This November we picked up the Royal Television Society Award for ‘Best Production Craft Skills’. The award was given for Animation and Visual Effects for a clutch of projects produced for Sony Pictures Television earlier in 2017. The body of work included seasonal idents for the Moviemix channel, and a 6-day time lapse using motion control. We’re proud to say that it’s the third time the studio has won this category. It was a pleasure to receive the award from The Gadget Show’s own John Bentley. Thanks RTS!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.