I’ve been building bug puppets, and experimenting with materials. I hadn’t been to the craft store in a long time, and I recently discovered the lighter weight Sculpey ‘Ultra Light’ oven-bake clay. It is much lighter than regular Sculpey, and can be shaped in similar detail and smoothness, unlike Model Magic which ends up with creases and wrinkles and tends to lose detail. This new stuff is perfect.
Two weekends ago, I took one of the bug puppets into the woods, and animated it walking along a patch of moss. This is something I’ve wanted to try for ages. Animating outdoors is an interest of mine - though it comes with complications, mostly the potential for dramatic shifting of light from shot to shot. I also imagined that it would be relatively easy to pin down a puppet foot into a piece of dead wood, but most of the wood I encountered was too hard. However, patches of sturdy moss worked perfectly for receiving and holding a pin.
On an earlier weekend, I had been playing with animating on my iphone using a stop-motion app - wouldn’t that be so much simpler, taking a small phone into the woods vs a clunky camera? The app worked well, and was great for previewing and toggling the previous frame. The biggest issue I encountered was realizing that using the iphone would greatly limit depth of field options - though maybe there are ways to achieve this that aren’t obvious to me yet. I did this clip of a cut-out mouse puppet with the iphone app:
For the bug, I went back to my Canon 40D, and used a manual Nikon Micro lens that I’d had but had never used before. Learning about that type of lens led me off on a tangent of reading about micro-photography, which was fascinating. Some of these lenses can allow you to be a distance back from your subject, but still get a very close up shot. In the case of photographing real bugs, you’d be less likely to scare them away, though in this case I wasn’t worried about scaring off my puppet.
The light did change during the shooting, and because I didn’t have a remote shutter and my camera's mini- tripod was sitting on moss and leaves, the images jump all over the place. I was able to get enough of a preview of motion by clicking through the camera playback of images - though not the best for seeing all the details. I’m still looking for some way to do this remotely. This method required some very awkward bending down and craning my head at odd angles. Original footage result is below:
I played with adjusting the exposure frame by frame in Photoshop, which worked pretty well to reduce flicker. I was moderately successful in stabilizing the images in Photoshop too, but it wasn’t perfect. I was happy to discover a better stabilizing feature in After Effects, which did an amazing job. The adjusted version is below:
This doesn't look much different from the previous clips, but I've added some tablet-drawn paint effects frame-by-frame using Photoshop's animation timeline editor. Took a while to figure out how to create a blank (transparent) video layer on which I could draw/erase one frame at a time, without having to create many new individual layers, and without disturbing the background footage layer.
this puppet is small and lightweight, so it can be held up on one leg by a dollop of hot glue.