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September 2014
Issue: February 1, 2008

STOP-MOTION, ONLY TOUGHER

By: Marc Loftus
A team of animators recently came together to produce a feature unlike many of today’s slick CG studio releases. In a shuttered elementary school east of Vancouver, the stop-motion film Edison and Leo is wrapping production and heading for post. The $10M project is one of the first Canadian films of its kind and centers around a greedy father who accidentally shocks his son, turning him into an electric boy.

Shooting stop-motion wasn’t the only challenge — readying a school to act as facility for the better part of a year was no small task either. Jean-Luc Dinsdale, VFX supervisor/technical director for the project, recalls some of the hurdles: “Most of the stages are in the gymnasium and there is a big cafeteria that we’ve taken over. Being an old school, it’s starting to fall apart. All of our stages have been susceptible to the gym floor, which, being designed for basketball, is a very springy.”

Reliable air conditioning, steady power and non-stop use of intense studio lights have all caused problems. And even communication — through walkie talkies — presented the unexpected.

“The Canon 5Ds that we are using are great cameras, but they are susceptible to radio interference.”

When things were going well, the production had 12 stages going, each capturing up to five seconds of animation per day. 4K images, shot in the RAW format, were captured to an Apple Xsan. Images were converted to TIF files and cropped to 2K. And HD proxies were then created for editing in Avid Adrenaline. Working in HD, says Dinsdale, “is great. We really get to see a lot of detail in what we are shooting every day.”

They estimated that 20 percent of the imagery would need fixing, but the harsh reality, he says, turns out to be more like 70. Still, Dinsdale says the team is undeterred by these unexpected obstacles and doesn’t second guess its decision to shoot stop-motion. “This movie is more about showing off the skills of the stop-motion animators rather than the latest in CG and stuff.”

Look for Edison and Leo this fall.