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Compositing

‘The Race In The Sky’ Selected for Manchester Animation Festival

By | Awards, Broadcast, CITV, Compositing, Festivals, Share A Story, stop-motion | No Comments

The Manchester Animation Festival has selected ‘The Race In The Sky’ to screen as part of their Commissioned Films category this autumn. We completed the film in September 2016, as our sixth animation for CiTV’s Share A Story competition for young viewers, written and read by 11-year-old Jenotha Seenivasan. The story is a cosmic tale of how the sun and moon had a race to decide who ‘owns’ the sky. The models used in the film were crafted from recycled materials and given a bit of magic using ‘light writing’, long exposures created with torchlight and bare light bulbs. Special thanks go to Nina Noon, Andrea Haenze, Chris Mair and Leah Hadley for getting stuck in with us during the production. The film will be screening on Tue November 14th at 12;10 and Wed 15th at 15:40.

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.

Building Passchendaele in 360

By | 360, Compositing, Virtual Reality, Visual Effects | No Comments

‘Months without music…’

This summer the Royal British Legion commissioned a series of 8 films to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. We were privileged to be asked to create one such film portraying life behind the lines. As the film reveals, soldiers created their own entertainment to escape the drudgery of life in the trenches, putting on shows and concerts as a means of keeping up morale. Considering what soldiers in WWI had to endure, it was fascinating to learn about the methods they used to entertain themselves. Music featured heavily in alleviating the awful depression suffered by so many soldiers. One interview makes for poignant listening as the veteran describes hearing one song as ‘the most beautiful thing he’d heard in his life’ having gone months without hearing any music at all.

‘Creeping paint’ transitions were used to introduce archive shots as pop-up images.

Recreating a Forgotten Battleground

Using archive footage, interviews and photographs, the brief required us to create an immersive experience for 360-degree viewing. This presented its own unique set of challenges given that, for obvious reasons, no footage or stills captured between 1914-18 is VR-ready. The nature of the piece, narrated by Dan Snow for Ballista Media, was forgiving enough to adopt a photo-montage, scrapbook-type feel. The master backgrounds were artworked from multiple photographic references in order to stretch to the equirectangular space, necessary for compositing.

An equirectangular interpretation of the WWI battlefield.

The other challenge is having no guarantee that your viewer won’t be looking in the opposite direction to an important piece of archive material. To get around this we tried to make archive material appear and disappear sequentially from left-to-right and back again to steer the viewer. Not always easy when different bits of footage start and stop at different times. Following the lead of Louis Hudson from Dice Productions, who created the template film, the project was turned around within 3 days. Producer Joe Bell has also written a great piece with some tips about creating content for 360.

(Inset) Theatre and cabaret behind the lines: both makeshift and and outlandish.

(Inset) Gambling was frowned upon, but was hard to enforce.

This was a truly fascinating project and such a rare opportunity to apply ourselves in commemorating the sacrifice made by so many people a century ago. It was humbling to know that the films were being viewed both by young cadets and veterans of WWI on the date of the commemoration: 31st July 2017.

(Left) Chelsea Pensioners viewing the 360 films. (Right) A young cadet looks ‘skywards’