|Julia Bourke takes us behind the scenes of a unique stop motion film...|
My name is Julia Bourke and I live in Melbourne, Australia.
I became interested in animating while designing some opening titles for a cooking show at Channel 9. I created a simple collage animation, working with cut-outs and objects under camera, and using Quantel’s Painbox put it all together. Then I became addicted to making things move.
At the time I was also playing in a band in Melbourne (called SNOG) where we made all our own music videos. So I got to experiment a lot with digital techniques as well, plus editing and working with music.
But stop motion was always a favourite aesthetic for me since the days of The Magic Roundabout, and all the Rankin and Bass Christmas films but it wasn’t until I started playing with it in my motion design that I thought I could create a film in this style.
The ‘craft’ aspect was what I loved the most. Getting your hands dirty, the whole tactile experience was a long way away from the digital realm. Plus creating entire worlds from scratch was pretty cool too.
(Although it does help being just a little bit techy when doing the post production side of things.)
I have made 4 animated films, one cell animation and 3 stop motion shorts.
I studied animation at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000. My graduate film Angel Food won Best Animation for that year. It screened at quite a few festivals, which probably gave me the drive to make another one. Angel Food was about the culinary journey of a strawberry set on top of a kitchen bench, all done in plasticine.
My most recent film is called Glossy.
It’s a stop-motion animated musical set in a dressing table world of cosmetics, where a gang of teenage products rendezvous at a party, and a lip-balm sings her way to her true identity - that’s the synopsis anyway. It’s basically a funny, coming of age story aimed at teens and adults. But the ‘tweens’ are probably the most appropriate market for it.
Glossy screened at the Melbourne International Animation Festival on Friday 22nd June 2012 at ACMI, Federation square. It’s also playing at the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto, on the same day. It will be screening at the Jecheon Intl Music & Film Festival in Korea in early August 2012.
You can see the trailer on my Vimeo site:
http://vimeo.com/13327940 plus there are a few other film clips there to sample.
The gear that I used was a bit of a mish-mash. When I started all I owned was a G4 Mac and an already outdated digital SLR Camera (a Canon D30), which had a wide angle zoom lens (24-85mm). I had to beg borrow and steal just to get the basics.
I borrowed a mixture of lights from my producer Robert Stephenson, which I hijacked for nearly 2 years – sorry Robert. There was a ‘very big soft light’, technical term, and I don’t know what the smaller lights were called, sorry.
Somehow I got hold of these really cool mini spot lights (called Pin Spots) which were really great for direct lighting and not too harsh. They’re normally used for stage lighting - they point them at disco balls - and are really cheap. But they don’t have barn doors so you have to be creative there. I also borrowed a couple of C stands, magic arms, and lots of coloured gels.
Software wise, I initially used Frame Thief to capture because I was working on a Mac, and rigged up a security camera through the lens to get my live feed (thanks to Nick Hilligos for his help here). Then, half way through the production, I upgraded my computer to an Imac and we bought a Canon D100, purchased StopMotionPro and I ‘bootcamped’ my Mac to work as a PC with windows and voila! We were up and running and things started to move.
Stop Motion Pro definitely sped up the general workflow and production as a whole.
The live feed was really clear and sharp and you could zoom right in to get the perfect focus from the camera. Not needing to look through the actual Camera lens was very helpful – s aving time not having to reset the camera connection. Capturing both high resolution files and low res files (at the same time) was a bonus and being able to ‘hide’ but not delete frames made us feel more confident about experimenting with our animation.
Sharon Parker was the main animator on this film, I might add, so I did follow her lead on the preferred animating style. We didn’t really loop or use onion skinning much when animating. We mainly flicked between the live frame and the previous frame and then played the clip through. We used the markers quite a bit, and of course loaded audio tracks in for lip syncing etc. I didn’t save out the movies as AVI’s. Instead, I exported the files as jpgs, imported them to After FX as a jpg sequence, did any post that was needed there, and then made a quicktime movie. I imported this into Final Cut Pro for editing. My disc space was limited so I had to keep my file sizes manageable. My film ended up being 18 minutes long, so there were a lot of frames in there.
The puppets were made by a team of people that all used to work at Mothers Art – a props factory in Spotswood - no longer in existence.
Martin Moore, Fiona Edwards and Nick Pledge were the talented bunch.
Martin sculpted the bodies and the hair, hands and feet.
Nick did some lathing for the body sculpts and made all of the ball and socket armatures.
And Fiona put it all together. She made the silicon moulds for the bodies, cast them in fast cast resin – keeping them hollow so they were nice and light-weight and there was room for the armatures to go in. She made twisted wire for the arms and legs and coated them with coloured silicon. She painted the bodies with a special car paint to get that smooth finish – similar to store bought toys – which I absolutely loved.
I sculpted the eyes and Fiona made multiples (from moulds) to use as replacements; the same with the hands. Then Sharon and I sculpted and painted all the replacement mouths (using sculpy). Plus we cut out cardboard eyelashes for all the eyes.
There were about 300 eyes, 200 mouths and nearly 300 hands… I don’t even want to count the lashes. All the mouths and eyes had KNS (brass) rods inserted for registration – as well.
The production design was something I was fairly obsessed with and wanted to get right form the beginning.
Coming from a design background I was keen on research. My main influences at that time were the mid-century design aesthetic, old Hollywood musicals and domestic kitsch. Bringing to life ordinary domestic spaces, like kitchen tables, bathroom benches or the intimate world of the female dressing table seemed to be a recurring theme.
Anyhow, the 50’s colour palette was a great backdrop for my characters, making their colours pop and really stand out. I tried to merge the props in with the background set colours so the puppets didn’t get lost in all the clutter. And I purposely kept the lighting flat.
After I designed the basic sets, which were built by Rob Clough and Nick Pledge, they were flat packed and delivered (ikea style). I painted them and did the rest of the set dressing.
I collected a lot of found objects to use for props and altered them to fit in with the production design. This was cheaper and easier than creating everything from scratch.
The puppets were scaled up to make animation easier, so this meant all the props and sets were larger than life as well. I used things like glass wine carafes as perfume bottles, dishwashing brushes for toothbrushes, and a hat box as a jewellery box. I made a giant shower curtain out of plastic and even found some giant soaps somewhere. Bunnings provided me with a laundry sink to use as a bathroom basin, which I sprayed with white enamel. I then made a second one, which I cut in half to use for all the low angle shots (so the camera could get up close).
The sets were all designed to be pulled apart so we could position the camera where we wanted. Although after I tiled the bathroom wall it was too heavy to lift. So we were forced to shoot from the front on that particular set.
The music was a really fun part of the process as well.
The composer, Al Harding, was great to work with. He’s done a lot of film scores, ads and animations (Monster Chef, Lift Off), and has been in bands for years.
After I wrote the lyrics, Al and I discussed the genre of each piece at length before he wrote the music. We used a few different singers that Al liked to work with and I roped in Anna Burley from Melbourne band, The Killoys, to sing as Glossy. We had worked together before (I made a video for their band) so it was great to get her as a voice in my film.
I’m not exactly sure what will be the next project, but at the moment it’s all about earning a living I’m afraid. I currently work at the ABC as a designer and also at the National Gallery of Victoria so that is keeping me busy.
I would like to do an extension of Glossy, using the existing characters in a mini mini-series. But whatever it is it will be short.
I’m working on a Glossy website at the moment and I’m dreaming about making dolls for it. So we’ll see…
Here’s a link to a ‘making of’ clip we made half way through the production:
Plus a facebook site for other info: