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Twisted ToyFare Theater: Robot Edition

13 Mar

How about some TTT for a #tbt? Here are two of my earliest professional stop-motion videos that I created for Wizard Entertainment in 2008.

I was never a Transformers fan. Didn’t watch the cartoon, didn’t own the toys, I couldn’t even name you more than 5 characters. But this one was still a ton of fun to animate because 1) It was funny 2) It was great to delve into a new franchise world after the CHiPS episode I made, and 3) I got to collaborate with a bunch of great folks from the writing and voice acting sides! Justin Aclin pulled double-duty as the couldn’t-have-been-more-perfect Optimus Prime AND Megatron. TJ Dietsch‘s Hot Rod still cracks me up and Anime Insider’s Todd Ciolek was hilarious as Ultra Magnus. Justin, Jon Gutierrez and Zach Oat wrote the bit and I’m still proud of how the video turned out, looking back. I put a lot of effort into  the set and it was also when I began to focus on storyboarding these as best as I could as opposed to just setting up the toys and pointing the camera at them.

This one was neat because the GoBots strip this video was based on never made it to print in ToyFare. It was like bringing a deleted scene back from the grave. And as much as I didn’t know about Transformers, I knew even less about GoBots. Thankfully, the script tells the whole story of this franchise’s rise and fall in case you’ve never heard of them either. You can see that I used a bit of elementary greenscreen in this episode, which bugs me seeing it now. Final Cut Pro is not the greatest place to use greenscreen. I tried cutting out every single photograph to fix the rough edges in some shots, so I remember this being a time-consuming and tedious production at points. Major props to Adam Tracey for voicing the main character magnificently and Jon Gutierrez was also great as Joe Barbera, of Hanna-Barbera fame. Rachel Molino, Matt Powell, Dylan Brucie, Zach Oat and Karl Cramer also provided voices – We had the whole Wizard crew in on this one! It was awesome that people took the time to help out with the production of these.

The Animated “TTT” That Never Was

8 Apr

Adventure Kermit

During my time as a Video Editor at Wizard Entertainment, I created five Twisted ToyFare Theater animated shorts which were all based on previously-published strips from the print magazine. Our sixth animated TTT was going to be an original one, though: An Indiana Jones parody starring The Muppets. Unfortunately for the project, I was laid off (along with the rest of the Wizard video department) before I could finish it. I thought that I’d at least release a bit of the progress I had made on it, and perhaps one day I’ll even finish it! (Probably not.)

I believe the writers involved included Adam Tracey, TJ Dietsch, Justin Aclin, Jon Gutierrez, and Zach Oat, but there may have been more, I can’t remember. As a lifelong Muppet fan, I was very excited to work on this. The script had some great gags, like Indiana Frog running away from a legion of wild Koozebanians, the Swedish Chef wielding his cleavers a la the Cairo Swordsman that Indy shot, and a dead Rizzo the Rat (poisoned by bad dates.) There was also this gem:

KERMIT: “Throw me the whip!
LEW ZEALAND: “I only throw fish!
KERMIT: [looks into camera with scrunched up face]

The scene I was most eager to work on was an Ark of the Covenant recreation, though. We had Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, his assistant Beaker and Gonzo the Great as Toht and two German soldiers, respectively, and just the audio alone of those guys screaming as their faces melt/blow up still cracks me up. Speaking of the audio, EVERY CHARACTER’S VOICE was provided by Zach Oat in this episode, he just nailed every one perfectly. It really is a shame I never got to finish this, but at least I can publish the little bit of video I had completed, along with the full audio track here to showcase Zach’s awesome performance. Just close your eyes and imagine the fun Muppet-mation that could have been…

Marvel Legends

20 Mar

Ohhhhh, Marvel Legends. The heroin of action figures that pulled me back into collecting just when I thought I was out. But this line of super-articulated, amazingly-detailed toys was more of an inspiration to me than a hobby.

These new Marvel toys were far different from the ones I was obsessed with as a child and they caught my eye when they hit store shelves, even though at the time (around 2002-2003) I had lost a bit of interest in toy collecting (except for PlayMates’ World of Springfield Simpsons toys, that is…) and had even less interest in comic books. But I broke down when they released Beast and Gambit, probably my two favorite X-Men characters. Individually-articulated fingers! Opening jaws! Cloth jackets! Simply irresistible…. Thus began the destruction of my wallet and wall space that would last all through …. what day is it today?

Upon graduating high school, I was just beginning to focus more on animating although I never imagined that one day people would pay me to play around with toys. I had used my Star Wars, Simpsons and Dragonball Z toys in some animated shorts in the past but the level of articulation and detail in these Marvel Legends made me want to up my game and really see what I was capable of doing with these new, talented actors at my disposal. The GIF below represents the first animation that I was “proud” of making. It was made on my dorm room desk, freshmen year of college, 2003.

BeastDanceParty

Possibly around 2005 or so, I decided to re-enact a scene from The Usual Suspects using members of my growing Marvel Legends collection. It was just a test to see if I could draw mouths on the still frames that would sync up with the audio. I still hadn’t yet had the epiphany that using a digital still camera to shoot the frames would be much simpler than my method of choice at the time: Recording a few seconds on video tape, stopping the tape, moving the figures, repeat until done. Then, I’d capture all the footage on my computer and save each frame of video whenever it would change as a JPEG that I would then drop into a sequence in my video editing program, which I think was Sony Vegas… ridiculous. I also still hadn’t gotten the hang of securing my light source and camera to eliminate that jumpiness from frame-to-frame. But it was good practice for the process of animating mouth movements and facial expressions that I use all the time now.

Introduction to Animation

20 Mar

This seemed like a good topic for my first real entry: My very first attempt at stop-motion animation. (Or, at least the earliest instance I could find.) I was going through some old VHS home movies and found this:

 

I can’t be sure of when it was made, but I assume around the mid-90s. It looks like I taped over one of my Star Wars fan fiction videos in which I cast my collection of Kenner’s Power of the Force action figures (released in 1995.)

I do remember animating this, though. I was in my mom’s basement workroom, set up on a table beside her as she was no doubt working on one of her many, many crafts that she has painted, sewn, sculpted, built, beaded and brought to life throughout her career as a craft artist. So, with all this artistic material around me (Sculpey clay, fake flies, rubber stamps, blocks of wood, googly eyes, everything and anything) I was inspired to cast a head out of clay and use my dad’s video camera (which at the time was about as big as a suitcase) to record the character’s actions. I have no idea how I got the idea to record a very short clip of video and adjust the character in between frames in order to create animation. I wouldn’t even know that the process was called “stop-motion” or”stop-action” for years to come. I honestly don’t remember where I learned the method, whether it was something that dawned on me or something I saw on Reading Rainbow, or something a friend or relative taught me, don’t know… But, I hope that I have improved somewhat in my skill since this early attempt.