Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Beginnings

I haven't been updating this blog lately, and I have a semi-valid reason. With only so much free time on my hands (working full-time, and managing a six month old), I can only do so much. And rather than blogging, I've been working on a new stop motion film idea.

I have been extremely cautious about posting much about it, for a few reasons. The first is that, as with anything that is fledgling, one treats it with TLC. So to start blabbing about it through this blog would be, well, poor parenting (if one thinks of a film project as being a child, of sorts).

Another reason I've hesitated to write much about the film and its progress is that I didn't originally want this blog to become "merely" a production blog. It seems to me that a production blog (and I write this with great respect for the many, many students at school who use their blogs to show off their developing films) can do more harm than good to a project. One can get so busy updating the blog with new "behind the scenes" images, tests, etc for a project, that the production blog actually BECOMES the project. And the time spent on updating and polishing a blog to show off the work in progress could be better spent just working away on the project itself!

I am also torn by the idea of an artist revealing everything up his or her sleeve, before the "trick" (in this case, the film) is even done. Filmmakers (and I think storytellers in general) have an undeniable streak of showmanship in them even if, as animators, we are far from the actual spotlight, as we toil away at our desks or computers or stages. And what kind of showmanship is it to reveal your grand piece, bit by bit, to the world, before it's even done?

Hitting the audience with the unexpected is a very powerful tool for a filmmaker to employ. So much of the pleasure of watching a film can (should?) be in the active process of putting the pieces together, bit by bit, as those bits are revealed to the audience, shot by shot. If the audience has already seen every scrap of a film BEFORE it's on the screen as a whole, what a loss of possible impact this is. If the audience knows the whole film already, what fun is watching the film itself? And of course, animation is ripe for this, as the film is "done" in the form of an animatic long before the actual film is finished.

Talk about a "spoiler".

On the other hand (and it's a big other hand, size XXXL), allowing a blog to become a project development space is:

a) very educational for showing how a project is put together, stage by stage. And I am an educator, by profession and by nature.

b) potentially useful for gaining feedback from readers on posted items. I say potentially because I don't get many comments, and not all advice is good advice.

c) potentially useful as it allows the filmmaker to take a step back a bit from the project, and get some critical distance. By putting the pieces of the film "out there," it can offer new angles and facets that the filmmaker might never had seen had it not been made public.

d) gratifying to the inherently insecure lump inside my heart, in that it allows me to say "See? I'm really making something! I really am an artist, no foolin'!"

With all this in mind, here's a lip sync test I recently did. The character is me (see an earlier post that has a test puppet head, that is basically the same design). Here though, the drawing is to scale (in that the drawing size is 1:1 with the size the puppet will be), whereas the posted puppet head is smaller than it should be. As I said, that was a test head for materials, paints, and so on.

This scale drawing of the character, that includes not just the head, but the whole character, in costume, (which maybe I'll post another time) allows me to decide if it's big enough to get my hands on to easily animate, but also not TOO big so as to cause other production problems.

The mouth shapes are also to scale, and this test is to see how the shapes I've created will work once I sculpted them (along with the head). It's obviously much easier to refine the shapes while they are still on paper than after I've sculpted them.

The test turned out fine. As with any replacement mouth animation, there's no blending of the shapes, so it invariably feels rather "blunt," but that's stop motion. The "applied" feel is part of what I love about the tactile, hands-on quality of puppet animation.

A stop mo tip: always, always, always get your characters designed to scale with what the puppet will be, as soon as you possibly can.

From that stage you will already start to feel what it will be like to "lay hands" once it's three dimensional, AND from that drawing you can start envisioning your camera angles (just use a cut-out of the scale drawing in front of your lens to see how it will look) sets, props... that scale drawing means you now have an instant "stand in" for your actual puppet, and you can really start moving on other aspects of production.