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Behind The Scenes

Trick or Treat!

By | Behind The Scenes, Funnies, Modelmaking, Photography, Press, Promotions, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Visual Effects | No Comments

Our Halloween Homage to Harryhausen

This summer we made a brilliant new creative friendship in the form of Ian Davies, photographer par excellence. Ian is in the process of collating a 100 strong collection of portraits of people who work in the creative industries in Birmingham, only with a slight twist. The plan is to capture people in their natural creative environs in a slightly tongue in cheek way. For the denizens of a stop-motion studio, Ian came up with idea of compositing subjects in amongst some of their own miniature sets and puppets. What better source of inspiration for this than the skeleton army in Jason and The Argonauts?

Outnumbered. Still from Jason and The Argonauts.

This classic adventure film is known to all stop-motion animators for the handiwork of the late, great Ray Harryhausen (all kneel). What Harryhausen achieved using back projection techniques and film cameras was truly groundbreaking and still stands the test of time as an iconic piece of filmmaking. We had tremendous fun coming up with the designs and building the scene of 8″ skeletons on a volcanic looking mountain. Kudos has to go to Tristan Pritchard (sporting the fetching mail armour mid-left) and Amanda Haas (the badass drill queen mid-right) for getting stuck in with much of the model making work, including custom branded shields.

We borrowed some re-enactment armour from studio pal David Checkley (and some household appliances), and took off to Ian’s studio to shoot the additional plates. Stir in some photoshop and hey-presto: a battle scene with the undead.

Meet the Bone Gang

About The Project

Of his ongoing project, Ian had this to say: “My Brum Creatives portrait project came about when I was assisting in London. I got the hump over so many people mocking Brum – the city and the accent. I had the chance to shoot Michelin starred chef, Glynn Purnell and Mick Scully, a local crime writer, then realised there was a potential project in shooting creative professionals from Birmingham. I shot 30 odd portraits over 18 months while I was still living in London and exhibited here in 2015. I had some time off and restarted in 2016.
It’s a great way for me to meet so many interesting people, people I may not meet otherwise. It’s also a great way to build my folio, try out new techniques and I get to see and work in some really interesting locations within the city. It’s a no brainer for me and something I’ll continue with for the foreseeable future.  Essentially it’s celebration of the amazing talent that we have in Brum and a chance for me to do what I love without constrains of a client brief. I absolutely love working on it.”

We’re really privileged to be part of a project which features so many of our own local heroes. Thanks, Ian. Big grins.

Studio Showcased As Part of ‘Innovation 50’ List of Companies

By | Awards, Behind The Scenes, Broadcast, Innovation, Motion Control, Nominations, Press, Promotions, sony, stop-motion | No Comments

The Report

The Innovation 50 report – showcasing the fifty most innovative businesses across the region – has launched this week. Led by legal firm, Mills & Reeve, the report sought to create ‘an in depth index of some of the Midlands’ most forward thinking companies.’ We’re delighted to announce that Second Home Studios has been included in the list for our recent development of an essential new piece of equipment: the Manta Motion Control system. As a practical studio ever keen to innovate our stop-motion animation work, the rig adds a new dimension to what we do. It was developed in conjunction with the brilliant Richard Sykes, and was designed to facilitate both animation and live action client briefs. The rig provides multi-axis camera control allowing for incremental stepping whilst animating. When the animation is played back, this creates the illusion of a camera move in real time. The rig is also set up for time-lapse photography, or filming of live-action elements. The rig is controlled using CNC controllers which dovetail seamlessly with industry standard animation software.

Criteria

The studio is well versed in motion-control (or ‘MoCo’) application. In our 12 year history, we’ve used MoCo on several projects, often having to hack mechanical movers to get the desired control of motion for either the camera or miniature models being filmed. The Manta rig gives us a wealth of new control for all manner of animation projects. The judging criteria looked at what each business was trying to improve and gauge the measured results of this improvement. For us, this came in the form of three commissions from Sony Pictures Television.

Highly Commended…

The expert panel who compiled the list recognized this step-up in motion-control as worthy of mention as part of the report. The inclusion was also badged up as being ‘Highly Commended’ for being a particularly noteworthy submission. The report featured some truly inventive companies from all sectors; our personal favourites being the environmentally beneficial Aquapak Polymers, smart building inventors, Vanti and Borroclub for its sustainable consumer model of borrowing rather than buying. We’re really proud to be given consideration alongside these other people. Here’s a snapshot of the feature in the report:

 

 

It’s Alive! The ‘Manta’ Motion Control System

By | Behind The Scenes, Compositing, Design, Innovation, Motion Control, Pilsner Urquell 'Legends', Post-production, sony, stop-motion | No Comments

 

Introducing…

The Manta Motion Control system, a portable camera crane with animation, time-lapse and live action capability.

Motion Control and Why We Love it

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been developing our own Motion Control Rig. As self-confessed geeks of anything with motors, gears, and computery bits which control them (just take a look at our logo) we welcome any opportunity to impart motion into a shot to make it more dynamic, balletic, emphatic… (insert suitably OTT adjective here). You get the picture. We’ve already used the Manta rig with great success on three projects for Sony; the Moviemix channel ident is a cheery, seasonal campaign involving 10 x identical camera passes capturing different stop-motion elements which were composited together. ‘Till Death Do Us Part captured a 6 day time-lapse of wilting roses with a single, creeping camera movement running safely during the whole time. True Crime – ‘Women That Kill’ moved the camera on a ‘forensic journey through the evidence’, stitching 4 linear camera passes (IE, no fairings) end-to-end.

(Left) Moviemix Christmas stop-motion Ident. (Mid) ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ Time Lapse. (Right) True Crime VFX

‘MoCo’ Know How

Motion Control (‘MoCo’) has been around for a good many years since the Star Wars days, pioneered by the genii that were John Dykstra and  Richard Edlund. After growing up in the thrall of dog fighting X-Wings and TIE-Fighters, I later had the privilege of training as a Clapper Loader/Motion Control Assistant learning from the superlative VFX Director of Photography, Peter Tyler, working on Red Dwarf series 5 and 6. What better way to spend your Uni summer break than blowing up Starbug?

Since making the move into animation, the advantages for using MoCo in stop-motion were obvious – where you can incrementally move the camera as you animate, thus creating the illusion of a move in real time when you play it back. While it’s always tempting to move the camera just for the sake of it, we always try to use it judiciously. For example…

Using The ‘Camera as Character’

The direction, duration and speed of a shot matter a great deal. These will set up the correct audience point-of-view whether it’s obvious why the camera is moving (Eg, moved by implied impact of something moving in shot) or subtlely exploring a world to let the action wash over you. The Animal Book opening sequence was comprised of shots which moved the camera in a clockwise direction, to complement the clockwork, mechanical nature of the production design. The stop-motion paper world of Pilsner Urquell Legends (below) took the camera full circle from the town square to lush field, referencing the point of origin with the cathedral in the background.

From darkness to light. The iconic Pilsen cathedral was the focal point for signifying Czech provenance throughout the sequence.

My Motorbike (below) was a sleight-of-hand deal which moved the set, not the camera with composited backgrounds to give a drone-style whizz round the mountain, and Bechtel’s The Engineering Machine used MoCo as a time-cheat device for layering up live-action with stop-motion.

Behind the scenes of ‘My Motorbike’ where the set rotated on incremental control. (Right) Composited end result.

Introducing…

With all this in mind, we worked with engineer Rich Sykes to bring the Manta into being. From a bunch of ‘fag-packet’ sketches and long but affable phone conversations, the 7-axis rig was slowly brought into being through Rich’s patience and ingenuity. Our spec required that the rig perform live previews for stop-motion, a function missing from similarly sized rigs on the market, requiring specialist motors and drivers. Its axis capability covers linear tracking motion, rotation (or swing), boom elevation, pan, tilt and roll (for extra dynamism), plus the necessary focus control. The camera head will take any model of DSLR and will comfortably accommodate a Red Dragon or similar. The most weight-bearing axes: track, swing and boom were upcycled from some older, but incredibly robust, mechanics which in a previous life had borne the weight of a Mitchell film camera mounted on a vertical rostrum. This hefty track bed sits on a raised chassis which gives it an ideal reach over raised set decking. The rig is big enough to give a dramatic reach over a stop-motion set, and also to cope with larger life-size 1:1 sets, such as with the Sony Moviemix channel idents. It’s portable and yet rock-steady when locked into position. We’re proud to say that the Manta is one of a kind. 

Come play…

If you have an idea for a shoot which you think could be enhanced using the Manta rig, then we’d love to hear from you. We’re always looking for new ways to use the kit and the technique to best effect. Please get in touch through our ‘Contact’ page for a full spec and rate card.

CITV – Finding Zero

By | Behind The Scenes, CITV, Share A Story, stop-motion | One Comment

Now on air – ‘Oh No! Where’s Zero?’ made for CITV’s ‘Share A Story’ competition. The story was written by 11 year old Alfie de Brito. We took his 6 panel storyboard and expanded it into a 1 minute film. The plasticine number characters were filmed on a rostrum camera with ‘checker-boarded’ mattes and then composited together. Photos courtesy of the very talented Cassidy Wingrove who worked on the models.

Background

Share A Story is into its third year and is a CITV success story. As a competition for 5-12 year olds, this year saw the biggest response from a CITV audience with over 5000 entrants. This more than tripled the total entrants in 2011. It has collected 2 BAFTA nominations in the Short Form category and is nominated again this year. It also won a Promax / BDA Design award this year in the Interstitial / Short Form Campaign Category.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Building Narnia in Miniature

By | Behind The Scenes, Design, Modelmaking, stop-motion, Theatre Projection Design | No Comments

I used this post originally to keep the production office and other members of the creative team updated privately on progress here at the studio during the latter development stages and rehearsal process. It was a really useful tool for inviting feedback and allowing cross-collaboration with Stage and Costume Designer Tom Scutt.