We love making animations, so when Andy was given an 'Eiffel Tower in a Tin' for his birthday, it seemed a great subject for a stop motion. He had the idea that we would just make a time-lapse of him putting it together, as it was a really nice retro construction 'toy', well suited to the genre. However, I wanted to add the Champ de Mars park in which the Tower stands and also I fancied having a go at a fireworks display.
Firstly watch the film to see the final edit and then we can go through the materials and steps to see how we achieved it.
A few general rules for making a stop go animation are:
Make sure you know exactly what is in shot, i.e. screen off anything which detracts from the scene.
Re the above, take the first shot and upload it onto your computer and study it carefully.
Take the highest resolution pictures you can.
Don't bump into the set or camera.
Don't change the lighting unless that is part of the film.
Do the whole shoot at once, that way you will get continuity.
Choose music you enjoy hearing because you are going to hear it a lot of times.
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Step 1: MATERIALS - Lighting
Studio Lighting - is hand-made, it's actually a low wattage bulb (100 Watt equivalent) inside a scavenged plastic garden planter, which itself is lined with metallised plastic film from the inside of a wine box. It is supported on a home-made reclaimed pallet wood stand, which allows it to be suspended over the set and gives a good and most importantly constant light level. The daylight from the windows is kept to a minimum background level using a screen.
For the evening to night-time shots before the fire work display, I slowly blacked out all the light sources in the room.
In-Camera Lighting - The twilight dimming effect was then continued in the camera. This was achieved by setting the camera to the Tv setting (shutter priority) and taking a sequence of shots, with each one taken at a faster shutter speed and the same Aperture and ISO rating. Thus as the shutter speed increases, there is less illumination entering the camera and the image darkens.
Coloured Lighting Effect - To create the coloured light effect we actually used the green and red function on two LED headlights we use to get the chickens in at night!
Step 2: MATERIALS - the Set
The main thing in animation is to gather together all your materials at the outset because once you get into creative mode there is nothing worse than having to search around for something you need. If you want to you can storyboard your film, by drawing each shot. I have done this in the past but now I like to make things more organically and just see what emerges. However, we did do some rehearsals with the 'fireworks', as we only had twelve old sparklers, which I had bought ten years ago and never used so we wanted to know, firstly that they would still light and secondly how they would look. Apart from the fact that we have a really good camera, a Canon Rebel EOS 550D and a tripod, everything else we use is home-made.
Colour Scheme & Texture I liked the idea of using natural materials - the wooden table, leather screen, sand and moss, these both emphasised and contrasted with the metal of the tower.
The first part of the film; the construction of the tower, was shot simply against the wood of the table, it's a well used fruit wood, which again adds to the retro feel of the construction toy.
Backdrop - The film started with a screen and then went to a black velvet cape draped over it. I wore a long black velvet glove to manipulate the fireworks.
Firework Test - this was done both to establish how the 'fireworks' would look in shot and also to ascertain what portion of my arm would need to be covered. We also used this test to work out the boundaries for what would be in shot, thus we could better plan the actual dimensions of the park (Champ de Mars).
The Landscaping of the Park was shot on a reclaimed hardboard/particle board pallet top and the sides were made of strips of pallet wood planks clamped onto the table. This gave us a way of containing the sand. Once the sand had been laid, the back plank was removed and used as a straight edge for the drawing of the outline of the gardens, borders and the pathways. I used a soft paint brush to clear the 'paths'.
I found a Wikipedia Commons Photo to get an authentic feel for the Champ de Mars. We collected several types of moss, including a delicate fern moss, which I could use for bushes and trees and a tufted moss which could be used to form topiary.
For the water feature I used a earthenware face-cream jar lid, this had a blue interior, which was just perfect under the lights
Step 3: THE SHOOT
Timescale - The shoot took six hours, this allowed for three separate firework sequences and for a stop motion build-up of the garden.
It broke down as follows:
Construction: 109 shots
Landscaping: 217 shots
Fireworks: 49 shots
For the opening sequence and titles I decided to simply use the tin the Eiffel Tower came in and was planning just to animate this first shot of the tin (above) with the OpenShot 'top to centre' animation to segue us into the film.
Frequency of Shots - When planning shots, if you have never made a stop motion before, it is a good idea to take your first ten shots and just run them through the camera screen, this will give you an idea - a bit like a flicker book, of how your movement of objects between shots is working out and will look in the finished animation. You will then be able to ascertain if you are moving your object(s) too great or too little a distance and if the animation looks too contrived or conversely is too slow. Jerky movement can be quite fun in animation, in particular if you are trying to give a retro feel to the film. Showing the hand in shot, particularly if, as in this case, it is a construction toy, is also quite acceptable. It is all a matter of experimenting and finding the style you like.
Altering the amount of space between individual 'movements' or changing the number of objects you add to a shot can also make the overall animation more interesting. In the two adjoining landscaping shots above, you can see that I only added one small topiary piece around the water feature, whereas on other occasions I added a whole 'lawn' and several 'trees'.
Step 4: THE EDIT
Software - I use free shareware packages and I'm using them on Ubuntu.
Film Editor - OpenShot
Image Editor - GIMP Image Editor
Graphics Editor - Inkscape Vector Graphics Editor
Editing the Images:
Although I wore a black velvet glove against the black velvet cape used as the background, the light from the fireworks showed up some anomalies, occasionally the outline of my hand and also some ripples in the cape. Using GIMP clone and smudge tools I had hoped to be able to correct these very easily but unfortunately in GIMP it was impossible to see the same subtle outlines as shown in my computer's image viewer. This meant the process was slightly hit and miss, so it took much longer than I had expected but I wanted it to look as good as possible, so I persevered!
Editing the Graphics:
I decided to make a tricolore graphic for the music credit and used an 'American Typewriter' font which I then ungrouped and manipulated to form a flag impression.
Editing the Film:
Image Length Preferences - in general, the time each image was on the screen was set at 0.20 of a second with 2 second duration for key shots, such as those involved in relaying information on the construction or those showing the setting out of key components.
In the Fireworks section, I included a darkened image of the tower between some of the firework shots to give added movement, these were set at 0.10 of a second and this took the sequence from the original 49 images to 72, making a firework display of just under 12 seconds.
As a precaution against slowing up the editing, I made separate animations for the landscaping and fireworks and saved them as an .avi file before adding them to the main animation sequence.
Step 5: MUSIC & SOUND EFFECTS
It makes a great deal of difference to an animation if you can find a sympathetic piece of music as a soundtrack, one which fits the mood. Usually with our Youtube films we use the same pieces of music and from the same musicians, as we enjoy listening to them and they fit well with our genre of films. This is crucially important as we may end up listening to the same segments hundreds of times over years of editing!
I found Jazz in Paris in the Youtube Audio Library but there are many on-line libraries with free music to use on films.
To make the animation more authentic I decided to add firework sound effects, I found a free download on Youtube and I duplicated the tracks so as to give extra volume over my music sound track.
For the ending of the film I used our usual sign off, again this is a short animated segment and it uses birdsong from our garden and this makes a nice contrast to the jazz and noise of the fireworks.
Hope you have found this interesting.
All the very best from Normandie,
Pavlovafowl aka Sue