Visual Effects in Stop Motion

Stop motion animation is a unique form of an animation in that it often requires visual
effects to be complete. Puppets are posed and then shot in a series of still photographs
that create the illusion of movement. Animators often use rigs to suspend the puppet or
a prop in mid-air, green screens are used to add in a background or to break a scene
into more manageable chunks and, particularly for Wapos Bay, fire and water are added
digitally for a more realistic look. VFX are also often used to clean up, repair or change
the animation all together if the director changes his or her mind later in the editing
room.

The first clip demonstrates a number of techniques. Residual flicker, an artifact from the
lenses, needed to be removed on many of the shots in After Effects using GenArtʼs
Sapphire plug-in. The green screens needed to be pulled in After Effects and replaced
with background photographs. And, of course, Andrew Doll, our VFX supervisor and
lead VFX artist, had to replace the light bulb with a time travel portal (that Bryan
MacCallum created in Particle Illusion) and lightning that was hand drawn in After
Effects.

The second clip is quite a bit more complex. Once again, there is some flicker removal
and keying out of green screens but there is added debris when the truck crashes
through the fence. A box is added to the back of the ATV to maintain continuity with the
next shot and dust particles are added digitally as well.

The crane shot over the truck was more difficult because it also includes camera
movement. The highway had to be cloned and extended to the horizon along with the
trees and ditch. Camera movement is added to subsequent shots to simulate the
movement of the truck and green screens replaced with trees whizzing by. A plate of
the exterminators on the ATV is warped to fit into the mirror of the truck. Rigs are used
extensively in the fight on top of the truck and the truckʼs subsequent crash and needed
to be painted out in After Effects (along with adding more dust and debris to enhance
the effect).

The exterminator vision was created with a colour and text overlay accompanied by
rotoscoping and camera tracking to outline Jacob (again all in After Effects). Rig
removal and the time portal and lightning complete the scene. In the final shots, the
flicker was actually left in and enhanced as it accentuated the lightning quite nicely.

Courtesy John Thronberg, Post Production Supervisor

Cold Weather Causes ‘Set Shifts’

Week #2 included some very cold weather which resulted in overnight “set shifts” which were too drastic to continue the same shot and forced some animators to start over again.  When it gets cold the sets actually contract a bit overnight (after expanding during the day with the warmth from all of the lights that we have hitting them) and the micro-variations make a big enough jump in animation land to make the shot un-useable.

But eventually the weather warmed up and so did the animators!  Continuing their blistering pace set in week #1, the animators did their usual high quality animation and it showed as we watched the “weekly” rushes of completed shots.  This is a compilation of the shots that were finished the previous week that we get to watch at lunchtime on Fridays.  Always a treat to see what was finished and it really gives the crew a boost to see that our hard work is paying off!

The Week Before Production – Lighting & Camera Department

Courtesy of Craig Olson, Gaffer (from January 2011)

It’s a week before production on the Wapos Bay Movie and the Lighting/Camera Crew is called in to bring in all the gear (Cameras, Lenses, Lighting & Grip Gear) that our department needs to start the year.  It’s sad to see an award winning Canadian television show come to an end, but I’m excited that we get to do one last Movie to close the show out.  Not too many productions get the chance to say goodbye the right way, knowing that the show is over and having a chance to do what they always wanted to.

Our Crew has worked hard over the last week to get all of our bays ready to shoot for next Monday when the animators come in and shooting starts!  The studio has been modified to fit 10 bays this year which means that we need to have 10 different shots ready to go at all times (ideally). We use almost all of our gear in setting up those 10 bays as our department “stash” area is now almost empty.  Everything is “Tickitty-Boo” according to Peter.  I have learned that the phrase “Tickitty-Boo” is a good phrase meaning that life is good and we’re all happy.

It is the job of our crew to help convey the vision of the Director through camera angles, lenses and light.  We set up the camera and control light to the exact millimeter of where it should be to enhance the visual look of the shot.  Once the DP (Director of Photography) is happy with how the shot looks, the Director approves the shot and will communicate character direction to the Animator.  With the help of the Animation Supervisor (Cam Lizotte), the Director will make sure that the Animator has all the information needed to complete the shot.

This is How We Do It

Wapos Bay is a collaborative effort of over 40 technicians, animators, artists, administrative personnel and a key creative team of writers, directors and producers. The animation studio extends over a 11,000 square foot warehouse and houses all aspects of our production, from the art department and the animation bays to the post-production facilities.

The world of Wapos Bay is brought to life using stop-motion animation. The Wapos Bay characters are 6-8 inch puppets made by a team of craftspeople using plastics and foam latex, metal wire and various other materials.  All the characters are animated using wire armatures, which are movable metal frameworks manipulated by the animators. As the armatures are positioned, 24 high-resolution digital still photos are taken of each small change in movement to create one second of on-screen motion.  (If one second of on-screen time requires almost an hour of work, imagine how long it takes to make a full 24-minute episode!) The eyelids and eyebrow movements of the puppets are hand-sculpted by the animators using Plasticine. Vinyl mouth shapes, designed and crafted in the studio, are carefully placed on the character for every frame of dialogue or expression change, finishing the intricate work of animating the puppet.

Hundreds of hours have been spent by a team of carpenters and craftspeople to create this miniature world that appears life-size on screen. Miniature house interiors and other props are painstakingly handcrafted so they appear lifelike on camera. Forest landscapes are created using a variety of natural and artificial materials to showcase the realistic northern look of Wapos Bay. The look is then augmented by realistic background photos taken in and around northern Saskatchewan. Many backgrounds are also inserted at the postproduction stage by using “greenscreens” and computer effects.

The voices of the Wapos Bay characters reflect some of Canada’s best Aboriginal talent. Actors like Gordon Tootoosis, Lorne Cardinal and Andrea Menard bring their own personality and humour to the stories written by Dennis Jackson, Melanie Jackson and Trevor Cameron.

The Wapos Bay team includes a mix of seasoned professionals and numerous emerging technicians and animators from Saskatoon’s dynamic animation community. The skills and talents they bring to this production reflect the growing pool of impressive artistic and technical talent in Saskatoon. It is through a tremendous combination of creativity, hard work and vision that Wapos Bay has come into being and continues to capture the imaginations of children and adults alike.