Making a Rock to Roll.

Recently I looked through the notes from our two test screening feedback sessions and one note struck me as immensely important: 2 audience members didn’t feel connected to the main character right off the bat, so when she launches on her long tirade at the very beginning of the film, they just shrug their shoulders.

I know it was only 2 people out of 60, but the note made perfect sense to me. Too many times I have made the same complaint against other films, indie or Hollywood: don’t throw your character into a shower with the killer lurking unless you have made me to feel for the character. Or, at least for the killer.

The problem I was facing now was classic – how to make audience care or identify with a character in 40 seconds? Because that’s all I had – 40 seconds for opening credits that I could turn into a scene representing our main character’s predicament.

After a brief brain storm with the script’s adviser Sturgis Warner an image flashed through my electrified brain: a tiny woman pushing a huge rock up a mountain. Sturgis agreed: everyone could identify with that image – about life or work, we all feel that we are pushing a humongous rock up a mountain.

Quickly, before it evaporated, I sketched the idea on  scrap of paper. Like this:

Sketch– I’ll build the mountain and 2 rocks from paper mache. – I stated. – One rock will be at the bottom of the mountain, the other will be pushed up by our character. We’ll make the rock roll up the mountain in stop motion with the help of museum wax.

I had heard about museum wax (do not confuse it with wax museum!) from my stop motion friends, but have never seen nor touched it. It was easy to order it from Amazon, and it arrived in 6 days.

While waiting for museum wax, I started to work on the paper mache set. Just glue and old New York Times can make rocks and mountains:

DSCN7109Then painted over the paper mache with black acrylic paint:

DSCN7118Then painted it in color:

DSCN7121When the set was ready, the museum wax arrived and we discovered that no amount of it was big or strong enough to hold the paper mache rock on top of the mountain. Rolling the rock down in stop motion with the help of wax was out of question. Gravity had too much pull and wax just wouldn’t stick to paper mache.

Sturgis Warner, the film’s lighting designer and stop motion animator, suggested different solutions to the problem.

– You could draw the rock, – he said at some point.

But I had a very clear image in my head, from that brief electric brain flash 10 days before. The rock HAD to be three dimensional and in stop motion for the hand drawn two dimensional character to push it up the three dimensional slope.

Sturgis was losing patience with me when he came up with brilliant solution:

– Lets turn the end of the mountain up and tilt the camera. That way we wont have to fight gravity.

So we did that:


But even then the museum wax would not reliably hold the rock.

– If I only could hold it with my finger from the top! – Sturgis said. – Wait. A finger!

He walked away and came back carrying a long stick with a long nail attached at the end.

– Lets try this.

It worked:

DSCN7136We shot the rock rolling down the slope, and I put it in After Effects in opposite order to make it go up:


Then in Photoshop I erased the stick and stamped out the nail, adjusted the timing to the character’s efforts and now we had a clean rolling rock:


The stop motion sequence is ready for the animated character to enter action.

Stay tuned!

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in The Work in Progress, Uncategorized, Videos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Making a Rock to Roll.

  1. gnoonan says:

    Tilting the camera was BRILLIANT. Reminds me of the Monty Python skit where they had a character climbing a sidewalk by putting the camera on it’s side.

  2. gnoonan says:

    The tests also look great. String sense of the rock being strenuously pushed up even without the character there.

  3. Jud says:

    Awesome Signe! So exciting to see this little adventure in film making!!! 🙂

    • Yay! an adventure!
      I had actually been in a dark place in early April, started to come out of it a week or so ago. I might snapped out of it because of the spring finally here, or the immense amounts of liquid B vitamin I have been drinking or that we finally see the end of this monstrously huge project! : )

  4. Matthew Koh says:

    Oh cool!
    Now the name “Rocks in my Pockets” makes more sense with this!

  5. Lasse says:

    Super! Can´t help of thinking of one of my favorite animation all time

  6. Marija Miletic Dail says:


  7. tonatw says:

    I love to see these cool solutions – making this film seems kind of Sisyphusian (?) itself and your deadline makes mine seem distant, and me feel less alone indoors filming stopmotion on this gorgeous spring day. Had never heard of museum wax: maybe since I’m working with scraps of paper it would replace good old blue tape. It looks like a Perfect opening scene and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. ¡¡Animo!!

    • Yes, try museum wax! If you are in Brooklyn, I could give you my load that I got from Amazon and won’t use… let me know!

      • tonatw says:

        I actually already went ahead and ordered a small jar from amazon … but Thank you! – that’s great, I don’t know when I’ll next be in Brooklyn, but if it turns out it works and I love it, I will definitely let you know.

  8. G. Melissa Graziano says:

    Another alternative would have been to lay the set and “rock” flat on a table, and shoot the animation with the camera pointing down using a copy stand or Manfrotto arm.

    For stop-motion objects (paper or otherwise), you can also use double-sided tape (stick it to your pants first to get rid of some of the tack), Stick It! (double-sided tacky strips of plastic usually used by costumers, can be bought at JoAnn Fabric), or Micro-Mark’s Detail Tack. You can also use very small semi-dried blobs of rubber cement balled up with your fingers (I call them “boogers”; once you try this, you’ll know why!).

  9. Pingback: Getting to the Finish Line. | Signe Baumane

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