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Making of the Puppets

Anna Krystyna Casey

Just seen all the Chinese puppets, looking forward to getting stuck in to replicating them for the animation project in a few weeks time. It’s the first time I have ever made puppets, so I am excited to learn a new art form, but it is a little worrying too knowing they will be in the animation for the exhibition means they need to look great! Each figure has really great individual features, so will make a great set of characters for the story. Some beautiful colours and decorative details, hope I can do them justice!!

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Scanned each of the characters today, giving me some accurate pictures to work from. It’s a little bit unusual for me to be working from photos, and not the real objects, but I don’t want to risk getting glue on the real things!! I also rescaled the images before printing; so all the puppets will be the same scale. It will be exciting to see the story come together, but until I know what they will be doing, I’ll be working from the originals.

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 Today I have begun to split the puppets bodies up into moving parts, finding where their elbows and other joints will be. It’s a little bit tricky, as the puppets are posed in some odd positions. These poses give them their quirky characters, so I don’t want to lose that, but I need to make them make sense when they move! Very tricky! Once I have decided where the joints will be, I trace the parts of the puppets individually, and copy them onto card. The cardboard body parts then get cut out and put together with split pins, creating the basic puppet! Two down, six to go!

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 Have all eight done in their rough cardboard forms now, although they have no detail, its nice to begin to get an idea of how they move. I will have to make a few changes to the shapes I think, some of the figures move in very odd ways, as the card doesn’t move in the same way fabric does, I think the best way to overcome this is to make some extra arms, posed in different positions. A little bit extra work, but I think it will be worth it for the animation!

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Showed the mock-up puppets to the group today, I think it was really useful for all of us! They got to get a rough idea of how the puppets will look (even though they are currently still card silhouettes!) to think about when writing the script. I got some great feedback from the group too, I will be thinking about making sure the puppets move in an appropriate manor for the Beijing Opera, upon which they were based.  The opera characters move in specific ways, according to their role in the opera, so I need to make sure I respect that, whilst making them as flexible as possible for the animation.

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Met with the animator, Trevor, and sound guy, Tom, today, and saw the place where we’ll be doing the sessions. Looks like it will be great fun! It was useful to find out how the sessions will work, and I had the chance to get some feedback from Trevor about how the puppets will work for the animation. I will scale them down a little bit, to keep within the constraints of the equipment we will be using.  And I was right in thinking I’ll need to make some ‘spare’ parts, so the characters can look in different directions and pose differently if need be.

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 Started working on the final puppets! Exciting and a bit scary!! I have made them slightly smaller now, and am adjusting some parts so they more a little more fluidly.  To start with I am making the cardboard bases in the same way as the previous models, which will provide a solid structure. Then each part (arm leg etc) is divided again, so there is a cardboard shape of each colour on the part. These tiny pieces will get covered in the right coloured fabrics and put together onto the larger card backing. Its very complicated to explain! And more complicated to do!

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 I am working hard on the puppets, but am enjoying doing some research into the characters too. Learning the history of where they came fro is helping me understand what their role in the play may be. This is useful as their character will dictate how they need to move. They group have done loads of great research so far, I am reviewing it and trying to add to it where possible, there’s so much interesting info out there, it would take far too long to go through it all, so I am having to be selective as well as thorough!

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Lots of tracing and cutting going on at the moment, making the cardboard bases for the figures. It’s vital they are right so the shapes meet up correctly, but its very tedious work! Luckily I have some help from Steph, so we are getting loads done.

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 Went to get the fabric and other materials today, which was great fun. Now we have these, the puppets should come on leaps and bounds and really begin to take shape. The animation days are getting close now, it’ll be really exciting to see them spring to life! We tried to get the fabrics to be a close to the originals as possible, so we will be able to get a really authentic look. Although the textures are not exactly the same, I think the colours look really good!

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Making great progress on the puppets, layering wadding and the fabrics over each card piece is quite time consuming! Each coloured piece is then put together like a jigsaw, and the puppet springs to life! Making sure they move smoothly is important too, so I’m lining up all the pieces as accurately as possible. To get the faces identical to the originals I’m using a technique called emulsion printing using paint and printed photos. This creates an identical face, really keeping the character of the puppets true to the originals. It also is good for recreating the details of the costume, getting the ribbons and patterns true to the original figures.

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 Finishing of the last couple of characters now, with Steph’s help. The rest of the group are making great progress with the beginning stages of the animation, when these last characters are complete, the animation will really be able to get moving. Hearing the group story boarding the animation has been really interesting, as well as very useful. Now I know exactly what each character will be doing, I am able to adapt each one to make it do its job well!

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Now the characters are done, I can get on with helping the rest of the group with the props and backgrounds, with this many hands on the job, we should come up with some fantastic results!!

 

How to Position a Dragon

I have been working on animation for the most part of the project and I have done a combination of scenes from full action fight scenes to still photographs to show what a character is thinking about. The fight scenes were fun as we had to consider how a person would move which meant acting it out and slowing the action down so we could animate each part of the movement to make it look realistic. The most challenging part of the animation for me has been working with the dragon. It is difficult to picture how a mythical creature moves plus the dragon was segmented along its body and its legs and wings were not attached so we had to really take care that everything was where it should be before we took the photographs, it was a difficult task to delete photographs and put your characters all back in exactly the right position to start shooting again if you had made a mistake! The segments meant we could really give him very fluid movements and make his body quite snake-like, I imagined he would be very graceful but strong and I think his fight scene with Hulian (the baddy) shows that he is very tough. When we were animating we had to judge how big or small a movement had to be, bigger movements make the action go faster, and sometimes to make the action look very smooth we had to move the figures a very small amount before taking a photograph. This took a lot of time but after a while our team developed a good system of one or two people moving the figures and another taking the photograph as soon as everyone’s hands were out of shot which sped the process up slightly. It was also important to think about the movements of characters that would be mostly still in a scene, because although they would be standing still they would still make slight movements such as moving the head or shifting their weight slightly. I think we did a good job of making the scenes look believable and fairly realistic, I hope the audience thinks so too!!

Helen

 

Storyboarding

At the beginning of the animation, we designed a story and developed it into details. Each group members respondents for one section of the whole story. We drew them out and wrote some clues on these details and explained some of the content with words. When everyone finished their own parts, we put them together and tried to arrange these pictures as a complete story. That was the story board, we stuck them on the wall, so that the whole story became clear and perfect that everyone could understand.

Vicky

 

Sound Effects

We borrowed Chinese traditional games Mahjong, so we can collect gambling sounds easily, like rolling dice and public chatting in the room, also create some sound like” Gan Bei” (means “Cheers”) sounds. Meanwhile, we also record some fighting sounds like kicking sounds and punching sounds, the process of recording these sounds is interesting, we go to the wollaton deer park to record wind sounds, leaf sounds, birds sounds, even deer eating grass sounds, in the studio, we wave clothes to imitate the dragon wings and pitch shifted the recordings down. For the fire sounds we rustled some packaging close to the microphone. Olivia and Adam also create some wonderful background music, the music in opening scene is perfect, now we are working on the final party background music, we try to use Chinese traditional instrument “Suona”  a Chinese a woodwind instrument to make the last scene getting better.

Xin Yi

 

Practice Makes Perfect

On the week two work shop we divided our group into three parts: one part made sounds for animation, another part made backgrounds or props, the rest did animation.
I joined in the animation group and Trevor taught us how to use the camera and computer as well as the software. The animating process called for great patience and time. There are several stages for that. Before we created the animation we needed to consider which scene we wanted to do and chose the figures. Then, we needed to consider all the actions for these figures and the positions for each frame. After designing the simple actions we tried to put the puppets on the green screen background to test wether the figures would move as we wanted. By doing these preparations we were not only familiar with the camera and the software but also clear about what we could do for each frame.
The puppet must be moved very carefully and slightly each time to finish one action. Sometimes we made mistakes, for example we moved the wrong arms or legs or puppets and we had to redo the frame. Practice makes perfect, we did quite well after experienced these mistakes.
We enjoyed the process though it was a little boring sometimes.
Vicky
 

Chinese Animation Update

Hello all. Our animation for the Living In Silk project is steadily coming together. Images have been fleshed out from storyboards to nearly-finished, stop-motion scenes. Moving each character’s limb millimeter by millimeter has been a laborious but rewarding process for the animators, and the results are fun to behold on screen. We have a new appreciation for the art of traditional animating. I myself have found great enjoyment in the sound design and music composition department; using computers and other technologies to replicate the sounds of traditional instruments for instance, and playing objects in unusual ways in order to create the sound effects we need for the movements that will happen on screen. Take for example, the rustling of package filling close to the microphone for crackling fire, and the flapping of coats, pitch-shifted down on the computer, for the wings of a dragon as it flies. Inspiration was taken from vintage Russian animation which we found to be haunting and atmospheric, and quite advanced for the times they were produced in.  Hopefully, our short will also have plenty in terms of atmosphere. We shall keep you posted again very soon…

Adam

 
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