Rotation Rig

My intention with this animation project has been to make regular blog posts. But, I have fallen behind with updates. I will try to catch up with getting the information organized. I have been active behind the scenes though. Primarily, I have focused on storyboard and animatic revisions that aren’t yet ready to share.

There are a few particular focuses I have traversed over the past while, to help resolve design questions. One activity connects directly to the other. For instance, I need to know what characters will look like. They will begin as three-dimensional puppets or maquettes, so I should know how to construct them. To design characters, I need to know their gestures and poses. I should develop their personalities. This also involves contextual writing. A simple and effective way to pursue this is to draw and sketch sequences. A good place to do that is with storyboards and layouts. There are sections that need to be developed with new scenes.

So, I have chosen to spend important time with storyboard and animatic revisions. As I continue with detailed aspects of the project, including production management and further financing, I will need to make practical and effective schedules and task lists. To do this properly, I must have an updated storyboard and animatic to refer to.

For this particular blog dispatch though, I will share the investigations I did recently with maquette rotations.

Animators will know the importance of basing character designs on solid forms and internal volumes. We incorporate simple spherical shapes as the root of designs, as a way to portray figures and their gestures, to keep the forms on model, and to portray stances in a variety of angles.

My focus is with 2D cutout puppet animation, with both physical and digital approaches. I design characters with internal solids as a basis, so that I can create an inventory of puppet positions in a variety of different phases (e.g., straight-on, profile, from-behind, three-quarter view, etc). Typically, I would do this by animating different angles on paper first (or the digital equivalent). I would utilize commonly-practiced drawn animation methods, by roughly blocking in forms first as under-drawing, flipping flimsies to maintain model, and to check that volumes do not shrink and grow from position to position.

With this particular project, I want to expand on the idea and diverge from those practices. Again, I will be able to reveal more as time goes on, especially when I post more-up-to-date storyboards and animatics.

To quickly illustrate, the film narrative involves a core scene. The event is presented several times, over and over, viewed from different angles. The sequences occur on a busy street, in an urban neighbourhood, by a park with trees and plants, and then in a street car. There are all sorts of characters, buildings, exteriors, interiors, and props I will need to design and assemble, as assets for character and set design, and animation.

In addition, the designs and production methods will involve specific preparation and compositing. I will post results of those ideas soon.

I have published notes about an animation rostrum that I’ve constructed for the project, in the SLIP > Camera Stand section of this site. I designed the stand partly for backlighting purposes and for a technique I will use later in After Effects, to “key out” bright exposures and make regions transparent. The camera is mounted on the rostrum and shoots downwards rather than across. In other situations, a person could shoot a typical stop-motion puppet setup with a tripod and table. I don’t have the studio space to do that. With a rostrum, I can control accurate conditions, for multiple shoots.

I manufactured a “rotation rig” with wood strips and a frame mounted on a “Lazy Susan” turnable bearing.  I will use it to animate turnarounds.

The rig is designed to spin around a central axis, a long threaded rod, which I purchased from a hardware store.

The lighting is organized to illuminate from both above and below.

Part of the rig is a guide, divided with up to 32 steps. I could animate a basic rotation in four positions or a far more detailed spin in 32.

Laid across the rostrum table and backlight, the rig is mounted at a right angle to the camera, which shoots down towards the table surface. With the spindle rod set like this, it functions as a vertical centre axis. I utilize Dragonframe to capture the rotation, move-by-move. It’s a tight spot, there isn’t much room to spread out, and I have to mount the rig sideways. However, I can flip the orientation in the software. Everything comes out looking right-side-up in the end.

These are close-up detail snaps of the guides and paths on the rig, to ensure accurate registration.

For a test, I made a seat, meant to be on a streetcar. It’s constructed with cardboard and thin strips of wood and it’s covered with white gesso. I added lines on the edges with black masking tape and gouache.

These are details of the chair attached to the rig. The centre of the seat sits over the threaded metal rod, the centre axis.

This is a full shot of the rostrum, with fluorescent lamps to top light objects (the tram seat in this instant) and a strong backlight, also with fluorescent lamps.

This is a peek of Dragonframe on my laptop. The program allows me to control the camera, a Canon Rebel, including focus, aperture adjustments, and frame-by-frame capture of high-definition images. It’s a magnificent piece of software!

Here are wide views of the capture area. The model is a simple one for now. I have designed the stand to photograph larger objects in the future.

Again, a closer detail of the rotation rig with puppet/object attached to it.