Earned Excitement


Today I finally finished animation. Very exciting!

First of all I had a shot where the characters passed behind a tree with some nice mushroomy growths that cast a shadow on to them, so I set up the camera with some card and cut the shape into it using the Stop Motion Pro live feed as a guide.

This shot also called for the wolf to walk up on to a step, so rather than tilting the camera like I did last time, I set up something slightly better using some blocks of wood that I drilled holes in to so that I could tie-down.
 I also used some CineFoil to get a nice dappling effect.
 It was a good thing  only needed my wooden blocks for one shot... turns out balsa wood wasn't the durable material it should have been. Who knew.

With that shot done I set about doing a dangerous shot. Dangerous because I needed to create a rig to allow my puppet to be lifted off the ground as it jumps over a tree stump. My original rigging points didn't work at all and snapped off when I was testing them (for some reason I decided to do this once the fur was all on so repairing them was impossible).

My solution was to use foam-covered aluminium wire mega-twists (as seen at the top of this post) and hot glue some metal rods into the end of them. I then used a power drill and made holes in the front and back balsa wood sections so the rigs could slot in to them.

Other than potentially destroying my puppet for a 2 second shot, the other reason I left this shot until last was because the rigging points would create a hole in the fur, which wouldn't be visible in this shot but, of course, the wolf was facing the opposite direction in some shots, so I didn't want there to be big gaping holes visible.



The End Is In Sight!


Today was probably the best day of animation yet. Managed to finish 3 shots, totalling 14 seconds of animation, and now I only have 5 seconds of animation to go! I might actually finish my film on time...

So the first shot I did was the slow-mo time lapse animation, which provided a challenged because I had to do a nice smooth walk cycle about 12x slower than I'm used to. It actually taught me a lot about why certain things move when they do in the walk cycle, opposing motion and all that.

Also, because of the speed of the movement I found it useful to use Stop Motion Pro's drawing functions so I could mark out how fast the puppet should move.

Below is the setup for the shot that ends my film and it turned out to be the most complicated lighting setup I've ever done, and somehow I managed to set it up extra quick and finish off the 4 seconds of animation before uni closed. Maybe I've gained enough xp to be a Level 2 Lighting Person? Awesome.

Time Lapse

POSTDATED - 14/05/12

Today I've been working on the big sexy time lapse shot. Setting up this shot required a little bit of extra equipment borrowed from the photography department, as well as having to venturing into the engineering department! Excitement!

Anyway, first off I chroma keyed my live-action guide footage in, which was the live-action footage at sunset of Ky walking over the horizon at St. Lythans. While I was fiddling around with making the low-res guide footage I also had a go at compositing this live-action footage onto the long exposure time lapse sequence. Originally I thought I was going to have to rotoscope around Ky with travelling masks, but I discovered that because the sky was so bright in this shot I could use a combination of blending modes in After Effects to take out all of the white, which did 90% of the work for me. Bonus!

Next I set up the camera in a rough configuration and took still to mark the wolf's start and end points.


What I found in this setup didn't give enough room to fit any lights in and I wasn't entirely sure where to put the lights because in the original footage the light source is the setting sun, which is in shot. The scaffolding we have for attaching lights wasn't up to the job of getting a light there, and using a tripod would leave the stand in shot, so I went down to the photography for some more advice. Roger loves my little visits. Probably...

From roger I got a C-stand and some other gadgets and gizmos that I don't know the name of. The first problem I ran into while using these bits of kit was that the scaffolding in my booth was clearly put together by someone with a loose understanding of spanner theory. Or maybe just really tired wrists? Anyway, I had to fix the scaffolding up tight, so I went on a mission that led me to the engineering department and borrowed a socket wrench kit from a guy who looks and sounds like Keith from The Office. It probably wasn't Keith from The Office though, his name is Jeremy. But maybe that's the actor's name? Oh Man!
Nope, Keith from The Office's real name is Ewen MacIntosh apparently. What a disappointment.
Anyway... Pa-Pow! Take that, gravity!

Next thing to do was set up the camera and table up so that I could get proper angles on the lighting, keeping the keylight further away from the puppet to match how the sun is far away (I did my best, but obviously there's only so much room I could work with).

Finally I played around with different gels to get the right colouring on the puppet, and adjusted my secondary light with some CineFoil so that it would drop some light on the green screen but not spill over on to the puppet.

And then I proceeded to animate my wolf walking sooooo slowwwwwly, which turned out to be quite challenging surprisingly enough.


Grappling with Dappling and Capture Swing

POSTDATED - 09/05/12

Another day, another animation challenge. 
From my beautiful gif you can see two things. First the lighting is very dappled in this shot, so I saw this as an opportunity to do some lighting effects I hadn't tried out yet. Second, the shot required the wolf to be walking in front of Ky, downhill.
To solve the first problem I made use of some Cinefoil. To begin with I clipped a sheet of it to the spotlight barndoors, but found it made the shadows and highlights far too diffuse, not giving a clear dappling effect. Not to mention it, worryingly, started smoking when it was placed that close to the bulb. So, not wanting to burn the Atrium to the ground just yet, I MacGyvered myself a holding device made from some aluminium and a spare light stand. This also allowed me to put a gel over the barndoors, which better simulated the footage's lighting and just generally looked delicious.
The next problem was the angle of the camera. In a perfect world I would have custom-built a metal animation table for shots like this, bending the perforated steel to match the topography of the live-action footage, so that the puppet would land correctly. Never going to happen. So I tilted the camera to one side, and animated the puppet with his haunches much lower down, so that the captured footage balanced out and the wolf appeared to be walking upright.



POSTDATED - 08/05/12

For this shot I had a high angle shot of the wolf, which meant it was unavoidable that I would have a lot of the steel animation table in shot, which as I had found out in my first shot, caused some problem with compositing. I figured out a solution though, which was to use green card double-sided taped to the table, allowing for a flat colour.
 When the puppet walked through the shot I had to push holes through the card to let my tie-downs through. Luckily in this shot they would be covered by the wolf because of the angle of the camera. However I'm glad I had this shot to challenge me, because it may be an issue in further shot, and having the card with a few holes potentially visible during the shot is a lot easier to composite than a whole table full of holes.

YeOlde HeliographicBoutique

POSTDATED - 05/05/12

I had another shot where I needed the mouth to open wider than it would allow, so again I whipped out my specially designed animation pins and... hey, wait... where'ditgo??

Gaffer Faffing

POSTDATED - 02/05/12

Been plugging away at the animation, steadily getting quicker at the actual animation because I'm getting into the swing of things - although this is offset by the learning curve I'm finding for setting up lighting. I'm finding each shot is generally providing new challenges, and so most shots seem to take anything up to 4 or 5 hours to set up. Sometimes I look back on a day's shifting things around the studio that has amounted to zero seconds of actual animation and seriously reassess my capabilities as a functional human being. I mean usually it's just the inhuman levels of caffeine I'm existing on, but still.

Anyway, below are some in-camera images I have been logging to show some of the stages in the process of making adjustments to lighting to get the shot right. Setting up a shot begins with creating a compressed version of the raw footage to use as a guide for the shot, which I can view while shooting using the chroma key function. Below I've used a GIF for blogging purposes, but while shooting it would be a full length video.
As you can, in this shot the sun is very low and getting orange, so initially I tried out putting the lighting in the shot, but quickly found this would be impossible. Even this having the light directly behind the puppet did create the appropriate flaring effect the light was far too bright, meaning it bleached out too much of the green screen, which would make compositing a nightmare. Secondly, the board I'm using for green screen would in not way fit around the light, and cutting a hole in it wasn't an option as it would ruin the screen for subsequent shots. Using some green card was also not an option because of the fire hazard it would present.
 I then set about positioning the table and camera so that it would match the angle of the shot, moving the puppet through the shot to check he would appear to be the correct height (he's supposed to be roughly 7 feet tall)
 Next I began to notice a lot of lens glare from the light pointing almost directly at the camera
 I used a bit of Cinefoil hot glued in place on the animation table to block the light hitting the lens.
 Next I wanted to simulate that toasty orange sunset glow as the wolf passed off screen right, but wanted the lighting to remain cold while he was on screen left - further matching the original footage. I found that clipping a straw-coloured gel to the spotlight barndoors filled up too much of the frame with orange light, so I bodged together an aluminium wire frame to hold the gel in place. I moved this further away from the light source, meaning the orange tint was more contained.
 Finally I positioned my puppet in his rough start position and moved it through the camera, taking note of the path he should take so that the perspective matched up with the shot. With that done, finally I was ready to shoot some god damn animation. WOO!

It Lives!

POSTDATED - 27/04/12

Today I animated my first shot, which also happened to be the first shot the wolf appears in my film. I do prefer making my animation that way, working chronologically through the film, because it feels like you're living the story as you're making it. Bit pretentious I guess...

Anyway, here's the green screen footage. I won't be including any more footage on my blog because I don't want to give the game away just yet. 

After several tests and false starts I finally managed to get some fairly smooth animation out of this shot. With it being my first bit of hands on animation since way back last year I'm not completely ashamed of the results. I was still getting to grips with the chroma key function in Stop Motion Pro, so there may have been some issues with the foot not being in the exactly right place to match up with the physical interaction on the original footage, but after a quick test comp it didn't seem like too much of a problem.

Also, note the use of a pin to open up the mouth wide enough in the middle of the shot. I did this because, as I have already mentioned, when I glued on the fur it added unforeseen resistance to the mouth hinge and so the puppet's mouth couldn't open fully. I didn't let this hinder my animation though, and wedging it open with a pin worked fine. Since it's only a few frames I'll easily remove these in Photoshop so they interfere with the green screening process.

Tips and Equipment

POSTDATED - 26/04/12

Today I had my meeting with the photography tutor who explained some of the basics about having a keylight to simulate the main light source (in this case the direction of the sunlight) and a fill light to simulate environmental reflection. He also provided me with a few bits of equipment which are used to soften, scatter or otherwise adjust the lighting to get a better match. They were;

Polystyrene boards - these are used to reflect lights so that light hitting the puppet is softer, as pointing the lights directly at the subject tends to be to hard, creating harder shadows. It is also used to add subtle fill where the addition of another light would be too strong.

Trace - An opaque sheet made from flame-retardant material used to scatter and soften the light and clipped on to the spotlight barndoors.

Spun - Similar to trace, but made from a different material to give a different scattering effect.

Matte Black Cinefoil - This is aluminium foil, coated in black oxide layer by an anodising process, which can be clipped to the spotlight barndoors to control more accurately where the light lands than just using the barndoors themselves. Also, if necessary, it can be wrapped around the lens of the camera to create a makeshift (and more adjustable) lens hood to eliminate glare and lens flares.

Gels - These are transparent sheets made from polyester which are clipped to the spotlight barndoors to change the colour of light the spotlight puts out.

After fiddling around with these bits I managed to arrange a set up that more accurately simulated the lighting of the original footage. From here getting everything perfect so that the wolf would sit naturally in the composited scenes is the skill that I would get better at with practice.


Let There Be Light

POSTDATED - 25/04/12

Today I spent most of the day tinkering around with lighting, trying to match that of my source footage. I found this took a surprising amount of time, partly because lights and rigging is physically quite large and so a bit awkward to move around, and partly because I know absolutely nothing about proper lighting techniques.
Learning on the job, right?
Above is the final result of my setting up the first shot for animation. I could tell that it wasn't right, with the lighting being too harsh and not quite in the right direction. I asked in the photography department and arranged to meet one of the tutors for a crash-course in how to set up lighting.

In the meantime I did a quick test for some animation to see how the green screen was working.
Not entirely awful?


When I Say Green, You Say Screen! Green...

POSTDATED - 24/04/12

Today I completed my animation set up, spray painting a board and my newly cleaned animation table a vibrant shade of green for use as my green screen. I painted the steel table green because I thought it would help with the green screening process, which it partially did. But what I found was that the shadows in the holes weren't so easily removed. Thankfully, the table should only be visible in a few shots where there's contact between the puppet and the live-action environment, so it's fiiiine.

WOOO! (that's a wolf sound, also me going woo. it's like a pun, only... now i've explained it so... errm... hi?)

POSTDATED - 22/04/12

Today I finally finished my puppet. Hooray! Only 3 weeks and two days behind schedule! I know, I know, I'm an efficient film-making beast. And definitely good at planning how long it actually takes to do things!

Anyway, The final steps of puppet making were to glue fur to the ears, which I afterwards trimmed close to match the rest of the face, so that my wolf wouldn't look too much like a goofy koala.
 And finally I lightly painted on some latex mixed with black acrylic all over the body, and heavily on the feet so as to mask the bald patches I had created by cutting the fur close to the weave. I think this also gave the effect that the wolf has muddy feet, so didn't look too bad either.

With a time to spare I began preparing my setup for animation. Firstly, I had the massively enjoyable task of poking out every single hole in the perforated steel animation bench because half of it was still gunked up with fibreglass, plasticine and glue from old projects.
Pictured; Megafun

Snippety Snip

POSTDATED - 20/04/12

 Today I began by hunting down some starch. I was recommended to use this by our model making tutor Martin to apply something to the fur to stop it boiling too much. I couldn't find any powdered starch, which was what I was recommended to use, but managed to find some spray starch. I decided to test out the starch with and without a bit of black acrylic.
Below are the results. I found the starch made the hair look very matted, which wasn't an effect I wasn't too averse too, since the wolf is supposed to be a wild animal, but I found that the starch wasn't strong enough to hold anything in place. Whether this was because of the strength of the starch I found, or if I could increase the strength by mixing up my own starch if I had found powder, I don't know. Either way, the starch wasn't going to work.
I decided to add a little latex and black acrylic instead. This also made the fur look a little matted, but held it slightly better than the starch would have done. Although really this was more cosmetic than functional, because the fur was still going to boil all over the place. Boiling wasn't something I explicitly wanted to avoid though, because I think it adds to the charm of stop-motion - if I had wanted 'perfect' special effects I would be using CG. No thank you. You know what CG stands for? Cinda Gay. You can quote me on that one.

Before painting anything onto the fur though, I first had to give my wolf a trim. Using my mighty nail scissors I coiffured my wolf up badstyle. I trimmed some areas quite close (such as the face and feet) while leaving other areas shaggier, or feathering out the fur to create tufts around elbows, on the end of the tail and under the chest. I was now so very close to animating...
 ...which is a shame because at this point I was starting to notice things going wrong on the structural side of my build. For example, when I had put together the facial armature, I hadn't tightened the jaw hinge too much, because I didn't anticipate the addition of foam and fur adding resistance to the ball and socket joints. This meant that the mouth cannot fully close or open, and while it won't ruin any shots, it was still a bit annoying.
The other main thing I noticed was that most of the joints I had glued together with Loctite were beginning to break open, which meant they couldn't hold their position in certain directions. This is especially an area that I would improve on if I could re-do this project, because I had already made inquiries about silver soldering on the Treforest campus, and I think there are facilities for it up there, but I ended up not hearing back from somebody and so had to move on and use Loctite. Silver soldering is what John Wright uses for his armatures, so you know it's pro.


Shazam! That's one fuzzy mother!

POSTDATED - 19/04/12

Look at his tufty little face!

After I glued on the fur I began trimming some of it back. One thing I did with the facial fur that I wish I had done with the rest of the fur was to thickly paint on latex mixed with black acrylic on the underside of the fur, then flipped it over and massaged the latex through so that it started to seep into the lowest layers of fur. This made stitching together the seams a bit more difficult as the latex added resistance to my needle, but firstly it meant that the glue stuck better because the surface wasn't so absorbent and secondly, it meant that when I trimmed the fur very short, the weave of the fabric wasn't visible. 
At this stage I also gave my wolf a bit of a nose job, because he was feeling self-conscious and he was hardly going to hunt souls in the underworld if he didn't have the body confidence. Also, the depth of the fabric had may have buried his original nose and made it look too small. I added more latex, black acrylic and cotton wool to snout him up to the max.