The Norwegian studio Qvisten Animation, based in Oslo, is producing a new feature film "Hakkebakkeskogen" and I'm happy to be part of the animators crew. I already have my first shot approved! Matias Liebrecth, Cesar Linga, Danail Kraev, Jens Gulliksen, Marcos Valin... all these great animator have worked there and also a really talented new generation of Norwegian animators like Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen and Anna Mantzaris (Swedish) who together directed the brilliant short "But Milk Is Important". For freelancer animators, the biggest challenge of every project is to fit the style of the studio in less time possible. It's always a hard mindset change from realistic to cartooning, 24fps to 12fps, ... After the general briefing from the director, I watched the animatic to get into the story. Then it's time to sharpen your eyes! Watch shots frame-by-frame! I check the main poses of each character, how they behave, walks, how many frames they use to stop a big movement, eyes moves (blink, eyelid), ... Then you go check the instructions from the puppet department. Check the armatures, the puppets, feel the joints, see the rigs possibilities... It's an endless question and answer until you can actually go to the set and start your first shot.
In theaters on christmas.
Animator Simon Furdal working on a shot
The movie is based on a book by Thorbjørn Egner, a Norwegian songwriter and illustrator. So, the movie has a lot of super funny songs scenes like when the characters teaches how to make a gingerbread or the pepperkake, in Norwegian. The Katzenjammer is the band behind the musics from the movie. Take a few minutes and enjoy this song. I love it!
I got it from Jason Stalman and I use mostly to animate hair, clothes and fingers.
The good thing about it is that it doesn't have a sharp edge so you can make rounded bends on wires.
That's how we keep the feet at the same spot and also don't let the puppet fall over.
Sometimes I pre-drill the holes before start animate depending of the action.
Wires! Usually, I squash the tips with a hammer and make a hole using a drill.
Then, I use a screw to tie the object to the wire.
Sorry IKEA, but this is really useful!
Allen keys to loose or tighten the joints and a scalpel.
On Kubo and the Two Strings, I used the scalpel to move the eyes of the puppets which made me think about the movie Un Chien Andalou.
A magnet base that I use as a rig to hold the puppets for example when they are jumping or flying.
There is a key to turn the magnet field ON/OFF. If you put a heavy iron weight under the base, it will be heavier and easier to sustain the puppet in the air.
I use it to reach parts of the puppet that it is hard to touch or hold with hands.
Tak is a kind of a sticky clay and has endless value.
I used it a lot on the short War on Drugo to "glue" the joints of my paper cutout puppets. Doing so, I had a friction that helped me to control better the moves. And it is removable and reusable so you don't wreck the puppets/props!
A few weeks ago I was really stressed with the shot that I was animating. It was a shot that I planned as 2 actions. The first and main action was a character struggling to pull out an object. The second was when he catches his breathe after all the effort he made. When the first part was done, the rig (which supports the character) was completely twisted. I couldn't do a precise move anymore, like breathe. Then, I had to decide between changing the rig in the middle of the shot, or keep trying to control the messed rigging. I chose the second option, because the first one would take a lot of time to setup (and it was also a big risk). In doing so, every frame became really-really painful. And super slow. After a while, when I went outside the studio to take a break and refresh my eyes, I saw the remarkable animator Trey Thomas smoking a cigarette. To my surprise, he was also stressed thinking about his shot, which he just had to cutback some frames. Somehow, it made me more relieved since we both were having similar problems. To cutback or to not cutback? Actually, he had already decided. I explained him my situation and he gave me an advice: protect your shot. It means that if you have to spend more time to do your best, don't think twice. The stress will pass, but the shot is forever. After our conversation, I went back to my set, called my rigger, changed the rigging, deleted a bunch of frames to find the right pose and finished the shot. Not as easy as it is written here. Now, nobody remember how many days it took me to do the shot. What stays is only what they see on the screen, and it means my favourite shot in Kubo so far!
In the meanwhile, here's Coraline cake to celebrate 10 years of Laika!
Hi whoever reads my blog! I haven't had time to upload this page since I started working at Laika. I'm working hard trying to make my shots nothing but perfect! If it is not here, then where? Anyway, I met a lot of great animators here and one of them, Jan Maas, has the best description about being a stop-motion animator: "As Stop-Motion Animator on feature films you are constantly balancing quality and quantity under the pressures of production. You need to be able to follow directions precisely, whilst bringing into the performance a lot of individual ideas and emotions. It's creativity inside a tight framework under pressure... It involves a lot of stress, individual decision making, problem solving and frustration, but it can be incredibly rewarding and fun too."
I've worked with many directors and it has always been a big challenge to put what they have in mind on the screen. It doesn't matter how precise they are on the briefing, you will always have to convert words into frames. Then, it becomes a highly technical job, where you have to combine all the "dogmas" (arch, silhouette, anticipation, timing, ...) with brilliant acting. When doing so, from my perspective, the puppet sometimes "ask" for different moves. Either because of the armature/rig limits or when it shows new possibilities while I'm doing the rehearsal (or even animating). Since I'm always looking for the best acting, I take the risk and trust my instincts. It's an individual decision, but without forgeting the directions. The frustation comes when you end up doing something different from what you had planned. It doesn't mean that it is worse. Maybe it's just meaningless moves in your acting. If the director says "It works", it sounds like "not completely a piece of shit" in my ears. If, in the end, they love your shot, life is beautiful! Then it is fun!
So, sharpen your eyes, work hard and try to give soul to your puppet, because soul means animu in latin, which means "what animates".
Since I can't post any pictures from Kubo and the Two Strings, I will share some great tips that I've learned from the animators here at Laika.
For example, UV Blacklight Ink Marker!
I was animating one of the heros and he had to cross the scenario in 10 frames. So, I just made a mark in the scenario where he was supposed to be in each frame. Then, I turned on the UV flashlight to see where to place him!
I am really happy (and lucky) to say that I am animating at LAIKA for Kubo and the Two Strings! First, I survived 4 weeks at test unit and one of the things that they asked me to do was "make Kubo alive, switch weight, breathing!" Sounds easy, but if you are an animator, you know how challenging it is. So far, I approved 3 shots (around 10 seconds of animation). And I have to tell you, I fought for every single frame that I took!