Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Immerse yourself in total inspiration

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John Dods website

A massive megadose of inspiration, that's what John Dods has been providing at the message board lately. To me it's been a revelation - because somehow, unlike apparently everybody else of my generation who's had a lifelong interest in stopmotion, I failed to discover Cinemagic magazine. It was one of the plethora of sci-fi/fantasy type movie magazines abounding in the 70's, but it featured a strong focus on stopmotion, particularly with "how-to" articles for aspiring amateurs. Many of those articles were written by John Dods. I didn't find out about this phenomenon until discovering and joining the stopmo message board in 2001, but since then I've read about this guy and his incredible pictures and articles that so many of my fellow stopmo enthusiasts have drooled over for most of their lives. But still I wasn't able to see any of it, until recently when John joined the board and started posting images all over the place. Pictures to melt the mind, and to excite the imagination.

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I'm serious - this guy liberally peppers all his posts with these huge pictures. Every thread is a visual feast. His life has been the dream the rest of us aspire to - sort of a modern Harryhausen. He's done many types of special effects work.... prosthetics, stopmotion, puppets masks and makeup effects among other things, has made his own films and been involved with various TV shows commercials and movies, generally as the creative genius behind the look and imaginative aspect.

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This is probably his most famous character Grog - featured in the films Grog and Forest Story. I'm pretty hazy on the details, but I believe Grog was an early film John made - probably the one on which he honed his skills and ideas. On his website you can see the evolution of the character from early rather crude (but always enchanting) home-made puppets to the more sophisticated ones he developed later. Forest Story is a later film, not finished yet, featuring the same character, but now benefitting from John's extensive experience in the SPFX field in between.

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Upon joining the message board, John made the exciting announcement that he wanted to trade in his old Bolex for a digital camera and proceed with Forest Story in the digital realm. I believe the film has been in limbo for some time (years?) but now it looks like he's going back into production on it. Exciting news indeed!!! I can only imagine how it must feel to those faithful fans who have followed John's progress through Cinemagic magazine all their lives and only been priveleged to see the pictures and read his words, to learn that one day they might at long last be able to see Grog in action! And yes, he has said that he will get Grog digitized and posted online somewhere.

Looking at his site (which he just put together and posted quite recently) my head starts spinning with sheer inspiration. It's a testament to what's possible for people like us... those who were fuelled on Harryhausen and King Kong and dreamed of doing similar things. John obviously works hard and is able to focus his energy to an astonishing degree, and he seems to be bubbling over with creative energy.

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This post would be woefully incomplete without mentioning 'Mysterious' Ron Cole, John's friend and fellow SPFX artist/stopmo wizard who joined the board before John did, and in fact convinced him to join AND to dust off his surface guage and fire up Forest Story again. I do Ron a disservice by posting this small bit about him at the end of John's article, but then he's mysterious, and little is known about him aside from the incredible film he's working on In The Fall of Gravity, for which he developed his own incredible cable-controlled facial apparatus. You can see the trailer plus Ron's amazing tutorial about his cable control device here (many thanks to PaulVortex for hosting it - the generosity and helpfulness of the stopmo community never ceases to amaze me!).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hittin the bottle - plus possible Prometheus prerelease????!!!!

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Wow, did you ever notice how everybody uses the most worn out cliches for their blog titles? And also (allegedly) alliteration. Oh well... whatever you can come up with in about 12 seconds I suppose. Anywho, like I mentioned last post, I've been busy making bottles lately. Here you can see the first few castings, alongside the original sculpts. I've improved my technology along the way.... the first few bottles came out pretty rough-surfaced, covered with fingerprints that I couldn't see in the sculpts, so I started sanding them down and gloss-coating. They came out much better, though I wish I had caught it before baking the sculpts so's I could have brushed them down a lot smoother (beats the hell out of all that sanding, which doesn't get everything anyway). And don't ask about the colors.... they're crazy I know. Only the dark green wine bottle looks right to me. I'll get some glass paint and try to fix them.

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Here are the molds, cobbled together from whatever I could find that looked the right size (some of them had to be extended slightly with epoxy putty - the containers weren't quite tall enough). I'm using EasyCast clear casting epoxy, made by Castin' Craft. I originally went in search of their more familiar polyester resin, which stinks to high heaven (it's the same stuff used in fiberglass) and discovered this odor-free 1:1 ratio epoxy, which sounds a lot better to me (I always hated trying to figure out how many drops of catalyst to add to that polyester crap!). I got their mold release, used it on most of these, and tried one without.... turns out you don't need it in a silicone mold. Good, because it's a pain to apply!

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Here's the biggest problem.... tiny bubbles. Thousands of them! The instructions said this can be caused by using the epoxy cold and to warm it in hot tap water for 10 minutes to avoid it. It doesn't work! At least for me it didn't. But I guess I can live with it. Heck, bubbles almost look right in beer or champagne bottles (only they shouldn't be frozen in place!)

Here's a nice little trick I discovered too.... after they set up completely (which takes three full days, during which time they're like soft, pliable and very sticky gummybears!) and you've cleaned up the castings, hit em with a coat or two of clear gloss spray. It takes off any dullness and makes them shine like nobody's business. Next up, making labels and painting the caps.

In related news (sort of) I just found this on the Bright Eye Pictures website:

"I hope to have the DVD (Prometheus' Garden) ready for sale on the Bright Eye Pictures site..... by December 1, 2007. "

Posted the 1st of September, but as yet there's no mention of it on the site, or on Bickford's site. Getting excited though (and I also just found out there's a lot of cool stuff on the Bright Eye site.... goin to check it out as soon as I hit Post).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holy Crap!!! Check out this amazing artist!!!

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Virginie Ropars

Virginie Ropars.... the link above will take you to the English version of her site, where you can feast your peepers on her insane visions of fairy tale and mythical figures. She's what would be called a contemporary doll artist, but prefers to call them figures (which I agree with.... these aint no dolls folks!). Nothing more to say.... just go and be astonished! I linked directly to the Dark Work page of her Personnages (figures) section (seemed kind of fitting on the Darkmatters blog.... ) but be sure to look around a little. The hands just blow me away.... (And this pic really makes my blog look good).

Meanwhile, been makin lots o bottles.... pics coming soon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Real or miniature?

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Harrowdown Hill music video on YouTube

SmallGantics article at Bent Image lab

This is truly mind-blowing!! There's a longstanding axiom which states that shallow DOF (Depth Of Field, which refers to the area in a photograph that's in clear focus) is a dead giveaway that something is a miniature. Photographers (including StopMoTographers) have always struggled to create an illusion of reality by trying to get as much DOF as possible.... generally by flooding a set with plenty of light and stopping down the iris in the camera or in the lens. Well Prammaven clued me in to this awesome project from Bent Image Lab to do just the opposite.... to make full-sized Real-Atures look like tabletop miniatures! Click the 2nd link under the picture above to read about it (though they don't reveal exactly how it was done.... sounds awfully complicated).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


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I thought I'd test the ideas of shallow and deep filmic space, which I'm only theoretically familiar with so far. Shallow space is a favorite of Von Sternberg {maybe I've written about him before? Can't recall.... ;) } and I know it can be achieved with a telephoto zoom lens with the camera set pretty far back from the action and zoomed way in. That's how I got the above pic. Notice the way all the puppets look the same size, with no foreshortening of perspective. If they weren't overlapped, it would look like they're all standing side by side for a police lineup. In fact there were about 16 inches between the frontmost and rearmost puppet! I couldn't quite get focus on all of them at once. This technique is used to create a sense that the image is flat like a painting.... it emphasizes the flatness of the screen and doesn't let the viewer feel they could walk into this space.... it distances them from the characters and creates a sense of disconnect between image and viewer.... a favorite among the avant gard because it makes viewers think about the nature of art. The back wall of the set seems to be squeezed right up behind them, and the entire space is squashed flat, with no room to breathe.

Heh... I also played around with some different settings in Framethief, and tried widescreen. But as you can see, all it did was stretch the image out sideways. Also, I apologise for the puppets always being in the same poses.... I don't want to bend them around too much before I pick up my megaphone and shout action.

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Here's the deep space we're all more familiar (and comfortable) with. I definitely prefer this look. It complements the stopmo aesthetic nicely..... what's the point of building 3 dimensional puppets/sets and then flattening them out photographically? Some people could make good use of shallow filmic space I'm sure, but for now I'm sticking with good old depth! Look how much smaller Cosmo (the bartender) is here than Hoppy (pop-eyed guy up front). His entire head is about as big as Hoppy's eye... now THAT'S some foreshortened perspective! It's funny, I actually moved Hoppy back about 5 inches because it was even harder to get good depth of field (focal depth) this way. This one was shot with a 6mm lens and the camera right up in Hoppy's face.

Setting up for these shots is really showing me the problems I'm gonna have with that mirror. It's hard to find an angle where the camera doesn't show and the light doesn't reflect directly into it and make sunspots. A flag cut from a piece of MDF helps a lot with that, but I can see it's gonna really drive me nuts. If you're gonna have a big mirror in your set, it becomes the most important factor and affects all your other choices. Plus the matte spray I misted it with to make it look dirty can really flare up bright when the light hits it a certain way. Ugly! But I should be able to minimize these problems when I've made some shelves and loaded them with bottles. Then the mirror will only show through here and there. And if it still gives me headaches... out it goes!

One thing I dislike about it is this.... good lighting is more than just how you aim your lights and shape the beams etc.... about half of it consists of what the light falls on.... form, texture, color etc. A flat mirror doesn't give it much to work with!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pre-production still

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This is one of many such shots I've taken so far, using the camera I'll be animating with and Framethief, to get as close as possible to actual filming conditions. The purpose is to fine-tune the visual elements as I go, making decisions about lighting, exposure, filmic space (deep space versus flat space etc). I'm also thinking about colors, since I have yet to paint much of the set and make clothes for the puppets. Things begin to suggest themselves as you look at the pics. Example; I'm rethinking my plan to make a front wall for the set, and the reflected TV is giving me ideas....

I find this a good way to go into pre-production... often you see things in pictures that you just don't notice otherwise. I find myself taking more and more stills as I go, until it's time to start animation, and then it's not a sudden transition, more of an easing-in... less surprises that way.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The bar will be opening soon....

Sneak peek. Sorry for the small pic, Photoshop no longer seems to work for me. But I posted it to Flickr, so click on it to see the full-size version (once there, click on 'All Sizes').

The mirror is a double-edged sword. It doubles the (very limited) size of the set and the number of puppets, but it also makes it hard to place the camera where it won't show up. That puts a bit of a crimp in my montage ideas - I'm extremely limited in terms of shooting angles. I'll try a few experiments.... but the mirror might need to go.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Strange sighting exposed as hoax updated!!!

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Click the Pic to see Monster Month Blog

The chill of October is in the air, at last the opressive heat wave is at an end, and crisp orange and brown leaves lay on the ground. And this time of year, strange creatures are sometimes seen. (Isn't it funny though, how nobody ever manages to get a good photograph?!!)

This pug-ugly above was (allegedly) seen by one Professor Ichbonnsen, and the painting done according to his detailed description by my friend Sven from Scarlet Star Studios. I don't know..... kind of crazy if you ask me. Nothing so bizarre could possibly exist..... could it? Something about it though.... can't quite put my finger on it....

If it does exist though, it certainly has my sympathy.... those Noubs sound like a terrible affliction!!!


Stop the presses!!!! Accusations of fakery levelled against Professor Ichbonnsen!! Following is a transcription from the comments section of this weblog:

Sven Bonnichsen said...
Looks suspiciously like a Dontiss to me.

Coincidence? Plagiarism? An evolutionary relative?

Hm. Given that were so... If the Dontiss feeds off mental emanations of intelligent host animals, could that perhaps explain the mysterious "forums" of this animal? Telepathic pow-wows?

Stranger and stranger.

9:23 AM
Professor Ichbonnsen said...
Yes! Telepathic communication is a plausible explanation.

Noubs are known to have a counter-telepathic effect on sensitive individuals. During "forums," the D.S. invariably begin their exchange with a grooming ritual: picking noubs off one another, killing the parasites.

If these animals were attempting to establish mental contact, then most certainly the noubs would have to be removed as a first step.

The facts all fit.

The hypothesis will need to be tested, though. I must contact the Quay sisters immediately. They will have to recapture the specimen that we previously tagged. If we remove its noubs, then a legitimate psychic (not difficult to find in Romania) should be able to make contact...

Mr. Brent: I've noticed that you go by the "screen name" of Dark Strider. Are you perhaps a fellow researcher of this species? If so, let us consider pooling our data. Knowledgeable collaborators are always welcome!

10:00 AM
Shelley Noble said...
fyi; I've made the following brief report of my DS siting at Sven's Scarlet Star site:

"I too have seen the Dark Strider. A magnificent creature able to demonstrate baroque mental agility far exceeding the expectations of its nature. I have heard fabled story too of its gentleness in the face of predatory threat and stupidity of the Booring Neids, a neighboring nocturnal forest dweller.

God's speed DS, we need more monsters like you in the world."

10:17 PM
Darkstrider said...
Ah "professor" (if you are indeed a professor.... )

First let me say that I find it rather inexplicable that, while these "Quay sisters" were able to apply a radio tracking device to one of these alleged creatures, they failed to take any photgraphs or obtain any form of solid physical evidence of their existence. Instead, the only visual representation we have of it is a painting that, as Sven already pointed out, bears a more than passing resemblance to my own (purely imaginary) Donstiss.

"Telepathic comminication is a plausible explanation"??!! "Reputable psychic"??!! I assume you're no stranger to terms like crackpot or faker?

.... In fact, could it have been you I surprised snooping around behind my garage last night? I didn't get a clear view of the lurker, but being nocturnal myself I was awake and around 3:15 heard some furtive noises out in the back yard. When I turned on the lights, there was a flurry of sudden activity, then a burst of running footsteps toward the street followed by the hasty starting and racing away of a van. Then there in a somewhat hidden location behind the garage I found an odd pile of painted canvas and 2x4s with a paper mache mask resembling the head of this "Dark Strider" creature. The 2x4s seem to be made to strap onto arms and legs, and the ends are sharpened to points, which would leave tracks like those of this imaginary (and in fact plagiarized) creature. And furthermore, the whole costume looked like a poor-man's forgery of a creature from the movie Dark Crystal (which I don't really recall, but could it have been called a Land Strider?).

According to your weblog sir, you claim to be galavanting about the world via an unlikely assortment of conveyances (rather like Phinneas Fog from Around the World in 80 Days). But could the truth in fact be a bit more prosaic? Which raises the question..... why the somewhat unnatural attachment to my friend Sven (whose last name is Bonnichsen). I propose sir, that you are a fake! A charlatan! An imposter! And worse, a terrible fake! Your copies of creatures from other sources are pale imitations, and even the names reveal their origins. For some reason you seem to have attached yourself to Sven and his circle of friends in a desparate gambit for attention at all costs. I believe you require professional help sir. Please, I beseech you, halt this travesty and seek the psychological counselling you obviously need! You seem to be fixated on Sven in particular.... perhaps you could approach him. Let him be your link to reality. Sven has a good head on his shoulders..... he could help you see reason, get you the assistance you require.

You know, it's funny. All the accusations I leveled in this post came only after noticing the one unforgivable mistake you made. I would have let it all slide.... the telepathy, the awful forgeries and transparent naming conventions, but you made one mistake that I couldn't ignore....

Everybody knows that it's not possible to conduct a forum without the presence of Noubs!

6:12 PM
Darkstrider said...
Thanks Shelley!!! You demonstrate your Noble nature once again, by both saying such kind things about me, and by playing along with the obviously deluded "professor" rather than chellenging his skewed views.

6:28 PM