Drawing A Blank - Production Notes

Hello to you out there! 

It all started when I bought the album FOUL MOON by Foxfeather in early 2015.  

I had a full-time day job writing software, I was raising a teen and a tween with my wife (she would say she's raising all three of us...), and was at the same time launching my music career as a business for the first time (according to what I was going to tell the IRS at the end of the year). I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands - I take that back, I didn’t have any extra time at all actually. But when I listened to that album it was so visual - I had these images in my head that I just had to get out. So I approached Foxfeather and asked if I could create a stop motion video for one of their tracks, Drawing A Blank. 

I picked Drawing A Blank because I thought it would be the easiest of the tracks on the album to animate. It basically had one character, and two sets; the inside of the box and the exterior of the box. So I thought it would be a good way to get my feet wet again with stop motion - I used to do it a bit when I was a kid and always had a crush on it. You never forget your first love. 

I chose to film it in 24 frames per second to get the highest quality and smoothest motion out of my character(s). This will be a warm up for the feature film we are planning to create based on a young adult book. 

Now that I’m a grownup I could buy the toys I wanted finally. Dragonframe was first on my list. I can’t believe that the industry standard tool for animation is only $300 - thank you Dragonframe from the bottom of my heart for making this accessible to me and to many others. You have made all the difference between success and failure! 

So, lucky me happened to have this awesome basement. It has two exposed I-beams just eight feet apart, over a countertop/island underneath.  The universe was totally looking out for me here. I took a trip to Lowes and bought a few metal slotted angle framing pieces (which happened to be eight feet across) and set up a grid from which I could hang lights, fabric and anything else I could imagine - and Voila! I have a studio! 

So, I started to capture on index cards what I had been imagining when first listening to the song. I took a bunch of reference photos of things and locations I thought might be useful. Foxfeather (and now I) am based along the front range of Colorado, so I really wanted to pay homage to the landscape in this film that we live and play in. So, I imagined the box that the character was enclosed in was in a big field with rolling hills and the rocky mountains in the background, from the Flatirons on the left to Longs peak on the right. 

Michaels and JoAnn Fabrics were my crack dealers - I would hit them up several times a week and get samples, wire, balsa wood, fur, silk, felt, clay, plasticene, and whatever else I thought would come in handy. The cashiers would have very confused looks on their faces but they never got up the courage to ask what the hell I was making with all this stuff. 

Anyway, this went on for about a year.  

In April of 2016 I finally shot my first frame of animation that would make it into the film!  

I put the story board of index cards into Dragonframe and timed it to the song. (I put the index cards on the floor and captured a frame one at a time.) I had most of the box interior set created, and none of the exterior (but I figured out how I was going to do it - more on that when it actually gets built…) and - surprise! I discovered I had a new ‘set’ in my story… Outer space. Due to my limited space in the basement I could only have one set going at a time. Also, as my armature was twisted wire, I wanted to shoot movement from the least amount to most, as to not wear out the bendy parts and have a failure happen mid-animation. I only have the one armature after all. I’ll let you know how it goes. 

So in the Space set she basically just floats around and moves her arm and head. The perfect first scene to film. As with what I am planning for the exterior shots of the box, my Space set was going to end up being a composite with various elements I would put together in After Effects (AE), another big boy tool I could buy now. In fact I got the whole Adobe Creative Cloud, as I would edit in Premier, and do work in Photoshop and AE. I used to do a bunch of post production editing, compositing, and special effects for small independent films so I was familiar with the suite already. 

I picked up a Cannon Rebel T3i in 2013 from Santa, and it came with a few lenses. I had various tripods and stuff from my earlier days making videos with real people. By the way, real people are worse than herding cats - that’s why I’m going the animation route…   

And, as it happens, my music stuff that I use for performing live included three DJ bar lights - LED lights that throw colored light up a wall. These ended up being perfect for what I needed. Again, a synergy of all my interests was helping me out to bring this music video to life. I’ve hear a rumor that they flicker but so far I haven’t noticed yet. I bought a set of track lights but I haven’t used them yet, I think I’ll need to do a bit of electrical work to get those to be useful. It may be more trouble than it’s worth. We’ll see. 

So, my hope is to keep you up to date on the production and what I discover along the way, in hopes that it may help you in your own animated endeavors, or if you just like to geek out on this stuff, as I have for all these years. I have many things to build and problems to solve, so join me!  This is gonna be fun!! 

 - Peter