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:
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.
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
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 series, Filmtools 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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.