More building designs!

You know what doesn’t make animating any easier? When you drop the toothpick you’re using to manipulate the character’s eyes and then promptly step on it in bare feet because your studio is ridiculously warm. Yeah. That’s not helpful. So while I’m taking a day or two to let my foot heal to the point where I’m not lurching around like a newborn deer, I thought I’d update the blog with info on much of the progress I’ve been making.

Since my last update I’ve finished the building designs, the 3D team has got them almost completely modeled and textured, I have a complete puppet with full wardrobe and 2 1/2 replacement faces ready to shoot my first few shots for which I’ve already got 2 seconds of animation done. That’s right I got 2 seconds done before impaling myself on Satan’s toothpick. Go me!

To keep these posts from getting overwhelming though I’m just going to show you the rest of the building designs and some of the model images my 3D team sent me. I’ll spread the rest of the updates out over the next few weeks. So onto building designs.

First here are some color schemes I came up with for the house designs I posted last time.

house 1 color sample 2 house 1 color sample 3House 1 additional color concepts

house 2 color scheme 1house 2 color scheme 2House 2 additional color conceptshouse 3 color sample 2 house 3 color sample 1House 3 additional color concepts house 4 color sample 1house 4 color sample 2House 4 additional color concepts

There were more color schemes I came up with, but I figured two of each house was enough to show here. I divided up the color schemes among the house designs but let the 3D team know that any of the color schemes could be applied to any of the houses to allow for more variety in the street set along with the smaller models like the cars and bushes and trees to make each lot look distinctive.

In addition to coloring the residential house designs I also came up with and colored the rest of the designs for the commercial block to go with the Mobius coffee house and the Ceruli Sports store.

luigis pizza luigis pizza colorLuigi’s Pizza. Named for my uncle’s excellent pizza place on Long Island (go check it out any New York city readers!) noahs toybox noahs toybox color

This is Noah’s Toybox, a toy store made to look like an awesome castle. This one is named for Noah, the oldest son of my fellow grad student Jeremy. Noah would sometime come visit us in the lab and he was always lots of fun. sleepy davessleepy daves colorNext up is Sleepy Dave’s Mattress Emporium. This is the largest building on the block and refers back to an earlier version of the project where my main character runs head first into a mattress being moved by two store employees. Since I cut that scene I decided to move the store to the other side of the street so it could still be in the film. This one is a shout out to my wonderful husband whom I tease a lot for being a very heavy sleeper. Hi Dave!

I also designed the many smaller peripheral elements to make the street look more realistic. Such as decorative potted plants.

decorative plant 2 pieces decorative plant 2 color sampledecorative plant 1 whole trunk decorative plant 1 whole decorative plant colorA jaunty lampost.lamp post colorA squat fire hydrant in an unusual shade of orange.fire hydrant colorAnd of course the slanted traffic light which will slow down the mail truck and give our hero one last chance to beat it to the mail box!traffic light littraffic light back color

All of these were then given to my wonderful design team who turned them into awesome looking 3D models.

house1 house4 house3Early models of the house designs without final lighting or textures.

LightingTest.0001A version of Randy’s own house with some side lighting and a mailbox.

mailbox02Wire frame of the mail box and the SUV as a work in progress.

suvWIP06 NoahsToybox

Noah’s Toybox unshaded.mobiusLongSampleText02A wireframe of one of the Mobius coffee units with basic color shaders in place.

materialtest01

And here’s a shot of Luigi’s with various texturing options applied so I could determine which look I wanted for the final piece.

All in all the design work and modeling has gone very will this semester. I can’t wait to see what the blocks will look like once they’re fully textured, lit, and all the smaller elements are in place. I think it’s going to look really cool. I can only hope my physical sets with come out just as well. I’ll be sure to share the images with you once they’re done. Until then, I hope you like what the team and I have come up with so far. Thanks team Delta!

 

Building designs

Hey Everyone!

Give me just a second to clean up in here <blows an inch of dust off the blog>. Ahh much better.

So yes, it has been a long stretch since I updated, but not to fear, I did not fall off a cliff. I just got very absorbed in my work itself and kept putting my time into making stuff rather than blogging about it. So on the plus side I have tons of stuff to update about! On the downside – I have tons of stuff to update about!

Today I’m actually going to start with my more recent work, and then work backwards to fill in the gaps on the other things I’ve been working on such as puppet and set fabrication and lighting tests.

The past few weeks I’ve been focused on the designs for many of my sets. There is a wonderful group of 3D students at RIT (their group name is Team Delta) who agreed to help build computer models of some of my sets to make some of the trickier shots easier on me by allowing me to composite in the backgrounds and saving me lots of building time. These sets will mostly be used for shots where I have some drastic camera moves such as the fast zoom down a residential street in the second scene and a long shot where Randy zooms down a commercial block on a construction dolly. To do those shots with practical sets would require a studio space the size of a warehouse and a lot of time and materials to build so many buildings. With the help of my awesome 3D team, I can now shoot the puppet elements in front of a green screen, and the replace the green areas with the sets they have designed saving me time in both the fabrication and animation process. Go Team Delta!

So, in order to help them help me. I’ve spent the majority of my time this past week working on sketching concept art for the various buildings they will be modeling, and then cleaning those sketches digitally so I can have a more accurate blueprint for the team to work from. The assets they are building include 5 houses for the residential section, an entire block of commercial buildings for the dolly scene, 2 cars, and various smaller peripherals to fill out the environments and make them look like my sets. The big challenge for them will be when they go to texture the sets. This is the process where they add color and 2 dimensional texture files to the models to give them added realism. Because my sets are going to be covered with textured papers, the team will have to match their textures to the actual papers I am using. Hopefully they’ll have a good time working on it.

So here are some of the finished designs I’ve already sent to the group.

mobius block short base

Short block for connected commercial buildings.

mobius base002Long block for connected commercial buildings.

mobius base color sampleColor sample.

Ceruli sportsSports store.

Ceruli sports color sampleSports store with color sample.

house 1 detailedHouse 1 with texturing details.

house 1 color sample 1House 1 with color sample 1 without texture details.

house 2 WIPHouse 2 – work in progress. Still need to finish adding in the windows

house 3 WIPHouse 3  without texture details.

house 4 cleanedHouse 4 without texture details.

mailbox designMailbox design.

curb designSidewalk curb design.

2014-01-26 09.26.21

2014-01-26 09.34.54

Examples of practical curbs on set.

bush designsBush shapes. 2013-11-20 03.51.34

DSC_0024

Example of practical bushes on set.

sedanSedan design.

SUVSUV design.

For some of the assets I have the concept work, but not cleaned versions yet. Here are some of those rough sketches.

sketch004

sketch003

Concept sketches for maple tree designs.

sketch001

sketch002

Leaf blocks for pine trees.

commercial building sketches

Building concepts for Sleepy Dave’s Mattress Emporium, Luigi’s Pizza, and Noah’s ToyBox.

Noahs toybox logo sketchLogo concept for Noah’s ToyBox

Vidhyas Videos sign sketchSign concept for Vidhya’s Videos.

More set designs, practical set images, and puppet fabrication posts to come!

See you all again soon!

It feels good to get stuff done

Hello again blog readers!

So I feel like I’ve managed to make some good progress over the last 2 1/2 weeks, even though I wish I had gotten more done by this point (isn’t that always the case though). Despite being a little behind where I’d like to be, I do feel like I’ve been good at putting in the hours and making progress with each work session. Last week was my first week on the schedule I came up with for the summer months. Getting the schedule itself done was actually the first thing on my to do list. I’ve planned out what I hope to accomplish up through the end of August, aiming to complete all the shots for each individual set in about a 4 week time period. Based on the number of sets I have, that should get the film completed in time for spring screenings and graduation.

My breakdown for June tasks is as follows:

6/1 – 6/7: come up with schedule, finish building and assembling the large stage section, finish one set of clothes for Randy, and design the blueprint for set #3

6/8 – 6/14: (start of 4 week time period) build set #3, finish one set of shoes for Randy, design and build the heads needed for all shots that take place on set #3 (shots 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 2-5, and 2-7)

6/15 -6/21: assemble finished puppet, shoot shot 2-1

6/22 – 6/28: shot shot 2-2, shoot shot 2-3

6/29 – 7/5: shot shot 2-5, shoot shot 2-7, design moving camera rig (end of 4 week period for set #3)

A side note to myself in this time period is that I also want to get the finalized version of my animatic finished. I put it aside for the moment so I could focus on the stage, set, and puppet building tasks I would need to make sure I could start shooting this month. I plan to keep working on it in between the other elements of my schedule so that I will have it available to more clearly plan the rest of my shots and the schedule.

So at the moment I’m in the middle of the second week on the schedule. Last week I got through almost all of the tasks I had set for myself. The schedule is done through August, as you can see from the June section above. I also managed to get the final holes drilled and the stage assembled on Monday of that first week and got that out of the way.

Photo Jun 04, 2 14 29 AM

Here’s the finished joint for the lower leg segments. I went out and got some L-brackets to give added support and to keep the legs from wiggling at the joints.

Photo Jun 04, 2 15 16 AM

This is the upper section of the lower leg piece, connected to one of the extension pieces with bolts and nuts. The lower legs alone give me a stage height of roughly 3 feet, and the extensions allow me to increase that height by another foot and a half (and the heights in between) if needed. For my first set of shots I only extended the height slightly so that the platform comes up to my mid-torso so I won’t have to bend over when I’m manipulating the puppets.

Photo Jun 04, 6 04 38 AM

This is a view from the underside of the stage so you can better see how the extension pieces and the top platform section are connected.

Photo Jun 04, 6 11 09 AM

And wah-lah! My stage is ready to go.

I spent most of the rest of the week (about 15 hours) working on the patterns for the final set of clothing for Randy, my main character. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to finish that portion of my work from last week – so I’ve been continuing on it this week, putting in an extra hour here or there once I’ve completed the set number of hours I’ve given myself for each day. I feel like I’m quite close to being ready to take the patterns and move on to working with the final fabrics that I bought for Randy. I just need to make a few small adjustments to various parts. Mostly tweaking the waistline of the jeans, and adjusting how the hood is attached and how it looks with the sweatshirt design.

Photo Jun 13, 11 55 23 AM

A set of pattern pieces from a recent clothing test.

Photo Jun 13, 11 56 37 AM

Photo Jun 13, 11 57 00 AM (HDR)

Photo Jun 13, 11 57 35 AM

A couple of views of the test clothing having been placed on the puppet to judge the fit.

So as you can see, the clothing is close to what I’m looking for, and I’m hoping to be able to catch up on that part of my work at the tail end of this week once I get my hours for the set building done.

Here are the sketch version and the finalized version of the set #3 blueprints (I use that term loosely) that I put together at the end of last week. Set #3 is part of the second scene where Randy has just dashed back outside his house and is figuring out how far away the nearest mailbox is and how close by the mail truck is as well. Randy and his parents live in a shared house where the other section is lived in by an elderly aunt of his father’s. (Yes, I have put way too much thought into all of this).

set 3 blueprint001

set 3 blueprint 2

So far, actual work on the construction has been a little slow. Some of the supplies I needed, I didn’t get until later than I thought I would. Some still haven’t shown up by mail and I likely won’t get until tomorrow – and that’s assuming they actually get delivered to my door, and not just dropped at the apartment office which often adds a day to the shipping time.

I got started on what I could. I measured and cut out the homesote base which includes the sidewalk and yard section of the set design as well as cutting the pieces I’d need for the risers on the front steps.

Photo Jun 11, 2 04 15 AM (HDR)

Photo Jun 13, 11 06 09 AM

A lot of my time recently has been spent cutting the wooden pieces to make the framework for the house and porch sections. This is a task that has made me greatly miss the well stocked prop shop back at RIT and all the lovely power tools, specifically the ones with ‘saw’ in their names. I have already spent a few hours on the cutting wood portion of building this set and know that I have at least several more, as I turn this:

Photo Jun 13, 11 06 26 AM

Into this:

Photo Jun 13, 11 06 44 AM

using only this:

Photo Jun 13, 11 07 15 AM

And, as much as I do love my awesome Japanese hand saw, it it not quick work to be done by hand. On the plus side, once I do get those pieces cut, not only should the rest of the set construction move along at a faster pace, but I will also be able to reuse and re-purpose those framework sections for other sets in the future – cutting down on those construction times. Yay for reusing materials!

So that’s mostly where I am right now. I still have most of my day’s work ahead of me so I’m going to leave off the blogging for the time being. I’ve also decided to shift the work on the puppet shoes and replacement head into next week of the schedule with the assembly part of the works, partially because of time constraints, but also because some of the supplies I need for those tasks are in the shipment I’m not expecting to get until tomorrow.  Wish me luck! Hopefully my next post will have some awesome set pictures in it. Til next time!

Spring Quarter complete, on to the summer work

Hey everyone,

So yeah, between the last minute rush that comes with week 10 of a 10 week quarter cycle and then the fun of finals week, I’ve left off the blogging for a bit. But I have returned!

Week 10 I spent most of my time working on making more progress on the final animatic for my project. I managed to get about a solid 2 minutes of work done, and still have about 30 seconds more to fill out before the first pass is completed. There are already some sections that I know need to be shortened or adjusted, so even once I get those 30 seconds done I’ll need to go back and adjust a few things. But I was still proud of the amount of work I was able to get through, and once I get it all ship shape and timed out with a scratch track, I’ll post the new animatic here to the blog. So I don’t have quite as much to show in this post in terms of pictures as I have in some of my past posts.

I did get some more work done on the stage sections though. I made another run to the hardware store and picked up some more screws, and then attached the plywood lids to all three platform sections that I have so far.

Photo May 09, 7 40 40 AM

I also spent most of this past weekend measuring and marking out where the holes will be drilled for the leg sections for all the platforms as well as picking up some of the cross-piece material for that I no longer had when I figured out that I had measured wrong before. So I now have all the materials I need, and am slowly making progress on drilling all those holes.

As you can kind of see when I took that picture of the finished stage platforms, my studio had devolved into a disaster over the course of the spring quarter. Once finals were over two week ago, I took a bit of a break from the actual pre-production work, and spent some time making some order out of the chaos. Not only did I take the time to generally straighten up and to vacuum out some of the sawdust of leftover foam pieces from the puppet building, but I also dragged an old TV stand I had in storage into the studio so I’d have a sturdy piece of furniture to keep Raul the drill press on. Most of the furniture in the studio is old Ikea desks that have been taken apart and moved to various apartments about 5 different times. That much moving wears on particle board furniture and I didn’t really trust the pieces I had to support the weight of the press without collapsing on me. So after a few days of work and a quick modification to the TV stand so the top no longer rotated, I had my nice clean new studio.

Photo May 21, 5 19 00 PM

Photo May 21, 5 19 06 PM

I’ve already covered a good section of the floor in more sawdust as I’ve been working on drilling the leg holes today, but hopefully I’ll be able to maintain it a little better now that it’s organized more efficiently.

This week I’m going to try and get myself prepped to start shooting soon. I want to get at least the larger stage section completed and assembled, and have at least one puppet body clothed and with attached hands and feet by the end of the week. Working off of my shot list, I’ve determined that I have roughly 15 different sets that need to be built for this project. My plan is to make a set blueprint with measurements and materials lists for my first set this Friday, purchase the materials over the weekend and spend next week on the construction. Once the set it built, I’ve given myself three weeks to shoot all the shots that take place on that set. If I take roughly four weeks to complete the work on each set, I’ll be finished in time to screen next spring and get my degree.

Some sets have fewer shots to them than others and some have a lot. The four weeks per set is mostly a rough guideline so I can keep general track of how I’m doing. Some sets are actually going to be done with motion graphics and the animated puppet will be composited in. This summer is going to be pretty busy for me outside of the thesis work with many of our friends planning on visiting, plus a wedding we’re going to be attending back east which we’re combining with a visit to see our families which will keep me out of the studio for a week. I’m hoping to work the schedule out so that I can just bring a laptop along and get some of the motion graphic sets and compositing elements completed during that trip. At the very least I can work until my battery dies on the flights back and forth to try and make up some time. It’ll be nice to be able to focus on my project without having a part-time job or another  class to divert my attention, but I can tell I’m still going to be very busy over the next several months. Still I’m feeling a lot better health-wise and my family has been hugely supportive so I’m feeling hopeful.

While my Monday-Friday workweek is mostly going to be focused on working on animating whatever shot is in the queue. I plan on spending at least one weekend day a week making further progress on other construction and production elements I’ll need for the project. One of the first items on my lists is to start working on building a moving camera rig for the longer shots that require the camera to pan. After that I plan to work on finishing up my secondary puppet characters, completed the design of their clothing and dressing them as well as carving their heads and facial expressions.

Well that’s about all the news for the time being. More updates to come in the future!

Fun with construction projects!

So I’ve made some excellent progress in that last week  that’s been making me feel really good about my overall level of getting things done.

I got all the hands wrapped and completed and I got the four main puppet armatures for Randy covered with the polyurethane foam and the pre-wrap. Then this weekend I went a bought a ton of lumber and a drill press to build my segmented, adjustable, stage platforms for shooting on. It’s been a busy week, but with only two weeks left in the quarter I need to keep on pushing through and getting this stuff done.

The other really awesome thing about this past week was actually related to the buying all the supplies for the stage building project. I had something like 12 2x4s, 7 1x4s, and 2 full sheets of plywood along with a drill press that I had to lug up to my third floor apartment. Without the use of an elevator (though I did get help from my awesome husband). While this does not seem like a good thing and my muscles are still hating me for it, the great part about it was that, other than sore muscles, I’m completely fine. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to make all those trips us the stairs and afterwards I probably would have been exhausted and feeling sick for days. This weekend, no reaction! Yeah my muscles are sore but there’s been no joint pain, no fatigue nothing! It’s such a huge step forward to know that I can actually push myself when I need too now. Just since the fall I’ve managed to go from being able to get through about 20 hours of work a week to upwards of 30 on a regular basis and I feel like as long as I keep up with the routines I’ve got from my physical therapist and keep the meds properly balanced (the doctor had me pull the medication that was messing me up before so that’s no longer a problem) I feel like not only am I in a much better position to bust out this thesis project once I start shooting, but that I’ll also be able to get myself to a place where I can compete at the same level as everyone else again within the year. You have no idea how awesome it is to feel like I’m getting back to being me again.

But on to the work!

The hands came out quite well. I spent more time on the wrapping with these than I did with the test hands, really focusing on cutting the adhesive bandage to more exact sizes for wrappings and making sure they didn’t start getting too thick in the middle.

Photo Apr 30, 6 24 33 PM

Behold! My glorious collection of miniature hands! Aww, look they’re waving. They must like you. =)

Photo Apr 23, 5 48 37 PM

So the first part of the hand wrapping was me covering the tips of each finger with a folder over piece of adhesive tape. This way, once I wrapped the fingers, I wouldn’t have small bits of the underlying armature visible.

Photo Apr 24, 12 09 26 PM

Next I wrapped the fingers starting from the tip of the fingers and working my way down to the palm.

Photo Apr 30, 5 48 06 PM

After that, it was just a matter of  covering the palms and back of the hands with a few flat layers and making sure it all smoothed down properly along the wrist joint.

The one thing I did find, along with the fact that cutting adhesive tape requires you to stop and clean your scissors with Gojo after every hand, was that the actual adhesive part of the adhesive tape, didn’t hold up well under manipulation.  After a short time the edges of some of the wrapped sections started to peel back on me.

Photo Apr 30, 6 25 32 PM

You can see it on the pinky finger in the above image. So, part of the process also involved letting the hands sit in their little tray for a few days, and checking on them periodically and using some regular glue to reattach any edges that started to peel off. Once they were re-glued, I didn’t have any more problems with the wrapping coming off, and the joints all move quite well. So yay, hand building completed! I plan to wait to paint them until I get all the heads carved so I can match the skin tone between the two sections.

I also finished off the foam wrapping on the four main armatures I was working on last week. I used some extra pre-wrap to soften the harder edges of the wooden torso and pelvis and to try and make the different sections blend together more realistically. I figure the closer I can get the puppets to resemble actual body shapes, the more realistically I can get the clothing to move when I’m animating the puppets.

And then there was the stage!

This stage building process has been a bit of a roller-coaster these last few days.

First, here are the sketches and plans I drew up for my segmented, adjustable stage sections a few weeks ago.

stage design001

stage design002

The idea behind the design is to allow me as much flexibility as possible in my shooting arrangements. By being able to lower and raise the set, I can make it that much easier on myself to animate without having to hunch over the sets too much and fold myself into strange contortions. I’ll still have to bend over and contort myself in some cases, it is stop motion after all, but I can at least reduce the amount that I have to do so, which can allow me to get the animating done more efficiently. It also allows me to save space in the room I’m working in. Several of the long street shorts in the film are going to require a very large stage to work off of. But others will have a solid camera placement that likely won’t even need more than the 3’x3′ square section. Having to always maneuver around the largest possible stage size would be detrimental to my attempts at making this as easy as I can so I can focus on the actual animating rather than the schedule. So, with all that in mind I came up with the stage designs above.

The top sections are platforms made out of 1″x4″ lengths of wood, and the legs are the sturdier 2″x4″s. The legs all attach with a minimum of 2 diagonally placed bolts where the two sections are joined, but I’ve drilled enough holes to use 4 for the extra stability. The basic leg design is three feet high and has a piece of wood that runs along the bottom between the two supporting legs to keep them squared, add to the stability, to add weight (another stabilizer), and to give me an area where I can drop sandbags that is attached to the whole thing to add even more weight. I also have vertical bolt holes drilled along the lengths of the platform tops so they can be bolted together when I need either added length or width for the shots I’m working on. I also have 2″ extension section for the legs that allows me to raise the stage height as I need too. The extension are also attached with multiple bolts in more than one section, and overlap the lower legs for added support.

As you can see in the design, using the extensions causes the legs to shift outward in either one direction or the other. To prevent the stage from being off balance, when using the extensions with a single platform, I plan to have one shift forward and one backward to offset each other, and when used in combination with other sections, I’ll either continue to alternate the legs along both, or, if adding width, I will shift all the legs to the outside so that they create a buttressing effect and hold the platform sections together even more strongly.

I also plan to use the extra 1″x4″s as cross-braces when I’m shooting, to make these things as immobile as I possible can.

So with all that planning and measuring done. I heading off to frolic in the aisles of Home Depot.

Photo Apr 28, 7 31 42 PM

Photo Apr 28, 7 31 27 PM

I came back with lots of lumber, and my shiny new drill press!

Photo Apr 28, 3 26 29 PM

I’m thinking of calling it Raul ( I find it’s more fun to name your equipment because it makes for amusing conversations and feels more personal when you swear at a machine that’s giving you trouble). The drill press just made way too much sense to get for this project to let the price talk me down. I want to make sure that all the holes I’m drilling in the legs and platforms are at the exact same 90 degree angle so there’s no offset when I connect the pieces. Between that and the large number of holes I need to drill, this thing is going to save me a ton of time.

So I lugged all my equipment home and starting drilling the holes, and laying out the frames for the platforms when I came to a horrible realization.

It turns out that 2″x4″s and 1″x4″s are not actually 2 inches by 4 inches long. It’s sort of like the whole quarter-pounder thing at fast food chains where the weight is the pre-cooked weight. The actual size of a 2″x4″ is approx. 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″. Some online site say the discrepancy is due to the drying process, while others just say that this is how they were standardized. Either way, it’s really, really frustrating when you spend an hour carefully calculating the lengths of the lumber you’ll need based on the idea of a full sized 2″x4″ and 1″x4″ and then find that a lot of your wood is not the size you thought it was, and entire sections of your cache of lumber are now at least a half inch too short.

I figured all of this out after several hours of clearing a working space, putting together the drill press, and drilling holes in all the 1″x4″ framing sections. Needless to say, I was pretty damn frustrated and just had to walk away for a bit.

But I decided to make the best of it, grabbed some other scrap wood from the studio and re-designed on the fly. I’ll still have to go back next weekend and get some more wood for the sections I just need to replace, and most of the support braces had to be hand cut so I’m not as far along at this point as I wanted to be, but the good part about being able to push a little is that I can put in an extra hour or two each day and hopefully get myself caught up by the end of the week.

But the top framing sections are done, and tonight I plan to get all the plywood top sections attached to them so I can move on to drilling the holes in the leg sections I can still use.

Here’s the pics of where they are at now.

Photo Apr 29, 6 10 14 PM

Photo Apr 29, 6 09 58 PM

Photo Apr 29, 6 09 51 PM

So, overall, a very productive week as we approach the end of the quarter. If I keep this up, I should be able to start shooting my first scenes in June like I plan. Yay progress.

Alright, I went way over my hour limit this week – bad blogger – and now it’s time for dinner. See you next week!

Fingers and foam – a continuation

It has been a crazy past couple of weeks.

Health stuff has been kicking my butt again. There’s always the risk when you try a new treatment that it’s going to make things a little worse rather than better. The new drug I’m on has some unpleasant side effects that kept me from getting my work done which in turn lead to a backlog of both thesis and project management assignments which caused me to put off updating the blog again. I also think that trying to update on Friday’s is a bad idea. All my assignments for Project Management are due on Saturday and so I tend to spend most of my time on Friday’s working on that – which makes the blog entries more stressful than they should be. So, I think I might try and make this a beginning of the week task. Try and make it a more positive -here’s what I’ve accomplished and what I’m going to aim for in this coming week.

So on that note – here’s what I’ve accomplished. =)

After having tried out my various hand tests, I decided to use the metal hand design from the third test hand – combined with the fingers from the first test hand and to add a washer to the middle for added stability. Over the course of the following week, I got those 4 pairs of hands shaped, and glued.

First I started by shaping the metal loop that would the base for the palm section of the hand, and then twisting the remaining wire together beneath it to act as a wrist segment that can be attached to the lower arm section once I’ve gotten the wardrobe on my puppets (that comes later).

Photo Apr 10, 6 22 39 AM

Once all eight loops were made I used some #8/ M4.2 washers to give the palm section some more surface area to grip when manipulating the hands, as well as to act as a tie down guide if I ever need to use the hands as a contact point.  I have no idea what M4.2 means in terms of actual measurements – but it’s what was on the label for the box of washers – so I’m going with it. I used the JB-Weld to attack the washers to the wire frame and let them sit for 24 hours to dry. After they had, set I flipped them over, and added some reenforcing epoxy to the underside of each of the palm segments, to keep the washers more securely attached. This of course meant another 24 hours setting period.

Photo Apr 11, 1 25 09 AM

Once the washers were firmly placed, I started using the 24 gauge wire to create the fingers. This time I worked from the center outward, looping the wire around the washers and the wire frame first, and then twisting them together to make the lengths of the fingers. This gives me the ability to then make the fingers longer than they need to be, and to cut them back to a standard length among all eight hands. It’s always easier to trim the wire back, than to have to redo the entire finger segment.

Photo Apr 11, 4 31 02 AM

At this point I also hit a snag in that I ran out of the 24 gauge wire and had to run to the store to grab some more. That also proved to be complicated, when it turns out that there was a package of 26 gauge wire on the hook where the 24 gauge was supposed to be, costing me an additional day of work. Note to self – always double check the label on the actual supplies before leave the store.

But once I had the proper wire in hand (no pun intended) I was able to finish up adding the rest of the finger segments to the remaining hands. This then led to another round of epoxy to make sure that the fingers would all stay in their proper spacing, and another 24 hours setting period.

Once the fingers were fully twisted and attached, I decided on the length of the fingers I would need. The test hands ended up being a little large, so I went with a slightly smaller size for the palms and finger lengths for the final puppets. After figuring out how long I wanted each of the fingers to be, I bent the tips of each wire finger inward toward the underside of the palm at that length, allowing me to leave a tiny 1/8 inch length to fold back on itself to create the tips of the fingers. I did this because just trimming the fingers to length would make it more likely for the wire to start to unravel. By folding some of the extra wire over, I can create a rounded tip that will make it harder for the wire to come apart, and it makes the tips of the fingers just a tiny bit wider than the rest of the fingers which tends to look more natural in animation – even though it isn’t factually accurate to how hands look.

Photo Apr 19, 9 39 06 AM

Photo Apr 19, 9 43 35 AM

Photo Apr 19, 10 17 07 AM

I then added more JB-Weld to the tips of the fingers to solid-ify them, and let them sit for another 24 hours to dry. Now all that remains is to cover each of the hands with strips of the adhesive bandage and I will have four sets of hands, ready to be painted and attached once the heads and clothing for the Randy puppets are done.

Photo Apr 23, 12 58 01 PM

Since there was a lot of down time when working on the hands, waiting for epoxy to dry ect. I also started working on covering the final puppets with foam.
This is to give the puppet a more realistic body shape underneath the clothing, which goes a long way towards making the puppets move more realistically. If the cloth drapes in such a way that you can see the fact that the stomach area has no filling or that the legs and arms are uniform plastic tubes, it can break the viewer out of the accepted world you’re presenting in your animation.

First I covered the areas that needed the most filling with blocks of solid polyurethane foam I bought at a craft store. I filled out the thighs and lower legs, as well as the stomach area and the gaps the joints at the shoulders and elbows. The foam is attached using rubber cement which is a dry stick adhesive. The way it works is you coat the two sides of what you want to bond together, in this case, the puppets lower leg section and one side of the foam block, with the rubber cement. You then let them sit until they are both dry (this only takes a minute or two). Once both sides are dry, you press them together, and they attach. You have to be careful with your aim though – it sticks very quickly and if you’re not careful you may end up having to cut the foam block off and get a new one because the placement wasn’t correct. The rubber cement actually bonds better when you let both sides dry out, than if you were to attach them when the cement was still damp.

Photo Apr 11, 3 35 11 AM

Once the blocks of foam are in place, I then move on to filling out and shaping the puppet by wrapping it with a thinner foam called pre-wrap. I actually discovered pre-wrap when I played basketball in high school, and had a tendency to roll my ankles when coming down from trying to grab rebounds. The school trainer had to wrap both my ankles in athletic tape before each game. In order to make the tape more comfortable and not have it stick to my skin, she used this pre-wrap foam on my ankle first. It’s essentially a very thin sheet of foam, that comes on a roll.

For the puppets, I bought some of this pre-wrap and cut strips of it to wrap around the puppet. By controlling how tightly or how loosely I pulled the wrap, I was able to round out the blocks of green foam and also create some tapering in certain sections of the legs. Because the arms are close to the width they need to be, I just wrapped the foam directly around the arm sections, layering more in areas I needed to be thicker, and less where I didn’t. The ends of the pre-wrap strips were secured with rubber cement, just like the rest of the foam. The end result, is a more human-like body shape for the puppets, that will look much better underneath the puppet’s wardrobe.

Photo Apr 11, 3 34 57 AM

Photo Apr 19, 11 47 28 AM

At the moment I’ve finished covering 2 of the final four puppets in foam. Though I hope to get the remaining 2 done tonight and get the hands wrapped and completed.

Once I have the foam covering and the final hands finished – I will have completed 6 out of my 8 project goals for the quarter which ends in 2 and a half weeks. The other 2 tasks I want to finish are building the stage sections I will need for shooting (I’ve already designed them), and finally finish the new animatic I’ve been working on in bits and pieces all quarter. My overall goal is to have at least one full puppet and set completed by the end of May – so I can start shooting a few scenes, while I finish off the other puppets and sets.

So that’s where I’m at blogosphere. Hopefully my health will level out a bit an allow me to make the final push for the end of the quarter and for the beginning of my planned shooting schedule.

See you next week! (I hope)

From feet to fingers

Hello again blog,

I’m a little late getting my post up, mostly due to the 30 page assignment I was working on for project management last week. But, I am still determined to keep updating regularly, so better late than never.

I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to keep working on the puppets last week, and absolutely nothing got done on the animatic which is frustrating. I managed to add a few more layers of paper mache to some of the shoes caps for the final foot designs for Randy, but it will still take some more time before those are completed.

In between layers of paper mache shoes, I did manage to get the test hands completed using Huey, Dewey, and Louie – my test puppets who are going to reused as secondary characters in the final film.

I had planned out the different kinds of armature structure I would use for the hands when I first designed the test puppets. The first one, as you can see below – has a thin wooden toggle for the palm section, to which thin twised pieces of 24 gauge wire was attached. Ideally I would have been able to drill into the palm piece and insert the wire that way, but without a drill press I wasn’t able to get the control to complete such a delicate operation . In the end, I used a handsaw to make grooves in the palm piece and inset the wires into those, as well as one along the side for the thumb. I then wrapped the wire around the toggle a few times for extra security and drenched the thing in J.B.-Weld.  Photo Mar 29, 11 56 28 AM

You can see here, how the armatures came out.

hands from top

I then experimented with 2 different types of covering. The first was a few layers of adhesive bandage, that can be found in your average convenience store first aid section. It covered the armature quite well as was fairly quick to apply. One area to be careful of is the hand starting to look too bulky in certain areas. It can’t be seen in this image, but the palm is far to rounded in this version, in part due to the excess wire wrapped around the toggle. The finger articulate quite well though, and the paint adheres fine. The only thing to watch for, it seems, is gaps in the paint job when the hand is flexed. Something that can easily be handle with a second coat of paint.Photo Apr 08, 6 53 56 PM

For the other hand, I wrapped the fingers and palm with what is called pre-wrap. It is a very thin foam that I first found out about when I played basketball in high school. My ankles were quite a mess when I played, and before I was able to get some matching ankle braces for games, I would have both ankles wrapped by the school trainer. The pre-wrap was used to cushion the tape, and prevent it from adhering directly to my skin. This allowed for flexibility in addition to support – plus I highly appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to strip off a layer of epidermis after every game. I used the pre-wrap in a fairly similar way, adding a layer of paper mache over the top of it using the combination cloth/paper that I experimented with for the connective tongue of the shoe caps. The foam allows the cloth/paper to move a little more freely over the armature and makes it less likely to tear when I manipulate the fingers. However, I did find that even with the added layer of foam, the paper does still seem inclined to tear too easily, and in several spots makes in harder to manipulate the finger joints.

Photo Apr 08, 6 54 19 PM

The next design replaced the wooden toggle with a wire loop. This has the advantage of being used as a potential tie-down site if it’s needed and is much faster to assemble than the previous hand armature. I also wanted to experiment with a different sort of wire control for the fingers. And experimented with a designed sort of exoskeleton. As you can see in the lower part of the drawing, the idea was to have a foam glove, that was wrapped in thin wire. The wire would add an interesting design to the hands, as well as allow me to manipulate the fingers into shape.

Photo Mar 29, 11 56 11 AM

First I stenciled the hand shape onto a block of polyurethane foam. I then cut out the hand shape, and continued to trim it until it looked somewhat like the gloves that Mickey Mouse wears. (Except with more fingers)

Photo Mar 29, 11 55 15 AM

Photo Mar 29, 11 55 35 AM

 

One the hands were properly shaped, I painted them and cut a slit in the bottom half that I could insert the metal loop at the end of the arm into.

Photo Apr 04, 5 12 39 AMOnce the hand were propped open, I applied a layer of rubber cement (seen above) to both the foam pockets and to the metal loop. Rubber cement actually adheres better when you apply it to both the surfaces you want to attach and them allow it to dry before  combining them. Thus the need for propping the hands open so that they resemble tiny monster mouths. Nom nom nom.

 

Photo Apr 04, 5 12 28 AM

Once dried, I attach the foam gloves to the wrist loop, and the giant foam hand was attached. Before I began to add the outer wire, I tested the flexibility of the wrist joint, and it moved fairly well, though an added washer might be useful just to give me a slightly wider surface along the loop to grab hold of. Plus, a washer would help hold a screw better, if the hands are needed to be used as tie downs.

 

 

Photo Apr 08, 6 55 13 PM

 

My first attempt at adding the wire in a more decorating twisting manner worked well enough for the design aspect of creating the hands. But proved somewhat useless when it came to holding the hand in place when I tried to manipulate it. I then unwrapped the first exoskeleton attempt and wrapped it in a much more messy style, but one that I hoped would hold its shape a little better.

Photo Apr 08, 6 56 04 PM

 

It did, actually hold the shape better, but in still wasn’t firm enough and the foam tended to resist staying in a bent position without an interior armature to hold it more firmly in place. The decorative idea might work for a later project, but for now – the foam exoskeleton glove, just doesn’t seem to be a workable idea for this piece. Plus, my experiments with head designs – has made it clear that I currently don’t have the dexterity or knowledge to manipulate the thinner wire properly to create the hand designs or the facial expressions I had hoped. For now the plan is to go back to the old paint and ink standards.

The third design takes elements from each of the first two. This time I used single strands of the 16 gauge wire for the fingers, and attached them to the circular wire loop from the second design.

Photo Mar 29, 11 55 53 AM

I attached the wire fingers to the loop, applied my usual glob of J.B.-Weld and once it dried, trimmed the lengths of the finger wires down.

Photo Oct 25, 3 32 13 AM

Over that third armature, I applied a layer of rubber cement, and this time used a different sort of adhesive bandage. I’ve lost the packaging for it since I purchased it for one of my many injuries in past years. ( I have never been known for my grace, though my lack-thereof does come up often in friendly mockery) It has a slightly more rubbery tecture to the cloth and a ribbed patten to it which allows is to attach to itself with the use of any glue-like adhesive.

 

Photo Apr 08, 6 53 18 PM

In many ways this looks a lot like the plaster strips people often use when building up the back of molds for pouring silicone puppet forms. I has good articulation of the joints. They are a little stiff, but this I knew to be an issue with the thicker finger wire from my movement tests earlier. Overall does seem to be a valid option, however, the texture stands out so much, that I feel it would be distractingly dissimilar from the paper mache I intend to use for the head design.

So at the end of it all. For the final hand designs I plan to work on this week, I want to use a wire loop with a washer attached for the palm section of the hands. And to that I will attach the finger sections which I will make with the twisted 24 gauge wire, cover with the adhesive bandage and painted with two coats of paint for coverage. Hand design tests complete!

See you again on Friday!

A fleet of floral foam fitted feet

Hello again blog. Look I came back like I said I would!

So, I was able to spend about 10 hours working on my thesis since Monday, which is a good sign.I’ve been struggling to get my hours of work in over the last two weeks, both because I have a lot of other work with my project management class, and because two weeks ago I got hit pretty hard by a flare and it took me the longest time for my system to fully get over it.

Originally the doctor’s were calling what I had sort of a pre-lupus, possible rheumatoid arthritis inflammatory auto-immune disorder. Mostly what that meant was that I had a lot of symptoms that seemed like lupus, but not the requisite 4 on the list if lupus symptoms required for an official lupus diagnosis. The last school year was actually a gap year for me, as I was on medical leave to try and get the symptoms under control. They tried me on a standard lupus/RA medication which helped a little bit with the joint inflammation issues I was having, but also started causing vertigo the longer I was on it and wasn’t having much of an effect on the physical fatigue symptoms I was having. Since the lupus-based treatment wasn’t working, they are now trying me on fibromyalgia medication. The symptoms for all of these conditions are all very similar, present in different ways in different people, and there isn’t really a single test that can be done to say a person has one or another. They are what’s called clinical diagnoses, which means you get to the diagnosis either by eliminating other possibilities or looking at the symptoms and possibly which medications seem more effective and basing to diagnosis on that. It’s not a great method, but it’s the only one the doctor’s have at this point – so I try not to let to elusiveness of it all get to me.

On the plus side, switching me to a fibromyalgia treatment seems to be helping a lot more than the past medications. So I guess, at this point it seems like that’s what I have. The odd things I noticed about my current meds though, was that  even they were prescribed to help me deal with the joint pain I was dealing with, they actually seem to have helped the fatigue even more than they helped the pain. The pain is a little better, but when I flare, it actually seems to hit me harder than it did before. So two weeks ago when I started flaring, probably from over-doing it physically during the break and then trying to push myself to get too much work done in the early weeks of the quarter, it really made a mess of me. I was having trouble walking for a few days because of the pain, and I couldn’t stay active for more than a few hours at a time before I had to lie down. I wouldn’t necessarily sleep, but just needed to not have to physically hold myself upright.  It’s hard to describe how frustrating it is to have the motivation to get stuff done, but to feel like you’re wearing weights every time you sit up and try and move around. The pain passed after a few days, but up until around Tuesday of this week I just kept feeling exhausted much more quickly, my mental focus wasn’t quite as sharp, and I would start to ache more easily after working for a little bit. It made it hard to get my work done, so now that I seem to have passed that particular rough patch, I’m hoping to have at least one or two good weeks to catch up a bit before the symptoms start acting up again.

Last week I started working on a shoe cap design for my puppets. Since I’m attaching the puppets to the set’s using what’s called a top tie-down (where you screw down through the puppet feet, or any other contact point, into the set) I needed a way to hide the screws in the actual shots while still being able to access the tie down points. I came up with the idea of basically making a fitted cap to fit over the front of the foot, that I could pop off when I needed access to the screws, but that would also always return to the same position when I put it back so as to keep the foot’s shape the same from frame to frame.

Photo Mar 19, 12 21 20 PM

Here you can see Louie’s mismatched feet. The metal and wire tie down in the front is the kind I’m using for the four Randy puppet’s I’ve built.

I started by carving the shape of the top of the shoe out of dry floral foam using clay sculpting tools. If you don’t press to hard, it’s actually not too difficult to shape the way you want, and a toothbrush is useful for clearing the extra bits of foam out of your work area – though I will tell you from experience that it’s probably going to take a shower to get those particles out of your pores and your hair. That stuff gets everywhere!

Photo Mar 19, 12 21 47 PM

Uncarved dry floral foam.

Photo Mar 19, 12 23 16 PM

Shaped shoe cap from the front.

Photo Mar 19, 12 24 16 PM

Underside of the shaped shoe cap.

Photo Mar 19, 12 23 33 PM

Shaped shoe cap from the back. The slot is where the wire that connects the toe section to the heel section fits.

Photo Mar 19, 12 24 57 PM

Shoe cap in place!

Once I had the outer shape carved, I then slowly removed the underside to match the shape of the foot tie down. Since my tie-downs aren’t uniform from one to the other, each cap is actually unique to the foot it’s designed for.  One I got the insides carved out to fit completely over the toe tie-down spot, I covered the foam in a few layers of paper maché. This was important because continued pressure on the foam could deform it. This gives the top of the shoe cap some extra strength and durability since it needs to be handled a lot. I also found that it’s best to cover the foam with a layer of paint before you start adding the paper maché. The wet paper and glue mixture doesn’t adhere very well to the foam on it’s own, and the layer of paint helps it grip a little better. I also would often use straight glue and dry paper for the very first layer of paper, and then use the paper soaked in a mixture of glue, flour, and water for the top layers so I could smooth and shape it as I needed.

Photo Mar 26, 11 29 07 PM

Cloth connected cap design.

Photo Mar 26, 11 27 58 PM

Fabric-paper connected cap design.

After the front cap was complete, it was just a matter of covering the heel section with it’s own paper mache layer to match and finding an appropriate material to fill out the sides, that could be flexible enough to look realistic when the foot is bent as well as flat. For my two test feet, I bridged the gap on one with some basic cotton fabric, and on the other I used a paper that has a lot of fabric fibers mixed in with it, making it sort of a cross between paper and cloth. I chose that instead of straight paper because it should have better durability when it’s flexed and folded multiple times as the shoe cap is taken off an on. For the shoe I used the fabric-paper for, I also used some polyurethane foam to fill out the volume of the gap between the heel and the toe sections, but I did not attach the paper to the toe cap, only to the heel. I used the shape of the tongue and laces of the shoe to create a connecting segment between the heel and toe sections to give it more mobility. On the test shoe where I used the fabric, I did actually connect the heel to the toe on the sides as well as with the tongue section on the top. After they each dried and were ready to be tested, I found that keeping the side sections separate from the toe allowed me to pull the cap off further to the side, granting me the access I needed to get a screw in and out of the tie down.

Photo Mar 26, 11 28 37 PM

Here you can see the range of motion when the side sections aren’t actually attached to the toe.

Photo Mar 26, 11 29 32 PM

For the cloth one, the side were connected initially. There’s not enough space to get a screw and screwdriver in there at all.

Photo Mar 26, 11 31 04 PM

A quick snip of the side sections with a pair of scissors fixed the problem though.

This week I used the designs I came up with to start making shoe caps for the final Randy puppets. I got all eight caps carved and painted. I used a double layer of paint, just to add some more strength to the caps, and also painted the inside where the tie down is, to prevent the foam from rubbing away and making the cap fit too loosely. Hopefully I will find that to work as intended once I start animated for extended periods with the same puppet. I also found that it was a lot easier to carve out the underside of the foam to get it to fit properly over the tie downs first, and then to make the rounded shoe shape after that.

Photo Mar 27, 2 48 41 AM

The eight final feet for Randy with the un-shaped floral foam already carved out to accommodate the tie-downs.

Photo Mar 27, 2 49 23 AM

Tiny fake feet all paired up.

Photo Mar 27, 7 05 51 PM

Here they are again now that they’ve been shaped and painted.

Photo Mar 27, 7 21 32 PM

Here you can see that the underside of the caps have been painted as well to prevent the foam from wearing down as quickly.

While the caps were in various stages of drying, I also spent a good chunk of time working on some of the organizational charts I would need for the project. I created a complete shot list for the project broken down into 9 separate scenes and 69 individual shots. I also put together a set list, which describes all the various sets I will need to create the look of the town Randy is running through, and included details such as any specific props or items I need in the sets, or which ones I’ll need to have special access to in order to reach the puppets to animate them. The shot list and the set list actually took up a much larger portion of my work-time than I expected them to. I ended up spending about 4 hours total working on those. However, it makes it a lot easier to see what I need to get done moving forward, now that I have all of that properly worked out on paper – and I can always keep updating them with further notes, so I will always have a place to check back with to make sure I have any props I needs, or to remind myself of special notes for certain scenes.

Overall, I feel it was a pretty productive week. Hopefully my health will hold, and I might even be able to get more hours in for next week.

Oh look, I still have a blog… *blows off a large cloud of dust*

Um, hi blog. You may not remember me. It’s Carolyn – the person who’s supposed to be updating you on a regular basis…. yeah. Sorry I haven’t been around recently. I sort of got into this pattern where I would be working on all these things like building puppets and designing sets, all the while taking pictures of the process so I could go on to write awesome blog posts about what I was doing. The problem was that in order to get all those things done, I often didn’t have time at the end of the week to update your bloggyness. So…I would put it off and think, “that’s ok – I still have to attach the feet/tweak the design/adjust the hemline of the pants pattern. I’ll just wait until that’s finished and update the blog later next week.”

But you see, by the time I had finished that first item I was working on,  I was usually also in the middle of the next one, so I’d put off the update again to finish that next part, and so on and so forth. And with each passing week the amount of stuff I had to blog about just kept getting bigger and bigger, and I knew it would require more and more time to catch up on everything. So I just kept working on all those parts and pieces of the project I was blogging about, and well… now it’s been two months.

Sorry blog.

So here’s what I’m going to try this time. From now on, I need to just post about what I’ve gotten done. It doesn’t matter what that is or if it’s complete. I just need to keep a record of what I’m accomplishing week to week. If something’s half finished well then I’ll just have to write about the rest of it when it’s complete. Now, as I said way back at the beginning of this blog endeavour, I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. I would start and leave behind journals all the time when I was younger. It’s always something I felt would be useful and good, but I would always tend to find other things that were higher up on my list of THINGS THAT MUST GET DONE, and before you knew it – a year had passed between entries. (Seriously, you should see my live journal. I had a whole gag going on there where a group of sarcastic villagers in my head who would make mock the going-ons in my life. But it soon got to the point where there we’re such long intervals between my entries that they moved out and I assume are now living in someone else’s head. They took the dog too.) So the second part of this, to help it not drop lower on my to-do list because of the time involved in putting together a post such as this – that I will also set a time limit for myself. Once a week I will post to this blog – but each entry cannot take more than an hour to write. Once I hit that time limit, I gotta wrap it up – and anything unsaid will either have to stay that way of work itself into the next week’s entry. Hopefully this will help to keep me a little more on track.

So a quick catch up as to where I am at with my thesis/life. This week is the beginning of week 4 out of 10 on RIT’s quarter system calendar. Next fall we will be switching to semesters so the stress of the week to week will likely be less condensed.

In staying true to my ability to never be able to devote enough time to my thesis alone, I am also taking a 4 credit Project Management course, which has so far been requiring a solid 20 hours of effort a week with ~100 pages of reading, a quiz, 2-3 pages worth of answers to material review questions, required discussion post readings and replies, and a portion of a group project due every week. It’s a ton of work, but I think it’s actually a very worthwhile topic for people in creative professions to look into. Since our work is of a liberal arts major and the techniques and skills we need take a lot of time and effort to develop – most programs don’t include any courses to help us consider how to make a living off our work. A huge part of the reason that RIT was at the top of my list for animation programs was because built into the curriculum was a Business of Animation requirement. I am now taking project management on top of that because I know it is an area I myself could use some help in. I tend to underestimate the amount of time a task will take – and often spend far too much time trying to perfect every detail of every step. I am hoping that by learning about  how projects are managed and how to learn to make decisions about trade-offs between the schedule, the cost, and the end quality of the work – that I can better learn to manage myself – and perhaps start gaining some of the skills that I might need if I ever work for myself as a freelancer or start a small studio with a group of fellow animators. So while it takes away a lot of time from Posthaste, I do feel that it is very worthwhile and I am already trying to implement some of the concepts that we’re discussing in class – to my current class/thesis/heath/life balance.

The thesis work continues to progress slowly but surely. I did make the puppet armatures for Randy my main character. At the moment I have not attached any extremities to the bodies so I can get the costuming on more easily once it is designed. I also designed and built an armature for the female character at the end who distracts Randy from his letter-bearing task. I have named her Babs. (Mostly because I felt I shouldn’t just keep calling her “Boobs”) Her construction is based on the template I used for Randy but with very exaggerated hips and breasts capable of secondary motion. Spending my weekend  sanding down two tiny wooden breast pieces did lead to an amusing series of picture messages and facebook posts for my friends and family to enjoy. Because, despite the stress (both physical and emotional) I do love what I do.

In addition to finishing those armatures, I began the process of covering my test puppets (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) with polyurethane foam (like the kind you use to stuff cushions) and began designing and testing clothing patterns for their costumes. I’ve gotten the patterns for Dewey’s shop girl outfit done, and am close to being finished with Huey’s jeans and long sleeved shirt. He still needs a bubble-vest to go over it, and then I need to design the clothes for Louie – who I plan to have well used khaki’s, a button down work-shirt, a windbreaker, and a baseball cap. The fabrics for all the puppets has been purchased at this point – so it really comes down to the designing and creation.

At the end of the last quarter I also finally got the new idea for my story-line that I had been looking for. Back when I first put together my animatic in the fall – I was working against a deadline (as is almost always the case) and when I couldn’t figure out that great solution to make the story come together the way I wanted it to in time, I was left using some fairly standard comedy cliches to keep the story moving forward. It didn’t move forward all that well (oh look he tripped again) but at least it moved. Around week 7 or 8 of the last quarter I came up with a concept I thought would work much better, which I hope will make the piece more visually interesting in areas by introducing a second stop-motion technique (cut paper style) and combining some of the amusing antics of my distract-able main character. I think this new story concept is a little more engaging and make the piece more fun, and hopefully it will save me a little bit of time in the production process down the line. (I hope) To that end, starting in the first week of this quarter, I began working on some set design concepts and a new animatic to test out the new story.

This animatic I am working on in more detail, including more complete walk cycles to help me get a better sense of the timing, and filling out the detail on the backgrounds and action some more. because it’s more detailed, it’s taking me longer to bring it together. I have also come to finally accept that fact that I just don’t enjoy the storyboard and animatic phase of projects as much as the script development, fabrication, and animation stages. I know I can do them, and I need to do them, but my dislike of the task causes it to drag on and on as my motivation for the work fades. After a week and a half of fighting myself to get through the animatic, I started getting back to the fabrication and only working for an hour or two on the animatic on the days set aside for thesis work (with my other commitments it comes out to about 3 days a week overall). It means completion of the animatic will take longer, but knowing that I only have to work on it in short bursts – has allowed me to be more focused during that time – and I get to reward myself with the more fun building work afterwards.

Right now, I’ve gotten about 1/3 of the new animatic completed – not including the time after the drawing is done to sync up and new scratch track. In the meantime, I’ve tested and settled on a method for designing the shoe caps that will fit over the hex-nut toe’s of the puppets’ feet and am now working on producing those for the 4 Randy puppets, and the Babs puppet. This week I also plan to start testing methods for covering the various hard armatures I designed for Huey, Dewey, and Louie – and will use the results of those tests to build hands for my two main characters, probably sometime next week.

And so there you have my general work requirements for this quarter. My hour is up, so no pics or spell-checking for this entry. Hopefully I’ll have time for some pics in my next post. I plan to try and have my updates done on Friday so I can wrap up the week’s work at the end of the week, which will line up with my final quarter due date at the end of week 10.

Sorry to have been gone so long blogosphere. I will keep trying to get better at this as I go. Wish me luck!

Puppet Armature Analysis – Putting Huey, Dewey, and Louie through their paces

I had two purposes in doing these armature movement tests. The first and most obvious was a need to test out the various armature designs I came up with. To take a moment to examine how the different weights of wire worked for each joint and to see which limb structure is both effective and efficient for my needs. The second aspect of these tests is to give me a chance to essentially rough draft my walk cycles for the project. While Posthaste does have a basic narrative structure to it of a teenage boy trying to outrun a mail truck to get his letter sent out that day, my real focus for this piece to to stretch my ability to give a walk cycle a sense of a character’s personality as well as then creating various types of walk cycles that can all work together with the personality of the same character.

One of the movie’s that I recently watched and will be typing up my review for is Laika’s ParaNorman. What really struck me with the movie and what I plan to focus my review on is how they really took the time to individualize each character. They take a moment in the commentary to talk about how they sat down and came up with life stories for each of the cursed zombies and then combined the idea of who they were in life and then how their bodies would have decomposed to come up with a unique walk cycle for each of them. Each character has a distinct and well thought out series of walk cycles and movement cycles. This is essentially what I am trying to accomplish with my one main character, and with my secondary characters in a smaller way. At the end, when the female puppet walks by and distracts my main character, I want the audience to be able to get a sense of exactly who she is as a person just from her one walk from one side of the screen to the other.

In order to accomplish this I need to reacquaint myself with working with puppets. My last production piece for school was a hand drawn 2D piece, Colors (you can see it in its work-in-progress state here) and that was only done after having been on medical leave for a year to try and sort out this whole unknown auto-immune thing I’ve got going on, which I still haven’t quite figured out but I’ve at least found some treatments that are helping me to manage it better. So yeah, to circle back ’round to my point, I am out of practice so rough drafts and test animations of the walk cycles is a very good thing to work my way back into full animating form as it were.

So with those two focus points of structure and movement in place, I present to you my puppet armatures Huey, Dewey, and Louie in their first movement tests!

Dewey

Dewey was my first test design, using the basic wood and wire structure I first learned in my puppet building class at RIT for creating starter puppets. It is very much based on the simple wire and plasticine puppet design described in Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation by Susannah Shaw, though I do not intend to cover this puppet with plasticine. The main difference from that basic design and pretty much every puppet design you will ever see, is that I tried using a double spine in this case. Generally you always follow the anatomy or assumed anatomy of whatever type of creature you are building when making the puppet’s skeleton. A double spine is just one of those things you don’t do. My thought process in using a double spine here was to really experience why this is a bad idea. I knew from the start it would cause problems, but  I really wanted to experience those issues myself to gain a better understanding of why it doesn’t work. It may seem a little strange, but I think, in some cases, intentionally repeating someone else’s mistake can help you to better understand why certain design concepts evolved. Plus, there’s always that chance that by trying something different you can discover some thing useful, which I actually did.

I chose to use this particular puppet to test out the walk cycle for the distracting female at the end of the film. Her walk cycle is intended to be very hippy and involve a lot of torque at the waist as she is meant to be very curvaceous and dancing along to her headphones as she walks. I figured, that if this spine design could be of any use, it would be in helping to create that twist in the spine by giving it a little more support. And in one sense it did help. I felt it was a little easier to get a more fluid rotation of the hips from back to front on this character. Where the double spine was a hindrance in the walk cycle was actually in moving the  hip up and down as the character walked. To really get that swaying walk, I needed to have poses where the shoulder was tilting down and the hip was titling up on the same side of the body. Having the second spine prevented me from creating that movement effectively and took a lot of the intended swagger out of the walk cycle.

However,  while the double spine is certainly not the right choice for this particular puppet, I can see some instances where it could be useful. If you have a character that moves in a more waddling fashion, such as a duck or maybe a robot, having that extra section of the spine can add support for the extra twisting you might do, and it’s rigidity might help you to maintain a stiffer or more mechanical look to the movements.

Overall, the use of the wooden pieces for the limbs worked very well. They were easy to grip, firm so I didn’t have to worry about give, and of course they can be easily shaped into whatever form is needed for the puppet design. The only really drawback to the wooden limbs is the added time in takes to cut and sand each section down to just the right shape.

The use of the twisted 16 gauge wire overall was very useful. I didn’t feel like any of the areas were too weak to hold their position, while simultaneously I had a good range of flexibility so I didn’t feel like I was fighting the puppet when I tried to move it. In the joint between the heel and toe of the feet, I used a single piece of the 16 gauge wire instead of the twisted double I used elsewhere. This did prove problematic, the wire was just too weak and had a tendency to sometimes bend in additional places other than where I wanted it to bend. It also felt very fragile and I was concerned that the constant bending with every step would soon snap the wire in half. Moving forward, I plan to bump that back up to a double twist of the 16 gauge to give it the added stability I need.

For the hands, the twisted 20 gauge wire seemed to hold up well. The only real issue was in bending such small segments to look like properly curled fingers. The lengths are too small to be properly manipulated by hand so needle nose pliers or tweezers would be useful. I also plan to add some epoxy to the finger segments to provide a bit of a finger bone effect so the length of the knuckle segments is more regulated during the actual animation. Also, the connections between the fingers and the flat wooden piece I used for the palm, look chunky after having been put together, making me think that attaching the fingers to a metal loop directly is the better solution.

With the exception of the spine, which I pretty much assumed wouldn’t work going in, this design worked very well. It was strong and stable, didn’t break, and when I held the puppet up horizontally by the ankle it supported its entire weight without bending, which is a great test of the strength to weight assessment of the puppet. If it can’t hold itself up like that, there’s a good chance it will start to wobble or the weight of the upper body will start to bend it out of position in more precarious poses, like if you need the character to balance on one foot.

Overall I think I have a good start with the movement test here. I like the firm placing of the foot with each forward step. Towards the end, I feel like the toe is popping too much from the contact position to the down position so I’ll have to watch that.  (Contact position is when the foot that is moving forward first makes contact with the ground, most often with just the heel. The down position is when that foot is then flat on the ground and the weight has been transferred to it) I think I need to push the bounce in the upper body a bit more before hitting the contact positions since she is supposed to be rocking out to some music on her headphones. I think the arm movement works pretty well, though it can also be pushed a but further on the back swing and I need to make sure the hands aren’t coming too high up on the forward motion. It works better at shoulder level than up by the jaw. Also, there just needs to be more swaying of the hips back and forth. Some of this was due to the limitations of the puppet, but I also wasn’t pushing the pose as much as I should have.

Overall, I think it’s a good start, but I need to really exaggerate the movements a bit more for them to come across properly. Following live actions movements exactly tends to look too subdued in animation. I think here, I stuck too close to the reference footage, and didn’t push past it as much as I needed to in order for her personality to come across. She’s supposed to be a very bold and confident person who is going to dominate the shot she is in.

Huey

The main assessment I came away with from the Huey puppet is that the plumber’s epoxy was just way too heavy. The puppet just felt very weighted when I was trying to manipulate it, which, I think, added to the more measured performance I ended up with. The legs seemed bulky and the feet felt clunky. Even though the same wire weights in the extremities worked well for Dewey, they felt far too weak for the weight of the limbs for Huey here, especially in the legs. One thing that did seem to hold up decently was the single 8 gauge wire used for the spine rather than a twisted double section of the 16 gauge.

I did the horizontal body test, holding the puppet by the feet, and the wire in the ankle started to bend almost immediately. I did an overnight test of the puppet standing on one leg with the other leg bent like it was bouncing a soccer ball and both arms fully extended. When I came back to check it the next day, the limbs all drooped, which means that I wouldn’t be able to hold itself in a position overnight if I had the need to break up the shooting of the shot over several days, which is generally what you need to do.

The rounded edges of the limbs also got in the way when trying to bend the elbow so that the wrist was near the shoulder, and even in bringing the arms down along the side of the body. When I tried to sand away some of the extra epoxy to get the limbs closer to where they needed to be, it started to crumble and break off. Nothing detached, but it made me nervous about the longevity of the attachments. Additionally, the cut-in pelvis design I used kept rubbing against the connections at the top of the legs and didn’t work as well as I hoped. While I was able to get a higher step towards the front, the top of the legs kept catching on the back of the pelvis when the leg was fully extended, making it hard to get the pacing of the steps the way I wanted. The added bulk of the epoxy at the connection point, only made the problem worse.

As for the hands a feet. The hands are going to be primary made out of polyurethane foam, which is in the next phase of the designing, so there’s really nothing to talk about with them until I can test them out in action. The feet on the other hand just felt way to clunky. Using the double twisted wire instead of the single strand of the 16 did help, but the rounded shape of the feet made it hard to get the idea of weight across since the foot had a bit of an illusion of floating because the foot curves in at the bottom. The hex nuts were useful as channels for the tie downs and I didn’t have to be concerned about wood splitting like I did with the previous design if I needed to clamp it down tightly.

For the movement test, I definitely stuck too close to the reference footage. I was having difficulty determining what differentiated the jogging cycle from a run cycle, so I followed the reference almost exactly. In the end I was able to determine, that the main way to express the difference between a jog and a run is in holding the upper body section more steady. In a run, the character gets a little lower and focuses more on covering distance horizontally. Because the jog is slower, but not a walk, there’s a lot more vertical movement that essentially eats up the speed. This test doesn’t have much personality too it. I really need to focus next time on the character of the awkward teen running. He also moves just a bit too fast here for what I want in the jog, so I’ll need to re-pace it. Overall, it was valuable in helping me to figure out what I need to do, though the cycle itself isn’t very good. Here’s to doing better next time!

Louie

Louie was a weird sort of combination of being the most successful puppet and the least successful at the same time. The big thing I got out of this design concept was the fact that the plastic plugs worked really really well for the limbs. All I had to do was cut and/or glue them to size, drill a hole through the center and I was good to go. For a simple amateur puppet skeleton where you plan to build-up or mold the  actual body shape in top of with another material, they are great. The brand I’ve been using are Crown Bolt plugs, which have a cylindrical shape rather than the tapered one you find in most plugs. he only downside is that I’ve only been able to find them in the large variety pack size, so I have a lot of extra plugs and screws in sizes I’m not using. But, in this field, I’ll probably find a use for them at some point.

What didn’t work very well in this design concept was the wire weights I was using. Most of Louie’s joints used the single piece of 8 gauge aluminum wire. I found this to just be too stiff to manipulate the way I want. Some animators who prefer a tighter armature might actually like the 8 gauge. It’s really a matter of taste. For me, I felt like I was fighting with the puppet a little too much to get it where I wanted it. Another thing I discovered, was that because I was only using a single piece of the wire that was smooth, the JB-weld epoxy didn’t hold as well, and one of the arms came loose in it’s socket. Now having a limb come loose is a common problem, and can sometimes be because the socket and the length of wire weren’t deep enough and there just wasn’t enough surface to grip to each other. In this case, though,  I had almost 1/2″ of wire in the socket, but it just pulled loose of the epoxy and started to rotate freely. Thankfully the wire didn’t break so it’s an easy enough fix at this stage, I just need to re-glue the socket, but it makes me feel that the other advantage the twisted double length of the 16 gauge has is that because it’s twisted there are more grooves and divots for the epoxy to fill and grip into, helping to keep the wire more securely attached.

Moving outward to the extremities. The  palm design seems to work pretty well for the hands, but again the wire weight is off and the single  piece of 16 gauge for each finger is just too thick for such delicate manipulation. I decided to test two different foot design concepts with Louie, adjusting from what I learned with the first two test puppets. His left foot was a variation on the wooden foot from Dewey, using a washer to make the bottom of his foot flatter, and there was supposed to be another washer on top to disperse the force of the tie down and to keep the wood from splitting. I ended up forgetting the top washer before I did the movement test in my haste to get my work done, but I plan to add it in later when I fix his arm and I’ll still be able to get a sense for how well it works when I use him as a secondary character in the project. The second foot design was mostly made from hex nuts and washers, similar to the core of the foot I used with Huey, just without the plumber’s epoxy surrounding it.

Both foot designs seemed to work just fine. I found that with the weight difference between the two not matching, the puppet had  a tendancy to shift forward when the metal foot was extended and the wooden foot was holding the weight.  I’m guessing the issue would have been alleviated if both feet were the same, but it made me more inclined to go with the metal and wire foot for my final design. In my next round of testing when the puppets are covered with the foam layer, I will try and figure out a good capping method to go over the internal foot structure, that doesn’t appear to change too much in between frames if I need to adjust the screw.

The last piece of information that I took away from the movement test with the Louie armature, was that I had left too much joint space in this design. Having the extra wire between the torso and the upper arm, at the elbows, and particularly at the knees made the puppet more unwieldy. Because I had so much extra wire, the knee wouldn’t always bend at the same height, and with the stiffer 8 gauge wire, it was harder to force the bend back where I wanted it. For the next design I tried to be a lot more deliberate in having enough wire to fold the limb back entirely if I need too (like if the puppet were to squat, bending the knees all the way so the upper and lower legs are parallel).

Despite some of my struggles with the wire weights in this puppet design, this movement test actually was the best of the three in my opinion. I tried to distance myself a little more from the reference footage, which I think paid off. In my efforts to create more of the look of a awkward teenager, I tried to add little touches like having the wrists cocked awkwardly to break the line of the arm, and added a sort of forward head bob as he moved, which enhances the idea that he is listening to music. The first few steps have a pretty good amount of bounce in them, I think he starts to dip a little too much the two steps before he spins and the movement starts to look too cartoony. The tempo slows a bit too much on the spin, I need to eliminate a frame of two from the timing to get him back on pace, but overall I really like it. In the next iteration I want to try and put a little more awkwardness in his posture. I plan to have him slouch a little more, which will add some bend to the legs, and have him  lead with his head and shoulders more. I also plan to work out a less graceful curve for the arms as they move, to really try and get a sense that this is a character who has recently gone though a growth spurt, and hasn’t quite figured out how to maneuver his longer limbs.

One good reference point I stumbled across was actually when I was watching The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon (the character played by Jim Parsons) always seems more awkward than the other characters. Some of this is due to his long and thin stature, but I noticed in one scene between him and his roommate Leonard (Johnny Galecki) that it is also in how he holds himself. Leonard as the “king of the nerds” is the most confident of the group in relating to the rest of the world, while Sheldon’s character is often shown to be confused and anxious about the prospect of interacting with other people. I noticed in one shot how much that came across just in the way they were standing. Leonard was calm, his arms were just hanging straight down at his sides and he was causally leaning with his weight shifted to one side. Sheldon, on the other hand, just looked anxious even though in the conversation he was actually correcting Leonard about something. (Sheldon likes to tell people they are wrong a lot and then tell them why) Sheldon was standing almost perfectly straight, his weight balanced between both feet and his elbows were bent bringing his hand and shoulders up. There was a tension to his pose like he was instinctually preparing for an attack (Sheldon is always thinking about the worst case scenario) which reminded me a bit of the anxiety of high school when most people are more insecure about themselves, and there’s an inherent nervous tension, as if you are waiting for someone else to notice your faults and judge you for them. So I plan to try and pay more attention to the body postures as I watch future episodes of the show and see if I can glean some more good ideas from it. Thanks Jim Parsons!

Final analysis

So, taking everything I learned from my three test puppets, with a thought toward efficiency and economy at the same time, here is the final design for my main character Randy.

randy final armature front

randy final armature side

Working my way out from the center, the torso and pelvis are essentially the same as the ones used for Louie, the third puppet. This is really a combination of the overall shapes used for the first puppet Dewey, but with the shoulders angled in and the lower section of the pelvis angled more and raised up a bit.

The spine is the only piece of 8 gauge aluminum wire being used, the added stiffness is more useful in that central joint since most of his movements have him upright and there won’t be as much movement there. This allows me to be a little rougher in handing the arms and  legs without worrying that it will shift the central position of the character. However, there are a few shots where Randy needs to contort a little more, so I plan to build one copy of him where his spine will be made with the double twisted pieces of the 16 gauge so I can get those poses a little easier.

I’ll continue to use the plastic anchor plugs for the limbs as they’re a lot faster to assemble than the wooden limbs and a lot lighter than the metal and epoxy ones. The joints to the limbs with be connected with the double 16 gauge twist. I’ve expanded the length of the arm and leg segments so I don’t have as much fluidity in where the joints bend.

The feet will be made with the stacked hex nuts with the connecting 16 gauge twist sitting on top of the toes and then wrapped around the ankle joint. The hands are slightly less determined. I know that for a inner skeleton method, using a loop of the 16 gauge and attaching single strands of the 20 gauge wire that will then be doubled back and enhanced with epoxy to create the finger joints. I have one more test to do of a design that actually utilizes something akin to a wire exoskeleton. Once I’ve tested that with the various other coverings I’ll be able to build the hand segments for the final character.

I also have a few more tests to do to determine the best head replacement system before I drill the holes. One thought I had was combining the idea I used with Dewey where I simple use a screw to tighter down on a piece of wire holding the head in a socket, with  the plug holder idea I used with Louie. The concern with the plug method is that over time the plug will become torn up and won’t hold the replacement heads as firmly. However, I recently saw a different metal armature design called Stop Mo Tech which uses a combination of metal caps you can epoxy to your wire joints, which then fit into their socket parts which have screws to tighten and clamp them down. It’s an easy method for having replacement parts on hand if something breaks. I plan to try a variation on that technique using some of the excess plastic plug anchors with a loop on one end which can be slotted into the neck of the puppet and then secured in place by drilling a screw through the back of the torso into the loop at the bottom.

Unlike the test armatures, the hands and feet won’t be permanently attached to the final designs until after the foam “flesh” layer is added and the clothing is designed and stitched together. This is simply because it’s easier to get the costumes on the puppet without the hands and feet stuck on the ends. I will get into this more later once I get the clothing done and can show pictures of the whole process.

So there you have it, the final armature design for Randy!