Tuesday, July 05, 2011

TV that's better than movies

Breaking Bad s3 e12 opening

The new season of Breaking bad is about to break, and AMC has been showing all the previous seasons to get everyone hyped up for it. Man, what a fantastic show!! The incredible music video style montage above is just one example.

Below are a few screenshots showing a taste of the innovative cinematography. I've rarely seen interiors shot so dark, with just pools of light and layering used to separate elements. 

In the shot below, bear in mind that green (the color of money) in this show represents a dream of a better life - generally through money obtained via illegal and self-destructive means. Wendy's vertical blinds are a brilliant representation of jail bars too. I also noticed in the montage above that her headboard resembles the Breaking Bad title screen. 

 Here's a series of over-the-shoulder shots that I find amazing...

... Ending with Walt looking tiny and helpless behind his baby's crib in one of those empty dark rooms. Brilliant I tell ya!

And a sequence shot in a large room using two windows covered by opaque yellow shades. The glowing yellow rectangles are used perfectly here as framing devices and abstract shapes to create beautiful compositions. 

At home with the Whites - a tranquil domestic dinnertime scene.

... You know what this kind of lighting really is? It's Chiaroscuro - figures emerging from darkness into light. Like the stuff Caravaggio used to paint. Look it up if you don't believe me!

And here's the closing few moments of the same episode. Powerful television my friends...

I've been hard at work on my film... and I don't want to show too much just before it gets released, so I'm not posting about it. Soon though, you'll be able to watch it. I'm not doing the festival thing, so as soon as I get it done I'm posting it here for the world to see. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cinematic side-trip

Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky

I guess everybody knows what the above is. This movie really hit me out of left field. I had only ever seen his debut Pi; Faith in Chaos and didn't care for it, but the trailers for this one caught my attention. And when I saw it, I was blown away. Ok, there are some pats I don't care for, in fact I now understand Aronofsky is known for including some rather jarring moments of lowbrow pop culture in his films, which for the most part are actually quite elegant - almost more like European films than American. 

It made me decide to watch his other films, and I was quite impressed with them all. 

Requiem for a Dream

If you're interested, you can also look up trailers and clips from The Wrestler and The Fountain. I enjoyed all of these movies. Such a nice break from all the Hollywood slickness and homogenized formula. Heh... sounds like something from a baby's bottle, which seems appropriate for most Hollywood movies. 

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to make this post was because my interest in Black Swan also led me deeper into cinematic excellence. I discovered it was influenced by several films I had not seen, so I sought them out and was again blown away by all of them. I hit some kind of Motherlode when I started digging into the fertile soil under Black Swan! 

So here I include trailers or clips from those movies. Get ready for a sweet blast of mostly black and white cinematic excellence! But understand... these movies unlike today's blockbusters are not simple escapist fare or feelgood romantic comedies... they're powerful artistic statements that at times are harsh or terrifying or brutal. Reminders of what art can be when its not subsumed by wishy-washy Disneyfied sentimentality. 

Roman Polanski's 1965 psychological thriller Repulsion

Catherine Deneuve is having a bad day.

The Double Life of Veronique

I was lucky enough to find somebody had uploaded the puppet sequence. 

andrzej wajda's Kanal

These two are in Polish with subtitles. No serious cinephile would let that stop them from enjoying amazing cinematography like this!! These are not directly related to Black Swan, but gems I've discovered recently that I wanted to share. Above is Kanal, based on a real event; the Polish army, armed only with pistols and grenades, were getting hammered by Nazi tanks and bombers, and the remnants of one unit took refuge in the sewer for a very surreal and beautiful sequence I know I'll never forget. 

Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water

Need I say anything about this one? Amazing. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book reviews - Cinematic Storytelling, A Shot in the Dark

Here are my thoughts on a few books I've recently read. Starting with one I've had in my Amazon shopping cart for a long time and almost bought several times...

Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know

 by Jennifer Van Sijll
I can't say I completely recommend it, at least not until after reading more informative books about directing and cinematic composition such as Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen
Film Directing: Cinematic Motion, both by Steven D Katz and The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition by Gustavo Mercado. 

It seems to be part of a series of books published by Michael Wiese Productions all made in the "widescreen" format, I think trying to cash in on the HD craze. The layout of these books is similar to the 16:9 HD aspect ratio, and the books are designed to be visually appealing, but seem to be very sparse on information. There's a lot of blank white space, and what few words there are suffer from a stiffly formulaic presentation loaded with pointless repetition. Each page only features a few brief paragraphs and feels like it could have been developed a lot more. And then to waste more space, each chapter pointlessly lists the credits for each movie mentioned in that chapter - what's the point of that? I wouldn't mind it if it seemed the actual descriptions of the cinematic conventions themselves -- the meat and potatoes of the book - were more fully presented first, but it seems the credits listing eats up valuable space that should have been devoted to more fully developed discussion of those conventions.

I'm not completely panning the book... it IS a good brief introduction to "100 cinematic conventions every filmmaker should know". But that's all it is. To make an analogy, it's like a book that lists 100 great ingredients with very brief notes as to how each tastes and what kind of dish it can be used in, but has no recipes in it. The books mentioned above have those recipes... they go into great detail about staging and blocking and how to arrange actors and scene elements for various effects. The information in those books is presented in such a way that you come out with coherent understanding of how to set up certain types of scenes. 

Once you have a grounding in that kind of detailed info, then a book like Cinematic Storytelling is a good addition... some additional ingredients to add to your dishes once you know how to cook them. But that listing of ingredients does no good until you know some recipes.

A Shot in the Dark: A Creative DIY Guide to Digital Video Lighting on (Almost) No Budget 

by Jay Holben

I recently learned that one of my highest recommended books about lighting - 
Matters of Light & Depth by Ross Lowell - has been chosen as a textbook and as a result the price has skyrocketed. In a recent review, I panned Motion Picture and Video Lighting, Second Edition by Blain Brown as being pretty useless for anyone setting up a stopmotion studio. So in an effort to find another book I can recommend in lieu of Matters of Light and Depth, I ordered a newly-published (jan of this year) book that sounded good. And it does not disappoint one bit!! Like Matters, it goes into the properties of light - both hard and soft light, and how they're created and what kind of effects can be achieved with each. Lots of great example pics, and also a great bonus - a section on do-it-yourself electrical wiring, I especially like this, as I've dine some bodgering of light fixtures myself, guided only by Nick Hilligoss' advice, and now thanks to Jay Holben's excellent electrical teaching, I have a pretty decent understanding of the relevant considerations when doing this sort of thing. It's all about the AMPS... he'll tell you why and give you simple conversions to figure out just how much amperage you need when selecting cords and other electrical components. 

In fact, his coverage of lighting in general is very thorough... but there were still a couple of ideas covered in the Lowell book that aren't here... namely off the top of my head Lowell mentioned an important concept from old Hollywood techniques calling for the separation of subject and background so that you have complete control over each without it affecting the other. Ah, but what can you do? This is an excellent book and gets my highest recommendation!! And in fact I'm just about to be the first to review it on Amazon. 

NW Animation Festival - run by Sven!!

My friend and fellow stopmotion animator Sven Bonnichsen has created an animation festival in the NorthWest (hence the name). It's not only for stopmo, but for all animation techniques. Sven is a great guy and a tireless creator and worker behind the scenes in all sorts of artistic endeavors... the kind of people it takes to run festivals like this. Here's the info --

NW ANIMATION FESTIVAL 2011:  Call For Submissions

The NW Animation Festival is now accepting entries for 2011. Films from anywhere in the world are welcome. Deadline is May 1, with discounts for students and films received by April 1. The festival will be held on June 3-4-5, in the heart of downtown Portland Oregon at the historic 5th Avenue Cinema. See website for details and submission form: nwanimationfest.com

This is a festival created by animators, for animators, and all lovers of animation.

We are people who hunger to see MORE.  Not just the year's top 10 shorts... We want to feast on the year's top 100!

We've thrown the door wide open for submissions.  Films may come from anywhere in the world. You may submit films made at any time during your life. And you are free to simultaneously show your work online or at other festivals.

We know that great animation comes from all levels. Contributions from students, independent artists, and professional studios are all valued equally.

All types of animation are encouraged:  hand-drawn, computer-generated, stop-motion...  We attempt to program shorts blocks focusing on each method separately—both to educate, and to satisfy each methods' enthusiasts.

We strive to pack the weekend with as much animation as possible. But the festival is still bigger than just this. Select films go on to become part of our "Best of the NW Animation Fest" traveling show, which will tour the region during the following year.

For more, visit: nwanimationfest.com

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enabling live view out on the G1!!

Well well.... Lookie what I got here!! It LOOKS like a honest-to-goodness Live Video Feed from my G1. But -- it can't be. No such thing is possible, right?


There's a little trick - a hack of sorts, in Panasonic cameras (some anyway - I'm assuming the ones with an LCD viewscreen attached)). All you have to do is hold down the trashcan button for about 30 seconds in record mode (regular picture-taking mode, not review mode). Suddenly the image on the viewscreen of the camera will go dark for just an instant. Was there a tiny click or sound of some sort from the camera? I thought so, but it might have just been something in my head busting wide open from the sudden release of tension, and the inrushing of excitement to replace it.

I can't even tell you what a rollercoaster these last few days have been for me... deciding to buy the G1, discovering the live feed doesn't work, the anger and frustration and the decision to sell it and start researching for a micro four thirds camera that would work... then the sudden green light when I remembered reading that this trick works with some cameras.

I was sitting down at the time eating some stir fry chicken and watching the trailer for the upcoming Harryhausen Tribute when it happened. I leaped from my seat in a rush of excitement to try it, but decided to wait till I was done eating so my rather excellent dinner wouldn't go cold. I could hardly contain myself... and ate way too fast. With a bit of a tummyache, I then levered myself up and began to set things up for the test. Imagine my consternation and frustration when before I could even finish opening Framethief the camera shut itself down with an audible electronic groan due to expended battery life!!

I put it on the charger and chewed my nails for 2 and a half agonizing hours waiting as electricity slowly trickled into that faceless, mocking little cube of plastic. But at last it was full as I was, and the test commenced. Now I'm full and satisfied. What a day!!

Oh, and yes, I can easily make all the screen icons go away with the click of a button.

Oh oh!! And I almost forgot to add.... you have to reset the Resolution settings in Framethief to 3:2, which is the native resolution of the Micro Four Thirds camera system (strange as that may sound... part of the reason for the very name is because the default resolution they provide is 4:3). Another discovery made in my exhaustive research recently to save the day. I kept trying various resolution presets provided in Framethief to no avail, Buster always looked either too Laurel or too Hardy, if you get my drift. But of course, the presets were configured for VIDEO cameras, not still cameras! So recalling a strange bit of trivia I dug up the other day (which incidentally explains why the MFT cameras truly use full resolution in all aspect ratios, 16:9 as well as 4:3 etc) I manually punched in 3:2 and it worked!

Heh... actually this explains the weird setup with Skulkin leaning on Buster above.... I was beginning to doubt my eyes and think that maybe Buster was really either thicker or thinner than I believed. I propped Skulkin up against him so I could see another face... Buster's is rather strangely proportioned.

It didn't help... Skulkin is rather weirdly put together too...

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Lumix Smackdown Challenge - putting the G1 and the FZ50 through their paces


I won't write a lot about this here... just click the image above and view the group of pictures uploaded to my Lumix Smackdown Challenge set. Yes, I finally decided it was time to buy the much-lauded G1 and give it a whirl. 

A warning right up front though - DO NOT BUY THE G1 FOR STOPMO!!! It does NOT have a true full-time live feed that works with a framegrabber!!! (Actually it DOES have live view out - see next post for details on how to enable it) In many other respects it remains similar to it's larger but less refined cousin the FZ50, but for some reason Panny decided to disable the full-time live view out. 
In fact my research revealed that NO Micro Four Thirds camera yet made has live view out that actually functions in another device (like a framegrabber for instance)... until the newly-released GH2. I might be selling my shiny sexy new G1 to get one and test it out. Keep watching this space. 

Ok, for more info check THIS THREAD at the stopmotion message board. 

Enough typing for tonight... Im wiped out from massive research and camera testing. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Modding a mic stand for swing-arm action -- Shelley, this one's for you!


 Shelley really got me thinking about this the other day.

Well, I finally unpacked enough stuff in my new house that I can begin animating! I set up a shot (I want to get a little more practice in with Skulkin before I start in on the actual film itself) and discovered that even with my upgraded lighting grid, I just can't get lights to all the places I really want them. I had already built a pair of extensions I can clamp to the ceiling joists to clamp lights to, because I wanted some lights lower than my original grid would allow. But still I was too limited... I needed some way to attach a swing arm boom to them. I spent the evening cogitatin' on this problem, and slowly but surely ground out a solution using a couple of mic stands I already had on hand.

They're just cheap stands from Musician's Friend, similar to this one.

Mine aren't that tall though... I got some kind of shorties. I'm sure either will work just fine... a longer one might reach down lower than mine. 


One problem I had to overcome - the tubing used for the mic stands is too small in diameter... the C-clamps I have won't close down small enough to get a grip on it. I solved that with two pieces of wood and a little electrician's tape (I haven't unpacked far enough to find my gaffer's tape, or I'd use that instead).

This kind of C-clamp can be bought from a music store or a lighting supplier who handles disco type lights. If you walk into a hardware store and ask for a C clamp, they won't have this kind.


Here you see it all taped up. Now it can get a tight grip on the mic stand.


I had to use 2 C-clamps... one to attach it to the ceiling joist and one to attach the lighting unit. Notice I removed the bolt from the clamp that will attach to the ceiling.


Here's the whole assembly. Oh, I didn't get pics of this, but I had to cut off the bottom of the stand to remove the tripod legs. A hacksaw is essential equipment!


Here's the ceiling attachment. Now you can see why I had to remove the bolt... though I suppose you could substitute a big wood screw and mount it permanently, or drill through the joist and use a coach bolt. I like the ability to move it wherever I want though.


Another shot of the mount... plus the big knob that tightens the swing arm boom.


It can swing from here too.


The business end, bearing one of my modded Blackbird PAR 16's. Oh, I finally managed to find a US site that sells barndoors for them! Here it is: Stage Spot.


I wanted to post this one to show how I attached the tracklight unit into the snout of a PAR 16. The older PAR units I bought from Musician's Friend were made a little differently, and you could just jam them together for a perfect pressure fit, but the newer models have thicker rivets inside that prevent that, so I just busted out the FastSteel epoxy putty and packed a ring of it inside. First I coated the end of the tracklight unit itself with dishwashing liquid as a release, and before the putty fully cured I gently rotated it to break the bond... now the putty will stay inside the PAR snout and I can remove the track light if I want.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Getting along with YouTube a lot better now

A few posts back I badmouthed the most popular video sharing site on the net. Turns out my problem was I didn't understand the special requirements for Mac users. I was following advice aimed at PC users... normally I pay close attention to the distinction, but for some reason I didn't even think about it in this case. Well today I dug deep in the hidden bowels of YouTube and found a post on their user help forum delineating the procedure for Mac users.

Here's the post itself, copied here for your convenience:

Level 9
Some of the recommendations in YouTube's "Help articles" for Apple users creating .MOV files contradict guidance given elsewhere or use terms only software developers would be familiar with.  I believe the instructions below cover the major do's and don'ts for creating .MOV files that are "YouTube Friendly".

Instructions for advanced Mac users creating .MOV files for YouTube

YouTube doesn't support or improperly decodes some of the more advanced features and data types that may be used in .MOV files.  When creating .MOV files that will be uploaded to YouTube you can increase the chances your movie will playback properly by conforming your .MOV file to the following specifications:

Video Track (required)
  - must contain 1 and only 1 Video Track
  - do not use "Frame Reordering"
  - H.264 encoded
  - 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30 are acceptable Frame Rates

Sound Track
  - may contain 1 and only 1 Sound Track
  - Sound Track [if present] must be of equal length as Video Track
  - AAC encoded

"Prepare for Internet Streaming" (required)
  - must be "Fast Start"

Do not include any other type of "Tracks" other than the 1 required Video Track and 1 optional Sound Track.  Do not embed XML, XMP, or EDL data.

If you are creating a .MOV for a client that may upload the file to YouTube you should explain the importance of not editing the movie in any way since that invalidates the "Fast Start" option.  Make sure clients understand that adding or deleting bumpers, bugs, color-bars, credits, black, slates, etc. is considered "editing".

Sound Track specs addendum:
  - "AAC" encoded with "Constant Bit Rate" option

Found on this web page.

Additionally, a YouTube staffer posted this helpful info:

File format and editing tips for Apple users

If you're a Quicktime ProFinalcut Pro, or iMovies user, check out the following tips on how to export your video files and get the best results out of uploading to YouTube and the transcoding of your files.

How to enter Options for:
  • iMovie: File > Export > Compress movie for: Expert Settings > Share > Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie > Options
  • Finalcut Pro: File > Export > Using Quicktime Conversion > Options
  • QuickTime Pro: File > Export > Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie > Options

From Options:

  1. In the Video section select the following:
    • Compression Type: H264
    • Frame Rate: 30
    • Data Rate: Automatic
      (if you choose to restrict the Data Rate, make sure to choose the highest value acceptable to you — more bits means better quality)
    • Key Frames: Automatic
    • Frame Reording: Unchecked
  2. In the Video section click Size and set Dimensions to the original size of your video (Note: HD resolutions - 1280x720 or 1920x1080 - preferred).
  3. Select Prepare for internet Streaming and choose Fast Start from the drop-down menu.
  4. In the Audio section, make sure that the audio codec is AAC. Always use AAC as the preferred audio codec.
  5. Once you've made all of these selections, click the OK button to save your preferences.
  6. Add a title to the video file and click the Save button to save your edited version of your movie. Your project will then be exported and be ready to upload to YouTube.

On This page.

And to test it, I finally dug out the original file of Terror in the Pumpkin Patch, formerly only viewable as a tiny QT movie via my site, encoded and uploaded it according to the instructions. And the results are excellent. So I tried re-encoding One Good Yank and the clip I call DrunkStagger and uploaded them as well. That stuttery motion I complained about earlier in One Good Yank... completely gone!! I'll post those two below as well.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Forest Grows


I've been honing my photography skills, getting ready to start shooting soon on the bar flick. A lot has happened lately around here that all contributes to why my images are looking better... I'll summarize in this post what the main factors are.


First, I've installed some boom arms, one type of which I detailed in my last post. I got pretty frustrated with the flimsy mic stands though, so I went looking for something better that wouldn't cost as much as a professional C stand and grip equipment.

Man - I'll tell ya what... I love all the posters surrounding me here in the Darkstudio, but it sure does make it hard to take pictures of the studio itself or anything in it! All that busy, colorful imagery tends to overwhelm the pics. I hope you can see the forest of rods and extensions coming down from the ceiling. Click on the image to see it at Flickr, then click Actions > View All Sizes to see it larger. Or actually, once you get there, just click on the pic itself to see it enlarged against a grey background... looks much better to me.

linked arms

Hope you can make it out against Kong's flank here, but I found these awesome little extension rods made for mic stands that clamp onto any rod up to maybe 2" diameter. They're pretty short, only 7 inches long, but they're sturdy and have a big toothed clamp wheel, very much like an actual grip clamp. It seems quite strong... a heck of a lot more secure than any joint on those mic stands I put up the other day! And as you can see in the pic, you can link them together if you want to get lights exactly where you need them. These are clamped onto one of the simple wood dowel extensions I made some time go (I painted all the wooden parts black... makes everything look all shiny and professional). These are called OnStage Stands Mini Boom Arms and will only set you back $12.99 each. Mmmm... you know what... they were $11.99 when I bought mine about a week ago...

Next, the really BIG addition to the studio, which just came in today...

monster stand

The Cowboy Studio Pro Light Stand and Boom. Looking at the pics on Amazon, I thought it was about the same size as the little lightweight camera tripods I'm used to, but NO!!!! This thing is HUGE!! As you can see, I've got it practically up against the ceiling, and it could go a bit higher. The tubing is thick and sturdy... the fittings are plastic, but solid and made very much like the fittings on real pro grip gear. It's basically a lightweight budget version of a professional C stand. The extending boom arm is so long, it can reach all the way across my set table, and can be height adjusted to anywhere from table height to ceiling. This thing is so beefy and sturdy compared to any other lightbearing arm here in the studio, I think I might just get another one and retire the frustrating mic stands. It cost about $60... just about twice what one of the mic stand rigs costs if you include the price of the 3 clamps needed to make them work.

Ok, but enough about grip equipment or cheap knockoffs thereof.

The other main factor in improving my shots is three books I bought. I'll give my thoughts on each below...

The Filmmaker's Eye: learning (and breaking) the rules of cinematic composition Gustavo Mercado

THE best book I've encountered about cinematic composition.

Buy it.

No, really... what are you waiting for? BUY IT!!!

DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video Kurt Lancaster

I can't rate this one nearly as high as the last - large parts of it feel more like infommercials for specific products and glowing praise for a small group of people associated with the early advent of DSLR Cinema that hatched with the release of the Canon 5D Mk2 (1st DSLR with full HD video). 

However, that said, I was immensely inspired by it, and by the videos I sought out on youtube such as Vincent LaForet's seminal DSLR video tour-de-force Reverie:

... And the Making-of for it:

Also, loads of good info about how to get the best image quality from a DSLR camera that I was unaware of (and most of which also works with a DSLR-like camera such as my Lumix DMC-FZ50). 

and finally, there's 

Motion Picture and Video Lighting, Second Edition Blaine Brown

I bought this one hoping to find another good book about general lighting techniques that I can recommend, because my former choice, Matters of Light and Depth by Ross Lowell is now a textbook and has increased significantly in price. I was rather disappointed though... this book isn't nearly as good as far as I'm concerned. The main emphasis seems to be on lighting equipment and on the breakdown of jobs on a professional lighting crew, with very little useful information about how to actually create good lighting. There is some such info, but not as much as I'd like. I'd say pass on this one and just shell out for Matters of Light and Depth. Or pick another highly recommended lighting book on Amazon... it'll probably be just as good if not better.

Whew! This has turned into a massive post! I'll close out with another of my recent pics inspired by these books and made thanks to the newfound ability to place lights wherever I want:


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Decorating the Darkstudio

Front wall
Here's what one wall of my new studio looks like now. Got room for a few more 8 x 10s behind the TV.

I HAD to do something... this is a great big space, but it was essentially a big empty white box... felt like a sterile environment. My choices were to paint it or wallpaper it... so I chose to paper it, though not in the conventional way. Instead I'm filling all that blank white space with inspiring images.

left corner high angle
Pan left a bit and here's what you'll see.

Left corner low angle
Same corner, from a low angle, and including the left wall. And the mess on the floor.

Left wall
And a better angle on the left wall itself. There will be a HUGE King Kong poster in the space where the Bride is now, and all the white spaces will be filled in. I also have a door to cover the circuit breaker box, which will soon be decorated as well.

And now spotlight on my little friend from last post - he's essentially finished now though I'll probably finesse the paintjob a bit more. Here are a few in=progress painting pics...

Cyclops in progress 02

Cyclops in progress 01

Cyclops in progress 03

... And finished:

Finished Cyclops model

finished Cyclops in place
Here you see him in his little niche nestled between the Harryhausen/ O'Brien section and the General Stopmotion section of my DVD shelf.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Say Hello to my Little Friend!



This is the GEOmetric Cyclops vinyl model kit, produced some time in the 90's I believe and long unavailable. Man I love eBay!! A vinyl kit is hollow and kind of squishy/ flexible, and the way the parts pop together it can be re-posed like an action figure. Some people keep that articulation, but I'm going to pose it the way I want and putty the seams and paint it up, after filling with resin to make it heavy and solid like a sculpture rather than a toy.

There have been several Cyclops kits made, both resin and vinyl, but most of them didn't really look much like the real deal. This one is spot on! It comes with two right hands... one for holding the club and one for... um... NOT holding the club, and there are two heads. The other head is the two-horned Cyclops. Pretty cool, but that one was just a bit player in 7th Voyage... I wanted to build the REAL Cyclops!

After moving into my new house, one of the first things I got was the amazing book Ray Harryhausen: Master of the Majicks vol 3, which has been incredibly inspiring. That chance purchase has seriously influenced my decorating choices! I'm setting my animation studio up in the basement in this cool big room that has a narrow shelf running all the way around it.

Aw geeze... now I guess I need to get some pictures... much easier than trying to explain it. I'll post those soon, but let me finish my story...

Anywho, I have groupings of DVDs and VHS tapes displayed on the shelf in places, and I've bought a lot of posters to hang beneath the shelf. I decided since this is my animation studio I wanted the entire room to be a shrine to movie images from the films I love, so the posters are all from classic monster movies and stopmotion flicks, plus I've been going crazy buying up 8 x 10 photos and lobby cards from King Kong and several Harryhausen films.

And I decided the spaces in between groupings of DVDs/ tapes needed statues and models.

I also have an Ymir and Gwangi on the way. More pics when they arrive!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let there be (more) Light!!!

This, my friends, is what I call the Lightcannon.

It's a further refinement/ modification to the Solux Framing Art Light. I detailed my first round of mods to it in these posts. It worked, but with some issues - namely, due to its rather rickety construction and pressure-fit components, it had a tendency to sag and droop like a Dr. Seuss Spyglass, making it very hard to get precise accuracy, plus once you did get it aimed where you wanted, it could slowly droop... impercieptibe except when played back in your animation, when it becomes VERY noticeable. In fact, I have an example posted. Check out the background lighting in One Good Yank. This is unacceptable... in stopmotion everything must stay exactly where you put it until you move it yourself. 

I partially solved the problems with this makeshift brace made from a turkey skewer:

It did snug up the assembly nicely, countering all that cartoonish sagging, but it's bulky and dangerous -- those chromed points sticking out right at eye level. Also, the yoke attaching it to my lighting grid was weak and couldn't be secured very well. I tried using a piece of folded-up paper jammed behind it, which helped somewhat but not enough. 

So today I set about to improve it. 

I started with one of my tinkered-together Blackbirds:


... based on the discovery that the snout/ yoke assembly from a cheap PAR16 (known as a Birdie) pressure-fits perfectly onto an ordinary track lighting unit. As so:


Here's one of my Blackbirds, with the Framing Optic Assembly of a Solux Framing Art Light laying next to it: 


I tried fitting the Adapter Ring into the snout:


Success!! It fits, nice and tight!! 


So I fitted the rest of the Solux assembly in place...


So far, so good... but when I plugged it in to test it, a problem:


A LOT of light leaks out as you can see. All this spill light sprays out onto the set where you don't want it. Wish I would have got a picture of that. But then, this tut is already ridiculously long and filled with too many pictures. Anyway, my first attempted solution was to jam some Blackwrap in there:


It's designed for use with lights to block out unwanted spill. But it was impossible to arrange it right in there, too many compound curves to deal with. I could have just wrapped it around the outside of the fixure, but I wanted a clean permanent solution, not an ugly blob of black foil hanging from my grid! 

It didn't get rid of all the spill:


So I decided to try some Epoxy Putty:




... And Voila!! No more spill!! And not only is it fully functional now, but it looks a heck of a lot like a high-tech Ellipsoidal fixture...

... Which is exactly what it is really. 

I've also ordered another 3-unit Tracklight kit from Lamps Plus, a couple pairs of the cheap PAR 16's from Musician's Friend,  and another Solux Framing Optic Assembly. I'm glad I detailed out exactly how I did all that modding, because I'll need to go back and check my notes for specifics. But when I'm done, I'll have two more Blackbirdies (for a total of 4) and another Lightcannon (to make a pair) to add to my lighting grid... that should be enough for just about any lighting situation. 

*** EDIT***

I came up with a better name than Lightcannon. I'm calling it the Ellipsis. An ellipsis is those three little dots that represent missing text... 

Yeah. THOSE three little dots. Essentially it's an edit used to shorten something. It's also used in filmmaking, with the same meaning. It's an edit used to cut out unnecessary action or time... example you see someone go to bed, then cut to them waking up in the morning. It edits out the 8 hours of them sleeping.  So, an Ellipsis is an abbreviation. In this case, MY ellipsis is an abbreviation of an Ellipsoidal spotlight! 

Heh... I tried a lot of names for it... Mini Ellipsoidal, Micro-Ellipsoidal etc... too much of a mouthful!! But now that I've ABBREVIATED it, it works! so...

ellipsis it is!!