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January 19, 2009

a theater-based approach to stopmo

by sven at 5:42 pm

During the past year I've been studying how to write novels and plays, how to direct theatrical productions, and different schools of acting... All with the intent to apply what I learn to stopmo. Here are some guiding principles of the approach I've been working out:

A Theater-Based Approach to Stopmo

  1. The filmmaking process is to "develop material through improvisation." This is different from "planning in advance" in that there is an emphasis on working out a final version through successive iterations -- and on finding solutions to problems through creative play.

  2. Practice animating generic puppet "actors" in "black box theater" sets. Try viewing them as your "acting ensemble."

  3. View specially sculpted and cast puppet heads/bodies as "masks" and "costumes."

  4. Practice animating lipsync, blocking, and gestures by using Shakespeare and other play scripts that have entered the public domain.

  5. With original stories, explore all aspects of the story line before drafting a script. Remember: the script frames only a small part of your story world and its timeline.

  6. Work out the story logic in writing prior to creating visual storyboards. It's easier to discover where things don't make sense when you're forced to actually explain why your characters are doing whatever they're doing.

  7. Work "from rough to polished" in developing your shot list. Suggested stages: (a) thumbnail storyboard, (b) post-it storyboard, (c) polished storyboard, (d) story reel [slideshow], (e) 2D animatic [moving 2D elements], (f) photo animatic, (g) pop-thru.

  8. Proof your story via 2D animatic prior to fabricating non-generic puppets and/or sets. No matter how simple you think your film is, it will take far less time to preview what your story is going to look like by using drawings than to construct and and film it in 3D. (Compare this to how actors do a "read-through" and a "walkthrough" when producing a play.)

  9. Voice track dictates animation; it sets the timing.

  10. Proof your gestures & lipsyncs using pop-thrus and sequenced sets of headshots. (Compare this to doing rehearsals for a play.)

  11. Proof lipsync separately from gestures/blocking. ...And be sure to double-check the viseme analysis when you have the final puppet "mask" with its particular set of mouth shapes.

  12. Strive to create puppet characters that have unique personalities -- not enigmatic anonymity.

  13. To understand a puppet character: Get their voice in your head by writing first-person narratives from their POV. Explore their posture, habitual gestures, style of walk, and way of doing simple activities by acting these things out with your own body.

  14. Do not rely on "costume" as the primary indicator of character.

  15. Make many quick clay "sketches" (maquettes) when developing character "costumes." Ceramic clay is the 3D equivalent of the pencil: it's the fastest and cheapest way to rough out ideas.

  16. Do the final character sculpt prior to making the puppet's armature. Use a throw-away wire armature for building the sculpt.

  17. When animating a performance, work pose-to-pose. Use the pop-thru "rehearsal" as reference.

posted by sven | January 19, 2009 5:42 PM | categories: stopmo