Thursday, August 28, 2014

Unexpected Collaborations: Robocrop process

This week's post is about the Robocrop video and the process behind making it. It was quite a different approach to Sweetfighter with the entire video this time shot in camera. We used lighting techniques and wired props to tell the story of an agricultural / robotics collaboration. Our concept was to present a futuristic vision of nature through the symbiotic relationship between science research and nature. The idea was to use plants but have them glow, Avatar like and also be wired electronically to sway as if swaying in the wind.

Having proposed all this in our storyboards we then had to figure out how to build it so began nightly tests using fluorescent fluid to make the flowers and plants glow. After finding some helpful tutorials online we settled on using two recipes. One based on highlighter fluid and the second on tonic water. The difference between the two was the colour of the glow they created. Highlighter fluid created a more toxic looking yellow glow while tonic water produces a more softer blue glow.
Even the clean up produced some interesting specimens. The close up of the tissue looks almost cosmic.

We also tried different methods for getting the plants to soak up the fluid, A – through the cut stems which took a bit longer to take affect and is less effective, B – soaking the flower blooms directly in the fluid. Much more vibrant and the effect can be seen within hours. Just watch out that the blooms don't start to disintegrate! The variegated devil's ivy was soaked through the stem in highlighter fluid for about a week and you can see the glow start to spread through the veins in the leaves. It was really interesting doing these experiments. We'd love to do another project using similar techniques. Not that plants aren't already naturally beautiful but it's amazing how they can be transformed through a relatively lo-fi technique. Down below you can see some of our glow tests on kale, fox glove and the garlic flowers.

Although for glowing purposes white and pale pink flowers worked the best we had to make sure the plants we used were edible. Luckily were able to source some pretty interesting plants at the Eveleigh growers market as well as the Chinatown markets where we scored garlic flowers which we'd never heard of and the enoki which looked amazing under the blacklight.

Meanwhile my partner luckily has started to tinker in electronic gadgetry so offered to build the contraption needed to wire the plants. He used an arduino board with a manual trigger, some of the early tests show a bit of experimentation with how to get the wires hooked up to the plants elegantly. We initially used metal collars which gave a nice motion but looked a little too steampunk. In the end we wrapped the wires directly onto the stems and crossed our fingers the force wouldn't snap them. 

Some shots below on set of the plant set ups in 'daylight' and under the blacklight. The same plants were used for both sets. One of the advantages of using the tonic water to make the plants glow is that it's clear in daylight (unlike the highlighter fluid that gives off a faint yellow tinge).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shop sale

We're having a sale over at our etsy shop with everything available at 25% off everything when you use the code 25off at check out. The giclee prints are what we have on stock so are ready to ship immediately. There are different stock levels with some like Aim to misbehave (pictured below) with just the one available. There are also a handful of embroidered originals and wall hangings also available. Sale ends this Sunday the 24th.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Unexpected Collaborations: Sweetfighter process

Earlier this week I posted up about the video campaign we worked on for the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre. As briefs go this was a treasure to work on. The campaign centres around the theme developed by The Monkeys, of 'Unexpected Collaborations', as the centre fosters collaborations across deliberately diverse fields to encourage progressive research and teaching. With this theme in mind we brainstormed ideas using a visual play on the subject matter that would allow us to tell these stories in an engaging but informative way. The concept for Sweet Fighter (diabetes experts working with gaming programmers) was to focus on the theme of balance as it relates to diabetes and the constant need to keep blood sugar levels in check sometimes with the aid of insulin. Balance also tied in well with the other half of the collaboration - gaming - as there's often a sense of using physics and balancing interactions in gameplay.

The end product (view video here) is a series of carefully balanced sets/still lives incorporating fruit, vegetables, sugar and medical paraphernalia. We wanted to continue on the theme of unique insights coming from unexpected collaborations by also including a visual play at the end of the video that would hopefully surprise the viewer and have them question what they were viewing. With this video the mirrored reflection reveals itself to be a whole different world - another nod to gameplay and virtual realities.

We thought it would be nice to share the process behind making these videos as we always enjoy seeing the behind the scenes of other animations and the steps in getting to the final product. Also we had a lot of fun with this project so it's nice to have a record of how it went! For this post i'll focus on Sweetfighter and follow up with Robocrop.

Below are some of the very first storyboard frames created for the pitch. Early on in the pitch process we decided that a mixture of stop motion and live action would be the best way to handle the production as timings were tight. I think in all we had 3 weeks for pre production and shoot (3 days) so a full stop motion production would have been impossible.

It was important that we use as many found 'ordinary' objects as possible but have them behave in unconventional ways e.g. the glowing mechanised plants, bouncing ice creams. Not just thinking laterally but behaving laterally too so to speak. So it wasn't going to be a case of fabricating our props from materials like paper/clay etc like we had done in the past. Initially we thought this would make pre-production simpler. As long as we could source the objects we were fine. But after thinking through the sets (3 alone for the Sweetfighter) we realised how wrong we were. We were going to be dealing with a lot of fresh fruit that needed to be attached together without spilling their guts onto the set, make semi-solid jelly that could be used structurally and figure out how to make ice-cream that wouldn't melt on set and could be manipulated for stop motion.

Luckily the internet taught us how to make fake ice-cream (frosting and a lot of icing sugar) and we had access to Barnes nearby and found jellywax. What turned out to be the trickiest set to make was the first scene and the fruit molecule. We had about three goes creating the sculpture, the first to test the technique of connecting the parts, the second on set for the pre-production shoot to test the rotating base and then on the actual day we had to make it again from scratch. Timing was important so we had a lot of back up fruit raided from the all the supermarkets and green grocers in my neighbourhood plus Paddy's markets. After a near meltdown at one point when I couldn't find a perfectly round and green melon I went upstairs to the supermarket and found the mother lode of perfectly sized round melons. We came home with about 5 and used 0 in the end.

The rigging for the props was one major hurdle especially with the fruit. We thought gluing might work which shows what complete DIY non handypeople we are, but luckily had skewers on hand to spike them together. With clever rigging designed by Mel Pragassen for the spinning hoop (disco ball) and turntable we were able to make the first scene live action.

The next two set ups were a mix of stop motion plates comped together and a bit of live action to capture the exploding balls. With a lot of elements made to look like they are floating in the air rigging turned out to be a bit of a headache! Charlie, Sam and Maricor did a great job on the rig removal. The shaky behind the scenes video of the spinning molecule above and the photo below shows how much had to be cleaned up for the finished video.

So that's how we made Sweetfighter, next up will be Robocrop!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Unexpected Collaborations

We recently completed a motion project for the University of Sydney's new Charles Perkins Centre. The campaign, "Unexpected Collaborations" was developed by Sydney agency The Monkeys who approached In the Thicket to pitch on a series of videos to launch the new research centre.

Working with co-director Mel Pragassen, we pitched a series of videos that would be a hybrid of stop motion and live action. The treatment we pitched back to The Monkeys made use of unexpected materials and objects such as bouncing ice-creams, fruit molecules, buttons and mechanised plants to visualise the innovative and progressive nature of the centre which brings together experts from wide ranging fields.

We were stoked to win the pitch and the following three videos are the product of 3 long weeks of pre-production, testing , a 3 day shoot and post. The three stories told are Universal Similarities (biologists working with astrophysicists dir. Mel Pragassen), Sweetfighter (diabetes experts working with gaming programmers dir. Maricor/Maricar) and Robocrop (farmers working with robotics experts dir. Maricor/Maricar).

We also worked on the design and build of the props for the two videos. Unlike our previous stop motion animations for this project we worked with mostly 'real' items such as fresh fruit and flowers which was a new challenge but thoroughly enjoyable. In the next few posts we'll share some of the process we went through making the props and how the videos were developed.