When your Character Needs a Good Cry

Hair gel is a wonderfully realistic tool that can be used not only to achieve the formation of a tear, but follow its path down the face of your figure. Choose a product that offers maximum stiffness and look for either a clear or blue-tinted color. If you like, you can even experiment with food coloring or paint in order to add a more dramatic depth of color to your tear. You can use a Q-tip or toothpick to add the gel to the inside corner of the eye in increments that you are comfortable with. When your growing tear fully emerges, use a straw or a coffee stirrer to softly blow it in the direction you would like it to go. Remember that some tears build across the bottom of the eye, and do not have a completely linear pattern to them. Also remember to adjust the path of your tear to the shape of your character’s face. Unless they are two-dimensional, the cheeks will often determine what journey the tear takes down the face.

Many professional animators favor the use of glycerine, which can be found in personal lubricants and petroleum jelly. Formulate your tear in much the same way as you would with gel, and again use a small straw to guide the path that it will take during your shots.

If you find these products difficult to work with, and would like to achieve a more stagnant effect, this can easily be accomplished by using a glue gun. Make tiny beads of hot glue and place them on a surface to dry. If you wish, you can run a toothpick through the top of some of the beads in order to create a teardrop effect. When the beads have cooled, place them on your character in varying sizes and shapes according to the movement you wish the tear to have. This is a wonderful technique to use if you would like the tear to remain still and perhaps dangle for a moment on your character’s chin.

When working strictly with clay, you might want to maintain the consistency of your film by creating clay tears. Although it may sound plain, you can create a fantastic variety of options by mixing various blue and white tones, and adding your tears bit by tiny bit until it is ready to roll down your character’s cheek. You can also use an arc of stiff, clear string (think of the whiskers on a stuffed cat) and animate your tears as they project outwardly from your character. Wire can be substituted for string and taken out digitally in post-production.

There are plenty of ways to achieve realistic tears. Because they are so simple to create, you may want to place them in your film just to give it an extra touch of realism and believability. Allowing your character to express visual emotion will create a more lifelike persona, as well as add more dimension to your film.

When Lightning Strikes: Storm Effects

Lightning can be created by using a black light and a high-wattage halogen lamp. If you do not own a black light, you can typically find one in a craft or party store. Many grocery stores also carry actual black light bulbs that can then be screwed onto an existing lamp in your home. The halogen bulb should be about 500 watts, much like the brightness of a torchiere lamp at full blast. Be mindful of the fact that 500 watts can become extremely hot, so set your lighting far enough away so that it will not melt any materials (such as clay) that might be on your set or characters!

For two frames, let the halogen bulb wash over your set. The lighting should look extremely bright. Now turn the lights off and let the set bathe in the glow of the black light. Repeat this as often as necessary to achieve the look that you want.

If you want to add fog to your dark and stormy night, place small bits of dry ice along the edge of your set. If you cannot find dry ice, you can use a humidifier that is placed somewhere beneath your set and either diffused through a strainer or a plastic funnel. Use caution when working with a humidifier, as there will be moisture and your set may become damp.

Rain can be simulated by placing a sheet of glass between your characters and the camera. The glass can then be sprayed with water, creating raindrops while keeping your set dry. If you need a wet environment, set a spray bottle to the widest opening possible and spray from a slight distance away. A fine mist will keep your set from becoming immediately drenched, and the smaller droplets will help you to avoid continuity problems. You can also create hand drawn cels which can be placed between the camera and the action in order to create the illusion of rain.

If objects in your scene need to have an involvement with the water, drops of glycerin or dried glue from a hot glue gun can be placed on your character or set items to resemble beads of rain. This technique was used during the filming of the movie, Chicken Run. You can also use relatively stiff hair gel, which can move and roll off of your character if you blow onto it through a straw. Hair gel can be purchased at your local grocery or drug store, and is available in larger “tub” sizes and several different colors.

Now that you know the secrets to creating a storm, play with your options! Remember that lightning can be shown exclusively, and you don’t necessarily have to involve water in your weather plans. You can also focus exclusively on creating a dense, shadowy fog that roils about the set tumultuously. Whatever you decide, the effects are sure to captivate and impress your audience.

Weathering” your Set and Characters

Fantastic effects can be created by using paint and other natural materials. When creating the exterior of buildings, make sure to use multiple coats of paint in varying tones of the same shade. You may want to apply darker colored washes in-between coats to add an even more realistic touch. Play around with your brush. Most buildings are not shiny and smooth. Bricks are rough, wood has grain and texture, even concrete has chips and imperfections. As you build your layers of paint, do not be concerned about applying soft, side-to-side strokes. Repeatedly push the bristles straight into the paint in a stabbing motion. Increase this agitation in some areas more than others. Go back to your paint and dip the brush in lighter and then darker colors, using your finger and the bristles to flick some areas of your set with each new application. This will give a more dimensional feel to your buildings.

Are you using a tin roof, or would you like to create a rusty metal boat? Perhaps your character’s car is badly in need of repair. Take your metal material and scratch it judiciously with steel wool. Leave it out in the rain. Burn parts of it to give it an old-time, weathered feel. You can also use a hammer or a screwdriver to add a few dents or small indentations.

If you are painting a street, allow the surface to dry almost completely before using a crumpled paper towel to dab at the area. Use as much pressure as you wish in order to add some texture to your “paved” surface. You can also add oil marks after the fact by applying a very dark wash or stain to certain areas either before or after the final coat of street paint. Skid marks can be carefully applied using a dull-colored pastel crayon, and faded if necessary by going over the lines with a damp paintbrush.

One of the best ways to weather your objects is to add actual dirt. If you are painting a wall grey, add a large cup of soil to your paint. The paint will dry as normal, and you will have an incredible texture to whatever surface you treat. For last minute touch-ups, use your fingertip to rub cold ash on objects or surfaces. It will age them instantly.

Shiny, one-dimensional sets may look nice up close, but they can stand out like a sore thumb on film. Adding these final details will ensure that your project achieves maximum believability with the audience.

How to Avoid the “Flicker Effect”

What is it, and how is it caused? Better yet, how can it be avoided? Believe it or not, the flicker is most likely created by elements outside of your set that can easily be controlled.

In order to make sure that your camera is not the culprit, be sure to set automatic controls to manual. These include white balance, shutter speed, shutter speed and focus. Make sure that your image stabilization is turned off. If any of these options are set to automatic, your camera will create a flickering interference throughout your film.

Try to film only at night. The room where your filming takes place should be completely dark, allowing no light from outside sources. If you must commence shooting in a room that contains a window, use care to ensure that it is completely covered so that there can be no interference from outside light sources.

Make sure that you do not use fluorescent lights, unless you are trying to create a specific lighting effect. Fluorescent bulbs have a flicker that, although sometimes not visible to the naked eye, will eventually captured on film.

Try to make any superfluous objects in the room as dark as possible. If you have a makeshift studio set up in a bedroom or office, be mindful that white or light colored objects have a way of reflecting colors into the room. Use dark sheets to cover these items, or remove them altogether. This applies to your clothing, as well. Try to wear dark clothing to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.

Remember that you are most likely the object that is closest in proximity to the set. In many cases, the flicker you see when your animation is played back can be the result of your own shadow as you lean in to shoot your frames. Look carefully at your set before each picture is taken in order to make sure that you are not affecting the lighting in any way.

Finally, sit back and wait a few seconds before taking each shot. Sometimes the camera needs a moment to ready itself, and taking this small break can make a world of difference in the final product.

If you have already gone through the task of making your film and are seeing the flicker for the first time, there may no be much that can be done to remedy the situation. You may be able to remove the brighter frames in post production and create copies of the normal shots that came immediately before or after the lighting change, or you may want to avoid the hassle and decide to embrace the “silent-movie” look of your film.

The good news is that, if you aren’t pleased with the final product, you can follow the steps outlined above to ensure that your next film doesn’t suffer from the dreaded flicker effect.

The Best Places to Find Royalty-Free Sound Effects

The internet is an invaluable resource for finding auditory clips to insert into your film. For a fee, you can purchase the right to use these pre-recorded sounds and download them instantly onto your computer. Be aware that some sites charge more than others, and often the difference in price is staggering. If you know that you will be animating for some time to come, you may decide to purchase a collection of music or sound effects. Many websites will sell you a volume of several disks, usually categorized by theme, which you can then keep at home and use as many times as you wish. These disks can cost several hundred dollars, so make sure that the investment will be worth it for you in the long run. Some of the companies that sell such music libraries include SoundFX.com, CSSMusic.com and LeonardoSoft.com.

A much less expensive way to purchase royalty-free sound can be found by browsing some of the many websites that sell individual tracks. Do you need a realistic gunshot? You can listen to hundreds of samples before selecting the one that is just right for your film, often for only a few dollars. Would you like to add a howling, desolate wind in the background? You can select and purchase that track separately, and layer the two sounds in post-production. Sounddogs.com and Soundrangers.com are both excellent
websites to use when choosing royalty-free individual tracks. These companies even allow you to type keywords into a search tool to narrow down specific effects. If you want to add a tense background score to a stop motion horror film, you can let your imagination run wild by using adjectives such as “frightening”, “foreboding” or “ominous” and watch as the music selections appear for your review.

As you purchase individual tracks, you will find that your collection quickly grows into a customized library. A good rule of thumb is to always keep an eye out for sound-effects discs in the music section at your local store. These can often be found for a bargain, and will allow you to expand your resources that much more.

If you decide that you do not have the budget to pursue these options, or can afford a few sound effects but not a musical score, you may want to add an original work to your film. Spend some time listening to unsigned artists who post their music on websites like Soundclick.com and Electromancer.com. You will be able to email musicians and let them know about your film, and the chances are good that many of them would be thrilled to have their music be a part of your project.

There are many ways to acquire music and sound while staying within your budget. The search for these effects is always exciting and can become quite addictive. Whatever the case, you are sure to find suitable tracks for your film.

Seascapes and Swimming Pools: Water Simulation for your Set Design

The first step to making a body of water is deciding what materials to use. A very innovative way to create the look of water without getting anything wet would be to use a floral design product called Wonder Water. This is a clear gel which thickens and hardens, yet looks exactly like water. You could add dye to it in order to create a more dramatic color, even possibly shape the top with a tool as it hardens if you need to create a choppy oceanic setting!

Another good item to consider is called Friendly Plastic. This product comes in tubs and consists of small, soft plastic pellets that soften when placed in warm water. You can then clump them together and literally mold whatever waterscape you desire. The plastic can be dyed or painted, and the best part is that you can reuse the material over and over again simply by placing it back in warm water to soften! This can become an excellent advantage if you make an error in shaping your “water”, or simply want to save money by being able to use the plastic later for other purposes.

These creations can be embellished in many ways. You can add drops of glue to the surface to enhance details and define ripples in the water. A glue gun will create perfectly sized beads that can serve as bubbles for the edges of your surf. Hair gel can also be added in or smoothed over the top of your creation and will be soft and pliable enough to allow you to animate a constantly rippling water surface.

Perhaps these options do not work well with the style of your particular film. Another nice trick to try is to use opaque, patterned glass (similar to patio table glass) and blue reflective paper underneath. When shooting your frames, simply move the paper underneath the glass to create reflective ripples on the sparkly surface of the glass. The effect can be quite dazzling.

A surprisingly realistic look can be achieved by using only a blue sheet (or paper) and plastic wrap. Place long sheets of kitchen plastic wrap over your sheet or paper and then carefully crush and scrunch the surface to create movement. The plastic wrap can lift and peak in some places, creating nice whitecaps and waves. If you keep the movement going between frames, the overall effect can be fantastic. For added shape, do not be afraid to use scotch tape behind some of the plastic wrap in order to help you achieve the look that you desire.

Any of these techniques can be manipulated in post-production, but you may find that these in-camera effects will require no extra tweaking after the frames have been shot. Experiment with several of these methods until you find the one that works for your film, and then dive in!

Review: Crazy Talk Software

Crazy Talk’s easy-to-use interface allows users to import photos, sounds and recorded images in several different file formats. You can even import images from PowerPoint! Once the program has captured the picture, it will add realistic movement and expression to humans, objects, animals, and animation. The program uses a revolutionary technology known as Facetrix, which enables you to define different areas of the face. Once this is complete, the software goes to work, using a range of emotion to project lifelike expressions and movements onto your character’s face.

Using the Expressix speech animation feature, you can either import sound files from your computer or create your own narration by using your computer’s microphone. There is an audio timeline that will enable you to lip-synch your audio precisely to the animated movements of your character’s mouth.

The special effects that are available for use in Crazy Talk 4.1 are almost too numerous to mention. Emotive templates allow you to choose a theme that will match the tone of your film. If you choose a sad or angry Emotive, your character will be animated with dozens of small facial inflections and gestures that are true to someone who feels those real emotions. This can make your figure quite lifelike, and help you to achieve an amazing, realistic look to your stop motion animation. Not only this, but you can precisely adjust the level of anger or sadness that your character expresses. Perhaps they are hiding their emotions? Maybe they are angry to the point of violence. There are 100 different levels of varying strength that you can review and select from.

If these special effects aren’t enough, you can add in multiple audio tracks and mix them for multi-dimensional sound. There is even an added chroma key feature, designed to allow you to use the program during green screen sections of your film.

Want to add features to the design of your puppet that you have not yet considered? This program allows you to create digital eyes and teeth for your puppet, adding wonderful new options for you to experiment with.

Your scenes, once run through the Crazy Talk program, can be exported as raw .bmp content which can then be imported back into your 3-d animation software This is especially useful if you are working with separate background effects. You can also export your finished files in .wav, .avi or tgi formats. If you like, you can also send them to others via cell phone or email.

Crazy Talk 4.1 has fully realized the possibilities of digital animation technology. Not only can you save an amazing amount of time with your animation, but you will be able to achieve an endless variety of realistic expressions that might not be possible without computer simulation software.

Read My Lips: Character Animation

There are many variations to mouth movements. Of course, if you are working on a low-budget or experimental project using Claymation, you may simply want to roll out a pair of tubular lips and manipulate them with your fingers. If you prefer a more precise and detailed mouth, however, it all begins with the design of your puppet.

The best way to work with an animated mouth is to create the head of your figure without one. Construct several different mouths out of the same material as your character’s head. These mouths can be shaped according to the various looks your own mouth creates when you say certain sounds in front of a mirror. Do not be concerned about the prospect of having to make hundreds of different replacement mouths for each sound that humans create. If you make roughly ten to fifteen different shapes, you should be able to have enough movement to simulate the correct motion of a wide variety of dialogue.

Place a piece of plastic wrap, cut to the shape of the back of your mouths, on the front of the head where the attachments will rest. When you get ready to film each frame, place the corresponding mouth onto the plastic wrap. Use a knife to carefully pull the attachment off of the plastic wrap, and then use a replacement mouth for the next frame. The wrap should serve as a protective covering which is designed to keep the head and attachments from incurring damage throughout the switching process.

Another great tip is to create a single mouth, but insert teeth made of a harder, plastic material. If you need to move the shape of the mouth, you can carefully go in and press the teeth with a toothpick in order to manipulate the shape of the mouth without unwittingly smashing it with your fingers.

When your character does speak, remember that most people do not close their lips entirely between sentences. It is important to animate your character’s mouth in a semi-open state in order to avoid this problem.

To address the issue of lip-synching, you may find it helpful to utilize software such as Magpie or Crazytalk software. Both programs are designed to help you match your character’s movements to spoken dialogue.

If you do not wish to go into tedious detail with your animation, you can simply show a different camera angle when your character speaks. If you choose to focus on their profile, then you can easily animate a side view of the mouth without having to create as much movement as you would from a frontward-facing position.

Silence is golden, but it can result in a boring film with an unremarkable storyline. Creating a dialogue between your characters will give them a new life and personality with which to enrich your film.

MonkeyJam: A Freeware Boon for Animators

MonkeyJam is exactly that. Initially created for two-dimensional line drawings, this software program has evolved into something special for stop motion animators everywhere. Created by David Perry, MonkeyJam acts as a frame grabber and offers a spreadsheet-style format.

The program will capture images from a webcam, or an analog or digital camera. Should you feel adventurous, it will also retrieve pictures from certain types of scanners. You can also choose to import your work in color or black and white. MonkeyJam saves each frame as you record it, so that you can come back at a later time and continue any unfinished work. Projects can be saved in many different file formats, such as jpg and bmp. The software also allows you to go back and review previous frames one-by-one, in order to help you achieve continuity in your film.

Should you find that an error was made when filming a scene, the program allows you to go in and cut individual frames. You can then copy other frames, or shoot a new frame and replace the old one. This is an incredibly important feature because it is not included in all animation editing programs. Another useful tool is frame averaging, which will make your animation flow more smoothly and add to the clarity of your picture by decreasing the amount of noise or grain in your frames. Should you need to change the speed of your film, an adjustable fps rate gives you the option of doing so.

You can also import sound from either wav or mp3 formats and add them to your film. The program features sound synch to assist in matching voices to mouth movements. In addition, you can take advantage of a sound scrubbing feature, which enables you to locate specific sections of a sound or music track.

While the user interface may be a bit strange for beginners, it is relatively easy to figure out and does not take long to become accustomed to. It is currently being developed in multiple languages. This program is not accessible for Mac users, but is Windows compatible and works with Direct X from Microsoft. The file is less than two megabytes in size. It can be downloaded from www.giantscreamingrobotmonkeys.com.

It is surprising to find such a program that is so widely used and recommended by the stop motion community. The beauty of MonkeyJam is that it contains most of the features available in other animation editing software programs, but remains completely free. Although Perry has no immediate plans to charge users to use this software, he does accept donations through his website which enable him to continue to design better and more efficient versions of MonkeyJam. As he puts it, the money serves to “help my wife understand why I spend late nights at the computer”.

How to Storyboard your Animated Film

To begin, you will need to acquire a set of index cards or a storyboard sheet. While each card represents a segment of your storyboard, a sheet will contain a series of boxes for you to conceptualize your animation. These can be downloaded for free over the internet. You can also find no-cost software programs, such as StoryBoard Pro, which will enable you to plan your action on the computer screen.

Do not worry about drawing visually complex pictures. Think about each scene and the intended look of your film. Will you shoot certain frames up close and then pan back for a transition? These are the main things to worry about when creating a storyboard. You want to be able to refer to it during the filming process in order to know where to place your lighting, equipment, and characters. Draw stick figures if you must, but give them enough defining characteristics so that you can differentiate one character from the other.

Try and keep your drawings relatively small. They will serve as crib notes, and not works of art. You do not need to add too much detail. One thing that may help when deciding how to block your scenes, however, is the use of arrows. If a character is about to lift his hand or turn his head, place an arrow that arcs in the direction the figure will move. If you are going to begin to focus in on one part of your set, draw an outline of an arrow that is thicker on the bottom and thin at the top, pointed in the direction you plan to zoom.

Storyboarding is especially helpful if you have long or complicated sequences to complete. By planning the scene in advance, you can analyze your animation frame by frame and also take the opportunity to experiment with different ideas and possible effects.

Use a pencil, so that you can erase parts of your drawing if you change your mind. It is better to correct a small portion of the planned frame than have to spend time recreating the entire drawing. Be sure to jot small notes underneath each box in order to jog your memory or inform another person of the look that you are trying to achieve.

Once you have created a rough storyboard, place a small number beside each of the shots. When you begin to film, you can make a list of the frames you have completed. This will assist you in keeping track of your progress during the production phase.

A storyboard serves as your guide to the production of your film. It is a reliable way to ensure that you have captured every frame that you had originally set out to create. Without one, elements of your film may become lost or forgotten.