In September of 2016, I decided to try my hand at stop motion. I scoured amazon for a Lego café/bakery set which came with two figurines, one blonde, one brunette and most importantly a red moped. I wanted to play on the ancient tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” and the moped seemed like an appropriate form of transportation for an environmentally conscious modern young woman. I had to purchase the wolf, the grandmother and her bedroom set separately. The wolf wasn’t as scary as I would have liked, but it made up for it with a moveable jaw. The 30 second video took up a week, or so, of after-work hours. You can judge the results here for yourself.
I was encouraged enough to expand on the concept and to tell a more complex story involving a girl who visits her grandmother, only to question whether the menacing shape under the blanket is sweet old grandmother, or the blood-thirsty wolf. What if she confronted the wolf, only to find out that she had attacked her own grandmother? Twisted, yes, but who says stop motion is not suited to dark subject matter?
I went into the process a complete neophyte. I was also new to Photoshop and reasoned that nothing accelerates a steep learning curve than a challenge which either breaks you, or pushes you to the next level.
Oh, yes, and I also had just finished a two-year short film project, “Blood Brothers”, which required much compositing in post. So I figured Photoshop, compositing and a strong story would be the perfect way to cut my teeth on stop motion.
I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t entirely right either. Lots of false starts, but basically I did the following:
For the first scene I wanted to show Sara Capshaw a.ka. Little Red Riding Hood leave her apartment in the concrete jungle and get on her moped. I ordered a bare-bones apartment block from ebay and, in order to cut costs, I used it to stand in for an entire apartment complex. I bought four trees and some shrubs from a company that specializes in train model scenery and used those as anchor points. Simply put, I marked out the layout of four apartment houses, stuck the four trees in front of them and then photographed the house in the different positions that would make up an entire complex.
Repeated the process with a back row of apartments and voila, once composited in Photoshop, I had my apartment building complex. I altered the look of the buildings by moving the bushes around on the balcony, so they wouldn’t look like carbon copies of each other.
The foreground proved more difficult. I wanted cars to pass in front of the building, to give the scene life, but simulating the road in Photoshop wasn’t life-like enough. Neither was using stop-motion for the cars. They were too jerky and instead of moving, they appeared to have been pushed.
I ran out to CVS and bought some asphalt-colored construction paper. Faked up a road by laying down strips of white tape. Tilting the road slightly, I could film the cars rolling naturally, then got rid of the incline in post and the cars seemed to be moving on their own. To get the car traveling in the opposite direction, I played the footage backwards.
Again, you be the judge. I also added shrubs, a poster and the moped model by the side of the building.
The process was both exhilarating and extremely frustrating. Stop motion gives the concept of “patience” new meaning. You could spend hours just to make a second look truthful. But, as far as world-building high, there is nothing like it.
If there is another way to breathe life into inanimate objects and to have God-like control over your dominion, I don’t know it. Add to that the fact that your actors never take a break and don’t complain about overtime.
This clip shows the process and the finished shot. I welcome feedback on the process and the end result.
Next time, I’ll chronicle the saga behind the second shot.