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Monday, April 11, 2011

Cardboard Golden Gate

That's riiiiight! It's time for another Johnny Walnut music video, and you know what that means. Cardboard. Lots and lots of cardboard. This time, the video will be shot using an ambitious style of mixed media stop motion, lead by a team of cardboard artists, awesome animators, and an army of paper cutting interns. I've taken my place among the build team as cardboard alchemist, transmuting corrugated sheets into worlds.

For the first shot, they needed a bridge. The Golden Gate bridge in fact.
I asked, "How big?"
They said, "As big as you think it needs to be."

Hoo boy...


I started by doing some a little research and some math. The scale of the animated actors on average was 1/2 inch, meaning for every foot in real life would be 1/2 an inch in the model. I quickly realized that if I was going to do an accurate scale of the Golden Gate, even at 1/64th scale, it would end up being longer than the building we were shooting in. So I had to get creative.

I would have to use an optical technique called forced perspective to create the illusion that the model bridge was longer than it actually was. I would make the tower closest to the camera at a 1/64th scale, and the tower farthest away at a smaller 1/128th scale, and then connect them with a bridge span that tapered from one end to the other.

I started with a simple setup to get the basic idea in my head, with some help from Iron Man standing in where the animated character will be in the final shot.


I concluded that 16 feet was the right length, and the relative height between 1/64th scale, and 1/128th scale was enough to complete the illusion. What followed was more math than I care to relive.

I started with the main tower, which in reality measures 500 feet from roadway to the top. Check here for more nifty facts and numbers.

Yes there is a little satellite dish on the top. No it doesn't get HBO, only this guy.

Next came the first three foot section of road, sidewalk, and the little criss-crossy bits under the span. I'm sure there are very technical terms for all of these things, but my engineering degree is written on a piece of cardboard with a sharpie. All I know is I had to cut out a rediculous amount of triangles.

Street lamps. Lots and lots of street lamps.

Then it was time to do the same thing... only smaller!

Aww, they're friends!

After mini tower was done, I was faced with the next challenge. The span. The roadway had to start at 6 inches wide at the front where the big tower started, and taper down 3 at the end to meet up with the small tower. With the help of a chalk line I managed to get a general guide of where to cut.


The next part was really boring, there was a lot of cardboard cutting. Just picture it through montage.

Another challenge to this whole piece was I needed to design in to separate into sections so I could fit it into my car for transport. But before moving it to the set, I had to take it outside to impress the neighbors.

What's that Mr. Jenkins? Oh I'm just test driving my new bridge.

I also made a little viewing window to see what the final shot might look like.

After the bridge safely made the journey to set it was time for it to get painted, strung up with lights like a Christmas tree, and ready for it's debut.

Buildin' bridges! Thanks to Laura Valladao for the sweet pic.

This is only the first set of many for this video. More to come.

Be sure to check Flickr for other tidbits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewelium/

Monday, April 4, 2011

Embrace Your Vices - Hero Props

When making low budget movies it's a constant struggle to avoid logos and brands of existing products. Everything these days seems to be a walking advertisement for something. So I always enjoy it when a director puts in the extra effort into the details, and makes the products in their film unique and part of the world they are creating.

First things first: this film needed booze. My custom bottle labels have been popular among film-folks and gift-givers alike, so I've pretty much got my system down to a science. The trick of course is finding the right bottle. Luckily I have a "cool bottle" shelf in my workshop, right underneath the "boxes filled with small things I don't know what they do" ledge.

From old to new in seconds, that's the power of Oxyclean!

Handy Tip:
Never underestimate the possibility to screw up simple things.
Always print two of each label.

Next on the list were cigarettes.

Now I'm probably the last person to know anything about cigarettes, and I can't stand smoking for plenty of reasons. But there is one thing I now can't deny... cigarette packaging is wicked cool. Seriously. I'd never touched a pack in my life before this project so I had no idea, but these things have had the ever-living-daylights designed out of them! Up to the pop-top box and down to the shiny branded foil on the inside. Cinematically awesome.

So after I had had my first smoke shop experience (the guy gave me a funny look when I had to keep checking my list to remember what brands and numbers I was supposed to be getting. I know, I'm a nerd) it was time to get down to business.

Since I was short on time I decided not to do this from scratch, but instead just modify some existing packs. Also, this way all them would be full.

Ha HA! Take that movies, I'm a Blog!
I don't have to worry about showing brands.


For the most part the director let my imagination run wild, but he did have some specific design and style elements he wanted incorporated in the branding. Menthol or not, length, box size... I had no idea there were this many options!

Useing the powers of my constant nemesis, mathematics, I reverse engineered the various boxes and created a template in Photoshop and designed the brands. I decided to do a couple test boxes with papercaft before I did any modifying.

Don't worry, we can rebuild him. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

After the final designs were approved by the director and art director, the designs were printed onto sticky paper and cut.

Then it on to the nail biting process of putting it all together. Because I wanted it to be as seamless as possible the label was only cut into two parts. Once I started, there was no going back.

Phew, only four more to go.

In conclusion: had a blast designing these. Definitely hope I get to do more in the future.


Be sure to check out the Flickr Photostream to see more detail shots! : http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewelium/