May 2009 archives

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May 30, 2009

june 2009 events

by gl. at 9:38 pm

I realized, rather belatedly, I suppose, that not everyone who reads the blog gets our newsletter. Doh! So it looks like I haven't posted here in a long time, but things are still happening. So I've decided to post the newsletters here on the site for those who are interested and to keep a better archive, so I'll be going back over time and inserting the old newsletters in their appropriate places. Starting with...

June events

It's like we suddenly leapt into summer -- and I'm so glad my garden was ready for it! A lot of preparation during the spring is finally starting to bloom, both in the vegetable and metaphorical gardens. For instance, one of the creative expressions I have really missed in the last several years is theatre, so I was happy to be cast as an extra on TNT's TV series "Leverage" this week -- but I am even more delighted to tell you about what I'll be doing this summer...

Original Practice Shakespeare is an unusual, fun & authentic return to the Shakespeare of yore -- which is to say, without rehearsals, sets or direction. It sounds daft but true! Actors study several roles but never read the full script and don't know which role they'll perform until the day of the performance, only meeting beforehand to choreograph fight scenes and songs. This is a "play" in one of the truest senses of the word, a process that embraces both spontaneity & mistakes. Indeed, part of the joy as an audience member is following along with the actors as they discover what to do next. No performance is ever the same! I really hope you take the opportunity to see one of these shows, even if it turns out I'm not in the one you attend. There will also be performances in July & August. Bring a picnic!

OPSFest presents A Midsommer Nights Dreame:
* June 13, 2 p.m. - Cathedral Park
* June 14, 2 p.m. - Peninsula Park
* June 20, 2 p.m. - Laurelhurst Park
* June 21, 2 p.m. - Washington Park

In the meantime, if you're looking to teach a class or host an event this summer, we're now renting the studio for a variety of art activities. At just $25/hour, you won't find a more welcoming or inspiring environment with abundant supplies and creature comforts. Whether it's an art class, party, celebration or retreat, please contact us if you'd like to arrange for your special event in our space!

For those of you making art and trying to communicate what it is and why you do it, Jill Kelly will be facilitating a "Writing a Better Artist's Statement" workshop on June 18 from 6-9 p.m. in inner SE Portland for $50. Jill is a professional editor nominated for an Oregon Book Award last year! She says, "Need a better artist’s statement, one that really reflects you and your work? During this workshop, you’ll answer a variety of provocative questions that will take you deeper into ways of speaking and writing about your work. There will be a lot of sharing (borrowing others' ideas is encouraged) and you will end up with a rough draft of a new statement and ways to improve your bio and resume. After the workshop, you may email me your drafted materials and I will edit, polish, and give input for no extra charge." Group is limited to 6. To register call 503-235-2019 or

Last but not least, please join me in congratulating this year's graduating members of Trillium Artisans! I'm on the Board of Trillium, which is a 3-year program designed to educate, encourage and support small crafty businesses. Trillium is supported by The City of Portland's Equal Opportunity Initiative and by people like you who want to support local artisans. Celebrate their success by buying yourself or a friend something nice at their online store. Or, if you donate $10 or more I'll match your donation!

warmest wishes for a joyous June,

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: newsletter

May 25, 2009

new ceramic sculptures

by sven at 7:00 am

Napoleon in his pea-green boat

A while back I shared photos of some unfinished sculptures I'd made at Sara Swink's studio… Well, they're finally done! Some are painted, some are glazed. We'll start with the painted ones.

mad scientist

The mad scientist was the first piece I made at Sara's, and the first I tried painting with acrylics. It's based off of a photo of a man at a steel foundry, who was wearing a heavy silver suit to protect him from molten metal.

A lesson I learned here: clay loves watery washes of paint. Using the paint at full-strength kills detail and just looks wrong.

star dancers

When I took Sara's class, this dancing duo seemed to be everyone's favorite. I mixed yellow with tar gel medium and glopped it on heavily to see if I could get some of the same textures as with the glazed pieces. …Nope.

Maybe encaustics could achieve the effect I was going for?

whale critter

The whale critter was the last piece I made at Sara's. I was playing with wall-mountable characters… Unfortunately, it's weighted badly and doesn't hang right at all.

Next up, pieces that were glazed:

moon babi

I really like the moon babi -- it feels like he has strong potential for being turned into a stopmo character.


The bat was the first piece I tried glazing, so I chose a simple black/brown. In general, I much prefer matte surface treatments to gloss. Too bad this turned out so shiny.

bat - head

A little shout out to bat-fan Shu-Ju Wang… I can't look at this sculpture without thinking of you!

demon babis

I'm really enamored with these three demon babis, which unexpectedly wound up being a set.

baby babi

The little one feels fantastic in the hand. It sort of reminds me of the Venus of Willendorf.


In my mind, the series shows the evolution of a single being. The baby passes through this next phase on the way to its final form.

molting - head

The glaze on the "molting" babi does this incredible crackle thang. I wish I knew how to simulate it using acrylics… I'm vaguely familiar with crackle paint -- but this stuff actually peels up into little platelets!

adult demon

Whereas the baby has skin that feels like orange peel, and the adolescent is peeling, the adult demon's skin is creamy smooth. In all three cases, I painted on iron oxide, wiped it off, then put an essentially white glaze on top (3 varieties of white).

adult demon - head

Exploring, it seems like a lot of sculptors fetishize wrinkles and skin textures… It's not hard to understand why. It's a lot of fun etching crevasses into clay!


Last night I created a wall mount for the adult demon… A perfectly rough and weathered scrap of wood with brass pins to hold the top-heavy beast in place.

* * *

I love the inherently gritty texture of clay, and the weight of it in my hand. It feels so real. Yet, even though clay is extremely cheap, the time spent waiting for it to get fired makes it more "expensive" than I initially figured. When I find the time, I'm planning on doing more experiments with home-bake polymer clay.

I really want to replicate the colors and textures of ceramic glazes, though. I've got some faux stone and "orange peel" spray cans to experiment with. I also need to explore a more neutral color palette. My natural tendency is toward vibrant colors… I think ceramics, as a species, gravitates toward earth tones.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: sculpture

May 22, 2009

studio organization

by sven at 7:00 am

In preparation for work on The Whisperer in Darkness, I've been doing some major re-organization of my studio room.

new studio shelves

I already had 48 feet worth of track shelving on the north wall. I've just installed shelves on the south wall, for another 40 feet of storage space. (It fills up so quickly!)

end mill holder holder

It's not a typo. To shape metal, a milling machine uses end mills -- which are like extra-sturdy drill bits. End mills can either be held in place by a collet or an end mill holder. End mill holders are much faster to switch out, so I've collected a few… Thus ultimately necessitating an end mill holder holder.

K&S box

K&S brand brass tubing is extremely useful… But it's frustrating to hunt through a jar for the specific size you need. So, I took a piece of flat cardboard and used hot glue to construct a box with dividers. Now I've got separate bins for 1/16", 3/32", 1/8", 5/32", 3/16", 7/32", 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" stock.

(Guh! Can you imagine how much more intuitive that list would be if the fractions were all just listed in 32nds?)

rack for metal stock

To put the raw steel stock I need close at hand -- yet out of the way -- I created this simple hanging rack. It's a cardboard tube that's had 1/3 of its material cut away. Little brass hooks (anchored in bits of wood) allow it to hang from the track shelving's rails.

OK! All organized! Now… GO!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: studio space

May 20, 2009

working on "the whisperer in darkness"

by sven at 10:40 pm

click image to visit teaser download site

Big news! Very exciting! Abrupt change of plans!

I'm going to be making several armatures for the feature film, The Whisperer in Darkness.

TWiD is being produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society -- the folks who created the definitive film version of The Call of Cthulhu. Like Cthulhu, TWiD will be filmed in luscious black and white -- but this time it's going to be a "talkie."

The opportunity to work on the project was too good to pass up. My own Lovecraftian film, Let Sleeping Gods Lie, will be on hold until further notice. Due to a non-disclosure agreement, I won't be able to share much about the particulars of the project… But expect to be seeing more posts about metal working and joint fabrication.

For those who want to delve deeper, the story that the film is based on is available online in its entirety at several sites, including Mythos Tomes.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: movies

May 11, 2009

behind the scenes: Misha Klein and Stage 13

by sven at 7:00 am

Don't forget the big stopmo event this Wednesday!

An ASIFA Night of Clowns & Owls
With Misha Klein and Dan Ackerman
Wed. May 13th,
7pm-9pm @ Studio 13
13 NW 13th Ave.
Admission is FREE for card-carrying members
$3 for non-members

To whet your appetite, here's a look behind the scenes…

Stage 13's green screen

In February -- on Friday the 13th -- I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Ackerman Films' "Stage 13" space. Wow! In addition to an editing bay, and several work areas, this magnificent 26'x22'x13' high Corner Green Screen Cyclorama is available for rental. If you're looking for a space in which to work on your film, check out the Ackerman Films website for details.

Misha's workspace

Of course, for me the highlight of the party was getting to see Misha's workspace. He was very gracious answering questions for party attendees and showing clips from his film.

the set

Misha's project has taken 8 years to complete, putting in about a month per year between paying gigs. Work started in L.A.; when he moved up to Portland, everything had to get packed into boxes for shipping. He says Stage 13 has been a great environment to work in.

For the set, he got friends to pitch-in building props. Music is going to be recorded by a trio in San Francisco. [Never underestimate the value of a good soundtrack!]

the set is bolted to the floor

As is typical in stopmo productions, the set is built atop wooden tables that make it comfortable to animate from a standing position. For Misha's project, however, the wooden tables are also firmly attached to a tubular metal cage (which supports the lights) -- and this cage is bolted to the floor.

The camera is attached to the set itself. Consequently, even if you managed to move the cage, the stage and lights and camera are all going to move together -- the shot doesn't get ruined.

Canon EOS Rebel

For his camera, Misha's using a Canon EOS Rebel. He shoots using RAW image format. For some shots (e.g. "drunk cam"), having the extra pixels means it's been possible to do virtual camera moves.

In general though, most of the camera moves are done in the real world. At the party, Misha boasted that the last shot he'd filmed used seven axes of motion. Dolly, truck, rack, rotary…

Just below the floor of the set is an XY table. There's another threaded rod to move the camera up and down… And the camera is attached to a 410 Manfrotto geared mount. [I don't understand the set-up well enough to count up all seven axes myself.]

On some shots, the Manfrotto was attached to a heavy base and moved around the set by hand -- creating a looser "hand-held" look.

In my own work, I've tended to lock down the camera. It's been a real revelation to see how much camera movement Misha goes for. In part it means you can keep a tight framing on a character while they act… But Misha also points out that when the camera's locked down, you lose a lot of the 3D nature of the world you've created. Good thought!

Mac PowerBook G4 laptop

Attached to the set, there is a Mac PowerBook G4 laptop, and above it a small flat screen monitor. A little black-and-white spy cam is attached to the camera's viewfinder -- this sends a live feed to the monitor. Misha's been using FrameThief for his framegrabbing software.

custom-made control box for toggling frames

Beneath the laptop computer, there's a custom-made USB control box for toggling between frames. Credit goes to Kelly Mazurowski for the invention. [Also note the dimmer for adjusting the lights each frame -- to simulate a flashing neon sign.]

Mostly the film has been shot on 1s. But, to my great surprise, Misha said that he'd been getting into shooting at 18FPS recently. Partly this was to make some progress in time for the party… But beyond that, he says it has a really nice feel. He described 12FPS as being too little -- 24FPS as being "unforgiving" of any errors in your arcs -- and 15FPS being pretty nice… 18 is forgiving and more "gestural."

My understanding is that after the footage is shot, he'll let the computer stretch 18FPS out to 24FPS for him.

Fred's head

The Fred puppet was constructed using the build-up method on top of a recycled B&S armature. He's meant to look rough-hewn and handmade. The eyes are coated with enamel paint; the pupils are bits of clay attached with sticky wax.

replacement mouths

Fred has replacement mouths that click into place with magnets. However, the wide mouths also have wire in them, so they are somewhat posable. Seam lines are hidden by the beard.

…This is the first time I've seen hybrid replacement mouths like this.

upper jaw's inset magnets

To maintain the continuity of Fred's teeth between shots, the upper and lower jaws were made using fast-cast plastic. The top jaw has two tiny inset magnets, and a hemispherical bump to key the part into place. There's a square hole so a tongue can plug into the puppet's skull for certain shots.

Misha confirmed something I'd been wondering about… That when you use magnets for registration, it's important to get the magnets lined up so that their polarities don't compete.

Gotta say: I'm hugely impressed by this mouth system!

Misha Klein

Big thanks to Misha for sharing details about this project!

The clips I've seen -- both for Misha's film and for Owl Pals -- are simply stunning… If you're anywhere near Portland, I highly recommend turning out for Wednesday's "Clowns & Owls" event!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, stopmo

May 7, 2009

lsgl: evolving act 2 scene 4

by sven at 11:59 pm

click on image to play clip (1:12min - 5.9 MB)

Week 6 of 2nd quarter. The clip above is all new stuff that I put together this week. I'm really pleased with how the process went.

write out the list of events

I was feeling Act 2 Scene 4 was too sparse to make sense to an audience… So I went to my journal and wrote 20 pages to figure out what I needed to convey.

The key questions seem to be: What events occur? What info does the audience need? Understand the events, and the visuals will follow.

[That dictum's similar to an insight I had a while back about writing fiction: understand the events of your fantasy universe inside-and-out before trying to tell the story. Once you know the events from a God's eye view, then you'll have a much easier time choosing how to "curate" the tale for an audience.]

When you study the chain of events in detail, it's like seeing things transpire from all possible angles at once. The little details that reveal causation are what become most interesting. Ah-ha! I need to show the moment when the first Elder's soul leaves it's body… That's what motivates the lights to begin appearing over their machine!

camera work: the tourist and the tour guide

I'm toying around with this notion of "writing cinematography."

In the past I've approached thumbnailing primarily as a matter of framing nice visual compositions. That's a matter of drawing.

Now I'm shifting my attention more to the physical position of the camera, rather than what it sees. Whose eye level should it be at? Where is it coming from, and where is it going to? How fast is it moving? And why, why, why?

…That's a matter for writing.

Previously I've thought of the camera as an "invisible angel" witness that flits from place to place, but can't impact the events transpiring in the story. Now I'm grooving on the idea of the tourist and the tour guide.

It's like I'm in control of a magic flying platform, and I'm standing on it with a member of the audience… From the platform, I can freeze time, run time forward slo-mo, or travel through time in flashbacks and flash-forwards. Like some crazy ride at Disney or MGM, I'm escorting the audience around the room, directing their attention to little animatronic events that all add up to a story.

Control the experience by knowing exactly why each exhibit is being brought to their attention.

"ruff" iterations

Anyway, I came up with a nice 8-panel thumbnail storyboard. Every shot choice felt like it conveyed one or two pieces of vital info, and there was always a logic for where the camera would be located.

I took it to the studio, and using the from-rough-to-polished principle, I quickly made a bunch of stand-in shots… Which looked awful.

But that's OK! I did a second revision, which got closer to what I want. And then I did a third -- which is what you see above. It's still full of problems (to my eye) -- but I'm getting somewhere… And at a satisfying pace.

Had I decided to take my thumbnails and immediately transform them into polished shots, I'd be in a world of pain… Because I'd have invested a lot of time in getting them right, only to discover that they didn't work well together as a motion sequence.

the dialogue between roughs and thumbnails

Frankly, I'm beginning to question the need for creating polished storyboards at all. Every time I rough out new shots, I find myself thumbnailing the revisions. When there's an active dialogue between thumbnails and roughs, why over-work the board?

Granted, I'm laboring on a solo production, so I don't need boards as a communication tool… But my sense from hearing Michael Cachuela from Laika's story department speak (a year or two ago), is that this dialogue between thumbnails and roughs is actually how a big production's final storyboards come into being.

stopmo applications?

I'm interested in how I might apply writing cinematography + thumbnails + iterative roughs to future stopmo shorts.

My CG stuff is ridiculously complicated, with stampedes and multiple overlapping special effects -- stopmo usually only has 2 characters on screen at a time, tops. And they usually inhabit small, simple spaces.

But, I'm very interested in creating nuanced acting performances, where every action is motivated, and you can see lots of moments of thought process shining through the puppet. Perhaps iterations are the way to achieve that sort of fine detail?

Like Justin Rasch says, "hard work is the easy part." For me the soul-killer is floundering around not knowing what the hell I'm doing. Compared to that, a long conversation with myself and the journey of a thousand gentle corrections sounds like bliss.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: let sleeping gods lie

May 6, 2009

may 13: clowns & owls - with misha klein & dan ackerman

by sven at 7:00 am

There's going to be an exciting event next week:

An ASIFA Night of Clowns & Owls
With Misha Klein and Dan Ackerman
Wed. May 13th,
7pm-9pm @ Studio 13
13 NW 13th Ave.
Admission is FREE for card-carrying members
$3 for non-members

Owl Pals, directed by Dan Ackerman

"Our evening host, Dan Ackerman, Director of Photography, will present his latest stop-motion project, Owl Pals, a promotional trailer based on the children's book illustrations of Luba Goninda. Dan will be on hand to talk about the rewards and challenges of directing this visually rich combination of original 3D characters, flat puppets and multi-plane camerawork, as well as show off some of the actual puppets and designs.

Fred the Clown, created by Misha Klein (clip)

Coraline animator Misha Klein will also be showing a sneak preview of his brand new animated film, recently competed at Studio 13. A labor of love years in the making, this 7-minute vignette focuses on Fred the Clown's internal struggles and performance anxieties, above all with a palpable dread of his boss. Featuring spontaneous camera work, gorgeous sets and atmospheric lighting, Misha will be on hand to talk about his travels on the road to finishing this amazing film."

Monday I'll further whet your appetite for this event by sharing some behind-the-scenes photos & info… Stay tuned!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: exhibits & events, stopmo

May 4, 2009

contest prize from john sumner

by sven at 6:36 pm

resin castings by John Sumner

Fellow stopmoe John Sumner issued a challenge in March: identify two obscure books, win a prize. Long-post-short… I won!

Here's the original challenge:

"Cogs, this one's gonna be short and sweet. First off, Don Carlson replied to the Crazy Daisy Ed post and mentioned an older book that might have some cool stop-mo references in it. However, the title and author are unknown. So load up in the Mystery Machine and take a look at his comment on the post about clues to this "gem" of a book. Second on the Unsolved list is a fabulous xeroxed section of a book on the history of puppet animation. The title is Puppet Animation in the Cinema. Being extremely lazy or, too busy, I haven't searched out the author and actual book. That's where you come in. The first cog to correctly find both books and show proof will win a prize... to be determined at a later time. I'm thinking along the lines of an illustration with subject matter of your choosing. But then you'd have to be brave enough to give my your address so I could send it to you. The challenge has been put forth."

The book for John is Puppet animation in the cinema: history and technique by L. Bruce Holman (1975). I wasn't sure about Don's book, but suggested Who's Who in Animated Cartoons by Jeff Lenburg (2006) -- which Don says is correct.

So, John emailed to ask what kind of original artwork I might like… I knew just what I wanted. Machine In Use Studios (which John founded) often uses standardized resin heads, which then get Dremeled into final shape for particular puppets. I was hoping that there might be a spare blank lying around somewhere.

Happily, John had one to share! He also sent along a half-head leftover from a previous project…

"A little backstory -- I sculpted the head using chavant sculpture clay (oil base) and then made a two part mold out of RTV silicone. There's a company down here called Silpak where I got my materials, including the 'A'+'B' parts for the eurathane that I poured into the mold. There's still 'some' imperfections, but most of the major stuff I sanded off with a dremel inside a sanding box. The sanding box was great because it contained 99% of the dust + debris. The overall concept for these heads was to be a series for an illustration show (that never happened). I was going to continue modifying each head + paint them. I got a few made, but since the show was cancelled, I lost interest. Funny enough, I found the '7' head, same as your Cog ID#. Destiny?"

Needless to say, I'm thrilled. I absolutely love getting to handle another artist's work, getting a sense of the materiality and craftsmanship.

Thanks John!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: miscellany, stopmo

May 2, 2009

birthday card: bridget benton

by sven at 7:00 am

"eyes aflame"

Today is Bridget's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Bridget!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting