Friday, March 20, 2015

Where the Boys Are -- Joelanta 2015 part 2

Animator Jeremy Fisher


When Jeremy Fisher was about 12, he became fascinated with stop motion animation after seeing the “Star Wars” movie.  He began animating his Star Wars action figures to reproduce his favorite scenes.  After completing a Fine Arts degree at Ringling College, he moved to Los Angeles where he has worked on “Marcel the Shell with Shoes on” and “Robot Chicken.”  While he learned to do computer animation in school, Jeremy finds working with physical objects much more satisfying.  “I build things and make them move,” he said, summing up his work as an animator.  I caught Jeremy's Joelanta presentation on the way back from a two week residency at Hambidge where I had gone to work on a stop motion animation project so I greatly appreciated the overview of the stop motion process and the many useful tips he offered aspiring animators.

            The basic set up requires a space where the animator can control the lighting.  As the sun moves over the horizon and clouds pass in front of it, daylight constantly changes.  Stop motion animators must therefore use artificial light in order to keep the lighting consistent from frame to frame.  Jeremy set up a mini stage under his dorm bed when he was in college.  Today he does his freelance work in a home dark room.  My studio at Hambidge had no blinds or curtains on most of the windows so I was not able to create the ideal conditions for shooting but back in my brother’s windowless basement my shooting stage looks like this:

            Like most industry professionals, Jeremy uses Dragon Frame, an animation program that costs about $300.  If you have a Mac you can get good results with iStop Motion which I purchased for $50.  

The $10 version of this program will run on an iPad or iPhone while Framegrapher for the iPhone is only $5.  Onion skinning is one of the most useful features that animation software platforms provide.  It automatically shows an overlay of the previous image as you set up the next shot so you can keep track of movement from frame to frame.  This is especially helpful if you accidentally displace objects in the shot and need to put them back where they were before capturing the next image.

            Indeed, keeping the puppets stationary in between shots is one of the biggest challenges stop motion animators face.  Reaching in to move a puppet’s hand can displace the figure or other elements in the set, resulting in extraneous movement on screen when the images are played back in sequence.  Stop motion animators frequently glue or peg their puppets to the stage floor while they are working.  I experimented with gluing magnets to my puppets’ feet, but haven’t yet found any glue that bonds securely.  

Jeremy further recommends using sticky wax from Michaels to help puppets keep their grip on props like light sabers. 

            Keeping the camera stationary during shooting is also essential so Jeremy mounts his camera on a tripod that clamps to his table when he is working.  He uses a DSLR camera, but these days smartphones, iPads, iPods, and pocket cameras can all shoot in HD so amateurs can get good image quality with inexpensive devices.  I bought a Joby Gorilla tripod and an iShot G7 Pro iPad holder to mount my equipment.  

A wireless number key pad enables Jeremy to control the camera through the animation software on his computer so that he doesn’t have to touch it to capture images.  This way he avoids accidentally bumping the camera between shots.  I purchased a wireless remote but there was no WiFi in my studio at Hambidge so iStop Motion was not able to recognize my iPad as a capture device even though it was connected with a lightening cable. 

            Jeremy collected eight boxes of action figures while playing with stop motion animation techniques in his youth but these days he makes most of his own puppets.  He favors 1/16 armature wire, but notes that there are other suitable types of wire available at Home Depot and even floral wire can work well.  

Recently he has begun designing figures on the computer and then having them 3D printed.  Time is of the essence in an art form that requires 700 to 900 exposures for one minute of film.  I worked feverishly to make six puppets from 18 gauge wire and aquarium tubing before heading to Hambidge.  

Each puppet has six interchangeable faces representing different emotions and six different pairs of hands all molded from Paper Clay.  

Being able to 3D print those parts would have saved me a lot of time.

             Although Helena Smith Dayton, a Greenwich Village artist who sculpted a popular series of clay caricatures produced a stop motion adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1917, animation remained a “where the boys are” enclave until the advent of You Tube.  Today many girls and women are posting stop motion animation videos that feature their American Girl, Monster High, or 1:6 scale fashion dolls on You Tube and other web streaming sites.  For example Shasarignis has been producing stop motion animation fashion doll videos for years.  Hey, It's Muff recently purchased a smartphone app that can produce time lapse and stop motion video so she has been sharing her experiments with this technology and inspiring us all to try our hand in this exciting medium.  After all why should boys have all the fun?


A bientôt!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Where the Boys Are -- Joelanta 2015

     The protagonists of the 1960 film, “Where the Boys Are” headed south to Fort Lauderdale for their spring break but this year I went north to Appalachia.  I spent two weeks at the Hambidge Center, an artists’ retreat in Rabun County Georgia.  There was no cell phone reception and no WiFi in my studio but I enjoyed conversing with the other artists in residence every evening over dinner. 

     Hambidge is located on 600 acres that border North Carolina.  It rained most of the time I was there so I didn’t get to spend much time enjoying the hiking trails but I did slip over to Asheville the first weekend to visit the Biltmore Estate.  

On my way back I stopped in the North Carolina Folk Arts Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Unlike the Kentucky Artisan Center, no photography was allowed so I couldn’t take any pictures of the exhibits or the corn shuck dolls in the gift shop.  I was delighted to find these exquisitely detailed instruments, however.  

The banjo and mandolin were designed as Christmas tree ornaments while the fiddle and dulcimer have magnets on the backside. 

     I was sorry to miss the American Craft Council show that took place this past weekend in Atlanta but I was able to catch the end of the Joelanta convention on my way back from Hambidge. 

Joelanta diorama

While I saw more black vendors than I typically see at doll shows, their offerings did not include many black figures.  I found more interesting fare at the Circle X Ranch booth where I spotted these replacement heads for Marx action figures. 

     Marx released Jed Gibson, a cavalry scout as part of the Johnny West Adventure Series in 1975.  

African American figures using the same face molds as G.I. Joe had appeared as early as 1965 but by the end of the decade Hasbro had developed a distinct face mold for black Joes released as part of the Adventure Team line.  My brother's childhood Adventure Team figure lost a foot in hard service and married Barbie's friend, Christie after he retired:

     Earl, the Six Million Dollar Man graciously opened this pristine box so you can see what he looked like in his prime:

            Back at the Circle X Ranch I learned that master caster Noah Maxman Coop adapted this head from other Marx figures.  

Coop passed away in October 2014 but the Levi Nolan character and other figures he created in the Marx style are still available from Circle X Ranch.  

I bought three coonskin caps from their booth and they gave me a Jed Gibson head for free.

     I scored more Marx-style hats at Stewart’s Attic:

Asian Joe from the 1990s

Tuskeegee Airman Joe

African American Joe from the 1990s
This black Stetson perfectly suited my brother’s vintage Sam Cobra figure.  

Sam was an outlaw character released in 1975 as part of the Best of the West series.  

He came with a safe and sticks of dynamite for blasting it open as well as many other nifty accessories almost all of which are lost except for this dagger that Sam keeps up his sleeve.

     Going "Where the Boys Are" was such a rich experience I'll be doing at least one more post about the things I saw and learned at Joelanta.

A bientôt!

Monday, March 2, 2015

At Your Service

In recent years I have been gratified to see re-tellings of fairy tales like "Sleeping Beauty" that give the heroines more agency and even present a sympathetic view of powerful women who have been reviled as wicked witches.  I intended to present an empowered heroine when I shot this video in 2013 but the actor I cast as the leading man just took over.  Black men get kicked around so much I think our brothers need to see themselves as shinning black princes just as much as sisters long to see themselves as queens.  So "At Your Service" is a damsel in distress story that puts a different face on the swashbuckling hero.

A bientôt!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Girls Gone Goth

Once they got comfortable with their new bodies, my frankenfairies wanted new clothes, of course.  Disney used to make fashion packs for the fairies but these days the only way to get new ensembles is to buy new dolls so the ladies decided to go shopping in the studio wardrobe instead.  Yet somehow their tastes had changed.  The video below shows what happens to "Girls Gone Goth."

A Bientôt!

Friday, February 6, 2015


I always loved the Disney Fairies' curvy little bodies.

(left -- posable Tinkerbell, right -- original Tinkerbell)

"If only they had articulated legs," I often sighed.

Even vinyl legs with click knees would have been nice

but I figured if Disney did release some articulated fairies, Iridessa wouldn't be among them.

Sure enough when the first fully posable fairies came out, Iridessa was nowhere to be seen.  I feared I would never find an articulated 10" body that would match her complexion and I didn't want to upgrade my other fairies without her so I left the jointed fairies in the store.

Then I spotted the Beatrix Girls.  Their heads are obscenely large but their proportions reminded me of the Disney Fairies so I bought one on sale and swapped Rosetta onto her body.  Suddenly I had a perfectly balanced figure who was capable of wondrous feats like standing upright on a galloping steed,

or holding small props despite the fact that her wrists aren't articulated.

When Beatrix Girls went on clearance at Toys R Us, I upgraded all my fairies except Tink.  I never liked my Tink much.  I thought her hair was too brassy so I pulled it out and tried replacing it with a wig only it came out looking like a rag mop.

Recently, however, I bought an articulated Tinkerbell so this is a comparison of the official articulated fairy with my frankenfairies.

The official articulated fairies have slightly wider feet than the originals.  This means they can't wear any of the original shoes.

The Beatrix Girls' feet are smaller than the original Disney Fairies' feet so they can't wear the shoes either.

(Left to right -- posable Tink foot, original Tink foot, Beatrix Girls foot)

I think the Beatrix Girls body more closely approximates the original fairies' hourglass form.

Unfortunately the Beatrix Girls' hip joint has a deep hollow in front.  Still the dolls all came with leggings, tights, or briefs that hide the hip joint and also afford more play options than the Disney Fairies' painted on panties.

Neither the Beatrix Girls bodies nor the articulated fairies can sit demurely.  Iridessa can at least sit up straight but Tink is a slouch.

Tink's torso is shorter but her legs are longer.

Since neither one could sit with her knees together, Iridessa challenged Tink to see who has the best straddle split.

Tink couldn't do a full straddle or a full front back split either.

"Bet you can't touch your nose," she taunted Iridessa and sure enough, Iridessa could just manage to pat her hair to make sure it was in place.

"Let's meditate," said Iridessa.  She couldn't cross her legs in a full lotus but she got closer than Tink.

Yet Tink proved more adept at crossing her arms.

When it came time to kneel and praise glory, however, Tink could barely get down on all fours.

Iridessa and Tink were evenly matched at doing backbends,

but Iridessa's twist waist put a little more pep in her Charleston step.

The operation to transplant Iridessa's head on the Beatrix Girls body was touch and go.  Although I ruthlessly cut the oversized head away with an Xacto knife instead of trying to soften it up with boiling water, its tremendous weight had weakened the peg that holds the neck knob in place.

During the operation it broke off.

I slathered super glue on the whole assembly and miraculously, it held.

Since Disney will probably never release her in a posable version Iridessa is deeply thankful Chantal turned out to be a perfect match!

A bientôt!