Building the Shore of the Sand Sea: Part Three

Screen Shot 2016-11-13 at 7.25.34 PM.pngThe shore of the sand sea is complete and animation has begun! The wave generating mechanism is working as I had hoped it would. It keeps the sand sea in the background moving. The waves crashing on the rocks in the foreground are animated with a variety of brushes, including a dusting brush used for drafting, a two inch paintbrush and a soft broom. Continue reading to learn how the wave generator was made.

wave-generator-mechanics

Four rows of plated steel slotted angles holding 1/8th inch threaded rod tipped with plastic have been installed under the perforated metal tables using 1/4 inch threaded rod. These can now be raised and lowered incrementally to animate the waves in the sand. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

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photo by Adam Hoffsette

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From the top you can see the plastic shapes that will make the waves. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

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The perforated metal tables are then covered with cloth that has been dyed to blend with the sand. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

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Sand is poured onto the cloth.

smoothing-sand

The set is so large, I had to climb onto the table to smooth the sand in the center. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

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Here you see the lighting setup. 500 watt bulbs are bounced off of a sheet of foam core and grey paper stapled to the ceiling to throw diffused light onto the set. The pebbles that were sifted out of the sand were used to make DIY sandbags for stabilizing the light stands. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

lighing-behind

For lighting the translum backdrop, one LED flood light shines up through crumpled tracing paper to create a cloudy look. Photo by Adam Hoffsette

 

Building the Shore of the Sand Sea: Part Two

painted-rocks

Work continues on the shore of the sand sea. The tables are finished and the rocks and beach are complete. The large rocks are made of high density foam from Van Dyke’s Taxidermy Supply. They have been carved and painted with black paint. I laid out a path of drywall screws for my puppet’s magnetic feet to cling to and then covered all of the surfaces with black tissue paper from Dick Blick Art Materials. The rock surfaces were then painted using a sea sponge and grey acrylic paint to give the final textured effect.

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The foam rocks are secured to the plywood bases with glue and nails. Photo by Emma Charles.

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The drywall screws form a path in the foam rock for the magnetic puppet feet.

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Metal for the puppets to walk on is attached to the flat base before it is covered with tissue paper. Photo by Adam Hoffsette.

rocks-in-progress

Gift wrapping tissue paper is not recommended for this technique. We tried it after running out of the paper from Blick’s and it ended up looking like wadded up trash bags because it wouldn’t dissolve into a paper paste as needed. It did work well for forming some of the landscape though. Photo by Adam Hoffsette.

papering-in-progress

The rock surface is created using black tissue paper and glue mixed with water. Photo by Adam Hoffsette.

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Click to see a short papering demonstration where a blend of Elmer’s glue and water is brushed onto the paper with a stiff paint brush. The brush is mashed into the paper at the edges to dissolve it so they will blend with other layers. Filmed by Adam Hoffsette.

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The rock surfaces are all covered in tissue paper.

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Painting rock texture with light grey paint and a natural sponge.

Building the Shore of the Sand Sea

I am building the shore of the sand sea here in my Kansas City studio with the help of my two interns, Emma Charles and Adam Hoffsette. We had our first work day on Sunday and I am amazed at how much we accomplished together. And as an added bonus for the blog, they are both better about remembering to document what we are doing than I am.

Here is a sketch of the shore of the sand sea:

sand-sea-shore

The One stands at the shore of the sand sea.

Detail sketches of the wave generator and set construction plans:

We’ve been working hard to get all of this built and tested. Three tables will support five 24″ x 48″ sheets of perforated steel. This perforated steel is great stuff! It will work for both magnet foot anchors and T-nut foot anchors as well as for my crazy wave generator idea. The only down side is the cost. My generous Patreon supporters are helping to cover part of that. Thank you! I ordered the sheets from OnlineMetals.com.

Photos of us at work:

We tested my wave generator idea and I am very happy with the results. It worked a lot like I had planned and we made some important adjustments to the initial idea. Now I need to buy a lot of little bits of hardware to make it full sized! Note: The cherry print fabric will not be used in the final version. It just happened to be what I had on hand for testing. The final fabric will be the same color as the sand. Emma shot some photos and video of the tests and I edited those together to make a record of our session:

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We put spackle on the foam rocks that I had carved and painted the black undercoat. My next step with the rocks is to dry brush grey over that.

I purchased 500 lbs of paver sand to use for the sea of sand in May, hoping that it would be dried out by now. That was not the case so Emma spread it out on a cloth in the studio to dry so we can sift out the pebbles. My dog came downstairs to snoop around and decided the sand must be a little bit of outdoors brought inside just for her. She loved it so much she peed on it! I shooed her away quickly and removed the soiled sand.

Giving Life and Emotion to Puppets

I’ve had a really successful summer working in my Oregon studio, completing two and a half minutes of new animation for Seed in the Sand! The goals with this sequence are to show the excitement and emotional ties of the group and the romantic affection between The One and his Mate as the sprouted seed grows into a tree.

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So, how do I go about bringing my puppets to life and making them appear to emote in a way that the audience can feel?

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A snapshot of the creatures on set.

Sometimes the greatest emotional impact can be achieved with the smallest of movements like a subtle tilt of the head, or simply a long pause with no movement at all. Many of the shots I have been working on don’t involve very complex movements. The pair may only move slightly as they look at each other fondly. In some ways this can be more complicated than a walk or big movement. The subtle tilt of a head may need to continue for a second or more. At 30 frames per second shot on twos, that makes 15 movements per second. Each frame requires a movement so small that I can only tell I have moved the character by checking it against the previous frame in DragonFrame and if I move the character just a little too much it can be a real challenge to get back to the correct pose.

While long shots where the characters are barely moving are a normal part of live action filmmaking, in animation the impulse to keep the puppets in constant motion must be held in check if you want to create an emotive or contemplative scene. This level of restraint took me a long time to learn. Even now it may take a few times watching a shot to see how long the pause really needs to be. If I haven’t made it long enough when shooting I will repeat frames in Adobe Premiere until the pause is long enough but not so long that it feels like a freeze frame. The action can usually be paused for at least a half second before it starts to seem unnatural and sometimes even a second can work.

eyelids

Tiny eyelids made of clay and the tools I use to apply them to the puppets.

Well timed blinks add an important element to a character’s reaction to events or suggest that they are considering what is happening at the moment. Also an occasional blink helps them to seem to be alive. Most basic blinks that I animate are four frames long.

The Story Continues: New Life and Impending Starvation

Now that summer is here again I’ve got a nice, long break from my faculty position at Kansas City Art Institute to make as much progress on Seed and the Sand’s meadow scene as I can manage. This set is still in Oregon at the family farm due to its enormousness and fragility! A few weeks ago I set off for the west coast with dog and child. Our first stop was Los Angeles for a little fun with friends and then up to Oregon to deliver my daughter to summer camp and get to work animating!

3-leaves

The first job when we arrived was to reclaim my meadow set from the mice and spiders! The spiders still remain in the margins watching from above, beside and behind. The mice keep out of sight.

My puppets needed some maintenance too. I washed their little hands and brushed their messy fur.

getting-washed

Gently cleaning with a paste of baking soda and a soft brush.

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Rinsing in cold water.

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Grooming and primping.

The storyboard cards are pinned up. I don’t always follow the cards precisely, but they help to guide my animation. I get a lot of inspiration as I work. New shots get added, and some get cut or changed.

Summer2016-storycards

This set of cards tells a story of new life and impending starvation.

The first day animating, I managed seven seconds in 6 and a half hours. I hope I can keep up that pace. I’ve got a month here to get as much done as possible. I plan to be finished with this set by the end of next summer. When I get back to Kansas City in the fall I’ll be building a new set and bringing on a couple of interns to help with background animation!

Making the Sea Monster: Part 1

I am starting work on the sea monster for Seed in the Sand. At 38 inches long, she is almost four times the size of the nest dwellers. The monster is very dangerous but should look appealingly pretty so as not to cause fear at first sight. The scales and tail fin will match the mermaid from The One’s dreams and the hands will be feminine and pretty.

Here are some photos of my progress so far:

Sea-Monster-Armature-Head

The head has a ball of aluminum foil at its center and is covered with wire mesh in preparation for the sculpey.

Sea-Monster-Hand

The dainty hand is the same shape and pattern as the mermaid and masked woman, but with ability to be more fin-like and have more flexibility due to the absence of knuckles.

Sea-Monster-Foot

The foot will be very lizard-like but be partially webbed. Notice the T-nut tied into the foot for anchoring. This monster is too large to use the magnets for tie down.

Sea-Monster-Tail

The tail fin also has a T-nut tie down.

Sea-Monster-Armature-2

Here is the entire armature rearing up in a threatening posture. Or maybe she just wants a hug. I plan to use some rigging for leaps and stabilization and it will be removed in post. You can see bolts temporarily installed in some of the tie down locations to help me make sure to keep the areas unblocked as I move forward with the flesh and skin.

Sea-Monster-Skull-Profile

The skull and lower jaw are made with translucent sculpey. The eyes are glass reproductions of fish eyes that I purchased from Van Dykes Taxidermy Supply.

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Smile for the camera!

Sea-Monster-Painted-Gums

Black paint for the gums and inside of the mouth help to define the teeth.

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Isn’t she pretty.

Sea-Monster-Foam-Progress

Foam in progress.

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The foam is all trimmed. She is ready for skin!

Puppet Hand Demonstration

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I hope you enjoy this demonstration of how I make my puppet hands. If you have any questions, please comment below. This hand belongs to my villain that is under construction and it is about and one and a quarter inches long.

The hand is made as part of the wire armature:

wire_hand

Using the wire hand as a pattern, the back of the hand is cut out of felt with enough width in the fingers to wrap around the wire:

back-of-hand-felt

I glue that to the wire skeleton starting with the back of the hand and then each finger.

wire-hand-on-back

To do the fingers I dip the finger wire into the glue gun nozzle to coat it with a thin layer of glue and then press the felt evenly on to the finger, making sure to get the tip nicely rounded:

glued-hand

Next, using my tiny scissors, I cut the front of the hand out of felt using the hand as a pattern.

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The front of the hand ready to be attached:

palm-and-glued-back

I glue the palm first and then do each finger using a very thin layer of hot glue. To finish, I clean the tip of the glue gun and use it as an iron to make the finger look seamless and rounded and to melt any stray strands of hot glue into the felt:

iron-fingers

Here is the finished hand photographed using my cutting mat as a scale reference:

measured-puppet-hand

One of the many good reasons to use hot glue for making the puppet hands is that if a finger wire breaks I can carefully melt the hot glue and peel open the seams to make repairs. I like to use felt because it looks like short fur and I can make the seams disappear.