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.
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?
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 24 frames per second shot on twos, that makes 12 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.
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.
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!
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.
Gently cleaning with a paste of baking soda and a soft brush.
Rinsing in cold water.
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.
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!
I’ve been hard at work in my studio animating the creatures dancing joyfully around the new sprout.
This very short clip from Seed in the Sand, and the pictures below, demonstrate my continued love of red string, extreme close-up and inexplicable ritual.
Click on this picture to watch the clip on Vimeo.
In this behind the scenes snapshot, the creatures are getting ready to dance. The filmed angle shows only a portion of this. They just looked so sweet lined up like this that I had to take a picture.
I’ve been testing angles and ideas. In this snapshot they are making a star of the red rope. I plan to shoot at an angle similar to this.