So after the long and complicated theatre section of the shoot was over, I was yearning to return to a proper bed having slept on the sofa bed in the living room off and on for 7 long months. The flat looked like it belonged to someone in the early stages of a hoarding problem and was also covered in an unsightly layer of dust. So I crashed the set in the ‘studio’ and reassembled my beloved pit of repose. A spate of manic cleaning followed and then I started wondering if I’d dismantled my temporary studio too hastily. After all, I still had one set up to shoot. That was back at the end of January.
As it turned out, February and March were busy with commercial work, so I didn’t get back to Project E until April to start shooting the final ‘cloud set’. All building and shooting was now in the living room and of course the process took over the space completely: furniture moved, tools and materials covering the floor and most surfaces, piles of useful books (not to read, to add weight/height support). The window and door to the garden were a bit of a problem, being bigger and not so easy to black out than the one in the bedroom, so I set up my old folding screen in front to block as many rays as possible and tried to stick to gloomy days and evenings for shooting. Not too difficult during the UK spring. I worked through the shots and April skipped along, more commercial work came my way and began to wonder if I was ever going to get the Project finished – it had been a year since I’d done my initial tests. But then suddenly I was on the last two shots, a few days that had been earmarked for a commercial job freed up, so I got my game face on and charged in, determined to finish. The very last day was a killer classic: 7 hours to get 1 second and 3 frames of footage. Stop motion in a nutshell really. Maddening and magical in equal measures.
So here are some behind the scenes from the cloud shoot, showing some of my finest skin-of-the-teeth, Heath Robinson-style rigs – I saved the best ’til last!
First things first, I needed to build some ‘clouds’. Enter the bits of garden fence post that had been so useful in the studio. Add some chicken wire and top with a cloudy icing of cotton wool and I had something that could probably work on-camera. Note to anyone thinking of using cotton wool on a set: it’s well dusty, so watch your lens.
Some shots of the fist set up including the epic aeroplane encounter shot which took 5 hours to complete (no breaks – too much to concentrate on), after which I collapsed on the sofa and fell fast asleep for two hours. To create an illusion of depth, I had banks of ‘clouds’ at various distances from the lens, including one right in front. Also, note the rear rig support where the dowel was too short and I had to tape it to a bit of bamboo. Rock, ahem, solid.
The second set-up, where E is ascending into the clouds. To create the movement, I kept E static and made the clouds move past her, again positioned at various distances from the lens. Two big cloud banks on the main rig were supplemented by one on the slider, passing right in front of the lens, and a small cloud on the right hand side on its own rig. Note the pen marks on the pieces of dowel – they represent 1/2 centimetre intervals so I could measure the timing correctly.
One of my favourite shots from the cloud sequence: E from above, emerging from under a cloud as she ascends. One of those shots that turned out so much better than anticipated.
The big kahuna of the cloud sets – downward view above E, showing her fly over clouds and the land below. Once again she’s static, clamped firmly to the tripod, while the cloud rig and the map image do the moving. The cloud bank was a dowel frame strung with fishing line threaded through globs of cotton wool. Happily, in the final shot it was sufficiently out of focus to make the lines invisible. The map image shows Tarvin, the village where I born in Cheshire and spent the first 11 years of my life. That’s where all the madness started. To a certain extent I’m still there.
And so we come to the final shot, E shot from beneath, descending from the clouds. At first I tried to reverse-engineer it, shooting her rising up from the floor but I couldn’t get the positioning right and her wings (by now in a rather battered state) were doing some serious drooping. So I rebuilt the set, shooting her from below with a fake ‘sky’ above. Being of a remake-remodel bent, I stuck the piece of blue ‘sky’ card to the reverse of the foamboard to which I’d stuck the map. Precariously balanced on every light stand going spare, plus my LED porta-light balanced on top of a tripod it was a case of tiptoeing around during the shoot, no heavy breathing even. E meanwhile was attached to the slider and this time it was her turn to move. I had to do it 3 times before I got it right. First the body position was wrong, then the speed was wrong, until finally… Quick check on the computer and RELAAAAAAX. It’s a wrap.