We’ve just finished the music video for the awesome track “I’ll Be A Ghost” for Nottingham’s We Show Up On RadaR. In the video we mix live action narrative with a beautiful stop-motion shadow puppet animation that gives the audience an insight into the back story. The two styles are then joined together by compositing the animation onto polaroid photographs that appear in the live action sections. Here’s how it was done…in words & pictures.

The shoot was fairly standard – a day out and about on location (no studio) with a small crew and basic HDSLR camera kit. A few basic lights but nothing major. I’m a fan of natural light so we tried to make the most of what we had available which was a lot since the sun was blazing! We started first thing in the morning at the first location, a living room in a house. The light through the window and a couple of lamps were enough to light the scene. The hardest thing was for the art team to operate the wasp puppet which proved to be quite tricky, especially with the wind. The wasp puppet was made in the weeks prior to the shoot and carved using insulation foam and covered in modrock then painted and strung up.

The next location was a shop front. Nothing tricky about that except getting the sync right with the music. I decided early on that it wasn’t going to be a performance based video but rather a narrative with a few key vocal lines thrown in. So cueing up the lines was slightly time consuming. The next location, under a tree in a graveyard, would contain the first element of visual effects. In this scene Andy had to pick up a photo which contained a moving animated memory. I didn’t want to lock off the camera and just composite the animation over the top so I created a polaroid with a series of cleverly positioned tracking markers that allowed me to track the scale, rotation and movement of the photo in post. The finished animations would then be inserted afterwards. After that we had to do a few takes where Andy dropped the photo and walked out of shot to allow for a jump cut where he gets sucked into the photo. (Difficult to explain, easier just to watch the video). Animal masks we made for the band members to wear.

From here it was a simple set up in a field down the road in a town called Southwell and then over to a small wood in another town called Worksop. Here we shot another photo sequence and made use of the amazing sunset that was coming through the trees and giving off the most amazing light show.

As it got dark the art team dressed a small clearing in the wood which would act as the set for the final scene where Andy finally catches up to the wasp. A brilliant set of wicker lanterns/pods constructed for the film lit the set along with other cosmetic lights. Hand held key lights were used to light the wasp and Andy’s face. We also did some great hand held camera shots in there as it was really tight – I even gave the camera to Andy at one point and just said, “You do it, it’ll be way easier!”. The shot came out great too.

The animated sequences were storyboarded before we started any cutting. The sequence of events has to be clear otherwise you just end up creating randomness and that’s not a good thing when animating since it’s so time consuming. The art team, Amy Nicholson and Sarah Lewis spent a whole day cutting out and articulating the shadow puppets. We ran a few tests on the first day so we knew that we had the right number of puppets and they could move correctly.

The next three days were long and tiring. Anyone who animates will know that it’s hard work and even though we had storyboarded the whole sequence, some section still stumped us. “How do we do that?!” was uttered many times. The shadow puppets were animated using a custom built lightbox with five panes of glass suspended on shelves above a diffused set of fluorescent lights. The great thing about having different levels of glass is that you can pull focus between them creating real depth in the animation. We used Dragon Stop Motion to control the camera and record the animation and we got the sequence shot in three days. It was then stitched together in After Effects where we added some extra elements like stars and flames.

The whole film was assembled in Final Cut Pro and graded in Color and with Magic Bullet Looks. The live action segments were shot on a Canon 7D with a Sigma 30mm and a Tokina 11-16mm using the new Technicolor CineStyle colour profile. The 7D with the Sigma was also used to shoot the animation, great as it’s got Live View so you can utilise the awesome “Onion Skin” feature in Dragon Stop Motion.