stop-motion in action

After months of preparation, we have begun animating! My husband Rob and I have wanted to try out this technique for years, but life just got in the way. Lately, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) theater troupe has inspired us to bring these little characters to life through the magic of stop-motion animation. For the film, I’ve adapted and expanded a familiar cautionary tale to tell the story of our recent presidential election.

The learning curve is steep, but we are committed to working through the hurtles that are sure to come. A retired engineer, Rob’s technical expertise with photography and computers is integral to the success of the project. Animation is a marriage of art and science, so we are quite dependent on each other. We’re both detail oriented, so I hope we will have the kind of patience this process demands. It’s also fortunate that neither of us are big talkers, as chit chat would ruin our concentration. We got a little taste for animation while filming Mr. Pence Goes to Washington and want to bring our storytelling to a whole new level of professionalism.

First, I thought the whole thing through in my mind and mapped out the progression of the film on paper, scene by scene. The story board shows the overall plan, with rough illustrations and descriptions for each shot. There are 15 scenes, each with several shots, so we’ll be filming from 75 to 100 different camera angles.

I wanted the scenery to be adaptable and free-standing, so it can be rearranged in different setups. When making the tree leaves, I used thick thread and tried for a loose, playful effect.

I’ve been saving interesting vines for years to make trees like this.

With the exception of the hands, the characters’ heads and armatures are made the same way as the wee folk dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. Their heads are not glued to the neck, so they can swivel back and forth. Their pipe cleaner arms and legs move in different positions, too.

I used a variety of materials for the sets, including cardboard.

To decorate, I got out my stash of gems and jewels and discovered the joys of glitter glue.

For now, we’re not sure how long the filming will take or how many minutes the finished video will be. At 24 frames per second, progress is very slow. For each frame, I have to move the figures 1/16th of an inch! We’ve learned so much by practicing and feel ready to forge ahead. We laugh when we play back the scenes and see the characters move. We’re aiming for a dark comedy, full of cameo appearances. Now, we just have to stay focused and not rush the process. It has become clear that, in animation, diligence and methodical attention is rewarded.

It seemed like I came up with new ideas for props every day, like this balalaika for one of the cast members.

We set up a mini theater in the basement, with lights and a black cloth floor and backdrop. It figures that just as the weather gets warm, we a will be staked out underground. But we have toys to play with, including a new 3 ft. slider that allows you to pan a scene, one frame at a time. I love how the movement adds life to an otherwise static setup!

Another method we’re trying involves wire rigging that holds the figures upright. For research, we’ve looked at videos that show how professional animation studios do their work. Their sets and equipment are impressive and it’s intimidating to see the amount of people these productions employ. With just the two of us, it often feels like we’re in over our heads, but having only a pair of personalities to deal with can be an advantage.

Of course, my style is not slick and we want to feature the natural found objects and hand made quality of the scenery and characters. The project is both exciting and daunting, but we feel it is important to bring this story to life, one step at a time. I’m not sure how much I’ll show during the filming, since I don’t want to give everything away, but I may share photos from time to time on Instagram and Facebook. Wish us luck, as we enter the deep, dark forest!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And to find out about my post-election satire, please read  this interview.

Birds of Beebe Woods: cardinals

Birdsdetail3WMEtsy

Poster - Birds of Beebe Woods

Poster – Birds of Beebe Woods

See other posts about making Birds of Beebe Woods here. A poster is available from my Etsy Shop.

Most of the birds in Birds of Beebe Woods are the colorful male variety, but I decided to add a pair of cardinals to the mix. The female is shown in her nest, which is made of florist’s rafia-like straw.

cardinalfemaleWM

After consulting photographs of cardinals, I did a simple drawing to follow. The basic shape is cut out of matt board and the padding is basted in place. I don’t know what the padding material is made of— a friend gave me a bunch. In this case, I made a felt hood and embroidered feather patterns with variegated thread.

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Then, I stitched the beak and surrounded the bead eye with several rows of black blanket stitching.

cardinal3WM

The tail has a wire armature to help keep its shape.

cardinal1WM

still animating, slowly

My husband and I have been spending the winter learning about stop motion animation. Rob and I have been doing numerous tests, which are painstakingly slow. The patience required is a different kind than what it takes to stitch a field of French knots. You have to pay attention all the time and not zone out. The more we become familiar with the process, the more we feel like we are just scratching the surface.

We’re trying out the equipment on my fabric relief Self Portrait: a personal history of fashion (see it here), which I brought home from the show that just ended at the Brattleboro Museum.  We are making an animation by rotating the piece on a lazy-susan, taking a series of close-up photos from overhead as we turn the picture incrementally. When we’re finished filming (I can’t say when), my Self Portrait will be returned to its semi-permanent home at the Woods Hole Public Library.

We’ve set up a work area in the basement. Rob is a retired engineer who loves the challenge of figuring out the technical stuff. He used to design camera equipment for remote under-water vehicles, so I’m lucky to have his expertise.

It’s hard to say when we’ll have something to show for our efforts. Right now we’re just playing, figuring out how to animate my artwork. While Rob is reviewing our new camera and learning the computer program, I’m making characters and sets for another film we’ll eventually make. As the weather gets warmer, it will be hard to stay in the basement, though. We’re taking the long view with this project–it looks like we’ll work off and on for at least a year before we have a finished film to share. Hopefully, our patience will be rewarded.