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HIGH NOON

Two and a half years is a long time, especially this past two and half years. And yet it has gone by in something of a blur here in my little workshop. I can remember just about everything about the creation of FROM HELL HE RIDES, from its humble beginnings to the exhausting finish, by far the most challenging film I’ve ever attempted. So without further adieu I present … FROM HELL HE RIDES.

TO THE CELLARS

I tend to go radio silent once I start animating. When you’re building things there’s always something new to show but once you start animating the days are pretty much all the same. There may be some interesting moments along the way but they are quickly forgotten as each new set up is readied. Over the past 5 months I’ve watched my pristine kitchen set slowly deteriorate as my characters waged war. I confess, staging an action scene in such a confined space has been a challenge. I finally completed the last of 152 shots this week and am ready to move on to the basement set where all this chaos will come to an end. It’s quite remarkable, watching the hundreds of disparate pieces come together into a finished film.

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO IMPROVISE

Nothing looks more like water than … water … but it’s a pain to animate. I needed a shot of water running from a tap into the basin of a sink and while I was able to create the wider shots using a number of different techniques, the close up was another matter. Never a fan of cling wrap I came up with this set up. I poured water through a custom funnel into my oversized miniature basin and set Dragonframe to time-lapse; 1 frame every 5 seconds. Then for 10 minutes I kept the water level in my funnel consistent until I had the 4 seconds I needed. On play back it still has that stop motion feel which was absolutely necessary. I then brought the shot into AfterEffects and double exposed it; that is to say I put one clip on top of the other, slide the top layer out of sync by 1 frame and set it at 50% opacity. This helped smooth out the jitter. And that’s how I got my shot.

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

I’ve hit the 3 minute mark on DRAIN after two and a half months of animating. As can be seen from the pictures I’ve completed the main kitchen set and have been plugging away at the 130+ shots that take place there in. I usually leave the close up inserts for just before I strike a set but because the lighting changes several times I’ve been dropping those shots in as I go to maintain continuity. It’s led to some stops and starts but things have been progressing quite nicely.

THE KITCHEN

I only just realized that I built, shot and struck the bedroom set without taking a single production still.  The first couple of minutes of DRAIN (which are now complete) take place in 5 different locations. The scenes are very short but they set up the 2 major set pieces which is where I find myself. It’ll likely take me a week or two to finish building the main kitchen. By contrast the animation that follows will take months.

NO RUST

After 14 months of prep I’m finally animating. I was all set to talk about the significance of the first day and blah blah blah … until I saw this picture. Animating is a slow process but it’s always been a blur to me. I often can’t account for the hours between the first and last frames of a shot. Over the course of animating a film I might have a dozen clear memories, usually of those killer shots but also those amazing moments when every frame is just right and you wonder why they can’t all be like that. After just 3 shots, I have a good feeling about this film.

THE HARD PART IS DONE

After just 5 foam runs all the puppets for DRAIN have their final skins. It’ll take a week or so to clean them up and ready them for paint but the heavy lifting is out of the way. You may have noticed the dark spot below the nose and lower lip on the one puppet. I used brass in the skeleton in those areas. Ammonia and brass don’t play well together and even though I covered the skeleton, clearly the two substances made contact causing the brass to oxidize. A coat of prosaide will help seal it and keep the stain from bleeding through the paint but it’s one of those little things that can make you crazy.

FOAM RUBBER

You’d think after a few hundred models I’d be able to whip up a perfect puppet every time but you’d be wrong. It’s a finicky substance that foam rubber. There’s nothing more disheartening than pulling open a mould only to find a rubber mess inside. It’s happened once already after 3 runs this month. Then again, a perfect run is a thing of beauty. These puppets still need some seam work but the rubber is soft and the detail is good. A couple more runs and all the puppets for IT will be ready to paint.

PAINTING PUPPETS

I spent the last couple of weeks working on colour schemes. Being as I work alone I never felt the need to create character sheets with all that information. I find the colour choices always look different in three dimensions anyway so my preferred method is to pull liquid rubber skins from the molds which I assemble over basic wire armatures. Then I start experimenting until I get what I want. I like the dry run it provides me before committing to the final foam rubber puppets. They’re also very useful as stand-ins for lighting tests and camera set ups. The final puppets will suffer a lot of abuse during filming so anything that helps keep them looking polished is worthwhile.

KEEPING BUSY

I’m still waiting for the weather to get just a bit warmer before I foam up the puppets so in the interim I’m building miscellaneous props. I rarely built more than one set at a time, mainly because my sets tend to be on the large side but that hasn’t stopped me from building set pieces for future use. The window is for a 3 shot sequence of my main character spying on the neighbours. The TV and stand is for a single shot cutaway of a newscast. The image in the TV is a slug which will be replaced in post by one of my animated characters. Next week I’ll have the anchors news desk ready.