Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grey Heights Guesthouse

My second TAIS MonsterJam entry, 'Grey Heights Guesthouse' is finished! I'm ahead of schedule, now I just have to post my entries to Canada.

Here it is:

Yup, it's short, but 10 seconds is not a lot of time to tell a story in! It was inspired by my fiance Daz, who spends a lot of time staying in B&Bs and guesthouses when he's working away. Some of the places he has stayed in have been very very grim. You know you are staying in a real budget guesthouse when the monster under the bed looks more comfy than the bed itself!

I shot the entire thing in a different way to my previous shorts. Because my puppets usually speak, I normally have to plan my animations frame by frame to fit with a pre-recorded soundtrack. This time I planned nothing. I knew I had to shoot it as at least two different scenes, and finally decided on three during shooting. I knew what needed to happen, so I just animated the characters, taking as many frames as it took. Then in post-production I could adjust the speed of movements by cutting frames or slow them down by duplicating frames. I could also get rid of a few bad frames, where a body part was not moving in a smooth line, because that female puppet was an awkward sod to animate smoothly. I then cut the three sections so that they would fit together as one sequence of 300 frames.

I lit the set using reflected light from an angle poise lamp with a 60W daylight simulation bulb, bounced off the off-white wall to the right of my animation table and onto the set. The darkened room effect I did in post-production, layering a circular gradient getting darker at the edges onto the frames, one frame at a time (yawn...). The light fades were done the same way, adding a transparent black layer and changing the opacity from frame to frame. I also had to edit out a major blanket movement crisis in the section where she is stroking the monster's hand. The blanket was taped in place and sprayed with hairspray to stiffen it... and then I went and leant on it mid-scene, because I am a clumsy fool.

The sound was added later in what I can only describe as an experimental trial-and-error fashion along with some basic maths as I know nothing about sound editing. The various sounds are a recording of me roaring before stuffing a pillow in my face and some sound clips shared free of charge by their creators on I then layered together me roaring, two different creaky bed noises, a background storm, some spooky orchestral chords and a music box. It is probably a horrific mess, but I did my best!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The puppet arrived from Hawaii!

On Wednesday I recieved a box through the post containing.... a female samurai warrior complete with sword! John (Hankins - the guy who made her) has truly excelled himself! She is an amazing puppet, with a proper ball jointed armature. She has a great 'no nonsense, not easily impressed' look about her. Basically she is the exact opposite of all my clay and woolly puppets. I can't wait to animate her and I am busy thinking up stories for her, along with ideas of what monstrous puppet I should create for John in return!

Here is a photo of the travelling samurai meeting the locals for the first time:

After some initial tension, the woolly monsters decided that she seemed friendly enough, despite the sword and the fact she doesn't speak much. Everyone then settled down for tea and cakes, followed by the monsters attempting some hula-dancing to make her feel at home (home being Hawaii, not Japan...). We think she is in Bolton trying to avenge something, it's just that we haven't been able to work out what.

The other photo I have to show you all is THE FIRST PROPER WOOLLY MONSTER PUPPET which I know you've all been waiting for!

He is the second character for the grim guesthouse short. He doesn't stand up (hence the reason he is leaning drunkenly against a bed) and has no tie-downs because he is an under-bed monster, and everyone knows that thay spend their entire lives lying down (it's true you know!).

He's got a armature wire and epoxy putty armature padded with polyester wadding wrapped round the wire. His skin is double crochet (which is different to American double crochet - be warned!), striped and worked in rounds. In future I must remember to use treble crochet stitch (again different to America) which stretches more and will be easier to get over the armature.

His fingers are french knitting (done on a wooden bobbin with four nails hammered into it) threaded over armature wire. The facial features are coloured felt cut to shape and are all movable or replaceable. I might give him some eyebrows too actually, for added expression.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Set building on the cheap...

I'm nearly done building the grim guesthouse bedroom set for my second entry to MonsterJam (the one with the pyjama girl puppet in it). It's the most elaborate set I've built so far but it's not been too difficult and more importantly, it's been cheap. If there's one thing you learn being an cash-strapped illusration student, it's how to utilise very cheap materials to good effect (especially when you make large wood, spray-paint and collage creations like I used to). I thought I'd show you how I spent as little as possible whilst building a set that looks like the worst hotel room you've ever seen.

Things you will need:

two sheets of foamboard or stiff cardboard box card (I just used foamboard because it was on special offer!)
some thick grey board (cardboard)
one cheap nasty carpet tile (about £2 from a DIY store) or a carpet sample
a roll of wide double sided high tack carpet tape
some lengths of basswood in two different thicknesses (or something similar) for making the bed
a brown and a black oil pastel
a really cheap horrible eyeshadow set in shades of brown and grey - the kind you get from pound shops (you could also use powdered dry pastels if you wanted)
extra hold hairspray
a hot glue gun
a junior hacksaw
a stanley knife
a metal rule
a big tub of cheap white household emulsion paint
You'll either need tubes of yellow and yellow ochre acrylic paints (to tint the white emulsion), or some paint tester pots in a few different shades in the 'nicotine yellow' range.
Whilst you are in the DIY store, take some very generous samples from the nastiest textured wallpapers that will work on a small scale.

First cut the sheets of board to the size you want the two sides of the set to be, then put them at right angles to each other and tape the inside edge with masking tape. Use the hot glue gun to glue the edges of the joint together from the outside. This stops lumpy glue collecting in the inside corner of your set. Cut two strips of thick grey card to be skirting boards. Paint them first with pine/ochre coloured emulsion or acrylic paint. When that dries paint them badly with white emulsion. When that's dry distress them lighty with some sandpaper and add scuff marks with smudged brown/black oil pastel. Glue the skirting boards to the bottom of the set with the glue gun.

Get the high tack carpet tape and put vertical strips of it on the walls of your set. You can leave gaps of a few inches, but you must use two strips in the corner (one on each wall). Peel of the backing strips one at a time and stick the wallpaper down carefully. In the corner peel off the first strip and stick the paper down then push the paper into the corner with a metal rule before peeling of the second strip. Don't use glue to stick the paper on, and don't paint directly onto the board - it will warp as it dries. I used two patterns of wallpaper for that genuine 'last decorated 40 years ago on a budget' look. I ripped the join between the papers, so it looks like the paper has peeled off. Badly paint the walls in a patchy manner with some lovely nicotine yellow paint. Either mix your own with a little yellow ochre acrylic in some white emulsion, or use a tester pot. I painted the two walls slightly different shades and added some paler 'retouches' to add to the general grimness.

When all that is dry, get out the eyeshadow set and use it to add stains, dirt, mould, damp and decay to the wallpaper and skirting board. You can use your fingers for bigger bits and a brush for finer detail like damp trails down the walls. When you are done, spray the whole thing liberally with hairspray to fix it.

For the bed, measure your puppet. Estimate how big you think it would be in real life. Work out the scale. Find standard measurements of the type of bed you want to make on an internet furniture store. Calculate the scaled down measurements of the bed. Cut the lengths of basswood to the lengths you need with a hacksaw. I used 1/2" square for the uprights and some smaller stuff for the rest. Glue it all together with the glue gun. Try not to get too many big blobs of glue on the visible parts of the bed, but don't worry too much if you do. It doesn't matter if the bed is wonky - it is supposed to look like it has been there since the 60s, and has been repaired badly many times. Cut a sheet of grey board to fit in the bottom of the bed. Glue gun it to the underside of the frame. Paint the whole thing with a first coat of paint in a colour of your choice. I chose a nice youth hostel blue. For the next coat I chose a pale yellow, and for the top layer I used a cream colour. Put the layers on thick but patchy to make the bed look like it has been repainted a lot. When it's dry, distress the bed with sandpaper and a use a stanley knife to scrape through the layers of paint in places. Make the bedframe look dirty with eyeshadow and fix it with hairspray.

Mess up the carpet tile a bit with soime oil pastels. The framed sign on the wall is just a frame made of grey board then painted, on top of a grubby looking handwritten sign. The mattress is two sheets of upholstery foam glued together, with some polyester wadding lumpy bits taped on, then covered with a piece of fabric. The pillow is just a miniature pillow I made. The blanket is a micro-fibre cloth. Glue everything down with the glue gun and you are finished.