Archive for September, 2010

Week four – Supervisor Meeting

During this week’s meeting Richard and I discussed my draft of the learning contract. There is still some work to be done on it, namely with the literature review. The problem is that I have not been as precise with my proposed topics of research. I must also determine the scope of the topics that I will be undertaking. Richard recommended some mind mapping software called FreeMind which makes it easy to visualise my range easily. I will certainly be downloading this software as it seems to be a highly useful tool for organising my workflow. Once I have the scope of the project mapped out I will draft up a new learning contract and submit this to Richard for approval. He will then either flag some issues for amending or will pass it on to my second marker who was announced today as Susan Turner.

The working titles I have proposed so far are ‘Breathing life into an inanimate object using stop motion techniques’ and ‘Can stop motion breathe life into a vintage reel-to-reel tape recorder?’. I think the first one is a stronger candidate and with a little refining could be the eventual title of the project.

We both agreed that the topic of anthropomorphism is a huge topic and an honours project in itself so it might be wise to narrow the scope of it down to just studying anthropomorphism of inanimate objects. This cuts out a sizeable chunk of unrelated animation and focuses more on what I am trying to achieve with my final deliverable. I aim to research this field in depth and also study the work of other animators using inanimate objects as their anthropomorphic subjects.

I also mentioned to Richard that I will seek interviews with established stop motion animators to gain a different opinion from the literature I will be researching. I expect different people will have different methods and outlooks on the subject of stop motion animation and it will be interesting to compare and contrast these views. Although I won’t be including these interviews as part of my interim deliverable I must state how these interviews will be conducted.

I initially proposed that the final deliverable would be in the region of 10 minutes. Reading it back today, I decided this to be a bit too ambitious. The focus will be quality over quantity and I have scaled the time back to around 5 minutes.

I aim to have the second draft written by the end of today after I draw up a functional mind map for the project.

Budget #2

This week I have been mostly buying…

3 large sheets of coloured card – Green, Blue & White (Edinburgh Bargain Store £3.50)

Helping Hand Modelling Tool (eBay £3.95)

8 Mini Clamps (eBay £1.96)

5 x Vintage Reel-to-Reel Tapes & Microphone (eBay £17.50)

Total £26.91 + Running Total = £284.95

New Total = £311.86

I made a negative review on eBay about one of the laser pointers I got in the post because it arrived weeks after I paid for it and with dead batteries, which was annoying because they are the small watch type batteries which I will have to go out and buy. I received the following statement from the seller…

hi,my friend,as the shipping date,before you buy the item,you can check our item description:usually it takes 7-15 working days to arrive.10 days is the normal speed. as the item,i do apologize for the problem again.why you can’t give me a chance to do something for you?i know it is my fault,God says,people can make mistake,but must change it in time.however,you don’t want to give me this chance.i am just a worker,and now i am 35 years old,i have 6 children,it is not easy for me to find this job,if i lose this job,my children will be starved to death.this is why i want to repay 10 USD to you as compasation once you can help me.(this 10 USD is my personal money.)i beg you,beg your again,help me to change the feedback for me.waiting for your reply”

This only annoyed me further, so I called his bluff, thinking I wouldn’t hear back from him…

Thank you for your offer of compensation. I will accept it and upon receipt I will change my feedback score.”
To his credit, I received his $10 compensation the next day. And I held up my end of the bargain and gave him an excellent review on eBay. So I’m going to subtract that money, which works out as £5.73 (after paypal charges) from the running total.

Running Total = £311.86 – Refund £5.73

New Total = £306.13

Week Three – Overview

This week the proof of concept animations that I started were the only real work I’ve put into the honours project. I was struggling a bit to try and find the time to fit the time in for this project among the other modules I have and also some real-life activities. So I drew up a timetable. Currently I have allotted 20 hours a week for the honours project. This may seem like a lot but it will go by quite easy. A lot of this time may be spent watching YouTube clips of animation and also blogging. I will try and refine the timetable so that I can put aside time for actually writing the literature review.

On Tuesday I called into Colin Smith’s office. He is the module leader for the honours project. I borrowed a honours project from a previous year’s student. It’s not entirely different from what I’m doing, in the fact that this student developed a 3D short film. I will more be looking at the structure of his literature review and how his report was constructed.

I have also set up a meeting with Kendall Richards, who is the university’s academic support advisor,  for next Tuesday. Kendall gave a guest lecture during the week about how to write the literature review and I want to discuss this in more detail as I’m not completely sure on the formalities of dissertation writing.

Proof Of Concept – Anthropomorphism

My girlfriend returned from town on Friday with a handbag she had just bought as a present for a friend. The first thing I noticed about it was that it looked like a face when it was upside down. I thought “this might make a great little animation!”. As she was giving it to her friend the next morning, and this was late evening, I quickly inhaled my dinner and got to work.

I set up the same scene as the spiderman set-up, only this time I used a white background as I didn’t need to key out the background. I set up the same lights in a slightly different manner. The shade-less lamp was off to the right, while the large desk lamp was positioned in front of the scene pointing up. I suspended the small desk lamp above the scene. I was trying to create a more ominous sense lighting to compliment the creepy bag.

What I didn’t mention in the Colour Keying post is that I decided to shoot in large jpeg format as this would still produce a crisp picture without too much compression. As these are only test videos it doesn’t make sense to shoot any higher than that. Also shooting in a larger format would require a lot of disc space and processor power, both of which I don’t have. I set the camera to manual mode. I can’t remember the settings but I kept the ISO to 200 and an aperture of maybe F8 or F9. This way the images would be as sharp as possible. I also took the lens off auto-focus but I forgot to take the white balance off ‘auto’ and that’s why the colour gets slightly darker (I think) at the very end when the light changes.

Again, I shot the sequence without a storyboard and only a rough idea. I wanted the handbag’s mouth to unzip, show it feeling queasy and then have it vomit out various handbag items. I wanted to shoot it from both front and side angles but time was not on my side and I only managed to shoot from the front.

The big problem working with this type of material (real/faux leather – I never checked) is that I would use one hand to move the zip slightly and the other hand would have to counter the pulling by holding onto the side of the bag. This created unwanted movement of the material. Again this is not a huge problem here as this was only a test and I have learned that to use more rigid materials in my final animation will be more controllable.

Another problem I encountered was trying to keep objects such as the £5 note suspended in the air while I took a shot. I tried using thread to suspend it, but it just drooped and hung unbalanced. I then fashioned a pole out of toothpicks embedded in a white tack base but that didn’t work either. In the end I just angled the note to look like it was protruding out from the mouth and inserted only a couple of frames of it falling so hopefully the eye would assume it caught some air.

The shoot lasted 4 hours and I took 292 pictures to create 24 seconds of footage

I plan to add sound to it at a later date to practice syncing sound to video. I would also like to compensate for the lack of other angles by adjusting the framing throughout the animation using After Effects. Colour correction and other visual techniques may be explored during this time.

Here’s the animation so far…

Proof Of Concept – Colour Keying

I decided I would do a series of short test animations so I could identify and flag the problems that may arise during my short animation. As stop motion animation is a hands-on craft I wanted to test out the various techniques I have been reading about. Earlier in the week I purchased various coloured card and used the bright green one to try and key out and replace the background in a simple animation. The subject of the animation would be a spiderman toy that I found on the street some years ago. It’s an almost perfect subject as the toy has plenty of moveable parts.

Using white tack, I stuck the card to the wall and also the desk using a gentle curve to eliminate the corner. This will give me the best chance of integrating the action figure into a scene once the green card is keyed out. I then used a desk lamp and a smaller conventional lamp (with the shade removed) to light the green screen from either side. This would hopefully obliterate any shadows cast by spiderman. I used my larger, but slightly duller, desk lamp to illuminate the action figure. Both the large desk lamp and the shade-less lamp were wrapped in baking paper to help diffuse the harshness of the light.

I used Dragon Stop Motion to capture the frames for this animation. I tried various software and Dragon was the one I felt most comfortable using. Many of the others felt a bit cheap and didn’t seem to offer the same functions as Dragon does. After some research into it, it appears that Dragon is the choice of many professional stop motion animators, so I’m in good company. The camera is connected directly to the laptop and set up for remote shooting. The camera allows live view so it’s extremely easy to line up shots on a frame-by-frame basis.

I began shooting a simple sequence involving spiderman appearing to wait impatiently and then walking towards the camera and out of the shot. As this sequence was all about the process of keying, I didn’t bother with a storyboard, or even a script of any sort. I just made up the actions as I went along. It quickly became apparent that when I shoot a short animation for real that these elements will be key to the success as I was not sure of how the timing would be rendered. From my years of experience animating with Flash I understand the concept of movement and frames and how to make something move slower or faster over time, but to actually do it by hand is completely different when there is no reference to work from.

In total I spent about two hours shooting 106 images at 12fps, producing nine seconds of rendered footage. I learned more in those two hours of hands-on experience that I did in days of researching. I used the white tack to keep spiderman’s feet firmly stuck to the ground, which was fine for the first part of the animation but when it came to making him walk I found it really hard to unstick him without upsetting the other limbs and had to try match up the newly unstuck spiderman with the previous frame. When walking I couldn’t keep him balanced on one leg so you can see in some frames the piles of white tack under his lifted foot and I’m holding a screwdriver at his head to stop him from falling over. If this was my final important animation I would not have been so crude. Also, as it turns out, old spiderman was not the perfect subject for stop motion because although he has many moving parts, they were so rigid that when I moved one piece, the rest moved with it. It may be a case of dismembering him and removing dirt/grit, but right now I don’t have time to perform surgical operations on plastic action figures.

I then exported the stills as a Quicktime movie and opened it in Adobe After Effects. As I’m a total newcomer to After Effects this is kind of where I’m at at the moment. I quickly tried out the keylight effect to remove the green screen and it only worked okay. I may need to tweak the settings but it seems that the green screen either wasn’t lit correctly or that spiderman was too close to the green which reflected back onto him. I will do some more playing around with this and do some research to see how to go about actually removing and replacing the green background.

The plan was this weekend to borrow a video camera and film a bustop so I could drop my animation of spiderman waiting into it, to have him waiting for a bus, walking away and then have a bus pull up. I tried to borrow one of the university’s Flip cameras as they are small and portable and would do the job nicely. As it turns out, they are only available to the third year students. This annoyed me because I feel fourth year students should get preference on what technology to use for their dissertation. I ended up being given a bulky Sony video camera, bag, cables, booklet and charger for my nine seconds of footage! To add insult to injury, when I got home I found that the camera takes tapes and I wasn’t given any to record on. That was Friday afternoon and the school office was shut. So I will have to wait until Monday to get a tape so I can film.

Here is the green screen footage and I will post more when I get  working on it.

Week Three – Supervisor Meeting

In this, the second supervisor meeting, Richard and I began by discussing the learning contract that must be completed and submitted by next week. In it I will give the title of my dissertation, my interim deliverables for week 12 (literature Review), and the final deliverable (short film).

Richard suggested that the title should pose a question rather than a statement in case the title fails to deliver the proposed outcome. I asked if the title could be slightly tongue-in-cheek but Richard advised against it, recommending that my writing style be of a academic nature. So far I am thinking that the title should suggest how I will explore ways of breathing life into inanimate objects using the art of stop motion animation. This title though is a little too focused on the anthropomorphic side of the project and less on the stop motion side of which I really want to research. Over the next week I will come up with different titles and variations and refine my selection to best describe the project.

The literature review section is the bulk of the writing involved in the project and needs to be done by week 12. As it has a maximum word count of 12,000 words I will need to set boundaries within my chapters. As Richard advised, it will be useful for me to establish the scope of my research first and then start writing. There is no need to explain aspects that don’t relate specifically to the title of the project. For example, if I am to explore the area of lighting, it is unnecessary to concern myself with how bulbs are created and the speed of light as these matters are unimportant. For the interim deliverable I will identify topic areas and these will eventually make up the chapters for my literature review. I have mentioned some areas in a previous post which are rough ideas but I have thought of some more which can be added. I feel like storytelling techniques could be valuable if I am to talk about character based animation.

The additional deliverable is still somewhat vague. I know loosely what I will be doing – a short stop motion film featuring the fantastic electronics of the reel-to-reel tape recorder – but it is still unclear of the nature of the actual animation and it’s story. I will first try and figure out how long I want the animation to be. I have done some proof of concept animations and confirmed what I’ve been thinking all along, that stop motion animation is extremely tedious work if it is to be done properly. I will try and be realistic with my timescale in this respect.

During our meeting, Oliver Postgate was mentioned and he will be somebody I will also look into. I also showed Richard a quick proof of concept animation I made a few days earlier. It involves a spiderman toy and a simple green screen set-up. I will talk about this animation in more detail in a later post. Richard gave me some very useful hints in relation to the keying out of the background using Adobe After Effects. I will work on this in my spare time in the near future.

Budget #1

I though it might be fun to keep track of my budget. Note: I’m not just buying some of the items specifically for this project (eg camera), so don’t start thinking I’m going a bit overboard on this. It would seem silly to include my MacBook Pro in this list as it’s a few years old now. Here are the items I have purchased so far which will be of use:

Canon EOS 450D WITH 18-55 IS lens + Tamron 55-200 F4/5.6 LD macro lens, old Velbon tripod (second-hand £250)

Mini tripod from Jessops (mentioned I was student to sympathetic staff member – £0!)

Unbranded adjustable tripod (second-hand £5)

Uher 724-L reel-to-reel tape recorder + speakers (second-hand on Gumtree £0)

Set of 6 vintage audio tape reels (second-hand on eBay £12.49)

200ml Isopropyl alcohol (John F Rodgers Pharmacy £2)

Lighting rig (old bed frame found beside bin £0)

4 LED torches/lasers (eBay £6.51)

Remote shutter release for Canon 450D (eBay £2.95)

Ikea desk lamp with extendible arm (second-hand on Gumtree £6)

Total so far is £284.95