I LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY

I’ve learned a lot over the past 7 years but I think my greatest strides have been in the area of set building. I’m much more comfortable with the process than I used to be. And while framing up a set is fairly easy, it’s the details that continue to challenge. Because I don’t like the idea of buying off the shelf items I end up spending a lot of time making props. This week it was tables, hammers and a bellows for my blacksmith shop. I’m not ready to take the plunge but I think the next logical step for me is a 3D printer. It’s too late to be considering one for this film but even my patience has a limit.

THE PUPPET RETIREMENT HOME

This week saw the cabin set come down and construction on the blacksmith’s shop begin. It also marked the end of a second puppet’s scenes. I don’t get attached to sets the way I do to puppets. Maybe it’s because it takes so much longer to build the characters, maybe because I physically handle them or maybe it’s because they actually have voices. Whatever the reason I was sorry to retire this character. He was a lot of fun to animate. As for the blacksmith shop, I’m hoping to have it up and ready by August 1. That’s something of a tall order considering all the paraphernalia that needs to go into it but I’d like to think it can be done.

SPIT AND BALING WIRE

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For all the polish my films my exhibit, much of their execution remains surprisingly low tech. I build my sets with floating walls to allow my camera to access hard to reach areas. With this set, the removal of the side wall also meant the loss of all that nice interactive light provided by the windows. To maintain continuity, using nothing more than some cardboard, 4 popsicle sticks and 2 pieces of dowel I was able to quickly put a temporary structure in place and was back shooting in less than an hour. It doesn’t look like much but you’d never know it from the finished shots. It’s easy to get sidetracked employing complicated solutions to simple problems. I love my technology but sometimes basic is better.

QUALITY CONTROL

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Working alone, one of the hardest things to maintain is a high standard of quality. As the weeks and months start to drag on you can sometimes find yourself letting things slide. Before I sign off on any shot I always asked myself; is that the best that shot can be or is it only as good as it needs to be. I strive for the former but there have been days when I’ve settled for the latter. Those days always come back to haunt me. There are half a dozen shots in FILTH that to this day I cringe when I see. I’ve done better on FROM HELL HE RIDES but it doesn’t come easy. I’m usually a first take animator but twice in the last week I’ve done 4 takes of a shot. It has reduced my shot totals for the week to be sure but a year from now I won’t be shaking my head thinking I should’ve shot that again.

IT’S GOT A GOOD BEAT

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I don’t take many breaks. I have this ridiculous fear that if I stop working I won’t start again. Or worse, I’ll forget how to do this altogether. It’s not likely to happen any time soon and besides, I’ve always felt that a little fear is never a bad thing. When I find myself in a bit of a rut there’s always music. It plays an enormous part in all of this. It gets me through those stretches when I’m not feeling particularly motivated. I don’t plan it but each film ends up having it own unique playlist. Even years later when I hear a song I will be instantly transported to a time, a place and a film.

LIKE A SHADOW

My films have their own style. It’s somewhat distinct and it slowly evolves from film to film but when I look at all the stop motion being done out there it seems like there’s very little that looks like what I’m doing. I’m not saying it’s better, far from it; it’s just something I’ve noticed. This particular look is not something I planned. In fact, at times I’ve consciously tried to move in a different direction but every time I start sculpting my brain steers me back down this road. Muscle memory. One of the best things about short films is the opportunity to reinvent yourself with each project and while I may be jumping genres every two years, I cannot deny that a visual stamp follows me wherever I go.

SAILING BY THE STARS

Every so often I’m asked about THE LADY OF NAMES (2011), my sole feature film. What happened to it? How come it’s never been released? Did it really take 14 years to make? Shot on 16mm film, when I look at it today it seems to give off a retro, Rankin Bass Christmas Special vibe. I don’t talk about it much for a number of reasons; it’s a long story, it’s kind of depressing, and I don’t like picking at old scabs. However, I was recently approached and accepted an invitation to do a podcast and while the main discussion was meant to focus on stop motion it quickly turned into an in depth conversation about THE LADY OF NAMES. So if you are interested in the story behind its making I invite you to give the podcast a listen.

BOLETUS EDULIS FUNGUS

I came across this production still (left) from THE LADY OF NAMES while cleaning up files on an old computer. This picture dates back to 2001 but I designed and built the character in 1997. I’ve always loved this guy and 23 years later I still think it’s one of my best designs. There are half a dozen paddles under the face that allowed for some really expressive animation. I’ve moved away from this type of character design as my films have gotten more adult in nature but digging up this puppet has me feeling a little nostalgic. We can none of us go back but it’s sure nice to stop once and a while to see where we’ve been.

THE END IS STILL A WAYS OFF

Let me start this week by saying I don’t intentionally make things difficult for myself. With the last three shorts I was very mindful during story-boarding to stage scenes in such a way as to minimize the amount of extra props I’d need to build. Not to the detriment of the storytelling mind you but if I didn’t need to show the forth wall of a room, or an extreme close up of a clock then I didn’t. This film is different. I decided early on to go to town, be extravagant, and throw everything at it. Because of that, my tentative prediction that I could finish by January 2021 now seems unrealistic. April 2021 is more likely and as each new set takes shape I think the reasons will become obvious.

WARMTH OF THE FIRE

I’ve started animating again. Although this set may seem large, animating on it is a little cramped. I love having a ceiling but getting the camera in there can be a challenge. Plus I have to crouch down every time I adjust the puppet. As you can see there is a light fixture in full view on the set. It’s connected to a dimmer switch allowing me simulate the light flicker coming from the fireplace. Once a shot is done I can remove the light, insert the clean background and add flames. The end result (pictured) is some really nice interactive lighting. Those types of effects have to be planned carefully. Done right they are invisible but are really effective in creating an overall aesthetic for the film.