Wednesday, 31 December 2014

So It Came Back After All...

I'd got to the point, this time last year, when I really didn't think Arbitrary Stopframe would be coming back, having been replaced on the slate by things like Papercuts and The Murkum Show.

As of this Christmas, the allegedly-defunct series has aired another 25 episodes.  So much for predictions.

I won't bore you by recapping the tale of how Episode 14 got made.  If you don't know already, you can read it here.  Having written off Series 2 back in January, though, I promptly came down with a new idea for how I could go ahead with Series 2 - as one does.  The phrase 'animated advent calendar' popped into my head, I realised that it would mesh nicely with the AS format, and that was kinda that.

In the earlier stages of development, I considered various stylistic options, e.g. trying to set up the title sequence so it would do a traditional Advent Calendar opening-door effect, but I never got round to implementing that; the actual title sequence ended up being very short (which is probably a good thing when it's going to get used 24 times in rapid succession), cutting out the signature segment and Zooky's appearance at the end, giving everything a vaguely-frost-ish colour-grading, and reverting to the original AS theme tune, albeit in a specially-commissioned jingle-bell-ified remix. The format of the episodes in general ended up being broadly similar to the original episodes, although a bit shorter, and of course featuring the number of the day in each clip.

I had hoped to have a bit more of the series in the can before December rolled around, but I didn't, so that was that.  When I published Day 1, I'd only finished editing up to Day 5, and filmed up to Day 9.  I spent most of my spare time throughout Advent producing the remainder of the Calendar in a bit of a frantic rush, and there were two days (Tues 9 and Tues 16) when I actually ran out of finished episodes and had to spend the rest of the day editing some more so I could carry on publishing without an interruption!

In case you haven't seen it already, here's the complete Advent Calendar playlist:


And finally, here's a selection of behind-the-scenes fun facts from the project, in a vaguely chronological order:
  • The Animated Advent Calendar was written by the same four people who have penned The Murkum Show Series 1 and 2 - me, Tim Johnston, Sarah Johnston and Sam Arthur.  Sarah was the most prolific guest writer, bucking the usual trend of Tim taking that accolade.
  • The episodes weren't written in anything like the 'correct' order - the first storyline I came up with was the one with Monster Movie spitting bits of another chewed-up DVD case at Murkum, which became Day 15, and the last episode written was Day 22.
  • Some episodes contain less-than-subtle back-references to the original series, most notably Odom weilding a Sharpie again on Day 1, Cylinder making a nuisance of himself on Day 3, Zooky interfering with a jar of instant coffee on Day 5, and of course Monster Movie making a few more appearances and usually roaring a lot.
  • Some of the cast had only been in one episode each by the end of the original series; this time round I wanted to make sure everyone had been in multiple episodes.  In the end, Arthur got two more outings in the Calendar and three overall, and every other character (apart from the webcam, which arguably doesn't count) had been in at least four overall.  Murkum has made the most appearances in AS overall, with six.  Harrison is the only character whose AS appearances have all been solo.
  • The episodes have individual titles - although they don't appear within the videos themselves or in the YouTube descriptions, they will be published soon on the AS page at mattghc.com.
  • This was the first animated project I filmed using my new Nikon D7100.  As a side-effect, it's also my first animated project with source imagery created at a higher resolution than 1080p.  I could shoot 4K stopmotion if i wanted - but I can't edit 4K with my current version of Sony Vegas, so that'd be a bit pointless.
  • The first five episodes, plus nos 9, 12 and 24, were filmed in the correct sequence, but the rest were all shot out of order - 7 and 8 were shot before 6, 11 before 10, and 13 to 23 were hopelessly scrambled.  The reshuffles were made for practical reasons, such as availability of the kitchen (which was why I pulled 7 and 8 forwards), or filming episodes with a shared character or prop together (most notably 12 and 21, which were shot as a pair, and the three with Monster Movie - 15, 20 and 23 - which were all shot on the same day).
  • You might not have realised it, but if you've been watching my other animation output this year then you'll already have seen that little battery-operated string of LEDs several times before - it was an integral part of the lighting setup for most of the episodes of The Murkum Show Series 2 and its spin-off Greasy Food with Gonce.
  • The longest episode in the Calendar was Day 3 (52.44 seconds), and the shortest was Day 14 (33.72 seconds).  All 24 days were shorter than the previous-shortest AS video, Episode 2 Fruit Pastilles (56.52 seconds).
  • Murkum's little grumble at the end of Day 4 was the first piece of actual dialogue ever used in AS (his screams in Series 1 don't really count as dialogue, and they were stock sounds rather than original recordings anyway); I performed, recorded and processed his lines for Days 4, 10 and 15 using exactly the same techniques as I do for The Murkum Show, except that the AS lines were recorded after I'd shot the videos, instead of before rolling cameras like I would do on his main series.
  • After filming Days 6 and 9, I left the string of blue lights sellotaped to my desk for several days (mostly because it had been such a faff sellotaping them down that I couldn't quite bring myself to rip them off again already), before clearing them up so I could shoot Day 11.
  • The episode with the most troubled production was probably Day 10 - I shot the first half three times, and had to scrap the first two and revise my plans due to technical problems.
  • Day 11 was not only the scariest episode of the Calendar to film, but the scariest bit of animation I've ever done, point blank.  Working with live flame in both that episode and in Day 22 was pretty nerve-wracking, but at least the tealight candles in Day 22 were fairly staid; the matches used in Day 11 burnt a lot faster than I'd hoped, and came upsettingly close to melting Snow to a dirty yellow blob a couple of times.  In the half-dozen-or-so frames it takes her to spin around between lighting the match and igniting the 'fuse' in the crisp packet, I had to film faster than I can ever remember working before (apart from live-action stuff, obviously!) and actually had to swap out the original match in her hand for a new one after 3 or 4 frames, because they burnt so fast.  I ate the crisps afterwards.
  • The most productive filming day was Thursday 4 December - I shot an unprecedented five videos back-to-back: 12 to 14, plus 16 and 21.
  • The disappearing number on the gift label in Day 14 was done with a combination of practical and digital trickery - but I won't tell you all the details because that would spoil the fun.
  • In case you were wondering, the other DVD whose remains Monster Movie spits out in Day 15 was 300.  I didn't want to tear up something from my own DVD collection, so I went into the charity shop a few doors up from where I work and rummaged around for something with a cover that featured a BBFC '15' logo on a suitable background; they were all the same price, and most of the '15' logos were about the same size, so I picked 300 based mainly on the background texture.  As a consequence, there might (although I can't confirm) be a tiny little fragment of Gerard Butler's leg somewhere on-screen for a couple of frames' worth of Day 15.  I haven't actually watched the film, just ripped the corner off the cover and got a plasticene-legged South Korean kaiju DVD to spit out the shreds.
  • Day 15 was also the first episode in any of my animated mini-series to credit somebody else for creating or co-creating a featured character (Sam, for providing the original concept for Monster Movie).  I suppose I could have credited or co-credited Tim for various characters who have featured in Arbitrary Stopframe or The Murkum Show over the years, but there are so many characters in the Murk Army and the history of their creation has been so complicated that it would have added several extra credit screens to each episode trying to explain who was responsible for writing who, so Tim and I have a tacit agreement that we don't bother with character credits for Murk Army videos, for the sake of people's mental health.
  • The idea for Day 18 emerged out of discussions over Tim's pitch for Day 14 - but I ended up filming Day 14 as originally pitched as well.
  • Day 20 was the first time Arthur has ever been heard speaking - his original film Arthur & the Punk was silent.  I had a cold the day I edited Days 20 to 24, and the otherwise-annoying throatful of phlegm came in surprisingly useful when I was trying to do an old-person voice.  I still ended up recording all of his lines twice.
  • Day 23 re-used some of the chocolates Cylinder was messing with in Day 3, and some of the dolly mixtures that Murkum got mixed up with in Day 10.  I don't know if you'd noticed, but I like to sneak a dolly-mixture joke into my stopmotion work every now and then, particularly in the X-Battles GT shorts.  As with the crisps from Day 11, I ate some of the sweets after filming with them.
  • This was the first project to feature the revised mnimation logo - the logo's lighting colours have been subtly altered, the text style has been changed to match that used in the main M.C.Media logo (stronger overall corporate image, and all that... heheh), and the awkward capital N has been dropped, leaving the official stylisation entirely lowercase.  I like the fact that the previous mnimation logo made its debut on the same video as the D80, and this one made its debut on the same video as the D7100.


- The Colclough

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