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Thomas Fyfe

Animation Discussion – Pied Piper (1986)

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This was an animation a friend recommended me to check out. It’s an excerpt from The Pied Piper (1986) which was directed by Jiří Barta, a Czech stop motion animator. While he is an animator himself, IMDb credits four others as the animators so I am not sure who in particular animated this clip.

When first watching this clip I was immediately drawn in. There’s so much charm to the character design, the overall visual design and the stop motion itself. The characters have a limited movement especially while they walk, it reminds me of the vampires from The Nightmare Before Christmas. However the characters are very expressive, they have more movement in their arms and head movements coupled together with the visual storytelling so that we know what’s going on.

Although the characters are not speaking English there are visual representations of what they are talking about, such as the coins coming from the mouth and the scales representing the haggling nature of the conversation.
There is a lot of good camera movement going on to allow for some neat gags. Switching focus from one character to another allows for heads to be switched out such as the angry heads. The angry heads had a different texture and colour in contrast to the rest of the animation which emphasised a creepy feel and helped to contrast it to the calm scene it once was.

One thing I particularly loved was the use of perspective. Very early on in this clip as a character walks by, she walks past a street opening showing the road as it goes off into the distance. Only, the set isn’t that big, it looks like its physically only a short distance away and is perpendicular to the ground. I’ve seen this kind of thing done before for stylistic purposes or just to conserve space, I’ve even done similar things myself with stop motion perspective. What I love about this though is that there’s small characters in the background and they’re animated. Although we know there’s an illusion going on, the focus of the camera and scale of the characters tell us they should be in the distance. We know they aren’t but in the context of the animation’s style it works and its charming to see the little characters move.

This excerpt ends with a rat appearing and stealing a piece of food. The people in the marketplace seemingly forget their differences and beat the rat to death. I’m not sure but it looks like a real stuffed rat was used. The addition of the blood and the fact the people were beating it to death seems to have been used for shock factor, perhaps as some metaphor for the greed of capitalist shopping or something, I don’t know. All I know is I enjoyed the clip and will seek out the full film to watch in the future.

Progress Update – Progress and Challenges

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Animation this week has progressed well with more complex animation taking place involving the armature character. The character’s balance and movement in these scenes were more challenging in that the character was often on one foot or didn’t have an appropriate centre of gravity (as they were falling in the scene).

I took into consideration feedback from Monday’s supervisor meeting in that I should have the character test his footing before instantly trying to walk. I also wanted to ensure I didn’t rush frames the closer I was to finishing animating for the day. In my previous filmed scenes I noticed I tend to leave bigger gaps between movements as I become more tired and wary from the day’s filming. I initially wanted the character to have an additional uneasy movement after standing up but it did not look good so I cut it. However both of these feedbacks allowed me to add in a new action where the character tests their footing and he almost loses balance. I think this addition worked quite well.

I’m quite satisfied with the results of the animation I’ve done so far this week. Although less seconds have been animated, the quality I feel is the best it has been so far. The initial transition into the stumble could have been extended as it transitions quite quickly. However I’m also really happy with how the stumble and falling into the clay came out. This also marked the end of the very long single camera shot. The next shot is a close up.

I mentioned challenges about footing and this was why it took longer to animate. I anticipated that working with the character standing up and shifting his weight would be difficult but I had several ideas on how to combat this problem. I never ended up using magnets to stabilise the character because I assumed they would not work well through the thick glass. Because of the smooth surface, even if they did attract, they could be easily moved. I planned to use blu-tack to do most of the work as its always did the trick in my previous stop motion projects. Either by hiding it or masking it out, I was confident that I could get the poses I want.

While it wasn’t as easy as I expected, using blu-tack to hold down the character did work for the most part. I also used Lego bricks to support the foot that was in mid-air and this technique worked so much better than I expected. Because of the way I’d set up the lighting, the surface the character stands on is almost always solid black. Amazingly the Lego bricks when placed correctly can also appear as solid black and there is no visible support holding up the character. While many frames did end up including blu-tack, simply painting over this manually in Photoshop did the trick. I was required to process about 150 frames using this method, it only took about just over an hour to process all the frames.

As the character approached the clay pile, it was no longer possible to get away with the supports being the same colour as the background, as the clay pile was visible through the character. I had to use a larger support that was situated off camera. Then without moving the camera or character, I positioned the support on the opposite side and captured a frame. So I ended up having the same frame but with 2 different support locations. In Photoshop I layered the frames on top of each other and removed the support by erasing the layer on top revealing the layer on the bottom. As the character was soon about to completely fall over, I only needed to do masking on two occasions.

One challenge I did run in to is that my camera has a tendency to increase or decrease its brightness from time to time. I previously encountered this problem in my Rover Exploration animation. I do have a theory now of why this is happening. It is a camera problem, no changes in light are being made but it seems to interoperate it as that. I notice that sometimes I will make a character movement and it changes then I can move the character back and it will change the brightness back. This was mostly happening when I added or removed the black Lego bricks. So my theory is that while the viewer’s eye and the captured frame do not distinguish the Lego brick to the surface, the camera’s light sensor chip does and it has a hard time working out what’s going on so it alters the light to try and make sense of it. Not a very accurate theory but it consistently matched with what I was doing and when the brightness changed. Luckily, unlike the last time I encountered this problem, I had a better understanding on how to correct the changes in brightness. I compensated by altering the camera’s “Gain” setting to keep the lighting consistent. While not perfect (some tones and contrasts change too), the overall lighting did keep its consistency and no major light flicker was occurring as long as I kept an eye on the brightness.

Poster Research

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As part of the Digital Grad Show, I’ve got to design an A2 poster which will encapsulate and represent my work. It will make sense for the poster to be specifically about the final animation and I think it’d be neat to design the poster as a movie poster.

I like graphic design but don’t consider myself an expert in the field. My poster will likely be inspired by other movie posters so I will use this blog post to talk about some existing poster ideas I like and what kind of approach I’ll take to the poster.

I started looking at posters for other stop motion films. I noticed that many were character based, often featuring the main character as the centre focal point of the poster. As with stop motion in general, they often show off the texture and detail of their craft.

As with all movie posters the movie’s title is also featured prominently and there is information about the cast and crew beneath. As I am the only person who starred in my own animation, I will replace this typical text with other information about my project. I can do this as from afar it will help to promote the movie-style of poster, while closeup offers a place to add additional information. I’m not sure what this information will be but it could be links to the project blog, the project’s aim or even a short description of the project as a whole.

I’ve realised I don’t have a title for my animation so I will need to consider a title in order to feature on the poster. I am famously known for being awful at naming things, from my own work to characters in a game, I spend too long trying to work out the right title. I will make efforts to talk with others and get suggestions. I don’t think the Honours project title of “Materials and Movement in Stop Motion Animation” is that exciting to put on a movie poster. Additionally, I’ll also need to consider the font and layout I use for the movie’s title/logo.

For the actual design I won’t know what I’m going for until I start prototyping ideas. I’m likely to include a frame from the animation or compose something from a different angle that still represents the animation. Using something I’ve captured from a photograph will capture all of the same elements that stop motion gets for free such as lighting and texture, and it makes the most sense to tell people what my movie will actually look like.

Stylistically I like posters that contrasts the character with something. I particularly like the posters for The Lego Movie and Kubo since the character is silhouetted by the light. Since my character can’t be contrasted with a grand set piece or another character, I may be able to use light to my advantage when photographing my set. My animation so far features a set which is the world that the character knows. I could play on this idea similar to what The Lego Movie poster does with the black unknown background.

Keeping the poster design relatively simple and confirming to traditional movie poster designs will help sell the idea that my poster is a movie poster and that my project’s main outcome is film based. Next step is to draw up thumbnails

Grad Show Considerations

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I’ve recently made efforts to start rebuilding my website and work on my YouTube channel. I’ve also created other things such as a CV and a LinkedIn page which I hope to link to business cards I’ll also design soon. These efforts are part of Professional Practice, one of the modules for this year. My aim is to rework existing professional sites I have and to link them in with new ones. During the graduate showcase I want to have a strong portfolio, site and brand that I can advertise to interested people.

Considering my display for the graduate showcase is important as the display is worth 40% of the module mark (the other 60% being this blog). While I’ve certainly give thought to the display, I haven’t properly talked about it so this is what this blog post will be about.

Display

Each student shares a display area with another student. The booth consists of a computer where members of the public can interact with to view work via an interface. There is also a poster displayed and I’ve also requested a plinth in order to display the physical artifacts of the project.

My plan is for the computer interface to host my final animation as well as insight into the production process. I will likely include the timelapses I’ve created, probably edited together into one video file. I may also want to include some of the practical animation tests and experiments I’ve created throughout the semester. I will find out more about how to populate the interface at a tutorial session later in the week. From there I will work out what content I want to include on it.

My hope is that if I am provided with a plinth I will be able to showcase my armature character, a few props and maybe even re-create a part of the set. The plinth would also be a suitable spot to place business cards.

In addition I will also bring along my iPad tablet which I will load on the same digital work so that its easier to pick up and show people which will be useful when the computer is in use with the other students work.

Poster

The grad show display requires an A2 poster to be created and displayed alongside the work. As my final project outcome is a short film, it makes sense I’d look to create a movie poster for the work. I earlier planned to make a start on this poster once I began animating so that I’d have a better understanding of how my animation will look. I will gather some inspiration from other movie posters in the near future and look at how other stop motion animators have presented their work in similar situations.

Professional Practice

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Following the completion of my Lego Batman v Superman trailer, my YouTube channel is in good hands for now. The next step in preparing myself for the big scary world was to rebuild my website in order to have a place to host my portfolio and direct interested people to. As the grad showcase requires business cards and posters, I want to prepare my brand in advance so that the links on these things go to a credible looking site.

My current website is years old and is in dire need of a graphical update. I chose WordPress to build my site on as I have previous experience with it and I know it is capable of suiting my needs. I previously drew out some design ideas for how I want the site to look. I am not a graphic designer however I think I have an idea of what looks good and what doesn’t so I rely on that.

I want the site to be mostly associated with my YouTube channel since that’s the brand I’m known by and that’s what I will continue to work with. Although I decided on the “blob studios” name when I was in Primary school and although I’ve drifted in and out of liking it, I do recognise it’s the best I’ve got and its got history. My logo was redesigned in 1st year of university and while I think there’s room for improvement, I’ll be sticking with it for the mean time until I can commit time to redesigning it. The site should feature mostly my YouTube work however also have a portfolio page which expands upon my other work I’ve created in university. I am also considering moving in my honours blog to this site for greater consistency. I’d also be interested in continuing a regular blog after university as I’ve enjoyed the benefits of having a blog.

I’ve made a start on the site including having the relevant pages however I need to choose a WordPress theme (I’m currently stuck with a default template) in order to get the look and feel I really want. To do that I need to purchase web hosting and in order to do that I will need to transfer my domain from my existing provider. I’m not going to rush into this as my priority is working on my final animation and dissertation. I can continue working on this after hand-ins where I will have more time.

Continuing down the line of looking professional, I also wrote a CV (the first in a long time) and created a LinkedIn page. I will need to get some feedback on these but I can work on these at any point and simply starting them felt like good progress to me.