Here’s my experimentation reel I’ve whipped up for the Mystery Box project.
Yesterday afternoon, I shot a second version of my mystery box sequence with Pete. This one had its flaws again, but it was certainly better than my first.
With this shoot I got the timings a little wrong on some of the pauses, but this has been cleaned up in post. I’ve continued to struggle with adequate lighting for his dark uniform which I think I’m going to have to deal with. I also suffered another breakage with his left ear. I managed to glue this back on and continue shooting very quickly.
This morning, I sat down and put the footage into After FX. First I did the chroma keying with Keylight 1.2. The keying worked a lot better this time around, but I did have to cheat a bit. I keyed it so the edges were clean, but there was some partially translucent parts in his trousers and hair. To fix this, I duplicated the clip so that the translucency disappeared.
Next up I masked out the rig. I had to use this at two points, the first time because I found I had Pete’s foot pinned into a rift in the floor and he wasn’t stable, the second time because because he had a bad lean towards the end of the walk cycle.
Because I had already duplicated the footage, I applied all three masks to the second duplicate clip.
Then I went ahead and animated the smoke. First I did the big mushroom cloud, which I made fairly unconventionally. I animated a shape layer on hold keyframes every two frames to try and blend it in with my stop motion footage that’s on doubles.
I’m not sure if this was a silly thing to do, but it looks good so I can’t complain. I seem to have got the spacing right so that’s a bonus! I then masked the cloud to appear as if it is coming out of the bin. Then I did the whispy smoke that comes out initially. But first I tried doing it with smoke rings, but they had to move too far in a short distance of time ti look right.
Instead of animating a shape layer for the whispy clouds, I animated a mask on a grey solid layer so I could use the feathering effect to make it look smokey. This seems to have worked quite nicely.
Finally, I reworked the background a bit. I needed to fill in the space on the left of the screen behind the bush. I tried putting a wheat field in but it was too flat and I couldn’t draw it very nicely. Instead, I’ve put a long hedge line with a classic cast iron fence running along the road. Behind that, I’ve put a tree and then further behind I put a hill side. This could do with some work, but I’m going to leave it overnight to see if I like it. I’ve reworked the colour of the bush to help fit the new scenery.
This afternoon my 2 hour slot to animate came round and I produced this:
I’m not terribly pleased with it, but first I’ll point out some things I like. Watching the feet throughout the clip is very satisfying. All the steps through the initial walk cycle (bar the last pace) roll smoothly from one to the other. What I’m particularly pleased with is the step towards the box, which came out just like I planned it in the animatic. When I practised this part of the animation in my test-run, it looks like the video has corrupted.
The first thing I don’t like about this is the hands during the walk cycle. I’m not sure how they went so wrong, but they don’t swing so much as they jerk. If anything could do with a little bit of easing in and out, it’s those. The reaction could do with a fair few less frames and possibly even a step back. At the moment, it looks slow and forced where it needs to be snappy and decisive.
Then there are the technical problems. The footage itself is problematic, whether that’s the fault of the lighting or just the camera, the shadows are too dark and make keying quite a struggle. What could really help the problem is having a secondary light or perhaps a reflector. One thing, which I didn’t see coming, was the bin dissolving when I applied the key. I figured that it was dark enough to not be a problem, but that will need to be changed if there’s an opportunity for a re-shoot. Another thing is the puppet. The lovely new stripes I applied to the trousers with IMPACT glue began to peel off towards the end. This was because the trousers ended up rucking up and the knees and this pulled them off the trouser. I’m not sure if I should remove them from the model sheet or apply them more firmly to the model. The head, which was pointed out should be more secure for filming, became a problem when I found I had mounted it too stiffly. One of the key parts of the performance is a head turn that leads in the glance round. When it came to that, the head was too stiff to turn at all. I managed to take it off and make it a little looser with minimal effect to the clip itself.
Overall, the performance isn’t terrible and I can edit it to be slightly more slick. but what I can say, having had at least an hour more time and a technician in the building, it could have been a far more productive experience.
I have been thinking about the backdrop for a while, imagining some kind of old-timey English village setting for my postman.
My initial sketch was of a park with a road and house in the background with the box in centre foreground. My idea at this point was just for a random box to be on the side of the path, potentially placed there by some kids who want to play a trick on the elderly postman.
But now taking it to the computer, I have the idea of the kids having placed something in the park litter bin instead. I’ve also ditched the semi-symmetrical layout for something with a bit more depth to it, setting up the park on a street corner. The bin being in the centre foreground remains an important part of the staging.
I have begun to draw it a little more accurately now, including a postman’s bicycle as a little not to ‘Ecole Des Facteurs’ and ‘Jour De Fete’. I feel that it all looks a little clean, vibrant and texture less. My concern is that my puppet will feel totally out of place in this. Perhaps I can try and edit in some photo-realistic textures, but perhaps that’s just a nutty idea.
Today I shot a couple of clips with Pete in his new uniform to see if anything got in the way. The problems that arose were the hat falling off a fair bit, as can be seen in the second clip, and the trousers boiling a bit because they’re so baggy, so bringing on the seams on those is definitely on the cards.
The second clip is based on a sketch by Jacques Tati impersonating a London traffic officer. I think I need the facial expressions to have the right effect.
Over the Easter holiday, I managed to get a costume sorted for my puppet. Unfortunately, I managed to forget my puppet in my packing, so I had to make the costume only referring to my scale drawing and an action man of roughly the same size.
I picked up the material for the uniform at Rye market while I was on holiday, as I noticed the stall was selling exactly the right shade of navy blue I was looking for. The guy was nice enough to give me a quarter of a meter of his roll for 50p. I should have at least bought a pound’s worth! I noticed he was also selling the blue upholstery foam we have all used, so the stuff is clearly not hard to come by.
To start the costume, I made some templates with brown paper based on some action man trousers I had to hand and the scale drawing I had.
With the parts cut, I slowly cobbled them together over a couple of days, finishing the sewing on the jacket with a red mandarin collar. On the first day back, I took what I had of the uniform and added the cuffs and the pockets with Evo-Stick.
Unfortunately the trousers have come up a little big on him so I’ll have to fold over the seams to make them a tad skinnier. This means I’ll wait to put on the red stripes on his trousers.
Today I managed to make his hat with some cardboard and left over material from the uniform. I curled a piece of cardboard around his head, secured it with masking tape and cut it to shape, before slathering it with Evo-Stick and laying on the blue material. I then traces the width of the inside of the top of the hat and made a top to wedge into it. Then I made the peak with another cut of cardboard, cut to shape.
In some of the early drawings, I had him carrying a satchel, so I cobbled one together to see how it looked.
The strap is a little on the short side, however it’s made of masking tape and I’ve coloured it in with brown felt tip which has given it a leathery effect which is quite satisfying. I may re do it a bit longer, but for now, it’s a fine prop.
Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
Here’s my first go at animating my stop motion puppet. I didn’t manage to get to far into the sequence or test out all the little facial expressions I cut out but I have got to know my puppet a lot better.
First off, I realised that I’ve drilled the holes in the feet with too wide a bit (1.5mm) for one pin to secure my model on the table and that I had also drilled the heal holes a little too far in to make putting the pins in very easy for myself. To get around this, I had to spend twice the time putting two pins in each hole to make sure that my puppet wouldn’t fall over.
I’ve also realised that with baggy clothing, it’s very easy to get a boiling effect going on, especially around the cuff of the trousers where I had to pull them up to put the pins in. Thankfully, I’ve designed a puppet with a fairly trim uniform, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem in the future as I wont have these place holder clothes then.
When I painted the hands, I immediately realised they were far too pink compared to the head, but looking at them in the video, it’s not blindingly obvious that there’s a difference. Perhaps one more white coat will fix the problem?
As for the paper replacement faces, I can see that they may be a little too fiddly to use in the final take and I am still considering drawing faces on in post production.
Ready for my test shoot, I’ve made a selection of paper expressions. I’d like to try physical, stuck on eyes and mouth but I’m interested in painting the expressions on in post.