November 2009 archives

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November 24, 2009

exploring light

by sven at 12:33 pm

ichbonnsen in blue

In stolen moments I've been exploring strategies for lighting my stopmo stage. I'm particularly inspired right now by the lighting designs of contemporary operas.

LED pen light

In previous work I've simply tried to flood the stage with as much light as possible. Now I'm taking the approach of starting from blackness and adding just a little bit of light at a time.

I think LED lights are very promising. They're bright, they're small, they're cheap… Perhaps most importantly, they don't get HOT!

I just bought a few at Radio Shack, and have started researching how one goes about wiring them. Looks like there are going to be resistors and circuit boards and whatnot.

spotlight stage center

I'm interested in doing some film experiments that mimic black box theater. Let the puppets act -- leave most of the world they live in to the imagination. The theater has embraced anti-naturalism; stopmo often delves into fantasy -- yet typically in a naturalistic way. It seems there's a niche yet to be scratched…

So, I wanted to start out by simulating a single spotlight trained on the stage.

stepping into light

I fiddled with camera settings until I figured out how to have Ichbonnsen step from darkness into the light. Very dramatic.


Modern operas often have the backdrop be a giant swath of luminous color. You can do so much to change the environment simply by manipulating light…

Here I have a piece of crumpled red tissue paper being backlit by a GE 40 watt soft white bulb. I like the dramatic possibilities suggested by having the puppet just be a silhouette.

separation of planes

A big part of what I love about opera set designs is the sense of grandeur. Some of that is just the scale -- acting on an enormous set. Some of it is the bold use of color -- luminosity and saturation. Another part of it is depth of space…

One way to accomplish depth of space is by separating visual planes. Make the foreground pop out from the background… If possible, use light and form to establish several midground planes, too.

Here I'm hand-holding a LED penlight covered with a blue gel, so I can separate Ichbonnsen from his background.

obscured by burnished acrylic

Lighting is mostly about how you're projecting rays and using the contours of objects to cast shadows… But I'm also going to mention here that I'm interested in obscuring images.

In live theater, scrims can be used to put actors behind a haze, or they can be used to catch projections, or catch shadows. The burnished sheet of acrylic I used here probably wouldn't count as a proper scrim… But it illustrates a direction I'm moving in.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: stopmo

November 20, 2009

birthday card: maija prakash

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is my cousin Maija's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Maija!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

November 16, 2009

jewelry cabinet

by sven at 7:00 am

I've been meaning to share photos of this jewelry cabinet I made for Gretchin's birthday back in August.

It's 2' wide by 2' tall and hangs on the wall like a painting. It has 78 regular hooks for necklaces, and 39 circular hooks for earrings.

The exterior is decorated with strips of moulding that I found at Home Depot. I wanted to create the impression of a something plain, almost architectural -- which when opened leads to a universe of magic and whimsy.

Clamping pieces while wood glue dries, the wire in back hidden by side panels, screws heads hidden in milled holes… This is the most sophisticated piece of carpentry I've attempted.

I've got mixed feelings. It's bulky, and the dimensions for hanging necklaces is a little off. But Gretchin's getting good use out of it -- that's a win.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: other art

November 13, 2009

birthday animacation

by sven at 7:00 am

click on image to play clip (30sec - 2.6 MB)

For the past few years I've been going on a personal retreat for my birthday… This year, however, I wanted nothing more than an animation "staycation" vacation. An animacation!

Gretchin granted my wish, setting up the studio with all the accoutrements of home and bringing me hot meals on a tray. For two glorious days I got to spend every waking moment in animation land. YAY! THANK YOU, GL!

replacement bits

Day 1 was spent on stage design and revisiting the process for shooting RAW. Day 2 was spent in the flow of creation.

I decided early on that rather than use up my time fabricating props, I should work in a medium that allows improvisation. It could have been clay or wire… But cardboard felt like the right choice this go around. It's plentiful, it's essentially free -- and it plays friendly with paint.

(Doing series of replacement bits totally had me thinking about Bruce Bickford.)

self-contained animation station

After doing the Ichbonnsen on Muglorp clip back in July, I was feeling really discouraged… Putting the camera and lights on tripods eats up so much floorspace, I lose my entire studio during the shoot. And clean up can take days.

I've found a way to fit everything inside a 2'x4' footprint now. It means sacrificing images with really deep depth of field (which I love so)… But for the time being, I just can't afford big productions, space-wise. Going small is a self-imposed limitation for the sake of maintaining momentum.

tabletop: half for stage, half for computer

I'm using a 2'x4' folding table. Lights are clamped to 4' tall wooden struts attached to the table with C-clamps. Half the tabletop is is for the stage, half is for the computer. Ergonomically, I'm finding it's really valuable to have the computer immediately next to the set, and at the same vertical level.

The lights are four 200 watt GE lightbulbs, pumping out a total of 15,780 lumens. By bouncing the rays off the ceiling, what I'm doing is approximating high noon lighting on a slightly overcast day.

(I've also got two tiny little 40 watt bulbs on hand, which I'm looking forward to trying for a moody noir look at some point.)

taping off the field of vision

There's a crucial difference between set design and stage design. Stage design begins with available studio space, takes account of room required for cameras, lights, tie-downs, etc. Once you've carved out a volume of space that the camera can photograph, then you can work at decorating it -- which is where set design begins.

I've discovered that one of the most valuable things a stopmo stage designer can do is measure the field of vision (FOV) of their camera. It turns out my DV cam has a FOV of ~38° -- whereas my digital still camera has a FOV of ~55° -- which is better suited to a small stage.

Knowing the FOV, I've calculated that the ratio between my visible backdrop's width and the distance from the backdrop to the camera is essentially 1:1…

That's a mouthful… What it means is that if my camera is 2 feet back, then I need a backdrop that's at least 2 feet wide. And since I'm shooting with a 4:3 aspect ratio, I immediately know that my backdrop should be at least 18" tall. Cool!

space for stuff outside the FOV

By calculating the size of my FOV, I don't waste time fabricating stuff that won't be in shot. Granted, if the camera is going to move, I'm going to need more space -- but I still think knowing the exact dimensions of your FOV gives you POWER.

To help me further visualize how much room I had to work with, I taped off my work area. The table space that falls outside of the FOV can then be used for setting down animation tools or erecting out-of-shot support structures.

camera fixture

I hate camera tripods. I bet most stopmoes do. If you accidentally kick a tripod leg -- which happens all the time -- your shot's ruined. What an absolute JOY, then, to figure out that I could fix the camera directly to the stage.

The fixture I built isn't ideal. If the camera tilts even slightly left or right, it's really obvious in your film. I used cardboard shims to take care of the problem… But I think I've finally reached the point where I'm ready to purchase the much coveted Manfrotto geared head (sold separately from the tripod).

my Day Of The Dead sugar skull

Like I said, this clip was improvisation. Beforehand, I wrote out a long list of things that one might try with cardboard… But in terms of content, I had no idea that I'd wind doing flowers or a spiderweb or a skull.

The mind's well of creativity is a funny thing. I can't help but think I was influenced by the sugar skulls that we decorated at Bridget Benton's Day Of The Dead party back on Nov. 1.

[Am I squeezing this in here just to avoid having to do another post? Maybe.]

posted by sven | permalink | categories: stopmo

November 12, 2009

birthday card: zoe albright

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is Zoe's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Zoe!

inside plate

Look in the closet or under the bed… You may just find one of the thousand hidden ladders that lead down to the underground city of Mania… Which is ruled by the mighty punk rock ballerina, who wields a shining hoop of pink and gold… And commands an army of ninja zombies to do her bidding. She walks among us in secret. Perhaps, charmed by the hypnotism of the cats who control the surface world, even she has now forgotten her domain below.

But it waits.

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

November 11, 2009

birthday party: 3anim8

by sven at 7:00 am

click on image to play clip (1min 54sec - 4.6 MB)

This year for my birthday party I wanted to have all my friends make an animated film for me.

We set up an animation table in the middle of the living room, and over the course of the evening folks jammed using paper cut-outs and found objects. Oh, man… It was AWESOME!


We used a consumer-grade DV cam for image capture. For software, we used FrameThief. For non-animators: There are a variety of softwares you can use -- a few free ones, but typically $40 for the basics.

The frame for the downshooter is made from a couple of simple wooden lighting stands I built a while back, an 8' long cross-strut, and C-clamps. The light fixtures and umbrellas are from a local pro camera supplier -- but I'm just using 200 watt (3980 lumens) incandescent bulbs in them, which came from a department store.

Todd & Kristen animating

It was really wonderful getting to share my love for stop-motion animation with a bunch of friends. After years of hearing me talk about this crazy art form, they finally got try out the mysterious thing for themselves.

Folks were a little surprised at just how much fun it is to bring little inanimate bits and bobs to life. I think I may have made a few converts that night… ;)

So: THANK YOU everyone for coming! I had a wonderful time… Best birthday party ever!!

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

November 10, 2009

spooky spooky, scary scary

by sven at 7:00 am

Toby & Gregory: Cthulhu Cultists!


For Halloween this year, Toby and Gregory dressed up as the comedic Cthulhu cultists Chuck & Dexter. I pulled out the sewing machine and made them two little cultist robes… And, yes, each of them has their own tiny Cthulhu statue to worship.

Chuck & Dexter

Chuck and Dexter are characters played by Tim Uren and Joseph Scrimshaw, actors/stand-up comics based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They've attended our much beloved H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival as entertainers for the past few years, and have just published a DVD titled Spooky Spooky, Scary Scary.

Just a little fan art… Showin' the love.


posted by sven | permalink | categories: toby

November 9, 2009

birthday card: carl caputo

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is Carl's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Carl!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

November 5, 2009

birthday card: culley schweger bell

by sven at 7:00 am

hand-painted card

Today is my cousin Culley's birthday...

From Sven & Gretchin: happy birthday Culley!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting