June 10, 2012

Gardens of Miranda Episode 1

At long last, after 3 years of work, Episode 1 of Gardens of Miranda is finished. I spent the first year writing, designing and constructing models, props and puppets, followed by 2 years of animation.

Shooting this proved to be a true learning process and I'm looking forward to putting all of it to use on episodes 2 and 3, which I expect to average around 2 minutes in length. There was a lot of exposition to work into episode 1, something that won't be as true for successive installments, so the pacing will pick up and include more characters and action sequences and a darker tone overall.

Episode 1 Image Gallery

Here's a selection of photos showing set-ups and lighting in the shots where FE discovers the Redhead in the tree-tops. The tree crotch is hollow and is comprised of a resin skin applied over a cardboard and paper substructure. Despite my efforts at keeping it light-weight, at roughly 4.5 feet tall by 3.5 feet wide, it was bulky and awkward to handle and to stabilize for filming. I've since devised a more manageable alternative for shots like this.

Jack Pure-Folly. I wanted this character to be large enough to allow for some intricate surface detail and to be able to sustain a convincing close-up. I also wanted to use ball-joints instead of wire for his fingers because I didn't want to deal with replacing broken finger wires in the middle of a shot. These requirements resulted in my building a 17" tall puppet.

The Redhead, the subject of Jack and FEs field study. A colony of these elephant-sized creatures lives in the tops of the trees, which are actually colossal succulents with huge liquid-filled leaves and soft spongy bark.

This 18" tall model has a cast resin head and a foam latex body, built up directly over the armature and covered with a latex skin. Lionel Orozco's Kong armature provided a basis for the Redhead model. To save time, I decided to reconfigure Lionel's beautiful ape skeleton.

I removed the hands, feet and skull and replaced them with newly made, suitably alien parts, made a new hip girdle in the style of my earlier ribcage for Kong and added a tail and a tie-down point in the upper back. The hands and feet have tie-down holes too, but I figured it might be useful to add another larger one in the back to allow the option of attaching a Manfrotto camera arm for use as a heavy-duty support rig.

February 06, 2012

Episode 1 Preview

We now have more of Episode 1 of our stop-motion animated web series to show you. This takes us up to shot 34 out of a total of 50 for this first installment, so we're slowly getting there. As you might assume from watching the film, I had to use a variety of support systems to "fly" the characters around, but for practical reasons decided against hanging them from wires connected to an overhead gantry, so the scout ship, FE and the bugs were attached to floor-based rigs for all their scenes.
Everyone who has worked on this is keen to hear some feedback, so please let us know what you think of it so far.

October 24, 2011

Clip/segment: Arrival

This is SD (Standard Definition) for quicker playback. For those with faster broadband speeds, as option click HD gray letters to turn on HD and also, the 4 arrows icon if you wish to view full screen.

The first 90 seconds of Gardens of Miranda make use of techniques and processes that will continue to be used in the serial's production. Model set elements like the rock tower and the trees are married with CG painted backgrounds and skies. Stop-motion animated props and characters are recorded against a blue backing, to eventually be combined using post-production software like Nuke and After Effects, into completed scenes.

The general idea was to match what I shot with what I drew in the story-boards as closely as possible. For many live-action films the story boards are often considered just a spring-board to explore variations on a basic idea and so are often redrawn several times. However, because this is an animated project, I spent a lot of time thinking about camera angles and how to tell this story as effectively, and, in terms of shot numbers, as economically as possible, so I attempted to follow my story boards almost to the letter. To illustrate what I mean, here are the boards for this opening sequence. As you can see, I tried to stay as faithful to the compositions and camera angles as I could.

Now, I don't want to infer that this all done solo. I collaborated with some very talented people who did excellent work in handling the post-production duties. Leon Kogan and Susan Nelson composited the many visual elements, labor that involved frame-by-frame removal of support rigs, blue-spill cleanup, color correction, stabilization, motion-blurring and a slew of other visual enhancements. Some were quite minor, but no less important in making the shots look convincing within the parameters of Miranda's alien environment.

The original music and sound effects were all created by Gregory Bossert, using Motu's Digital Performer software. He did his usual great job, just as he did in 2007 when we collaborated on Skull Island, a proof-of-concept test loosely based on scenes from the 1933 classic film, King Kong. If you'd like to see Skull Island, it's posted on Youtube, or for both color and B&W versions you can go to my site at www.menagerieproductions.com and click on the Animation heading.

The remaining shots for GoM are progressing very nicely, so remember to check in regularly to see what's new. And click here to see how you can help!

P.S. I am using Vimeo for first time to post this sample teaser. Also, my Vimeo channel not set-up yet. I realize uploading to video hosting sites can affect quality due to compression, internet speed, etc.. The teaser clip default is at Standard Definition (SD) .You also have option to play in High Definition (HD). I would be curious to know how it plays/looks on your computers.

September 26, 2011

Concept Art Illustrations

Here are some concept art for Gardens of Miranda. The first one, a wide view of the forest where the main action takes place, by famed paleo artist Douglas Henderson, best known for his restorations of Earth's distant past.

Based on the above Henderson forest concept art, a photo composite test image was created (below). I shot different sized model trees, vines and seedlings against a blue backing, using  the same lighting set-up, and Greg Bossert and I spent a few hours on the computer placing, stretching, squishing and color correcting the various elements until we got an image that approximated the artwork but was photo real, because we used real photos.

The other art concept illustration below, is a wide low-angle view of the desert and the monolith where our story unfolds, was done by movie concept artist Brian Matyas.

Another view of the Heli-bug puppet, one of several forest inhabitants.

September 09, 2011

Stop Motion Heli-bug and Kong Armature to be Transformed

In the debut of Gardens of Miranda journal-blog, I posted some teaser photos. Here are a few more photos of the bug and a couple of full reveal photos of the 'formerly known as Kong armature', before it was subjected to the surgery transformation.

This photo below shows a belly-view of the unfinished and unpainted Heli-bug, one of the forest inhabitants in Gardens of Miranda.

Most of the body parts were sculpted in clay and cast in urethane resin from silicone molds, then linked together with a variety of single and double-ended ball joints. Due to the size of the tiny joints, the limbs have some limitations in their movements, but they worked out fine, especially as the bugs spend most of their screen time flying and hovering. Here is image of the completed Stop Motion Heli-bug puppet.

Below are a couple of shots of Lionel Orozco's beautiful 18" tall Kong armature, originally made for my 2007 stop-motion short Skull Island. Lionel delivered the armature completed except for the ribcage, hip girdle and skull, parts which I later made and added, but ultimately it was never used for it's intended purpose. With the advent of Gom, I decided to reconfigure Kong into another character important to the story-line, and machined and added some new parts. Photos of  'that' new character will be posted in the coming weeks.


If you are not familiar with RSS Feeds (you can subscribe to this blog's feed), there is now an option where you can receive email notifications whenever Gardens of Miranda does journal post updates. Look to the right sidebar on this page and you will see the Follow by Email box.

August 30, 2011

Welcome - 'Gardens of Miranda' Sci-Fi Stop Motion Series

The year is 2185, and astrobiologist Jack Pure-Folly and his assistant Effie are conducting a field study on the newly-discovered planet Miranda, during the course of which they make some startling discoveries. Jack and Effie also happen to be robots.

Miranda’s atmosphere is lethal to humans, so Dante, the field study’s supervisor, decides to send the two robots to gather data and allow him to conduct the expedition remotely from his ship in geosynchronous orbit above the planet. Everything goes according to plan for the first two weeks, and then things start to get interesting.

This is the debut of my journal about the making of Gardens of Miranda, a stop-motion animated film designed as a per-episode downloadable series. The world of Miranda is realized through models and miniature stop-motion puppets, all animated sequentially in a frame by frame process. Those frames are assembled into shots and sequences and combined with a wide array of additional elements to create the final film.

I will be doing online updates about the production, making of, overview of the creation of models, miniatures, puppets, and other aspects of this project.

The above photos are samples of the behind the scenes. As I proceed with this journal, I will post more details & description. In a few weeks, as they become available, I will be posting teaser clips of the animated sequences. So stay tuned & boomark Gardens of Miranda and/or subscribe to this blog-journal's RSS Posts feed (see right sidebar).