A quick check of the calendar tells me that I haven’t added any new posts in over two weeks. That can’t be! Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago that I blogged about my mini movie reviews in the Reader? Nope. Time has raced by with not a single blog-worthy thought entering my mind.
Three words: Stop. Motion. Animation.
For those of you familiar with my videos, you’ll know that stop motion is one of several techniques I use to occasionally animate my fine art photographs. There’s time lapse, pan’n’scan slideshows, and stop motion. Of those varied techniques, stop motion is far and away the most tedious and time consuming, which is why I haven’t created any new stop motion animations in over a year and a half. But that’s exactly what’s been consuming virtually all of my time over the past 5 weeks, as I’ve been locked away in my studio and office capturing and process frames for my latest photo, Lola and Lexi ditch biology, and never return to the Eleanor Roosevelt School for Wayward Girls.
Dude! Come on? How hard can it really be? Just move stuff a little bit, take a picture, then move stuff again. Duh!
Oh, if only it was that simple! Let’s talk for a moment about how I create my stop motion animations…
Beginning at the Ending
In my animations I endeavor to create the illusion of a photograph creating itself from an empty stage, with all the figures, records and books magically finding their way to their final resting spot in the finished photo. This means that I start with the finished photograph and work my way backwards, moving objects little bits at a time until the scene I am shooting is completely empty, shooting a new photo between each scene change. Once all the images are shot, all I have to do (cough, cough, yeah, right) is reverse all the captured frames and… voila! I have an animation of the photograph being constructed from start to finish.
Theories are easy, but the proof if often mired in a pudding of sticky caramel reality.
So, like I said, I start at the end. This means that everything that preceded the final scene has to be anticipated. In reverse. Our brains don’t generally work that way. We’re hardwired to anticipate what’s going to happen next; like when a ball bounces into traffic from a playground. We envision motion always running forward, so to produce a stop motion animation sequence I have to get my brain to behave like a projector running in reverse and envision all the motion (and the story!) running backwards. Talk about brain teasers!
Of frame counts and running lengths
To give you an idea about the scope of my current effort for Lola and Lexi, consider some of my previous animations. The first extensive animation I tackled (not to be confused with my early “quick’n’dirty” animations which required only a couple of hundred photos each) was Pulling a Miracle Ending from the Plastic Playbook, based on one of the photos included in my 2009 solo exhibit at Distinction Gallery in Escondido. Miracle Ending was picked up by Juxtapoz.com and attracted several thousand hits on YouTube.
The video runs for all of a 1:46 and was constructed from 800-plus photographs stitched together at roughly 9 frames per second to produce (ahem) “reasonably” smooth animation. Okay, in truth, the movement of each figure from frame-to-frame is pretty jerky, as I was just kind of guessing as to how much movement was “enough movement” to create a convincing animation. In some cases, my guesswork was almost okay, but in other spots characters appear to defy gravity and the laws of physics as they leap from block to block and record to record.
My next effort was considerably more ambitious!
For Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader I upped the ante to a full blown production with opening and closing credits, a synchronized sound bed, and—though still full of craziness—a narrative flow to match the theme of the final photograph.
The frame count jumped to 2,100 shots, the running time stretched to almost 4 and a half minutes, and the animation was quite a bit tighter than prior efforts. The frame rate for Eve was still set to between 9 and 10 frames per second, mostly to synch a couple of key beats in the backing soundtrack, but the frame-to-frame movements were much finer than Miracle Ending resulting in smoother animation.
And, the new video?
4,588 frames. Yes, that’s a LOT of photographs, with each one requiring adjustments to the exposure, white balance, color quality, and sundry other improvements to achieve a more-or-less consistent transitions from one frame to the next.
And that’s what I’ve been up to for the past several weeks. Shooting the photos consumed close to 4 weeks of work, as I painstakingly made sure that the character movements would be slight based on a 17 page “script” I’d written to layout each and every backwards movement. Along the way, the project suffered two exploding flood lights, a damaged light socket, and the frying of a budget priced surge protector (subsequently replaced by a budget busting surge protector). All these lighting problems made the task of post production image corrections that much more difficult, and I’ve spent the past three weeks, 10 to 15 hours a day, refining each of those 4,588 photographs.
Luckily, the end of the tunnel is in sight!! Today I began work on the fun part of the animation: taking all those captured and adjusted frames and pasting them into a “digital flipbook” set to music with titles, credits, and REALLY cool music.
Stay tuned, this one is going to be pretty cool!