Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Basket cases and sea-creatures....

My mum took early retirement last week after many years of teaching 6 and 7 year olds. She was passionate about using art and craft to teach children, and had a stock room brimming with all sorts of amazing craft goodies she had collected over the decades. Anyway, knowing that a lot of the older more obscure items would be thrown in a skip as soon as she left, she rescued me something. She knows how much I love to collect random stuff that 'will come in useful one day' so she presented me with The Arnold Basketry Kit. It looks like it was made in the late 70s (so it might even be older than me!) and it's a huge heavy box full of all kinds of wicker, raffia, coloured plastic strips, coloured wire, bits of interestingly shaped wood and big wooden beads. I've stuck some pictures below. I'm sure I will find many prop and scenery making uses for it all.

Thanks Mum - you know me so well x x x

WARNING: The next part of this post should not be read by Shelley Noble if she wants her Halfland sea-creatures to be a surprise when they arrive!

I have made two things to send to Shelley Noble for the underwater sequence in her Halfland film (her blog 'Notes From Halfland' is linked to on the right).

The first is the illegitimate love-child of a starfish and a child's abandoned woolly glove (an unusual union I grant you). It doesn't have a clever half themed name I'm afraid. It looks kinda like a Doug to me....

It is hand crocheted from yellow and purple acrylic yarn, and has a aluminium wire and epoxy putty armature and a tie-down in the bottom. It is padded with polyfibre wadding and his eyes are (fairly obviously) small stacks of buttons. Its five legs/fingers are all poseable.

The other thing I made is shoal of 'Alphabafish'. They are half letter, half fish, they are made up of the letters of the first half of the alphabet, and the blue fish spell H A L F. The photos aren't great I'm afraid.

The fish are made from square wooden beads with letters on them, mounted on aluminium armature wire with the fish shape sculpted around them in superfine white Milliput (high grade epoxy putty). The eyes started as plastic and glass beads sunk into the putty. When the putty was hard I painted the fish with Games Workshop model paints mixed to the colours I wanted. When this was dry I covered the painted area of the fish with PVA glue then added glass seed beads to the surface with a pin. When the glue dried I gave the fish another thick coat of PVA to make sure the beads stayed firmly in place and to protect the paint from damage.

I stuck the other ends of the wire securely into a blob of epoxy putty which was fixed to a ball joint I'd taken from a 'helping hands' magnifier (I made sure things were 'T' shaped so nothing could pull out of the putty). This was then all fixed to a basic ball jointed rig (made from the rest of the 'helping hands'). This should allow Shelley to animate the fish individually and as an entire shoal.

I have boxed them up and they are ready to post to California tomorrow!

Still not got around to doing my soundbite challenge animation of drunken monsters... hoping to find time, just very busy with other random stuff, like making the puppets for the short I am collaborating with Steee on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I'm a busy busy monster

Today is mine and Daz's anniversary! Four years since we got together, one year since we got engaged. We will be doing something special at the weekend, but for tonight we are celebrating with a Chinese takeaway and a DVD.

I am absolutely exhausted at the moment because I did a half hour long talk about Asperger's Syndrome to a room of 30 psychiatrists this afternoon. I loathe public speaking, so I feel like I've just finished sitting an 8 hour exam. Urgh. Still, if it helps other folk then it's worth it, plus I get a bit of cash for doing it which I can spend on exciting stuff like a hood for my camcorder and more set building materials.

Exciting news: A Canadian monster called Sebastian has arrived in the post! He is my prize for getting third place in the TAIS Monsterjam. He is handmade, fleecy and has huge pants. He has now taken up residence on our sofa. His label says he has been going through bit of a melodramatic phase - for the past few years. He didn't seem too happy about spending a week in a box, but he has settled in well, although Daz is a little jealous of all the attention Sebastian is getting. Below is a terrible photo of me (yes, I did cut my own hair...), with Sebastian looking rather startled.

On the animation front, I am collaborating with a friend of mine, Steeeeee, sorry, Steven Hutchinson for my next animation. He is a writer, film director, musician, cameraman, film producer, occasional actor and lover of all things creative who is going to write a script and do some voice work for me. Then I'm going to animate it and we will enter it to a Bristol based short film festival and the Bacup film festival which Steee helps organise.

Next job: make a Halfland sea-creature for Shelley Noble....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sneak preview of my music video animation...

I've finished post-production on the animated segment for the music video. I'm putting a sneak preview of it here on my blog because I'm not going to put it up on my youtube channel until the full music video has been released. This is the full 10 seconds I animated for the video anyway:

The video is for a song called 'Smile' by The Leano, a rapper and spoken word artist from London. He wanted the video to be made up of animated segments by different artists from all over the world, with the animated characters lip-syncing along.

You can find out more about The Leano here: www.myspace.com/leanoland
and here: http://www.youtube.com/TheLeano

More behind the scenes stuff...

Here are some more photos of the behind-the-scenes work for my alien animation for the music video:

Here are the replacement mouths for the alien blobs. They are all made of black and white card with clay on the back and clay lips. The blue lips for the big blob consist of the mouth shapes for the different phonemes. Here is a tip to save time when making donut mouths - phoneme AI becomes L if you add a tongue and U becomes Th. It's not a perfect match but it's close enough, which is all you need with donut mouths. I also made a smiling mouth and a rest shape. The mouths for the little blobs are just smiles and 'ooooo' shapes.

This is the method I devised so the blobs could 'dance' smoothly. Originally the plan was to have them swaying, but because the Newplast is so hard and the blobs are so chunky, I couldn't bend their bodies side-to-side enough. Instead I decided they should turn from side-to-side - but how to do that without grating their plasticine bottoms all over my lumpy set floor?

Washers and petroleum jelly was the solution I came up with. I used rubber washers for the bigger blobs and a little steel washer for the small green blob. I coated the washers in petroleum jelly so they would glide smoothly, then put the washer over the tie-down hole on the bottom of the blob before fixing it to the set floor. It seemed to work - there was only a minimal amount of grated plasticine left on the set floor when I'd finished animating. This method also made the blobs appear to be floating slightly above the ground, and what could be more alien than that?

Here is a photo I took of the set just after I finished animating to show my terribly high-tech set up. Yes, that's TWO angle-poise lamps with daylight bulbs, I bought the second one especially for this project. I glued the lamps in position with a hot glue gun this time, after having a few problems with slowly drooping lamps and mid-animation collisions between my head and the lamps in the past. The knobs on the lamp that are supposed to tighten and hold the lamps in position are less than useless. It's going to be a fun job trying to pick all the hardened glue off the lamp joints though... ho hum. The pot on the left contains my modelling tools and the tray on the right has the replacement mouths on it. At the bottom left you can just see my camcorder on it's tripod, and left of that, out of shot, is a small foldable table with my laptop on it.

The other thing I'd like to mention is the importance of having your animation space set up in an ergonomically friendly manner. The first two animations I made, I had the table far too low which meant I spent hours stooping over and kneeling down, even shuffling around on my knees between my laptop and the puppets. Big mistake. I felt no pain whilst I was animating because I was so absorbed in what I was doing, but the next day I woke up to find that every muscle in my body ached and I physically couldn't straighten my knees or spine which made me walk like a very old goblin.

Now I have raised my animation table by about 8" so I don't have to stoop at all when I animate. Unfortunately my laptop is still on a low table, but I put a dining chair in front of it so I can sit down to check a frame instead of bending over. Now I don't get back or knee pain from animating, although I do end up with a bruised arse from all the getting up and down. Ideally I'd get a taller table so I don't have to keep sitting down every few minutes, but I don't know where I'd find a very tall, very narrow foldable table. I think next time I'll just put a cushion on the chair.

So yes, make sure your animation table is tall enough or you'll pay for it next day!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Alien Blobs!

I have almost finished making my happy alien blob puppets for the music video - they don't have any mouths yet. Luckily only the big blob speaks, so that cuts down on the number of replacement mouths I have to make. All of them have to be able to smile and go 'ooooo' though.

Here is the blob construction process so far:

Here is a photo of the raw materials - lots of Lewis Newplast in a range of colours. The greeny grey mushroomy things at the bottom are hardened epoxy putty over some nuts. These will form the core of the clay blobs and act as tie-downs, fixing the puppets to the set floor. The things in the packet at the top are rubber tipped modelling tools, which I ended up hardly using on these puppets, as the shapes where so simple.

These are the basic shapes of the alien blobs. They don't look like they took long to make, but they took all night, because Newplast is so hard. I had to knead small strips at a time to make it malleable enough to work with, yet I still ended up with sore bruised patches on my palms the next day from working with it. The price you pay for using a clay that won't go mushy under hot lights.

I thought about brushing down the surfaces with a quick-drying solvent to smooth out any lumps, bumps and fingerprints, but I decided I rather like the fact they are a bit rough and ready and imperfect - after all, most living creatures are!

For these puppets I decided to make the eyeballs out of polymer clay (Fimo Soft) instead of just painting pupils on beads. I rolled white clay into balls, baked them in the oven until they were hard, then added pupils with black clay, put pin holes in them to help with movement, then baked them again.

This is Big Blob without his mouth. His antler thingies are made of hardened Fimo Soft, and most of the details are made of Flair Plasticine (softer and more melty than Newplast, but has brighter colours).

Here is a photo of the whole colony of alien blobs. I'm pleased because they look exactly how they did in my head before I made them. The little purple one is all Flair Plasticine and has no tie-down because he is going to scoot about a bit.

Now I think it's time for a cup of tea, then back to making mouths for them...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Domo, sketchbook swapping and more very useful gifts from Daz...

Daz bought me a couple of badges last week with a cute monster character called Domo on them. I typed his name into google to find out a bit more about him and it turns out he is the star of his own stop-motion TV series, look: http://www.domonation.com/
He's a brown plush monster with a big mouth who sweats a lot, and he apparently started off life as a Japanese TV station mascot appearing in animated channel idents, and now he has his own show in the US on Nickelodeon. Anyway, I think he's rather endearing.

Other news:
John Hankins (castlegardener), the animator who sent me the samurai puppet has had an inspired idea for an international sketchbook swap which I am excited to be taking part in. Basically 10 animators from around the world buy a sketchbook each. You do five drawings then mail your sketchbook to the next person in the circle, who does five more sketches, then mails it on again and so on... Several months later each artist gets their own sketchbook back, filled with sketches by every artist taking part. I am between Nofby (Newcastle, UK) who sends the sketchbooks to me, and Emmyymme (Winnipeg, Canada) who I post the books on to. I think it's going to be a really interesting and hopefully it will be the first of many more sketchbook swaps.

I mentioned in a previous post about my boyfriend always surprising me with unusual yet very useful gifts. Well last week he excelled himself by coming back from a work trip to the big trade wholesale store with two packs of superfine white milliput (the stuff that's usually most expensive) and a pint bottle of Copydex (liquid latex). What more could a woman ask for? :)