Costuming despots and innocents

If you’ve watched Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, you’ve seen the part near the end with morphing costumes of iconic authoritarian figures through history. Later in this post, I’ll show process photos of some of the costumes. But first, I want to say a little something about the Woods Hole Film Festival, where our film had its film festival premiere last week.

Thank you to all of you who came out to see Liberty and Justice! The sold out crowd sat through over an hour of serious, heavy and powerful short films, in sweltering conditions, before our movie came on. It was an endurance test, for sure! The sense of relief was palpable when the Wee Folk Studio animated logo appeared, with cheering loud enough to drown out the sound effects. Other than showing the movie to friends at our house, we had not yet experienced a live audience’s reaction in a theater setting. As the story unfolded, there were bursts of laughter, even at some of the more subtle jokes. Rob and I whispered to each other, “They got it!”. It was fun to hear giggles and gasps of recognition at the various characters as they played their parts. We came away feeling that the year we spent filming in the basement was worth it and that we are very honored to be a part of such a prestigious film festival right in our home town. My favorite comments were that it was “fun and deliciously weird” and “the darkest cute movie I’ve ever seen.” 

I am also excited to announce that our film received an Audience Award for best animated short at the festival awards party last night. Rob and I almost didn’t go because it was past my bedtime, the music would be too loud, etc. But, I’m glad we pushed past my old lady complaints and went anyway!

And now the costumes. Let’s start with the innocent protagonists, Liberty and Justice, who are modeled after Hansel and Gretel. With a few exceptions like their hands and feet, their bodies are made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

This is the title set, where I animated Liberty dropping bread crumbs (stone cut oatmeal) in the shape of letters. The dolls’ wire armatures help articulate movements with tiny bends and adjustments. Their heads are loose, so they can swivel back and forth on their pipe cleaner necks.

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It was very helpful to refer to the monitor during filming, so I could see the camera view. At 24 frames per second, I moved the figures about a 16th of an inch or less for every shot.

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And now for the despots.  After researching various kings and dictators, I picked ones with clearly identifiable uniforms, mannerisms and ruthless reputations. Researching and making their costumes was a liberating experience, as I confronted and engaged with these iconic strongmen. There’s something satisfying and even subversive about having bad guys cut down to size. We loom large over them, as they are exposed and held captive in miniature scale and for a moment, their power is diminished. I’m sure you can guess who some of these are. Please see the rolling credits at the end of the movie for a list of characters in order of appearance.

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Liberty and Justice film festival debut

We are proud to announce that Liberty and Justice will be in the 27th Woods Hole Film Festival! The festival takes place July 28 – Aug. 4, 2018 in various venues in the village and surrounding area.

Our film will be shown in Shorts: Break Away on Monday, July 30th at 5:30 pm in the Old Fire House. The program includes a selection of 8 short films having to do with the pursuit of freedom. To see the program and purchase tickets in advance, please go here. If you are planning to attend any of the festival events, I recommend getting tickets ahead of time, as they routinely sell out. Rob and I will be at our screening on July 30th, as well as Matthias Bossi from Stellwagen Symphonette, who produced the movie sound track. We hope to see some of you locals there in support of our home grown effort. There will be an opportunity to vote for Audience Awards, too!

Of course, most of you who follow this blog live far, far away and won’t be able to see the film on the big screen. The next best thing is to view it on your computer or home screen from this page. I know that a lot of you have already watched the movie and shared it with your family and friends. Thank you for helping to spread it around!  After the summer film festival season, I will put Liberty and Justice on YouTube and Vimeo, so it can be more readily shared around the world.

I’ve entered the film in a number of festivals and am waiting for the results. The process is kind of overwhelming because I have no idea which festivals are worth taking a chance with. There are the obvious ones that focus on animation and most festivals have an animation category. But, the competition is fierce! There are websites that make it easy to submit your movie to hundreds of festivals around the world. So easy that it’s as tempting as online betting. With a simple click, you can easily spend a fortune in entry fees, with a slim chance of being accepted. So, I’m trying to be very selective about which festivals to try.

During the year-long filming process, I took a whole bunch of photos of the sets and characters, both on and off stage. Here are most of the cast, waiting backstage.

This shows the wire rig we used to make the Twitter bird fly. While animating, I referred to the monitor in the background for guidance. Rob drew a notched line on the computer to indicate the bird’s flight pattern and speed.

For the candy-land scene filmed from above, we screwed the camera to an extension arm that was attached to the elevated slider.

Rob checked the focus on the monitor constantly by zooming in on the faces. That’s wax paper taped to the wooden stand, which we used to soften the light.

For the last part of the movie we needed a rotating set, so Rob and I devised a system that could move incrementally. I arranged the scenery on a wooden platform, which was placed on top of a lazy susan. Then, we could revolve the whole set, filming one frame at a time, using a marked wire for reference.

Each phase of the project, from story boarding, to making and animating the characters and props, to the final editing was a true adventure!

Other posts about the Liberty and Justice animation project include “Liberty and Justice” in processAll that GlittersAmerica First Ladystop-motion in actionAnimated Film Logo. and Liberty and Justice – the movie! In this interview, I reflect on my foray into political satire and describe how speaking out through art has affected my work and life.

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Liberty and Justice – the movie!

LIBERTY and JUSTICE: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free

What happens when a pair of lost citizens wander in the deep dark woods in search of a new leader? In this satirical take-off of the traditional folk tale, “Hansel and Gretel, the wordless story follows protagonists Liberty and Justice as they negotiate the challenges of today’s unique political landscape, while being shadowed by a persistent Twitter bird. The 13 min. movie is at the end of this post.

The film features an ensemble of old and new cast members from the Wee Folk Players theater troupe, who formed soon after the 2016 election. Other posts about the Liberty and Justice animation project include “Liberty and Justice” in process, All that Glitters, America First Ladystop-motion in action and Animated Film Logo. In this interview, I reflect on my foray into political satire and describe how speaking out through art has affected my work and life.

After about a year filming in the basement, where our animation stage is set up, my husband Rob Goldsborough and I are thrilled to share the fruits of our labor! It’s the first large joint artistic/technical venture we’ve undertaken in almost 40 years together. We used stop-motion animation to create the narrative, spending countless hours manipulating and photographing the characters and props so that they appear to move on their own when the series of frames is played in fast sequence.

We each had our field of expertise – I made all of the dolls and scenery and did the animating, while Rob contributed his talents in photography, lighting, computers and editing. Rob, a retired engineer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has had a life-long interest in photography and film-making. He and I have wanted to bring my wee folk characters to life through animation for many years – we just needed a compelling reason to jump in.

For a framework, I drew a basic story board that grew and developed over time. Every night at dinner, we discussed ideas for different camera angles and how we were going to film the next shot. What was supposed to be a fun summer adventure, ended up becoming a big part of our lives for a whole year! The more we learned, the more invested we became in the project. Luckily, we are both detail oriented and not very chatty, so spending hours on end in silent concentration, filming what would become 5 to 20 sec. scenes was not a problem. I calculated that at 24 frames per second, our 13 min. 32 sec. animation is made up of almost 20,000 individual photographs. Even though the project was incredibly time consuming, we loved working this way and would like to make more animated films in the future. But right now, I have to get back to working on a new children’s book, which you can see progressing here.

A highlight of the project has been finding and working with the musicians who produced the original score for the movie. Rob and I filmed about 100 silent scenes, knowing all along that music and sound effects would be an integral part of the finished film. Through friends, we were lucky to connect with Matthias and Carlaa local Woods Hole couple who specialize in this kind of work. I mean, what are the chances of us living just a few miles from each other in a small town on Cape Cod?

We are thrilled with what they’ve created for the soundtrack! They took our movie and ran with it, blending together many layers and styles into a carpet of sound that propels the story along, creating the right mood for each scene. Their sound production company, Stellwagen Symphonette, creates evocative instrumental music for radio, film and computer games. Drummer and pianist Matthias Bossi, violinist Carla Kihlsted and guitarist and engineer Jon Evans bring together many years of experience writing, performing and recording music. If you listen to NPR, you’ve heard their music embedded in stories from time to time. Their clients include This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Atlantic Public Media, Transom.org and Frontline Dispatch. 

Liberty and Justice will be in the Woods Hole Film Festival, July 28 – August 4, 2018. Its screening is scheduled on Monday, July 30 at 5:30 pm, as part of the program Shorts: Break Away in the Old Woods Hole Fire Station. Tickets are available here.

I hope that you enjoy the movie!


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Animated Movie Logo

Wee Folk Studio now has its very own movie logo! Rob and I filmed it to put at the beginning of our soon to be released short film, Liberty and Justice. The movie is very close to being finished and we plan to put it online in a week or so. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to go behind the scenes and show the process of making this logo. The sound effects you hear are just a tiny hint of Stellwagen Symphonette’s fantastic musical score for the finished movie!

To start, I made a mini me…

and painted a sign…

with colored pencil decorations.

I stitched foliage for the tree.

Luckily, I already had a little house from another project that was abandoned years ago. I found a gnarly piece of wood to hold up the sign.

I’m still a reluctant hot glue user, but it worked well to mount the sign.

To animate the growing flowers, I needed different sizes, from single stems to bunches with multiple blossoms.

We filmed the scene on the all black stage in the basement.

This LED lamp came from a dollhouse supply company.

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All that glitters

We’re forging ahead with our stop-motion animation project and can see the end in sight! In our movie, Liberty and Justice, the protagonists (aka Hansel and Gretel) have many encounters as they wander through today’s political landscape in search of a leader. The arch of the story is loosely structured around the fairy tale, with references to the 2016 presidential election. Previous posts about the project include America First Lady, Liberty and Justice in Progress and Stop-motion in action.

This post focuses on glittery stage sets and props that we used in a variety of scenes. There’s nothing like a shiny object to get one’s attention. That and sugary sweet stuff, which I recently showed in this post.

My husband Rob and I have spent the past 10 months working on the movie in our basement studio, where the stage, lighting and photo equipment are set up. Yes, it’s taken us that long to make a short (under 15 minutes) animated film. Stop-motion animation requires a lot of time and patience, but it is worth it in the end, when you see the characters and scenes come to life. We hope to have our part finished soon, so that it can be passed on to the musicians, who will compose and record the sound track. So, you may ask, when and where can I see the completed film? Honestly, we’ve been so busy filming scenes that we haven’t had time to plan its launch into the world. I’ll be sure to announce the release — maybe in the spring or early summer.

Building the house was especially fun because I could break into my supply of shiny, glitzy bits and pieces that have been standing by, waiting for a project like this. And I also discovered the joys and challenges of glitter glue.

In order to create the illusion of distance in some setups, we needed a smaller scale house. So, I made a replica out of a block of plywood and foam core.

And what would a cozy cottage be without a gold encrusted door mat? I picked some felt that looked like jute and wrote out the welcome message in chain stitched metallic thread.

This photo is taken from the animator’s view of the set and off to the side is a monitor that shows what the camera sees. It’s helpful to look at the screen while I’m animating and play back the character’s movements.

This part of the story required gold foliage. I almost went blind combing the isles of Michael’s, looking through all the gilded Christmas decorations!

I could have made real gingerbread men, but decided to paint pre-cut wooden ones instead.

Since I normally sew everything, it’s a refreshing to work with paper, wood and paint for a change. But, in the end, I always come back to my soul mates, needle and thread.

As usual, you’re left hanging, wondering what Liberty and Justice will find in the gold house…

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“Liberty and Justice” in process

Screen shot from “Liberty and Justice” animation

In this new year, I thought it would be a good time to bring you up to date on the stop-motion animation my husband Rob and I have been working on for most of 2017. I introduced the project a while back in this blog post. Yes, we’re still inching ahead, spending every spare hour filming in the basement. We’ve recorded 8 minutes of a 10 to 12 minute video and hope to have the filming part finished later this winter. Then, there’s the soundtrack, which is especially important for a wordless story like ours. For that, we’re commissioning an original score and sound effects from musicians and sound artists.

The movie, Liberty and Justice, a political take-off of Hansel and Gretel, is a cautionary tale about what happens when a pair of lost citizens wander in search of a leader. So, when will it be finished? Honestly, we don’t know, but we’re estimating that it’ll be ready to show sometime in the summer of 2018. Don’t worry, I will announce any particulars about where it can be seen, once it’s completed.

To give an idea of our process, here’s a video made up of several filming sessions from last summer. Rob set up a separate camera to take time-lapse photos while we worked in the basement. It looks funny to see our actions sped up into hyper mode, when in reality our movements are painstakingly slow and deliberate. I’m animating figures, using wire rigs anchored to black blocks, which are visible to you behind the set. The monitor near where I’m sitting shows the camera view, so I can check how the scene looks on screen. You can barely see Rob with his magnifying headset behind the camera slider, as he turns on a flash light to see the measurement for each photo.

Keeping in mind that this post could be a spoiler, I’ve selected a group of still photos that don’t give away too much of the good parts. You will surely pick up on some of the themes, though. Most images show our animation stage during the last month or so. At this point in their journey, the characters (who’ve just been through a lot of challenges) enter a kind of candy land.

It was so much fun setting up the scenes, which had to be adjusted according to the camera angle and movements of each shot. How do you make water for animation stage? Shiny blue fabric, jumbo glitter and mini LED lights, of course. It looks so cool when the swans move along!

When starting the filming process all those months ago, we knew that stop-motion animation takes a long time. And we’ve since learned that it requires many forms of patience. Not only do we need the capacity to deal with all the fussy parts pertaining to animation, we have to be patient with each other. This is the first large joint artistic/technical venture we’ve undertaken in almost 40 years together. Even though we’re used to working solo most of the time, working side by side has been an overall positive experience. We’re both meticulous workers and neither of us has a problem  concentrating for long stretches of time. It’s not unusual to spend a 5 hr. stretch filming a 12 second scene. At 24 frames per sec., that’s 288 photographs, each taken separately, with camera motion and moving up to a dozen figures and props in between shots. Crazy? Yes, but it’s all worth it when you play back the movie and see the characters come to life!

I got carried away making props – searching for jelly beans, gum drops and small scale sugary treats to decorate with. As a rule, I don’t use hot glue because it’s messy and stringy, but in this case it was an effective solution. I like how actual candy with sparkling sugar crystals adds a realness to the fantasy world.

I lopped off the stems of mini sugar canes with a knife, saving the curved ends to build a border wall. Handling all of this sticky candy was so unappetizing that it felt toxic, like working in a sugar Super Fund site.

So far, no little critters have come out at night to nibble the edible set. This little campaign motorcade zooms along in the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing the sound effects!

It was a relief to get back to needle and thread for this sheep character.

He joined the brown and rainbow sheep for a cameo scene. I manipulated their heads, ears and tails during the filming process.

While doing the animation, I refer to a monitor (top, center) that projects the camera view. It’s tricky to move the bodies in small enough increments to make their movement look natural.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who take an interest in my work and read this blog, whether you’ve followed for years or just subscribed. Your support means a lot to me and it is an honor to connect with you and the world outside of my studio!

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America First lady

For the past 6 months, my husband Rob and I have been making a film starring characters in the Wee Folk Players theater troupe. We’re working in stop-motion animation, where you basically take a series of photos, moving figures and/or objects in between shots, in itsy-bitsy amounts. When the photos are played in sequence at 24 frames per second, it appears like fluid motion. This process has got to be one of the most time-consuming art forms out there. In some ways, it takes the same patience and attention to detail that embroidery work requires, with the added bonus of seeing your creations move!

I’ve wanted to breath life into my figures through animation for a long time, but felt unprepared to take on the task, especially the technical parts. Now, with Rob’s help, I am able to advance my art into a new realm. We are very happy with how it’s coming out and hope to have a 10 minute film some time next spring. It will be a wordless story exploring our current and very unique political environment. At the very end of this post, there’s a peek at our animation stage, with the scene we’re currently filming.

I can’t show you much yet, but HAD to share this latest member of the cast, who will have a cameo appearance alongside the leading man. Thread extensions were useful for her tri-colored hair and I had fun with her spiked heels.

After her shoes were sewn in place, she and her sole sister Barbi commiserated about foot ailments.

This is one of the final fittings for her custom made suit.

Here she is, flashing her rock, while waiting to perform.

The animation stage is set up in the basement, with lights and a camera on a slider. The scene bollow is made with real candy, so everything is pretty sticky. To give you an idea of the time involved, we’re currently filming a 10 second shot that totals 240 photographs. There’a a lot of action with many moving parts and I’ve already had to start over 3 times because of bumping props during the process. One could think of it as 6 hours of wasted effort, but every time I redo it, I learn something new and the results are more nuanced. Tomorrow, I will try again, being extra careful to move only the parts that need animating!

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