Ultimate Image

For our business module we were given the task of producing a single image that represented us as artists. As someone pointed out, most of our work will be viewable over the internet for the vast majority of the time, and since we're animators why not create an animated GIF. I found this idea interesting, because quite rightly, as animators, our primary form of creative expression is often through movement rather than image alone. Therefore I decided to do some research on GIFs, and see if I could create one of my own.

First of all I watched a short YouTube documentary about the birth of GIFs, which taught me a little about how they have evolved as a medium in their own right, and also showed many examples of what sorts of things people do with them.

One of the examples that caught my eye from watching this were the GIFs created by Cinemagraph. Most of these were brilliantly executed, being mostly a still shot with only one moving element. Somehow this effect adds something distinctly uncanny to the work, especially with close-ups of faces, where they will remain motionless for a long time, so you assume it's a photograph, and then suddenly they move. Slightly creepy, but very awesome.

While I liked these GIFs, they are leaning more on the live-action side of things rather than animation, so I decided to take the idea of a GIF more as an opportunity to show a small section of stop-motion animation. I began developing my idea based around my major project, and wanted to somehow engage with the medium of stop motion, to show the process of building puppets as well as animating, all in the same piece.

Here are some developmental sketches, showing the progression of ideas I thought through, before settling on one final set-up for the final GIF.

 So initially I thought about something simple with my wolf puppet 'building itself' and walking across the screen, with the animated steps only being key frames, and with each step being a separate stage of the puppet building process. So the first image would be a pile of armature parts, then the complete armature, then the foam added, and finally the fully finished puppet.
 Then I began to think about adding some elements into the scene, so I thought about having the wolf emerge from a toolbox, and the screen behind being a green screen. For the green screen I thought either it would work as a plain green screen, making the whole thing look a little neater with a backdrop, or I could even use the green screen to add something else, such as a created image, or a video, or even some of my final animation.
 This quickly developed into the idea of using a mirror behind, so that my reflection would be caught in the image. I really liked this idea, because as the ultimate image is supposed to be a reflection of myself as an artist, I felt that putting myself into the image would be a good way to do this. Not simply as a literal interpretation of the words 'reflection of self' but also because the way I like to approach stop-motion is to engage in it as an artistic medium, rather than simply a platform for narrative. Therefore, my decision to include myself in the ultimate image was more a statement of my own philosophy about stop-motion animation, in that it is the only form of animation that physically exists in the world. I also decided to add in some motion of myself in the reflection, showing myself starting out quite happy looking, and progressively getting more and more stressed - which is exactly what happens to most animators as they approach a deadline!

And here, the GIF part-way through completion. It should be completed (if puppet building goes according to schedule) by the 23rd of March. Although with the recent setback in the armature needing repair, this is likely to be a generous estimate. It will, of course, be completed at least before animation shooting begins, which is due to start on the 1st of April.

Overall I think it works OK, but of course there are some elements that given the time and resources I would change. For one thing the camera jumps around, because leaving a camera set up for several weeks while I built my puppet was an impossibility given that I was using cameras rented from the university. As it was, it took a lot of fiddling around the tripod to get a match as well as I did. Other things I would have liked to have done would have been to make the animation a lot smoother, adding more in-betweens, and perhaps even adding in the reflection of myself with a short live-action clip, like the Cinemagraphs. However, with the pressures of major project work, this would require an amount of time that I am simply unable to give. Coupled with the fact that studio space is limited and I couldn't leave a camera set up in the same position because other people needed to use the space.

Following a presentation with my tutor I decided to change my ultimate image. He didn't like the camera shake that was only going to get worse, and I am inclined to agree that while it reveals something about stop-motion animation itself (i.e. having to work around the physical nature of it) it certainly could be improved as a finished piece, even with the limited resources available to me.

Taking some inspiration from the CG animators' ultimate images I decided the best way to show off my work was still to show off my puppet sculpt, given that that is the bulk of what I have been doing this year, but this time wanted to settle on a single, well-composed image rather than a series of sub-par ones.

First, I took a series of photos, concentrating on a balance between nice lighting, showing off my puppet and angling the camera and puppet to get some dynamic poses. I found this approach of working in the camera, rather than designing something on paper, a lot better because rather than estimating where I could angle the puppet I could see exactly what I was going to get immediately, allowing me to make the subtle adjustments there and then.

I included quite a lot of 'empty' space, because I wanted to include the shadows as part of the image, as lighting is obviously something very important to stop-motion work, and I have always been a big fan of using strong directional lighting to give atmosphere.

 For each image made a lot of adjustments for each image, for example moving around lights, adding gels, changing the depth of field and focal points, changing the angle of the camera and moving the puppet to get a better pose.

After taking these photos I went in to Photoshop with my favourite images and applied what we had learnt about poster design to decide where to place my name in to the image, making it more complete and personal. I made some subtle adjustments to shadows to give them better form where the puppet had been twisted to get a better pose at the cost of making the shadow look awkward in parts. Finally, there were some part of the armature exposed (e.g. some of the foot plates are poking out) due to animation wear and tear, which I also painted out.

And so finally, here is my ultimate image;

Overall I think this is a much stronger image than the previous one. It would have been nice to create a moving image, had I had the time to do it justice, because it would have shown off my animation skills and would have embraced the digital format that the work was presented in - something that would make people appreciate the effort that went into making it. However, since art is a visual medium, it is important to remember that concepts must not be prioritised over the technical quality of the work if they are not presented in a suitable fashion. As art is all about communication, if a visual artwork requires a written explanation for the viewer to understand the image, then it has fundamentally failed to communicate.

With regards to my work, choosing a simpler theme of 'here is the quality of my work' worked a lot better than trying to convey a complex reflexive theme of myself as an artist all in one image.