Friday, March 17, 2006


The climax of the story involves a carriage; my Pop just finished building it and has put in the mail. We're all quite eager to see what it looks like. It was modeled on Catherine the Great's coronation carriage (currently in the Hermitage), which is an impossibly ornate little contraption. I'm not sure what we're getting, but I know it will be good.

Attatched image: The storyboarded shot in which we first see the carriage, suspended from a frame and all ready for burning.


The roof has been giving me quite a bit of grief; besides it's previously mysterious blue-turning tendancy, it has been refusing to look interesting. I thought it looked alright, but after staring at it for a while, I began to sense that it could be better. So, to determine how it could be better, I did the logical thing; find reference material. I found the material I needed close to the studio - i'm not ten minutes away on foot from a historic shipyard, complete with very old (and weathered) wooden structures; there, I observed that weathered, gray wood is actually quite full of variation - very dark slate grays to very light warm grays. It's apparent that the roof as of right now is quite flat looking - not much texture. Next Tuesday i'll go back to the studio and remedy the problem.

I'm also thinking that the tones in the front facade of the house (visible in the attached smaller image) are far too warm - they need to be more neutral. Neutral grays are more evil-looking than warm grays, which goes without saying. Dave seems to be all about the warm brown/grays; i've known him for a long time and I respect his opinion, but he's full of shit. I'd say that neutral grays are at least 30-40% more evil than warm ones, which has to be a conservative estimate.

Excessive time has been spent colouring the set to date. I don't regret it, but I could have been more effecient with the process. The cause of the problem was the usual one; i'd jam my nose into one corner of the set and colour it until it looked good, and then I would move on to another section, without looking at the whole objectively. The result was inevitabely a grab-bag of random barfy tones without logic or coherence (these adjectives are used in the relative sense). Anyways, i've now got the colour scheme pretty well hammered out, and will post some pictures of the resulting paint job in the near future.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Light Temperature Issues

We're approaching the point where we're going to have to deal with our lighting. There is a skylight directly above the set, which is trouble; the light can change when we're animating, which clearly precludes the possibly of animating with it as is. So, we have to cover it up somehow. Likely we'll have to access the roof to do it. Our set is rather huge, so we'll need quite a bit of gear to light it up adequately; likely we'll be using multiple banks of flourescents, along with a few spots, and a home-made softbox or two. We have a 1000 Watt spotlight complete with barn doors and scrimms, but we've found out that what we thought was a daylight-balanced bulb is showing up very orange compared to our flourescents. We need to have the ability to make our light look like daylight, and that can't happen if we shoot with lights with varying color temperature. Anyways, this is Dave's department so i'll let him worry about it.

In other news, Dave has been working for a while now on creating a field of grass to put in front of our set in Maya; see the test frame included within this post. He's going to make it move gently with the wind, which should add a nice layer of detail. I thought i'd also include a few storyboards from this scene, so you all can see the rough end goal.
The Tree

Here's Mike simulating tree instalation. It is apparent that our tree is not tall enough, too skinny, doesn't have enough branches, and is too light in colour. I'll be working on remedying these issues when I go back to the studio tommorrow. Mike won't be around; he's gone to Edmonton to do some videotaping for an industrial-trailer firm.

If you examine the little storyboard image in the previous post, it becomes evident that the tree in the storyboard looks quite a bit different than what we've come up with so far for the actual tree. If we were to duplicate the height of the storyboard tree, the actual tree would be about 24 feet high (including the set height), i.e. it would touch the ceiling. Screw the storyboard.

The Shrubbery Is Done

Mike and Dave finished putting moss and other assorted shrubbables on the set, behind the little ante-house being the last spot that needed it. Moss-application technology advanced light years over the course of mossing this sucker; we started out with a pair of hot glue guns, which we discovered was very slow and expensive in gluesticks, as well as expensive in the human factor; it's easy to drip hot glue on your skin. Then, we applied Poly-Filla (a slow-setting plaster) on the hill, and simply slapped the moss on top. And then, the final breakthough; we applied thinned-down drywall mud (with a very long working time) onto the hill with a brush, as opposed to a putty knife. The speed at which we were able to moss was astronomical; it was like comparing the X-1 fighter to a Sopwith Camel. The next time we have to moss something, we will moss that thing like a motherfucker.

So, now all I have to do to the shrubbery is finish staining/painting it. We'll pop off a couple of test shots to make sure the color works, and away we go.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hot Moss Action

Today should be the last day of hot moss-on-set action. We've been plastering/hot gluing moss to the base of the hill on our 'Cornelisz's Studio, Exterior' set for a while now, to the tune of 6 bags worth; far more than we ever thought we'd need. We've been 'liberating' the moss from a certain park not too far away from us and are glad that the chore is over. We've been feeling a little guilty about doing it, though it is only moss. We don't want to wreck anyone's nice view of the pretty green moss.

Dave and Mike are working in the studio solo today - they will have to make some hard decisions today, without any guidance. I am sure everything will come out alright.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Near-Future Agenda

We've got quite a to-do list to get through before we can shoot something that has a chance of being finished footage.

We have to:

Finish the set: put the last little bit of moss on the sucker, finish painting/staining the foliage, finish the finishing on the right facade of the house, install/work on a big tree that'll go on top of the hill, etc.

Shoot test frames of the set: on our previous project, 'The Masque of the Red Death', we blew it with set coloration - everything was far too monochromatic, and looked flat in the final project. We should have tested it, but we were in too much of a hurry. Now, we know better; we take shots of the set and see how it translates to a computer screen.

Finish the bluescreen, i.e. buy more canvas and paint it up.

Finish our first puppet; we've aquired one 10" armature, and it's costume is almost finished, courtesy of Mandy Wold; this puppet will be 'Johannes', the narrator in his youth, and apprentice to Cornelisz, the wayward painter. Then, we have to fashion the hands, head, and feet. We also have a large stumbling block to overcome; the resolution of our face-replacement issues. We've got some digital-big-head-transposed-on-a-small-puppet ideas, but we've got a lot of work to do before we can confirm it's workability.


We will be using a 'blue' 'screen' which is a large blue thing that can be digitally removed using computers and lasers and robots. It's the same technique they use when the weatherman is standing in front of the big map. Our bluescreen is just a big piece of canvas, painted blue. We did a little 'pixelation' test (pixelation being the stop-motion animation of people). Mike was trying to make it looks as if he was talking, posing frame by frame.

Film Set: Cornelisz's Studio, In the Past

This here is the set we've been building; it is the painter's (Cornelisz's) studio, perched upon a hill, looking ominous. Alot of the action in the story takes place within the studio, which will be another set altogether - this set will be seen relatively briefly, mostly in 'establishing shot' type material. I say 'in the past' in the heading because the narrator, now aged, relates events that have already transpired. At the time of this writing we've almost covered the whole hill with foliage, making the above image out of date. Newer pictures will follow soon. The scale is 1:7-point-something, or a 6' high figure in real life would be 10" high in our set. This means that the set is quite large, and heavy. And expensive.

The house is made of:

Hill: 2x4 four frame covered with steel mesh, plaster, and now a whole whack of moss.

House: an MDF frame detailed with kiln-dried fir and plaster. The roof is made of little fir shingles, all glued individually to an MDF frame.

The above picture contains no proper lighting; it's it looks under the room lights, with a little Photoshopping and a sky thrown in. This excites us, as the sets for our first two movies looked like ass until we lighted the crap out of them. So far, we've spent about thirty full days building the thing, and anticipate about five more to finish it off.

Particulars Of the Film; Technical, Etc.

Technique: This film is to be made in the medium of stop-motion animation; a technique whereby we pose little dolls in little sets and dollhouses and move them around to make them look as if they're moving. Whenever I hear somebody bring up stop-motion animation, they usually comment on how slow the process is. Not really. And, we don't have to deal with actors.

Projected length: 12 minutes, not less than ten, not more than 15.

Frame rate for animation: we'll be shooting almost always on 'two's', i.e. two frames taken for every pose. In video, that translates to fifteen frames a second as opposed to the usual 24 for frame. This means that our animation is a little more chunky, but we can work faster, and we're used to it. On tracking shots without characters in them, we'll do a higher frame rate, probably 24 frames a second or something.

Filming medium: high-res digital still photography (courtesey of Dave's Canon Digital Rebel) that is: Edited with Photoshop (color correction, etc.), composited with other elements via After Affects, compiled into digital video via some other peice of nerd software, and then outputed in some high-res HD crap. This is more nerd territory, which our nerds handle.

Projected Completion date: years. Maybe two, probably three.

What we've done so far

An awful lot of preproduction, namely very extensive storyboarding, set design, story rewrites, character design, etc. The majority of planned shots in our movie have been drawn out in large 'presentation' style storyboards, that are detailed enough to researched enough to serve as concept sketches for set design. These boards have been scanned and compiled into an .avi file, that we can review and replace with actual footage as we go. Dave has done a bunch of tests with Maya, which we plan to use for some subtle CG effects. Mike has been editing a YTV show in Montreal, honing his chops.

In terms of concrete progress, we've done the following: aquired 300 square feet worth of industrial warehouse space in Steveston (South Richmond, BC), set up a studio with a woodshop and workbench, and most importantly, almost completed a key set. I will discuss this set in the following post.

I guess this concludes the introduction - all following posts will be of a 'progress report' nature.

Our Treatment of the Story

Our film will adhere to the spirit of the original story quite closely, but we have changed many particulars:

We took the story out of ancient Japan, and moved it to mid-seventeenth century Holland. We did this because we are not Japanese, and it seemed a little weak to ape their aesthetic and culture, even though it rules. Dave (D.P. photography, etc.) is half Dutch, so it's our culture. As well, we wanted to reference Dutch painting (i.e. Rembrandt) in the appearance of our film, which adds an interesting level, we think.

The O.G. story is narrated by an unreliable guy; a servant in the house of the Daimyo (who I will henceforth refer to by our name for him, Lord William of Orange) of twenty years. We took that bit out, as we figured we had lots to tackle with the bare bones of the story without some kind of post-modern crap.

In the original story, there is a monkey; we took it out and consolidated the whole monkey metaphor with the overall bird metaphor (we replaced the monkey with a bird). We don't like monkeys; they are filthy animals, and they make irritating noises.

We rearranged a few story elements in the interest of clarity; the original tends to jump around a bit.

Our version will have nudity, and gunfire.

The Story

Our film is based on Akutagawa Ryunosuke's 1918 short story Jigokuhen, which translates as 'Hell Screen'. The title refers to Japanese screen painting, in particular to the sub-genre that portrays the multi-realmed Buddhist hell. Akutagawa Ryunosuke is, i've been told, one of Japan's most famous authors; the equivelant of Shakespeare or Anne Rice in the Western world. Despite this, he seems to be relatively unknown in North America, which is sad.

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon was based on two short stories by the same dude; that 1960's production is Ryunosuke's only real claim to fame in the West. Kurosawa's films rule because they have samurai in them.

Jigokuhen is the tale of a painter and his commission to paint an image of Hell. For some reason I really hate trying to summarize the story, so go Google 'Hell Screen' and Ryunosuke. Anyways, everybody dies in the end, bad stuff happens, blah blah blah. The crux of the story is two key plot lines: The painter's obsession with the painting and his absolute need for real models of suffering lead him down a particular path of fate; the great Daimyo becomes obsessed with the painter's virtous young daughter, which leads him down his own path. Eventually, the two plot lines converge, and hijinxs ensue - lots of high-fiving jive-talking apes, road trips, love lost and found, and the true meaning of Christmas revealed.

This blog was created primarily to keep our family and friends up to date on our lastest project, namely, the stop-motion animated film with the working title 'The Hell Painting'. Particulars of the project will be included in following posts for the uninitiated. After these first explanatory posts, regular updates on progress will follow.

Andrew Brown

Cornelisz's hilltop studio (incomplete set).
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