The story of Cane-mation…
So this is where it all began, June 17th at about 11pm. I’m trawling through Facebook and happen to accidentally click on an ad in the sidebar… It redirects me here.
After I double take at the prize money being offered, I curiously read further. Ten minutes later and I’ve dissected the terms and conditions and have come to the conclusion that there is no reason why I should not enter this competition, except for the fact that the deadline is a mere 5 weeks away.
Fast forward 30 minutes, I have a concept and am furiously typing up an email to my soon to be key collaborators, Emily Howard and Kerryanne Hughes.
The initial concept/pitch I had in my head was very basic: a multi-plane stop-motion animated clip, which used a mixed media approach when it came to materials used to animate with.
A shot from the music video for “Blood” by The Middle East (r.i.p.), directed by Greedy Hen.
My inspiration came from various places, but here are a few videos I drew my initial inspiration from. (Click read more to see the videos.)
The Multi-plane System
The video below perfectly illustrates what a multi-plane set up is. In 7mins, Walt Disney explains how the multi-plane camera, an innovation straight out of Disney’s “school of self-improvement”, is far superior to the old nasty cel animation technique.
In the case of “Cane-mation!” however, the planes would not be moving during shots or performing any zooms to give the illusion of depth and perspective shifts. The system would be a fixed multi-plane system, shot on a fixed focal length lens, where the slight depth of field would give the illusion of umm, depth. It would also make it easier to make the animation more complicated, by having layers (planes), separating elements onto different layers to animate them independently without them interfering with each other.
Making the Multi-Plane Setup
After a quick bit of research on the internet I had decided that the quickest and easiest way to make the setup was to buy a slot’n’lock shelf and then replace the MDF shelves with sheets of cut glass. So after a trip to Bunnings and Rapid Glass, I had my materials and went about putting it all together.
The second part of the setup involved mounting the camera to face down. The camera I would be using was my own Canon 60D, which thankfully is a fairly lightweight DSLR. After a rummage through the garage, I found an old LCD monitor mount with an articulating arm, and an old cheap stills tripod. After some tinkering, I managed to dodgy up something which would do the job, and clamped this to a shelf and counter weighted it down with some of the biggest books I could find in my house.
The books used are as follows: The Lego Big Ideas Book, The Tintin Bookset, Camping In Australia, Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopaedia of Food and Cookery and an array of other cookbooks which I don’t think I’ve ever used (namely "Jams & Preserves"). The irony of this whole situation is that I work at a bookshop, and here I am using books as mere weights.
Depth of Field
Whilst I love when things are shallow, the focus has a nice roll off and the background is glistening with pleasant bokeh, sometimes shooting wide open just isn’t what you want.
To shoot the stop-motion, I would be using my Canon 60D and my late grandfather’s Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm f1.8, straight outta the 1970s.
Test shots above show how the objects placed on different planes look at different apertures. It was all about finding the right balance; too sharp and all the depth would be lost, too soft and you wouldn’t be able to discern important details.
I went with f11, at ISO160, with a 2” shutter speed. Thankfully in the stop-motion world, you never have to worry about not having enough light, you just lengthen your exposure time!
After finishing the script and breaking down all the scenes, we set about figuring out how each scene would work and look. I (Emily) then jotted down the different “props” needed in each scene, and all materials that would be required to make them. Despite this planning, we still managed to take multiple trips to Spotlight, two dollar shops, art & craft stores and Kmart throughout the production.
Colours and textures are really important, especially since the general look of the animation is quite basic. I wanted materials that were interesting on their own – even before they were shaped and introduced into the animation. The lovely fabrics we found at Spotlight, scraps of origami paper, sheets of felt in almost every colour, and brown paper were among my favourite materials we used.
The sugar cane was made using balsa wood dowel; carefully painted with nine tissue paper leaves painstakingly glued to one end. Time-consuming, but produced a nice result.
We used crushed coffee beans for soil after we realised that actual granulated coffee, although it looks nice at first, quickly reacts to moisture in the air, turning black and sticky. The irregularity of the hand-crushed beans was a good effect though.
Another issue we quickly noticed was that the reflections of props would show up in the layers of glass. We largely solved this by sticking each item to black card or colouring it in with black marker.
The lighting was as basic as it gets. A set of CFL work-lights from Bunnings shone through some diffusion (from a 5in1 reflector). A large soft source to allow each plane to be evenly lit, and shone at roughly a 45 degree angle to eliminate reflections.
Due to the nature of CFL bulbs, the lights took about 30 mins to warm up, that is to settle at a consistent brightness and colour temperature.
A large black was hung over the camera and top half of the setup to eliminate reflected light off walls and to eliminate the reflection of the camera in the glass.
The camera (Canon 60D) was plugged from the mini-USB port to the USB port in my iMac with a long USB cable, this allowed Dragonframe to control the cameras settings remotely, so once the camera was setup, I didn’t really need to touch it.
Sadly though, the camera had to be battery powered as we couldn’t afford to buy a power adapter, so we were constantly cycling batteries between charging and being in use.
I also ran a secondary HD monitor with a long DVI cable to the other side of the setup, allowing Emily to work on one side, whilst I worked on the other using the secondary monitor. I also used an Apple Bluetooth keyboard to remotely capture frames etc.
Now when it comes to stop-motion, you may be thinking, “You just take a series of photos and play them back as a movie, right?” …well yes, but having a good piece of software for stop-motion is paramount! Stop-motion is all about planning, shooting, reviewing, shooting some more and repeating. Being able to see what you’re shooting and what you’ve shot simultaneously and what you need to shoot next, is the most basic feature of any piece of stop-motion software.
I used a piece of software called Dragonframe, which sadly has little to do with dragons. In 2011, I had downloaded the trial version for and old release back when it was called “Dragon Stop-Motion” and had played around with it. The new Version 3, I quickly found out, wasn’t anything like the software that I used to knoooooowwww (in a good way).
Behind the scenes on Gotye’s music video for “Somebody That I Used To Know” feat. Kimbra shot by Stark Raving Productions using Dragonframe..
With neither Emily nor I having any solid background in animation, we found the tools within Dragonframe very useful. It allowed us to draw tick marks, lines and shape overlays to position objects within the frame.
It also allows you to draw a curved path, then by typing in the number of frames, it places tick marks along the line to show you how much to move a certain object over a certain number of frames. This makes it extremely simply to do ease in’s and ease outs.
*Extended Edition* A time-lapse of Emily and Lachlan animating some of the scenes. Shot on a GoPro Hero 2. Each photo was shot with a 1 minute interval.
The Sound Design
The sound design for Cane-mation was an interesting project, picking out subtle sounds to help bring the animations to life, but not detract from the film, and mixing them as such.
"I brought Dan into the process quite late and only gave him a few days to complete the sound design so I wasn’t expecting too much from him. But when I was sent the first demo Dan had mixed, I synced it up with the animation and was really pleased with the way particular sounds brought the card and felt to life" - Lachlan.
My creative process for such projects is to go through, lay out and edit the voices, place in the music, choose the background sound, choose the sounds to fit the animations, and mix. Sometimes the animations can prove to be a challenge, I might know exactly what the sound should be, but it can be easier said than done to find the sound.
An example would be the worm that appears in Cane-mation, I knew I wanted a sort of squeaking sound as it inched along the ground, so I spent the next hour ransacking the house to find that sound. I ended up using a hole puncher to make the quirky but fitting squeaking sound for the worm.
As we were only able to work on the animation on weekends and some week nights, I was always looking for ways to save time without sacrificing the quality of the animation. Part of what sped up the animating process, was the use of looped animations. Elements such as the crow, the seagull, the seaweed and the cane toad were all looped animations, meaning they were only a few frames which were repeated in a cycle or back and forth.
The seaweed for example, was 10 pieces of seaweed at different positions in their “wave”. Now on screen there were only 5 pieces of seaweed, which then rotated between different pieces of seaweed at different, swapping around pieces of seaweed and removing some.
The highs and lows of animating.
The Final Product
Well, here it is. Five weeks of hard work! Please watch in HD (720p)
Lastly, please like it and share it. :)