Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Few Pictures

I haven't posted anything regarding substantial progress in a while, so I thought i'd upload a few pictures. The top image is a fanciful vision of our hell, though the specific landscape shown was made up on the spot and doesn't refer to any particular set design. The figure hanging from the branch is key - a bit of foreshadowing. The image of figures standing in glowing pits is ripped of directly from Dore's illustration of The Divine Comedy. The second-from-the-top image contains a tree that matches that seen in the aforementioned storyboard panel; tying our scenes together with matching images from the 'Hellscape' is a key facet of our approach. The other two are just the good ol' house, in storyboard and photoshopped.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dave tested out the technique of digitally compositing a large head onto a smaller armature, within a short animation test - a walking cycle. It seems to work quite well, which is a relief. We weren't able to proceed until we answered that question, so now we can get bakc on track. This here is Dave.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Mike is in the process of moving to Vancouver. This'll be good, as he brings enthusiasm to the group. And he can do stuff, I guess. I didn't have a picture of mike, so I drew one. This is exactly what Mike looks like.


We've reached a bit of a lull. We were quite gung-ho about finishing the set, but it's currently gathering dust now that it's complete.

The sticking point preventing me from working a comparable number of hours per week to the previous period is the issue of the faces, and face replacement. We intend to test a difficult technique; digital face replacement. The idea would be to build a large (life size) animatable head, and to then digitally transpose it over the smaller head of the set-sized armature. This poses innumberable difficulties, and it can't be said with any certainty that it'll work without thorough testing. Dave is optimistic, but I supect that even if all problems are surmounted, it'll be an extremely awkward and tedious process that might inhibit out freedom to animate. We'll see. Our level of digital proficiency is also low (relative to an an industry professional) so we may just not have what it takes to pull it off. We may have to do it the good-old analog way.

I put a picture of a rock up there because it's hard, and what we're doing is hard. Real hard.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Next Set

The next to build will be a modification of the existing set; it will represent the same locale in the present day, but now abandoned and decrepit. This task is a long way off, however; we've got a pile of other things to do before I can go back into the shop. It's a little disappointing - building sets is my favorite part. Other than the fame, adulation, and thinking up new ways to spend all the money we've earned from our project.

Friday, April 14, 2006

At any given time in the studio, the odds are excellent that i'll be chewing a big wad of gum. When Dave takes 'making of' snapshots, I usually then have the appearance of big, bloated squirrel-like cheeks, which I actually don't possess. The above image is an excellent example of the phenomenom.

The above storyboard image is of Cornelisz having a good time in the climactic scene.

Anyways, we've still got a lot to do before we do some serious shooting - one ongoing concern is our lack of a really good animator. It's almost certain that one of us will be doing it, i.e. me. I feel that I can do something vastly better than the work on the previous two films (which stink, for the record), but it's still worrisome.

The problem with stop-motion animation, and indeed with any animation, is that one must aquire enough skill with the basic craft before one can truly make the characters 'act'. On the previous project it was simply a matter of acheiving a level of quality somewhere above 'barely acceptable' before we moved onto the next shot. Our main focus has always been on the visuals; myself with sets and Dave with lighting, etc. This time, we want to do some high-quality work. Our best option seems to be extensive cheating, i.e. taking extensive reference footage with Mike's camera, and really analyzing it frame by frame. Having to invent physical 'acting' out of thin air is really beyond our current abilities. I've already spent quite a bit of time watching Kurosawa's Seven Samurai* frame by frame to better understand human movement.

We've thought about enlisting outside aid to up the quality level with the animation, but that presents several problems. It is going to take us quite a while to finish this thing, so we need somebody who intends to be around for a comparable length of time. The other main concern is that our current group has been working together for a while, so we're pretty comfortable critizing each other's work. It might be awkward if the work they do is sub-par. As well, we can't offer them anything immediate in return except long hours on the bus and tedious hours in the studio.

So, it'll probably be me.

*Seven Samurai is the awesomest movie ever. If the reader has a favorite movie which he/she prefers, I assure you that you are wrong; this movie is better.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


The set is done. We are so utterly sick of working on the thing that bringing ourselves to fix any minor problems with it is a hurculean task. It came together pretty well, though; all the little glitches and color mismatches have worked themselves out.

Myself and some-times collegue Andy Warren went down on Tuesday and took the tables/counters apart, and cleaned up the mess. Now we're ready for bluescreen action.

Here's a rough breakdown of man hours invested into the thing:

Total days spent in the studio (averaged at 7 hours each): 45

Days with two people: 6

Days with three people: 10

Trips transporting materials (at 3 hours apeice): 4

Hours gathering materials (moss, bark, etc.): 12

Grand total: 520 hours.

This doesn't begin to give one a sense of the human cost; about ninety hours plus on the bus, the cold Chef Boyardee mini ravioli eaten right out of the can, the waiting in the rain, the dirty looks from yuppies as we liberate the moss from their local park.

It was fun, generally speaking.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


The main problem, or key concern I have with the project is this: when one gets closely involved in a project, and spends an inordinate amount of time reworking something (the screenplay in this case), one tends to lose the ability to be objective.

We find, again and again, that something that seemed like a good idea turns out to be a wretched idea with the benefit of hinndsight or the passage of time. We had all agreed, to give an example, that we were going to change a specific aspect of the story; namely, that Cornelisz is no longer commissioned by his master, Lord William of Orange, to paint the Hell Painting - he begins it of his own volition. We now agree that this is quite a bad idea.

When we're dealing with something visual, like a film set, or animation, it's quite easy to tell what is good or bad. With a screenplay that you've been rewriting ad naseum, it seems quite hard.

Our solution is to do what is commonly done with projects such as these; storyboard extensively, and 'premake' the film in crudely animated storyboards, with temporary ad hoc dialogue and borrowed music. Which means more work.

The Set is Done (Almost)

I estimate that there is about three full days left in the studio before the set will be completely finished - it feels like one day, but we're almost always wrong about how long it will take. We're up to about 45 full days spent in the studio so far, though some of those days saw two or even three people working at once. I estimate total man hours spent to date at around 450, or half the grand total of hours spent on our previous film, 'The Masque of the Red Death'. When I extrapolate the total number of hours required to build all the sets in this project, the result is nauseating. I think I estimated about 2 1/2 years (at the current rate of progress) required for set building alone. This is likely optimistic, based on past estimates of time required. We don't really like the idea of this project taking 4-5 years total; the only solution is money, which can buy us more time to work. So, I think we'll be looking at funding options a little more closely.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The New Tree

After viewing the tree in a photoshop composite, we realized that it was far too small and wimpy. In retrospect, this seems obvious, but we had convinced ourselves otherwise. So, we ripped out the old tree, and but in a new, beefy tree, We are all agreed that it is a huge improvement.

The Tree

We installed what we thought was more or less the final tree, in its final form. See attached images:

Mike adjusting the location of the tree support, Mike and I trying on various branches, and finally, a quick photoshop composite of the set, complete with tree.

The Bench

The bench is starting to look a little well-used - i've got quite a large collection of containers filled with all sorts of concoctions.
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