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The Land Eaters
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How I made "The Land Eaters" from Brandon Ray on Vimeo.


Wow! Over the past few weeks, The Land Eaters got over 10,500 hits on Vimeo... and the hits keep on climbing. Well, with this enthusiastic response I thought I'd write up a little something about my animation process for the digital short, since it was filmed with the ~$200 Flip Mino HD usb camcorder, a fun and affordable little gizmo.
Flip MINO HD Chrome!

 

So here's a little bit more about The Land Eaters:

 

The Land Eaters is my most recent animated digital short. There wasn't a whole lot of cerebral planning involved... my inspiration for the story stemmed from my fundamental concept of nature- consumptive, cruel, yet somehow beautiful. My starting point for the narrative came from a series of paintings my wife did while she was in Buenos Aires, Argentina last year studying abroad.
In front of those gorgeous landscapes, I could see some sort of dark & twisted plot unraveling.

In terms of aesthetics and technique, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone a little, so I limited myself on what I was allowed to 'animate' in After Effects (the software I love the most).
I decided that I'd animate (as much of) my characters with paper cut-out puppets as possible, in front of a green piece of 59 cent poster board so that I could composite them in front of Lisa's lovely backgrounds after I captured them into my computer.
On top of that, my good friend had recently purchased a little gizmo he was in love with, the Flip Mino HD. I loved the idea of a cheap HD camera that shoots 1280x720p... something that financially should be accessible to most anyone for a $200 price tag! Also, my procedure would be experimental, so if I didn't film something the right way, it would be cheap and easy to re-shoot it (no tapes!).

You can see a few quick production shots before they were edited taken with my Flip here. After checking that out, read the breakdown of the process I used to make The Land Eaters below:

First I drew my large characters with a Sharpie Marker on *thin paper* and cut them out. I used thin (not heavy) paper so when moving, the paper would rustle and shift in perspective somewhat, creating a look that I couldn't easily achieve in After Effects alone. I drew them large because one limitation of the Flip Mino is it won't focus on something
closer than 5 feet away from it.

I taped coffee stirrers to the backs of my pieces to move them around. The only reason I used coffee stirrers is that's what I had available (I bought them for a party a year ago and haven't used them since). I'm sure there are a number of things that would work better as moveable handles, since this was the most tedious part of my post-production process later (motion tracking the black stirrers and getting rid of them in After Effects). As I mentioned above, I recorded my puppets in front of a green sheet of poster board, serving as my green screen. I shot this footage on my Flip in my backyard during daylight hours, since the Flip's footage has the least amount of noticeable gain when shot in the bright daylight (from my tests, at least). Besides the puppets, I filmed the bubbles in my hot tub, crumbled and dropped some leaves in front of the green screen, and even sprayed some 'silly spray' for the fish's urine/waste.

When I brought my footage into After Effects, I used the Keylight plug-in (it comes with CS3 and CS4) to key-out the green poster board, and I inserted Lisa's paintings in its place. I love those landscapes! Well, some motion graphics were needed to bring all the elements together harmoniously, but for the most part, the characters movements were presented as they were filmed with the Flip! With a little love from the Bevel and Drop Shadow layer styles, my characters had a nice look that helped them stand apart from the colorful backgrounds. I also added some old-paper texture to them so they didn't look quite as flat.

Lisa and I made the musical track together in Garageband with the help of a little usb keyboard. I'd been humming that baseline ever since I started drawing the characters, so we had a pretty good idea of the kind of tribal beat we were trying to make.
"The Savage Jungle Awakens!" would be the title
if I were to name it, I suppose.

After I edited my shots together in Final Cut Pro, for the grand finale I took the entire sequence back into After Effects, added some flickering lights and applied a wiggle value to the RGB balance (like .5), just to give the sequence a constant yet very slight variation. Then I took this nested timeline and Posterized the time to 15 frames per second, trying to give it a little bit of a 'stop-motion' effect with the slightly changing values. Viola!

Thanks for watching and commenting on The Land Eaters. I hope this little write-up about my process was either interesting or helpful to those curious about my Flip Mino HD workflow. I appreciate all the positive responses and nice feedback it's generated so far. It aired on Episode 182 of Channel Frederator on June 2nd. Visit back to houstonedit.com for more updates!

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