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    Thread: Darkmatters' Puppet Theatre

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      Darkmatters' Puppet Theatre


      Ambiance by Darkmatters, on Flickr

      A test shot for my upcoming film Cosmo's, featuring the puppets from my sigpic - mainly just working out lighting issues here

      Welcome to the microcosm of the puppet theatre... a tradition spanning way back into the antiquity of history and claiming an important place in Man's relationship to art and to magic. Puppet theatre has existed alongside it's full-sized counterpart from the beginning, emerging from their roots in fetishes and tribal masks wielded by shamans in the telling of their tales - the working of their majicks. In Europe traveling troupes would push their carts from town to town and put on their puppetshows, receiving scraps of food and coins for their efforts, and mending puppets between shows with whatever materials were available to them. There was actually a very common material called Composition that many puppets were made from consisting largely of potato starch and other food products - often the puppet maker/actor/showmen would go hungry in order to repair a broken nose or ear for the next show.

      This tradition existed alongside the famed Commedia Del Arte, exchanging ideas between them and strengthening each other in the process, and eventually led to famous productions like Punch and Judy - almost direct precursors to some of the early Eastern European puppetfilm animations that serve as my greatest inspiration. I have examples of lots of clips from these European gems on my site at Darkstrider.net (sorry for the repetitive dark-age, yeah I'm a big dork!). Also feel free to explore my YouTube page (all videos below will not surprisingly be featured there as well) and my blog where I delve into related subjects, including discussion about all aspects of making a stopmotion film as well as occasionally posting some behind the scenes on my upcoming film. Oh, and how could I forget, my Flickr page, featuring still images of my work and test shots as I work out lighting details etc (plus a few shots of my dog Pepper).

      I'm currently working on what I consider my first real film, so everything that's gone before has been exercises and tests and microfilms... but still fun to watch. Well, without further ado, here are a few clips I've done over the years:



      This is my first microfilm, done for a contest me and a few friends created (yes, we entered films into our own contest, but we disqualified ourselves from winning). One of the keywords was Shoes, which might help explain the ending.


      Ok, enough for the first post. Ill add to this gradually. Check back for more.

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      _1000661 by Darkmatters, on Flickr

      Testing new camera with an old puppet



      Stop motion animation isn't a skill.... it's many skills combined. For a one-man production like I am, you basically have to be able to do everything an entire film production crew and cast does... to an extent anyway. You're the writer, director, editor, you have to act every part (in super-slow motion, a frame at a time) - you do the camera and lighting, editing, sound, any special effects - carpentry, set design and dressing, electrician, costumes hair and makeup... plus a few specialized jobs that aren't required on regular filmmaking... you need to be able to make little flexible puppets and animate them. It's a lot to learn! But thankfully it's all in miniature, which does help.

      One of the things I love about stopmotion that makes it totally unique... in drawn animation or CGI you start by creating keyframes and then fill in the in-betweens... if you don't like the way something is moving you can just pull out a few frames and insert new ones... you can endlessly tweak and correct until you get exactly what you want. But in stopmotion you just have to do it the old fashioned way... start with frame 1 and shoot one at a time until the shot is done. There's no inserting or modifying frames... so you're actually creating a real performance - albeit in extreme slow motion.
      Just like in a live performance, if you start to mess up you find a way to make it work.. or just scrap the shot and start all over again. In this way the animator's personality comes through much more so than in a cartoon or CGI scene, which are usually created by many people and can then be re-worked ad infinitum (especially in CG, where a producer can just say "I don't like the way he's moving here... can we make it look more like Transformers?"). I also love the idea that animation is compressed time... months or years of a creator's life go into a few minutes of screen time... all the work and effort, the sweat and frustration and the triumphs and tragedies you encounter along the way go into it.

      Ok, enough rambling... more animation!!


      Race the Wind

      My Buster Keaton puppet. This was going to be for that same contest site the last one was for, but I never finished it. It's ok... it was mostly me working out how to do a certain kind of effect - the puppet and hat are actually stationary and the background is what's moving. Here's a little behind-the-scenes on the making of: Running Rig tutorial

    3. #3
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      Holy shit, this is awesome!
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      Thanks! Glad you like it!

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      P1020968 by Darkmatters, on Flickr
      Into the Void


      To me these little films are like dreams. I think that's why I love stopmotion so much. Even in the days before computer-based framegrabber programs made it easy to get animation smooth (well. relatively easy anyway... still rather difficult!) - like for instance King Kong or the fantastic creatures of Ray Harryhausen, or the more modern (but still pre-computer age) Nightmare Before Christmas. Watching animated films is like dreaming (well, as long as they're artistically-done films, not commercial garbage made only for a buck). But MAKING them is like lucid dreaming! And like lucid dreaming, it can take years to learn to control them...

      Here are a few test shots and practice sessions I've done:


      Hoppy head turn test

      See, this is an example of something I didn't realize was happening until I was done and watched the clip... his neck totally spazz's out!! Rotational motion is hard! Now I know...


      Skull Love

      This is the one where I learned how to animate smoooth, after the first step or two. Developed my animator's patience. And once I had it, I decided to still everything except one hand... a finger at a time moving. This is something extremely hard for a newbie (like I was) to have the patience for. That patience marks the difference between a beginner and a pro or semi-pro.


      One Good Yank

      Animation is all about movement and posturing... skills that can be learned by studying mime. Oh, and kids... ya gotta make sure your lights don't move around while you're animating!

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      how do you make your puppets? i love them. reminds me of nightmare before christmas.
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      Fun! The skull love is my favorite. Although I think in One Good Yank you're really mastering movement and the illusion of gravity.

      I've always loved this type of animation because of the real lighting. I hate it when I watch a CGI movie and all I can notice is the shadows are way off. So even if this is a slower method, I think there are some real advantages. You get to use real light!

      I wanna make a mini movie too. I wanted to sculpt a landscape, and then make a short film with the camera flying over and inside the landscape. But my sculpting skills suck

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      Quote Originally Posted by eppy View Post
      how do you make your puppets? i love them. reminds me of nightmare before christmas.
      Thanks eppy. Took me a long time to learn how to build those little suckers - here's the posts on my blog about how I made them:

      Darkmatters: Puppet building

      Darkmatters: Puppet building2

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      Quote Originally Posted by juroara View Post
      Fun! The skull love is my favorite. Although I think in One Good Yank you're really mastering movement and the illusion of gravity.

      I've always loved this type of animation because of the real lighting. I hate it when I watch a CGI movie and all I can notice is the shadows are way off. So even if this is a slower method, I think there are some real advantages. You get to use real light!

      I wanna make a mini movie too. I wanted to sculpt a landscape, and then make a short film with the camera flying over and inside the landscape. But my sculpting skills suck
      YES!!! Absolutely! THANK YOU!!!

      REAL LIGHT

      REAL TEXTURES

      REAL OBJECTS in a REAL ENVIRONMENT actually CONTACTING EACH OTHER.


      That's what makes stop motion magic for me! CG is getting pretty amazing, a far cry from its early days, but I almost always get an artificial feeling from it. Plus for whatever reason, the entire Cg industry seems to be obsessed with REALISM and extreme detail. I gotta say, one of my favorite CG features in recent memory was actually Horton Hears a Who - because the characters were stylized and done as cartoons, you didn't see every skin pore and tiny hair.

      I love the idea of flying a camera over and through a miniature landscape!! I'm obsessed with landscape myself, especially dark nighttime landscapes peppered with clusters of lights (as you might remember from my Nightscapes photos). And I WILL do a film like that one day!!

      One Good Yank is my latest microfilm, and I do feel I'm good enough now at smooth movement and basically making characters move in believable ways, but I want them to be able to ACT!! And I don't think I can get that until I'm actually animating in the context of a story as opposed to just little tests and microshorts.

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      These are awesome! wish you had more! they're so entertaining. The lighting is great, lends the films a creepy atmosphere

      and love how he scratches his arse in 'Skull Love'! lol
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      Moar you say?

      Ok. Some of my early tests. Sorry, these are quicktimes, not hosted at YouTube or anything, and I can't seem to embed them. Ya gotta go oldschool and click the links. These are with my Captain Ahab puppet. First up, a couple with him working at the forge:

      Hammertest 2

      Hammertest 6

      Larger silent movie style test

      Ok I hear ya... enough with the hammering already!! A couple of random tests:

      Coiling up rope

      Apparition

      Walk test 2

      End of the matter

      Swaying deck test


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      Epic, but it's some creepy shit man!

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      Creepy?

      Well, it ain't Disney, that's fer sure!! Somebody has to start to undo all the damage done by sugary-sweet "children's" animation! And if you ask me, what I do is a lot classier than all this "sick and twisted" animation that's all over the airwaves these days... now THAT stuff is creepy!!

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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Creepy?

      Well, it ain't Disney, that's fer sure!! Somebody has to start to undo all the damage done by sugary-sweet "children's" animation! And if you ask me, what I do is a lot classier than all this "sick and twisted" animation that's all over the airwaves these days... now THAT stuff is creepy!!
      Fair play dude, fair play.

      Edit: Still wouldn't want one of those turning up in my dreams.

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      Alright you know what? I accept creepy. I guess it's basically what I'm going for, I just usually use different terms for it like dark, mysterious, surreal, haunting etc. But I guess that's basically what people mean when they say creepy. So Booya!!

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      These are amazing, man. CG politics aside (being a digital artist, myself, lol), I love and respect practical effects and animation, just as much. You've got real talent; from your modeling; to your lighting; and down to your animation. I really like the finger movements on Skull Love. Can only imagine how difficult that was to do right.

      Excellent work!
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      I flipped through most of your pics on flikr a couple days ago. Very impressing and intriguing. Inspires me to pick up a hobby.

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      Thanks O! I honestly don't have any problem with CG itself at all... in fact when it's well done I love it and consider it an art form all its own. What does annoy me though is how much total crap CG is pumped out all the time in the lower-budget films (sci-fi channel, I'm lookin at YOU! ). On the stopmo message board where I hang out there's a strong core group of CG haters, mostly guys who lost their jobs in the industry when it took over in the monster movie business, though there are also quite a few stopmo animators who made the transition - case in point Phil Tippett.

      But for me personally, I was already hooked on stopmo before CGI even existed, and it's largely due to the same reasons I love dreams. There's a certain intense surrealism just in the way the puppets move... even in the shows I loved as a kid like Gumby (very surreal actually!) and Davey and Goliath. Just something about the sculptural/textural qualities, and the stylized movement, that when I got a bit older drew me to the amazing creature films of Ray Harryhausen, and to King Kong etc. Those movies are like some bizarre dream creatures emerging into the normal human world and wreaking havoc.

      But I had an epiphany in the early 90's when I discovered the magical and fantastic world of Eastern European Puppetfilm - in particular the films of the Brothers Quay (not officially Eastern Euro, but they do it better then the Europeans themselves do!) and Jan Svankmajer and the Tool music videos, which are very similar to the work of the Quays. Heh, I'd post some videos of some of it here but it would just make my work look bad! I might make a thread about it somewhere though. This purely miniature world that's obviously created by artists and populated entirely by living puppets is what captivates me the most... to me it's more like actually being totally immersed in a dream.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Evolventity View Post
      I flipped through most of your pics on flikr a couple days ago. Very impressing and intriguing. Inspires me to pick up a hobby.
      Thanks Evo (if I may be so informal). A hobby is a great thing. In fact, I've heard it said that only 2 things can keep a person from madness... a romantic relationship or being an artist. Apparently they're the only things that stir the soul deeply enough. Of course art being an extremely broad term covering a lot of territory.

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      It is surprising, in a very good way, to see that you are chosen to practice this tradition. Those are great! Also, for you doing everything by yourself you have my respect. I definetly check your blog
      Jujutsu is the gentle art. It's the art where a small man is going to prove to you, no matter how strong you are, no matter how mad you get, that you're going to have to accept defeat. That's what jujutsu is.

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      Do you do requests? My little Pony: Friendship Is Magic? Cute redheads making out? Gavin with a girlfriend?

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      Gavin, I hate you so much right now...

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      You spent an hour constantly clicking replay, didn't you? I know I did.

      Seriously though, that's pretty cool. One Good Yank kind of creeps me out though.
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      Come on... it was only 45 minutes for me...

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      Marvelous!

      I hope this isn't at all insulting, but your work kind of reminds me of that of Tim Burton. most of all one of his earliest pieces: a short film called Vincent. Your style has a sort of twisted storybook feel to it, and your bits seem delightfully dark in a way that gives them some shock-value, but also a Halloween-y charm.
      I'm definately going to be looking for your short, Cosmo's!
      Last edited by LudoSiren; 09-01-2011 at 10:17 PM. Reason: Forgot some of my punctuation XD
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