Archive for October, 2011

Rubber legs

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17, 2011 by electrictownmovie

Well, the good news is that the model is looking pretty much the way I had envisioned. No head or tail yet, but the body and legs are taking shape. And, a more qualified bit of good news is that it’s very poseable. Sitting position. lying position, standing, etc. And the legs at least are all strong enough to hold their own positions pretty well.

The bad news, unfortunately, is the model as a whole is not quite able to stand on its own feet. It almost can, but the joints are just not strong enough to support the body’s weight for very long. This is a bit disappointing. I already knew I’d need to use supports of some kind for much of the animation, but I had kind of hoped that for some simple still shots I’d be able to just stand or sit the model and just composite in moving parts.  Now it looks like I will need to come up with some general means of supporting the model.

I came across some nice self-locking hooks designed to hang artwork, which would probably work to hold model up in some kind of frame, but putting up a frame like that seems like it would be best in a studio. I’d like to come up with some more portable way to hold the model up using some kind of small adjustable stands, so that I can do some shots of the model on location (other shots will be done in a studio).

I can picture exactly what I want. Some simple, small metal stands with adjustable lengths. Like a  mic stand for a Ken doll (a little bigger, I guess, but you get the idea). I suppose I’ll have to figure out a way to build these myself, because I can’t think of anything obvious on the market that quite fits this definition. I’m open to suggestions.

It looks like I’ll have to take another wander around the hardware store.


I love epoxy

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14, 2011 by electrictownmovie

For the past few weeks Andy Goralczyk and Eva Franz have been visiting the Blender Institute to work on finishing up their stop-motion/CG short movie Omega. It’s been great to watch their progress on that, and I’m really excited to see the finished product.

I asked for their opinions on the knob-and-nuts joint and some other parts of the animation model I’m working on, and Andy pointed out that when I use the joint for the dog’s shoulders and hips, I will need a way to prevent the knob itself from rotating around its base screw. It was a good point. At first I had thought just screwing it tight would be enough, but on a little more thought I realized this would be a problem during animation.

I think I found the solution. First, I found some small wood disks to bolt the knobs to. Next, I filed several small notches into the base of the knob. I hammered some small nails into the disks to match the notches in the knob and keep the knob from rotating. Then I got the strongest wood-metal epoxy I could find and epoxied the knob to the base, with the bolt running all the way through it, which will be fastened to the body of the robot. Four other bolts will also hold the disk to the body and keep it from rotating.

It’s Andy’s view that once animating starts, everything is more or less guaranteed to fall apart. But these epoxied knob-bases are pretty darn solid. I can’t see these coming loose.

All the same, I’m going to make some extras.

Now for something really exciting

Posted in Uncategorized on October 12, 2011 by electrictownmovie

Yeah, I know you’ve just been holding your breath in eager anticipation for the post when I finally talk about everybody’s favorite subject: spreadsheets. Who doesn’t get a tingle up their leg thinking about those?

OK, maybe not. But I said I’d blog my progress on this thing, and completing a first draft of a shot list in OpenOffice is a pretty big chunk of progress for me. It exports at 23 pages long and includes 274 shots, with separate entries for composite shots to make clear what actually needs to be filmed. It’s still a long time before I plan to shoot, but since I’ll need to spend that time organizing cast and crew, locations, props, and everything else (building that dog), it can’t hurt to get the data entry stuff out of the way.

The discovery of the knob-and-nuts joint

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2011 by electrictownmovie

Building a life-sized, fully poseable and animatable robot dog is not quite as simple as it might seem. There aren’t a whole lot of resources or tutorials on the subject, either. For a while, I thought I might find some guidance from the strange subculture of Halloween enthusiasts who build life-sized poseable spooks for haunted houses. But the joints on those guys aren’t designed for animation, and after umpteen million tiny rotations, they’ll get loose and stripped. That’s why the tightening mechanism is separate from the joint’s rotation mechanism in professional animation armatures.

Nice as those little readymade armatures are, they aren’t suitable for what I’m doing, which requires, as I said, a life-sized robot dog. (I should mention that the script calls for a pretty crappy-looking, jerry-rigged robot dog. So my lack of manufacturing skill isn’t a liability.) So the first thing I needed to figure out was how to make the joints.

So I did what one does with a puzzle like this: I wandered around in the hardware store aimlessly until the solution popped out at me. In this case, it popped out in the drawer and cabinet section, where I noticed that one of the cabinet knobs (number 322) happened to be a perfect sphere. I thought of the 10mm locking nuts I’d just been looking at, with their little built-in rubber washers, and I knew I was onto something promising.

So far, the joints are passing all my tests with flying colors, although it’s still too early to tell how they’ll hold up under the weight of the whole model, or how they’ll perform in the animation studio. I’m cautiously optimistic.

And yes, I’m aware that it sounds like something you’d find in a headshop in the red-light district…

Now these are 3D modeling tools

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2011 by electrictownmovie

It seems wrong to me now, but I originally had it in mind to make Electric Town using only live action and CG effects. Ironically, it was Blender superstar Pablo Vasquez who first put it in my head to do things differently. I was asking his advice on how he would go about integrating a particular CG prop into the live action, and he said “Why don’t you just build it?”

He was totally right, and when he put it like that, I suddenly realized that many of the movie’s central special effects would be better off done as stop-motion animation, using actual physically-built props. On top of various other reasons, it’s also just a lot of fun to build props (plus, you get a full range of motion, rather than being hunched over a computer the whole time).

It turns out that the Blender Institute has a few power tools lying around which Ton (Roosendaal, head of the Blender Foundation) was kind enough to let me take home, and I discovered that the basement storage room in my apartment makes an ideal workroom in spite of not being much bigger than a broom closet (and yes, there is a lava lamp in there).

So far no complaints from neighbors. But I think I know what they’re thinking.

Creating an animatic with Blender

Posted in Uncategorized on October 8, 2011 by electrictownmovie

Once the storyboards are all drawn, I stick them together as a sequence to create an animatic (also known as a story reel). This gives a sense of the timing of the movie and helps to determine whether the shots are telling the story well. The technique of creating animatics comes from the world of animation, where it’s especially inefficient to create more finished footage than you’re actually going to use. The animatic helps with editing out unwanted shots before production. For live action, it is arguably not as necessary, but it’s nice to have anyway. With the animatic, I can show people the story in 10 minutes, rather than wasting my own breath or expecting them to read the script.

This is the first thing I use Blender for in this project, and it’s just perfect. Blender’s video sequence editor is easily the best (i.e. only decent) cross-platform open source video editor, and for simple tasks like animatics it’s as good as anything out there, free or not. I especially like the way the sequence editor imports and handles still images and sequences of still frame files (it also occurs to me that Blender may be the only video editor available that is designed specifically with animators in mind, rather than people working with traditional video footage, although it does handle video well also). I wrote extensively about using Blender to create animatics in my book with Claudio Andaur, Blender Studio Projects: Digital Movie-MakingIf you’re thinking of using Blender in the pipeline for a movie, I humbly suggest you check out that book.

Making a storyboard animatic isn’t the only way to plan shots, of course. For our movie Gustav Braustache and the Auto-Debilitator, Rob Cunningham and I planned all the shots out using video prototyping to be absolutely sure that everything cut together nicely. That meant blocking and acting out each shot ourselves on a crappy old consumer video camera in the living room of his apartment. I think Rob eventually edited all those shots together (I don’t really know why. He was probably just addicted to editing at that point) and planted the result somewhere on the Braustache DVD as an Easter egg. Could be embarrassing if anybody ever found it.

The star signs on

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2011 by electrictownmovie

I got some great news today. My first choice for the lead actor in Electric Town has just mailed me to tell me that he’s agreed to be in the movie. Imazawa-san is the proprietor of the cafe Iihatoobo in Shimokitazawa where I used to spend many hours working and hanging out.

I’m very happy about this. Of course, I had some alternatives in mind, but I was hoping that Imazawa-san would go for it. I think he’s got something that will really help to make the movie special. It’s the kind of quality that you could audition dozens of actors and still never quite nail. In fact, he was my first choice for the role before I even finished the script.

The other parts will be easier to cast, since they are all fairly minor roles. Except the robot dog itself, of course, which is currently taking shape as a heap of plywood and bolts in the tiny basement storage room in my apartment building.

But that’s something for another post.

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