We Are Seven is a one-woman art studio currently producing books, comics, and graphic novels. This blog chronicles my progress.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Emmy and the Ball-Jointed Dolls

(Worst band name in a decade.)

After the completion of Emmy: Self-Titled's prologue, I found myself facing two facts. One was that I loved this project more than ever, and the other was that I had (unsurprisingly) not yet found a puppet I was satisfied with. A previous blog on the matter shows that I finally decided upon a working armature for the Emmy puppet, and I think it worked well for a 3-D comic. However, the puppets/dolls as they are don't stand up on their own and don't change positions fluidly -- two qualities needed for stop-motion puppets.

Although Emmy is an art project in its own right, since the time I decided to render it with puppets and scale sets, I planned to use it as a testing ground for stop-motion puppets. Now, long have I had my eye on the stunning ball-jointed dolls, but their construction looked so intimidating that I never attempted to create one. After trying about a dozen other puppet and doll types, however, I thought I had nothing to lose.

Not wanting to invest too much time learning how to cast in resin before I knew whether or not I'd like BJDs as puppets, my first attempt was in polymer clay. Loosely following this tutorial, I first carved the pieces out of styrofoam.

I then covered them in paper mache...

and finally covered that with Sculpey clay. When baked, the styrofoam shrinks away from the paper mache, leaving a hardened polymer shell.


But yet again, my clay burned and cracked in my toaster oven. :(

(This happens a lot. My oven's lowest temperature is 350. Sculpey and most polymers need to be baked at 275. For the past year I've had this appliance, I thought if I simply baked for less time, everything would work. I was wrong. There's no getting around the fact that you just can't bake polymer clays at a higher temperature.)

So I borrowed my parents' oven. Not wanting to risk an accident involving melting styrofoam, I sculpted new pieces from Sculpey, carefully hollowed them out, and baked them at the proper temperature.

The result was so successful that I then dared to try baking one styrofoam-based piece. It came out beautifully. I think I may have found my new favorite type of puppet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Finished!

Now pretend I posted this two weeks ago when I posted this to Deviant Art.
(It doesn't really matter, though, if no one reads my blog. Right?)

Emmy: Self-Titled, Prologue

Thank you. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Six-Month Update (that has nothing to do with Ultima) Part II

Continuing from Part One.

Once I had a working armature, everything fell into place quickly.
The wire frame is wrapped in poly-fiber filling (thank you, old pillow, for giving your life to this noble purpose), which is then wrapped in gauze.
For the hands and arms, I created a wire base,
and covered it with polymer and masking tape. Afterward (unshown) I trimmed, sanded, and painted them.

I made a head out of polymer and paper mache, and used the same wig I'd made for the styrofoam head (seen here modeled on an older polymer head).
I'd constructed a basic (but conveniently collapsible) set in Florida, and put the finishing touches on it back home in North Carolina.

Behold the collapsibility.

The furniture is made out of cardboard colored with pastel crayons. I may not be able to use them as an artist, but I think my artisan skills are definitely improving. There are advantages to not being able to get any worse.

The prologue to Emmy: Self-Titled is all but finished. I need only two more panels (which involve the creation of two more dolls, both of which are underway). The storyline has, I assure you, improved since it's conception way back in the bored and confused mind of a duel-enrolled college student sitting in a remedial math class.

If you'd like a sample, here's one from my Deviant Art account.
Or, if you'd rather not, I can just link to it.

The Six-Month Update (that has nothing to do with Ultima) Part I

One of my goals this year is to get into the habit of updating, so that I don't have storm waves of information to funnel into a single blog. As it is, this blog will simply need to be in two parts. It also has nothing to do with the updates I've been blogging about. That will be another blog entirely.

But first, a bit of back story.

Many things have happened since whenever my last post was. One is that I accomplished most of what I intended to before my April 1 deadline. Because I have no real, external deadlines for any of this, I decided I needed one. Sometime in January, I asked a close friend to hold me to a deadline of April 1, then four months away. I said I had everything I needed to do written down, and would be honest about whether or not I accomplished it, if only she would nag me about it every now and then.
The list was (taken directly from the index card in my weekly planner):
  • Have a working website for The Disquieted Pen with fifty articles.
  • Have a completed set and puppets for the next (non-Ultima) short, short film.
  • Have 75 completed (on my end) comic panels and website (for Emmy: Self-Titled).

As always, things changed. The last item on my list was amended to read "working site and prolog." The explanation for this is in the actual blog part of this blog. However, I explained the situation to my deadline friend, and she granted her approval for the change.

I did get a working site, though with less than fifty articles. I still consider this a success, though, because I love the site and am so astonished I finished it and managed to get it to look good.

The completed sets and puppets for the other film did not happen, due to a few different factors, which are not related to this blog. The blog for that will come after the forthcoming (belated) Ultima update.

Now, onto the blog proper, explaining what the heck Emmy: Self-Titled is and why it's been taking up so much of my time.

The Six-Month Update (that has nothing to do with Ultima) Part I

Way back in my first years of community college (I was about 17, so seven years ago), I started writing a story about a girl who was an artificially created human being. I knew it was nothing original, and for the most part, it was just for fun. In the boring hours of remedial math courses at the college, though, the story began to grow and turn into something with actual characters and themes (boring college classes have given me so much free time for writing). After a while, the characters and idea began to take root in my brain, and for the next several years, off and on, I'd think about it, and scratch out ideas on index cards. It wasn't until senior year of college (a year and a half (?) ago) that I decided I really did want to do something with this story. I also decided it needed to be in comic book format, and when summer came around, I started sketching it out and tightening the plot.

I storyboarded and wrote more intensely on this story than I ever had before, and realized early on that I would need to learn how to draw if this was ever going to work. I drew and drew, my abilities improving at a very slow rate. Finally, I had figures I could live with. However, having no skill in (or really even a basic understanding of) perspective, the backgrounds all sucked. I kept going anyway.

To my great fortune, I learned that a friend of mine was a talented colorist, and after showing her my ink and graphite drawings, she agreed to color them (that's where the "75 completed panels on my part" comes from). But the backgrounds, which were so clear and stylized in my mind, really, really sucked. In frustration one day, I said "I might as well make minatures of everything and just draw exactly what I see!"

And that is what gave me the idea to do the entire webcomic in three dimensions.

Why not? I love making scale sets and puppets/dolls. It would look cool. More importantly, it wouldn't suck.

I apologized humbly and sincerely to my colorist friend, who didn't seem bothered, and told her of my change in plans. She encouraged me to go forward in my new direction.

I decided I would make the body out of my usual wire armatures and use polymer clay for the head and hands (and any other visible skin).

Simple. :D

My first head, which I really liked, consisted of a face on one half and the back of the head on the other. This way, I could switch out expressions without having to resculpt the hair for each one. I thought it was clever, but it didn't work. First of all, I didn't back the clay fully and it cracked. Secondly, even if it had worked, the clay was too heavy for the wire armature to support.

I hollowed the head out. Still too heavy.

At this point, I went to my first puppet armatures, which were heavier (this involved cutting apart my first puppets, but such is the nature of re-creation).

Behold, the carnage.

The heads were still too heavy.

Head after head, body after body, I could not seem to find a combination that worked.

In April, I moved from North Carolina back to Florida (where I grew up and lived before college). While there, I continued working on the project. My friend (and former mime teacher, with whom I was staying), suggested I try styrofoam for the head instead of clay, assuring me it would be easy enough to sculpt. I tried it. It worked.

I didn't like the way it looked.

In June, I moved back home. My grandmother suggested I use a thicker wire. Since the dolls didn't need to move gracefully (as they do for stop-motion), it wouldn't matter if I needed to use serious force to repose them. I followed her advice.

It worked. :D

For the conclusion, read Part II.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paper Cut-Out Animation

Here's something new to add to my List of Things I've Learned from this project:
I hate drawing on the computer.

About two weeks ago, I realized I had come to hate working on this video. So close to the finish line, I decided to sit down and figure out why. After all the time and setbacks that've gone into this so far, why now? Having finished filming the puppets, I was then working on the computer (moving between Adobe -which I tend to hate- and Gimp -which I tend to like), mouse-drawing frames for the two dimensional animation portions of the video.

Rather than gritting my teeth and trudging on, I listened to some good advice, and decided to alter the situation that I had come to dread. So, I chucked a couple weeks' worth of work out the window, sat down, and started physically drawing instead.

I love it.

Not only did I do more in A DAY than I'd accomplished in the week beforehand, but I enjoyed it. A couple weeks later, I'm still enjoying this new animation process. Aside from the sketchbooks I made as a young 'un, I'd never animated drawings before, and didn't think I could. In just under two weeks, I've gotten pretty good, if I say so myself. Better than I ever thought I could, anyway.

Here's an picture of the raw beginnings.

Today my grandmother reminded me to take my time (i.e., do it properly) and enjoy myself when I told her "I'm ALMOST there!" She's right, of course, but I continue to feel nervous about my progress and my ability to not sabotage myself. Still, if I'm rational about it all, I have to admit everything is coming together.