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…
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!