Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I posted my last stop-motion painting clip feeling confident that my new cable release bracket would be the solution to my camera movement problems. As usual, the ghost of Robert Burns seems to have bitten my well-laid plans in the butt. My brilliant little invention forced the threads of my camera's tripod acceptor, and stripped them, causing this to be my jumpiest clip yet. Appropriate that the painting should be of a frog -- specifically, a Northern Casque-headed Treefrog (Hemiphractus fasciatus), a bizarre little fellow that lives on or near the forest floors of Colombia, Panama, and possibly Costa Rica. Long considered a member of the typical treefrog family, Hylidae, today the five or so species of casque-headed frog are believed to have diverged from other frog taxa some time back, and are generally given their own family.

Wobbliness notwithstanding, the clip shows a detailed underpainting laid down in raw umber. The board is then tinted, and the hues and values of the various components are laid in. Once a basic foundation of the subject is down, it is masked with liquid latex to protect it while the background is painted. With the background established, off comes the latex, and the final coats of paint are brushed on.

Once I've found a used digital camera with manual settings and an actual cable release port, I'll dedicate it to my animation stand, and once again, I find myself feeling confident. Hopefully I'll have the whole thing together in time to film the next painting: a portrait of a Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) that's sure to have the best production values yet. Stay tuned.

If you can't access the video embed, click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


For a long time, attorney Fred Krupp has been thinking about environmental issues, and viewing them through his own peculiar, narrow little lens. He's currently president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and a tireless peddler of the pretty little lie that all solutions to environmental problems lie within the capitalist marketplace. He'll be in town on Saturday to tell us how to halt climate change. Where will he be speaking? At Sundance Ski Resort, over 50 miles away from Salt Lake City. Sorry, there's no public transportation to Sundance. Tickets for the lecture are 95 bucks. Get 'em while they last.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The last thing I needed was a new hobby - really. I've always been fascinated, though, with stop-motion film. Inspired as a kid by Ray Harryhausen, I bought a used 8mm camera and did my first crude experiments in my late teens. Graduating to a Bolex, I did some clay animation shorts, including a training film for the local transit authority that I created with my friend Melissa Jones in 1990, following that up with some slicker clay stuff with a team doing Japanese cookie commercials. For a couple of years, now, I've been contemplating the possibilities of combining stop-motion film with painting. I finally broke down and built an animation stand (above) where I can work on a painting and click off a shot after every few strokes of the brush, with adjustable and registered lights and a camera above.

For my first stop-motion painting clip, I decided on the simple medium of ink wash: diluted India ink used like watercolor. I selected a sketch I made in 1984 of a poisoned Peregrine Falcon that I always liked, in spite of its resemblance to an obese cartoon parrot (above), and redrew it with proportions more appropriate to the intended subject (below).

This was traced onto a piece of stretched Arches watercolor paper which was clamped to the animation stand. Each step of the process was photographed, then strung together as a video. I thought Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust would make a good backdrop, and tried to work out a piano arrangement of that song, which I don't really remember very well. Consequently, I'm left free of worries that the Carmichael estate might come knocking on my door with lawyers in tow. The film clip can be seen immediately below, and finished painting below that. If you're unable to access the video embed, try clicking here.

This amounts to a test clip: a means of learning the process. A few things to remember for the next piece:
1. Put greater effort into positioning the work square below the camera and setting the f-stop properly.
2. After turning on a light or opening a door in the studio, remember to darken the room again before resuming work.
3. Refrain from setting my water canister where it casts a shadow on the painting.
4. Try not to forget to trip the shutter now and then.
5. A friend built a special bracket for me that should minimize camera movement on subsequent efforts (thanks to the wonderful sculptor, Don Rambadt)--use it.
6. Put more work into practicing and recording the soundtrack music, or turn to professionals.

At this point I'm close to finishing the next video. It's of a small acrylic of a Northern Casque-headed Treefrog (Hemiphractus fasciatus), and next week should see its posting. In the meantime, you might consider reading up on this fascinating little creature, also called the Banded Horned Treefrog, on Darren Naish's blog.

On an unrelated note, The travelling exhibition, Art of the Rainforest, just opened this weekend at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut California. This will be the final venue of this show, which has been touring since November of 2005. You can see it through May 8th.