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January 7, 2006

Attention Surplus Disorder (ASD)

by sven at 4:17 am

Thursday I had crazy laser focus and wound up creating a complete stopmo short: all the way from getting the idea to having a compressed movie ready to put online. Biggest one yet by far: 1 minute 20 seconds -- that's one thousand nine hundred thirty eight frames that I shot!

click on image to play movie (4.04 MB)

I didn't start the day with any particular project in mind. I just wanted to keep experimenting. So, using my new story generating strategy, I brainstormed 18 ideas for films that could use blocks as main characters. Read them as a text file.

After 2 hrs 15 min, this is the idea I decided I wanted to run with:

Back to writing words on the backdrop. Maybe as the characters speak, words are added to the backdrop without erasing the previous ones. The dialogue is added increasingly quickly and angrily, until the air is blackened with accusations. If I were easily able to do it with Super8, I'd then have everything go still, and let it all fade away, being replaced by a clear white backdrop again. If I were going for crude, one of the characters would then say: "So, wanna f*ck?" Or, the punch line, after all the furor could be "I love you." Or I could try to steal that beautiful scene between Tara and Willow on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where Tara says "I know we have so much to repair... but could we be kissing now?" (paraphrase). ...In this set up, the cubes hardly move, except maybe to twist and turn a bit while talking. All the action is in what's being written up above them. This is probably not more than a minute-long gag: as the air gets increasingly cluttered with words, you either have to focus on the words or the cubes -- you can only really show the whole conversation written above the cubes and have it remain legible early in the game.

...It's not all hashed out -- but you can see the germ there.

I was working in the livingroom again -- but this time I bothered to set up better lights -- and I put my 2'x2' hardboard "stage" up on the piano bench, so I'd be able to place the camera more easily. I was sloppy with the backdrop, though -- it's a piece of of big newsprint folded over another piece of hardboard, not even taped on. It shifted a little during the shoot -- but I got lucky, and it didn't give me too much trouble.

The real pain this time was when I'd bump the camera. With such small characters, I had to have the camera right at the edge of the set -- forcing me to contort around it to do the animating. Important lesson: I think I'm going to make a point of using larger puppets in the future, so the camera can be farther back, giving me more elbow room. Glad I learned this while working in digital... A Super8 cam is much trickier to focus; bigger puppets will save me a lot of grief.

For folks who are wondering about tech details, here's the scoop. I'm shooting photos with a Canon Powershot G5 digital camera. I'm using the laptop computer to activate the shutter release, using a software application that came with the camera: RemoteCapture. The computer is a Macintosh PowerBook G4. I've been doing research on framegrabber software, but none was used on this project.

...Overall, I'm thrilled with the piece. There are some glaring problems: I bumped the camera several times, there are pauses that last too long, the spinning sequence is too slow, and the blocks' "body language" doesn't always make sense. Even so, it's a complete story -- which counts for a lot. And there are several bits that came out really well -- like when the zig-zags shoot around and you see the action carry over from one shot into another, and when the word "really?" seems to wrap itself around the cube.

It took seven hours, non-stop, to shoot. That's about 11 seconds of footage per hour. My previous experiment with animating blocks averaged out to 10 seconds of footage per hour -- so it looks like I'm pretty consistent (at least with these puppets). I finished the thing at 2:45 in the morning. Exhausted...

But euphoric. :-)

posted by sven | January 7, 2006 4:17 AM | categories: movies, stopmo, writing