Archive for January, 2011

Gantt Chart v2.0

So here’s a rough version of my new Gantt Chart. It’s gonna change considerably but it’s nice to have an idea of my schedule.


Pressure Prop

Since the 12 January I have been taking advantage of Edinburgh’s ‘freebie’ websites – Freegle, Gumtree and Freecycle – looking for the props I may need to suit the story I want to shoot. The problem is, like I said before, a chicken/egg situation. I’m not too sure on the story because I’m not sure what props I’ll be able to get. My first appeal/ad was a biggie. I explained what the project was all about and I listed loads of items that I wanted, right down to retro wallpaper and toys I wanted. Needless to say I didn’t get much response. I reposted the same ad every day until one of the sites started complaining that I could only do this every 24 days.

After that I decided to ask for specific items. I also posted my appeals in the ‘Offered’ sections of the sites as these pages generated much more traffic than the ‘Wanted’ sections understandably. After a few hours the ads were removed by moderators but not before a lot of people had already read it. Bu doing this for the past few weeks I have acquired quite a lot of items. I’m ashamed by the amount of stuff I have gone out and brought back but I keep telling myself that after the project I can always re-offer it on the sites from whence they came. The reality of this happening is slim as I’m a total audiophile and I’m happy to just sit and stare at the mechanical mess I’m surrounded by.

So far the magpie has returned to the nest with the following shiny items:

Yamaha DSP- A1000 Amplifier
Marantz SD-45 Cassette Deck
Yamaha CDX-570 CD Player
AKAI AT-K11L FM AM Stereo Tuner
AKAI HX-R44 Stereo Cassette Deck
ALBA 3002 Belt Drive Turntable
Panasonic RX-4922L 4-Band Stereo Cassette Recorder
Hitachi DA-P440 CD Walkman
IITronics MP3 Player
Braun Paximat N12 Slide Projector
Pan Am Headphones
Toshiba KT-AS1 Stereo Cassette Player
An Ikea Laptop Stand
A Nintendo NES
A pair of 1970s Custom-Made Speakers
A handful of 90min cassettes
A small wooden shelf unit
A bunch of 2011 Calendars
Ikea Blackout Blind

Stuff which has been offered to me on a loan basis:

2 Walkman
A Reel to reel tape player
An 8-track
Hifi Equipment
A 1988 Calendar

(I really don’t want the pressure of not accidentally breaking vintage audio equipment so I politely declined the offers)

Stuff I refused:

2007 Calendar
An old red motorcycle helmet


Using my powers of procrastination and addition I figured out that I’ve travelled 41.6 miles on the bicycle in the past 2 weeks collecting this stuff.

This is not to mention the UHER 724-L reel to reel tape machine and speakers that got the ball rolling in the first place. That was a 28.4 mile round trip , but I was fortunate enough to get a lift from a friend so it’s not as impressive.

Next week to avoid real work I’ll add up the weight of all the gear!

Supervisor Meeting 25/01/11

I began this meeting by telling Richard that I had hit a creative wall of sorts and that not much work had been done since the last meeting. I struggled with the writing of the story over the week and didn’t come up with a finished product. This in part I blamed for not being able to attain certain necessary props for the film, and also it  dawned on my recently the scale of the task I was trying to accomplish. From the get go most people I told my plans to told me I was being very ambitious. In fact every single one of them used that same word. I was so brimming with enthusiasm and excitement that I felt it was a manageable project, but it was only this week that it struck me how difficult the tasks ahead are going to be. This has got me down a bit to be honest and it’s affected my creativity.

I need a kick up the arse and I think doing out a Gantt Chart and planning the next 10 weeks or so will be that kick. I’ve been putting it off so far because in the back of my mind I know that there’s not enough time to get everything done. That’s what I’ll do next. If there’s not enough time then I’ll have to rethink the film plot and length accordingly.

I explained to Richard that my original story idea of the tape machine viewed through the decades and their accompanying musical devices was beyond me at this stage and I scrapped it for a more favourable, and much simpler story. I haven’t fleshed out the points yet but so far it centres around the reel to reel machine falling in love with the boombox and having a baby walkman with it. It makes me chuckle each time I think about it which is my personal green light for an idea. I’m not sure what Richard made of it but he’s definitely in favour of a more manageable story!

The task set for next week is to finish the story and get this pre-production underway.

Meeting with Framed

Today I met with Alan and Neill from Framed. I was tracked down through one of my many appeals for props on the various freebie sites I have been recently posting on. They got in touch with me to see if I would be interested in screening the finished animation at a gallery event in May. I really liked what they have done so far and their plans following this event. I hope to make good contacts through Alan and Neill and also this gives me extra incentive to produce something really special.

Supervisor Meeting 18/01/11

I had my first supervisor meeting this semester with Richard. I told him the horror I felt yesterday when I checked the hand-in day for the project and saw that it was the 30th March, a month earlier than I had thought. There’s nobody to blame except myself for assuming that it was due when the course finished a month later. So my timetable plans have been scuppered and I now have to rethink and prioritise my steps.

I explained to Richard where I was at with the pre-production stage. I’m in pre-pre-production. As I was explaining that I was spending a lot of time trying to track down certain props to use, it became obvious to both of us that I was spending too much time on this task. His advice to me was to nail the story first and then gather the appropriate props. I feel this is a chicken and egg situation as I can’t assume I’ll be able to get certain pieces to use in the animation.

Richard also told me to assess the task timings and how long each task should take. The way I work is to work backwards from the deadline but this is extremely risky as it allows me to relax at the beginning of a project and leaves me frantically panicking at the end. I think my subconscious has engineered this trait as I work better under pressure. Or maybe I’m just lazy to start a project.

We discussed how the project would be evaluated at the end. Receiving feedback from a group of people who have filled in checklist-styled questions seems to be the way I’m heading at the moment. If what I’m trying to achieve is to bring this character to life then I will ask people what emotions they felt the character is portraying, etc. It will be a useful way to see if I achieved my goal.


Contacting the Professionals

I have been contacting animators (mostly stop motion) since I began this project asking them if they would be able to answer any future questions I would have. I imagined that of the people I contacted I would receive very few replies. These people are all professional in their own right and I can understand that they may not want to spent their free time contacting a bothersome student. To my surprise ALL of the people I contacted replied with their support and willingness to help! I am in the process now of preparing my questions and relating them specifically to that person’s specific field of expertise. I have not begun the preproduction as of yet (Storyboards etc.) so I may hold off until I have begun because I’m sure I will run into complications when I reach that point. The people on board are, in no particular order:

I discovered these people and their work through my research and have been inspired by all of them. To be able to pose questions to them about their work and my own will be a fantastic experience and will no doubt improve my overall understanding of stop motion animation.

Interview with Daragh Muldowney

Today I met with and discussed the outlines of my project with professional photographer Daragh Muldowney. Daragh was a big help in the beginning stages of the project and advised me on choosing my Digital SLR. Even after researching the photography element of the animation I’m still unsure about various aspects of it so it was good to talk to someone who could advise me on the different aspects of the shoot.

Until now I had been considering shooting using a quality setting of Medium or even Small. The reason for this was that they would give me pixel sizes of 3088 x 2056  and 2256 x 1504 respectively. Daragh suggested that I should shoot in RAW as to do otherwise is instantly limiting my options. RAW shoots at a pixel size of 4272×2848. The disadvantage to shooting in RAW is the jump in file size. Whereas a small JPG is 3.4 Mb and a Medium is 6.3 MB, a RAW file is 12Mb. The way I see it is that I was going to be buying an external SATA hard drive to store all my images on so if I get the right hard drive capacity I should be able to accommodate shooting in RAW. Daragh also told me about how it’s possible to set up batch processing in Photoshop using a function so it would be relatively easy to apply settings across a selection of RAW images and convert them to JPGs.

A quick bit of maths:

  • If I’m shooting at 12fps, then there will be 720 frames in a minute.
  • For 5 minutes of animation then I’m looking at 3,600 frames.
  • Each frame is 12Mb. That works out at 43,200 Mb, or 42.1875 GB.
  • If I’m shooting at 24fps that that doubles to 7,200 frames, 86,400 Mb or 84.375 GB.

That is not considering reshooting and shots from different angles. I’m thinking a Terabyte hard drive might be sufficient space to deal with this project.

I asked Daragh about lighting and explained that I may be using floods to light my set. He told me about using white sheets to bounce the light and also about diffusing the light. I learned that there is no set way to light a set and that it’s all about experimentation. We agreed that side lighting might work best for the set with some diffused light to make the shadows seem less harsh. The lighting will really be up to me and how I want to illuminate the objects. This will be helpful in setting the tone of the piece and will also be useful in setting atmosphere. We discovered that lighting the tape machine from within with a small LED looked really nice and that different coloured lighting inside the machine could be suggestive of the machine’s mood. This is something I will have to experiment with but could be a useful contribution towards the anthropomorphism of the object.

We talked about Lens Flare for a bit and ways of avoiding it. This is something which might not be apparent at the time but can ruin a shoot. It is important that I eliminate any possibility of flare as this could mean a complete reshoot of a scene, which in my case could be hundreds of photos. Lens Flare occurs when direct light hits the lens at an angle so the best way to avoid it is to shield the lens from the light. This can be accomplished by simply placing a piece of card in between the two. A lens hood may also be effective in doing this.

Daragh showed me this importance of using the histogram on both the camera’s display and within Photoshop. The histogram in Photoshop is more accurate and shows more range but the camera’s one is a good reference all the same. Using this, I can easily check for overexposed areas within the picture as the blown out areas show up as large spikes in the histogram and they also flash within the actual picture captured. When setting up my shots I will have to spend some time checking that the scene is properly lit and that all reflective surfaces aren’t overexposed.

This then led to a discussion about HDR (High Dynamic Range) editing. This is when images of different exposures are taken of the same subject and then combined in Photoshop. It’s a useful technique when trying to accommodate for extreme contrasts of light in a shot. We did a test of this by taking three photos of the room we were in. There was a bright light on in the foreground and the background was much duller. With the camera on a tripod and in the exact same position a picture was taken at the correct exposure followed by photos one stop underexposed and one stop over exposed respectively. In Photoshop Daragh layered the pictures on top of each other and then used a layer mask and the brush tool (with reduced opacity) to blend the desirable elements of each photo together.

Finally we discussed the lenses I would use with my Canon 450D. Daragh suggested that the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera wasn’t the best lens for the job and that I should try and borrow a better quality lens. I told him I may have access to a Canon 50mm fixed focal length lens and he said this would dramatically improve the quality of the shoot. He also suggested a macro lens might be nice for the extreme close up shots of the tape machine.

I also made a note to look into calibrating my MacBook Pro monitor as this will affect the overall look of the animation. It’s something I never considered before but understand the importance it has in how my work is viewed on other screens.