Monday, November 23, 2009

On Costume-Making

This weekend I made the majority (save for two shirts) of my puppets' costumes; I embarked on this little endeavour mid-Saturday-morning and finished the last one up earlier today.

I'll be honest - working on these wasn't exactly a piece of cake; in fact I think they've been the most fiddlesome things I've made to date. There are a number of potentially vexatious variables when it comes to costume-making; these include working with a sewing machine (that's a separate world unto itself), materials and their properties (is the material slippery? bulky? prone to fraying?), materials and their relationship with sewing machines (the aforementioned properties and how they run through the feed-dogs and needle - if the material is a knit, it can sometimes get 'flattened' out by being run under the needle, which causes stretching and subsequent curling of the fabric edges you're working on) - not to mention everything is on the miniscule side (is there enough seam allowance? will the leg and arm holes be wide enough for the hands and feet to fit through? will you be able to turn it inside-out once you've got it all sewn?) and the list goes on. So if you ever see (or hear) me while I'm sewing, it's highly likely I'm not in the pleasantest of moods.

That all aside though, I really do enjoy this part of the creative process, even as an ends in itself. I've got a couple years of experience making barbie-doll outfits, and I'll admit I still have fun doing that as a hobby. (Nerdy, yes, but obviously it's paid off). The main differences here were that A) I was making something that had to be somewhat functional (the characters have to be able to move in their clothing), B) it involved hand-stitching (usually on an inside seam) the clothes to the puppets, so less accessibility in fitting and tailoring and final tweaking, and C) the puppets aren't solid chunks of plastic, so it's harder to fit the clothing shape to a foam body that has alot of leeway in its form/volume.

But overall I'm ridiculously pleased with the results.

As for my process, I'm not sure what could all be said on that. Alot of it is simply a combination of intuition and experience; I figure out the rough sizes things need to be as I go, make mistakes, re-do portions, eyeball it some more, try it on the puppet, etc., and it differs with every piece. The best (and most blatantly obvious) advice I can give is to practice.

p.s. yes, I'll post photos of the final results soon. After that I might drop off the face of blogging for a while until my sets are done.

p.s.s. I watched 'Mary and Max' last night and it was everything I'd hoped it would be.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Labels and Definitions

I received an interesting comment on my film yesterday which, despite its vagueness, I believe purported that it could be made in live-action and thereby raised the question as to ‘why do something in animation if it can be done in live-action?’

I agree with Marshall McLuhan in that the medium should fit [and is an integral part of] the message, but I do not believe the medium should be dictated by it per se, much less the message by the medium. And so while the question holds some validity in that it asks the film-maker to analyze why they have adapted a certain media and how they can use it to the best of its abilities in bringing about their message, it simultaneously imposes some severe limitations by underestimating the power of animation. Saturday morning cartoons and gabbering animals have their place, but I agree with instructors’ sentiments when they say there is an enormous amount of unexplored potential within our medium. Approaching subject matter in a new or unusual method allows the viewer to dwell on something in a different ‘setting’ or frame of mind; to poke and prod at it and flip it over a couple times.

Do we limit ourselves when we define things, label them, tell them what they ought and ought not be?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A little more of my process:

My puppet heads were made of a base of tinfoil and a piece of aluminum brass-stock (to fit onto a slightly thinner stock on the end of their neck) encased in a thin layer of plumber's epoxy, with super-sculpey on top to form the actual features. (The eyes were partially pre-baked white sculpey that I embedded into the head after sculpting a basic facial shape and before the final baking).

Pre-plannimg: I tend to dislike being overly meticulous when it comes to planning out the sizes and lengths for puppets; to some extent I prefer eye-balling it and keeping the process kinda organic. HOWever, while this worked out ok with my last puppet (see January '09 posts) - as it was more or less a first-time experiment and not carrying the weight of a film on its shoulders - the same didn't quite happen here. My first batch of arms came out a bit on the long side, and looked like they belonged more to characters who climb Empire State buildings for down-time as opposed to humanoids of the Dutch persuasion. So yes, contrary to previous ignorance, adaquete planning is essential - especially when you have to use a puppet in a variety of scenes and circumstances as opposed to a number of unrelated excercises.

(The beginnings of the skeletal armatures; plumber's epoxy, 1/16th armature wire, and metal nuts for tie-downs on the feet).

(Liquid-latexed hands, ready to be inserted into the puppets). p.s. sorry the image is sideways, but you get the picture.

Adding styrofoam for volume, to be trimmed down and rubber-cemented to the armatures for stability.

I've finished painting the heads as of the weekend? or earlier this week; I imagine I'll post a picture when I've got their costumes sewn. I am also toying with the idea of using sewing thread for facial features (mouths, eyebrows and whatnot); I need to test this out yet (gluing different pieces into varying pre-made positions and then attatching them to the faces somehow? or using one or two pieces and animating them - though how that bit might work is yet to be determined). I also have to figure out eyelids (clay, or possibly silicone parts from molds?) and pupils (clay, paper, plastic?). Any suggestions or insights welcomed!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What you're seeing here is a number of puppet arms in the process of being liquid-latexed (to create 'skin'), after which they are dipped for a final smooth coat or two in the latex, fitted with square brass stock on the ends, and inserted into the puppets with the aid of contact cement.

Below is my studio workspace within Sheridan's stop-motion studio:

The paper cut-outs on the table will be used for puppet-standins when it comes to set construction and figuring out sizes, proportions, staging, blocking; essentially discerning where and how the puppet will 'fit' in its world.

On the right wall I have posted my storyboards to guide me in determining game-planning for production and pre-production. This way I can easily refer to them while I am figuring out puppet, prop, and set relations, as well as eventually prioritizing and keeping track of which shots have been completed/ need special attention etc.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Things I Learned This Week:

1. Prioritization.
2. Efficiency
3. Precision.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyways) that these three things are rather important when it comes to making a stop-motion film or any work of creation in general.

Prioritization ensures that you're going to be efficient with your time and work because you've realized some things don't honestly matter as much as you initially thought, and precision also influences efficiency because it saves you from having to redo parts of the process that could have been avoided had things been planned in a little more detail. All things I'm learning as I'm starting off on my fourth-year film, and particularly essential to the stop-motion process (the medium I'm making my film in) as it's one that requires alot of efficiency in its construction and execution.

That said, things are otherwise progressing fairly smoothly; all the puppet armatures are made and ready to be bulked up with foam; two more heads need final painting (hair), and, with the help of a wonderful 3rd-year assisant* who goes by the name of Jen Bamford (, all the puppet arms were finished today. Pictures to come soon!

*(This assistance is also pleasant because as much as singing, trying various foreign accents and repeating movie quotes to one's self is entertaining, it gets a little boring after awhile and conversation with more than just one's self is nice).

Friday, November 6, 2009

life, abundantly

Couple'a pieces from life-drawing and extra-life