Wednesday, July 19, 2006

No bones about it

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CD is starting to look more like a puppet. In fact, a very Czech puppet, something I've always wanted to achieve but haven't been able to yet. And now he's got some bones.

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Here's an (ugly) closeup... hopefully you can make out the threads under/immersed in the nasty-looking JB Quickweld. Here's what i did....

I cut some nails to the length I wanted each arm segment to be (leaving plenty of room in between segments so the wire won't have to bend too sharply). I made sure to cut off the head and the point on each nail. Then I filed down the cut ends so they're rounded (no need tempting fate... I'd hate for a bone end to suddenly pierce through the arm during shooting). I also filed down the entire length of the nail so the JB Weld can grip it firmly. Once I had all 4 nails set up like this, I cut 4 lengths of silk thread - a little longer than I thought I'd need, and I pre-tied a slipknot in one end of each. The reason for this will become clear in a moment. Now things get crazy... the Quickweld sets in 4 minutes, so I had to work fairly fast. Actually it wasn't like crazy-fast or anything, but there was no room for errors and re-dos. Heh... actually I didn't think to pre-tie the slipknot in the first piece of thread until after attempting this the first time, and that one did get crazy, but after that I pre-tied each one.

Ok, I mixed up just enough JB Weld to do one bone segment, and I applied it to the arm with a little spatula thing. I first examined the arms and decided exactly where I wanted to lay the bone segments.... I fit them into natural troughs between the arm wires. Now I apply the JB Weld and drop a bone in place, and then quickly take one of the pieces of thread and tighten the slipknot around the end of the bone to secure it against the arm. By this time the JB Weld is trying to sag and drip off onto the puppet's head or onto my jeans, but it's thick gummy stuff, so a little slow rotation keeps that under control. Once the slipknot is secured, clip off the end of the thread and start wrappin'. I made sure to completley cover the end of the bones, with both thread (lots of extra wrappings) and Quickweld so the ends don't try to lift up later. Once I reach the far end of the bone and get that securely wrapped, I tie it off and cut off the excess. Then, if the quickweld isn't too stiff yet (it's getting close in any event) I try to add a little more in places and smooth down what squeezed through the wrappings. The idea is to have the wrapped thread completley immersed inside the epoxy... so once that's set it's all one solid form. No way will any of this thread come unwrapped later!

Still not entirely sure how I'm gonna do hands. I think I'll use thinner guage wire... Buster's fingers are made from the extended arm wires, and they're a bit too stiff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Puppet #1.... BEGUN

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It's time for those incredible Radke heads to grow some bodies. I decided to start with this guy, affectionately known as Catatonic Drunk - because he's one of the simplest. He'll be wearing long sleeves, so I don't need to make silicone arms. In fact, he'll be made very much like Buster (and is proportioned almost identically, except the head is bigger and the legs are shorter).

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The armature is untwisted aluminum armature wire, wrapped with silk thread for strength (adhered with trusty Barge flexible contact cement), and the tie-downs are nickle-plated brass thumb nuts from Smallparts.com. I roughed up the channel with a file down to the brass to get a good bond with the JB Quickweld that's attaching them to the wire. Can you see the third tie-down? That's to secure him to his barstool... it's probably the only one he'll really use, because he pretty much lives on his stool. But I thought I'd give him the regulation foot tie-downs, just in case of an emergency (like if he needs to go pee in a dark corner or something). The legs are almost too weak to hold him up though... could have used one more wire. But I think he'll remain seated for the entire performance.

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I hope Scott doesn't see this.... I can't believe I did it! I feel like I defaced the Mona Lisa or something! It was an experiment (which I WON'T be trying on any of the others!!)... see, Scott left these little neck-stubs on all the heads. I think that's generally the way a marionette head is articulated.... there's no joint at the base of the skull, just at the bottom of the neck. And of course I could just leave them, but I really wanted to make silicone necks for them and get full head movement! Stupid really - I should have left them exactly as he sculpted them. Bit I thought, just on this one head, I'd just TRY it.... how hard could it be right? Just carve away some of that paperclay and then make a silicone neck to cover the damage. But it turns out the heads are sculpted from something much harder than paperclay... it's rock hard! Must be epoxy putty. And of course, wouldn't you know it - I scratched him up in a couple places and nicked the neck wires! Damn!

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Here's another damage shot. I can fix it. I'll rebuild the neck stub as closely as I can to the way it originally was, and try to match Scott's paint job. I can't believe I did this! Better to stick a rusty X-Acto knife in my calf.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ask and ye shall recieve

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Wesley Bohannon wrote to let me know that indeed Stanley is online, over at Atomfilms. The pic above will take you there. This is a much less dark film overall than Dog, but does get pretty wrenching at the end. Stanley's hair is actually made from steel wool!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Suzie Templeton's dog on YouTube!

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I know some people aren't able to watch that streaming clip of Suzie Templeton's Peter and the Wolf, so I cheked YouTube to see if it's been uploaded there in some other format. Scott Radke said he couldn't watch it, and I know it's something he'd really like. Well, I didn't find it there, but I did run across this little gem... Suzie's earlier film Dog. Careful though... this is some extremely dark and intense stuff... if you have a hard time dealing with sickness or death or have a strong affinity for small fuzzy animals you might not want to watch it. No, it's not idiotic mindless blood-dripping violence like you so often see on Adult Swim and so many other 'hip' networks these days.... that's what makes it so disturbing... it's actually extremely well done and deeply moving. The seriousness of her approach makes it far more effective than all the cinematic splattergore from any ten Hollywood bloodfests. Click the image above to see it if you dare. Now if onlyu somebody would upload her university graduation piece Stanley. Oh... one really cool thing... this clip was only upladed yesterday! Thank god for You?Tube's ever-growing database! One day every film you ever wanted to see but never thought you could will be there.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kung fu - Cro Magnan style

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Interesting premise, huh? What the heck could it mean, you ask? And you say you've never seen that Frazetta painting before? Neither have I until I did a web search for Cro Magnon, but that's beside the point. The point is, what Im talking about today is movement. Well, and thought. Ok, it's going to be a bit of a ramble... been a while since I did one of those. So settle in and enjoy the ride, and maybe it'll spark off some ideas.

I want to start with a story from high school. It didn't happen to me, it was a friend of a friend, a guy named Joe. Joe knew karate... he was a black belt in fact, and a really nice, friendly guy. He was one of these guys that's like an ambassador..... totally cool to everybody he meets, and you just knew he was going places. Anyway, I heard that one day a bunch of guys were messing with him at school... you know, shoving him around, getting him riled, your basic garden variety bullying to get a fight started. The usual crowd gathered around, kids clamoring to see blood and hopefully some teeth flying. And these clowns were beating the crap out of Joe. Until somebody in the crowd shouted "Use your karate Joe!"... then it was all over in a few seconds, with predictable results. He pretty much mopped the floor with those neanderthal scumbuckets.

The point I get out of the story is that, even if they have a skill or some special knowledge, people don't always use it unless they're prompted. And sometimes even then. It takes a special effort to access the higher thinking center of the brain... left to its own devices the brain is pretty plodding and lazy. It's actually hard to believe how relatively rarely most people make that effort and get the wheels turning. I work at a restaraunt with a mix of people... some are high school kids, one is a senior citizen, and there are a few other adults like me - and age has nothing to do with it. Most of the time, most of these people just go about their routine without any creative thinking at all.... making stupid mistakes - the same ones over and over generally. And for most of them, if you point out the mistakes, they don't take the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and advance themselves, they'll just get mad and start spouting off a lot of F-bombs and threats... you know, "You don't know who you're f'ing with... you don't wanta f with me mother f'er! I'll f you up!" That kind of stuff... arrogance that they mistake for pride. It's rampant in today's society, especially among the young teenagers. It could be mostly just the area I live in though. On the other hand, if somebody points out something I did stupidly (or a few others in the place are the same way) I'll generally (not always... depends on my mood and the way they do it) thank them for helping me improve my performance. Heh... the other day I saw the stupid way somebody had laid all the sauce pouches on their sides stacked on top of each other so they all leaked out all over each other, and I turned to the guy next to me and said "This is the kind of thinking that wiped out the Neanderthals!"

It's like the conscious particles of dark matter in the His Dark Materials books that I raved about on the old blog.... you have to want to see them, or you won't.

And what is it I want to see now? It's a certain kind of movement, which was brought to my attention a few days ago by that awesome Bumble clip by Justin Rasch. Oh by the way, I uploaded another one by him to StopMoShorts: Chew Em Up. Not quite as coo as a rampaging cartoon monster shredding air with his claws, but the movement is just as breathtaking. I mentioned a certain acting exercise in that post where you ewnvision semi-visible trails being left behind every part of your body as you move through the space around you, making a sort of static kinetic image, like a long exposure photograph only 3 dimensional. It seems like that's the way Justin thinks. He said he "designed" the motion for that Bumble clip, which is a very revealing choice of words. You don't often hear people say that in stopmo, at least I haven't... I think it's more common among CGI or 2d animators, and it implies a planning out of how to combine movements into something aesthetically pleasing.

Let's say you have a puppet who has to perform some series of tasks.... maybe he walks in a room, sets down his briefcase, shrugs off his coat and then turns to answer the phone. It could be done as a bunch of separate moves, all unrelated - or you could combine them all into one smooth motion the way a dancer would do it. And in so doing, you could envision the arcs the various body parts will make through space. Rather than turn the torso and then lift the arm, he could do both at once, ad it would look better, assuming it's done smoothly and with decent arcs.

I suppose it's sort of like what Jackie Chan does... he's known for the way he moves, and not just athletically like David Belle and the Yamakasi... they ration every move down to it's essence so as not to waste any energy, portion it out and every ounce of energy is directed towards making the jump and planting the landing. On some moves there's an aesthetic element, but generally the reason we admire them is because of the sheer athleticism and the fact that they use the urban landscape as a playground, something we'd all love to do as we trudge through the turnstiles they leap over. But in the case of jackie Chan, he does it all with style and makes it look good, adding a comedic element and doing facial expressions along the way. But all that is sort of the frosting on the cake... mostly what he does (as far as I'm interested today) is design his actions so they work together and look good.

Ok, well I think I've said what I set out to say. I plan to start doing some animation and try to design this kind of motion, inspired by Justin's beautiful work.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Clippetty clips

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I have two exciting clips to share with my webfriends today. Those who frequent the SMA board (probably most of my readers) have already most likely seen them both, but I wanted to share these with Shelley... erm, I mean with those who don't! The one above is something I've been super-stoked about since I first heard rumors about it a year or so ago.... Suzie Templeton's incredible Peter and the Wolf project, made to be screened during live performances of Prokofiev's orchestral piece. Suzie, you've come a long way, baby! I mean, I absolutely love Stanley and Dog, but those are more personal, sort of home-made films on a small scale. Somehow, even fronting a massive full-on large scale production she seems to have managed to keep things very intimate and keep a strong sense of individual style intact. I can't get enough of this clip! I've got it looped and full-screened and just keep watching and watching..... in fact I'm going back in as soon as I finish writing the rest of this.

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Ok, I know this pic isn't nearly as exciting as the other one, but trust me on this one.... click it to see some truly inspiring animation by a first-timer with way too much talent! It was shot on a webcam, without manual control over the imaging functions, so the video quality is pretty poor, but that doesn't matter. This clip absolutely shines for sheer energy and skill! Justin said he made the puppet on family art night from scraps of 'craft stuff' laying around the house, then designed the movement in traffic while driving home from work on the freeway and animated it that night after everyone was in bed. When the kids woke up they had a cool cartoon to watch. Boy, I'll say! That Bumble's really something! He just absolutley springs to life.... the animation is focused and self assured... not a movement wasted or misspent. It's plain to see this guy's only a scrap of metal and fluffy cloth with some little sculpy claws and teeth, but the way he swings those claws around and roars.... he just completely owns the screen!

In fact, that's one thing I really admire about the clip is the full use of screen space. Every quadrant is utilized, rapidly and in smooth flowing motion. In the book On the Technique of Acting (recommended by Misha Klein as essential for animators and also recommended by me) Michael Checkhov talks about an acting exercise that basically involves just standing and feeling every limb, every part of your body, and moving through the space around you, imagining a sort of half-visible trail being left behind each part of your body, a 3 dimensional echo trail of where you've been. That's what this little Bumble seems to be doing.... each move is so forceful and authoritative and so beautifully executed. If you can't tell, I'm super inspired by this. Now I'm REALLY excited about doing some performance animation of Buster (but I really need to make a more fully animatable Buster puppet... it would really be nice if he could bend his knees and his fingers!)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The hills are alive.......

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With the sound of music, natch! What else? I've been researching the music used in silent films, and generally it's Ragtime or ragtime-related. It was the age of Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, musicians who could wring incredible drama out of a piano. I really don't know, but my guess is that the music that came to be known as ragtime probably began in Vaudeville, to accompany the antics of the comedians onstage (which is where Buster Keaton got his start, as a child of 3 I believe, in his family's act). It isn't really what we currently think of as music.... a repetitive beat with melody and lead layered over it, always in the same time signature. It flows more organically, slowing down and speeding up and changing entirely to suit the action it accompanies (or just the imaginary movie in the player's head or whatever). It's uniquely suited for silent comedies, as so many of the sounds are perfect for different kinds of action. You can listen to certain passages with your eyes closed and automatically think of someone sneaking, or pouncing, or running.

Anywho, the point of this post is that I've added a musical track to Race the Wind. I also fiddled with the color a bit, I hated that pale washed-out purple color I ended up with when I uploaded it! The picture above is misleading.... it's from an even more recent 'cut', a sepia one where I really boosted the contrast because even in the improved (musically enhanced) version it still looks a bit washed-out. I kind of did a bash job on the editing of the clip to make it match the music better... a song I found called Dance of the Demons that already matched it unbelievably close, but parts just needed a little tweak to fit right. And somehow I chopped off the part where Buster jumps to his feet before he starts chasing the hat... but the point of the exercise is just to demonstrate the power of music in an animated clip. If you download the clip from StopMoShorts, it's encoded well enough to stand fullscreen viewing.

Now that I've had some time to reflect on this clip, and especially seeing it with the music, I see what I need to do in the future for these kinds of films. The smooth, floaty motion has got to go! I did that on purpose.... I wanted Buster's torso to float straight ahead, no bouncing up and down etc, just drift smoothly, while the arms and legs arc through their motions smoothly as well. It's obvious his feet aren't hitting the ground... that's also what I wanted. I was thinking about a certain kind of Starevitch effect here. But I don't like it so much now. The music really made me re-imagine the action, and it needs to be far more expressive... a performance based on pantomime. Stronger action, longer pauses, everything exaggerated. I suppose it was necessary to do this first though... it's my first run cycle after all. I think it's important to do the basic stuff beofre trying to get all performanc-y with it. But I think I want to reshoot the scene and build it into a short gag reel type of thing.

Here are a couple of the sites where I've been conducting my ragtime 'research' (if you can call listening to countless MIDI files research!):

Perfessor Bill

Ragtime Press

Exciting stuff... and one thing I really love is that apparently most American music written before 1922 is now in the Public Domain, meaning that as long as you can get ahold of the sheet music and find someone to perform it, then you can use it without legal issues.

Mum(my)'s the word

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Recently we had a discussion over at Jeffrey's blog about mummification (naturally-ocurring, not the Egyptian bandage-wrapped kind), which is something I find fascinating/repulsive at the same time. It's like seeing the dried-out leathery husk of something that had once lived... it's skin and bones, sort of distorted and withered. Of course after the process is complete all moisture is gone, and that's the really nasty part of a carcass. There's a flurry of activity immediately after death.... bloating, decomposition and the slow-motion heaving and writhing caused by maggots and other flesh-devouring scavengers... nature's cleanup crew. Then you're left with something resembling a dried-out leather glove with a few sticks in it that's been laying beside an Arizona highway for a few years. Nice image, huh?

Anyway, the pic above is not really of mummified creatures (some pretty weird critters, that's for sure!). They're actually made entirely of paper, modeling paste and bamboo by Japanese artist Hajime Emoto. They're from the Museum of Fantastic Specimens, a website where they're displayed like real specimens. If you click on that link it'll take you right to the Japanese website, which can get you lost in a hurry... clicking on the pretty pitchure above takes you to a blog about it with some helpful navigational links that can make the journey more pleasant.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Jenny arrives, but Ahab is lost at sea

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This lovely sea hag came crawling out of the muck wanting to swallow my soul. I told her to be patient, she needs to wait in line. Actually, it's a woodblock print made by Jeffrey Roche, one of a very limited edition he made up just for his blog bros and a few selected individuals. I got #2 of 12. Nice... a hand-signed print. I need to slap this puppy under some glass to keep it pristine. Very Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Meanwhile, in completely unrelated news, my Ahab T-shirt came in from Zazzle.com, only Ahab isn't on it! Strangely the logo showed up, even though it wasn't separate text, it was actually part of the image itself. So now I have a plain black T-shirt that has my blog addy on it, but no picture. Strange. It makes me wonder, what kind of quality control do they have over there, to let something like this slip through? Obviously there are people there at the printing facility... I'm sure it's not entirely automated. Somebody had to notice the picture didn't print, and yet they popped it in a bag and sent it on out. No explanation or anything, just as if nothing is wrong. Now, I know the whole dark T-shirt printing thing is in beta testing, and problems are to be expected, and quite possibly it's something I did wrong... I started with a jpeg image and converted it to a PNG (recommended file type). And possibly it would print up fne on a light T-shirt, or on the other merchandise. I need to contact their customer service department and see what they say. But meanwhile, I recommend nobody buy anything through the site until and unless I figure out what's wrong and see if it can be fixed. I couldn't find a way to delete the items I had created.