Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

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.


Blogger -el mapa no es el territorio- said...

I think the video turned out pretty smashing well for a first time try!! And the drawing is great. Also, there is something very sweet about you doing your own music.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree... the video is terrific!

11:59 AM  

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