Dec 11, 2015 | By Kira

Stop motion is one of the earliest forms of animation in film history, dating back to the late 1800s when it was used as a special effect to convince audiences that inanimate objects could move as if my magic. Indeed, something about the twitchy, spasmodic movements of early stop-motion films makes them at once jarring and bewitching—even when the movements seem unnatural, it’s hard to look away.

Following in the footsteps of sinister stop motion greats, including Tim Burton, Harryhausen, and the Brothers Quay, Canadian animation duo Dale Howard and Sylvie Trouvé of See Creature Animation are continuing to explore and exploit the dark side of stop motion in their upcoming short film, Bone Mother, a horror story being brought to life through 3D printing technology. I spoke with Dale to get the inside scoop on this intriguing project, and how 3D printed stop motion is helping them achieve the spine-tingling feel that 2D drawings can't match.

Montreal-based See Creature Animation was founded in 2011 by Dale and Sylvie, two long-standing animation vets on the Canadian filmmaking scene (if you're a fellow Canuck, you might remember them from this great Tim Hortons spot). While Dale studied traditional 2D animation and drawing, Sylvie was a photography major. Their respective talents naturally led them to fall in love with stop motion animation, and they found themselves working on commercial productions, documentary films, and collaborations with the National Film Board.

“We live by the motto that ‘anything can be animated’ and we have pretty much animated in every style and technique there is, but what excites us the most is when things that no one expects to move, moves,” Dale told “Stop motion is easily our preference of animation and so unless there’s a major element that prevents us from doing it in stop-mo, then that’s where we go. Plus, stop motion just lends itself so nicely to dark subject matters. I don’t know if it’s because so much of the past stop-motion works have been dark…or if it’s because with a real camera you can capture amazing detail so easily. I’m not sure, but it just fits right.”

3D printed skeletons used in the film

Although they had worked with and were experienced in a wide variety of animation techniques, for Bone Mother, based on a short horror story written by Maura McHugh, the duo decided venture into unknown territory: 3D printing.

“This is the first venture into 3D printing for us,” explained Dale. “I’ve seen my friends at Laika using 3D printing for films like Paranorman and Boxtrolls for a few years and so I’ve been keeping up to date with the progress of the technology.” In order to get started, Dale and Sylvie brought on friend and 3D printing enthusiast Andre Michaud. “He’s also our armature fabricator and a Maya whiz, so he’s been our guidance into this brand new world,” said Dale. The team began by creating the base meshes for the characters, props and set pieces in Autodesk Maya, and then sculpting out details in Mudbox, or DesignSpark for some more technical and mechanical elements. Then comes the 3D printing.

For 3D printing beginners, they've already built up an impressive collection of machines. They started out with the MakerBot Replicator 2 (“a good, versatile 3D printer”) before moving on to the 3D Builder (“cheaper, has a larger print base with a dual extruder”) and finally, upgrading to the LulzBot Mini. In fact, they were so happy with the latter, they bought three more. “It was even cheaper than the others and has a ton of extra goodies like a cleaning process and a leveling system,” explained Dale. “We’ve specialized our 3D printers to focus on certain aspects of the production. The MakerBot handles our regular PLA objects and our flexible items, the Builder handles our large scale stuff, and the LulzBots do all of our faces in a wood/PLA filament.” It sounds like the kind of 3D assembly line Henry Ford himself would be envious of.

In the end, almost all elements in the film were 3D printed, including about 200 different faces for each of the two characters, and the ‘bone house’, which is made of 3D printed bones and skeletons. The armature was also prototyped on a 3D printer, and even the characters’ hair was 3D printed using flexible filament.

“What 3D printing has done the most for animation production is that it’s made it even more possible for a small team to make all the things necessary to create an animated film,” said Dale. “It also has allowed a much larger range of character expressions for stop motion, because typically we’re limited to what we can physically sculpt, or else it’s digitally composited.”

The See Creature team also praised the NFB, who is producing Bone Mother, for their support and willingness to experiment for the sake of creative expression. “When I was pitching the project to the NFB, they automatically assumed that we would want to make this in stereoscopic…but I surprised them by saying no, [we] wanted to explore 3D printing instead,” explained Dale. “Normally a company or a governmental institution in this case would run away from the idea of exploring unknown territory, but not the NFB, a new technology excites them.” Likewise for us, NFB.

After a delayed development process, Bone Mother has been in production as of March 2015, and will be finished in mid-2016. Until then, you can view the sneak-peak trailer here and check out their photo-rich Instagram page. We can't wait to see how they bring to life the dark, the eerie, and the alternative through stop motion and 3D printing technology. Below is another trailer for Paramount Pictures upcoming feature film, Le Petit Prince, for which Dale and Sylvie contributed the gorgeous stop motion sequences.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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