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Posted by dustlighter, on 2010-06-10 17:06:48

Need Set Design/Construction Advice on USC Thesis Film

Hey friends, First I would like to say this is a great site and resource. I have been using it for over a year now as a great source of knowledge for my growing love of stop motion animation. That being said, this is my first post here so please excuse the naivety of it. But, I knew this would be the best place to come and ask this question about miniature set building: I am a film student at USC, currently working on a senior thesis animation film in the school and would love some input and advice with the set deign/construction. A Little Bit About the Project: The set and set dressing shall all be built practically while the animation will be in 3D on maya. We will shoot the set first and then the animator/director will then go in and animate the charter. This project shoots in the fall so we are still in the early stages of production design and we are currently researching the best ways to go about building this miniature set. The set is supposed to be a futuristic apartment with a view of a futuristic skyline. (I have included a link to some of the pre-visualization to give a better idea of what the director is looking for). Advice: Any and all advice on this subject would be very useful. Anything from scale, to materials to use, even to what camera is best (Currently we are thinking shooting it on the Canon 5d or perhaps if budget allows the 7d). Where We are so Far: We have done some tests with foam core and Spackle and it hasn’t looked very good (this is probably more do to our skill than anything else). Thank you to anyone who has read this far, I apologize for making it so wordy. Please ask questions about the project if you need further clarification. And again Any and all Advice is more than welcome. Link to the pre-vis: http://www.elohimparables.com/previs.html (Note: Not the website for the film, just a convenient place to post the pre-vis) Thanks All

Posted by emmyymme, on 2010-06-10 18:31:01

My first questions before determining scale/approach would be what you need from the set - will the camera be moving around in it? How many different angles will you need? That'll help determine how to build it - removable walls, detail in different angles, etc.

Posted by Boy Oyng, on 2010-06-11 10:47:05

I'm by no measure an expert in this, but based on your previz pics, I think you have some really serious challenges ahead. When I first read your post, I thought, Gee, if they don't have to have a puppet in there, they could make the set pretty small. But after seeing the previz, I think you might have to go quite big with this. Here's where I see the challenges: *It's a large, deep set with a low ceiling. How in the world are you going to get light in there? Maybe the ceiling itself could be a translucent white plastic and you light the whole thing from above, letting the ceiling act as diffusion? Fits the futuristic theme, but may not be what you're after. It's very 2001-ish. Otherwise, I really don't know how you'd get light into the depths without serious shadow issues unless you build it quite large (or redesign the set). And, because the depth of the set is so great, you're going to need to pour a lot of light into it to maintain depth of field. *It's all minimal, sleek, smooth surfaces. Any blemish on any surface, any warping, will mess you up and probably give away the scale. Cluttered, grungy, busy sets are a lot easier than pristine, clean ones. At least you won't have to worry about tie-down holes. *It's all white. That will make it even harder to hide problems. I'm wondering why you want to do this as a real set? Why not build the whole thing in the computer? I'm not arguing; I'm genuinely curious. I'm thinking you're facing a lot of post-production work, cleaning up problems, eliminating shadows, etc. If you really want that lovely "real" look that so many of us here favor, you might consider building the set in a very modular way, light and photograph each module separately, and then assemble the pieces in AfterEffects or Photoshop or some other program. This would be harder to do if you plan a lot of camera moves. Assuming you'll stick with your plan, if I were you, I think I'd build this with very rigid materials. If you use foamcore, get the thickest you can. I believe there are some plastic materials with a sort of internal honeycomb that gives them great rigidity. You might find that at a sign-makers store. Or I'd look at melamine or some other plastic laminate on a rigid base. Let's hope somebody with more—and more recent—experience than mine will chime in. In any case, good luck!

Posted by dustlighter, on 2010-06-10 21:09:09

Thanks for the great question, Yes, I would like it for most of the walls in the set to be wild. The camera will most likely be a DSLR, so it is small-ish. We haven't done our shot list yet, however I would anticipate 20-30 set ups or less. No true hero/gimmick shots have been established yet either. Thanks, Matt

Posted by grecodan, on 2010-06-11 03:01:03

I don't mean to be snide, but...isn't this the sort of stuff they [i]teach[/i] in fancy film schools? That being chortled, I think I'd approach this pretty much the same way you'd build any set. First, figure out what the story requires. What are the walls supposed to be? Is this a plastic future? A "green" future? Would the walls be made of wood? Plaster? Metal? Is it an old apartment? New? Run-down? Does the roof leak? Who lives here? Are they neat? Messy? The answers to those questions should start leading you to the best materials to build the set. For a substrate, I'd consider thin sheets of laun, or 1/4" plywood with a laun surface on top. Laun can be sanded to a fairly smooth finish, but with a little wood texture showing through. If it needs to be smoother, I'd smear a coat of thinset or drywall mud on it. You can use that to smooth the corners or give you nice rounded joins between the walls and ceiling. Make sure you brace the corners with stronger wood, and leave some tabs sticking out in the back and on the sides so you can clamp it to a table. Walls that need to fly can be screwed in place onto the corner braces, then touched up with more thinset or mud. What kind of lighting set-up will you have? It would be nice to incorporate some practical lights into the set. Small white LED lamps can be found in most hardware stores. They can be gelled and dressed up to look like cool light fixtures, or imbedded in the ceiling for recessed lighting. Or, for ceiling lights, just poke holes in the ceiling, use a small plastic tube or section of pvc pipe for a "can" and cover the end with some diffusion gel to simulate a light. For the window, thick acetate would probably work, tho you might just leave the hole and add the window mullions and reflections with your CGI software. Ideally your props should have the same textures you'd find in full-sized furniture. If you're near USC, head up to the garment district in downtown L.A. to check out some of the fabrics and nernies. Gaudy jewelry can sometimes be cannibalized to make light fixtures and weird stuff. Also in the garment district are shops selling fake flowers and plants. See if you can find something that will look good in your scale.