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What are all those paint men digging? - 'WoodSwimmer'

Every Monday, Chris Robinson asks an animator how they made a particular film. This week: WoodSwimmer by Brett Foxwell

'Woodswimmer' by Brett Foxwell

So, how’d you make this?

A milling machine, normally used in metalwork, was used to cut very thin slices off of hardwood samples in a repeatable manner. The slices varied between 1/20 of an inch and 1/2000 of an inch in thickness. A camera on a motion-control rig running Dragon Stop Motion software was set up to photograph the freshly cut surface. This process was then repeated for each frame in the sequence. The finished animation plays at 24 frames per second.

Why this technique?

I arrived at this technique after trying many other methods that did give repeatable enough results, like using a wood planer or hand sander.  Additionally, each wood sample was different so new methods had to be tried to get a good image. Some of the wood surfaces looked great after just brushing them off, but others had to be sanded at a certain angle, or have wood oil applied after each cut to bring the texture out. It ended up being a collection of techniques that I would pull from to get the best result from each new sample I started with.

How long did it take?

When the process went smoothly, I could shoot one second of footage in 3 hours.

What was the most challenging part of the process?

There was not one aspect that was especially difficult, but the entire process was a challenge in that I could not get a sense of what a sequence would look like until it was mostly done. Some very nice looking wood samples on the outside were not very interesting inside while others that were quite plain-looking would explode with beautiful structures and arrangements once I got inside. The challenge was that it took me 6 hours of work to get to that point.

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A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.