Friday, 19 December 2008

'Tis the season to be jolly...

Yes, it's that time of the year again, and even McTodd isn't totally immune from its effects, so here's my own e-card to set you in the mood...

Meanwhile, due to the fact that after today I'm away from work for three whole weeks, and I don't have the interweb at home, this'll be yer lot until around mid-January!

Hopefully, by then I'll have loads of exciting things to report...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Every breath you take

Finally, something tangible to show!

I have completed the main section of the breathing mechanism for the Martian. At its heart is a threaded bolt which causes a wing-nut to move back and forth when the bolt is rotated. This wing-nut then pushes out two hinged arms on either side. An elastic band connecting the arms then pulls them back in when the direction of the wing-nut is reversed (by rotating the bolt the other way). In practise, I suspect the elastic sides of the animation puppet would push the arms back in without the elastic band, but it's there for the video demonstrations below.

The mechanism is incomplete, insofar as it would have to be attached to a pair of 'breast-plates' which will conform to the shape of the Martian's body. The basic mechanism as shown could also be used in puppets of quadruped creatures, such as certain herbivorous dinosaurs.

To give an idea of size, the threaded bolt is around three-inches (75mm) in length, and it was animated with one complete turn of the bolt per frame, at 25fps.

The basic mechanism is shown, as viewed from above, in the schematic diagram:

And this video shows the mechanism's action:

While this one reveals the inner part of the mechanism, with the arms hinged out of the way, just about showing the piece of square plastic epoxied to the wing-nut which prevents it from turning and losing contact with the hinged arms:

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Sniffle, snuffle, cough, hack...

Well, not much progress to report, other than to say that Christmas is truly on the way as I have been suffering from a horrible cold and bad chest, experiencing various free drinky events at work, and building almost all of a friend's flat-pack furniture for his new bloody flat.

Coming back to proper fillum preparation, however, I am building the Martian's breathing mechanism, and I've made his six tentacles but have yet to attach them and cover them with their final textured skin.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Not a Little Green Man...

Progress is slow at the moment, but apart from designing a breathing mechanism to go inside the Martian puppet, I have been experimenting with colouring the skin.

There are many ways to paint latex puppets, the most popular of which is to use PAX (a mixture of artists' acrylic paints, such as Liquitex, and a prosthetic adhesive called ProsAide, of which the non-sticky version, NoTack, is said to be the best).

However, I decided to opt for colouring the latex itself with the base colour, and will use PAX later to dull down the uniform colouring and add character. I added some latex colourant (available from the model supplies shop 4D in Aldgate, London) to a batch of liquid latex and cast new skins.

The rest of the liquid latex can be kept in an air-tight container and will be used to colour the tentacles and make new skin sections to patch the main puppet skins when the model is finally put together.

Meanwhile, this is what the main skins look like...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Ray Harryhausen

Last weekend I got to meet a true hero of mine - the legendary Ray Harryhausen!!! He was signing copies of his latest book, the superb A Century of Model Animation, at Forbidden Planet (aka Forbidding Prices) in London on Saturday 22 November, accompanied by his co-author Tony Dalton, and his dear lady wife, Diana.

Being the type of event it was, a book-signing with the attendant Very Long Queue, I didn't really get to say much to him, other than to bumble on briefly about how great I think his work is. Ray's hearing isn't so great these days (he is 88 after all!), but he was completely charming, as one would imagine he is from his appearances of late in various DVD extras and the like.

I also handed him a letter from my internet mucker Richard Svensson, aka the Lone Animator, a mega-talented animator-cum-sculptor-cum-prop-maker-cum-damn near anything practical connected with the filmic and theatrical arts. Check out his blog on the right...

Here's Ray thinking, "Who is this idiot with the beard?":

Co-author Tony blows the ink dry while I gurn at the camera:

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Martian madness...

I decided that my Martian wasn't scary enough, so I added a load of veins to his bulging head and took the opportunity to make a new plaster mould. This time, I didn't make a bollocks of it and managed to prise it apart without the use of a hammer...

Next, I made a rubber skin by filling each half of the mould up to the brim with liquid latex (to be precise, I built a sort of clay dam around the brim so that the latex would overfill the mould, thus allowing for better trimming and fitting later). By leaving it to sit for an hour or so (damn, I knew I should have timed it), a skin formed on the inside of the mould. The rest of the latex remained in its liquid state and was poured back into the bottle for another day. Here are the results:

Next stop: tentacles

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Mars Attacks!

No, not the wonderful Tim Burton wackfest, but my first efforts at making an articulated puppet for animating.

I've always been a fan of early science fiction, H G Wells's work especially and, in particular, his masterpiece, The War of the Worlds. Everything about the novel fascinates me, from the evocative period setting (or near-future to Wells) to the setpiece battles, from the musings on imperialism and evolutionary development to the Martians themselves and their extraordinary machines.

And what great monsters the Martians are! The end product of an evolutionary process that has taken them from humanoids not unlike ourselves to being the quintessential Big Brained Bug Eyed Monsters! They were science fiction's first Brain In A Box (effectively), and were more or less cyborgs, almost completely dependent on their various vehicles as they were. Not least, they were the ancestors of British television's favourite sci-fi villains, the Daleks.

And so below you can see my attempt at sculpting a Martian (sans tentacles) from plasticine. From this, a plaster mould was made, and later I shall be making latex skins from the mould to cover the armature (as yet un-built). In a future entry, I shall go into more detail about the mouldmaking process, which will also explain the white patches on the sculpture (bits of plaster, remnants from the somewhat traumatic effort to remove it from the mould).

Hopefully, the finished beastie will look a bit more menacing than the sculpture...

What will he do?

Well, I intend to film the landing of the first Martian cylinder (which will be another chance to make something go bang!) and the emergence of the first Martian from it.

First steps

Many many moons ago, when I were a lad, I had a go at doing special effects on my trusty, but crap, Super-8 cine camera. I had a go at animating some plasticine dinosaurs and a Morph-like man. Because the camera had no single-frame setting, I hit the button to get as few frames as possible. The results were bloody awful... I never had another go.

But, I did end up adapting the camera to run at high-speed, by replacing the motor and main drive gear. I managed to get it up to 200 frames-per-second (fps), over ten times silent 8-mm movie speed. Given my abiding fascination with things that go bang!, I built a little model building from balsa wood, cut it up, dressed the inside with wrecked floors and debris, planted a tiny blackpowder charge in it, and blew it up... Twice.

These are the results (transferred from Super-8 to VHS many years ago, then from VHS to DVD, and finally to YouTubeness):

Oh dear, not again...

I used to have several blogs. Each one lasted a maximum of around five posts before boredom/inertia set in and I abandoned it...

Hopefully, that will not be the case with this one. That's because this blog will be more focused than the others. It isn't simply a platform for me to vent my spleen about whatever happened to annoy me on a particular day, there is more of a point to it, which is to create a sort of diary following my efforts at making fillums! Particularly animated fillums, but more generally anything I can get my act together sufficiently to do...

Because my main interest is stop-motion animation, this blog will inevitably cover all the stuff that has to be done before the camera's lens cap even comes off, stuff like plot and script writing, character and set design, construction (of puppets, props, miniature sets etc.). I'd also like to have a crack at doing some live-action filming, with animated effects integrated a la Ray Harryhausen, the absolute touchstone figure for anyone with even a passing interest in stop-motion.

This blog will be scrappy, I make no apologies for that. A lot of stuff willl be concerned with experiments in filming just to try to hone various techniques with no effort at devising a story or plot. And some of it will have nothing to do with animation, as there are other techniques I want to turn my hand to.

Being a novice at such things, I hope this blog will also serve to give useful hints and tips to others interested in Old School special effects and animation film-making.

So, without further ado, here goes...