Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Alienated! Shooting the film

In my last post I mentioned how the costume change (or rather, how I went about creating the costume change) for the protagonist affected the order in which we shot scenes for our animation, opting to shoot the bathroom scenes, using the white shirt, first. Other factors were of primary focus too however, and had a significant impact on our filming.

Due to the armature for this puppet being pretty delicate, I had concerns early on that it might not last for the entire animation. With this in mind, I voiced my opinions to the group who agreed on my suggestion. This was to shoot the simple scenes requiring the least movement first, saving the large movements until last. This way, the model would definitely last to the end of the animation, or at least near enough that a joint breaking would not throw us out too much. Were we to shoot a scene requiring the arms/legs to be bent repeatedly first, and something should break, we would have had the horrific task of trying to fix the armature when to be honest we did not have time to do so.

The animation was split up into scenes according to our storyboard, to which we remained very accurate, but made minor alterations where we saw fit. As a result, the animation was split into many individual videos, which would need to be composited during the editing process.

We knew from the onset that our story called for two versions of the neighbour’s room- the messy alien version, and the tidier reality version. To save creating two sets therefore, we decided to shoot the latter first, before ripping the paper from the walls, scrawling over them and the floor, and creating the alien room. This process proved to be very efficient.


One challenge when animating arose when we needed to remove the front wall to shoot the neighbour’s living room from inside. Of course, the lighting needed to show the front wall was still there- including the shadows cast by the boarded-up windows.




To create these shadows and still shoot the scene from inside, we positioned our light source looking down slightly on the set, so to affix a cardboard ‘window board’ shape above the camera. This cast convincing shadows on the alien and set, completing the gloomy atmosphere of the shot.


Probably the most difficult shot of all was the exterior shot where the character clambers over the hedge to inspect his neighbour (above right). This was a long shot, hence the entire model being visible, and of course, this meant that we needed a significant number of frames with him standing on one leg. This proved to be impossible to balance, even with the character adapted from the script to lean one hand against the wall. Subtle work-arounds were used here, such as the character being balanced on top of the hedge at one point, as well as on a plasticine ball that will be removed by editing in postproduction.

The other difficult scenes were the shots where something falls though the air. For the falling shots, we had the toothbrush being thrown into the glass in the bathroom, the character dropping the glass after listening through the wall, and the character dropping the screwed-up notes into the bin. To achieve these free-falling animations, we had two options- firstly, to somehow rig the objects and edit out the (wires) in postproduction, or to use a variety of clever techniques and camera shots to obscure their fixings from view. With the looming deadline closer than we had anticipated, we opted for the second option to save time editing.

One great suggestion for the toothbrush scene came from another animation student outside our group for this task- to place the wall flat out on a table, and to simply move the toothbrush across the wall. Shot from above, this created the impression the toothbrush was flying through the air in front of a vertical wall. 


For the other two scenes, clever use of blu-tack enabled us to fix the paper ball/glass to the bin and wall respectively, at intervals of their descent, creating the illusion they were falling in front of them. Both of these techniques worked very well and we are greatly pleased with the results.



Throughout the latter part of our filming, we experienced many problematic issues relating to the camera equipment. Firstly, the computer software iStopMotion frequently ceased to accept the input from the camera, and so we needed to reset all of the equipment and try again. The worst problem however was the fact that the camera tripods, which can be locked in place, did not really lock very well, and under their own weight slowly began to collapse. As you can imagine, when nearing the end of shooting a scene, we found that the camera had misaligned a miniscule yet frustratingly noticeable amount, leaving us with two options- attempt to realign the camera by hand, (near impossible to do perfectly), or to reshoot the entire scene. As we experienced, it was often quicker to redo the scene, despite this being the least favourable option. Due to these setbacks, filming took a further day longer than expected.

I think we were all very relieved when we finally completed the filming of our animation, for what has proven to be an incredibly long and turbulent project. I can say that the scenes individually are exactly as we had hoped, our greatest improvement over previous stop motion work being the inclusion of more frames for a smoother animation. All that remains now is for the scenes to be edited into our final video, (a process being completed by another group member), and we shall see then if the final animation works as a whole. I for one think it will do, and very much look forward to seeing the result of all our hard work over the last five weeks.

As a separate note, the armature held up perfectly for the entire filming process, the only significant signs of wear being on the plasticine hands, which eventually became dirtied and less smooth through constant movement. This has defied all of my expectations for the puppet I created, proving me wrong about its durability. This being the case, I would definitely now consider making an armature in the same way in the future. 

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