As you might know, Laura Hollick and I recently created a stop-motion film. It was my first-ever stop motion film, not including the little flip books of the stick man running that I used to make when I was a kid. Those used to drive my mom nuts, because she’d have all kinds of mostly-unused notebooks with frayed corners and little stick men in various poses at the bottom of each page. Anyway, if you haven’t seen our film yet, have a look. It’s called The Beginning.
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It was Laura’s idea to create this film, to show feathers of multiple colors migrating to eventually return home as part of her rainbow feather dress. We didn’t know exactly where the feathers were going to start their journey, or how they were going to get where they were going, or what it was all going to look like, but that’s really the fun of creating something like this. The possibilities are almost endless. We hiked up to The Peak, which has a spectacular view overlooking the Dundas Valley, and talked for hours about how it might be done. We didn’t really come to any conclusions though. When we got up to leave, I saw a very interesting outcropping of rock on the edge of a cliff, just to the side of The Peak. It was entirely surrounded by lush, green vegetation. “Can you get over there?” I asked Laura.
“Yes,” she said.
“We need to put the rainbow bird on the edge of that cliff.”
Finally, we knew where the feathers were going to go. They were going to make a journey from their artistic origins, through the city, and into the forest, finally ending up at home as part of the rainbow bird, perched on the edge of this spectacular cliff. We were pumped.
It would have been quite possible to create enough scenes to make a feature-length film about our feather friends. We had so many ideas about where they could come from and where they could go. We only had a few days to create this film, and I knew it was going to take a lot of time to do, so our first step in organizing all of these ideas was to create some simple sketches and select only our favorites to shoot. Here are a couple of Laura’s sketches. You might recognize the genesis of the Red Feather in these outlines, as well as a list of our “characters.”
The next step was to find the actual locations for shooting. We looked near and far, and drove around the city, finding possible spots to shoot. I snapped some quick frames to get an idea for composition so that we could create a storyboard that made visual sense. Here are the snapshots we used to compose the Red Feather scene.
With some of the initial planning done, we were ready to start shooting the next day. We didn’t stop for the next four days. I was shooting constantly, and when I wasn’t shooting, I was processing the photos and assembling them into stop-motion video clips. We shot the feather scenes at Laura’s studio, Laura’s parents’ home, my own studio, and outdoors at the beautiful Tews Falls Conservation Area, whose shady forest paths lead up to The Peak. Here’s a video of me working with Lissa Hill, who did a great job assisting us in hauling camera gear and costume materials, and animating the feathers up on The Peak. She kept her cool, even though it was often frustrating to work with our lightweight actors in very windy conditions.
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In the end, I’d shot about 1500 photos and processed them to 1080i high definition stop-motion clips of each scene. Some scenes ended up on the digital cutting-room floor. There’s this scene, for instance, that didn’t make it into the film. We shot it as an alternate beginning for the Blue Feather’s journey, just in case the weather didn’t co-operate with our plans to shoot Blue crying out of the graffiti wall.
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After assembling all of the stop-motion clips into their proper sequence, I auditioned a number of different musical tracks. I settled on Under the Kadam Tree from Stockmusic.com. It is one of those rare stock music pieces that doesn’t sound like stock music. I thought the slightly mystical feel created by the tabla and sitar instrumentation, combined with a sort of unexpected jaunty tempo really lent itself well to the mood we were trying to create in the film.
The last step was to create the credits. This was the only segment shot at my studio using studio light. The rest had all been done using natural light, to keep the feel and color as consistent as possible. I designed the credits in PowerPoint and printed them out on cream-colored textured paper. When Laura saw that I’d created one that said “The End,” she was slightly appalled. “It’s not the end,” she said, “It’s the beginning.” Of course, she was exactly right. I quickly replaced that slide with a new one that was more appropriate, and in the end, we found our beginning.