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.

Puppets Galore

By | Modelmaking, Puppetry, Share A Story | No Comments

Just for laughs we’ve compiled a clip reel of our projects where we’ve worked with traditional puppetry, featuring marionettes and/or rod-controlled and hand-controlled puppets. It makes a great change when we can shoot with these, combining all the best bits of modelling and miniature set building but meaning we can shoot 17 takes if we want to like all the live action people. Featured here are the Diet Coke ‘Love It Light’ Facebook films, The Crocodile Trap, A Shark Who Swallowed The Sea and a music video for Goodnight Lenin for their track Wenceslas Square, co-produced with Prime Objective and Nice Monster. Plus there’s some other bits and bobs featuring traditional puppetry in some guide. Enjoy.

‘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.

Double RTS Nomination for Sony Projects

By | Awards, Motion Control, Nominations, RTS, sony, stop-motion, Visual Effects | No Comments

We’re proud to announce that we’ve received two nominations in this year’s Royal Television Society Midlands Awards. Our broadcast promotion for ‘Women That Kill,’ a documentary special on Sony’s True Crime channel was picked for the Best Promotional Programme category whilst the studio’s recent Animation and Visual Effects work was nominated for Best Production Craft Skills. This body of work includes two other projects for Sony; the stop-motion Christmas ident for the Moviemix channel from 2016 and a Valentine’s stunt for ‘Till Death Do, Us Part,’ involving a 6-day time lapse and one continuous camera move.

(L-R) The Moviemix channel ident, ‘Till Death Do, Us Part’ time-lapse and ‘Women That Kill’ promotional films.

All three projects feature use of the studio’s own Manta Motion Control Rig, which recently won the studio a place in the ‘Innovation 50’ list of most forward-thinking companies in the region. This is the fourth time Second Home has been nominated for the RTS awards and we’re no less proud to be recognised by the society once again!

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.

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’

International Win for ‘Tweedy & Fluff’

By | Awards, Festivals, International, stop-motion, Tweedy & Fluff | No Comments

Second Home Studios and Stitchy Feet win Grand Prize at Seoul Promotion Plan Conference 2017.

This summer we went long haul to the Seoul Promotion Plan conference in South Korea to pitch our series-in-development, Tweedy & Fluff. This is a pre-school stop-motion animation, created by children’s author Corrinne Averiss, with Cbeebies as its primary broadcast sponsor. The project was invited as a list minute finalist into the international pitching rounds and was unique both in that it was the only project from the UK and also the only stop-motion offering on the schedule. Chris Randall represented this co-production between Second Home Studios and Stitchy Feet, which is ostensibly about a child and their first pet.

The Winning Pitch

The 10 minute pitch involved a storybook-style start followed by a lighthearted tour of the characters’ world. There was also a reasoning for why, in such a busy world, a show which instils nurturing qualities is important for young viewers. There also featured some bespoke animation featuring the two main characters especially produced for the Korean hosts, which made a funny and fitting end to the presentation. The awards were announced on Thursday 6th June and Tweedy & Fluff was announced as the Grand Prize Winner. As well as a trophy, the show also received $15,000 USD which will go a long way towards further developing the project as it moves closer towards closing the necessary finance and a green light for production.

 

Photoreal Passion Project, Pug ‘Sculpted’ In Clay

By | CGI, Computer Modelling, Design, Modelmaking, Photo real, Post-production | No Comments

Here in the studio while the paint dries and the renders crawl towards completion, we’re always mulling over new ideas or trying out new things just for the love of it. So, in between commissioned projects over the past six months, our meticulous and brilliant Post-Production Assistant, Marija Salajeva, set herself the task of creating a virtual model of a pug as though it had been modelled in clay by hand. The intention was to create a photorealistic scenario, complete with crumbs of clay and cold coffee. As we’re so familiar with working in clay (and often so engrossed in work that drinks get ignored) there was plenty of live reference around the studio for Marija to draw from. The effect is a scene in which the ‘modeller’ has just finished their work and has left the sculpting table. Judge for yourself, but we think it’s a fascinating and brilliant study of one artistic discipline being captured with the tools of another.

 

 

Rounding Off 2016 With More RTS Nominations. Thanks To All Our Collaborators…

By | Awards, BAFTA, Broadcast, CITV, Design, Modelmaking, Nominations, RTS | No Comments

After delivering a bunch of exciting new work during 2016, we finished the year with three more award nominations. Our contribution for CITV’s ‘Share A Story’, a tale about A Shark Who Swallowed The Sea, written by Heidi Hogarth was among the nominated films in the Children’s BAFTA Short Form Category. The same film was also nominated twice in the Royal Television Society Midlands Awards, for Best Production Craft Skills and Best Fictional Television Programme. This project is our fifth project involving traditional puppetry. You can find more like this here. Huge thanks go out to all who worked with us on this project.