Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kevin Parry and Tim Burton

I had a super proud teacher moment last week.

Tim Burton has a major show (of his art in general) opening in Toronto. He was in town to promote it.

Kevin Parry graduated from Sheridan's Animation program last year, with his short film The Arctic Circle.

Kevin and his film were selected (along with other student films from around the Toronto area) to show his film to Burton and have a conversation around it.

Burton honestly digs his film, it's really nice to see.

Tim Burton on The Arctic Circle and Stop-Motion Animation from Kevin Parry on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Exposure For My Zombie Flick

Happy to discover that Canadian Animation Resources has profiled my 30 seconds of zombie-ness.

You can read the wee article (and watch the movie again) here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Medium Hard Puppet Making"

Today I did a lecture on "medium hard puppet making".

"Easy puppet making" is taking a bit of epoxy and mixing it with armature wire.

"Medium hard puppet making" is still pretty easy (with practice), doesn't require any power tools, and gives you quite nice results.

"Hard"- cutting your own aluminum armatures (need a few power tools, and quite a bit of precision)

"Silly Hard"- making stainless steel ball-and-socket armatures (good ones). Why bother unless you're planning to be a pro puppet maker? Or are just really into metal work. If you need a ball and socket armature, buy it.

Anyway, here's a few pics of a semi-finished puppet:

And here's two images of the how-to: drawing him to scale, then on another piece of paper "light box" him around his edges, and then use that to draw in your armature of wire and epoxy, and make that armature (always working to scale)...

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The month of November is Prostate Awareness Month, aka Movember.

My friend Mike Weiss made this very appropriate video a few months ago, not specifically for Movember, but it sure works!

Enjoy (and get your prostate checked, if you have one- only you know for sure).

Beardimation from DeliciousNougat on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fangoria Digs My Film

Super pleased that world-renowned horror magazine Fangoria did a flattering piece on my stop motion zombie film. This magazine (in case you don't know) has been around for years, has been a huge inspiration for countless filmmakers, and is known around the globe.

You can read the piece and watch the film here.

Such great exposure, it's really encouraging for me. It really makes me want to keep working on my own stuff...

Thanks, Fango!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!!!

Here's the holiday, from our home...

Halloween 2010 from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Halloween Visitor

Cooked up a new addition to my Halloween decorations. I call this guy "The Creeper" cause he likes to creep up behind you and go "Boo!" Then he runs away into the night, giggling. What a creep.

I bought a hard foam skull, added paper mache, some plastic eyes, a paint job, and a wig.

And here he is properly lit and staged...

And here's a little video (I use some music called "Haunted Nursery" by Midnight Syndicate).

The Creeper from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rise of The Living Corpse

My zombie film continues to spread across the horror film festival landscape.

It will be playing as part of the Dark Carnival Film Festival, in Bloomington, Indiana.

I hadn't posted it online at first, so that it retained a bit of an "exclusive" nature for traditional (terrestrial?) film festivals. Now that the film has played around a bit, AND since it's Halloween, I've decided to make it public.

I hope you enjoy it, it sure was fun to make. Zombie puppets are WAY too much fun to make.

Please spread it around via all those social network thingies...

Rise of The Living Corpse from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Animation with Nate

Shot this earlier today. The music is by The Heavy.

Nate's First Animation from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

Hand Puppet Fun

I shot this early last summer. Great fun, figuring out how to direct Nate in a way he could handle (being just 2 years old), AND manage a puppet and shoot at the same time!

A Day In The Life of Nate and Lion from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Festival

Happy to report I just got word that my zombie film "Rise of The Living Corpse" has just been accepted to another festival. This one is the Maelstrom International Fantastic Festival, in Seattle.

I'm now 5 for 6 on festivals I've heard back from... it's the best average I've ever had on a short film, to be honest. Funny how you learn as you go (and keep learning). From this high percentage of acceptances at horror festivals (as opposed to animation festivals) it makes me think of the age-old saying: "Give 'em what they want."

It seems that what "they" want is my horror films (not that this short is truly a horror film in any graphic sense, it's actually totally G-rated). And if "they" are wanting that, perhaps that is what I should keep giving them.

It's an interesting approach for an indie animator to consider- create genre or niche films that appeal to a specific audience, but do it in animation.

Anything to be different, I guess.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My New Animated Films

This past spring, I finished two stop motion shorts.

The first is called True Family Story, and I've blogged about it quite a bit since I started it nearly two years ago. I'm proud of it, especially the pacing and tone, both of which I feel are light and energetic.

I've only had the energy to send to exactly ONE festival, and that's Ottawa. They turned it down.

I will send it to more fests just as soon as I can gather the energy. It's my own fault- all this energy spent to create the film... then no energy left to send it out there. But it's a solid little film (despite what the Ottawa fest thinks), and I think it will have a pretty good shelf life, so I'll get it out there asap.

Here's a couple of pics of the DVD jacket. The jacket was largely designed by the every-talented Carla Veldman, who was a remarkable assistant through the entire production.

The second little film is called Rise of The Living Corpse. Who doesn't like zombies? Who doesn't like zombie stop motion films?

It's just 30 seconds long, and for THIS film I've actually sent it out to quite a few festivals. It's interesting- because it's a genre film (horror, obviously) that sort of "doubles" the number of fests I can reasonably send it to: horror fests, and animation fests.

And- since most horror fests get live action stuff, and "serious" stuff at that, a 30 second animated comedy stands out to programmers. As a result, I'm happy to say that of the 5 festivals I've heard back from so far, it's been accepted at 4 (with Toronto's After Dark Festival being the silly monkeys that turned it down).

The wise festivals so far include: Fantastic Fest in Austin, Oklahoma Horror Film Festival, Fright Night Festival in Kentucky, and the Chicago Horror Film Festival.

Oh, Ottawa also turned THIS film down as well.

Here's a few pics of the DVD (again, with design tackled by Carla Veldman).

I'm being pretty stingy on posting clips from either film. I kind of like the idea of being exclusive for a little while, with the films only going to fests. I'll post clips (and perhaps eventually the whole films) in the future.

I'll also probably look for some formal distribution, not to make money through, but in my experience it just adds to one's professional reputation to have a 3rd party handle the film.

Or- I'll keep them to myself for distribution and promote it myself exclusively so I can use the films to push my own "brand".

Time will tell...

Back In Action

It's been ages since I've posted. A lot has been going on in the "real world" that has found me with no time or energy for the virtual world.

The main thing has been moving my family to a new town. Essentially, the past six months of our lives have been taken up by "moving" in some way- looking for a new home, buying a new home, prepping our old home to sell, then selling that old home, then moving into our new home.

The past two months have been especially intense. Once we got possession of the new house, we had some pretty major renovations to tackle, while also packing to move out of the old house. Then once into the new house, it's been madness just trying get some boxes unpacked and live a semi-normal life.

The good news is that the move has truly been "life-changing" in a very real (and very positive) way. We love our new home, our new hood, our new town, and it's SO good for our son. He now has heaps of grass to run on, parks and fields to play in, a stellar library to get smart in, and his very own PLAY ROOM. That is, a room dedicated to (you guessed it) playing. It's a room he'll be able to grow with, a room to be himself, to have fun, to just be a kid.

And personally, I'm really looking forward to this winter, when I plan to do some fun mural monsters for him.

My son isn't the only one with play space. I also get my "own room". And for lack of a better name I'll call it my studio.

The little room is humble, it's a mess for now, but it's big enough to "make stuff" in, and that's enough.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A New Home

I've not been posting at all these last weeks, as I've been completely overwhelmed moving my family to our new home just outside Toronto. We're very happy (I can see the stars at night), and I'm even going to manage to have studio space right at home now. But it's been hectic to say the least.

When you can barely remember where you've packed your toothbrush, it makes it pretty hard to focus on updating a blog. But when life settles, I will be back.

I'm not feeling too guilty about not updating- in the past months I've finished not one but two stop motion shorts, both of which are in the process of being submitted to lots of festivals, and I've contributed a lot of work on yet a third. So creatively things are good. I just need to settle my home life. I'll expand on the film projects at a later date.

I hope you keep checking back, and thanks for checking in. Regular broadcasting WILL resume in time...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

TAIS New Works Screening

TAIS (Toronto Animated Image Society) is having an exciting event. If you're in the Toronto area, and want to see what is hot/fresh/new in indie animation, check this out. Pals (and fellow stop motion filmmakers) Mike Weiss and Marc Beurteaux have works in the showing (although I don't think either films are exclusively stop mo!), and recent Sheridan grad Kevin Parry will be showing his stop motion graduation film Arctic Circle (a superb film, student or otherwise). I'm planning to be there, you should too.

I will past the details below:

You are cordially invited to join TAIS for an evening celebrating the best new animations from Toronto and beyond! Short animated films of all styles and genres will be screened, along with entries from our animated jam session, the Aqua Jam. We’ll also screen the cameraless animations created over the year at our monthly Incubator sessions. Awards and reception will follow screening. An event not to be missed! Come out and support your local animation scene.

7:30 PM; doors open at 7:00 PM
At the TRANZAC CLUB (292 Brunswick Avenue – off Bloor St. near Bathurst St.)
$8 general admission; $6 for TAIS members

Program includes:
"The Orange" by Nick Fox-Gieg
"Everybody" by Steve Reinke & Jessie Mott
“Weenie Wagon Woe” by Willy Ashworth
"I Need an Escape Plan" by Julie Doucet & Anne-Françoise Jacques
"Beneath the Eye of Time" by Madi Piller
"Recipe" by Martha Griffith
"Birth" by Signe Baumane
"Amoeba" by Patrick Jenkins
"The Animator" by Marc Beurteaux
"The Arctic Circle" by Kevin Parry
"Heavenly Bodies" by Mike Weiss
"Nukie Goes Bonkers" by Jonathan Amitay
"William's Creatures" by Pasquale La Montagna
... And so much more!

With installations:
"Thalé" by Barry Doupé
"A Typical Morning for Green and Blue" by Andrew James Paterson

Monday, June 7, 2010

Montreal Stop Motion Year 2

Great news, Eric Goulet is heading up year 2 of his festival in beautiful Montreal. This is an important festival for the community of stop motion, so it really needs support (and entries)... Here's what Eric is saying:

The 2010 Montreal Stop-Motion Film Festival: Call for entries!

Montreal, 8th of June 2010: We are back!

Hot on the heels of the hugely successful first edition of the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival, we are officially opening the Call for Entries for 2010.


To enter your film in the festival, download a submission form, fill it out, and send it, along with your film.

Deadline for film submissions is: September 10, 2010.

Please refer to the entries section on our website for answers to any questions you might have concerning eligibility, dates, accepted formats, and new rules.

This year, the professional segment has been updated with a new category for films-commercials less than 1 minute in running time and we will have more guest appearance during this week-end long event that promises to be super cool!

The festival will be held in Montreal, from the 29th to the 31st of October 2010

Help us spread the word and tell all your Stop Motion friends to participate and join us for the coolest festival around!

Cinematographically yours,

Erik H. Goulet

Monday, May 31, 2010

2D Glasses

I would be first in line to buy a pair.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lost Madness Summed Up

I'm going to let this great link speak for me.

By the way, the creators of the show missed a great chance on the final episode. As we see the name of the show floating up at us, out of the darkness, it should have read:


Come on... genius. I credit my lovey wife for that one. Thank you, dear.

Blur Test

Here's a quick test, as I continue to work on the Kaj Pindal train project (see my earlier post).

Untitled from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

It was done using Dragon software, and the Canon Rebel T1. The result certainly is interesting, and implies a lot of creative uses in stop motion. Frame blurring or motion blur is typically lacking in stop motion. That's because one moves the puppet... takes an exposure. Then you move the puppet again... take an exposure. So the puppet is in a static position when each frame is taken. There is simply no movement to blur.

In live action, there are actual frames of film that are blurs of movement, when something moves quickly. And in traditional animation, the animator actually draws blurred frames. This lends the work a real sense of life, that can be realistic, or wildly stylized. But in stop motion, it tends to not exist.

But if you have a camera that can do a timed exposure (such as the Rebel can do, when working via Dragon), you can actually move the puppet while the exposure is being taken, giving blur.

In this test, the blurring is wild and extreme. If I did further tests, I'd use the technique more sparingly to see how it looks. What's curious (for camera nerds) is that for the first few frames of the test, there is very little depth of field. That's cause I was using a rather quick exposure time, to just get the held frames shot- around 1/8th of a second, at f5.6 (ISO 200). But just as the blurring frames start, you'll notice the depth of field greatly increases (most evident in the bg train). That's cause I had switched the camera setting to a 4 second exposure, and had to stop down to approx. f22 (still at ISO 200) to maintain consistent exposure.

This massive stopping down (from 5.6 to 22) greatly increased the depth of field. So it's neat to see a principle of lenses and optics (in this case: a smaller aperature increases the depth of field)so clearly at work.

Then, once the blurring frames were done, I switched BACK to 1/8th shutter and f5.6 (so as to quickly grab the frames, since they were just held frames) and you see the depth of field go back to how shallow it was in the first frames.

There's ways to reduce this visible shift in depth of field, namely I could have shot at a much higher ISO, which would have let my timed exposures be much shorter, and my f stop change be not nearly as dramatic. Or- I could have shot ALL the frames at the one timing exposure setting (in other words, set it and forget it, instead of shifting things on the fly). But hey- it's just test 01 of potentially dozens...

I'm very much enjoying the combo of Dragon and the fully manual DSLR for stop motion. I love being able to control all these attributes, something that was very difficult if not impossible in earlier "camera/software" stop mo setups.

Dragon really makes it simple, and easy. If you know your principles of lenses and optics, you can get to work making fabu stuff... fast.

NERD NOTE: As much as this is nice to do some fancy motion blurs here in 2010, check the video below. It's from The Mascot, by Ladislas Starevich. Shot in 1934.

Watch towards the end of this clip, as the animals jump around within the box. There's blurring there (and more in later clips, if you watch). And some wonderfully convincing rear-projection live action footage, as well!

Yet another reason why for my money Starevich is pretty much the tops in terms of stop motion historical figures. He did most of his stuff on his own, essentially at the same calibre as what was happening in Hollywood at the time (can say King Kong?), and did it all on a much smaller budget. And with far more charm (in my opinion).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TV Drama As Art

Now that Lost is done, I highly recommend you turn to The Wire as the next TV series to sink your teeth into.

It's a very different show (sorry no smoke monster, just gritty cop drama on the streets of Baltimore), and where Lost starts story lines it can't finish, (and as a result disrespects the audience deeply), The Wire delivers, throughout.

The entire series of The Wire is available to rent/buy and I can confidently say it is hands-down the finest TV drama I have ever watched.

On the topic of TV art, here's an insightful article for those of you that savour drifting blissfully into a long-term TV world...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kaj Pindal Train Film

I'm currently in production (on a co-production), with none other than Mr. Kaj Pindal, world famous animator. It's a film that features toy trains, brought to life through stop motion animation.

The concept is Kaj's, the trains are Kaj's... I'm providing some further creative insights, and my stop motion skills.

It's also a chance for us to test drive the studio's new HD set up that is running the Canon Rebel and Dragon.

The finished film will be about 3 minutes long, will be set to a lovely piece of music (a popular Danish tune from the mid 1800s), and will entertain both young and old. That's all I will say for now.

When will it be done? When it's done (I like Kaj's style towards release dates!)

I'll post updates on occasion. Here's a clip to get started:

KajPindalTrainFilm_Day1 from Chris Walsh on Vimeo.

I'll update the project occasionally, but here's a video to get it started. It was a great first day. We had recent grad (and super talented artist) Carla Veldman, Kaj himself, and our studio's technology guru Aldines Zapparoli, all grooving away.

It's a rare thing when you can get together a core group of talented and awesome people, of all ages (!) to make something exciting. And if you can listen to vintage jazz music at the same time, well... I think you've died and gone to heaven.

If only every work day could play out like this!

Exciting News For Cuppa Coffee

Great news for Cuppa Coffee Animation, and for stop motion in general.

Click here to read the press release.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Neat Home Made Amplifier

Stop motion people tend to enjoy messing and modifying and remixing things, sometimes just for fun. Other times it's to achieve something for a project. Often it's for BOTH reasons- it's fun, and it gets the job done.

Here's a very simple and elegant little thing- a way to amplify (and then distort if you want) just about any sound you can tape the unit on to.

For some reason youtube is being difficult when it comes to embedding, and is cropping clips off. Is that a way to make people have to go to the actual youtube site to watch clips properly, as a way of getting more eyes on to youtube ads, so as to generate more $ for youtube.

Or maybe I'm just cynical about giant money-making entities. Anyway:

You can see the original stop motion blog this clip comes from, by clicking here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mike Weiss-Gentle and Twisted

Mike Weiss is a Toronto animator, story board artist, and all around funny chap.

Somehow, he continues to find the time to keep making excellent independent work. His sense of timing in his animation is always frame-perfect, and his sense of humour is gentle, but delightfully twisted at the same time.

Be sure to watch all his films at this link.

Here's one every grown man has dreamt of making- a dance club mix featuring facial hair animation.


Beardimation from DeliciousNougat on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stop Motion by Barry Purves

So I received a delightful surprise in the mail today. An advanced copy (I think that's what you call it when it's not on the stands yet) of Barry Purves new book, simply called "Stop Motion".

It's a beautifully designed book, laid out wonderfully, with great care. Super nice to simply hold in your hands. And as expected the content is fantastic. Purves has such a great writing style. It's passionate, assumes an intelligent reader, and never hesitates to take the metaphysical aspects of the medium seriously. I'm also very proud to say I have a total of three images from my own films in the book. I'm super excited to be amongst so many legends of the medium, and thanks to Barry who supports indie productions as much as (if not more than) big studio stuff.

Anyone who has breathed life into a puppet through stop motion can attest- something magical happens, something mysterious and deeply rooted in what it means to be human, the moment one lays hands on the object to be animated. Purves feels this deeply, and explores it. No other author's stop mo "how to" books do this, and it's vital to understanding the medium deeply.

You can pre-order it here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Higglety-Pigglety Pop! - Update

From the creators of Madame Tutli- Putli comes this adaptation of the Maurice Sendak book. It's available on the Blue-Ray of Where The Wild Things Are (but not the dvd, so us poor schmucks are out of luck).

You can see clips here.

It features some wonderful puppet work (from what I've seen from these clips), and good on the NFB for working with a major studio (Warner) to create something artistically distinctive, but at the same time commercially oriented.

It was created in part through Concordia University in Montreal, through an Intern project. It's an exciting thing to see an educational institute strive to work with industry to create significant work. I'm personally a very big fan of schools reaching out to industry to forge stronger ties. It really helps industry, the school, and most importantly students.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Adam Pockaj-4th Year Film- Carol of The Elves

Another Sheridan graduation film.

Very twisted and funny story, excellent action sequences, super animation.

Carol of the Elves from Adam Pockaj on Vimeo.

Nathan Dickey-4th Year Film- The Landscaper

A very nicely done graduation film from Sheridan's Animation Program.

I worked as Nathan's Mentor throughout the process, and it was a pleasure working with someone so dedicated and talented.

This version is about 90% done, and the unfinished portions are actually a great insight into the animation process. His rough animation is very confident and energized, which really shows in the few "in progress" portions.

He's a great voice actor as well!


The Landscaper from Nathan Dickey on Vimeo.

Insights For Animation Grads

Mark Mayerson is no stranger to the exciting and sometimes terrifying world known as The Animation Industry.

He's just posted a piece of advice to animation graduates, and it's a very useful read (for animation grads, and art grads in general).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dan Seddon- 4th Year Film- Ducking Around

I'll probably embed a certain number of Sheridan graduation films on my blog, as I come across them.

This one's very charming, silly (love the duck's boots), sweet, and very very nicely done, in all ways.

Ducking Around from Dan Seddon on Vimeo.

Monday, April 19, 2010

David Lynch Interview Project-Update

I wrote about this project some time ago, but sadly it wasn't running very well, technically.

I'm happy to say that's been taken care of, and the project is well underway, with lots of interviews gathered.

The short interviews play very cleanly, and the image and sound quality is great. I just wish the title cards and credits would move along at a faster clip. The enjoyable part of this project is being able to take in lots of people's lives, quickly, and it lags a bit with slow editing (at times).

That being said, it's a wonderful and life-affirming thing.

It connects humanity, and appeals to the basic interest we all have in other human lives. A very simple concept, elegantly achieved.

Go watch 'em all!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

1st Yr Animation Students

As part of my work at Sheridan, I teach the first year students. I cover Animation History, and I lecture for them on Story and Layout. It's a foundational year, in terms of animation skills and in terms of helping them form a mind-set for a life in this business. There's a lot of promise in this crew, no doubt about it.

So here they are- the future of animation (graduating in Spring, 2013).

Aren't they shiny and bright?!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don Sahlin

Here's the link to a very informative piece on Don Sahlin, an American puppet maker and stop motion animator. Thanks to Mark Mayerson for the link (and Michael Sporn for continually posting such fascinating and diverse stuff).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Star Wars The Phantom Menace Review

I saw this film in the theatre, it broke my heart, and I never thought about it again, at least not seriously.

But here's a now famous, in-depth consideration of this film, that uncovers the specifics of why this movie is so wrong, and so terrible.

I commend the guy for having the guts to watch it repeatedly.

The review is broken into several sections, some of which veer off into "humour" that won't be to everyone's taste (including mine), but it's worth it to get the scoop.

And overall, there's a heap of very funny stuff mixed in with the serious consideration of the film.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kaj Pindal Blog

I'm very proud to announce the launch of the official Kaj Pindal blog.

Kaj is a legend in animation. His contributions to Canadian animation in particular is astounding, and his further efforts in the Animation Program at Sheridan has spanned the decades.

Oh, and he won a little thing called an Emmy for his animated TV program Peep And The Big Wide World (pictured above).

I'm lucky enough to have developed a great relationship with Kaj, as we co-teach the Animation History class to 1st year students at Sheridan. I've learned so much through Kaj, and he continues to personally inspire me with his animation experiences, AND with his devilish humour.

In his eighth decade now, Kaj doesn't show much sign of slowing down. And now, he even has his own blog!

The blog is maintained by Amir Avni, a very talented 4th year student at Sheridan. Amir is also a passionate animation historian, and jumped at the chance to work with Kaj on this project.

In the background is me- I'm co-editing the blog with Amir, which basically just means I polish things a bit...

And of course, Kaj is providing a lifetime of experiences and collected artwork from his years as an animator.

We hope the blog becomes a wonderful resource for everyone who loves animation, and in particular, lovers of NFB animation... and Kaj!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Axe Cop

Axe Cop Comic

As the site says, "Written By A 5 Year Old And Illustrated By His 29 Year Old Brother".

Be sure to read the "Ask Axe Cop" pieces. Question 3 is currently my favourite. If I could, I would relax in the exact same way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Esquire Piece on Roger Ebert

I recently read this very moving and insightful piece on film critic and author, Roger Ebert, who continues to struggle with cancer and its repercussions.

If you ever find yourself in need of defending the importance of the written word, send people to this article.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

J. L. Roop

Jerry Beck over at Cartoon Brew has an interesting piece on J. L. Roop, an early (and largely unknown) American stop motion animator.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Puppet Making Book

I plucked this one off the stacks at Sheridan's library a few months ago, just at random. It's not for making stop motion puppets, but rather various hand puppets. The book very much impressed me for a number of reasons.

First, it's a very cute, tidy, "pocketbook" size. Charming. An easy read/reference.

Second, it's filled with very clear and well explained puppet "stuff". This includes not just hand puppets, but also stages for puppet shows. Some are very simple, some are complex, but all are explained very clearly.

Third, the book has a great tone. It's witty, and reads as though the writer had fun putting it all together.

Fourth, the actual puppets that the book shows how to make are clever and charming, and encourage the imagination of the reader to envision variations on designs and methods.

Fifth (and finally)- the book is DIRT cheap. Amazon.ca has it for approx. $10 (Can).

For all these reasons, I ordered myself a copy.

I highly recommend this little gem.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More 4th Year Stop Motion Goodness

Here's a still from Sheridan Animation's Carla Veldman's film, The Scarf.

More pics and info as they become available...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Interview With Feature Film Animator Payton Curtis- Part 2

As promised, here's the second and concluding part of the interview. Much thanks to Payton for taking the extensive time to answer so many questions, in such detail.

And again, Payton's answers are in italics...

Part 2
The relationship between a stop motion animator and his or her animation director is typically a very important one. Can you describe what in your opinion makes for a great feature film stop motion animator director?

That one is simple, going to bat for you. You've got enough on your plate to deal with from day to day set, prepping and shooting. So a good animation director will oversee anything to do with the animation side of things. Sets, puppets, wardrobe, you name it, can cause problems in animation. Although these people are truly brilliant artists, they are not by trade animators. A good animation director will float between all departments making certain that everything being made is "animator friendly".

Another relationship that’s key is between a stop motion animator and the puppet department. The puppet department is responsible for helping you perform to your greatest potential. Can you describe how that relationship flows on a feature?

Very important! A poorly tensioned puppet or an unfastened piece of fabric for instance can be hell once launched on a shot. The animator/puppet maker relationship is crucial. As an animator it is your job to give defined demands and reasonable explanations for anything and everything you request. Once a puppet is in a shot it must perform well, otherwise your performance will suffer. And as I've learned, do it exactly right the first time! Once it's done, it's done. After that you will be forced to look at your mistakes every time you watch the piece. Patience and preparation are paramount.

What are some of the biggest challenges in being a feature film stop motion animator?

The biggest challenge is keeping your chops up! Unlike most television series(which are quite forgiving), feature work generally speaking demands the utmost attention to detail and quality of performance. In a 50-60 hour work week, spanning two years, you are required to stay sharp and give it your best from shot to shot. That’s a very difficult thing to do. If you have an off day, everybody notices it and it'll be there on display for the world to see!

Biggest rewards? (beers with Bill Murray could definitely count).

Definitely the best rewards are the people you work with. Yup, meeting a childhood hero like Bill Murray (a true gentleman) and downing a few was pretty cool. Working with Henry Selick was a treat, I was a huge fan of “Slow Bob In The Lower Dimensions” in high school.

But the absolute best is working with the best artist in the business! Painters, sculptors, cameramen, animators, designers, effects wizards, wardrobe, riggers, set builders... These people are the reason you give it your best day to day. That immense wealth of talent keeps you on your toes! You don't want to disappoint all these brilliant people by shooting a poor performance. You want to make them proud of their efforts by doing the best you can.

Looking back at your successes thus far as an animator, was there a moment that has proven to be pivotal, or key, in terms of your development? Even a childhood thing, perhaps, that “makes sense” in some way today?

Not to be grim, but losing my Mum as a boy was tough. I grew up fast and learned, arguably the greatest lesson a kid can learn- take nothing for granted. Work hard, stay true to yourself and expect in return only what you put into your efforts.

Other pivotal, professional moments that stand out that you’d like to share?

A few, but the standout moments professionally were working along side people that had an impact on me and whom I admired through the developing years. Henry Selick of course and Trey Thomas for instance.

Trey has worked on nearly everything stop-motion over the years and I split an “Other Mother” sequence with him on Coraline once I had proven myself to be relatively competent. Trey is a great supporter of other animator's work and has no ego. Seeing my work along with his was a kick. He was the "Godfather" of animation on Coraline. Trying to mimic the masters and make seamless cuts from one animators work to another was a great challenge.

AND...of course professionally and personally, meeting Julianna. An amazing animator who worked on Coraline. We were pals throughout the two years on the film and were recently married! That's pretty pivotal I'd say!

What is it with stop motion in recent years? It’s only growing bigger. My thinking is that in an increasingly digital age, it’s hugely reassuring to see something so human and physical on screen. It has a warmth that we, as humans, deeply crave. What are your thoughts on the medium’s continued rise in popularity?

You pretty much nailed it! Computer animation has the look of something that's been "over-polished"(in my opinion). Stop-motion on the other hand has a unique look that cannot be mimicked. Slight imperfections whether it be a misplaced frame, a 'boiling' piece of clothing (flutter from being handled by the animator), a slight set shift, or a prop being nudged... All of these "imperfections" is what makes the craft so unique. Every frame has been manipulated by hand.

For the premiere of Coraline, they had work stations from the studio set up in the theatres. This gave the public an insider, behind the curtain look of just how complex, detailed, and hand-made the process is. From the design, to build, to animation people were mesmerized by what they saw. They then went into the theatres to see how all of these inanimate works of art could be coaxed and manipulated into a lifelike performance! Great fun! Beat that CG!

This tactile presentation taps into anyone who played with toys as a boy or girl (that’s everybody I assume). Luckily I get to do this for a living! Bringing beautiful "toys" to life for others to enjoy.

If someone reading wants to be where you are professional down the road, but is just starting out in formally learning about stop motion, what insights could you share to help him or her in that effort?

Practice. Whether it's music, sports, academics or animation, you must focus and improve your skills constantly. Now more than ever before, anyone can take up stop-motion in their own homes with as little as a computer and a cheap digital camera. So get cracking! We are all students for life.

I've been animating professionally for about a decade, and am now working on my fourth feature film and I still pick up new tricks and gags constantly. You just have to keep your eyes open and leave the ol' ego in a box somewhere where you’re not likely to find it. You can learn something from everybody if you keep your mind open to learning and criticism.

I know you have some of your own projects in development. Would you like to tell
us about that?

I just finished producing and directing (and animating of course) Wes Anderson's acceptance speech for the National Board of Revue in NY. I guess I did a good enough job on Fantastic Mr. Fox to have them give a ring here in Canada and ask if I'd like the job. It was fun! I shot it in my studio at home over the holidays. This is the first high profile gig that my company, Darkfarm, has produced! Hooray!

I have also optioned a television series I created called "Super Robot Fight Planet!" to a company here in Toronto called Copperheart. They are a great bunch and with any luck in the next year we'll be making a stop-motion giant robot series for the kids! (and big kids).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interview With Feature Film Animator Payton Curtis- Part 1

Payton Curtis is a Canadian stop motion animator. He grew up in Southern Ontario, and has worked at a variety of Canadian stop motion studios, working on commercials, music videos, and TV series and specials. In the past few years, he’s made the transition to feature film animator, and has established his own company, Dark Farm Animation.

Payton was kind enough to answer a series of questions for my blog, about life as a stop motion animator in “the big leagues” of feature films. He’s animated on both Coraline (he did a large chunk of the remarkable opening credit sequence), and more recently on The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

This is Part 1 of the interview. I will post Part 2 next week. Payton's answers are in italics.

First, a fairly straightforward technical question- on features do you shoot primarily on 1s or 2s? Or do you mix it up? Can you elaborate a bit?

Primarily ones, depending on the film of course. They had a wonderful idea on Coraline which was that the 'real world' would be on twos and the 'other world' would be on ones, giving the two separate worlds a distinct look. The real world being a little choppy and the other being "perfect" and smooth. Unfortunately this idea was abandoned. Not really sure why. If you look closely, you'd see that many shots on the film are mixed 1's and 2's. They were used mainly for efficiency as scheduling was tight.

I myself shot everything on ones. Opinions vary but film is shot on 24 frames per-second and when projected the 'strobe effect' on two's can be distracting. On the other end of things, we shot Fantastic Mr. Fox entirely on two's to give it a more 'rustic' or 'classical' feel. Only shots with a panning camera where done on ones to avoid the awful strobing that occurs if shot on two's. On a big screen, a camera pan on two's can be enough to give you a stroke.


Another technical question- can you describe the general work flow for you, as an animator on a feature? To be more specific, can you take us through the process you would follow for ONE shot on a film, from beginning to end, in terms of your

One shot... Much is involved, I'll try and keep it light...
You would first have a meeting in editorial with the director, lead camera, and editor. Going through the storyboard to find key gestures, character movement, facial expressions, anything that may be needed for the current shot as well as the previous and following. You then talk with your camera team to figure out was is needed for execution. After action is established, you then move on to the puppet depot to discuss exactly which puppets are required.

This then leads to a visit with the wardrobe department to make sure continuity is correct. Shooting out of sequence can mean you have a clean puppet that in a previous scene say, fell into a mud puddle, or ripped a hole in her jeans. The slightest error in costume could mean starting all over again from scratch!

Then to the rigging dept. If a puppet needs an aid moving through space, jumping, running or handling props, a member of the rigging team will come up with clever levers, winders or pulleys to help your puppet defy gravity. These people are fantastic! Some of the most ingenious devices I've ever seen are conjured by these people and of course in the final cut, all of their work is invisible!! Then you go back on set with everything you've gathered and shoot a block.

A block is the shot filmed on 10's or 5's. A basic test to prove lighting, rigging, and animation are in sync. Also the post effects wizards can spot any potential disasters or discuss a specific effect that may have been requested by the director.
After this, back into edit a second time to discuss the block and make any alterations before going back out to shoot a rehearsal if needed. This is a much more involved effort where you shoot on two's or three's, including facial expression and any other details that will be present in the final product.

After this is done, back to editorial to discuss once more with the director. If all is good, then you go for it. Third times the charm! I should mention that sometimes after a block, if all involved are pleased, you can get the go ahead to shoot the actual shot which can be very exciting. You skip the rehearsal, but you've got to be damn sure your on the ball. If you blow it after a weeks work, nobody is very happy with you.

When shooting in 3-D, you have to make sure that your effect is going to work, without testing the 3-D camera, the entire shot could be blurry. The slightest error in distance the camera travels between the two exposures needed for 3-D can spell disaster. Worse thing is you only animate using one of the two 3-D exposures. So you don't notice the error until you've finished the actual shot.


You’ve mentioned that on Coraline, your approximate quota of animation you had to deliver was 5 seconds per week. Were those 5 seconds of finished animation created on Thursday and Friday (for example), with the earlier days spent testing
and rehearsing? Or were those 5 seconds the result of shooting a few careful frames each day, Monday to Friday, in order to have your quota complete?

Those 5 seconds per week are only finished frames that end up in the film, no rehearsals or pop-throughs count. Depending on the week, sometimes this was quite simple to achieve. Say for instance you have a single character who remains stationary, then 5-sec is more than reasonable. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to double or even triple your quota in a week.

On the other hand, a shot that is extremely difficult, for instance the floor disintegrating and Coraline falling into the web took weeks to plan. I worked with camera and rigging the entire time(between other shots) to prepare. So when we actually approached that shot, testing and correction took well over two weeks. Everything possible was done in camera, which can slow an animator down significantly. Then quota can be a little tough to meet!


In your experience, is the animation style of a film established as part of pre-production tests and run-throughs, with various departments and crew consulting? Or is it something that firms up only once the actual shots are being turned in,
during production?

The style is supposed to be established by lead(or key)animators early on in production. But since the film takes a year to two to complete many fresh new ideas or styles surface, and if possible are worked into the film. The best animated films in my opinion are seamless. You should not be able to tell who did what shot, a definite style should be set in stone very early on (Disney were masters). I think it's distracting from the story if style or character performance varies, especially in the main character.

On the topic of animation styles for features, can you tell us a bit about how the styles are determined in terms of what directors convey to you? Is it all through example footage of previous projects, or through discussions? Through acting
things out live, or letting animators go crazy for a while and then see what style is emerging, to then focus it from that?

It's a bit of everything you mentioned really. It could be reference from old films, clippings from a magazine that show a certain pose perhaps or animation test after test after test... Mainly though once a hard line for a character is established you play. By this I mean act it out with the director (you've gotta get over your shyness. Or what a lot of people do is film themselves acting out the scene and use it as a direct reference. Personally I like to fumble through my work without live action reference. I've tried using live action reference, but I found myself spending too much time trying to mimic the reference footage rather than letting the puppet lead me.

If there where hidden camera's in animators sets on films people would certainly think we are all nuts! Repeating the same odd movements hundreds of times over to better understand weight or action, or behaving like a 12 year old girl or an elderly obese woman! I would take great joy whenever I'd catch a friend in the middle of one of these moments, good fun! Like I said, you gotta get over your shyness in this business.


A complex shot isn’t just about the animation required. It involves having lots of rigs, lots of set people hovering, camera people involved, complex camera moves, tricky lighting, blocking, complex puppets that move and step in complex ways,
complex considerations if big digital post fx stuff is going to happen… how do YOU stay focused so that you can give the performance you need to give?

I can really only stay focused while actually animating the shot. Until then, everybody is tapping you on the shoulder. When you are finally 'launched', everyone who helped bring it along, camera, rigging, sets, post, etc. leaves you to it. They then have a red flashing light placed on your set entrance warning people to leave you be.

If I really wanted extra privacy on a tricky shot I would stay after hours when the building was empty. Very quiet and peaceful and absolutely no distractions, except for other animators. If anybody else is kicking around, it's nice to take a coffee break and discuss progress or problems. As everybody knows, a fresh set of eyes or perspective can be the quickest cure for a stale situation.


4th Year Stop Motion Projects

So our fourth year students are for the most part up and shooting now in the stop motion studio (or at home)... very exciting!

Here's one awesome pic from Kevin Parry's project:

There will be more pics and hopefully some video profiles on more student projects very soon...

Nerdland Update- Da Winner!

So from what I understand, the stop mo pilot called Nerdland that was created locally by a lot of great people (at Cuppa Coffee, and more specifically created by Ted Heeley) has officially WON the online contest at Teletoon!

That means it was voted for most, compared to all the other pilot projects. This can only mean good things for the show, as it strives to get "greenlit" for series...

Thanks to everyone that helped out.

I'm loving the direct approach that's in the nature of online promotions like this. Create something (or develop something to a stage) then DIRECTLY appeal to readers/viewers/like-minded supporters.

I love that it by-passes old school "gate-keepers" like traditional broadcasters and producers. Go right to your fan-base, and appeal to THEM. That's who the content is being made for, after all. Of course, the contest was set up by a traditional broadcaster, by the results are from strictly online viewing and support.

Wheee... I'm really glad I invented the internet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stuffed Toy Goodness

I'm having fun making little critters like this one for my little guy. Nate's almost two now, and he's got a lot of love to give to stuff animals, so I'm happy to oblige.

He named this guy "Bert".

The nice thing about making toys like this is that they are fast to make, compared to the work that goes into a puppet. And of course, when a stuffed toy is done, it's ready to be loved. Even once you finish a puppet, it still has to perform.

Making stuffed animals is a really simple pleasure. And it's such a great feeling to hand something I've made to my son, who in turn simply hugs it and loves it.

A very simple thing. I wish all of life was like that!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Line-Stop Motion Project

Justin and Shel Rasch are fast becoming the dynamic duo of indie stop motion. Their amazing film Gerald's Last Day is still cleaning up at festivals, and they are well underway on their next amazing effort- Line, a sci-fi epic starring (of all things) a Doberman.

Justin and Shel are not only talented artists, they are also really honing their skills as self-promoters and fund raisers. As traditional methods of development and broadcast continue to shrivel up into dust, indie methods are proving themselves to be truly viable. And their film Line is proof-positive.

They're using IndieGoGo to raise funds, and they're already on their way. A few years ago raising money like this would be completely impossible. Today, it's a reality.

This is so encouraging for indie artists, I can't even begin to explain. You really should contribute. In part because the more a site like IndieGoGo succeeds, the better it is for all indie efforts. But more specifically because you can use your money to help quality indie film (and stop motion in particular) to succeed.

It's one thing to go the multiplex and plunk down your money to get some popcorn and a ticket in order to be dazzled by Avatar for three hours. That makes you happy for a bit, and it makes James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg a little bit richer. It also drives an industry that employs thousands of artists I know, I know. But it's still a pretty impersonal thing.

If you use the same amount of money to support Line, you're doing something REAL with your money. You'll see real results, as your money clearly helps the project develop and succeed.

In other words, you are getting huge bang (and huge artistic karma) for your buck.

I've contributed and I hope you do too.

You can contribute by clicking here.