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Posted by Dascurf, on 2005-07-07 06:30:18

Stop Motion Animated Puppets with CG Sets and Props...

Are any of you aware of any films either on DVD or simply available on the 'net for view that have incorporated this method? I am considering making my next film with somewhat stationary CG sets and props with stop-motion animated puppets superimposed within the sets. This might save me a little money and frustration... and space. If any of you are aware of any films out there that have used this method pretty extensively please point me to it. I would love some reference on this. Thank You! Justin

Posted by Strider, on 2005-07-07 06:44:52

Hi Justin I'm not aware of any, but I think it's a great idea. They've done some great things with live actors comped into a CG set, like Sky Captain and Sin City. If somebody does know of an example, I'd be very interested in seeing it.

Posted by Jim Aupperle, on 2005-11-15 20:02:26

[div class="dcquote"][strong]Quote[/strong] Are any of you aware of any films either on DVD or simply available on the 'net for view that have incorporated this method? [/div] Worked on a video game called The Dark Eye about 10 years ago that used CG sets with stop motion puppets. They were going for a very simple and stylized look. The puppets were photographed in front of a green screen. I'm sure if it had been intended for a TV or film release the sets would have been more highly detailed. you can find some images here. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/adventure/darkeye/screenindex.html Nick, I like that shot above of yours with the chicken. Jim Aupperle

Posted by Dascurf, on 2005-07-07 07:02:32

I have decided to give this a try out of frustration with CG "puppets". They just don't have that textural eeriness about them that you can get with stop-motion. I like textures and the sort of subtle crudeness that you get out of stop-motion. Most people that do CG try to avoid those things... I embrace them.

Posted by Strider, on 2005-07-07 07:45:40

Yeah, I know what you mean.... texture and that nice dreamlike motion complete with the occasional jitter are inherent to stopmo, you have to work hard to get rid of them. CGI is the opposite... it starts with totally smooth forms sliding along mathematically perfect spline curves, and you have to work hard to get away from that. I remembered a couple of really great music videos somebody posted a while back by a French director who apparently goes by the name NoBrain. He did the New Found Glory video for All Downhill From Here: http://www.nobrain.fr/flims_real/nfg.htm . That one's been on MTV... I remember seeing it a while back. I don't think there's any CG, but lots of layers of live action and stopmo combined... a really cool look. I really only posted this one because it's something you might be familiar with. But HERE'S a little gem... and I think it might be just what you're looking for. We had to scratch our heads trying to determine if it's stopmo or really good CGI, and at first I went with CG... but watching it again I'm sure most of the characters are stopmo. Some look like CG, and I'm pretty sure the backgrounds are. I don't know what's what though... it's a mind boggler. It's another video, for Emily Simon: http://www.nobrain.fr/flims_real/emiliesimon.htm . I love the look of it... very Burton-esque (or maybe that should be Selick-esque). There was another video that I can't find on the site... but I *thought* it was by the same director. I'll see if I can ferret it out. I think it's all CG, but it's got the stopmo look. If I find it I'll post it here.

Posted by Dascurf, on 2005-07-07 09:57:02

Very nice... are you familiar with the film that Marc Craste (UK) did a little while back, "Jojo in the Stars"? It was CG rendered in black and white that sort of has the stop-motion "spirit". Some of those particle animations make my testicles recede into my stomach... such envy!

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-07-08 04:40:18

I was experimenting with the idea, but was not satisfied with my cgi sets. (Test shots in my Fig's Embrace album at www.picturetrail.com/hilligossnic .) Too many hard straight edges unless I put in so many polygons my computer grinds to a halt. I'm now looking at cgi to extend the model sets for wideshots. The more actual models I use, the better it seems to look. With actual models, all texture has real geometry, it's not a bump-map illusion. If you see the edge, each little bump actually sticks out from the surface. I got closer with a puppet and interior mapped into a cgi submarine, with the underwater objects all cgi (in my cgi album I think, picturetrail is closed for maintenance at the moment). Of course, if your computer modelling is more advanced than mine, and your rendering is faster, you can probably make cgi sets work better. My model sets do take a lot of storage space.

Posted by Strider, on 2005-07-08 08:22:12

"are you familiar with the film that Marc Craste (UK) did a little while back, "Jojo in the Stars"?" No, haven't heard of it. I don't suppose it's online or anything? Here's a pretty cool Cg flick that looks a lot like stopmo: http://amfilms.hash.com/search/Entry.php?entry=1059 I like the old silent movie feel. Also on the same site I discovered this... um... interesting bit of mocap that looks absolutely nothing like stopmo but belongs on a thread about "CG sets" (and quite a set it is! :9 ) : http://amfilms.hash.com/search/entry.php?entry=911 Due to certain.... advances in the... science of the mechanics and the lighting engine, I've found it bears repeated study. We've got to keep abreast of the competition, y'know! ;-) And agent2a03- Wow! Sounds pretty cool. Be sure to keep us updated, and maybe throw up a few progess shots along the way for us to drool over?

Posted by agent2a03, on 2005-07-08 05:03:30

I'm actually making a feature film using this technique right now (%25 done)... My studio is pretty small so I dont have the room for large physical sets, but some of my cg sets are miles across...really ups the production value...I shoot my puppets in front of a green screen with a Canon 300d and composite them into sets built in Cinema 4d with After Effects... So when this film is done(early 2006) you'll see my technique in action... I'm a pretty competent compositor, if I wasnt I dont think I would try to do this technique on my own, its all about your mattes!!!... Theres also some little tricks you can do in 3d by placing your keyed out animated character on a plane in 3d and animating their position there... that way you can have them interact with the 3d cam and lights... Since this is a "mixed media" technique, you'll need to learn After Effects quite well...and since Cinema 4d has the best After Effects integration amongst 3d apps its a good choice... I'm doin it at 1920x817 so 3d and 2d rendering takes awhile...so it helps to invest in a small render farm... I have 4 3ghz p4 boxes in my farm that cost less than $3000....I'm probably rambling now sorry.... I have a boring little production blog thats a little too vague to be helpful here.. http://www.wearethestrange.com/ And oh yeah matchmoving makes magick... and filemaker pro production databases made from your animatic edl's make the world go round... M. StrangE

Posted by motorstereo, on 2005-11-15 10:07:02

along the lines of the CG silent movie from the amfilms.hash site, laurent and david nicols have made some really amazing animations, see the clips at http://www.catsuka.com/focuson_anim.php?id=nicolas_david_laurent&page=2 how they get the textures and details amazes me. between these guys and nobrain it looks like the french are doing some amazing things.

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-15 19:33:21

I've just done a wideshot for my forthcoming December Stopmoshorts entry, compositing a shot of my moving chicken puppet into a much larger cgi environment. But to avoid the cgi look, Most of it is either real models or real painted sky, photographed and mapped onto simple cgi rectangles with transparency maps to define the visible edges. So it's more like a digital matte painting I guess, or a multiplane effect. When the camera moves you can tell it's flat layers with very little 3d geometry. It's kind of a test for a film I'm still gearing up for. http://pic5.picturetrail.com/VOL65/42706/7268968/118943332.jpg

Posted by Eric Scott, on 2005-11-15 22:04:50

Here's another little film that combines both techniques. Check out the video clips in the making of section too - and DVD apparently is on the way as well. No date of release yet but hopefully soon. THE RAFT: http://www.the-raft.de/html/film.html NICK: nice pic! :) Eric Scott http://www.stopmoshorts.com/

Posted by Strider, on 2005-11-15 22:34:41

Geez Nick, your StopMoShorts films are getting absolutely epic!! What's next, a cast of thousands of puppets? DeMille-style devastation on a grand scale??!! Great stuff! :7 And of course, can't believe I didn't think to mention it before, but Franck Dion's [i][b][a href="http://www.darkstrider.net/video/fantome2.mov"]The Phantom Inventory[/a][/b][/i] uses some CGI to extend and enhance the sets.

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-16 01:47:56

Thanks Eric, The Raft looks really impressive. I looked through all the Making Of stuff and the stills - I don't know how they got the cgi waves interacting with the model raft barrels like that... unless they also made cgi barrels... got to work on that myself. They took a lot of trouble with the rocking movement. and the ripple light reflections too, this is a good site to point people towards for How Do U Animate Water questions. Check out the strips of cling wrap rolling on drums, here used only for lighting, but exactly how I was going to do a waterfall. All of my Stopmoshorts film takes place in a small interior set, not epic at all. (The insert photo shows all of it, with some set dressing removed.) Only 1 puppet, too! So I put in this completely unnecessary wide shot to open it out a little. The rock and castle are cloned and extended in Photoshop from stills of rocks I made for previous entries.

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-16 09:52:09

Nick, Shot looks nice. One thing you could also do is make a cg rough rock shape, and map on one of those images, or just make a specific texture from those images and and map that onto the 3d shape. That way, you could have a closer set of rocks that are "turning" a bit as you move in would help carry the bg stuff. You could also do some separate cutout shapes of the g plate rocks in Photoshop, map those onto appropriate planes, register them to the plate polygon, but slightly in front of it. Then a camera move would have additional "moving" information. All needs to be worked out to look right of course. Probably nothing you haven't already thought of. Best, Rick

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-16 10:19:33

The Raft is interesting. I guess my thought would be that I would make a very simple cg raft. Easy to do from top and side views of the actual prop. Then bring in the animation into my bg view. Put the raft in the ocean environ, and match cg camera to cause the cg raft to match up to the plate. Then you get the stop-mo raft motion in relation to stop-mo camera converted to the cg setup. A bit time consuming. Sometimes those type of scenes can need keys every 3 frames. Since water is already a bit floaty....couldn't resist.... perfect sync in most shots wouldn't be an absolute necessity; and as there could be some overlapping action....couldn't help myself again.....between waves and raft, it might even help the illusion. Best, Rick

Posted by agent2a03, on 2005-11-16 11:24:47

http://www.wearethestrange.com/green.jpg If you plan to make a film with your puppet on CG backgrounds get used to that glaring GreeN! I'm up to my eyeballs in green... I shoot my stopmo puppets in front of my green screen and composite them into 3d environments everyday... I'm through approx 400 shots of a little over 800... I've worked out a good little system and have a bunch of tricks and little rigs Ive made to make life easier... For part of this film I had built real sets and used CG only for set extensions... That is much easier than full CG with the puppet as the only real thing in the scene because then you need to match lighting, shadows, grain... etc... If anyone is interested in learning some tricks with this particular process let me know and I'll throw a few pages together with what I have learned... And since its such a broad topic let me know in particular what interests you...

Posted by motorstereo, on 2005-11-16 14:00:01

I would be very interested in reading a few pages of notes on your techniques for compositing your puppets, sets, and cg elements.

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-16 19:56:39

Rick, thanks for your thoughts on the cg setup. Yes, I could use more planes for my rock, and when I do a "real" film I'll do that. I did the moving sky in 3 layers so the foreground moves quicker than the middle layer, and the back layer barely moves at all. The base of my rock rectangle (not in shot) is rounded so it doesn't look flat where it touches the waves. I've done other shots where I keyed out the background for the puppet but for this I just wanted to drop the whole shot in, background and all, with a static soft edge matte around it. I didn't even take the time to match the set and the castle that well. a better way would be to keep the chicken and the ground with his shadow, but put a greenscreen behind him. (I've run out of carboard, green paint, and time, so I didn't. And shooting frontlight-backlight gives great results but takes twice as long to shoot.) But in The Raft - the shapes of the barrels around the raft, and the fact that it is constantly in motion, make that a much trickier effect. I can see shadows of the puppets as they lean on the tops of the barrels, but the water forms around them as well so they must be CGI. They would have to be pretty accurate in shape, and the camera angle, lens focal length, and perspective matched as well... So I've put a cgi raft in the water and matched the moves... do I colour the cgi raft bright green with no shadows and key it out? Or do a Front Projection Map on it, with my raft footage as my background image? (I tried that for my Venice canal, but found when I used front projection mapping on my simple cgi building, the water would only reflect the basic object colour, not the image map. Not a good look.) I guess could leave out reflections in the water, or maybe do another pass with my cgi object mapped on all its surfaces with similar colours and textures, enough to look the same in a distorted reflection - I dunno, I suspect I should be asking this in the Newbie section.

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-16 22:23:49

Nick, You know, if you're using Lightwave..and I think I recall that you do...you could map just the character onto the plane and clip map it. It's been awhile, but I recall that with a clip map you can shadow map. So, if you have an angle that works, you can clip map the footage onto a plane, and set your light (cg) so that it throws a shadow of the clip mapped character's pose onto a cg element. (Just in case that helps for another shot idea.) I'd have to see the specific barrel shots. If the barrels don't change perspective, but just bob, then there is no real contour change of shape. So they could make a cg barrel and animate to match...so that the water goes "around" the barrel in a correct contour. It would automaticaly cover any shadow on the barrel where it overlapped. For the last question, my first concern was matching the camera motion so that cg ocean and stop-mo raft work "together". So the cg raft isn't rendered at all, it's just a reference. If you use the cg raft so that the ocean water also laps against and around it, you might want to set the raft to 0,0,0 black. Then I would have to go back and check because it's been so long, but you have to check another option like fader alpha or something, and essentially leave a hole and make mattes and comp the shot. But maybe you're right. Setting the whole raft to one surface and front projecting is probably exactly the way to do it. You match the cg raft to the plate, then the cg water works around the cg raft. The cg raft has the front projection of the plate, so the plate reads except where the water "overlaps" the cg raft. Remember to make the front proj. surface 100% luminous and 0% diffuse. Best, Rick

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-17 00:36:22

If I'm keying around the character, I have a "texture" map (mis-named, it's the colour image map), and a matching transparency map, which allows soft edges or degrees of transparency. Sometimes the edges of the rectangle show up like glass edges catching the light, and I have to use a clip map. (LW Clip maps are hard-edged and either fully visible or fully invisible.) Yes, it will throw just the shadow of the visible puppet onto a cgi surface, though if it's too side-on it becomes a thin line since it's really just a flat plane. I'm putting up my Venice canal set so I can try different options with the gondola in the water. I might try a duplicate cgi gondola, at least it's a simpler shape than all those seperate barrels around the edge of the raft in the Raft film. I haven't worked out how a solid black object would work since there will be other dark areas that might also go see-through. Thanks for your suggestions Rick.

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-17 07:01:47

Nick wrote:If I'm keying around the character, I have a "texture" map (mis-named, it's the colour image map), and a matching transparency map, which allows soft edges or degrees of transparency. Sometimes the edges of the rectangle show up like glass edges catching the light, and I have to use a clip map. (LW Clip maps are hard-edged and either fully visible or fully invisible.) Yes, it will throw just the shadow of the visible puppet onto a cgi surface, though if it's too side-on it becomes a thin line since it's really just a flat plane. Nick, I understand why you are doing that. If you do clip map, tho', you could just set the antialiasing higher to take care of feathering the edge. I can't recall right now, but when I comped a bunch of stuff that way, I think I adjusted the edge of the clip map's pixel blending or antialiasing. If that works one does have to be careful as it can obviously give you matte fringing if you go too far. As far is the polygon edge, yes ...that happens to me too...only since revision ^ or so. SO when I make a plane, I do it numerically always, setting the low values at 0,0,0 and the highs at whaterevr res...such as 720, 480,0. That should assure that there is no Z depth to the poly. And yes, the shadow trick only works from some angles so lighting or position of the character has to be thought out. Then again, if its in a long shot, one could make a shadow object, and blur it, and just animate it to match underneath the character......sort of like Ray's neutral density trick for the cyclops on the beach and other shots. If you're ambitious, you can try this. I made a couple slightly stretched or altered morph targets. And as it followed the "character" plane, I also morphed a few times as appropriate, to make it feel like the character's change of shape was casting a changing shadow shape. Nick also wrote:I haven't worked out how a solid black object would work since there will be other dark areas that might also go see-through. It's about making the matte. Any object that is 0,0,0 and also has the proper selection regarding fader alpha (or whatever it was) renders the matte for that area with those selections settings as clear. Other cg objects in the scene can be 0,1,0 and they will simply be black and not alpha. I can go back and probably find an article on that if you want.The options might be different now, as I used to use 5.6 for almost everything because I used it for so long. The options available in 6 and up may have a slightly different way of working. If you have any of Dan Ablan's books you may see it there as well. Best, Rick

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-17 17:19:40

Rick, I also use LW5.6 for 99% of the time. I never got the hang of 6 or 7, and only recently upgraded to 8. It was in 5.6 that I got the polygon edges showing some of the time. With the same surface settings, they don't show in the shot I posted above, it's unpredictable. I still prefer 5.6, I only go to v8 for something 5.6 can't do. It's much harder to use and crashes frequently. I had no idea there was antialiasing with clip maps, I'll have a look! Ok, I understand in principle that pure black can be set as the matte without near-blacks being affected, not familiar with the specifics but I'll try and work it out when I need to. I've probably hijacked this topic long enough, so sorry folks if these questions are getting too specific to a particular software. Agent2a03 - Read some of your blog, I feel where you're coming from! It sounds like you are a lot further along than me with this sort of technique. Your blog would be great if you could drop in a few still images to show what you are referring to.

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-17 22:17:47

Nick wrote:It was in 5.6 that I got the polygon edges showing some of the time. I never got that. I would take the image size, and make a poly those exact proportions. Then planar map it, hit automatic sizing, and I think that was it. ARe you sure that your images for your clip maps didn't somehow have a single pixel line at the border? That's the only thing I can think of if the images were sized to fit the poly. Best, Rick

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-17 23:34:05

Rick, The polygon was made to the image proportions, and I used Auto Sizing. I even tried going a bit oversize with the Texture and Transparency map sequences but that didn't kill the edges either. I tried altering the base colour of the polygon to black, white, or similar to the colour of whatever was behind it, in case that somehow came through. I made sure there was no specular, no reflection, but sometimes those edges persisted as a faint single pixel line. The polygons had zero Z depth as well! When I got edges I would make a single static-matte type clip map to take out those straight edges. But it sounds like most of the time I could simply use clip maps, and only go for transparency when there are things like insect wings or motion blur where I need the transparency. Without anti-aliassing the clip map edges tended to look harsh and pixelly so I avoided using them for travelling mattes. I've set up and lit Venice for a greenscreen shot again, but my green plastic is still giving me glare. It's lit by 3 long flourescent tubes, but it's sort of a satin finish and reflects white light at some angles. (Well, it was free.) so I'll have to buy some card and green paint for a more matte finish. It's attached to the legs under the set instead of being well back behind it, so it's really hard to isolate the greenscreen lighting from the set or the set lighting from the greenscreen. When I used it for "O Pollo Mio" I had to do a lot of rotoscoping to clean up the key to put in the canal water, this time I want to get a halfway decent green to start with. (This is what the set was actually built for, a Global Warming piece.) The next tricky bit will be doing a much wider view of Venice in cgi that can incorporate my gondolier puppet. The one small canal set is feeling a bit claustrophobic. I'm thinking an aerial view. Like the looking-down views in The Raft, that may not be so tricky to patch together as the side views with the water lapping at the barrels. If anybody wants to jump in with some other aspects of combining puppets with cgi and shut me up, please feel free! :7

Posted by catizone, on 2005-11-18 06:35:01

Nick, How about a polarizing filter to cut that glare? Rotating to needed angle, of course. The other thing you could try is using polarizing filter material in front of the lights , both oriented to the same rotation angle, as well as one on the camera. That focusses the light, and allows you to cut out even more problems, altho' you may not need to go that far. When we did animation stand work, we always had that setup so that it would help preserve the quality of the animation art, especially on dark backgrounds, where smal specks of dust or lint can show up, as well as glare. The filter would be worth a try, as it might save having do go to a whole new greenscreen setup. Best, Rick

Posted by agent2a03, on 2005-11-18 13:09:00

Hey Nick thanks for checkin out my super vague blog... I'm working on a full blown site that will be up in a couple of months that will include lots of photos and the like... If your green backdrop is giving you problems I HIGHLY recommend getting a piece of scrap linoleum and painting the backside with rosco paint... it works perfectly... there is no glare, no creases, and it produces a very even rich green..... I snapped a couple pics of my setup and put them on this quick page... http://homepage.mac.com/agent2a03/PhotoAlbum26.html You could probably use the painted linoleum with your setup too... it seriously made my life a lot easier and my keys much cleaner.

Posted by Nick H, on 2005-11-20 20:33:38

If I had some lino lying about I'd try that! But it's a bit heavier than necessary, so I'd prefer canvas like I usually use. Worth enquiring at my local flooring store though, might be a discounted remnant roll... I looked through your photos. From the shadow, it looks like you had a flash on your camera, just to the left of the lens, so everything looks very flat and even. I'd like to see it with the puppet in front, lit as you would for the shot. My problems come partly from having to shoot the green screen at the same angle as the set, about 45 degrees, and partly from the glare on the material. I'll see if I can find a polarizing filter somewhere. I can't put it on the light, because that is 3 long flourscent tubes to give me a soft even light from 2 ft away, but I'll try it on the lens. With a normal setup, puppet in front of a green-painted canvas or cardboard backdrop, I don't have a problem. Thanks guys.