“Have you ever done stop motion animation with your collage work? Like paper adventures? That would be really cool.”
Indeed, that would be really cool. Hey, I know absolutely nothing about animation, video production, or anything of the like. I should totally do that!
I reconnected with my friend, Yves, recently after not talking for about four years. In the process of catching up, she told me about her belly dancing troupe, The Luddites, and sent me a gorgeous video of them dancing at a show called “Mishto!” in Colorado Springs. I believe they are currently working on a follow up to their “Zoetrope” show.
Hearing from her and seeing the video made me really miss the brand of inspiration she provides to those around her. Not only did she dance at the event, she crafted her costume and made a good deal of the background. I love that! I love when a person just gets an idea and runs with it, figuring out along the way how to piece it all together.
We began brainstorming about a collaborate endeavor we could work on despite being located in different states. We have similar artistic tastes and enjoyed working together on creative projects in the past.
At first, I suggested writing or photography, since those seem to be simple ways to collaborate over the internet. We left those doors open, but continued to discuss about other avenues. Then Yves suggested my working on a stop motion animation piece.
I don’t know why it stuck with me, but the idea sort of got nestled in my brain. I was painting with my sons one afternoon, and I thought how the orange paper covered in gold glitter and fall colors would make wonderful leaves on a tree. I had a huge stash of pipe cleaners from a preschool project, so I started molding them into a trunk. Then I thought “wouldn’t this look amazing if you could watch the leaves grow onto the trees?” An idea was born.
Since I have zero experience with stop motion animation work, my first instinct was to shoot with a video camera. I was trying to make a video after all. I do not have a great camera. I have a small simple Kodak Play Sport, so I can take family videos. I cleared off a bookshelf in my house, and began building my scene. I grabbed a lamp for lighting. I used a tripod to reduce shakiness, and marked my setup in masking tape on the floor, so if I had to reshoot, I would know where I had everything placed.
I had no idea how much video I needed for each shot, so I ran the camera for two seconds per scene. I quickly learned that making this type of piece requires a multitude of patience (which I suspected) and a very good memory (which I didn’t suspect). I started off simply, having a moon rise. I forgot to mark precisely how the moon was moving across the sky, so it appears to sort of bounce all over the place.
I got this great idea to have stars spin out from behind the moon to fill the sky. I love the effect, but man, what a bitch! Moving all those little stickers every single shot got sooo tedious. I also tried to move them around so it would look like they were blinking, but it really looked disjointed. The same could be said for the trees. I tried to move their limbs to appear like they were swaying, but instead, it appears as if many scenes are missing from the final product.
I was hoping to be able to speed it up to make some of those nuances less noticeable. But I ran into difficulties with software. Since I had not planned or researched this project, I used the free software on my computer- Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Live Movie Maker. WMM kept interpreting my video clips as audio clips, so while I could edit their length and speed, the video footage could not be seen. WLMM kept locking up whenever I tried to edit, or saying it did not recognize the file format for certain clips, even though they were all in the same format.
I had my hubby mess around with these things a bit, but I knew I was going to reshoot in another format, so I didn’t spend too much time on it. The first version moves painfully slow, but is still a fun little movie.
Second go round, I used a Panasonic DMC-LX5 digital camera. Instead of shooting video, I took photographs of each scene- 3 with flash, 3 without, for a total of 6 per scene. I shot over 325 pictures, which I later reduced to around 65. It took about an hour and 45 minutes- similar to the two hours it took me to shoot with video. I used the same setup of creating the scene of a bookshelf, marking my tripod setup in tape on the floor, and using a lamp for lighting- nothing fancy.
The photographs proved a lot better to work with. I had no issues uploading or converting them on the software. I was able to edit the speed they were shown at, just like a video. I set each photo to play for half a second. The photographs were a lot better quality than the video clips- got rid of some of the graininess. I’m sure with better lighting, more time and care, I could improve the quality even further.
So after about three hours of work, I was able to produce the following 30 second video. It’s nothing mindblowing, but I really enjoyed making it. It was fun to challenge myself with a new idea. My past collage work actually proved to be good training for all the details associated with stop motion animation. I’ve made collages where I literally cut and glued individual blades of grass for a week or two, so the monotony of adjusting each scene by minute proportions didn’t phase me too much. It really challenged my memory though. At first, I was only moving a few pieces at a time. But as the movie progressed, I was having to move more and more items for every scene. I had a method of repeating the words for the things I needed to move over and over, so I didn’t forget anything. “Water, bear, leaves, 20 stars,…”
It’s a silly piece, but I quite enjoy it. I hope you do too. Fuck training, research, and know how. Just jump right in and sink or swim. Thanks Yves for reminding me to glue it, staple it, join it with floral wire and safety pins-whatever you need to make it work.
I know this isn’t my most witty or well written post, but I must admit, I am a bit spent. Rest and then on to my next paper adventure, in whatever form it may be.