The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Visual Effects - Part 1
Next, I mask out the stop-motion layer frame by frame as needed to reveal Frank in the video layer (Figures 9.19 and 9.20). For the mask, I only concentrate on the areas where Barry's layer passes in front of Frank's. The rest of the picture on both layers does not change from one to the other, so I don't worry about perfecting the mask in those areas. I finesse the mask by feathering the edges by two pixels or so. That softens up the edges of the mask and blends nicely with the video layer, making for a seamless composite. Now Barry passes in front of Frank (Figure 9.21). It's like magic!
For another scene in Episode 2, where a live-action hand comes in to wipe Barry’s face, the same technique is used. The only difference is that it's not Barry who is masked—it’s just his eyes. One mask for each eye means all reflection and shadows are real on the rest of his body, even in his eye sockets. I put on the actor’s coat and sweater and wiped Barry's face with my own hand. I made sure that Barry’s eyes were closed when I did this, so in the video layer, Barry's eyes are closed (Figure 9.22) and the only animation going on is his eyeballs (Figure 9.23). Sometimes, Barry's eyeballs were crooked, so I would grab the left eye, make a mask, duplicate it, flip it 180 degrees, and add it over the right eye. Now, I had two fixed eyes animating in sync. When done correctly, masks are very powerful for this type of work, and I use them for everything.
Sometimes, in production, I would choose to pose Barry in many different ways, animating his basic moves: looks right, looks left, looks up, looks down, blinks while turning, and blinks at camera. From that, I could make him do anything I wanted in the editing, and it also meant that I could improvise with Frank, which gave me tons of freedom in crafting the jokes and pacing of the show. In this case, I would only plan for his entrance or exit for the shot. Barry is made of Play Doh, which makes him tougher to animate and makes him look kind of lumpy and cracked, which is part of his charm. Sometimes, obstacles are good to have, and little mistakes can help shape the work into something new and original. As long as I stay true to that and don’t get too hung up on the details, the show’s overall character stays pretty consistent. Barry is an easy shape and has no mouth, so basic stop-motion with him worked perfectly for what I was trying to achieve and convey in my storytelling.
Ken A. Priebe has a BFA from University of Michigan and a classical animation certificate from Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He teaches stop-motion animation courses at VanArts and the Academy of Art University Cybercampus and has worked as a 2D animator on several games and short films for Thunderbean Animation, Bigfott Studios, and his own independent projects. Ken has participated as a speaker and volunteer for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter and is founder of the Breath of Life Animation Festival, an annual outreach event of animation workshops for children and their families. He is also a filmmaker, writer, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC, with his graphic-artist wife Janet and their two children, Ariel and Xander.