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Creator Q&A: "How did they do that?" 2014 Staff Favorites Edition

Riley Hooper
January 13, 2015 by Riley Hooper PRO
Greetings, Vimeans. Welcome to the new year! I hope you've had a chance to peruse our [2014: Year in Video a.k.a. Staff Favorites](vimeo.com/timeline/2014/) page and watch curation’s [Best of Vimeo 2014](vimeo.com/blog/post:667). Last year, the good people of Vimeo Video School chose three particularly perplexing pieces from that top 10 list and picked the brains of their makers. And we've gone and done it again for 2014! I guess that makes it an annual tradition. First up, let's slow things down with [Josh Izenberg](vimeo.com/izenberg) and learn what went into creating his highly acclaimed short doc "SLOMO": [clip: 59749737] **VVS:** *One of the most striking aspects of your film is the slow-motion tracking shots of John on the boardwalk. The close-ups in particular are quite impressive. How did you shoot and stabilize those sequences?* **Josh Izenberg:** After some trial and error, we ended up putting our DP, [Wynn Padula](vimeo.com/wynnpadula), in a pair of roller blades carrying a camera mounted on a handheld steadicam device. Even with that double stabilization plan, we had to shoot most of the follow shots at a pretty wide angle. The reason some of the tight shots are slowed down so much in the opening sequence is because it was the only way we could create a sense of smoothness with a telephoto lens. **VVS:** *Everything from music choice, color correction, stylized cutaways, to animation style and title design all combine perfectly to create a cohesive film that really captures John's character and energy. Can you tell us about some of those creative choices you made, and why you made them?* **JI:** The music generally had to have a feeling of motion and rhythm to it that was smooth, and could give a feeling of uninterrupted gliding. Different musical stretches served different purposes, whether fostering a feeling of frustration, hopelessness, or transcendence. I worked with two composers, Nate Sloan and Nick Gage, each of whom had a different specialty. Nick did the more rock-style pieces, and Nate did the more ambient stuff. Regarding the animation, we wanted something that was both childlike and whimsical to explain a complex neurological idea in a simple straightforward manner. But yeah, I think everything had a slowness and smoothness to match John's skating, his general cadence of speech, and affect. **VVS:** *Did anything unexpected happen while making this video that you had to adapt to?* **JI:** For a documentary, the shoot was pretty smooth. I think our biggest obstacle/adaptation was that we tried to shoot with a full steadicam, which turned out to be much too cumbersome. We wasted a whole trip down to San Diego to try that one out. It took a while to land on our DP-on-rollerblades idea, as simple as it sounds. **VVS:** *What was the greatest challenge and greatest reward of working on this project?* **JI:** The greatest challenge from this project was pulling a cohesive story out of the events of one person's life — our lives don't immediately translate into narrative arcs without some discovery in the editing process; I have Traci Loth and Amanda Micheli to thank for that. There were many rewards, but the primary one was just getting to spend so much time with such a lucid, unique human being. That rubs off on you. Next up, it took animator [Hisko Hulsing](vimeo.com/user10258855) 20 years of training and five and a half years of work to create his masterpiece "JUNKYARD," but he'll let you in on some trade secrets for free: [clip: 84024649] **VVS:** *Can you tell us about the animation technique you used for this video? How did you go about mixing oil paint on canvas, 2D animation, and 3D animation?* **Hisko Hulsing:** When making classical drawn and painted animation, the backgrounds are painted and can be still, or panned over during a shot. The characters are drawn and colored frame by frame. This is pretty standard. What is special about my method is that I painted [all 120 big background paintings](hiskohulsing.com/illustrations/paintings/) with oil paint on canvas using very classical 17th-century painting techniques. As far as I know, that has not been done since Disney's "Bambi" (1942). In order to fit the 20,000 "flat" drawn characters in that world, we drew them as realistic as was possible for us, using live action reference material and clay heads for each character, which we animated first before drawing. Painting the shadows was very different from "normal" 2D animation, because I used digital brushes to emulate real paint. The 3D animation on the film is done by [Polder animation](vimeo.com/polderanimation), by [projecting my paintings on to 3d objects](hiskohulsing.com/animated-films/junkyard/junkyard-3D-animation/). Trains, the moped, and all moving hardware is done this way. **VVS:** *Had you ever used these technique and worked with these materials before? What training and experience prepared you for this project?* **HH:** I was taught the basis of classical painting technique at the art academy. Later I refined my skills studying Dutch 17th-century painters. The technique of animating clay heads first and using live action as reference was sort of "accidentally" developed in the process of making this film. I have been making animation for 20 years now, the development of my current style has come to life pretty organically. **VVS:** *Did anything unexpected happen while making this video that you had to adapt to?* **HH:** No, it was all planned out. When making this kind of animation, a storyboard is the blueprint. Animators don't have the luxury of having extra material that can be cut, as is true in live action. It's just too time consuming. "Junkyard" took me five and a half years to make with a very small team. Making twice as much animation in order to be able to edit it later on, would have cost me 11 years. **VVS:** *What was the greatest challenge and greatest reward of working on this project?* **HH:** The challenge was to make the story work, to make it as perfect and beautiful as I could at that time — and, first and foremost, to touch people. I happen to know from hundreds of reactions on websites and forums, that some people are sincerely touched by the story. Also, the film won 24 international awards. That's very rewarding. I also was invited by Disney's Blue Sky and Dreamworks to give a presentation of my work to the artists. Last but not least, let's hop into stop motion and see if we can learn a thing or two from [Ainslie Henderson](vimeo.com/ainslie), whose music video for [James](wearejames.com/)' "Moving On" has us all wrapped up (with yarn) in its charm: [clip: 92767692] **VVS:** *Can you tell us about the animation technique you used for this video? This is stop motion and that's real yarn, correct?* **Ainslie Henderson:** Yes, it’s stop motion and real wool. In all my films everything is pretty much "in camera," no After Effects or compositing. I’m a purist, but not through any strict or snobbish belief system. It’s just because I’m lousy with technology and I loathe sitting in front of a computer for long enough to learn how to use it properly. **VVS:** *Had you ever used this technique and worked with this material before? What training and experience prepared you for this project?* **AH:** I’ve done lots of stop motion, but never with wool. When I was in art school a few years back, I tried to make a puppet dance and found it one of the hardest things to do. There’s so much going on when someone dances, the shifting of weight, and limbs swinging convincingly. The challenge of that is maybe what drew me back. If you watch it now, the first shot of the woman dancing is in a wide. That was the initial bit of dancing I’d attempted, and it looks rather poor. I always meant to go back and re-shoot that shot, but ran out of time. I quickly discovered how much better the puppet looked in a mid-shot, rather than a wide, and stuck with that for the rest of the dance. It got me out of a fix. **VVS:** *Did anything unexpected happen while making this video that you had to adapt to?* **AH:** To begin with, I was going to use string to make floors, walls, and sets out of it. However, as soon as we put the wool in front of the camera, it all changed. Wool does wonderful things with light, and it seemed the more we removed the better it looked. So in the end, I made the decision to get rid of all the backgrounds, walls, floors, and just use one color of wool. This also tied into the message that everything is made of the same stuff, which I like. **VVS:** *What was the greatest challenge and greatest reward of working on this project?* **AH:** The greatest challenge was producing this and at the same time directing and animating it — booking a studio, hiring gear, organizing people. But on the other hand, the greatest reward was working with my amazing crew. Will Anderson’s skilled storyboarding, Tobias Feltus' brilliant building of props and puppets, and Michael Huges' ability to draw performances out of puppets that I could only imagine.

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