Wednesday, April 30, 2008

First MonsterJam entry complete!

I've just finished editing my first entry for the TAIS MonsterJam. It features two alien monsters being let down by their super-advanced technology. I decided to really utilise the properties of clay in this animation.


I made a special clay blend for the bodies of the aliens so that it would be exactly the colour and consistency I needed. I thoroughly kneaded about 2 parts Flair Plasticine into 3 parts Newplast, so that the end result was easily workable, but would remain fairly solid under hot lights. The features and decorations on the aliens are Flair Plasticine.

The set was made out of an A1 sheet of grey cardboard painted with household emulsion paint and acrylic paint in a range of browns and greens. I dabbed on some splotches of watered down PVA glue, then a random scattering of short dark green flock, some lighter green fake grass type flock and some gravel (all Games Workshop modelling stuff). I followed this with a few blobs of dyed green moss (usually used for flower arranging) soaked in watered down PVA to make them more rigid. I then glued the board to the top of my animation table (which is a sheet of particle board).

The sky is a sheet of white foam board painted with blue and white household emulsion, then glued to the table and supported by a couple of L shaped metal brackets. The trees in the background are grey card painted with a blotchy range of green paints, then I glued on several layers of the dyed moss with plenty of PVA glue. For the different trees I followed this either with some light long green flock, some mixed greek herbs (yes really) or some splodges of coloured paint. When they were dry I fixed the trees to the set with blue tack and more metal L brackets.

During the animation I added the clay in thin layers and smoothed it down to make the aliens gradually grow. It was a lot of fun to make - more 'hands on' than my previous animations.

This is my first animation with my new camcorder and studio set-up. I no longer have to reach OVER the camera and animate animate sideways. Woohoo! Plus the 3CCD and Leica lens means I get a nice picture. The only thing that is worse with my new 'tripod on floor' set-up is that it is very obvious if the animation set moves, whereas when I had the webcam fixed to the same table as the set, table movement mattered less. This was also the first time I've shot at 30fps which was interesting.

The hard part was editing the animation frame by frame to add the teleport beam and the end credit. It truly was mind numbing. I'm sure there are much quicker and easier ways of doing it, but I can't afford the fancy software!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Puppet from Hawaii!

I am getting a puppet from Hawaii! Woohoo! Animator John Hankins is sending me a specially made ball-joint armatured puppet. A few weeks back I had an insomnia induced idea for an puppet foreign exchange scheme. I mentioned the idea on the forum and people seemed to like it, so now I am going to be the first recipient of a puppet.

As soon as I'm finished with my TAIS Monster Jam animations I'm going to make John a puppet in return and send it to him. I am quite jealous of my as yet unmade puppet - I'd like to go to Hawaii too!

Behind the scenes stuff on my Monster Jam entries, plus new animations coming very soon!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My first human puppet

I've just finished the first puppet for my monster short. It is my first human puppet, and the first time I've used the latex build-up method, which I have now become a big fan of. I'm looking forward to experimenting some more with the technique because It'll be great for making elaborate monsters with slimy looking skin.

I changed the story for my short after realising the first idea was too derivative. The short will now be set in a grim guesthouse bedroom. I had to make a puppet to play the role of the guest, complete with pyjamas and fluffy slippers. Here she is finished:

Her proportions are way off - her hands, head and boobs are too big, her body is too long, legs too short, her feet are tiny (compared with her hands) and she has very narrow hips and no bottom (oops!). She's also very pale, but that is intentional. I quite like her, but whether she'll stand up to animation is another matter.

Here is how I made her:
First I made an armature out of 1/16" aluminium armature wire twisted together and Milliput epoxy putty. The feet are epoxy putty over looped wire and M6 sized nuts for the tie-downs. If I made her again I'd use 4 strands of wire for the legs to make them stiffer, but unfortunately I only used 2 strands. She was fine until I put the heavy head on, then the legs became a bit too springy under the extra weight. I think I'll be able to animate her ok, although she might have to shuffle when she walks because she wobbles about too much if she lifts up one leg (doesn't everyone shuffle in slippers anyway?). I made her bones from tightly wound zinc oxide tape (the fabric adhesive tape you buy in chemists). They are slightly flexible, so don't put as much strain on the joints as epoxy putty bones would.

I padded the armature with polyester wadding (from a sewing shop) glued to the tape bones with Copydex (from any craft shop or stationers) then secured it with more tape.

I sculpted the head of the puppet from flesh coloured Fimo Soft, which is a polymer clay. I made sure the eye sockets fitted the beads I was going to use as eyeballs, and made a hole in the base of the head for the neck loop of my armature to go in. When I was happy with it I baked the head in the oven to harden it. Once it had cooled I glued the head onto the neck loop with strong glue (Bostick to be precise) and fixed the eyeball beads temporarily in their sockets with a little plasticine.

I then started building up thin layers of Copydex (which is liquid latex) on the hands and head, brushing on a coat before waiting for it to dry and repeating the process. After four or five coats of plain liquid latex, which dries clear and yellowish, I made a batch of tinted latex. I coloured the latex with a tiny amount of Games Workshop model paint (white mixed with flesh colour) which are ideal because they are high pigment low viscosity acrylic paints, plus Daz has bottles and bottles of the stuff in every colour imaginable for painting his miniatures. I made sure I mixed a large enough quantity to finish the hands and head, then stored the tinted liquid latex in an air-tight container

I applied layers of the tinted liquid latex to the hands, paying plenty of attention to the fingers, until the colour was uniform and they were roughly hand shaped. Then I applied smaller blobs of latex to build up the fleshy parts of the palm and the knuckles.

This photo shows the hardened head without latex and the partially completed latex build-up hands.

I continued to build-up the front of the head with layers of the tinted latex, making sure I didn't block the nostrils. I built up eyelids over the eyeballs, because the eyeballs can be peeled out of the stretchy dried latex eyelids afterwards, then painted and talced so they will move. The back of the head I covered in 6ply embroidery silk in two shades of brown, snipped into 1-2cm lengths and stuck to the head with plain liquid latex. Then I covered this with another layer of plain liquid latex and added more 'hair'. After four layers I added a last coat of latex on top of the hair so it became sort of rubberised and would stay still during animation.

The head of the puppet half-way through the latex build-up process.

When I was happy with the result of the latex build-up, I added freckles with a little watered down acrylic paint. If you use acrylic paint over latex in a flexible area of the puppet, the paint will crack and flake, but I reckon I can get away with a few freckles on the cheeks (which don't move). I gave the head and hands a light dusting of talc to make them a bit less shiny and to stop things sticking to them, then put dark shadows rounds her eyes with a little powder eyeshadow (I've never come across this method in my research, but it did the trick). I carefully peeled out the eye beads which was tricky, painted on some pupils and talced the beads before pushing them back into their sockets with a little extra plasticine behind them to bring them further forward.

Next thing to do was dress the puppet. I bought a set of huge and hideous knickers from a pound shop, some in plain pastels, some patterned, because the patterns were small enough to work on a small scale and they were perfect pyjama material. My first approach was to hand sew a pair of pyjamas, which looked great, but were impossible to get on to the puppet due to the big head, hands and feet. Instead I opted for gluing the clothes onto the puppet piece by piece. Not very professional, but it was the only way I could see of doing it (if I had sewn the clothes onto the puppet, the seams would be on the outside and look awful). The slippers were made from pink microfibre cloth (multipack from the pound shop) glued to the feet with copydex, then trimmed to fit.

The eyebrows and mouth are a very cheap plasticine-type modelling clay (pound shop again!) which is medium hardness and came in a pack of 30 really unusual colours. This is so the mouth and brows can be moved and replaced to change the puppet's expression. The colour does transfer to the latex a little. but can be removed with a damp finger. Eventually the oil content in the clay will degrade the latex, but for a 10 second short I'm not too worried about that.

And that's it. One finished puppet.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New 'MONSTER' Project

I am just starting work on my first 'proper' stop-motion animation project (the first two shorts were really just glorified tests). The plan is to enter it into a Toronto based animation competition. Yes, I know I'm not Canadian, but the competition is open to all, and all the selected shorts will be edited together and shown at the summer animation showcase at the National Film Board cinema in Toronto, which sounds terribly impressive. Thankyou to Grant Dix who told me about this competition - he's a Canadian animator and you can see his work here:

The brief is to create a 10 second animated short which features monsters in some way (ha ha, this brief could have been written for me!). I'll have to shoot it at 30fps, which is what video runs at in Canada. I've not decided whether to shoot on ones or twos yet. 30fps seems like a ridiculous amount and will call for such tiny movements... I might do some tests to see which feels and looks better.

I have a story worked out. Well it isn't really a story, more of a 'build-up followed by punchline', but I can't really do much more than that in 10 seconds! The gag is slightly ripped off from Monsters Inc. and any number of children's books, but I suppose nothing is ever truly original.

I need to build the set, some trees, one human puppet, one big woolly monster puppet, one basic flying rig and possibly a simple dolly set-up if I have time. Then I need to shoot it, edit it and send it to Canada. All in less than two months... argh!

Oh yes, I bought a camcorder! A Panasonic NV-GS330, which is supposed to be about the best camcorder for under £400. I spent the cash that was supposed to be going into my 'postgraduate study' fund, but as my Mum pointed out, I'll never even get on a postgrad course if I keep shooting with a terrible camera!