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Developing a promotional spot for Gumby.com

In 2013, I began work on a promotional spot for Gumby.com.  Joe Clokey, the son of Gumby creator, Art Clokey, agreed to let me develop the spot so I began thinking about ideas for a short, clay-animated, old school Gumby animated adventure. I came up with several ideas, drew out the storyboards on my iPad, put them all together in Adobe Premiere and created an animatic. I tackled the last shot, Shot 10 first. It took months to set up, test and shoot. Animation wrapped in May 2013 (then I moved to Montreal to work on The Little Prince) Post work, mostly rod removal was done in After Effects. That in itself was a huge task and had to be put on hold until I was freed up. The spot was finally completed in mid-2015. Music was composed by Tim Weed. Ultimately, it was decided that this one shot was all that was needed to promote the Gumby website. It premiered at San Diego ComicCon in 2015 and was included on the 50s Gumby Show DVD.  

Here is a video showing the several stages of the spot.

Here are the storyboards from the Original spot as it was intended:

Shot Sheets (click to enlarge)

UPDATE: January 2021. I found some behind-the-scenes footage and cut them all together.

Shot 10 Description

Shot 10 starts with a clay ball entering frame (supported by a flying rig from above) which then hits the ground and bounces to a stop.  It then begins to morph into several random green characters fairly quickly as the camera slowly pushes in (on the manual camera rig requiring manual track, tilt and focus)  The final morph ends with a whirling tornado. (supported by an overhead rig which allows me to spin it slightly during exposure to create blur) The camera jumps back quickly a bit as the tornado spins faster and begins to pull the blocks toward it.  The blocks pick up speed and begin to orbit the tornado (blocks supported by magnetic wire rigs and/or an overhead rig which is part of the tornado rig)  Once the tornado reaches its full speed, it begins to move toward the camera (on a winder rig overhead also requiring manual focus as the tornado approaches) The blocks, some spinning, some stacking up in the foreground, eventually form the Wall of Blocks as Gumby spins out of the tornado.  The blocks spell out 'Gumby.com' and feature a few of the Gumby characters and website attributes. (original idea of comping Gumby episodes onto blocks has been omitted) At the last moment, Pokey enters frame left.  
And that is Shot 10!



Building and lighting the set

For Shot 10,  I needed a set big enough for a wide camera angle.  So I scrapped the white sweep setup used for the Gumby Doodle (see A Little History...) and built a large table top set with an even larger white background.  I lit it with five 5000k fluorescent lamps.  The end result looks like a white sweep, the horizon is barely noticeable.

Wide angle test shot



Camera and lighting tests

I designed, built and painted a few prop blocks that would form into the Wall of Blocks at the end of the spot. Once I had the props and camera in place, I began shooting lighting tests to find the best exposure for all camera positions during the camera move. 

 

concept art for the Wall of Blocks

lighting test with finished blocks

Building specific rigs

I built a few rigs: a track for the camera, an overhead rig for the tornado and several magnetic rigs used for flying individual blocks.  My rigging kit is comprised mostly of Berkey 500 seriesFilmtools teenie-weenie series, a couple of custom-built geared winders.  I also tend to use magnets, foam core board and armature wire for simple rigs. The top of the set is made of thin PVC sheeting over a wooden tabletop.  Underneath the PVC sheet, I laid thin steel sheets.  I made several flying rigs out of foam core, magnets and armature wire. (see photo below) The magnetic rig grips the set, enabling easy placement of flying blocks.  I use Magcraft brand Rare Earth Magnets.  I also built a crazy overhead rig for the tornado and the flying blocks.  By spinning the rig slightly during the exposure, I get a decent motion blur.  See the tornado test below.  All of this prep was necessary before shooting the first animation test.  

hand operated camera track built mostly from Berkey 500 series

simple magnetic/foam core/wire rigs
 

first tornado animation test

Shot 10 Test
17 February 2013

Here is the first test for Shot 10, sometimes called a Block or a Pop Thru.  Animation is very limited, including the morphing, the tornado and block animation.  The purpose of this test is to figure out the overall timings, test all the rigs, test the camera movement (which still needs some work) and make sure the lighting looks good throughout  I learned a lot from this test, such as I want to put a curve in the tornado's path to make it less linear. The flying rigs and camera rig worked well so after a few tweaks, I should be ready to shoot the real thing.


Shot 10 animation test

Shot 10 Camera Move Test
22 February 2013

I've been shooting camera move tests today in preparation for launching this shot next week.  This video clip shows 2 tests:  The first is a 110 frame slow truck in and tilt up.  It was shot on Threes in order to rough out the move.  Since the move is so slow, the tilt increments are very fine.  After shooting a couple of uneven and pretty boring move tests prior to this, I wasn't having much luck getting an interesting move that I was happy with.  I wanted a slight swoop in feeling to it.  Finally, I decided to draw on the screen and use some tracking markers.  This worked.  The second part of this test shows the quicker pullback, about a 20 frame move on Ones, which is a much easier move to animate!  This move will happen when the tornado first appears.

Shot 10 camera move tests


Dragonframe drawing tool used to gauge camera move

Registration Guides
27 February 2013

The camera is moving around a lot in Shot 10 and hitting focus and retaining composition is critical.  At the end of this shot, the blocks need to assemble in an exact position.  The table top is white, so I don't want to mark the actual set, so I built a set of foam core block guides.  (See photo below)  This is an easy way to ensure precise registration.  The brackets are glued to the set so the guides will always align in the same spot.  The large green and blue blocks fit into the guides.  The 2 guides can then be removed easily between exposures.
 

Registration Guides



Shot 10 Update
12 March 2013

Delayed the launch due to shooting a few more camera move tests and a head cold, but finally I'm shooting.  It's about 1/3 finished, just over 200 frames shot.  I am almost to the end the manual camera move which is going well.  The morphing bit is almost finished, going slow as molasses, but I just need to shoot 2 or 3 more morphed characters before getting into the tornado section of the shot.  Here are a few photos of some of the morphed characters:




Tornado Rig
20 March 2013

Just a quick update.  Animation has slowed quite a bit.  Lately, it has been taking about an hour to set up and shoot each frame and clean frame.  Many rigged blocks to animate as shown in the photo below.  I anticipate it speeding up once most of the blocks are attached to the Tornado Rig.  Today, I only had about 3 hours to work, so I only got 3 frames shot!  



I decided to take frame 286 into Photoshop to see what I will need to deal with in Post.  All 3 frames shown below represent frame 286.  Dragonframe allows animators so shoot multiple exposures, so when needed, I've been shooting the clean plates as I shoot the animation.  It was necessary because of the constantly moving blocks; shooting a clean pass after the shot has been animated would not have worked as well.

Top left is the animation frame with all the blocks, Top right is the clean frame with most of the rigged blocks removed, and the bottom frame is the finished cleaned up Photoshopped frame.  I have many frames left to shoot in Shot 10 so this was a valuable exercise to do.  Lesson learned: I need to avoid putting rigs into any shadows or reflective areas as those are the trickiest parts to clean up.

Rig Removal
05 April 2013

I've taken a break from animating the shot for a few days to learn more about rig removal in After Effects.  I imported the RAW images into AE, animated a mask to remove most of the rod, which revealed the clean plates beneath and used the eraser tool to do the finer work.  Here are the results:


Video Update:  Rigs
11 April 2013

Here is a short video explaining the complicated rigging involved in this shot and Dragonframe's multiple exposure option I am using to shoot Clean Plates.  After several tests in After Effects, I've been able to remove the supporting rigs successfully, largely due to shooting proper Clean Plates as I animate.

 

27 April 2013

I've hit the 500 frame mark on Shot 10 so here is a time lapse with all the frames comped in.  After 2 months of shooting, the blocks have stopped and the wall is complete, next week I start animating Gumby and Pokey.

 

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Comment by Anthony Scott on November 3, 2015 at 10:48am

The finished spot can be viewed on the recently released DVD: The Gumby Show which contains the complete 50s Series, fully remastered with the original soundtrack. I have also embedded the various stages of the final spot at the top of the GLog.

Comment by Anthony Scott on July 15, 2015 at 11:16am

The Gumby.com spot had its premiere at San Diego Comic-Con on Sunday during the 60 Years of Gumby Panel. It was a fun crazy time at SDCC, my first time attending. Here's a pic from my point of view on the panel.

The panel consisted of Joe and Joan Clokey from Clokey Productions, Gumby comic book illustrator Rick Geary (National Cartoonist award winner), Stop Motion Legend Harry Walton, me and Mary Flynn from NCircle Entertainment.

I am still waiting for the final ok to post the finished spot. Will put it up here as soon as I can. 

Comment by Don Carlson on June 9, 2015 at 11:12pm

COOL! Is the 'Putty working well for you? I'd love to what you like and don't like about it.

Comment by Anthony Scott on June 9, 2015 at 11:36am

Here is an update…2 years later! Where does the time go? I pulled the Gumby.com spot out of hibernation a few weeks ago. I had to shelve it back in June 2013 in order to relocate to Montreal to work on The Little Prince. Now back in the US, I decided to get back to work on the spot. Last week I finished all the post After Effects work. Sound effects and music are currently being created. For the time being, it has been decided to just use Shot 10 from the spot as a 30 second promo piece for the Gumby.com website. I hope to post the finished short here in the next couple of weeks. 

Comment by Anthony Scott on March 16, 2014 at 6:18am
Here is an update to the GLog. Due to other full-time animation commitments, the Gumby project has been on hold since June 2013. I am looking forward to shooting the rest of this spot in Fall 2014. Stop Motion is a slow process, especially when you do everything yourself, as I am sure most of you know by now. This project is exciting to me since I am doing everything myself. I usually work with a team of talented people who set up the lights, camera, build puppets and sets, and perform all the Post work. This has been a challenging and rewarding learning experience and I will continue to post updates in the future.
Comment by Don Carlson on June 25, 2013 at 2:06pm

Oh, I see! Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Comment by Anthony Scott on June 25, 2013 at 4:03am
There was a point where I had to start animating from both sides of the set which required me to rotate the monitor in order to see what I was doing. Then I would rotate it back before shooting the frame. It never went back into the same spot which is why it is moving so much.
Comment by Don Carlson on June 24, 2013 at 4:24pm

Looks really great. The behind the scenes really humanizes the process. All too often we see finished shots, and stills of things with rigs, and it all looks so clean and perfect, but there's only a rare glimpse of the animator cleaning up the work space as they animate, expertly stepping around C-stands, avoiding bumping the camera with their shoulder, etc.

I thought that it was especially interesting, getting into those days where you could only shoot a few frames because the monitor to the right of the set is stationary for most of the video and then it's in a different spot every five frames or so. Is there anything you were doing that required you to touch the monitor (other than to turn it on and off each day)? At any rate, I don't see you grabbing it with both hands and banging your head on it, so it appears the shoot went well :)

Comment by Dieter Wagner on June 24, 2013 at 11:22am

that is an awesome setup!

Comment by Anthony Scott on June 24, 2013 at 9:57am

Finally started the post work in After Effects.  Connected my laptop to a giant flatscreen tv....the best way to see all those little rigs and unwanted pixels!

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