss/scream...it'll be the first time we see her full-on, brightly lit, her 'big reveal'...there are a lot of visual elements going into the hiss scene, one of which is tested here in the final few frames...considering again the physics of an undead water witch, the hiss is going to be a major stress reliever for Jenny physically, basically forcing all of the water out of her big empty skull and whatever's left of her lungs, causing her to ooze and vomit (black lake water, nothing graphic ;)...
Here's a pic of the set-up for this shot....

Fish Test


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This is the first time I've rigged anything, the first time I've had to photoshop each frame...took longer than I would've liked, and could look better if I had spent more time with it, but since this is only a test...the quick shot of the fish is something that I may incorporate into the story...its an idea that I have that may end up on the cutting room floor because it kind of cuts right into a main action sequence...almost like the coin purse bit during the dogfight in Were-Rabbit...I'll know more after scripting, storyboarding, etc...

Here's a pic of my setup for this shot...

Peeking Jenny Test


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Here's an experiment/test vid for another shot that will be in the final flic: the first time the little girl really sees Jenny, peeking at her through a missing board on the pier...I wasn't too happy with the lighting here, and the phony pier 'set' wasn't very sturdy, so I abandonned it and moved on to another test...we'll definitely be seeing more developments with this scene in the future, as it was one of the first that came to me...

4.16.2006

My First Puppet Head


I realized today that I have not really shared too much about the creation and features of the little girl test puppet, so let's recap & take a closer look...I sculpted the head out of plasticine originally, then made a mold, and a plaster copy of the head...then I took both heads, cut them in half along the scalp, and sculpted the clay face onto the plaster scalp...I carved holes in the plaster scalp for the plasticine pigtails to attach... then I used the plaster face to sculpt five sets of replacement eyes using an air-hardening clay called DAS, which I used years ago to modify custom Buffy figures, and also to turn a mannequin into the Joker...the stuff dries unbelievably hard, the Joker mannequin has fallen flat on his face onto concrete from a standing position (did I mention my evil cats?) and survived completely intact...

ok...each hardened eye was then painted and mounted in pairs on little plastic pegs...a couple sets have broken a few times so next time I'll use armature wire to connect the two eyes together...the eye pair then slips into a slot in the clay face, which is hidden by a little DAS nose on a peg... the picture to the right has a light wash of white paint on the face, cause she got dirty...

Building a new girl puppet is a priority for me right now, and I plan to use a lot of the same techniques to build her...I want to keep exploring the plaster/clay mix, I have this affinity for plaster, I just love everything about it...carve it, paint it, sand it, mold or cast with it, and best of all its messy :P...I love the replacement eyes, not as big a pain as I thought initially...actually they are easier to deal with than the eye beads I used for Pandora...I plan to make a couple dozen sets, looking in different directions, different eyelid shapes, emotions, etc...at this point I'm thinking I want to keep her eyebrow-free, and try to get expression from the eyes themselves...the upgraded puppet will also have tie downs, so I can finally start really experimenting with walks/runs...

Other Jenny Priorities--
--more snapshots, little clips like the moody one in the post below...probably tomorrow
--the script--all this time I've been thinking 'finish those storyboards', because I am a visual thinker, but with a script, I can describe the story, hammer out the details, and THEN explore the story visually, which seems like the natural way to do things...special thanks to Shelley Noble, and the post of her Halfland script, for delivering this simple revelation...an extra bonus, with the script posted here, I can share my vision for the short as a whole without giving away all of the juicy visual info....after all, I want there to be SOME mystery for all of you when the thing is finally done...
--miniature-scale set--a tiny version of the entire set, with elements that move around (groups of trees etc) so I can get a clearer vision of how the completed set should look...will probably end up as a wall-hung shadowbox, or even to do some distant shots for the short...started blocking it out yesterday, roughly 1/8th scale...the pier in reality will be about 4ft x 1 ft, the scaled version will be about 6" x 1.5" if my math is correct...

4.15.2006

Noir Jenny


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...a quick short little clip, a snapshot if you will, moodier lighting than in previous tests, actually shot for use in a new banner, which is posted above but not the size it should be (working on issues), and also for a new avatar, cause (Dark)Strider's is just too cool...

4.10.2006

Live Action Water/Greenscreen Test


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....WOO_HOO! Finally a new Jenny post, seems like I've been away for ages...I still have plenty of updating to do on my Pandora blog, am working on a commissioned drawing, and editing a wedding video, but I decided to take a day to capture some live-action lake footage from Lake Pontchartrain, near my home...it was windier than I expected, so the surface of the lake was a lot rougher than I would want for the finished product, but all-in-all I like the look of the test footage...It is going to need a little something extra though, to help the two worlds blend a little better, the live-action and the stop-motion...the clip in here of Jenny rising just below the surface is actually going to be one of the few shots of Jenny underwater that will be in the finished film, but it will be a bit more complex (I want to be able to see the pier and the little girl in frame, a more overhead angle)...going out to the lake was nice, got me thinking more about Katrina and her backlash...the water was so brown...the city has had a "Save Our Lake" campaign going since '89, to clean up the water and make it swimmable like in days of yore, and it was actually beginning to look blue again...anyway, I think I may devote some time to a blog of my experiences through the storm, since I find most of my creative thoughts these days are touched by those months...the more I examine the Jenny story, the more I notice the subtlety of Katrina's tendrils...a child lost in new surroundings, an unstoppable evil with a spinning eye, the murky depths of a black lake...seems worth discussing...

4.01.2006

Without further ado, I present to you...

...my StopMoShorts short, 3 weeks in the making. Click the pic below to view a separate blog on the making-of, I didn't want to crowd Ms. Greenteeth. The short itself will only be posted at StopMoShorts.com for the time being. I'll update this post with a direct link to the site when all of the entries have been posted...

Drumroll, please...