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Hello Everyone :)

I've been posting some random W.I.P. photos and little test videos over the past year or so, but I recently discovered there's a "your project" section here in the forum. So this is a thread for my ongoing project, "Will O' The Wisp". Hope you enjoy.

Here's a little background about how the project came to be:

Long story short - I was working on an indie film one winter, and I was hanging out in a trailer talking to the makeup Fx people and producer while we were waiting around for the next scene. I mentioned that I'd picked up stop-motion for the first time in a long while and wanted to attempt my first complete film, and that seemed to pique everyone's interest like I'd declared I bred Unicorns or something.

A couple months after principal photography wrapped, one thing lead to another, and the producer wanted to know if I'd do a stop-motion bumper for the production company. So for the last year (on and off because I still need to take other gigs when they pay well) I've been slowly and steadily learning and working on a pretty ambitious little solo project.

It was originally only supposed to be a short bumper that played at 6 seconds, 15, and 30. The 30 second version is intended to be a brief but coherent story that leads into the reveal of the company logo. The others are shorter segments that jump straight to the logo.

However... After I started storyboarding, I realized this simple idea was actually pretty complex to execute: large forest, running character, water, flying feathered character, a night scene with moody contrasting light... Quite a challenging todo list for a first attempt... and only a small kitchen to use as a studio space... So I turned to something familiar to help me visualize how I was going to do any of this in the space I had, and what my best options might be.


Neither of us (the producer or myself) knew this was going to progress the way it did or as well as it has so far (knock on wood!). The producer wasn't expecting much from me to begin with, and I wasn't 100% sure I could pull off what was needed. I knew I was pretty crafty, I'd built live-action sets and props, and had a background in 2d/3d animation, but I hadn't worked beyond pre-production in any capacity more than a general assistant or set decorator at the time. And I had zero camera and lighting experience as well. But I took my time to carefully see each step through from concept to storyboard to blueprints to animatics... The producer and I both learned as we went along, and quickly built a good rapport and a comfortable understanding that this was new territory for both of us.

Since then, however, this little animation has become such a large undertaking that we decided to push it a little further and make it it's own stand-alone film as well. Nothing too crazy, just a couple of minutes. But it will help give us something to show to festivals and boards to try to get funding for a longer stop-motion production we want to make. (Fairy tale story, elaborate and colorful settings, lots of "creature" characters. **geek out** it would be a lot of fun!)...

This site and the people here were a huge influence and help in learning what I needed to know to keep the ball rolling and put the missing pieces together in my head. Not just to execute one thing and forget about it, but developing core knowledge that I've used to learn more things and discover some of my own. This was definitely the best place I could have found to learn what I needed to learn about Stop-motion related skills, techniques, tools, and materials.

Now it's been almost a year. I'm close to finishing all the sets, puppets, and assets soon. I plan to shoot it in November, and wrap in early December. It's kind of bittersweet. It's been so long now, I don't know what I'll do with myself when it's over. hahaha

So... that's the general run-down. I have loads of progress pictures and video clips. I'm even working on a "making of" kind of thing (maybe... if the footage turns out alright). So, instead of just a huge spam bomb of media, I'll just start organizing some of this stuff and gradually post some things here in this thread, along with any new progress along the way to the finish line.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully you'll stay tuned for when it's finally finished. 

p.s. Click Here to check out some photo albums for the project.

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I've been watching out for your posts, and it's been looking first-rate all the way!  It's a really great character design, and it looks like your drawing skills are matched by your 3d fabrication skills.   It's good to have it all in one place and to give it some context.

You're right, it is a huge amount of making work for a 6 to 30 sec spot, it does make sense to do a couple of minutes with the character and set, and tell more of a story.  That could also add a lot of interest to the shorter spots.

It seems like a fairly tight schedule for the actual animation to me - but then, I don't usually build absolutely everything before I start.  I do enough for the first couple of scenes, then start animating.  If I get too tired and disaster-prone to animate, or there isn't enough time left in the day to start a new shot, I can do some more making for later scenes.  Or I can modify a set once that bit is done, and re-make it as something else for another scene.  As a result, the shooting time is longer, because it isn't just shooting.  So 2 minutes over a month, 30 sec a week/6 sec per day average, should be possible if there isn't much making left to do.

I'll be following this thread all the way to the end!

Nick, I've said before, you've been a been a big influence on me, and your tutorials and help here in the forum have been invaluable along this journey. So your praise and excitement means a lot. I appreciate it. Thank you. :)

It is a pretty tight schedule, and I'm not too certain I can make it happen, but I want to try. It seems doable even if it means longer days sometimes. I did forget to factor in the owl though. I still need to make him, and I'll need to animate some of his scenes separately. Hmmm...

Maybe more like end of December then. 

Really enjoyed this, Mike.  You have many skills ideally suited to this medium: modeling, drawing (amazing storyboard), no doubt painting also.  Can you write in mirror image? I've been following your posts from the beginning and hope to see the project through to completion. 

Cheers, 

Dennis 

Thank you :) It's encouraging to hear good remarks about skills that were mostly unknown. I can't even count how many times doubt and uncertainty has settled in over the course of this, but the positive feedback is reassuring. I'm not sure if I can write in mirror image, but maybe I I'll try, haha.

Wow! Lovely stuff, look forward to seeing more.

Love your work Mike, I'm sur it's gonna be great :)

looks good.

The armature standing in the woods already looks so striking, This should look absolutely beautiful once it is done.

Thanks everybody  Your positive feedback is encouraging. I'm going to try to finish some stuff up on the puppet and get around to sharing some updates soon. Thanks for taking the time to check this out. 

Cheers! 

Hey all,

I've been missing for a while, but the project is still going forward (well, now it is). The last few months have been very difficult for me, and I've pretty much dropped off the face of the earth to everyone but my family and a few very close friends. We lost some good people in a very short time at the end of the Summer, and another just recently in November, and each passed with unexpected revelations that poured unwelcome salt into fresh wounds.

As if the last few months weren't trying enough, drama within the family over one particular loss boiled over Christmas night, and the blowback will probably continue to have an effect for some time to come, undoing several years of work trying to bring the whole family back together for the first time in over 12 years. But life must go on, and I need to move on as well. We don't become artists because we have nothing to say. This too will pass and become "inspiration" some day.

Been falling into a nasty spiral of depression, but something about a conversation I had with my brother-in-law, and then watching the special features for Robot Chicken: Star Wars yesterday, has started my wheels turning again. For the first time in a few months I've dusted off my tools and started putting my "studio" space back in order to get working again.

Not much else to share at the moment, just wanted say hello, and commit to putting in writing that this project is still kicking and will be finished.

Happy Holidays,

~m.e.

Threw this little "making of" sort of video together back in July before things went south. Didn't really finish it up as much as I would have liked, but I doubt I'll get around to polishing it up any more than it is already. The files got moved around a bit, but I did render this rough cut out in July, so here it is. Hope there's something interesting in it.

I'd like to do more eventually, so if you have any tips, suggestions, things you'd like to see more/less of, let me know. I appreciate the feedback.

Nice stuff, Mike. The forest looks good, and I can see how it has taken so much work to do. I'm going to make some smaller windblown trees and bushes, probably in wire with tape and papier mache so there's scope for a bit of movement. Will be interested to hear how you are doing leaves - will that be the wood shavings?
Presumably you have not been eating all this time, as there doesn't seem to be much kitchen space left! Must show this vid to my wife, who think I am taking up too much space already.
Have a better new year than last.

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