Custom Action Figure

August 19, 2014 · Leave a Comment

My good friend Allen Mann (allenmann.com) is working on his first EP, which was recorded here at my little home woodshop.  To help raise money for his upcoming fundraiser, I put together this exclusive action figure which we’ll use as a reward.

Allen Mann Custom Action Figure

The figure was kitbashed from a Grand Moff Tarkin figure and features some custom sculpted hair (Lumina polymer) and painting which resembles Allen’s wardrobe in an upcoming music video.

Allen Mann Custom Action Figure - Behind The Scenes

Allen Mann Custom Action Figure - Behind The Scenes

Allen Mann Custom Action Figure

Allen Mann Custom Action Figure - Frank Ladner

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Homemade Microphone for Low-Fi Vocal Recording

November 17, 2012 · Leave a Comment

I’ve been experimenting with music recording a bit lately and have an idea that calls for a low-fi vocal sound. Singing through a kazoo works (somewhat) but isn’t the easiest approach so I started looking into vintage harmonica microphones, which are known for their gritty qualities when used in vocal recordings.

In the process, I learned “tin can” microphones are quite easy to construct, so I gave it a try.

Low-Tech Metal Can Microphone

The metal can was one I’ve had laying around for a while. I couldn’t help not sanding around the edges more, to give it a well-used appearance.

Low-Tech Metal Can Microphone

Low-Tech Metal Can Microphone

No advanced electronics expertise required here: The main components are a piezo transducer and 1/4″ microphone jack.

Low-Tech Homemade Metal Can Microphone

Next I’ll experiment with altering the resonance within the can using things like aluminum and wax paper. (And perhaps try building the mic element itself from scratch.)

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Hickory Never Bleeds

August 9, 2012 · Leave a Comment

Woo hoo!

Ahem.  I recently finished post-production on my quirky, sci-fi  mockumentary film entitled “Hickory Never Bleeds”.

Hickory Never Bleeds - Poster

It was filmed with a very limited crew (ie. me and my wife) and features a cast of local talent.

Synopsis:

This sci-fi mockumentary follows the unusual efforts of the Monster Defense Team, a group appointed by 94-year-old mayor Harper Stokes (Hayward Barrett) after the small, reportedly monster-inhabited, town of Farr is ridiculed by the media.

Retired machinist and weapons enthusiast Emil Sutton (Mark Forte) acts as the team’s leader, whose primary objective is to capture or kill the threat lurking in their woods. Emil takes under his wing the young, enthusiastic Ard Bridges (Torrey Harriel), a graphic designer who escaped to Farr as an alternative to city life. Concerned for the team’s public image, Ard insists they have a professionally-designed logo.

Former Army engineer Munn Feith (James Sonny Howard) brings additional firepower to the team, along with an understanding of conspiracy theories and a strong appreciation for Samurai swords.

Concern escalates among the group for the fourth – and most reclusive – member, Leland Walles (Frank Ladner), whose home is a small shed in the middle of the woods. Using his own peculiar technique of audio cassette ‘fear conditioning’, Leland seems all too willing to face the threat alone.

The town residents round out the quirky personalities presented in this story, offering up their theories about what the creature is, where it came from, and what should be done about it.

Trailer:

I’ll be premiering the film locally this month, and entering into a couple of nearby film festivals.

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Cheap DIY Anamorphic Lens Flare Filter

March 4, 2012 · 4 Comments

Anamorphic Flare Test

Sure, anamorphic lens flares (and lens flares in general) can be overused. As can extremely shallow depth of field, vintage color grading, or any number of stylistic approaches that catch on, see a lot of use, and eventually get labeled as a gimmick. But they can also be used creatively and selectively to enhance the visual experience of a story.

True anamorphic lenses aren’t the easiest to attain or use, factoring in price and the ability to mount to your camera. So a handful of companies have started selling anamorphic streak / flare filters that simply screw on to the front of your lens.

However, if aesthetics (read: “professional appearance”) don’t matter much to you, there is a super cheap alternative to achieving a very similar result. Best part of all, there’s no glass involved in this do-it-yourself method, so no worries about degrading or softening the image.

At minimum, you’ll need a short section of fishing line. How you attach it to the front of the lens is up to you. Ideally, you’ll want some way to mount this so that it can be easily attached and removed. In my case I drilled two holes on opposite ends of a cheap step-up adapter and knotted the fishing line at both ends.

Cheap Anamorphic Flare Filter

Cheap Anamorphic Flare Filter

This is only one way to mount the filament, so get as fancy as you’d like. I chose this particular step-up filter because my Variable Neutral Density filter threads onto the opposite end.

(If you prefer a ready-made solution with a professional appearance, have a look at the CineMorph filter from Vid-Atlantic.)

Notice the line runs vertically for a horizontal flare. This can be adjusted to change the streak direction.

The filament thickness makes a difference so you’ll want to experiment. In my case, I went with a rather thick 30LB test line. It can be colored to vary the color of the streak, but I prefer to leave mine clear. For a more exaggerated effect, try multiple lines spaced parallel.

Here are some color-graded test images (with 2.35:1 crop):

Anamorphic Flare Test

Anamorphic Flare Test

Anamorphic Flare Test

Anamorphic Flare Test

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Camera-Mounted Microphone Boom

January 5, 2012 · Leave a Comment

My current project, a sci-fi mockumentary film entitled “Hickory Never Bleeds“, involves lots of interviews. I reckon that’s the nature of documentary work. ;)

In some instances, I’m able to drag along a boom operator. This is always preferable, since it allows me to focus on… the focus. And the boom operator can concentrate on riding sound levels and following the subject with the mic.

But, as can sometimes be the case with D.I.Y. independent films, I’ve found it necessary to plan for scenarios where the crew consists only of me.

So this is what I’ve come up with…

DIY Shotgun Mic Boom Mount

DIY Shotgun Mic Boom Mount

DIY Shotgun Mic Boom Mount

Granted, this is not much more than a telescoping shotgun mount, so it isn’t revolutionary. But I really do like the adjustability of it, and the fact that it was really easy to mount the boom arm to the rig. All I had to do was drill one of the holes in the aluminum mounting bracket/handle a little larger, and attach the mic arm to the top with a 3/8″ screw.

Attaching the field recorder (Oade Bros. Modified Marantz PMD-660) to the rig took a little more thought, as I really only had one connection point through which to attach via screw. (Not ideal.) So I simply wrapped the strap around the mounting bracket/handle for added security.

While trying to plan out this setup, I was concerned with balance. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue so far.

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Flying Backwards – Star Breathing Giant

December 25, 2011 · 2 Comments

New music video for the Florida-based group, Flying Backwards.

We incorporated some timelapse, light painting, and greenscreen/camera-matching into the mix. Lots of fun! Plus, the guys stayed in our home, so we had a great time just hanging out. :)

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Jones Unleashed – Psalm 63

September 7, 2011 · Leave a Comment

New music video for Jones Unleashed…

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Getting Real with Puppets – Part 2

August 11, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Little details not only enhance realism, but they can be the most enjoyable aspect of the puppet and prop-building process.

Adding scuff marks with abrasives, distressing new/clean surfaces, wearing down edges, and just plain making stuff look old is all part of the fun.

This is what the boots look like now:
Puppet Boots
(Real mud will be added while filming.)

Here’s a shot of the blaster with holster and strap:
Blaster and Holster
The front of the gun came from a small Maglite flashlight which was worn down with sandpaper, starting with 180 grit and finishing with 400 grit.
A small galvanized pipe fitting connects the metal front to the handle, which was sculpted from PaperClay and then painted. An old metal knob was added for appeal.

Undoubtedly the most enjoyable prop to work on was the backpack. Here’s how it looks currently:
Puppet Backpack
It serves a functional purpose (basically a transmitter of sorts), so I wanted to make the bits and pieces tie together in a somewhat believable way.

Puppet Backpack

Puppet Backpack - Detail

I’m nearly finished as far as the puppet and his props are concerned. The next steps involve setting up some scenes/backdrops and some odd-and-end set pieces and props.

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Getting Real with Puppets

August 7, 2011 · 2 Comments

My biggest gripe with computer animation is the lack of spontaneity. There’s lots of STUFF that goes into it: Modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, rendering, waiting…

I almost always carry a small notepad in my pocket. If something comes to mind – such as a story idea, some piece of dialog, etc. – then I have it there to record whatever it is I thought of. But every two or three pages is full of little character thumbnails. Sometimes one of these characters catches my fancy and I try to translate that into a digital character that I can animate. This means doing tons of poly modeling (using the sketch as reference), texturing, rigging… just a bunch of stuff before I ever get to the point where I can animate the character. And when I do get to that point, my morale is shot because the character has lost whatever it was that I really liked in the first place.

That is largely what resulted in the paper cut-out animations. This really helped take the original “charm” of the character directly into the animate-able version, AND sped up the whole modeling process (since I’m only using 2D planes)… but as simple as it is, there’s still quite a bit of setup involved.

So I started thinking beyond that. Even so far as to wonder “How can I remove the computer from the whole process? How can I just get an ‘animated’ performance in-camera. No rigging, no texturing, no rendering.”

IMMEDIACY is what I was after.

This led to some experiments with moving paper characters in front of the camera by hand. I remembered the intro to an old show called “Mrs. Cabobble’s Caboose” (a public television program we had to watch in the 3rd grade). The characters in the intro were just sorta moved about, with limbs dangling – apparently attached by little springs or something. It had a nice handmade, energetic feel to it.

But I started to consider how I’d tackle lipsync/dialog in that scenario, which led me to think “Hey, I can just add a tracker point to the face and add the mouth shapes on… the… computer.” And this defeated the purpose.

A couple weeks after this, I see a post by animator extraordinaire Keith Lango. Not only did he just complete a short film… he completed it within a weekend! Using PUPPETS. (Check out Keith’s post HERE.)

Keith said many things that resonated with me:

It’s like a dream come true! And I’ve got ideas for more shorts, too. The key thing for me is to get the ideas done and out there, entertain, tell stories, reveal and live with characters. I finally feel like I can do that without investing months or years to get my ideas out. Plus I’m not just stuck in my studio on the computer. I’m up, moving around, breaking a sweat, learning new things. Even better, my wife and kids help, too- it’s really a family thing in ways that animation never was or could be. Working with my hands on something is just too cool. But I won’t be quitting my day job as an animator, though. I still like that too much. :)

Inspired by this, I decided to give puppetry a try. Here’s what I’ve got so far…

Puppet character

puppet legs

Puppet Boots

Puppet

Puppet Goggles

Puppet blaster pistol

Various bits and pieces

Puppet

I’m a woodworker by trade, so I’m geared to wanna work with my hands; it’s way more intuitive. It’s also rewarding in the sense that I can take whatever I’ve made and show the kids right away, getting instant enjoyment from their reactions. And as a bonus, my wife likes the fact that she can help sew stuff for me. :)

I’ve got a bit more to figure out, including arm movement via rods (and I’m considering making a separate hand for closeup shots.) Also, some of the parts for this particular character are still a little “clean” and need proper distressing (sandpaper, dirt, paint, etc.) The vest, goggles and blaster are pretty much where I want them.

The character shown here is for an upcoming music video. I hope to upload video footage once complete!

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Jones Unleashed – “Wake Up”

June 9, 2011 · 2 Comments

Here’s a video I completed recently for a local group called Jones Unleashed..

The “story” part was filmed in an early-1900′s church, and the band performance was shot in a local field. All of the projected sequences were done here at my home/studio.

You can hear more Jones Unleashed on Facebook.

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