Thursday, 15 November 2012

Snowflake & The Last Assembly Line

Right, the first bit of animation I did for my course was in the form of a one-and-a-half minute cut-out stop-motion animation - Snowflake & The Last Assembly Line:

For 720p & downloads, please head over to Vimeo.

The project was based on commercialism, thus I somehow ended up with a random Hippie named Snowflake taking on the commercial lord, Emperor Ford, within the walls of the last standing assembly line - one of the main commercialist strongholds on earth... and that's about as far as exposition goes.

Onwards to the nitty-gritty stuff:  I researched quite a number of stop-motion creations of different styles - dating from Aardman & Sumo Science's 2011 unprecedented short, Dot (the smallest stop-motion animation made by 2011), to Segundo de Chomón's 1908 pixilation short, El Hotel Eléctrico.  The shortlisted bunch for my research phase also included:
  • A Town Called Panic (2009) by Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
  • Coraline (2009) by Henry Selick
  • KaBoom! (2004) by PES
  • Fuyu no Hi (2003) by Kawamoto Kihachirō 
  • Automatic Writing (2003) by William Kentridge 
  • Tma, Světlo, Tma (1989) by Jan Švankmajer
  • The Amazing Mr Bickford (1987) by Bruce Bickford & Frank Zappa
Nevertheless, the animator I drew most of my inspiration from was Monty Python member Terry Gilliam.  I am a huge admirer of his work for Monty Python's Flying Circus and their feature films, particularly the title sequence for Meaning of Life.  Some additional inspiration also came from Matt Stone & Trey Parker's South Park.

"Right, so all the fancy inspiration, but the animation looks... bad?"

Well, yes.  With the absence of a proper DSLR with a cable release (or remote) plus a tripod, I did what any artist would do - built my own animation rig:

In the end, however, the rig turned out not to be as stable as I initially though it would be (disposable wooden chopsticks can only get you so far) - which is evident in the shakiness of the animation.  Nevertheless, I came to like the jerkiness, as it helped enhance the idea of a chaotic factory environment, so I didn't get rid of it in post-production.

The main idea with this animation was to get a hands-on feel for animating, and as far as that goes, I think I gained a much better understanding of timing & spacing, including its importance and the difficulty in properly executing it whilst animating.  I'm not nearly where I want to be, but I'm sure that I'll get there - eventually - with some good ol' perseverance & commitment.

Furthermore, I used this project to figure out how to assemble a stop-motion animation in Premiere Pro & After Effects from an external device.  I found this easiest in After Effects, thus I assembled the frames there and exported it to Premiere Pro for editing via Adobe's Dynamic Link.  The intertitles were made in Photoshop, after which I added some twitching, vignette and grain (the latter absolutely killed render time) in After Effects before "Linking it Dynamically" to Premiere Pro.

By the time I sent this project off with two others to the University of South Africa (UNISA) for assessment, the animation was a pure silent film.  This, however, was remedied about a month ago after I figured out how to work the MIDI sequencing software LMMS (give it a try - it's fairly potent freeware) and used the bit of music knowledge I have left from my guitaring days to make a simple yet fairly fun score for the animation.

All-in-all I would say it was a fun experience, and I would like to play around with stop-motion again at some point using objects, claymation and pixilation (not in the sense of blowing the footage up until it's all just pixels... although this might actually be a fun thing to experiment with).

Right, I guess I left out quite a lot of additional info regarding the making of Snowflake, but then again I don't want to write a whole manual about it.  If you happen to have stumbled upon this post and would like to know anything else regarding the animation (or if you spot a horrible mistake on my part), feel free to comment and I'll get back to you.

On a last note, I would highly recommend watching A Town Called Panic (the French version, if possible) - it's simply too awesome.

nethernode, signing off...