Friday, 21 October 2011


Ok, welcome back, this is the promised post about our latest stop motion project, which as of now is underway- in fact, there are shots in the can already!
This is a lip-sync project, and has involved making puppets with replacement mouth faces, and also working with wire armatures. It's been a very long time since I used wire, but I decided to go back to it - I'd seen so many good pieces recently using wire. I decided to try it.

It is planned that this piece is the first of a series featuring these characters, which will slowly expand and develop very long plot lines...we have various threads of this plot worked out, but we wont give you too many hints yet- spoilers! (As Riversong would say...)

But we plan to keep returning to these characters, and expanding their evolving stories.
What we can reveal is that this will be an episodic series of micro-shorts, about 1 minute or less in length each, featuring the dark comic adventures of 3 old ladies, Blossom, Barbara and Mary...

They will be voiced by the talented actresses Gilly Daniels, Tilly Edwards and Penny Layden...

This project marks the debut also of Penny as a creative director, for these characters were built specifically to Penny's designs, and it is her vision we are pursuing here...So what she said has gone, which has been a really positive process.

We designed the characters initially on graph paper to real world dimensions-  and used these for reference against each part that was constructed-

Barbara's initial plan- note very basic plans for the wire skeletons and hip blocks also superimposed over the sketch- the plan with these puppets is also to work with really cheap replaceable components, just to see what kind of quality we can produce with simpler materials.
Blossom's initial plan- you will notice how much 'larger' she is than Barbara. They are all fairly caricatured.

Mary's plan- she is much slighter and smaller than the other two puppets. Mary will emerge later in the series.

we started by creating the heads- these were made from a polystyrene block shaped roughly for the core, and golf tee sockets for the bead eyes- the polystyrene was then covered in milliput and the heads sculpted- we left the jaw area off for now, to accommodate the replacement mouths.
 A lighter is shown for scale- we kept the 'skin' of milliput as thin as possible, to keep weight down.

Blossom's head has tight barrel curls, like a lot of old ladies when we were small...there's a kinda Hilda Ogden influence going on here...

The three primary characters heads painted with a base coat- at this point they still had no rear plate- which was discovered a little later.

Here is Barbara with her magnetic face plate exposed- she is wearing an older version of her eyes than will actually be used in the first film, we recently discovered the Blogs of the Flynn brothers, student stop motion animators par excellence, and are not ashamed to say we learned a heap from this prodigously talented pair. They were most forthcoming with their techniques, and solved some of our particular problems...not least of which has been how to create better eyes...We'll share that in later post, but if you want to see it on their original blog, here are the links:

Blossoms magnet plate exposed- basically, Penny built an arch into which lower mouth shapes could locate- and then hand sculpted individual mouth shapes for phonemes and other tasks, such as eating, chewing and whistling- again, Blossom is wearing her original eyes here.
The magnets are neodymium as usual, but are really thin disc shapes- approx.5mm thick, but with a diameter of at least 1cm...they have the usual crisp 'grab' of a neodymium magnet, but the big surface area is really useful for sinking into milliput and ensures a very precise lock. They were not any more expensive than similar battery or thicker disc shaped magnets. I will definitely use them again.
Blossom and Mary with their magnets exposed.

The next task was to build their bodies, and I decided to go with cheaper materials as an experiment to see what impact that would have on the animation process- as well as budget.

The ladies with a few example mouth plates attached- you can also see Barbara's loc line spine...and the K and S shoulder sockets, attached with a lot of Milliput bonded to only one section of the lightweight white plastic dolls Loc line- I sourced this from a German website that specialised in hobbyist Teddy Bear construction- it think it was called ProBaer...

Barbara's plan, and her basic torso under construction- basically she is a Loc line spine, with balsa wood hip block. K and S tubes for both the leg sockets, and the shoulder block, fixed into place in both cases with liberal amounts of Milliput.
Likewise Blossom's plan- much shorter spine, but the same techniques and materials.

Mary's plan- this time laid over the plan to illustrate the dimensions and the importance of working from a real, scaled design. It takes all the guesswork out of building the armature.

We then built wire arms and legs, with K and S connectors that locate inside the larger sections in the hip and shoulders. The wire is a combination of Florists wire and Aluminium armature wire from

You may also spot that the feet were actually sandwich plates, with a nut drilled for the toe- this gives the figures quite a strong foot, and clear ability to do subtle toe weight shifts when were are doing walks- the toe nut is also a tie down. The balls used in the sandwich plates are adapted stainless steel body piercing balls.

Arms and legs were then sculpted around the wire limbs, using grey Plastiline, which is really nice and firm...these were then popped in the freezer for a few hours, before being sunk into a bed of white, super soft plastiline- then walls were built also using the white plastiline, and a plaster poured into the mold. Spheres and cubes were pressed into the plastiline 'floor' to make sure the molds had a strong key. This picture shows the first side of the mold already cast- then the plaster was coated in Vaseline, a new plastiline wall built, and a top mold cast in plaster. Use plenty of vaseline, and check you cover all the plaster.
The tricky part of the legs was that we intended to use two colours of silicone- flesh and a shoe colour.
So the shoe area of the mold had to be 'pre-skinned' with the relevant shoe colour- here you can see the brown of Blossom's boots- when this silicone was dry, it had to be cleaned out of the leg area of the mold, and also checked to ensure it still could accommodate the sandwich plate for the foot and the nut for the toe.

 The castings of the legs for Blossom and Barbara, once removed from the molds. These still need a bit of tidying up at this point- seams are very obvious, and there are areas of colour that have not cast perfectly. That said, we like the way the Varicose veins have come out. Blossom, Barbara and Mary are not going to be glamorous.
Casting the arms using the same techniques- we built a few pairs for each character, and they hung in the kitchen for quite a while, disturbing a few folk who had popped round for tea- it was a bit like a puppet slaughterhouse. They came out a bit pale at first, so they needed a new coat of flesh coloured silicone- this dried in the air rather than a mold and has a glossy shine- we ended up suppressing this by putting a final top layer of silicone on, and then putting them inside a cardboard box to dry, containing a bowl of fine icing sugar- then blasting a hairdryer into the box- the flying dust coats the silicone, giving a matte surface. Far easier though, just to get the cast and colour right first time in the mold.
So then Blossoms body was sculpted out of snip foam, glued front and back to the hip block. The contours of her body were cut and glued in place.
Blossom assembled, and clothed in her first dress- and even on set!

Last thing I want to share this blog is a few pictures of the phonemes Penny has sculpted for the first episode- we kept these initially in the ice cube trays- but have recently realised that weekly pill dispenser cases were even better- because they have little 'doors' which make it easier to avoid knocking the tray all over!

The viewers phonemes transferred into a pill box- he makes a guest appearance by the way, in the first episode of the old ladies piece.

Ok- till next time then , which will honestly not be long- when I'll show you the setup for the shoot and a few props we scratch built for the project. To whet your appetite, I'll also reveal the project is very nearly finished...and is looking pretty good.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

I must have CONTROL!

Well, been a while, sorry, I have been snowed deeply under of late, this Summer has been spent doing many things-building a costume for our local Council, deep into transferring my CGI skills from Lightwave over to Maya- where all the serious work is at- and also sorting out the studio for a stop motion shoot that is still under wraps, but which I will reveal in forthcoming posts- we are quite excited about this next shoot, as it will mean striding bravely forward into lip-sync, an area we have been studiously avoiding so far...
But this blog is actually going to be about the control panels we have built for the "Robots' project- we have always seen the aesthetic design for this piece as being majorly inspired by the Ridley Scott 'Alien' film, which along with Blade Runner had one of the most believable worlds technically- at least to my we knew the controls would have to be practical, with loads of lights and moving features.
During the course of building these bits and pieces I have had several useful strokes of luck which hopefully will interest someone else...
Here we see Spark at the controls of the 'main' control panel- so far-with some comedy led flashing spectacles flickering away in the background...
This panel was built structurally using interesting shaped plastics i had collected, and foamcore for thr main frame- the detail ha been harvested from many different places, such as the innards of Playstation controllers, novelty items, trim from dead tape decks and a lot more- this was the first panel built, so it used LED lights wired into it at about 10m different locations, and in a variety of colours- all can be wired to my home made LED lighting board and controlled to give different rates of blinking- something i feel is crucial to a pleasing space interior- from the Millenium Falcon to the Nostromo... it's all about the blink!
This is a panel for the background of the room- a set wall, if you will- I am now trying to build sets with removavable walls just so I can create any shot i choose without being limited by the walls themselves- this section was built onto a sheet of A2 foamcore for lightness, and is mostly built out of old 2HD floppy discs, Black CD inlay trays, and the lid of a dead scanner/printer...simple, but effective.

This one I am calling the 'Engine' Panel - it's foundation was a box for holding old floppy discs, which I took apart- then added flight case corners, shaving blade containers, and part of an old video game racing wheels pedal system- as well as detailing a very old printer ribbon, and practical switches from an old radio...You can also see a hole drilled in the middle to accomodate a LED torch for practical lighting.

 Fitting the LED through the hole.
 The Led's lit up...This was an early build, and I learned a lot from it...
 These two were both built from the foundation of 'washing tablet' container boxes, sprayed black and then detailed with various bits of small detail collected over the last year- my favourite bit of detail are the real tiny electronic switches I have removed from circuit boards- again there are also sliders that are practical, removed from old radios and tape decks... I chose to use these containers because I quite liked their generic design, and more importantly, we had lots of them!

Another angle on the generic control panels...
 Overheads on both the first generic panels- you csan see the mini electronic switches much clearer from here...
And again- everything from lego switches to buttons employed on this particular one- it is probably worth adding that these panels will not be 'significant' panels on the ship- most likely background set details- with bigger and better panels created for the 'hero' sections of the control panels.
I couldn't resist this- a big old mainframe computer with spinning tape wheels and everything- built from an old tape deck, obviously- this is a work in progress, yes, I know you can spot the steel rulers in the side of the glass display, they will be concealed- but I love the idea of a spinning mainframe in the background- There is an obvious technological contradiction here- really retro computing combined with hi-tech robots- but I want to reference the technology that excited me when I was young- in many ways the Robots will be slightly 'retro' in this sort of way- I want to honour and reference the stuff I loved as a child.

 The grisly and time consuming task of soldering LED's in place for the early control panels- MAPLIN here in the UK stock bargain loose packets of vearious LED's that cost about £3 for approx 40 LED's- some of which are colour changing, various sizes etc- but it is a lot of work soldering them individually- lately I have discovered something else;
 These are LED colour changing fibre optic lamps i discovered IN my local pound shops- they have MANY different colour options- 6 different states- and even pulse and flash over time- they are powere by 3 AA batteries and are absolutely brilliant-
My current design is now shifting away from multiple LED's and towards these lamps powering fibre optic cables, thus allowing me to go for the real 'Millenium Falcon' look of many, many blinking Led's with different speeds and colours- not bad for £1!! The fibre optic cable was ordered from a model railway supplier in Wales, and cost approx £20 for 10 metres- it is surprising still how quickly you will go through it...

So I hope that helps someone with their ideas and projects, I leave you only with the announcement that having missed recently the chance to see Willis O'Brien's King Kong on a big screen in London due to going to the wrong place(D'oh!), I decided to track down King himself, and discuss this disappointing turn of events in person- we had a smoke, and sorted it all out. He is actually thoroughly civilised! But a terrible Bogart.

Tune in next week (or month) when we will be revealing some of the secrets of our Lip sync project, provisionally titled 'R-Age'...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Viewer- work in progress

 These images show the continued work on the project we are calling 'The Viewer'- which will be about a rather unappealing old man, and his thoughts upon existance- this project is essentially an excuse to bite the bullet of lip sync in stop motion, and so we decided to go with replacement mouth shapes for this character, made in Milliput, attached magnetically to the face. The Head, I hope you will recall, was built using Universal Jointed eyes, inside a 'ping pong ball' modified skull- check the earlier blog 'Having it away with Coraline here for the earlier stages of this project:

So this was the head with neck joint fixed and a first layer of paint.
Initially, I made some Milliput mouths in a variety of shapes, and epoxy glued a strand of Florists wire to the rear of the mouth
This did not work so well- the mouths tended to drift around on the magnetic mouth plane to where they preferred to sit- and not where I wanted them to sit exactly- also the shapes were not specific and varied enough to cover all phoneme needs- I used the Aardman 'Creating 3D Animation' book as a guide, it has great images of replacement mouths for Wallace, that we used as a guide. Penny took over mouth duties from me, as we both know she is better at sculpting than me...
The head was also enhanced with better cheek bones and chin, and the gaps closed around the Universal Joint eyes- you can see the magnet plane for holding mouths in place clearly here...
And once painted he looked like this- which was ok, except the mouth magnetic plane looks unnaturally flat and is a bit of a give away...
Especially here! But you can at least see he has now got most of a body- this was built using plate and balls- the middle of the torso is from a 'Pozem' plastic animation armature, refitted with threaded rod across the torso- The Hip Block was built from Allen Key Ball socket joints, which I believe are Carbon Fibre, and which I adapted using Milliput to this shape- the 'thigh sections were also adapted from Helping Hands components, using liberal amounts of JB weld and Milliput again...He has K and S wrists ready to take silicone hands.

Here he is looking a little worried with a replacement mouth- I do like the eye glints these glastil eyes produce...
And with a first pair of silicone hands-these are too thick and heavy for the character, so we sculpted some more that were thinner and showed more signs of age.
We also resulpted around the mouth plate to camouflage the magnetic plate a little more.
Penny took over making the mouth shapes from me, and I was glad of it- her sculpting work is definitely superior to mine, and she lovingly created all these phonemes and dramatic shapes, which looked massively better than my versions. We also discovered that Ice cube trays were the perfect
container for such phonemes- you could also keep things like eyebrows, tongues, etc all in the same place for each character.
Shocked! with gritted teeth...
A Happy Bunny...
Oh no! Or a 'Th' kinda phoneme...
My face exactly when trying to concentrate. Notice some of the flesh shading that Penny has done too. He is really starting to come alive...

Now, finally, let me apologise for the gap in the Blog progress lately, everything seems to be happening at once, in a very good way for Skatedog Films, and we also lost the Internet for about 3 weeks- but please stay tuned- many projects are coming together at once, the studio is nearly operational, we are earning a living successfully suddenly, and it is ALL animation, in various guises! We are over the moon with where we are now...I will try and get a few more posts up shortly of our personal stuff- 3!! projects all reaching a shootable stage pretty much simultaneously, and the studio sitting waiting for them to be shot in, which is going to be a game changer for us.

Very shortly we will be posting footage of the viewer being tested with some lip sync phrases.
More news as it comes!
Ps not sure how many people caught the next stage of the ROBOTS Test Footage, so if you missed it, here it is again- considering it is only test sequences and test foley, we are very pleased with how it is shaping up- and wait till THIS gets into the studio!

ps: thanks to Strider, Dean and Nick H for pointing out the embedding code previously used was not working- replaced now with the link above- cheers!