The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Visual Effects - Part 3
For a more realistic motion blur applied to certain frames or every frame of an animation sequence, there are tools and plug-ins like ReelSmart Motion Blur for After Effects, which will do the job nicely if you have the budget for it. Other simple techniques can involve using Photoshop to add an overall blur to an entire still image, using a blur effect like Gaussian blur and adjusting how extreme you want it. Another Photoshop tool that I have used for creating blurred frames is the smudge tool, which can just be dragged by hand over any part of the puppet where you want to the motion to blur, like in a fast snappy action, for example (Figure 9.62) Whatever technique you use, the important thing to realize is that an effective blur should follow the object’s path of action. If you are blurring an arm moving upward in a sharp movement, try to smear that arm so that the blur is trailing downward in the opposite direction, with a smaller amount of smearing in the direction the arm is going.
Many of these effects for green screen, rig removal, masking, and motion blur, as well as other innovative techniques for stop-motion, are demonstrated beautifully together by Patrick Boivin in some of his YouTube videos that break down the process of his entertaining short films. Visit his YouTube page (http://www.youtube.com/user/PatrickBoivin) and within the Stop-Motion Animation playlist, check out the “Making of” videos for Bboy Joker, Jazz with a General Problem, and Black Ox Skateboard. The process is described in a very entertaining way, and the shorts themselves are fantastic to watch.
Eye Compositing Effects for Madame Tutli-Putli
Madame Tutli-Putli (Figure 9.63) is an Academy Award–nominated short film from 2007, which was directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski for the National Film Board of Canada. The film told the story of a young woman who takes a suspenseful journey aboard a train at night, using atmospheric lighting and intensely detailed puppet animation. The film amazed audiences worldwide, not only because of its cinematic resonance and story, but also because of a particular effect in the eyes of the puppets. The eyes were actually made up of video footage of real human eyes, which were painstakingly composited onto the faces of the puppets. The effect and technique for compositing the real eyes into the stop-motion frames was conceived and executed by artist Jason Walker over a period of 4 years from concept to the final result. The innovation behind this technique has certainly advanced the art of stop-motion animation to a whole new level in terms of performance and technical mastery.
I asked Jason Walker himself to share the process of his technique for Madame Tutli-Putli and how the project got started:
Around the year 2000, I had started playing around with computer animation and been able to get to know the film’s directors, Chris and Maciek, who were primarily doing illustration and animation at that time. I became their post-production artist on various projects, including a commercial we did for the Drive-Inn Channel in Toronto, where they had animated a stop-motion mouse. I ended up tracking and positioning a singing mouth onto the puppet, which did have eyes, but only a tracking dot where his mouth was. I tried a technique of having the puppet move only in two major positions, and tracking a 2D shape onto a 3D shape, but looking like it was turning along with it. It was all set to the beat of music, and it worked really well.
Later, we found ourselves having a meeting to discuss a project for the National Film Board and what we could do. This was around the time that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings had come out, and everyone was amazed by the effects for Gollum, so we joked that we needed to create a “poor man’s Gollum” for our film. I had an idea that had been in my head for a long time, since I was about 14 years old. When I was a school kid, we had a project where we had to make a papier-mâché head around a balloon, and then pop the balloon to create a mask. I had the idea that instead of painting flesh tones and eyes on it, I would paste a collage of magazine clippings on it for skin and the facial features. When it came to the eyes, I found a Vogue magazine cover and glued the eyes onto the mask. Then, I had a thought that if I were to create an animation of this mask with these photographs stuck onto it, every time I moved the head, I would need to find a different set of eyes that were set at a different angle. This idea from my childhood came back to me at that meeting with Chris and Maciek—to shoot live-action eyes and composite them onto a puppet.