Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wet Behind the Ears

I've been putting off writing this post for a while.
Mostly because I'm nervous.
And that's mostly because it has to do with (GULP) some of my own handiwork appearing in our video.


Let me just start off by saying that I made a victory phone call to my mom when I finally figured out how to thread the sewing machine I received for Christmas. Before this attempt, I have sewn approximately zero wearable items in my life. And somehow I felt confident volunteering to try my hand at sewing clothes for 15 inch tall puppets. *wipes sweat off brow*

This project started off with a trip to the fabric district.

Hint; if you ever head to the fabric district in LA (or, I'm guessing, any other fabric district) bring a bottle of water. And comfortable shoes. And be prepared to be overwhelmed.

Ms. Beck - an amazing sewing/crafting/fabric/creative force

The day itself was inspiring. So many colors and textures popped out to us as "must haves" for our production. Sparkly black chiffon, crinkly white linens, flowing muslins, soft mauve flannels, snakeskin velour...our eyes were jumping out of our skulls. And money out of our wallets.

At the end of the day, we brought home lots of fun stuff, and now it's time to put it to use.

I'm a little nervous, but a lot excited to see what I come up with. Here's a little glimpse at the beginning of Costumes for Puppets 101.

Leading Man 2D

Friday, May 4, 2012

Wade in the Water

One of the reasons we picked the particular 10 second segment we did was because it would be hard. Water is a big part of the segment, and we wanted to give our effects team something challenging to work on.

Because our project blends live action and animation, we had to decide which process to use to create the water. While animation might be simpler (read: less messy) real water just has such a beautiful quality, so we wanted to try that out first.

You know those plays that take place on a boat or in the ocean, and to create the water they move two long sheets of paper or wood in a sawing motion across the stage? They create a depth to the stage that indicates, foreground and background without actually dumping gallons of water on the stage floor, and guests. That's *kind of* what we wanted to do with the water images at first - stylistically, it would look very much like a diorama or stage 

Our effects team started out with a small aquarium. They filmed the hard edge of the water on the front of the aquarium and moved the water to create waves. They then took that image and moved it in to After Effects to adjust the color of the water, and then layered it just like they would have on a stage to create foreground and background.

As awesome as that process was, it turned out this look just wasn't right for our scene. The 2 dimentionality of the image just didn't capture that beautiful thing we love so much about water - the way it catches light. Also, the size of the waves wasn't right, no matter what they tried.

We realized we needed three things: 1) more water 2) a different angle 3) and outside light. Luckily, we know someone with a pool.

Using a $2 tablecloth attached to some PVC pipe as a green screen, we got to work. We angled the camera so it would grab the hard edge of the water against the green screen this time, and the waves we would catch in the foreground played with the light. Angling the shot this way will allow us to layer the image and create that stylized 'theater water' look, but it will have the right light.  

After just the first few shots, we knew we were getting images that would work. I can't wait for you to see it. 

More than anything, this project proved one very important thing: our effects team is so resourceful and creative and awesome. Any roadblock we hit, they found away over, around or through it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Proof is in the Pudding

Proof that we're "in production" is appearing all around the studio. It's exciting. And April has been a busy month.

We've set aside the animatic for now and we're focusing on the practical aspects of production. I've mentioned before that we've selected a very small part of the short to work on first. In the end, this segment will only be about 10 seconds long. 

Mike has been working hard to design the leading man and lady.

And, he's been putting together some of the major pieces of the set. (Okay, this is really cool, so I just have to tell you what he's doing here. First, he took a bunch of Styrofoam blocks and wood to create the general shape of the set piece. He filled in the gaps between the blocks and covered the piece with expanding insulation foam.  Now, he's shaving off the extra bits and is sculpting it in to the shape he wants. Once it's covered in sand and topped with palm trees, this is going to be an island oasis.) 

And, we've had field trips to the fabric district to start costume making. 

So, why are we spending 6 months to make something that's only 10 seconds long? First, we want to to iron out the process now to make production on the other segments go faster. And second, we're putting together a Kickstarter campaign and we want to have something to show the world what we're capable of. 

There's still a lot to do, but just looking at all the progress we've made so far is encouraging. 

Next week: an update from our effects team!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Here Be Dragons

I showed up at Mike's place a few weeks ago to find two wire skeletons and three or four bricks of modeling clay standing on his dining room table.

Our leading man and lady.

Skeletons.  Framework.  The first few words on a blank page.

To me, these are gorgeous.  The first tangible evidence that we mean business.

Mike's been working hard for months to get his storyboards down and in to an anamatic that he's happy with.  It's been a much longer process than we thought it would be. I've been feeling rather silly, sitting back, twiddling my thumbs, watching him draw and create. But anything worth doing is worth doing right.

And now it's time.  Now I get to crack my knuckles, pick up my pen and make things happen too. We've reached a point where we need to prove ourselves to ourselves.  The next six months are going to be intense.  Mike and I sat down at the very end of 2011 and hashed out a rigorous schedule that will get us through July.

It's good when production meetings end with wine rings and copious notes.

We've selected a very short portion of the video we want to produce in that next six months. We've chosen it carefully so that the experience we gain in this time will help us expedite the rest of the production.

Since the type of animation we have in mind integrates live-action puppetry with CG effects, we need to do our homework and we need to be meticulous in our planning.  Mike has tons of experience with CG modeling and animation, but bringing in the live action bits might prove tricky.

To get us started, we needed to pick an effects team.

The effects team. And Mike.

We're lucky (okay, beyond lucky: 'blessed' is the word) to be surrounded by talented, creative people. The first thing we need to accomplish is to see if some of the live action effects *can* be integrated beautifully in to an animated world.  For this, we needed to pick an effects team.  Enter: Regan, Ben and James.

Sitting around this table are four men that I admire and learn from most on a daily basis.  More info on each of them will come as we move forward, but just know this: they are, each of them,  brilliant problem solvers, artists, and storytellers.

Our first meeting with them last Thursday was exhilarating. There were ideas, and problems, and solutions, and energy being tossed around like hot potatoes.  Working with this team is going to be fun.  Their job for the next two weeks is to think about water.  Sounds vague? I know :) I'm excited to see what they come up with.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Story Time

The story about how I came to call myself a producer must absolutely start with how I came to know Mike Greenholt.

I met Mike several years ago while we were both working on The TinkerBell movie.  I remember initially being blown away by his artwork and then totally shocked to discover he was one of the nicest human beings on the planet.  It amazes me when talented people are down to earth and ...real.  You know?  You know.

When I left Disney, we lost touch for a while.  I’d text him invites every now and then to see if he wanted to hang out with our crowd, but I never heard back.  I shrugged it off thinking “Hm.  Maybe he just never checks his phone.”  A few years later, when we reconnected over Facebook, I discovered he wasn’t ignoring me - I was texting his house phone.  Somewhere out in the ether are 10 or 15 texts from me wondering if Mike wants to hang out.

Since reconnecting, our lives have changed drastically and in wonderful ways - Mike officiated my wedding a year and a half ago and he’s currently engaged to my best friend.  When my husband became a part of the mix, he brought with him a slew of writers and artists who were a part of a community that (online and in print) call themselves RedFence.

I looked around myself and found I was surrounded by artists, photographers, movie buffs, writers, dancers, musicians and storytellers.  And I thought: why aren’t we MAKING something?  Why do we all just hang out when we could put all of these talents to use?

And we were all thinking it.  And we’d each wondered out loud at some point about what we would make if we were to put our energy in to something beautiful.  But Mike was the first one to say “Hey.  Let’s make a cartoon.”

Immediately ideas started flying and we pretty quickly settled on the desire to make a short music video since that would mean the sound was already taken care of and we could focus our energy on the visuals.

The only element we lacked at that point was: a song.

Through RedFence, my husband James had been in touch with an incredible musician, Nick Jaina.  Nick’s musical aesthetic fit perfectly with what we were looking for.  His decided gift, not just for songwriting, but musical storytelling, engages listeners fully lush audible landscapes.  After we contacted Nick about our idea, he graciously sent us a few tracks from his newest album ‘The Beanstalks that Have Brought Us Here Are Gone.’ One song in particular caught the attention of our whole group.  The final track, ‘No One Gives Their Heart Away,” featuring Laura Gibson is a lullaby of sorts that lent one of its lines to the albums title.

Now at this point, mind you, I was still not a producer.  Not until I got a text one afternoon while I was at work.  It was from Mike and it was very unassuming and straightforward, but loaded with possibility.  Much like Mike.  It said “Do you want to Produce my music video?”


what do you say to that?

“No, sorry, I’m busy that day?”
“No, I really don’t like to open the door when Opportunity knocks”?
“No, the idea of taking on all of that responsibility honestly makes my bowels quiver?”

None of those answers seemed appropriate.  And, in the end, the answer wasn’t “no” at all.  I thought about it for a few minutes and...
I did.
I did want to Produce a music video.  Whatever that might mean and wherever that might take me.  I wanted to do exactly that.

So I texted back, “yes, yes I do.”  And now, here I am, trying to figure out what it means to be a Producer of a short independent animated film.

Time to do my homework and start learning a WHOLE lot more about animation, huh?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The start of something good

Almost everyone my age grew up watching cartoons, but not everyone gets to make them.  

Up until now, I could only say that I have ‘made cartoons’ because I worked for a year as a Production Secretary on an animated Disney movie.  Also, I drew little flip books on the bottom of the pages in my Geometry book in high school.  And...and that’s about it. 

Suddenly, I find myself in an awkward situation at parties.  “Hi, I’m Laura” I’ll say, and inevitably, the person I’m talking to asks what I do.  I could tell them my day job, sure.  But that’s so BOooooring.  “I... I... Well, I’m producing an animated music video.  I’m a... Producer.”  

I wait for them to laugh, because I’m convinced in my gut that this is all leading up to some sort of punchline. 

But they never laugh.  They ask questions.  And suddenly, I’m a Producer. 

Just like that.

Now, because I’m not an artist, and because I did not attend film school, I’m finding myself with a bit of catching up to do.  I have a lot to learn about animation, and a lot to learn about production. 

My goal here is threefold: 

1) I want to come up with a primer for Animation 101 page of sorts.  If I’m
going to make a cartoon, I’d damn well better know what I’m talking about.

2) I want to familiarize myself with what’s going on in the world of animation: shorts, features, foreign, low budget, hand drawn, CG, stop motion, all of it.  My goal is to watch one new thing (new to me) each week.  Suggestions are so totally accepted.

3) I want to tell the story about our cartoon, and how I found myself producing it.  But mostly, I want to talk about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

My hope is that as a production, we’ll make something beautiful and something that we’re proud of.  Personally?  I’d like to be a little more confident introducing myself at parties.