Pre-Production Update #8: Maquette

Hey, true-believers! It’s been a long time… about 2 years since the last post. Since then, I had to get a day job (paychecks!), a house (adulthood!), and had a daughter (hurray!). It’s been so long that I decided I hated the look of the website, so I switched it up for a more modern look, and the rest of 17 Presidents’ branding will be shifting soon as well.

But fear not, I’ve been able to return to work on “Jupiter IX,” and recently finished off the storyboard!

Now that the entire short is planned out, I’ve been able to start visualizing the characters in three-dimensional space. These rough drafts are called maquettes. I thought a good place to start would be with our mysterious bartender, whom will from here on will be referred to as “Bud.”

You remember Bud, right? Because he remembers you.

The first thing I do when working on a sculpture like this (especially one that requires me to design to specific size) is to quickly sketch out the silhouette of the character at the scale I want. Next, armature wire is bent into shape to create a rough skeleton. I’m using .025″ wire, which is easy to manipulate with your bare hands, but you need to double back and twist the wire together wherever the skeleton needs to support weight (the spine and the legs are the most important areas for this).

Next, I used tin foil to bulk out Bud. This is useful for a few reasons. One, foil is a terrible conductor of heat, so it’s presence isn’t going to throw off any time calculations when it comes time to cook the sculpture. Two, it cuts down on the weight of the sculpture, which gives the added benefit that when the clay contracts when drying, it has the foil to give way, rather than solid clay or wire. And, three, it’s cheaper than clay, so the more foil you can stuff in there, the more clay and cash you’ll have left over. I left a few inches of wire coming out of the foot area, and that’s because I inserted them through drilled holes in a scrap piece of PVC board, letting me tie Bud down, making him much easier and safer to handle.

Now it’s time for clay! I use Super Sculpey for my maquettes, because it doesn’t dry out until baked, meaning I can take my time, even if I need to come back to the sculpture over the course of a week. For bud, most of the smaller details and thinner pieces will be in his head and upper body, so I created his lower half first. This also, obviously, will give the character more support as I additional weight through clay is added up top.

Here’s Bud with his upper body sculpted in and a rough version of his head added. His “mouth” tentacles needed to be created individually, then blended onto the face. Once that was done, and details were carved and smoothed in…

… just pop ’em in the oven (why is it that “pop” is the word everyone uses when putting something in the oven?)! Sculpey  requires low heat, under 200 degrees, so you don’t need a kiln. It doesn’t put off any harmful chemicals while baking, but I wouldn’t recommend making cookies right after, unless you really like the taste of rubber. Bud was able to stand in the baking dish because I was able to use the wire that had tied him to the PVC board to wind up and give him necessary support. I hadn’t tried this before, but will be doing it this way from now on. Otherwise, an area of your sculpture will flatten out under the weight of the clay before it can fully harden.

And here’s Bud, fully cooled and solidified! From here, I’ll be able to know what I need to adjust when creating the final sculpture that silicone puppet will be made from. He’s also ready to be painted, and I’ll be able to finalize paint color and style on the maquette, rather than trying to figure it out on the silicone puppet.

Speaking of the painted Bud, he’ll be making his debut when “Jupiter IX” launches as a Kickstarter project on Tuesday, April 21st. We’ve been putting a lot of work into developing this project, and we can’t wait to share it with everyone. Keep your eye out for it on Tuesday (I’m shooting for 5pm CT)! Let me know if you have any questions about my sculpting process or about the Kickstarter campaign!


P.S. Luke and I obviously had to shave during the last two years.

Pre-Production Update #7: The Thin Blue Lines

Still in the thick of storyboarding. Below is what the drawings look like when I scan them into the computer. I’m doing the boards on a gridded paper, because I wanted the guides when doing the spaceship drawings. However, the decision didn’t really work in my favor, because I thought I could easily remove the blue grid lines, but I can’t without editing the contrast of the pencil and ink work. After this project, I won’t be doing it this way again, since it adds extra work while reducing quality.

SB 010 Unedited

That’s my favorite page so far.


Q&A #2

How is the business going to be handled in the future?

17 Presidents Productions, as it currently exists, is composed as Andrew Johnson (Writer/Director) serving as President and Luke Nader serving as CEO. The responsibilities break down as Andrew being the creative head and Luke being the business head. Once the necessary funds are raised, we will be setting up the production company as an LLC in Texas, because we believe that great animated films can be created in our great state.

Though we definitely plan for the production company to grow substantially in the coming years, we do not want things to get so large that projects are operating completely independent of one another. All decisions will continue to pass through Andrew and Luke in the future. Through this, we hope to insure a consistent level of quality in all our films. Further C Level positions (CFO, etc.) will be filled as the business grows. We plan to add at least two team members before production begins on our major follow-up project to “Jupiter IX.”

Development will focus primarily on original, in-house material, but we will also be open to obtaining material originated outside the studio, such as optioning books, stories, and screenplays, and bidding for commercial work, including advertising. Though our first short film will be stop-motion animated, ever concurrent project will be produced in the style and format that best fits the material. Since Luke and Andrew have degrees that focus on Graphic Design and Computer Animation, and Andrew went on to also receive a graduate degree in Film, we are confident that we will be able to produce high-quality, entertaining genre material for film lovers in many formats, whether animation or live-action.

From a more immediate business perspective, we will be focusing on procuring financing for the production of “Jupiter IX.” To do so, we will be applying for an Austin Film Society Grant as well as launching a Kickstarter campaign this summer.

What are your major inspirations for your current project?

2001, The Searchers, Alien, A Fistful of Dollars, Star Wars, and Unforgiven.

I’ve heard grumblings about Andrew being fired every single night.

Of course he is. It’s far too inefficient to pay him while he sleeps, and this will continue until the LLC is finalized.

And now for the Facebook promised terrifying/hilarious photos. As a team-building exercise built on Andrew’s pre-existing ritual, we will be shaving clean at the beginning of each filmmaking step on “Jupiter IX,” and refusing to shave in between (our wives were in full agreement with this, in case you were wondering). Below are our Pre-Production Kick-Off shots.

Andrew Pre Start Luke Pre Start

On the plus side, Andrew’s beardless photo was horrifying enough to put him on a diet.

Pre-Production Update #5: Storyboarding

Today, we’ll be having a discussion on storyboarding. What is storyboarding? Why do it? Where am I? All good questions, and I’ll be answering at least two of them.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, storyboards are essentially a movie in comic-strip form. All animated films are first storyboarded (usually multiple times) before animation, and many live action films are as well. Most action sequences are storyboarded in great detail as a means for saving money and increasing safety through careful planning. Now, whether a director uses storyboards or not is up to the director. Some use boards (ex. Ridley Scott) and some just use a list of shots needed for each day of shooting. Still a third group (and hopefully the smallest) are those directors that can just show up and figure things out on the day, like Steven Spielberg. However, if you’re not a master filmmaker, it’s your job to be as considerate of the crew’s time and self-prepared as possible, so you should probably storyboard. Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded every shot of his films, and if it’s good enough for the Master of Suspense, it’s good enough for the rest of us. Personally, I board every project that I’m working on. Some directors hire an artist to make their storyboards for them, but if you can draw well, I think it’s fairly lazy to not do it yourself.

Now, there are two main reasons I can see for storyboarding extensively for stop-motion animation projects. First, you want to have every shot planned and timed so that you don’t animate even a second more than is necessary. This is essentially editing your movie before you shoot it. Second, with the shots planned, you know exactly what your camera is going to be seeing, so you’ll want to only build the parts of the sets that will be in view. Both of these reasons save time, and when you’re talking about film of any kind, time is money.

For “Jupiter IX,” I made the first set of storyboards in 2008. These are extremely rough because I just sat on my bed (how professional!) and boarded out the whole movie in about an hour.


These are just thumbnails, 10 per page, and probably took an average of 15 seconds each to produce. They’re obviously not meant to be pretty, instead, I was rushing to get the film out of my head and into a visual form as quickly as possible. These boards are more like the storyboards that are scribbled on the day of filming. In fact, that’s how Martin Scorsese works; he famously sketches his shots on the backs of script pages. Now, there are shots in the above collection that I plan on changing, or replacing all together, but, as I’ve begun creating the real boards, I’m still referring to them as a rough draft of sorts.

From here on out, I’ll be showing you the first 2 pages of boards for “Jupiter IX” and talking you through what’s going on to let you know how storyboards are constructed. Unlike the above thumbnails, these drawings are all at the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is the Epic Film ratio (think “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Searchers”), also referred to as “Shooting in Scope” and “Anamorphic” (both for the kinds of lenses traditionally used for wide screen).


1.1: Storyboards are named after their scene and their shot. In this case, this is the first shot of the first scene, so, 1.1. “Clean Entrance” means that the spaceship is not in frame at the beginning of the shot, and “Clean Exit” means that it’s not in frame at the end of the shot. Clean entrances and exits are useful when editing because it allows for easier cutting. If I want to trim the shot, I will have the option to do so with the spaceship in frame. In this instance, 1.1 will cut just fine to 1.2 without a clean exit, but because I am planning to shoot it as such, I can change it later. The arrow in the storyboard shows the direction that the ship will be moving, NOT the camera (I’ll get to that description later). “WS” stands for “Wide Shot,” which means that the ship will be small in the frame. Wide shots are also known as Establishing Shots, because they are used when establishing a location (like outer space).

1.2: “Pass-Through” means that I’ll be going from the outside of the ship to the inside of the ship in what will appear to be one continuous shot. I’ll be using the window as a means of transitioning between two shots (an exterior miniature to an interior set). “LS” is “Long Shot” (the entire subject is in frame) and “ECU” is “Extreme Close Up.” “Truck In” is a camera move in which the camera is dollied closer to the subject during the shot.


2.1: “MCU” is “Medium Close Up” (from the chest up).

2.2: An Insert is a close up of an inanimate object. In live action, inserts are often shot without the actors, giving work to any number of talented hand doubles out there.

Well, that about does it on the subject of storyboards. Turns out that I still remember at least some of what I learned in film school. Next week, I’ll have the completed first sequence of the film to show you.


Pre-Production Update #4: Searcher 5

Welcome to the second phase of pre-production! Or, more accurately, phase 1.5. I had planned to start storyboarding last week, until I remembered that I hadn’t locked down the design for Searcher 5, the Seeker’s space shuttle.

Searcher 5001

That’s the ship design from 2008. And yes, it is pretty awful, isn’t it? Turns out that sci-fi vehicle design isn’t really my forte, so I’ve got a massive amount of respect for designers that specialize in that area.

Searcher5002 Searcher5003

Here’s the final look. I approached the ship from the stand point that it should feel like a mix between a pickup truck and an RV, something that’s only really meant to transport 1 to 2 people. Also, just now I’m realizing that it’s a little reminiscent of “Wall-E,” which is fine, because that’s a spectacular film.

Now that Searcher 5 is on paper, I can start storyboarding tomorrow 🙂



Q&A #1

In the first of what will hopefully be a monthly event, this post is dedicated to answering questions submitted on our Facebook page. And now, after that unnecessary segue…

When will we be seeing a collective storyboard for your screen play Jupiter IX?

Unfortunately, if you were to see the whole storyboard, the entire short would be spoiled for you, so that’s not going to happen, mostly because I love you too much. However, I will be sharing a handful of the boards with you in March to demonstrate how I plan my shots and to give you little glimpses into the unfolding story.

What’s your timeline looking like? When can we expect to see the production start on this film?

Pre-production will be completed  by April 15th (fingers and toes crossed). This includes character and set design, storyboarding, creation of a budget and schedule, and a temp-tracked animatic. At this point, I will begin puppet construction. As for production, that will rest entirely on the success of our coming Kickstarter campaign. If successful, we can begin shooting in late June/July. If unsuccessful, things will take longer, because we’ll only be able to produce what we can as money slowly becomes available. So, start saving your nickles to finance our film in the summer 🙂

It seems like the developmental design is taking a while are you currently working on other projects at the same time?

Why yes, yes I am.

Wait… you want details? Okay!

Since updates on this site have begun, I’ve continued to expand the website, I’ve written the first draft of what will be 17 Presidents Productions’ second short film, and have been working on the outline for a feature script.

This is a independant stop-motion animation project you are making, so how would one be able to recieve a copy of this feature post production?

Good question. The easiest way to receive a copy of the finished film will be to become a backer of our eventual Kickstarter campaign. The DVD will contain much of the behind-the-scenes material from our updates, as well as much more (including the collective storyboard requested in the first question).

Will Luke fire everyone if this isn’t the best project ever?

Maybe not the best project ever. But if “Jupiter IX” isn’t artistically successful, I can guarantee that Luke (17 Presidents’ resident producer) will fire everyone except me.

That wraps up the Q&A. Thanks for the great questions, and if you didn’t like the questions, make sure to ask your own within the next month.

For those of you still hanging with us, I’d like to show you my gratitude by sharing my failures. Below are some of the character design choices that were just wrong:

The Seeker002

The Seeker004



Don’t forget to Like our page on Facebook!


Pre-Production Update #3: Character Design 3

In this update, we’re getting down to the meat of the film- our hero. Referred to in the script simply as “The Seeker,” JIX’s star fits firmly in tradition as a man with no name, quietly seeing to his business as he pilots the spaceship Searcher 5 on a mission of vengeance.

It’s been several years since I jotted down the first sketches of The Seeker, so I can’t be 100%, but I’m pretty sure it came to me pretty quickly.

The Seeker001

In contrast to Serento’s suit, The Seeker’s is less flashy. It’s worn, and closer to a look that we’re familiar with, which is an indication that it’s old and out of date.

The Seeker003

In this sketch, I just did a little refinement to the space suit from the first thumbnails. I was happy with the overall execution, but something still didn’t quite gel for me: the face. Sure, he’s got the steely determination and world-weariness I needed, but something was definitely missing. So, over the last week, I thought about and worked on the problem…

The Seeker005

… and this is what I ended up with. The key breakthrough for me was changing my figure of inspiration from an admittedly generic Clint Eastwood type to the actor John Hawkes. This design shift gave me two things: one, I’m drawn more so to animated characters with exaggerated profiles (and the vulture-like nose and hollowed cheeks definitely give me that), and two, Hawkes is an actor that bleeds vulnerability even when he’s at his most menacing. As a final touch, I added the large scars across the face, tipping my hat to a past confrontation that The Seeker may have had with the monstrous Serento.

Now that the characters are all designed, I’ll be moving into two new phases in the coming weeks: story boarding the film and creating color profiles for each character. Of course, you’ll be front and center for each new development.


Pre-Production Update #1: Character Design

Wow, it’s been a long time since our last update.

So you’re probably wondering what’s going on with us at 17 Presidents Productions. Well, since our last post, my awesome wife had a baby boy (hurray for Teddy!), we changed website providers, and we moved our family and production offices from Miami, FL to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

It’s been crazy. But, the good news is that now I can focus on getting “Jupiter IX” off the ground. So, in this first Pre-Production blog, I wanted to begin to highlight the first step in artistic development, Character Design. At this stage, I’m in the middle of locking sketches for the secondary characters of the story. I chose to start with these guys for two reasons: one, nailing these characters will help me define the tone and style of the world they inhabit, and, two, it insures that I give every character as much thought and care as I will eventually give the stars.


Our cast includes an android-concierge with a gambling addiction…


… a space station mechanic with an ex-military past…


… and a mysterious bartender.

Expect a new update from me between Monday and Wednesday every week. The project is just starting to warm up, and there is going to be some really cool artwork heading your way.


PS- We got a new light kit delivered today from B&H (! We’ll cover that in-depth in its own update once shooting has commenced.