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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big Work, Big Baby

After creating my first short “Bean and Todd,” I started to come up with ideas for my next short film. Big Baby was written and storyboarded before any filming was shot. That made the job much easier to produce. It was during the early stages of filming that I purchased a copy of “Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed” by Marc Spess. Using the knowledge I learned from the book helped to create more fluid animation and experiment with different techniques.

Early on in the filming I purchased a Sony Digital 8 camcorder which made the process much easier and the quality better. There was no more fighting with the broken down VHS camcorder. Using the Digital 8 camcorder taught me to use manual white balance and manual focus for optimum results. If you do not use proper white balancing, the colors of the film will not look correct. Using the manual focus helped to avoid occasionally auto focusing shifting errors.

The book by Marc Spess said that recording the audio before the filming would greatly help. I found that it was much easier to know proper timing of clips when the audio track is already laid down. Unfortunately I had created the characters before learning about using armatures from Marc Spess. Armatures are basically aluminum skeletons on which the clay characters are molded over. Having the metal support allows for ease of animated motion without gravity pushing the arm or leg to the ground. Also notice that there were no speaking parts for any of the characters in the film. This was intentional to avoid the need for lip syncing each dialog piece. This technique alone saved my countless hours and headaches.

Although Big Baby runs only five minutes and three seconds on screen, the entire process was close to six months of planning, filming, and editing. I hope you can enjoy the humor and art of stop-motion animation. If you want to learn more about stop-motion animation be sure to purchase Marc Spess’ latest book, "Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed 3" or visit his website at www.animateclay.com for some helpful tips in beginning clay animation on your own.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lots of Work, Little On Screen

Stop-motion animation has been used to entertain people for generations. In the 1950s and 1960s the popular Gumby Show aired which included a little animated clay humanoid figure. In the 1980s and 1990s many other videos used the stop-motion animation art form.

I was introduced in 1997 to the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion television short "The Wrong Trousers," which changed the course of my life. The half and hour short not only made me laugh uncontrollably, it also sparked my interest to figure how the entire production was created. In the next few months, I analyzed large portions of the "Wrong Trousers" frame by frame and researched the art of stop-motion animation by carefully studying the behind the scenes content on the Wallace and Gromit episodes.

Starting my freshman year of high school I started to record my own stop-motion animations using my parents working, but worn, VHS camcorder. The large camcorder needed to have the view finder held in place with athletic tape because of its age and condition. Having little experience or money to spend on my new found passion, I used my younger brother’s Duplex Lego sets to prop the camera into a halfway stable position. My first clips used a Godzilla action figure, complete with movable legs, arms, tail, and head, to destroy the local toy town. For the video capture I would quickly hit the record button on and off which rendered a playback rate of about 3-5 frames per second depending on my mind and finger’s reflexes. These first videos were extremely rudimentary but I was fulfilled to see the few short seconds of my work on screen in exchange for the long hours of work.

After creating a handful of other short stop-motion clips, I wanted to do a short story. One night I had a dream about a talking bean who meets a toad in the everglades and immediately strikes a friendship. Tragically I awoke when the bean and toad where eaten in a restaurant. Excited and inspired by the dream I could not get back to sleep but began to create a story in my head based on my strange dream. Something in my head was telling me that this was the germ for my short story. Getting up was no hard task that morning while I wasted no time telling my family my dream while eating breakfast.

Within a few days I had put together a beginning and ending to the script and started creating the simple characters, Bean and Todd. I purchased a cheap, $150 dollar ATI analog video capture card to put into my parent’s Pentium computer to enhance my production setup. Using the video editing software included with the capture card, I shot a couple of tests. Then I began filming the opening scene of "Bean and Todd" with the Bean in Mexico. Almost everything in the story was made up as I filmed each scene and all of the sets were designed with no real scale while being modified between scenes. Looking back I would never recommend starting any video project without a complete story, especially an animation project.

During the next six months with the help of my family, I would spend around 1,000 hours in the basement painstakingly animating my short film between a rate of 12-18 pictures per second of video. I learned much more than the art of animation. My patience toleration and technical knowledge also dramatically increased. A few months into production, an uncle would unexpectedly purchased me a tripod so I could ditch the Duplex Lego support system. See if you can notice where the video becomes more stable.

The completion of my first short stop-motion film sparked my interest and love for the video production world. Afterwards I went on to complete "Big Baby" while still in high school and started the lengthy project and incomplete project, "Denture Hoist." For my college education I choose Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and studied Photography, Business, and Bible. Currently I am teaching photography and video and working on my Masters degree in Multimedia Communications from the Academy of Art University. My desire is to teach young people how to effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ through video and other media and it all started with a stop-motion project in the basement of my parent’s house.

Recently DreamWorks movies Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit have revived the art of stop-motion animation and opened the imaginations of more young people today. Check out www.animateclay.com or purchase "Secrets of Clay Animation Revealed" for some helpful tips in beginning clay animation on your own.



Friday, June 25, 2010

Photographing Lighting Effectively

Summer is officially here in the northern hemisphere and with the beautiful weather also comes the dangerous thunderstorms. In the last few days there have been multiple severe storms that have produced flooding in many Wisconsin counties. Yet for some courageous storm chasers the thrill of a lifetime is grabbing the camera and driving directly into the storm. Human beings have always appreciated the beauty of lighting bolt but capturing the essence of a storm in a picture can be extremely challenging for even the best photographer.

In order to get the best quality pictures, here are a few helpful tips to ensuring quality photographs.

Rule # 1 Always use the manual settings on your camera. While some point and shoot cameras are sufficient with manual controls, all dSLR cameras will have manual controls and give great quality results. Setting the manual focus is probably the most critical because of the low amount of lighting during a storm is difficult for auto focusing.

Rule # 2 Shoot in the RAW file format. Using the RAW format gives more information to use in editing the pictures later. On the flip side, RAW files are several times larger than JPG files so make sure you bring enough memory cards.

Rule # 3 Always use a sturdy tripod. Ideally it will have a quick release head so you can remove the camera on and off quickly if needed. There are several companies that make rigs to hold an umbrella over the tripod. You can, with a few clamps,a create an umbrella mount of your own to protect from the rain. Entry-level dSLRs are very sensitive to moisture and can be in need of repairs or even ruined with minimal rain exposure.

Rule # 4 Use the lowest ISO setting which is usually ISO 100 or ISO 200. This gives the best detail due to the low noise of the sensor.

Rule # 5 Experiment with shutter speeds between 5 and 30 seconds. Lighting travels the speed of light at 186,000 miles per second. Leaving the shutter open for several seconds allows time for the lighting bolt to be captured by the sensor. Because the night sky is dark, a long shutter speed is effective in capturing the lighting’s path.

Rule # 6 Try setting the aperture around f/8 and f/16. This helps allow for a greater depth of field which increases the focusing sharpness of photograph.

Rule # 7 Use a timed release shutter or a remote shutter release to avoid touching the camera during the exposure. This allows the camera to remain steady during the entire exposure which avoids the possibility of motion blur.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Who We Are

I am teaching in the New Media Communications and Photography Departments at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, WI. I have assisted in video broadcast ministries in several churches and have produced many informative visual presentations of missionaries’ works. Currently my wife and I assist as the Graphic Representative at Calvary Baptist Church where we are members. My wife helps to assist me during wedding and portrait photo shoots. My portfolio consists of event, sports, stop action, and time-lapse photography in both film and digital media. I have worked with professional videographers at Sonlight Studio and Cine-Cermin Productions.

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