Audiences enjoy a good story.
They also enjoy characters and situations that they can relate to. The story becomes personal when those characters reveal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and face conflicts that everyone, at one time or another in our lives, have experienced. And in doing so, create empathy, and convey universal truths about the human condition.
While the story of my film project, The Labyrinth, is taken from mythology, the script for the film centers around the mother/child relationship between Queen Pasiphae of Knossos and her deformed and mentally-challenged son, Asterion, the minotaur.
As such, the film is deeply character-driven. It is a timeless story of love, madness, redemption and hope, as Pasiphae uses all of her strength to keep her son from harm.
The film is to be an animated short subject of 18-22 minutes, using pantomime performance animation (no dialogue), original music, and narration to tell the story. I will be using Kickstarter funds to hire the necessary talent, equipment, and materials to make this film a reality. Cameras, lighting equipment, building supplies to make miniature sets, materials for creating the stop-motion puppets, hiring an orchestra to perform and record the original music, and studio rental space, will be the principle amenities needed to achieve this goal.
Animation, regardless of the technique, is an extremely labor-intensive process. To ensure that The Labyrinth is completed on time and on budget, the tentative shooting schedule will be a completion date of March, 2015, with the goal of completing it ahead of schedule.
WHAT HAS BEEN CREATED THUS FAR
The Labyrinth will be created using stop-motion puppet animation.
Ultimately, it is the story and performances, and not necessarily technique, that will win an audience over. But because puppet animation deals with actual three-dimensional objects that exit in the real world, with the animator stepping in between frames to pose the puppet one frame at a time, a hands-on craftsmanship is established, creating an old-world charm that will compliment an ancient story like the minotaur.
FIRST, THERE IS THE PRINCIPLE PLAYER, ASTERION, THE MINOTAUR
The child of Queen Pasiphae and her union with a bull, Asterion is the innocent victim of a curse played out by the sea god, Poseidon, on Pasiphae's husband, King Minos. Hideously deformed and mentally challenged, Asterion only understands the love and acceptance of his mother, who seeks to protect him from the cruelties of the world. When Minos imprisons Asterion in the labyrinth, it will be up to his mother to rescue him before the darkness and isolation drive him mad.
All stop-motion puppets have a skeletal support called an "armature". It can be made of wire or machined from aluminum and/or steel. Machined armatures can be quite complex structurally, allowing the animator to pose the puppet a fraction of an inch during single-frame animation.
This particular armature for Asterion has a breathing mechanism. By turning a machine screw (which runs from the back, to the front of the chest, the two forward plates are pushed forward or backward, suggesting a breathing action.
There are a number of scenes between Pasiphae and Asterion, when Asterion is a little boy. Below is a conceptual sketch by Mark Sullivan, of the young Asterion.
This sketch was then realized in 3D form; a clay sculpture by Tom Smith:
The daughter of Queen Pasiphae and King Minos, Ariadne has become hostile to the Greeks, when her older brother, Androgeos, is murdered by thieves when he goes to Athens to participate in the Olympic games. Her racial hostility is fueled even more when the Greek hero, Theseus, arrives on Crete as a sacrifice to Asterion. But even in this hostility, Ariadne will ultimately hold the secret of rescuing Theseus from the horrors of the labyrinth.
The following images are of the Ariadne clay prototype sculpture (sculpted by Jeff Yagher), which was used to create the mold that the final silicone animation puppet will be pulled from.
THE PRODUCTION CREW (as it currently stands)
A veteran stop-motion animator, sculptor, and illustrator, Tom is an Emmy-award winning animator on the TV series, Robot Chicken. A few other of Tom's credits include:
- Screen Novelties LLC
Stop-Motion Animator and Puppet Maker for SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and CHOWDER tv shows
Stop-Motion Animator for FRANKENHOLE Television series
Stop-Motion Animator for TITAN MAXIMUM television series
Rhythm & Hues, Los Angeles, CA
CGI Animator on DR. DOLITTLE 2 feature film
Will Vinton Studios, Portland OR
Stop-Motion Animator for THE PJ’s television show
Walt Disney Feature Animation, Burbank, CA
CGI Assistant Animator on DINOSAUR feature film
Paul W. Jessel
Paul is a veteran stop-motion animator on many TV commercials (such as the Hamburger Helper stop-motion spots), having worked for film production companies such as Skellington Productions, David Allen Productions, and Sony Imageworks. Some of Paul's credits include:
- STUART LITTLE
- STARSHIP TROOPERS
- JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
- THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
- THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
- ROBOT JOX
- GHOULIES 2
Considered one of the finest matte painters in the industry, Mark will be offering a traditional matte painting as part of a pledge perk. He has also assisted in creating various composite shots for The Labyrinth, using After Effects, and will be creating a composite shot of the opening scene of The Labyrinth. A former matte artist at George Lucas's famed Industrial Light and Magic visual effects facility, some of Mark's film credits include:
- KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
- ROBOCOP 2
- STARSHP TROOPERS
- A CHRISTMAS CAROL
- STAR WARS THE PAHNTOM MENACE
- THE LORD OF THE RINGS-THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
Born in California, Charles grew up in the city of Thousand Oaks, just outside Los Angeles. Being the son of actor/director Jerome Courtland, he was exposed to the film industry at an early age. He began performing in school and local productions which led to commercial and movie roles during his teenage years. His passion for the arts became apparent early on and has spent most of his career working as a freelance sculptor and decorative finisher both in and out of the film industry.
THE MUSIC SCORE
The music for The Labyrinth is being written by Tom Brierton. Tom holds a B.A. and an M.A. in music theory and composition/orchestration, and has written two symphonies, a tone poem for orchestra, and miscellaneous ensemble pieces. For The Labyrinth, Tom will be writing a full symphonic score with a large percussion section, and mixed choir. Here is an excerpt of The Labyrinth's main theme, "Pasiphae and Asterion" :
HERE ARE A FEW COMPOSITE SHOTS FOR THE FILM, AND HOW THEY WERE PUT TOGETHER
How it was done:
To create The Knossos palace shot, a number of elements were combined in After Effects.
First, I needed a design to show the effects artist, Mark Sullivan. I did a quick line copy sketch of what I was thinking about:
Then, in preparation for his matte painting, Mark rendered a color comp of an early-morning arrival of Theseus' ship:
Once we agreed on a few changes and what-not, Mark created his matte painting:
There was now the issue of creating a practical boat element. An image of a Greek cargo ship was found for reference:
and then Mark created a small model of the ship:
The boat model was placed on a gimbal so that Mark could animate it rocking back and forth on the water.
The boat sail was a separate element as well, using a four-foot square piece of white canvas. Two strings were tied, respectively, to the two lower corners of the canvas while the top of the sail was affixed to a horizontal stick. A small fan was trained onto the canvas, and as the fan billowed the canvas, I would pull on the strings whilst Mark videotaped the action.
Finally, a live-action sea plate (later flipped to match Mark's view of the palace), shot off the coast of Washington, was inserted into the final After Effects composite:
THE MINOTAUR STRIKES!
For this scene of Asterion turning to threaten Theseus, I first started out with production art (created in 3ds Max) of how I wanted the set to appear:
Matte artist Mark Sullivan then created a combination matte painting and practical columns elements:
The columns were created by acquiring a piece of wood at a Home Depot, which had been turned on a lathe for a table leg. I cut small square pieces of wood on a miter saw, and these were affixed to the top and bottom of the column:
I handed this over to Mark, and he painted it to reflect the color scheme of ancient Minoan columns:
The Minotaur puppet was animated by Tom Smith, against a green screen:
Finally, I animated a Theseus puppet against bluescreen:
and then all of these elements were assembled by Mark in After Effects.
AN ANIMATIC TEASER TRAILER
An animatic is a very rough visual, created as a movie. It is by no means meant to represent the appearance and look of the final film, but rather serves as a way for the director to get a feel for camera placement, composition, editing, music, and any possible sound effects, before committing to the final shot, using a low-resolution rendering to quickly get feedback. This particular animatic for The Labyrinth was created using computer animation, as most of the animation puppets for the film had not been created when the animatic was made. Distinct advantages of using a virtual world for animatics (virtual meaning "computer world"), is that the director can quickly place his or her virtual camera and virtual lights anywhere they want, and quickly, thus saving time and money before creating the "Hero" (or, Final) shot. While the trailer indicates a December, 2014 release, the actual release will be March, 2015.
Thank you for taking the time to view the work for the labyrinth!
Risks and challenges
All projects have unforeseen obstacles and hurdles that can reveal themselves through the course of a production, and are often unforeseeable. However, making realistic goals and working them into a production schedule pipeline can greatly help in seeing an overall vision's goal, and help to create workarounds should problems arise.
Filmmaking and stop-motion animation have been passions of mine since I first sat out in the early 70s making film and animation experiments with a super-8mm camera. Legendary effects artist and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen once told me that "Experimentation will be your greatest teacher". How true his words were. The best way to learn anything, is to simply do it, observe, and ask questions.
Animation, regardless of the technique, is an extremely labor-intensive process. To ensure that The Labyrinth is completed on time and on budget, the tentative shooting schedule will be a completion date of March, 2015, with the goal of completing it ahead of schedule.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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