Shooting & Lighting

Now that the cast of characters are all made up and ready for their close up, it’s time for the actual shooting to begin. That means fixing various lighting arrangements for each scene and making sure the sets and props are in perfect order and looking their best. As you can imagine, shooting is yet another aspect of making the animation that relies on technical coordination and communication at the core. Daily meetings ensure every department knows what’s going on and if any changes have been made to the schedule or storyboard. Occasional changes to the storyboard make shooting and lighting a process of constant testing and readjusting.

At Dwarf, a digital SLR camera is used for stop- motion since it’s easier to maneuver than a larger film video camera. Plus a smaller camera makes for more intimate close ups which helps the animators and cameras to get in close to really show those character expressions. Shooting & Lighting is the cinematographic part of the production and one important thing Director of Photography Kan Sugiki and his team need to pay close attention to is appropriate camera angles movement as well as where the actual characters will be placed. Most of this get’s confirmed from the storyboard and in frequent conversations with the Director. Another golden rule for when shooting in stop animation is to proceed in a linear fashion. So scenes are short from start to finish, according to the storyboard. Different scenes may be shot simultaneously on different stages but when working on a particular scene, there’s no jumping ahead to a scene and then returning.

In stop animation, every second of actual video footage shot is equal to twenty-four frames- that is, twenty-four photographs. That’s to complete one second of actual video footage. For every single photo, the animator and camera operator are in close communication and maintain a very methodical routine- the animator sets the scene and gives the OK, then camera shoots and the shot is inspected and if it’s confirmed it’s on to the next one. In terms of quality control, the team is trying to protect against any unwanted reflections a glare coming through the lens or any piece of dust that may have made it’s way onto the scene. As the animator advances frame to frame, computer software is used to track the progression of the character movements. The camera operator notes down messages and other technical parameters on what’s known as a ’timesheet’- a key communication point for the Computer Graphic team needs to take care of in post production.

The storyboard for Plug’s Story called for a good number of running and flying scenes. In order to complete these scenes, the dwarf team organized a series of rigs which allowed the characters to be suspended horizontally and move along such a trajectory. For these running and flying scenes, crane shots and tracking shots with a motion control camera were carefully planned to ensure the smoothest and realest-looking takes. With technical coordination, it’s time to turn our attention to the more artistic and magical part of making the animation- the very art of animation itself.