Firefly – Starry Night Stop Motion

This is a project I did with Year 6 students using stop motion for our schools Firefly Festival

Read on for some more technical details!

Part 1 – Doing the Stop Motion

I’ve done stop motion with students before using the ol’ hang the iPad off the edge of a table and work on the floor thing and identified a few ways in which they have problems:
  • Moving the Camera around – giving you that stuttered look as the whole image moves
  • Lighting Changing – Too dark, too light, or lighting changing between frames as a kid moves infront of the natural lighting in the room
  • Focus Changing – The camera will try to refocus for every photo.
To resolve some of the issues, I invented the Stop Motion Box!
To build this box, I did some measurements of the distance the iPad would need to be from the surface to capture everything within the box, without having to zoom (zooming on an iPad just loses you quality!).  We happened to have some hat boxes that were almost perfectly sized for the task!
I cut a big hole in the front so they could work in the box, and a tiny hole in the top that’s just big enough for the camera to see through.
Inside the box I put some LED Strips I had lying around and rigged them up to an excessively large 12volt battery.
I lined the bottom of the box with black card, but in hindsight, I probably should have used bright green, as chroma-keying out the Black wasn’t perfect.
Now, when using an iPad (along with Stop Motion Studio), we can lock the focus so it will take a photo instantly without having to refocus, the ISO to the lowest setting to reduce graininess and the shutter speed to as long as we need (as nothing is moving so a longer shutter speed is fine!)
The image of Van Gogh’s Starry Night was split into sections and each group of students was assigned to a section, either night time or day time.  They had to choose their colour palette and how they would represent the piece they were given.
Some slight failings were had here however. Despite my best efforts to stop camera movement, it would still happen.  Also the students were told they need to try to give the illusion of motion in a particular direction, however in the actual footage produced, it looked more random. Not ideal, but I can still work with it!
Here’s a sample of what I was working with to begin with….

Part 2 – The Editing

First I had to prep each piece of the art work.   I eventually settled on taking each piece in Adobe After Effects, chromakeying out the background (some masking also required as some of the lighting changes messed with the chromakey), then stabilising the footage manually… Frame by frame, dropping a little crosshair temporarily to line everything up and moving the video around to keep it steady.  There probably is a better way to do this, but I couldn’t work it out, and the automatic stabilisation options weren’t cooperating with me for this style of video.  Bleh. A few hours later I was done all 40+ pieces.

This one didn’t need a lot of stabilisation thankfully. Others needed significantly more!

I was running into performance issues at this point (turns out many many layers with effects in After Effects really doesn’t like me), so I got the background right, then exported it and imported it into Adobe Premiere to continue to the process.

Just the background. I changed some of the stabilisation techniques part way through to stop that sort of sliding effect, but was in a hurry so I didn’t go back to correct the earlier ones….

I’m a massive fan of Porter Robinson (especially his Worlds stuff), so I used a few of his songs in the video and adjusted things like brightness and contrast to go with the music.  I also put all the foreground elements in with Adobe Premiere.
The finished product took around 7 or so hours to export.

All up, the editing took me a extraordinary amount of time, I wasn’t really expecting it to take this long, but it was definitely a learning experience!  If I was to do a project like this again, I would likely scale it back a little 😛

Part 3 – Projection

This originally started out with a plan to project directly onto the ground making it an art piece you could “walk through”. Sadly we didn’t have access to any projectors that could spread out over a distance from the ceiling to the floor at any reasonable size, so we settled for projecting it onto a large screen approx 4 meters high and 7 meters across.
We didn’t actually have any flat surfaces this size, so we needed to find some kind of light coloured material for cheap that will cover the area. We ended up settling on some builders plastic called Polyweave.  It’s basically like a fairly light tarp, easy to cut and comes in rolls 4 meters x 50 meters.
We hung it up across some beams outdoors and we were good to go… Sort of. It wasn’t very flat which kind of ruined a bit of the effect sadly. To do this again next time we would likely need to find a way to flatten it properly across the gaps.
We also had some LED Cans lighting the area up with Blues/yellows in sync with the video (though it was only manually synced and fell out of sync after an hour or so on loop sadly, but I don’t think anyone noticed).
Hopefully this post had some useful information in it! If you end up putting together something similar, please leave a comment and let me know! I’m always keen to see other peoples ideas!

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