Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brokeneck puppet

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The head MUST come off! That's the whole point of using the chest blocks, so the heads and arms can pop off to facilitate dressing the puppets. But Huck's neck tube was somehow jammed tightly in place, and I had to bust out the pliers to work it loose. They did some damage, as you can see. I don't expect the head to live much longer.

I can think of 2 options when it breaks - one involves drilling up into the head and epoxying new wires in place. The other involves making a silicone mold and casting a copy in lightweight resin, something I considered from the beginning.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Back to it

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Well, at least I've been doing animation-related things each day! But now it's back to the film. Here's how I remove arms and heads from these guys. First, make a tiny hole with the tip of a nail, then sort of scrub the nail around a little in circles to make sure the hole goes all the way through the foam, and to open it up a little bit. Don't worry, it will close invisibly later. You need to make three holes, one positioned approximately over each set-screw. Now stick your allen key in. This isn't easy.... you need to move it around until it goes in the hex hole in the end of the screw. You won't be able to feel it at all. You just need to keep trying to turn the key until suddenly you'll feel a little resistance (meaning the screw is turning with it). Then you can pull the limb out. I removed Huck's arms and head in order to start making his shirt.
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It's nice when your model is also your pincusion!
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I'm going with this crazy batik print, sort-of-semi Hawaiian style. Just seems to fit his personality. He's pretty tacky.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Running rig tutorial

I finally got around to writing the text for that long-awaited running rig tutorial I promised so long ago. I posted it on my site on the Tips Tricks and Techniques page. Click the image to read it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Darcy Prendergast has gone completely off the rails - and crashed into the zoo!

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Those of you who have been with me from the beginning or somewhere thereabouts might remember when I reviewed Darcy Prendergast's first film Off the Rails back on the old Darkstrider blog (scroll down just a bit... it's the second entry on the page). It was clear then this guy has talent. And now he releases his latest twisted vision Ron the Zookeeper. He's come a long way. And he's kindly sent me a review copy!

In Off the Rails his kinship with fellow Australian animator (and Darcy's mentor) Adam Elliott (Cousin, Uncle, Brother - Harvey Krumpet) was clear, but here he's moved beyond that. The puppets and sets are more complex now and more appealing. And this time around he doesn't follow the very Elliott-esque device of using the puppets to illustrate the story being told through voiceover. Instead he's created a fully animated film - the puppets talk to each other and there's more movement than the rather minimal (but perfectly timed and hilarious) approach in the first film.

There's a bit of an Aardman flavor to this one that I wasn't aware of in Off the Rails, but that's not to say he's copied the Aardman style or approach... as before he's capable of allowing his influences to be visible without cramping his own style. The first thing that jumps out at you about Darcy's work is the strong texture and powerful painted surfaces. The second thing is the great voice acting (Darcy voiced Sushi, the last male Grey Panda himself, as well as playing bongos for the sound track) and the perfect facial expressions. I believe he makes heads from something solid like super sculpey, with moving eyes, and only the mouths and eyelids are done with plasticene - but he manages to wrangle the most amazing range of expressions from them. His sense of humor is definitely twisted and there's a good deal of potty humor, but it never gets vulgar in a blatant way, like so much of today's entertainment does. And there's an overriding warmth and compassion that saves it from being nasty. Let's put it this way.... I'm pretty unforgiving toward a lot of stuff I see on Adult Swim but I strongly recommend Darcy's work.

Hmmm.... I just posted this and realized I hadn't even mentioned the plot of the film! Let me remedy that....

Sushi is the last male Grey Panda, living in Ron's zoo, and Ron's mission is to extract his.... Panda Paste for the good of the species. Ron is very dedicated to his job, let me tell you! He's willing to go farther for the animals than even Steve Irwin ever was! And in the course of the film Darcy introduces something the world has never seen before... that's right, Panda Porn! You'll come away from this one in a much better mood than you were going in.

And always remember kids.... don't stand too close to the animal cages! This film graphically demonstrates what can happen......

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More paint

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I powdered them up tonight to get rid of the shine, and they looked too whitish and pale, so I mixed up some more paint and hit 'em again. Much closer now. It's frustrating that I can't match Scott's paint better than this.... I guess it's mostly because I only have like 5 colors plus black and white! A subtler pallette would make it much easier - well maybe. I just get confued when I look at the faces... no telling what kind of crazy mixes he used!

Also I'm getting upset with the new digital camera. It's so freakin' hard to adjust brightness.... with the animation cam all I have to do is turn a ring around the lens... one way it gets brighter, the other way ot gets darker, and I get instant feedback of exactly what it looks like on the monitor. Nohing like that with the still cam. Oh no, I have to go into manual mode and then compute variations of f-stop, shutter speed, exposure etc. Not only do you have to be a photographer, but a math wiz too! Sheesh!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fresh paint on puppets, and Notes on Notes....

First, I want to welcome a new blogger - Shelley's husband Paul, who has launched Notes on Notes From Halfland, where he offers support to help bolster her in her ongoing effort to bring her vision to life. He's the president of a spiritual group whos focus seems to be to express your beliefs through action rather than words (hope I haven't mangled that too badly!). I'm looking forward to learning more about him and his group and beliefs if he chooses to discuss that. His second post was today, inspiring thoughts that inspired me to bust out the paint and get my hands dirty. In spite of the Januthon I'm supposed to be in the midst of, I haven't done anything for a few days. But tonight I painted Betty's legs and while I was at it gave her arms another coat to try to match the face a bit closer. I also worked over Huck's arms to try to get him to match better too... I like the way they're looking. Thank you Paul, your help is going farther than you might realize! No pics tonight though, it's really late and wet paint doesn't photograph very well anyway.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Peter & the Wolf BTS - online at StopMoShorts!

Eric has done it again! I don't know how he finds all this cool stuff on the web, or talks people into letting him host it at StopMoShorts, but he's dug up three fantastic clips of behind the scenes goodness from Suzie Templeton's awesome flick! Click the pic to read an article by Morten Moen, who worked on the digital cleanup and effects that were added after animation was complete. Apparently there was quite a bit of it! In fact, it sounds like the animators handed the FX guys quite a massive job, which they obviously tackled and then some! It's very revealing to read the article, and it sounds like this could easily have been a disaster, if not for the hard work and ability of the effects studios. But it all came together beautifully.

Those of you wanting to see the film but who can't watch R2 PAL DVDs, here's your chance to see three scenes from it, both before and after cleanup and effects rendering.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

She's got legs

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And she knows how to use em.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

It's Huck!

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Again with the tread wrapping! Tonight I decided to give Huck a little more definition - he was looking a little... tubular.

A kinder gentler ice storm





So far this ice storm isn't as bad as its big brother was, but there's more to come. Last night it drizzled all night and hovered right around freezing. I didn't lose power, but some people did, and I haven't heard any trees crashing down yet. But take a look at the bonus video clip below, or rather take a listen - you can hear the constant crackling as the trees sway gently under their massive burden of ice...... it's kind of like being in a giant bowl of Rice Krispies when the milk is poured in!

Frozen Forest (6.5MB H.264, requires Quicktime7)

I got a little work done last night - foamed up Huck's legs, so now he's technically the first complete puppet (but still nekkid). I'll post a pic in a little bit, along with tonight's progress.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Son of Ice Storm

The Snow Miser, from the Rankin Bass movie The Year Without a Santa Claus - master of cold weather and all things icy! Click the image to see his eerie theme song

As I write this, it's been raining all day and the temperature is just now dropping to the freezing mark. They're expecting an inch of ice overnight, and more throughout the weekend, so this could be a repeat (or worse) of the last ice storm. Since then we've been having terrible windstorms, which at least have been bringing down a lot of the broken branches that were still hanging up in the trees waiting to fall on the unwary. Just thought I'd send this out as I might not be able to post for a while.

Strangely, I was planning to go out today and take some pics of lingering damage from the last ice storm, but couldn't because of the rain.

Meanwhile, if I'm able, I intend to get back to work on these Radke puppets... it's been long enough! Actually I did a few minor things that needed doing, trimmed a bit here and there and finished the feet on the tiny little girl puppet, and fixed the spine of Hoppy, which had come apart. Remember the little hooks I was bending in the ends of the wires before I epoxied them into the tubing? When I made Hoppy I thought I'd just forego that little step and see if it worked. Well, a few days later the wires just pulled right out! So I bent a tiny hook there... he's slightly shorter now, but hopefully stronger.

I'd also like to propose a Januthon.

Till we meet again..... adios muchachos!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Fistful of Puppet

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It's half past midnight on New Year's Eve here in the midwest (which is pretty well recovered rom the ice storm now, just a little debris still laying around). 30 minutes ago there was a godawful cacaphony of explosions all across this little city, part fireworks and part gunshots. The streets are careening with drunks and clogged with cops - a great night to stay in and blog! Welcome to my appreciation of the wonderful structures and textures of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy. This was sparked because I just caught For a Few Dollars More (yet again.... it gets shown six times for every time they show Fistful or Ugly) - twice today actually! I've always loved these spaghetti westerns, in particular the Dollars trilogy, and the buildings are a huge part of that.

If you recall, in my analysis of the scene from Street of Crocodiles a while back I mentioned the fact that the Quays built a complex and mysterious space, as opposed to the simple clearly defined rectangular space from the Tool video Prison Sex. Well, here's the live-action counterpart... and I don't think I've ever seen a film featuring more organic structures. In fact the only other place on earth I can think of that has buildings as flowing and earthy as Mexico would be the Middle East, which has similar mud brick structures covered with plaster. I wish I had better screengrabs, I just had to find these online (at Spaghetti Westerns Locations). It's amazing what buildings like this do for a film.... normally in this modern world we're moving through buildings made in the traditional rectilinear formula... all straight lines and square angles. How refreshing to see these handmade, rounded buildings, with unexpected surfaces and rough earthy textures. It's more like a series of grottoes and caverns than the usual boxy buildings - there are spaces that creep up on you suddenly, little alcoves and cubbyholes and chambers and tunnels at various levels and angles. And part of the charm is the materials... the mud brick and mud plaster and natural wood. I became obsessed after seeing this film earlier with discovering whether the buildings were real locations or sets built there in the desert. I couldn't find anything about it, until just now I ran across that site when I was looking for pics for this bloggage. But according to that site, they must be actual locations, and many of them are still standing virtually unchanged! I guess that makes sense... it was low budget after all, no money for erecting villages and houses. These spaces remind me of the mockup sets Sven made a while ago. They also remind me of some of the coolest sets I've seen in films.... Caligari, The Golem, Oliver Twist, The Blue Angel, Ivan the Terrible, The Neverhood, Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood etc. When you use sets like this you allow for mystery, where as in a square room where every corner is in plain sight there is none.

As I was searching for info about the locations in these great flicks, I ran across a couple of great Roger Ebert reviews: For a Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. The first is a very brief review done in 1967 upon FaFDM's initial release, and the second a much more in-depth (and much more positive) one done in 2003. He's obviously come to appreciate and enjoy the films a lot more in the interim. Here's what I like about the first review....

"For a Few Dollars More, like all of the grand and corny Westerns Hollywood used to make, is composed of situations and not plots. Plots were dangerous because if a kid went out to get some popcorn he might miss something.

So Westerns had situations, instantly recognizable. The man in the black hat strikes a match on the suspenders of a tough guy at the bar. Two gunmen face each other at each end of a long alley.

"For a Few Dollars More" has lots of stuff like that, but it's on a larger, more melodramatic scale, if that's possible. Shoot-outs aren't over in a few minutes like they were in "High Noon." They last forever."

- And here's what I like about the second one:

"A vast empty Western landscape. The camera pans across it. Then the shot slides onto a sunburned, desperate face. The long shot has become a closeup without a cut, revealing that the landscape was not empty but occupied by a desperado very close to us.

In these opening frames, Sergio Leone established a rule that he follows throughout "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The rule is that the ability to see is limited by the sides of the frame. At important moments in the film, what the camera cannot see, the characters cannot see, and that gives Leone the freedom to surprise us with entrances that cannot be explained by the practical geography of his shots.

There is a moment, for example, when men do not notice a vast encampment of the Union Army until they stumble upon it. And a moment in a cemetery when a man materializes out of thin air even though he should have been visible for a mile. And the way men walk down a street in full view and nobody is able to shoot them, maybe because they are not in the same frame with them.

Leone cares not at all about the practical or the plausible, and builds his great film on the rubbish of Western movie cliches, using style to elevate dreck into art. When the movie opened in America in late 1967, not long after its predecessors "A Fistful of Dollars" (1964) and "For a Few Dollars More" (1965), audiences knew they liked it, but did they know why?"

I knew I liked it, and I knew some of the reasons why, but I hadn't thought of it in quite the way he revealed in this review. Now the wheels are turning in my head.....

Here's another great site I stumbled across (some time ago actually, and then again recently):, where I found this delightful little anecdote -

"Another interesting note is that this is the first film that contains what is to become a Leone trademark, the musical theme embodied within the movie itself, where the music is often both diagetic and non-diagetic (within and seperate from the action). In this film, the musical theme is a pocketwatch that plays a simple tune which starts and blends with the Morricone non-diagetic music. In Once Upon a Time in the West the device is a harmonica. In Once Upon a Time in America the device is a pan flute that Cockeye plays (but is really played by Zamphir, master of the Pan Flute (I am not making this up)). Sometimes the tunes are diagetic, sometimes they are nondiagetic, and sometimes a mixture of both. This is distincly Leone, and I've only seen other directors use this technique once (in The Mission, again with Ennio Morricone music)."

... Note - diegetic music means music that the characters can actually hear, and non-diegetic music would be music only the viewer hears, such as theme music. I have seen this done once, in a comedy that I can't recall the name of (or who was in it or anything). The characters are driving along in a car and having a very dramatic conversation, accompanied by powerful orchestral music, which of course the audience takes for the usual non-diegetic music. Then the car slowly passes a bus carrying a symphony orchestra to some concert, and we see that they're all playing their instruments.