Thursday, December 15, 2011
The third card I worked on at JibJab was Sick Tissues. The animatic and original sound design was done by my mentor Jeff Gill and the end card was designed by Will Staehle.
This project was a ton of fun all the way through. I was the given the animatic and the option to do it in stop motion. From there I spent several days building the puppets and doing some simple tests to figure out how to approach animation and better understand how the puppets would function. I shot all the final animation in one day (quite a long day it was), and then spent a few more to composite the footage and finalize it.
The original drawings in the animatic were basically cubes with stick limbs and three fingers. They were simple and had a lot of appeal. I decided I wanted to keep that best I could and so made simple wire limbs to be coated with plasti-dip (a black rubbery plastic much like you find on tool handles) (special thanks to Jeremy Fisher for telling me about the stuff in the first place!) The arms were made with braided floral wire and the legs with galvanized wire twisted 2 ply. I then wrapped them in duct tape to bulk them out before dipping. In hindsight I would look for an alternative to duct tape. It ended up stiffening the limbs too much in places, making it harder to bend and harder for it to hold its posed shape. Something a little less resilient like cosmetic foam might have been more forgiving and uniform. Each limb got about 3 coats of plasti-dip and between coats got to chill out on my makshift drying rack of styrofoam with t-pins stuck into it.
The tissue boxes I opened on one side and gutted. I got some scrap wood from a local hardware store and they even cut it down for me. These pieces of wood I epoxied to the inside of the box where the legs and arms would attach. The cardboard wasn't that strong and I didn't want to risk over-stressing it by bending the limbs directly against it - so I brought the wood in as reinforcement. Once dried to the box I drilled holes through them for the arms and legs, cut away the extra plastic on the limbs, untwisted the wires, cut them down, threaded them through the holes in the box, and epoxy puttied them onto the wood reinforcements. They held up quite well during animation.
For the feet we decided against tie downs and went for the simpler approach of building nails into the feet of the puppet to hold it to a block of dense styrofoam. Since the tissue boxes wouldn't be walking all over the place I could foresee no obvious limitations in using nails, and they really worked out great. They were long enough and the foam was strong enough to avoid any torquing issues with puppets falling over when the weight was at an angle.
Animating these guys was super fun. They're basically just a cog with arms and legs, which really simplifies things and helps you stay clear. As I said above though, it was difficult to keep the arms to maintain more extreme curves. This made it almost impossible for the tissue box to put his hands on his face or hold his head. You could bend them there no problem, but they would always bend back some and you'd lose contact. I found this out very quickly in my short animation test. The impromptu solution of clear tape, however, turned out to work rather well for getting hands to stay and was barely visible in the photographed frames. Though, whenever you introduce a fix somewhere other things tend to happen.... In this case the tape, while it was largely fine during the test, started to pull off small bits of the box coating during animation. I would paint fix certain areas as necessary. Another limitation that I ran into was not being able to rotate the box back far enough while it was on its knees. Physical space just didn't allow for it, but thankfully compositing did, and it really helped to boost the impact of the end.
The card was animated on twos with Dragon Stop Motion. A word for the wise though, the twos setting in dragon will still play back as if it were shot on ones, even though it's numbering as twos. I didn't realize this until after doing the final animation, which made things rather difficult along the way. For this card I was to stick to the timing in the animatic as much as possible. In my test I animated a portion of the animatic and I noticed very quickly that the motion was just too fast and started adjusting the timing while I was animating. The test was still fast, and when later corrected, too slow. I tried to hold strong anticipations and important contacts as much as possible to keep things reading. It was when I was finished animating and tried to sync it with audio that I realized that all along it had been playing back at the wrong frame rate. Setting it to the correct rate finally made a world of difference. And, since I had stuck to the timing of the animatic and my x-sheets (x-sheet are so awesome when you're doing stop motion) everything played quite well. Overall I think the mismatch worked out in the end. It made me animate snappier and clearer out of necessity, and the final was better for it.
If you like boring progression reels, check this out! (20mb, 2:40ish) It's a compilation of quick tests and few progression renders of the final. You can see some of the stuff I was talking about here.