Will and I have been hammering away at a music video for Miles Kurosky‘s upcoming solo album for the past few months. Miles, along with Nik Freitas, are the team that did the fantastic soundtrack for Upstate Four. Click on their names to listen to some of their songs on MySpace, they’re awesome. We asked for the shortest song on Miles’ album, which is about a dog in a burning building.
Anyways, I thought I’d post some stills from the video. Will and I have it broken up into fifteen-second chunks, and we’re each handling our separate parts. I’m working in Brooklyn and Will’s working in Providence.
The first chunk I worked on was animated with pen and ink in a flipbook style. The drawings are only about an inch by half an inch, but when I scanned them in at 1200dpi I found that they would work fine in 1280×720 resolution. Also, working small kept me from getting finicky about the animation. I made the border with construction paper, tearing little holes in it, scanning it in, and keying out the holes. It’s put together in After Effects with 3D layers. I’ve been meaning to try out the technique Javan Ivey created with “My Paper Mind“, but with a digital workflow. I’m not as into razor blades as Javan is.
Then I just had to go and make things complicated. Dammit. During the chorus, Miles’ voice is overdubbed many times, and it reminded me of the theme song from the Muppet Show, where the audience resopnds with “Why don’t you get things started?”, and it sounds like a crowd, but since it’s mostly Frank Oz and Jim Henson, it also sounds like two people.
So I decided to make a roomful of muppets singing the chorus. Again, dammit. First off, I had to make a muppet. I don’t own any muppets. I was lucky enough to find an old pattern from the 1960’s of a muppet. I also had some foam left over from when I made a scooter seat. It was too thick, so I cut it in half with a very sharp blade. A word of warning: don’t use thick foam to make a muppet. Thin foam, like the kind you can get out of a couch cushion, works best. Thick foam, like the kind in a scooter seat, won’t stay together with contact cement. Then you’ll have to glue AND sew the whole thing together. Also, thick foam insulates very well and after thirty re-takes under hot lights your hand can get pretty sweaty.
The plan was to use one puppet, but mix up the features and color shift it in After Effects to look like many different puppets. I made the eyes out of ping-pong ball halves and hot-glued thumbtacks inside so I could move the eyes around. Also, there are yarn wigs and felt features. The only color fur I could find at the fabric store was blue, so I made everything on the puppet cool-colored and shot it against a red screen. I only had my cheapo digital camera that shot at 20fps, so I slowed the music down by 120%, then when I sped up the shot footage, voila! 24fps.
Then, as I was going to sleep, I thought “Dammit! The song is about a dog! If I had put dog ears on the puppets, it could have been a theater full of DOG puppets!” The next weekend, Will was in town, so I shot about 20 videos of dog-eared puppets singing along. Much better.
With the new and improved footage, I started putting it all together in After Effects. In retrospect, Maya would have been a better choice because of After Effects’ problem with lights and camera moves, but that’s all hindsight. The dogs were put together in groups of five with their chairs. Seven groups of five were arranged to make the whole crowd. Initially I wound up with 597 layers, which makes this my biggest AE project ever. There’s about 2300 puppets in the audience. Of course, very small proxies were rendered so that RAM previews weren’t all that bad. The whole thing was lit with red and yellow lights, which really helped tie the colors together.
A couple tips working with 3D After Effects:
Motion Tile is a handy effect. The carpet of the theater is a motion tile. This allows you to repeat textures over and over for backdrops.
Camera moves are very tricky in After Effects because of rendering time and because of the way all three coordinates are tied to the same ease-ins and ease-outs. First off, shut off all unecessary elements. I roughed out the camera moves using just the theater set. Secondly, parent the camera to three nulls and use each null for a different direction. That way, you can have a steady Z pan as the camera eases to the left and right.
I think my next segment will involve pyrotechnics.