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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.