October 2008 archives

you are here [x]: Scarlet Star Studios > the Scarlet Letters > October 2008
<< before September 2008
after >> November 2008

October 31, 2008

happy halloween from scarlet star studios!

by gl. at 12:20 am

skull and fraidy cat

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: miscellany

October 30, 2008

q&a with richard williams and some stopmo pros

by sven at 11:59 pm

Tonight Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH and ASIFA Portland hosted an evening with celebrated animator Richard Willams. Williams is most famous for his work on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and is the author of the essential book, The Animator's Survival Kit.

Williams learned from the likes of Chuck Jones and several of Disney's "Nine Old Men" -- people who literally invented the principles of animation that we use today. Knowledge that would have otherwise been lost has been passed down to the current generation of animators because of his efforts.

Williams showed clips from a new set of instructional DVDs he's peddling and mostly responded to questions. He's charming to listen to -- but I didn't feel like the questions that people asked tonight really tapped into his wisdom very deeply. Still, I was glad to go.


For me, the real thrill came afterwards: when my stopmo friend Hazel Malone introduced me to Misha Klein. Having seen clips of Klein's excellent work-in-progress, The Hallway, and various TV shows that he's worked on (Celebrity Death Match, The PJs, Robot Chicken, Moral Orel), I was kinda starstruck.

I also got to meet Anthony Scott a second time, and several other folks from Laika who've just finished working on Coraline. Having just seen Richard Williams speak, it was the perfect moment to ask some technical questions I've been hanging onto about how stopmo professionals work.

Suzanne (who's last name I didn't get!) did most of the answering. Here's my best recollection:

Q: Do you use "breaking of joints" in stopmo?

It depends on the armature mostly. But to an extent, yes, pro stopmoes are thinking in terms of breaking of joints. (Example: Bending the elbow of an arm in an unrealistic direction to increase the illusion of fluidness as the arm swings. See p.231 of Survival Kit.)

Q: Do you shoot at 24fps even when working on TV shows?

Usually yes -- but it depends on the studio. Most animation studios doing TV shows will shoot 24fps, then use 2:3 pulldown to convert to video's 29.97fps format. A few do shoot at 30fps or 15fps... "But who wants to shoot those extra frames?"

As I knew before, 24fps is standard for film work. The folks I was speaking to weren't sure about what the standard would be now that we're switching to digital TV transmissions -- but I feel confident, based on my research, that we're moving to a 24fps standard for TV too.

So, it sounds like pro stopmoes can do 15fps or 30fps if forced to... But anyone who's learning the art should learn to think in 24fps.

Q: Do you shoot on a combo of 1s and 2s, or usually just on 1s (or just 2s)?

In film work, you're generally shooting on 1s -- but yes, sometimes you'll mix in 2s where appropriate (e.g. really slow moves). Stopmo for TV is generally shot on 2s because the schedule and budget are tight.

(I know that stopmo luminary Nick Hilligoss is a big advocate of shooting on 1s... But I was astonished a year or two back when I realized that Justin Rasch shoots a mix of 1s and 2s depending on the action. From what I've seen, it looks like mostly 2s -- but with 1s for fast actions like runs. ...Hey Justin -- did I get that right?)

Q: I know that stopmo is inherently straight-ahead -- but do you use anything like pop-thrus to establish keyframes?

Yes. Apparently the folks I spoke to would do a "mock-thru" at 1 pose per 10 frames to get the timing -- and then a "rehearsal" at 1 pose per 4 frames.

Q: Are rehearsals just for the sake of the "suits" -- or are they valuable for you, too?

They're valuable for the animator, too. If you're going to spend two weeks on a shot, it's really helpful to get to go through it beforehand and find your marks.

A word about the value of good armatures.

I showed off some photos of armatures I've made, and heard some feedback about ball'n'socket armatures in general... The opinion was that they're simply crucial to doing top-notch animation, and that a puppet is basically only as good as its armature.

I pointed out that with framegrabbers nowadays, you can get by with a wire armature if the film is going to be short -- say, 2 minutes or less. Yes, I heard, but if you're going to be doing repeated motions (like mock-thrus & rehearsals) then a B&S armature is really indispensable.

No one likes fighting with wire's spring back... And everyone in the business has had to finish out shots with a broken puppet.

(A few nights ago I rewatched The Sandman on YouTube and was struck by how B&S pups have their own unique quality of movement. Even when framegrabbers are used, the motion just feels different when you've got pivot joints underneath the foam.)


I came home totally buzzed. I got some questions answered by the pros I look up to -- and may have a chance to hang out a bit more at some future date. Man, I'd love the chance to get involved in some of these folks' personal side projects!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: stopmo

October 28, 2008

death of a friend: elena raymond

by sven at 11:05 pm

Dec 9, 1970 - Oct 14, 2008

My friend Elena Raymond. She died on October 14 at St. Vincent's Hospital. I held her hand as she breathed her last breath.

She had a genetic disorder that was progressively stealing her ability to control her muscles. At 37, she had a maximum of 5-10 years left to live, and even the basic activities of living were becoming hardships.

Many years ago she decided to commit suicide rather than wait out a slow, suffering death. We tried everything to improve her life... She saw therapists, doctors, and social workers. But the 24-hour care she required was going to bankrupt her, and soon she was going to lose her home and job. She decided the time had arrived.

The overdose she took didn't kill her immediately. She was in the hospital for six days, kept alive by a breathing tube. I participated in the decision to remove the tube. We were lucky: At the end, family and friends had a chance to say goodbye -- and she was conscious enough to respond.


I knew Lane for 15 years, having met during the aftermath of another friend's suicide. During the last few months I was very involved in the struggle to keep Lane going.

Before she made the earnest suicide attempt, she went to the hospital three times, afraid that she'd hurt herself. Each time, I helped plot what steps to take next when she got back home. I helped her to employ caregivers, make applications for funding, and was researching adult foster homes.

I always knew a time would arrive when she would need increased care -- and that this transition would trigger her plans for suicide. So, I was reasonably prepared to jump in and help when the tipping point finally arrived this year. The fact that I was so engaged with the final struggle has helped somewhat to inoculate me against shock, depression, and self-recrimination...

But this is hard, even so.

Tea cups! Tea cups! Tea cups!

I'm holding together. It's just about done now. We've emptied Lane's house. Friday we had the memorial service. I was the keynote speaker.

My favorite memories are from when Lane, myself, and Jackie did a road trip to Disneyland together. It was our big birthday present to Lane, a reward for her getting through a tough year after being dumped by her girlfriend. She loved the Alice in Wonderland tea cups ride. And we had a lot of fun when we caused one of the older Disney rides to stall -- twice!

Goodbye, Lane. You'll be missed.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: miscellany

October 20, 2008

stopmo sketchbook: ball bounce

by sven at 10:39 pm

click on image to play clip (5sec - 736 KB)

A little stopmo clip I made over the weekend.

I like the idea of creating clips as if they were drawings in a 4-dimensional sketchbook. This is a first step in that direction.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: stopmo

October 1, 2008

monster month - the nile keratos

by sven at 10:50 pm

The Nile keratos is a dog-sized amphibian native to Egypt.

"Keratos" derives from the Greek for "horned face." Three large cartilaginous horns protrude from its face area. Two additional horns extend forward from its front legs. The legs themselves end in dagger-like points, rather than feet.

The keratos lives in underground passages. It has no eyes or other visual sense organs. Like a bat, it navigates using ultrasonic echolocation. The creature emits quick chirps at a pitch too high for human hearing. While audibly silent, a keen observer may still notice membranes at the top of the head vibrating as it calls out.

According to certain occult texts, the species was discovered by ancient Egyptians at about the same time the Giza pyramid complex was being built. The keratos were discovered by a construction team of slaves in flooded underground tunnels -- only one of whom survived to tell the tale.

It is said that a "powerful magician" led an expedition that managed to capture several keratos and then destroy the rest of the colony. However, keeping the "demons" was not part of magician's directive. His insistence on preserving several specimens led to a heated conflict with the Pharaoh -- and a hurried, clandestine escape from Egypt.

Reports appear 200 years later regarding a keratos breeding program to the east, in Sinai... Apparently still being overseen by the magician's heirs.

In recent decades rumors have circulated about a mysterious breeder who maintains keratos descended from the original stock. However, no definitive evidence of the species' survival has yet come to light.

Note: There is a competing theory of the Nile keratos' origins, which suggests that the animal did not evolve on Earth. Instead, it was supposedly brought here by the same alien civilization that used spaceships to help erect the pyramids.

I reject this idea. It's true that illegal trafficking in alien life between worlds has been ongoing for centuries -- but the pyramids were most certainly built by human hands.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: bestiary

monster month 2008 begins

by sven at 10:42 pm

Huzzah! Once again it's Monster Month!

For the third year in a row, I'll be using October as an opportunity to post illustrations of fantastical, whimsical, horrifying and strange creatures here on the Scarlet Letters blog.

Nothing from Professor Ichbonnsen this year, it seems. I haven't heard anything from him for several months. And actually, I'm beginning to get kind of worried about his whereabouts... Last I heard, he and Scarlet were traveling by dead of night to avoid "assassins." (Cross your fingers, everyone!)

Still, I've got a stack of his notes leftover from last year. I'm sure I'll work in a few of his "discoveries" amongst my fictional creations as time goes by. ;)

I urge you to also check out my friend Jeffrey Roche's blog, Monster Month South. He'll be picking up from where the story left off last year: Lurline Lagrasse plans to avenge her husband Raymond, who was savagely dismembered by a Tree Beast.

And so, with that all said... Let the monstering begin!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: bestiary