simple hit counter
Home Den Feature Graphic

Feature: Pumpkin Construction - Chapter 1 of 5: The Preparation
(click on image below to download movie)
Size: 2.2M
Format: WMV (MS Movie Maker 2 Generated)
Artist: Brian Doerfler
I am continually impressed with the new ideas that I keep stumbling upon while trolling through the web. One that particularly peaked my curiousity was a clever web page that had a series of stills which depicted a computer being assembled by a bunch of lego men. To give credit where due, here is the link where I found it (Although the last time I looked, it was dead in the water). Having been introduced into the wonderful world of Wallace and Gromit by my older brother Ron, I immediately latched onto the idea and decided to challenge myself to generate my own little still image story - what's life without a few challenges 8^).

The first problem was coming up with a theme. At first I thought this would be easy, but I ended up twisting my brain inside and out trying to think of something. I figured it would take a couple of hours and wanted to invest in a topic that would interest me as well as others (if it turned out good enough to even consider putting it on the web!). Month after month went by and finally October came without a hint of an idea. If you have spent anytime in my photo area, you know I enjoy the Halloween season, so I went to the great pumpkin patch, picked out the fine specimens that would become the centerpieces for Fright Night. Two days before the big night, I carved up my first pumpkin (usually crank out 3-5 a season 8^). While I was driving to work the next day it all of a sudden dawned on me - YES, I had the perfect vehicle for my still image challenge. Not only did it have the potential for different stages and scenarios, it was also a subject I enjoyed - of course, the additional fact was I had to do it anyway, so simply snapping a few shots shouldn't be that hard.

The rest of that day was spent trying to determine which figurines to use. I didn't want to completely steal the lego man idea, so I considered a He-Man theme, but that had already been taken by the hilarious He-Man Dance Party website. The Justice League was considered briefly as well as the Little Bus dudes - yes, I know the latter do not have arms, but it sounded good at the time. I then looked up from my desk at work and noticed the numerous toy Caterpillar machines scattered about my cube. Clearly we (as you know from my Bio, I actually work at Cat) have a machine for every conceivable task that I would want to do! Yes, the plan was coming together. On my way home, I stopped at Farm and Fleet to look for a few machines that would compliment my current collection - possibly a wheel loader to scoop out the insides, a backhoe to drill out the pattern, a scraper to smooth the inside edges .... the ideas were coming up faster than I could commit them to memory - that is when I realized, that I had come up with the perfect scenario. Then I hit a little snag. Some of the machines I wanted I couldn't find and some that I did find were either at too large a scale or were not in the price range that I would be comfortable in pouring pumpkin guts all over. What to do? What to do? Then I turned the corner and spotted the perfect solution. They had a complete construction set [1] [2] [3]with a set of men, various machines, construction accessories like stop signs etc, and a large crane with a wrecking ball. It was clearly inferior to Caterpillar products (8^), but it had everything I needed with the bonus option of having 4 characters I could feature. The added bonus was that it was all made out of pumpkin goo resistant plaster. ... that and it was only $16 bucks compared to the $52 it was going to cost me for a couple of Cat models I needed. I jumped back into my car and headed home for a night of pure fun - at least I thought 8^)

The first task was to create a stage for the stills. If there was one area I wished I had spent more time on, it would have to be this. I wanted to get filming quickly, so simply threw up a couple of boards and brought out my favorit Ben movie poster (ever thankful again to my brother Ron for obtaining that Halloween artifact for me) and set them up on a 4 by 8 folding table. I now wish I had taken the extra time to put a motif on the boards rather than leaving them plain. I then gathered up the items I would use during the event - carving knife, pumpkin pattern (thanks to Pumpkin Masters for their excellent patterns), Scotch tape, scoop, candle, matches, flour, and the construction set. I should point out at this time, there were 4 men in the construction set each with a unique pose, however, they were not posable. This was less than ideal, but I figured I could simply swap the various characters in an out and it would look like they were moving into different positions.

I then made my biggest two mistakes with the whole effort. I immediately jumped into the process of filming the scenes (i.e. taking the stills) without having a clear plan on what I wanted to do and where everything should be at a particular time or scene. This resulted in numerous extra frames as I had to make sure all the machines and people were in the right places to complete the task at hand. For example, If I forgot to bring the knife into the scene at the proper point (and I did), I would need to have additional stills of one of the characters leaving the stage and returning with the knife - or if a machines was on one side of the stage and needed to pick up something on the other, I needed to show it moving across the stage in order to make the pickup - no shortcuts in this job 8^). After putting the film together, I decided that the other mistake I had made was not properly reflecting the timespan between each of the stills. This wasn't real evident until the stills were glued together and you could see some speed-ups and slow-downs between the various characters and machines in the scene. After pondering this for awhile, I decided the next time I would cut a series of strings whose length represented the furthest distance a character or machine could move from one still to the next. Note the various lengths would be reflective of the speed of which a given object could move - machines would be longer than a person etc. That way, I could lay the string down and make sure the object didn't go beyond that distance from one frame to the next. One might consider this a bit anal, but shouldn't we all strive to deliver the best finished product possible? This is not to say that I am not happy with the results, but rather a reflection based on the hindsight of having gone through this once - and to provide you tips should you consider doing something similar. To complete the pre-production work, I dragged out my camera tripod and mounted up my Nikon CoolPix 880 digital camera (no way would I have tried this with standard film).

Ever start a task that you thought would be easy and then quickly realize that you were in for the long haul? That is EXACTLY what happened here. I finally got the preparation scenes done (the first chapter in the Pumpkin Construction series) and looked up at the clock to see that 2.5 hours had passed. Yes, 2.5 hours and I still haven't got a single cut in the pumpkin. Essentially, I was making up the scenes on the fly. I know I will need a crane to remove the top, so I will bring in the crane from here, wait, it will take a couple of trips to get the crane here, then I have to have the characters in the right place to unload the trucks - all this while continually switching the characters around so they looked like they were moving (varying the poses as mentioned above). Turns out I only had two nights to complete this pumpkin before Halloween - panic set in which only made things more stressful. Still not wanting to diminish the integrity of the effort, I plodded on making sure I didn't take any shortcuts in the scenes. The hours flew by until it was late into the night and it was time to get some sleep before work the next day - all in all, it was a 10.5 hour night that left me with a shelled pumpkin that was ready for carving. As you will see in the movies, I actually could have streamlined this a little, if I had not done the various creature invasions (After looking that long at a pumkin and some plastic dudes, you need to add a little humor to keep from going insane.) Wallace and Gromit creators, you have my upmost appreciation!)

After work the next day, I started back on the task at hand. How much longer could it possibly take? Well, let me tell you - another 11 hours later I was done with the pumpkin and captured all the stills I needed - 309 in total! A couple of days after Halloween, I started on the final product. It became obvious very quickly that my pictures were way too big. Apparently I had forgotten to move the camera off of the 1024x768 setting. That left a daunting task of reducing all of the images with my favorite graphics tool Paint Shop Pro. Nothing like some tedious boring work to make the night go by 8^). Once the size was set, I decided to use the built in image viewer in Windows to get a quick viewing of the potential end product. It started out good and then I noticed it... yes, there were flaws in my effort. Sometimes I had too many people in the scene, others had a character (or two) knocked over. AAAARRRRGGGHH! with all of my careful effort, I still made mistakes (I blame it on sleep deprivation 8^) Having spent a number of hours doctoring up photos in the past for the fun of it, I decided to simply correct the problem post production. Fortunately, I had stills both ahead and behind the still which I could use to cut out background stills and paste over errant characters. Hey, at least I admitted it, unlike these fine examples of media manipulation [Java One] [LA Times].

Now it was time to build the movie - THUD THUD THUD THUD - that is the sound of my head hitting the wall. For the next 6 months I tried and tried to get it built to no avail. Every tool I tried failed miserably. They either made it too small, too blurry, too big or died mid cycle. It did become apparent through these numerous attempts that one large movie was going to be unwieldly and just plain to large for web download. That is when I decided to break it up into individual chapters. For an added touch, I cranked up PSP and whipped up some title screens to boot. Then along came SiC (fellow SMoF UT clan member) who lent me his video expertise and helped me out of the mess (Big Thanks). He created a few test cycles with the new MS Movie Maker 2. This did exactly what I wanted it to do and only crashed a couple of times (it appears to go bonkers if you add multiple transitions to a frame). Finally, a finished product and a wrap to a very underestimated challenge. Over the course of the next several weeks, I will be publishing the various chapters of the movie. I hope you get some enjoyment out of my toils and gained some insights in case you were considering doing your own still capture movie (recommend thinking twice on that 8^).