Wireframe Top Hat

Four hours from an odd idea to something completely worthwhile: a wireframe top hat with crank-rod which drives the motion of flags at the end of long rods, held in position by a wire network on the top of the hat. Wire, tube, blowtorch, solder, pliers and snips. Very simple, straightforward and oh, so satisfying. A source of much glee.

Crosses – Credit Sequence

One of my contributions to TortoiseButler’s entry into the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge 2013 was the closing credit sequence.

Our film was based on the following criteria:

Title: “Crosses”
Dialogue: “There’s no way of knowing I’m afraid. Only time will tell”
Prop: “A torch – A character shakes the torch, pulls it apart, and puts it back
together again. It still doesn’t work.”

We came up with a complex yet tight script involving time-travelling cops, the fight actors (including one untrained!) developed some kick-arse fight scenes, I knocked up some props and tattoos and we shot a beautiful, tense, cohesive film.

As with most creative products though, the ‘finishing’ is at least as much work as the creation. The second night of the 48 hours was spent packed into a tiny hostel room, where a truly stunning number of macbooks were put to work on the editing, graphic effects, scoring, sound design and grading of the film. Alongside them all, I was in the corner making 8 seconds worth of credits (Final version has an extra 4 seconds to credit the installation artists).

As our composer was creating the score live from Germany, the editors pulled together a rough cut to give him an idea of what we’d made. I snagged a copy of this, identified key moments from the narrative, and selected dynamic and interesting stills to represent them. Manually tracing the stills gave me silhouettes, with which I created a huge spread which the final animation explores, reflecting the journey of the film. It was great fun to apply what I know of storyboarding, composition and comic design to creating something dynamic, stylish and exciting.

Interview with Joe

(This post is from February)

When TortoiseButler are filming, I’m often off-set when the actual shooting occurs – scripting, storyboarding, world-building, set-design, props, make-up and costume are all ‘out of the way’ activities.

Taking up residence with the leaders of the group, however, may fix that… Given their almost guerilla filming approach, a mini shoot can be squeezed in between dinner and bed on a weeknight – an ideal venue for tiny projects, tutoring and practice.

Actor Joe needed a bit of video for his university course, so this time I was put behind the camera. Andy talked me through the process of setting up, composing and lighting a shot, as well as driving the camera and a little bit about lenses. The shoot came together really quickly – one long interview bit, and four short and silly cutaway sequences. It was fascinating to watch an actor in action (harf harf), and it was fascinating how consistent his movements, expressions and tone were – what seems natural in the final version is exposed through repetition as being very carefully constructed, and reproducible!

Sam handled ingesting the files from the camera and cut it all together, so we had a film in less than three hours!

The exercise reinforced that I almost always have a clear idea of how things ‘should’ be in my head, which means two things: 1) when doing things ‘properly’ I’ll need to pay attention to who takes ownership of what and 2) a director role may be something to aim for, down the line.

Crosses – Prop gun

One of the most fun and challenging aspects of doing a 48-hour film challenge is McGyvering whatever unpredictable props the script demands from the kit we brought along – there’s no time for sourcing things from elsewhere.

In this case, our gritty time-travel buddy cop movie needed a very menacing sci-fi gun. What we had was a bright orange and yellow Nerf gun (image from google search). Some work with sandpaper, a knife, paint and metallic powders later, I’d transformed it into this threatening little piece.

Crosses – Short film from TortoiseButler

Shoulder puppet – Beauregard

For some reason, the idea of a pirate with a pet sea slug seemed dreadfully amusing. Of course it would perch as a parrot might, be brightly coloured, and wave vaguely around in response to passers-by.

This translucent and delightfully frilly nudibranch has trembling antennae and can rear its body up from the wearer’s shoulder – see the video.

Starting with a length of aquarium tubing, I hammered half-toothpicks halfway through the tube to anchor thermoplastic vertibrae. These brace the articulating wire cable, so that it can pass from the head, down the length of the body, and rejoin the base tube at the tail end, which carries it down to a discrete handle. Sandwiching foam sheets around the tube made a base for the body, floaty gauze fabric fleshed it out, and guitar-string wires make satisfyingly twangy antennae.

The whole thing can be mounted on the shoulder with a thermoplastic bracket over or under clothes, and the handle’s surprisingly comfortable and easy to use.

I love thermoplastic.

Ram’s horns

I hope to find the making-of photos for these some day (and confirm creation date), but this is a lightweight pair of ridged, textured ram’s-style horns, mounted on a broad headband. Suitable for costumes including demons, tieflings, aliens, monsters, sheep (presumably), puck, satyrs, and Tim the Enchanter.

These started life as a cardboard box (or three), which was cut (with scissors) into 2 sets of 45 circles, each 0.5mm different in radius. Then I used the pair of compasses (spikes both ends) to pierce the centre and an extra hole, and created similarly pierced small squares to act as spacers.

Each of these sets was then threaded onto a doubled-over piece of wire, starting with the smallest and with cardboard spacers between. Once I was happy with the conical structure produced, I twisted them into matching spirals, attached them to big bits of card, and set to work with plaster-of-paris impregnated fabric – mod rock, I think it’s called? This stretched nicely over the splayed ridges of the cardboard (although the excess water did imperil the structural integrity of the ridges), and smooshed down into the grooves. Once two layers of that had set hard, I added another layer of plaster to conceal the fabric texture. Some tea to dull the brilliance, twisting the wire into the latticework of a broad plastic hair-band, and I had a truly epic pair of horns to wear around the place.

It’s surprisingly easy to style my hair to conceal the band, and they look very solidly rooted.

I’ve been using these at least a couple of times a year since I made them, and they’re comfortable and light enough to wear all night, although people will want a go with them :P They’ve borne up pretty well, but the plaster is flaking and the headband starting go give up.

Photo is a hungover ‘steampunk alien’ me, with ‘space nazi’ Scary.

Butterfly System

Film-making collective TortoiseButler’s entry into the 2011 London Science Fiction Festival 48 Hour Film Challenge.

The premis: given a title, line of dialogue and prop, go forth and brainstorm, write, script, storyboard, shot-plan, setup, shoot, edit, sound-design and… well, /everything/ a film up to 5 minutes long, within 48 hours.

As usual we were incredibly ambitious and tried to cover a huge amount of complex plot and world-building, but in this case while the outcome was stunningly beautiful, only one person has been able to ‘read’ the story from it that we were trying to convey.

My contributions included scouting the location (equipped with wellies, boilersuit and head-torch, I got to climb around in and UNDER the Kew Bridge Steam Museum), brainstorming, helping conceive the plot, and then props, costumes, sfx-makeup (detailed tattoos you mostly can’t see), set design, and learned to do digital SFX overnight.

Duckie and Chickie afloat

My first novel!

This is a 20-page narrative, written for my twin nieces, about the escapades of a pair of farmyard reprobates – Duckie and Chickie. It has been variously described as “disgustingly adorable” and “a scientists’ approach to Getting Along”, but you can’t listen to everything the critics say.

I started it with the strong idea in mind of two characters who have differing abilities, but work together to get in and out of mischief.

Apparently I have to write another one for next Christmas… and until they’re 18. It’s a lot of work, but I do want to find out what was shining on that island…

Brushpen, watercolour, digital jiggery-pokery and InDesign, printed in hardcover through Blurb.

Duckie and Chickie Afloat – pdf for web