Animation sneak peek!

When I get stuck creatively or when I want to experiment with my imagery I make collages.  Still ones, no animation.  Just printed parts of my video imagery with whatever I have around that will help me think about color palette, shape, lines, framing… in a new way.  These may not get translated into the video project at all.  They may just help me get through project frustrations.  They may also wind up becoming inspiration for animation or editing strategies.

This collage was used as the basis for my animation test

I’m starting with a clip of Katy Albert pulling off her hairpiece.  I really like her stance in the shot. I also felt really good about the collage I did with a still from that shot.  After I picked a shot to start with I pulled it into a program called Toonboom and rotoscoped line drawings over top of the live action.  Rotoscoping is basically when you use live action video as a guide for the animation.  Then I printed each of the drawings from Toonboom and drew the red lines with oil pastels alongside of her.  I did some painting with watercolors and scanned all of that back into the computer.  I pulled everything into After Effects and figured out how I wanted it all to look.  I still may change parts as I figure out how it will work with the edited video.

As I was rendering this clip out of After Effects late one night my screen got all glitch art and then nothing would work.  I have an older model laptop that has a faulty graphics card so the friendly folks at the Apple Store replaced it for free.  I like to think my animation was too intense for my computer.

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Lost in a Technological Quagmire

Still from the first shot. Nicole Ripley looking tragic with Ed Crouse, Mairead Case and Jason Halprin

Well, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve posted anything.  The short story is I’ve been doing the boring part of post-production. I’ve been watching, organizing and taking notes on footage.  I’ve also been figuring out a variety of sound issues.  This is all a necessary and productive part of the filmmaking process, but really boring to blog about.  I’ll go over a few of the highlights of the what I’ve been doing, add some stills and try to keep the dull technical portion to a minimum.

Katy Albert pulls off her wig.

The biggest part of the last two months has actually been watching footage.  It doesn’t take that long to watch everything, but there are a number of different ways that I watch it.  The first time through was basically the comfort viewing, watching to make sure that I got useful footage.  While doing this I transferred it into Final Cut Pro, organized and labelled the shots and takes and made an initial round of notes.

The next round of viewing was to sync sound.  This took up a lot of time, much more than I expected.  We shot on two cameras a Canon 5D and an HVX 100.  The 5D doesn’t handle sound that well, so we ran two mics into the HVX.  This meant I had to sync up the 5D footage with the sound from the HVX.  After that I deleted unnecessary audio tracks.  Then watched everything again to make sure the syncing was accurate.  If it’s even a couple frames off it can be irritating.

Then I began watching everything again to take additional notes on whether the take was good/useful, if there were sound problems and what was going on that I might want to include.  So this has all helped to give me a better idea about how I can bring everything together.  I don’t have the traditional guidelines of a narrative to help guide me in the edit, so I really need to look for the rhythms and movements in the footage that will help it come together.

Thankfully, I’m just about at the point where all this watching is going to have some more rewarding results and a real rough cut is in sight.

Katy Collins and Mairead Case in a very complicated shot.

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Thinking Outside My Box

If you’ve been reading my blog and have also taken a look at my demo reel, you might be thinking that this project seems incredibly different from my past work. You may be wondering what brought about this change.  There were a few reasons why it became important to me to open up my creative process a bit and make this video.

One thing is that my working process has typically been solitary.  I like to do everything myself and not rely on other people.  But I was getting kind of tired of always feeling like I was in a vacuum when I was making work.  I know a lot of really incredible people and thought they might be fun to work with.  I’m also a bit rigidly locked into my work process. I’m honestly a bit controlling but that doesn’t leave much room for surprises.  I thought that being a bit more collaborative might make me more flexible about my process and inspire me in unexpected ways.

Kate Raney Directing

Photo by Kara Clarke

And I think thus far this has been true.  Before the shoot I felt like trying to get everything organized was sort of tedious and sometimes overwhelming, but it was great to actually work with people.  Since shooting I’ve been really excited to discover what I love in the footage and what I didn’t expect to get beforehand.

I prefer to think of my work as a extension of collage rather than animation and I hope when I’m finished with this project it will still make sense in my larger body of work.  I think it does thematically, but will visually as well.  I plan to do some animation for parts of it.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert Breer‘s work as inspiration for the animation and in some ways the editing strategy as well.

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Behind the Scenes

I just received the production stills from the Cleo shoot from Kara Clarke, and thought it would be a good time for some behind the scenes information.  It was a pretty intense two day shooting schedule, but full of so many talented and charming people that it was also really fun.

Sophia prepares her wig (photo by Kara Clarke)

In the scene the ladies all had to wear a hair piece which they pull off part way through.  I was so busy sewing robes and buying props and generally trying to keep everything together, that I forgot about the wigs until the day before the shoot.  Late that day. Christy picked up the wigs the morning of the shoot from a limited selection, so they were a little ridiculous.  The one that Sophia and Mary had to use was particularly challenging.  It was huge, curly and much more red than either of their hair colors.  The color looks okay under the lights though and all the ladies figured out a way to style the wigs that worked for them.

Speaking of lights…

Changing of the bulbs (photo by Kara Clarke)

This was a pretty common moment between shots.  We went through 30 daylight balanced photo floods during the shoot.  HCL is a beautiful space with really great windows which is part of the reason I wanted to shoot there. We had to light quite a bit so that the windows weren’t completely overexposed and those lights only have a 4 hour life.  There was a lot of swapping out dead bulbs and turning lights on and off at the beginning or end of a shot.

The dolly shot (photo by Kara Clarke)

Again, check out how amazing this space is! They also have a beautiful piano.  This is during the dolly shot, which was the last scene we shot with each actress.  We were using a wheelchair as a dolly with the camera and tripod carefully balanced on it.  You can just see it on the far side of the piano.  It took three of us to the maneuver the dolly each time, two to actually pull it while holding the camera and one to guide them.  We wound up shooting this a lot because of various difficulties with the dolly (cables in the way, backing into poles, bad timing with the actresses walks…).

Kate and Christy discuss (photo by Kara Clarke)

I’m not actually sure what Christy and I are talking about here, but I am apparently thinking about what she is saying very seriously.  Christy had a sort of complicated role of directing the actors, but also playing the director.  There was a lot of back and forth between us about what we were each doing and what I still needed.

Christy runs lines with Mary (photo by Kara Clarke)

Scott followed Christy around with a camera almost non-stop the whole weekend.  He was supposed to document the process of Christy preparing and directing the actresses for their performance.  We dubbed this “the Christy cam.”  Because I didn’t know what would be important to me in editing and what wouldn’t, he just shot almost continuously. It makes up the bulk of the footage and has taken the longest to sort through.  Before I finished going through it all, there were many nights when I woke up in a panic about whether or not we got a shot of figuring out Chloe’s wig or if the audio turned out during a very quiet conversation.  Having now watched it all, I can safely say it’s pretty great.

I’m working on fundraising for this project till July 11th. Check out the kickstarter page to donate.

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Some production details

So maybe if you’ve been checking out this blog you’ve been wondering what I’m talking about with using Cleo From 5 to 7 as a prompt.  I thought since I’ve finished shooting I could offer a few more details on that.

First I picked a scene from the movie that interested me from a sense of performance, character and visuals.  Christy LeMaster and I discussed who to ask to be Cleo.  I was interested in finding women with different personalities and having some that weren’t actors and some that were.  Christy knows a lot of people and sent out inquiries to some. It was surprisingly easy to find women who wanted to participate.

I typed up the dialogue and sent it out to the women who were going to portray Cleo.  I asked them not to watch the movie beforehand (very few had seen it). Initially I gave them no information.  Later I gave them some very basic details like “she’s a pop star” so they had a little bit of context for the scene.  I didn’t really tell them anything about the story in a larger sense.

There are a few other characters in the scene who were consistently portrayed by the same people.  The people portraying them and all of the crew could watch the scene as much as they wanted.  I didn’t want the women playing Cleo to feel bound by the original performance of Cleo though.  I wanted to see how they would interpret it based on the script and little bit of information they had.

We went over blocking with each actress when they arrived for their shoot.  Christy revealed  details of the story as they seemed relevant.  She had them do the scene as they wanted to for the first round and then gave them some directions to change up their performance as they went.

Because we shot each scene multiple times for six different actresses and documented the process of directing them, I have about twenty hours of footage.  So now I’m going through it and figuring out what to use and how to put it together.

And don’t forget to check out my kickstarter page

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I finally got around to launching my kickstarter page.  If you’re interested in this project, maybe you will consider donating.  I’m trying to cover the production and some post-production costs.  You can check it out here.  Jeremy put together a video for it and actually animated me talking about the project.  There’s also some video from the Cleo shoot included in it, so you get to see a snippet of what was going on.

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Sewing the dressing gown

Well it’s finished and just in time for my shoot.  I had to hand sew the feather trim.  

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Prop shopping

I’ve been combing thrift, vintage and various other stores for the past week looking for props for Cleo.  After looking for a robe/dressing gown all over the city that I like the look of and will fit multiple women I’ve decided just to sew it myself.  I’m no seamstress, but I can make something that will last long enough for the shoot.  The last time I sewed something this complicated was in 2005 when I made Jeremy a Wizard of Speed and Time costume. I got impatient adding the stars but otherwise it turned out okay. This time I don’t have to do that or make a hood thankfully.  I will be sewing on a feather trim though.

Most of my shopping was just frustrating and not helped by how hot Chicago’s been.  Yesterday though I went to the great antique shop on Western near my apartment and found a ton of great stuff in my price range.  I’ve mostly been looking for things for her vanity: perfume bottles, compact, cigarette case….  When deciding what to buy I ask myself “what would I have thought was pretty when I was six years old?”.  I also have some stuff from home that I’m using. We found a vanity on craigslist which we picked up last night and it looks pretty good.  It’s nice to have the props finally coming together.  Especially since the shoot is on Saturday….

Box of Cleo props

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Playing Cleo

I’m excited to announce the actresses playing Cleo in my new production, The Cleo Project:
Katy Albert
Katy Collins
Chloe Connelly
Sophia Hamilton
Nicole Ripley
Mary Robnett

Christy LeMaster will play “The Director.”

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New Project

My new video is a Sponsored Project at High Concept Laboratories.  I’ll be shooting at HCL Saturday, June 11 and 12th.

The project has a working title of The Cleo Project, (title subject to change.)  Here’s a brief pitch for the project.

The Cleo Project is an experimental short that uses Agnes Varda’s film Cleo From 5 to 7 as a prompt to explore performance and gender. Multiple women will enact the same scene from the film while being given direction and adjustments on set as cameras roll. One camera will shoot the scene as it plays out.  An additional camera will document the director working through the process of performance with the actresses.

Combining video, film and animation, The Cleo Project will capture the moments when the actresses deal with the complex negotiation between performing femininity and embodying the self.

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