Schrodinger’s Rabbit – A critical analysis

The core inspiration for this short animation was a demonstration of pop-up projection mapping technology and animation on TED.com. The performance, The electric rise and fall of Nikola Tesla by Marco Tempest demonstrated projection mapping on a small-scale with pre-recorded audio, live narration and video to create a performance that created the illusion of interacting with a small Tesla. He combined light and sound alongside performance to create the impression of a moving pop-up book. The techniques employed in this animation are incredibly advanced with a range of artists, sound designers and animators working on the project. The project also employed advanced projection mapping techniques and motion tracking programming. The format is unique and one that I wanted to experiment with, simplify and integrate with a short original narrative piece.

The project has enabled me to work through the entire production process, from the creation of an idea through to a final original piece of work. To an extent I am happy with the results, although there are key issues which I hope to address in this analysis. The process has been a very positive one overall, with a steep learning curve. It has involved the exploration of a variety of new techniques which may be applied to future projects with the skills developed. I feel that the project has developed a unique look which I am very happy with, although this may not necessarily work with the narrative structure and dialog of this particular story.

The concept and story were developed through the use of the CLOSAT technique and inspired by a story heard on a BBC Radio 2 phone-in. This was one of the hardest aspects for me. Having a complete open canvas can be challenging. Although I have previously developed ideas, they have never been fully scripted and realised. I feel happy with the final script, although I don’t think it works particularly well with this style of animation. I spent a few weeks and several revisions refining the script, although in hindsight with this particular genre of animation, I feel it would have worked better with narration. I don’t feel the video conveys the story clearly. I feel that the script may have worked well as a live action piece, although this wouldn’t have enabled me to develop and explore the techniques discussed.

“In the digital age, drawing and painting are still the essential ways of visualising mental images. Animating images has long been a laborious and cerebral process. We need to leave the baggage of conventions behind and think more in terms of puppeteering and acting.

As performers, we don’t like to tweak and backtrace, we embrace mistakes and move on. We prefer “less safe” and “more real”. Our appetite for authenticity is not appeased by simulated natural brushes and effects. Enough pixels have been polished to death, never escaping the display. Our digital art comes alive…” (Tagtool Manifesto, 2013).

The Tagtool manifesto inspired the style of the piece, the idea of drawing, painting and animating live appealed to me more than traditional animation techniques. In particular I liked the idea of projecting onto physical 3D objects to create “digital art that comes alive” (Tagtool Manifesto, 2013). The software is designed specifically for the iPad, although the style of Tagtool animation has been developed over several years. Prior to the iPad software coming out, you had to create your own animation “machines” to draw, paint, animate and project live. Obviously this would have come at a substantial cost. I enjoyed the simplicity of the software and the relatively small learning curve. The software acts more like a musical instrument than traditional software, requiring the use of both hands to control colours, drawing and animation. The simplicity of the software also introduces certain limitations, the major issue for me was the inability to save the animation created. The reason for this is the ephemeral nature of this technique as described in the manifesto. I developed a couple of workarounds for this, the first was to screen record the iPad and project this back onto the object using software called Reflector. Although it worked to a certain extent, it was an extremely laborious process. The animation was imported into Final Cut Pro X, edited, then projection mapped back onto book. This proved impossible due to the quick timing of some scenes, in hindsight I did not realise what a major difficulty this would be. In the end the best option was to draw it live and record with a video camera in a more traditional way and edit the recorded footage together with the audio.

I am happy with the final video in some respects. I feel I have developed a wide range of new skills and combined others previously developed in past units. When I set out to create the project I knew there would be a range of risks involved as I have never created a piece of work like this before. I am particularly happy with the visual appearance of the animation on the objects, although I don’t feel this is conveyed well in the video. Some of the animation feels quite amateurish at points. I feel that I can get away with in some ways as this is designed to be more like a short child’s book. If I also apply the manifesto of Tagtool, the idea of “performing live without back-tracing and tweaking” can give some level of justification to the look and style. The process was incredibly difficult and time-consuming and maybe it was slightly too large an idea to undertake in the time allocated. Generally this type of work is created collaboratively within a team over many months.

As far as developments are concerned there is a lot I would like to change. First and foremost I don’t feel this project has worked as effectively as it could, this is due to a number of reasons: the script not working well in this context, the dialog recording could have been improved with the use of  additional voice actors, the final edit isn’t the best standard and overall it doesn’t feel fully complete. It took several attempts to produce the animation over a substantial period of time. I really wasn’t happy with what was the “final” piece of work and restarted the whole process 3 weeks prior to submission. I feel that I have only partially achieved my vision. One of the major technical hurdles was the filming of the project, due to horizontal banding artefacts on the final video. This is a problem with most digital cameras when filming either moving images or fluorescent lights. The issue revolved around the refresh rate of the projector being out of sync with the camera. This is virtually impossible to rectify without either professional sync equipment to synchronise the frame rates of the camera and the projector or heavy post-production work with colour correction (which may not remove the issue fully anyway).

I don’t feel this is my best piece of work as far as overall final quality is concerned. The learning experience has been invaluable and with further development I feel that the particular look of the animation could be developed further. The software developer of Tagtool got in touch during the course of production and commented on some of the initial test shots. I received very positive feedback and the video was shared via their social media creating an influx of views. I feel the fundamental flaw in the project was the script. Although I was very happy with the final narrative, in its current form I don’t think it worked with this style of animation. If I was to develop this particular piece further I would look at developing some element of narration to help clarify the story and reduce the amount of scenes, allowing for a live performance. The other major issue was the capturing of the piece. I envisioned a live performance much like Marco Tempests, but this proved impossible with the speed of the scene changes and the slightest movement of the book ruined the projection mapping. The final key issue was the size of the pop-up book that was created, in hindsight it was far too small, leading to difficulties with projection mapping the objects. The slightest knock of the book or character out-of-place ruined the animation. The undertaking of this project involved a wide range of research, learning, and development of new techniques. In this particular piece I don’t feel all the pieces slot fully together but there a uniqueness to it which I feel warrants further exploration.

Bibliography

Birmingham, D. (2010) Pop-up design and paper mechanics : how to make folding paper sculpture. Lewes: Guild of Master Craftsman.

Bou, L. (2010) We are paper toys! PrintCutFoldGlueFun!. New York; Enfield: Collins Design; Publishers Group UK [distributor].

Cowgill, L.J. (2005) Writing short films : structure & content for screenwriters. 2nd edn. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Pub.

Saka, K. (2009) Karakuri: how to make mechanical paper models that move.

Tagtool (2013) The Tagtool Manifesto [Online] Available at: http://omai.at/en/blog/tagtool_manifesto [accessed 7 December 2013].

Tempest, M (2013) The electric rise and fall of Nikola Tesla [Online] Available at:  http://www.ted.com/talks/marco_tempest_the_electric_rise_and_fall_of_nikola_tesla.html [accessed 4 November 2013].

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