Animating Bubbles in Cinema 4D

Work continues on the dancing doll dream sequences. I am creating elemental effects in Cinema 4D, a computer graphics program, and have just completed an animation of bubbles for the sequence done from the creature’s eye view as he sinks into the dream ocean. I achieved the really nice stretchy bubbles by making them into metaball objects. Then, I rendered the bubbles with an alpha channel so I could combine it with my After Effects composition as the top layer.

Here’s a low resolution test render I did to see how the timing is working. I’ve still got endless adjustments to make and some work to do with lighting the background and creating surface ripple. Also, the final animation of the bubbles will be rendered in Cinema 4D again with the background so they will have the correct reflection and refraction.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 9.24.33 PM

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16, 2015

The final render of the bubbles is finished and now I’ll add it to the rest of the layers in Adobe After Effects. Here is a transparent still image from the bubble render. Notice the reflection and refraction of the dolls in the bubbles.

Bubbles101515_0071

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Animating in Oregon for the Summer

I completed my first year as Visiting Assistant Professor at Kansas City Art Institute and have signed on to teach for another year! As far as my personal art practice goes, one of the great things about having a nine month teaching contract is the summer break that gives me the time to focus on Seed in the Sand. After a long drive through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California, I am back in Oregon working on the scenes in the meadow set that I did not to bring with me to Kansas City due to its size and fragility. I expect it will take me a minimum of three summers to complete the shots on this set as I have over 90 storyboard cards prepared for it.

To get the needed angle for this shot of the dance, two of the legs of the tripod rest on the set.

To get the needed angle for this shot of the dance, two of the legs of the tripod rest on the set.

Right now, I am working on elements of a song and dance piece. I don’t have the music for it yet, but have established the basic rhythm. Realizing I needed a drummer was a really important part of bringing the dance ideas into focus. The drum is made from part of a steel can covered in black Sculpey to make it look like a piece of hollowed out tree trunk. The drum skin is made from part of a damaged pair of vintage kid skin opera gloves. What sadly turned the gloves into craft material is the same thing that made them perfect for this use. Namely, water shrinkage. After stretching the skin over the drum, I dampened the ruffly edge with water to make it shrink up tight around the shell. The drum sticks each have a 3/16th inch rare earth magnet in the head. The magnet helps the drum stick to make firm contact with the steel bottom of the can just under the drum skin.

Working out how to approach this sequence was very challenging. How does one choreograph a dance with no music? I drew out so many dance moves that ended up in the trash and felt lost until deciding to create loops. Many of the elements will be shot as 40 frame loops that can be repeated and manipulated to blend well with the music when it is created. This allows for flexibility. Moves, rhythm and look are established to guide the musician but the final form the music will take is still very open.

Here is a short clip of the drummer loop setting the rhythm:

Drummer Video

Animating the Mermaid and the Sea

I’ve nearly finished the mermaid dream sequence. The green screen elements are all assembled in Adobe After Effects and I am at the stage of endless tinkering. Getting the subtle glow of sunrise and the perfect tilt of the stars takes time.

Mermaid looking into her mirror with green screen.

The mermaid looking into her mirror with green screen in the background. Once I had finished sculpting the foam rock, I painted it with acrylic paint and attached it to the set with long drywall screws. The mermaid has two strong magnets in her posterior that match up with two washers screwed into her seat on the rock.

Before finally getting this shot to work, I had a very bad first try. The hair gel I purchased from the Dollar Tree smelled really terrible. I poured eight bottles of the stuff over the black plastic covering the animation table and was very quickly overwhelmed with its strong odor. To make matters worse, I hadn’t thought about how to make the sea foam in advance and got the “bright” idea to use baking soda. It looked fine until it started to turn the gel into liquid. After shooting only 10 frames I started to feel very bad and had to open some windows and get out of the basement. Once refreshed, I cleaned up the nasty hair gel mess and went online to order a gallon of fragrance free gel from Bulk Apothecary. It was worth the wait. The new gel worked wonderfully and had no smell. Plus I came up with a great idea for the sea foam. Toilet tissue! It’s sculptable once saturated with gel and not chemically reactive.

Messy mermaid set. Hair Gel is spilling off of the table and bits of toilet tissue are spread all over.

Messy mermaid set. Hair Gel is spilling off of the table and bits of toilet tissue are spread all over. I’m using the red spatula to move the gel and the small pallet knife to sculpt the saturated toilet tissue.

To watch a 4 second clip on Vimeo, click this picture:

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 8.23.34 PM

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Dream Mermaid

Work continues on the dream sequences for Seed in the Sand. I have just finished the mermaid who beguiles the poor creature in his dreams and points to the island of the dancing dolls. My decision to sew on sequins for her fish scales led to many hours of labor. Though I was in some despair over the slow progress, I am very happy with the result. Here she is sitting on what will be her rock in the dream ocean. I am carving it from a high density foam block with the drywall saw shown in this photo.

The mermaid sits on her unfinished rock.

The mermaid sits on her unfinished rock.

Below you can see some shots of the mermaid in progress.

The mermaid's head is sculpted and painted and her wire armature is covered in green foam.

The mermaid’s head is sculpted and painted and her wire armature is covered in green foam.

I copied the pattern for her body onto a sheet of sticker paper to make cutting out the tiny fingers easier. I used white shimmery dance/swim knit fabric for her body. I wanted her to shimmer a bit as if she was still damp from the ocean.

The pattern for her body has been copied onto a sheet of sticker paper to make cutting out the tiny fingers easier. I used white shimmery dance/swim knit fabric for her body so she will shimmer a bit as if she was still damp from the ocean.

Here you see the mermaid's hand in progress. It is turned inside out. I don't need to leave a seam allowance with the dance/swim knit fabric because it does not fray. It works well for these tiny fingers. My stitches are very tiny so this seam won't have any gaps with it is turned.

Here you see the mermaid’s hand in progress. It is turned inside out. I don’t need to leave a seam allowance with the dance/swim knit fabric because it does not fray. It works well for these tiny fingers. My stitches are very tiny so this seam won’t have any gaps with it is turned.

mermaid-hand-detail-2

mermaid-hand-detail-1

I am nearly done sewing on the sequins here.

I am nearly done sewing on the sequins here.

mermaid-tail-detail

Dancing Dolls

I am happy to be animating again. My new space is working well for me but, seriously, what was I thinking with all of those dolls dancing!!!! The suffering is all worth it though. The dolls dance with wild abandon. The dreams live!

Dancing Dolls

I’m mostly winning the battle with gravity, but the puppets fling themselves to the floor just as I am pressing the shoot frame button with unfortunate regularity. My production time for these dancing scenes averages two hours per second. Yesterday, at the four second mark I was so exhausted I decided to risk shutting down for the night. When I started back up this morning I was glad to see that my light level was the same and the camera hadn’t sagged. It is always risky to shut down in the middle of a shot because things can shift too much to adjust for, but if I am going to make progress with this production amidst all of my other responsibilities I’ll have to do it once in a while.

Animation in Progress

Here is a clip to show you how the dreams begin:

Rough Edit Dreams Mix

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Setting Up My New Studio

We’re finally getting settled here in Kansas City. The meadow set is still in Oregon and I plan to work on finishing the meadow scenes next summer when I visit. Upon arriving at this house I had rented sight unseen based only on its location and a couple of photos, I was delighted to find a spacious basement! The house description only mentioned laundry hookups in an unfinished basement, so I didn’t know what to expect. The garage I had been planning to use as my animation studio is very small and subject to temperature extremes and I’ve heard that the hail gets pretty big around here so keeping my car in the garage seems like a better use of that space.

I’ve documented my steps to preparing the basement for shooting the dancing doll dream scenes. They will be dancing in a blank black space so the set is very simple. To get the space ready, I needed to build an animation table and cover four basement windows with duvetyne curtains.

This is the corner of the basement I'll be using for animation. My familiar shadow is staring back at me.

This is the corner of the basement I’ll be using for animation. My familiar shadow is staring back at me.

The basement is large, but the ceilings are not as high as I am used to. My first thought was to build a table that measured four feet by four feet, but I realized I didn’t need a table that big for this scene and decided to build two smaller tables so that I can use one for animation and have a second to use as a workbench until it is needed for expanding the animation space. My first step was to draw a plan for the table and make a list of supplies.

You see that I have listed the prices of some of the supplies and the Lowes product code for the metal sheet.

You see that I have listed the prices of some of the supplies and the Lowes product code for the metal sheet.

No work bench and no chop saw? No problem. I've got a big box and a miter saw. A little wobbly and slow, but it worked.

No workbench and no chop saw? No problem. I’ve got a big box and a miter saw. A little wobbly and slow, but it worked. Who needs a workbench to build a workbench!

I started by assemble the short sides of the table. My shadow keeps me company.

I assembled the short sides of the table first. My shadow kept me company.

Here is where it would have been handy to have a little help, but I managed to get the first long side attached to the short sides on my own and nearly square.

Here is where it would have been handy to have a little help, but I managed to get the long sides attached to the short sides on my own and nearly square.

Done! The table top is made with a 48" x 27" sheet of 19/32" plywood. covered with galvanized steel sheets. These sheets were easy to find at Lowes. I prefer the metal sheet I used for the meadow set because it was much thicker. This sheeting is thin and flexible. It'll work okay, but may not be as stable as the other. It was easier to attach to the table though, because I could just nail it on.

Done! The table top is made with a 48″ x 27″ sheet of 19/32″ plywood. covered with two galvanized steel sheets that I found at Lowes. I prefer the metal sheet from Umpqua Sheet Metal that I used for the meadow set because it was much thicker. This sheeting is thin and flexible and will work okay, but may not be as stable as the other. It was easier to attach to the table though, because I could just nail it on.

NOTE 12/30/14: These steel sheets are too thin! They don’t lay totally flat and they flex while animating. Moving one doll wiggles others! Also, I found an article explaining that magnetic attraction is weaker on thinner metal surfaces. That helps to explain why they are not standing as well as usual. Here’s the article on Steel Thickness and Magnetism. I’ve made it through the first major dance scene on the thin sheets, wobbles and all, but will be replacing them with a thicker gauge stainless steel back splash I found at Lowes. The thicker metal will work much better.

Once the table was complete, I turned my attention to blocking out the light. The basement had four windows to cover so I made curtains out of duvetyne, a very thick black fabric, and hung them with tension rods.

The Window

Duvetyne is used to cover the animation table and as the back drop.

My little corner of the basement is ready to go! The light blocking curtains are tucked into the rough stone windowsills and the animation table is covered in duvetyne fabric. The rest of the roll is hung as a back drop. A shim is placed under the right front table leg to compensate for the uneven floor. One of the doll puppets tests the table. The magnets in her feet hold securely to the metal sheet under the fabric.

Next step: Lights! Camera! Action!

Where Women Create – Creative Rituals Article

I’m in the Fall 2014 issue of Where Women Create! Get your copy to read the full article. The magazine is available to be purchased nationwide or online.

https://stampington.com/where-women-create/Where-Women-Create-Autumn-2014

The first two pages of the six page article.

The first two pages of the six page article.

The front cover of the Fall 2014 issue.

The front cover of the Fall 2014 issue.