We do all things as stop and move, and Monday is one of those things. Especially last Monday when three young and expert stop motion animators arrived to my studio to work on a set. But first things first.
First was a Sunday studio visit a couple of weeks from a friend - Mark Kessell, an amazing artist and photographer, whom I complained to that I was bored already with the choices that 28 mm and 50 mm fixed lenses had to offer. Is there anything more exciting in the realm of lenses and cameras that would work with my paper mache sets? Something to make sets look dreamlike and surreal?
- Try lensbaby, – he suggested.
Of course, I have never heard of lensbaby. I looked up Wikipedia article but didn’t understand what it said. I looked up lensbaby images and they looked strange. So strange that I felt compelled to shell out $150 – 200 to get that strange new thing to try out.
I went to Adorama and asked for a lensbaby.
- What type of mount?- the sales clerk asked.
- Well, I have Nikon D80 camera and I would mount it onto either 50 mm or 28 mm fixed lens.
The clerk smirked with the sense of superiority that everyone who has ever talked to me about cameras quickly acquires.
- You don’t mount lensbaby on a lens, – he said arrogantly.
- Why did you ask me about the type of mount then? – I asked, unperturbed. If one gets bothered by smirks and ironic glances she will never learn anything she needs for her work.
- You mount it directly on the body of the camera, – he explained.
Now, that was news to me.
- What focal length would that be? – I asked. My concern was to stay within 50mm and 28 mm because that was the best to shoot the sets of the size I had.
The sales clerk looked into a distance as if trying to suppress a laugh, then turned to me and said:
- Lensbaby is NOT a lens.
- If it is not a lens, what is it then?
- It is a device that swivels and tilts.
- But if I mount it directly onto the body of the camera, it must have some kind of lens in addition to the devise?
The sales clerk was not giving up:
- It is not a lens.
- Can I see it anyway?
He called up the “device” and it arrived, new and shiny. Not expensive, but not cheap at $200. The clerk got excited and forgot to keep his cool:
- See this thing?
He pulled out a round small box and opened it.
- Apertures! – he said, beaming. – You put them in by hand.
Here they were, the apertures:
My head started to spin. Apertures that you put by hand (instead of pressing a button) into a “device” that I personally think is a lens! How much cooler can it get?
- Put in 2.8,- I said.
I think more light the aperture lets through the more shallow the depth of field is? Or was it the opposite? I wanted to have everything smudged.
The clerk put in 2.8, I mounted the lensbaby on the camera and turned it on the clerk. Took a snap. A blur of a face. Great!
- I have actually never used a lensbaby myself, – the clerk said with an envy.
I was not going to share it with him. I paid and left Adorama.
On my way to the studio I thought of “Hanna” – a movie I have recently obsessed about (a masterpiece of 4 skills!). I thought I saw a couple of shots where the DP used some kind of lensbaby. Dreamlike and slightly disturbing close-ups of Hanna being disturbed a out of a dream. I couldn’t wait to shoot.
At the studio I tried the lensbaby out on everyday objects, like the lampshade I have seen too many times. Now, all of sudden, it looked quite crazy with the most unexpected things in the focus (see the flowery rag in the background, why is that in focus too?):
But I had not to lose focus myself. The super talented stop motion team of Angela Stempel, Eriq Wities and Jessica Polaniecki were coming in a couple of hours to light up a set and stop motion wrangle it. Actually, Eriq and Jessica had never met Angela before, but I was certain they would like each other and become a team.
Here was the problem. I had a set but didn’t have a good dramatic lighting. My usual lighting designer was directing a show while getting ready for his next show, so I had to look on the side for some good help.
The set consisted of 4 largish paper mache puppets with movable hands and heads:
Those were supposed to be main character’s relatives who wave their arms and shake their head in denial: – No, you can’t be an artist! You are a woman and you have to know your place.
The light had to be sinister and dramatic because later the light would have to change to soft, normal and gentle – when the main character starts seeing her relatives as warm, loving and well meaning people.
Eriq and Jessica walked in and immediately set up Dragonframes (stop motion capture and monitoring program). Great to work with people who know what they are doing (because I don’t know):
Then Angela arrived and took charge of brainstorming ideas for lighting. The challenge was how to create strong shadows without going black and without having too much white glare on the puppets. Putting the light behind the puppets did create the ominous atmosphere. Angela adjusted the cheap Impact lights to the right hight:
Finally, with the help of the whole team the light it right, the stop motion pull and pan rail is prepared for the shoot, secured in place with 2 sandbags:
We mount the lensbaby onto Nikon D80:
We tilt the lensbaby one way and take the picture:
We tilt the lensbaby the other way and take another picture:
We shoot a stop motion pull changing lensbaby’s tilt and focus with each shot. Later, we’ll put the pictures into After Effects and make them crossdissolve one into another, hopefully with an effect of creating a point of view of a person who struggles but can’t quite see clearly.
Now it’s Midnight. In three minutes Tuesday starts. No time to stop and move heads and hands. That is a task for the next Monday.
THANK YOU, The Great Stop Motion Team!