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!

AJ

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

Staff of One

(Originally posted 5/22/12)

I am pleased to announce that Luke Nader, my best friend and frequent collaborator, has joined 17 Presidents Productions as a producer, a move that has added creativity and business acumen to the studio that would not have existed if it were just me alone.

AJ

A Big Announcement for Something Short

(Originally posted 5/20/12)

I love science-fiction; I always have.  As I started film school in early 2008, I already had a lot of ideas for projects swirling around in my head, and one of them was set in the cold, black expanse of space. I don’t remember much else about that original kernel of an idea, but it must have been very strong, because I sat down on my computer and knocked out a quick animation test of small, pock-marked planet spinning against the stars.

This CG test stayed with me for several months until I had to write a short screenplay (5 pages max) for school. What came out was a script called “Jupiter IX” that centered on a quiet, determined man crossing space on a quest for vengeance, ending at the titular space station. It was simple, with just a handful of lines, but the mood of the piece really stuck with me. Even though it was told on a backdrop that was infinite, the story felt claustrophobic, a juxtaposition that I felt could be very successful.

Fast forward several years, and I hadn’t really given “Jupiter IX” much additional thought. I had gotten hung up on shooting my student films and producing my thesis project, but when I graduated film school, things cooled off for me. When I entered the filmmaking job market in Miami in late 2009, I was completely disinterested with the lack of work and creativity that met me. Turning my back on that world, I kept my head down and continued work as a graphic designer, waiting for something to reignite the filmmaking passion that I’d lost.

Until about a month ago. Much like science-fiction, I have always loved stop-motion animation. Two of my favorite films of all time are Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, the latter of which I consider a perfect film. So, about a month ago, I ordered a couple books on the technical aspects of stop-motion, and I devoured them. I wanted to try my hand at it, feeling that it could be a perfect medium for me: I draw, paint, sculpt, write, and have degrees in both film and digital animation. I even have done voice work on past projects. So I started to think of projects to work on, until it hit me… “Jupiter IX” had been waiting for me since 2009 to realize exactly how to make it.

Now, we finally get to the point of this entry. After a period of research and soul-searching, I am officially announcing that “Jupiter IX” will be the first project to be produced by 17 Presidents Productions, and that development is beginning immediately, with the end goal being a completed stop-motion short with professional level execution and storytelling. This will be a long process, and I have no belief that it will be anything but difficult, but I am excited to take the challenge head on.

But there is a second announcement as well. I am asking you along for the ride. Through this journal, I will be making frequent updates throughout development. I will be posting each step of the way to give you a closer look on the challenges, failures, and triumphs that I’m bound to encounter. There will be pre-production and design artwork, as well as photos and videos of work in progress.

So, I leave you with the first piece of pre-production art: the original planet test from 2009.

Thank you ahead of time for your interest, love, and support. It’s going to be a fun ride.

AJ