Bringing illustration to life
It's the pictures that make a children's storybook, but what if the illustrations were alive?
The client was an online library and the book in question was Lewis Carroll's masterpiece - Alice in Wonderland. Studio Giggle's animator Iina Kuula dived in to experiment with moving mixed media imagery to bring the classic characters to life. Mixing stop motion and puppetry, painting and animation along with written narrative proved challenging but incredibly fun to do.
Most of the characters were first created as real puppets, similar to how Aardman like to work in their stop motion films. Each character was first sketched on paper, then sculpted and built with clay and a wire skeleton allowing the puppet to be posed. The stop motion animation technique requires 12-25 photographs per second of animation, which means moving the puppet little by little for each picture that when played back to back creates an illusion of movement.
Iina was roamed through textile and craft stores finding suitable fabrics and then hand sewed the clothes to make sure the colours and size were a good fit for each character.
With the clothes, it was fairly easy to find good matches to stay close to the original sketch she had made; the harder task was hunting down the details like miniature keys, buttons, jacket pin and ribbons for the hat.
Studio Giggle built a small scale green screen for the stop motion shoot. It meant that everything that was shot could be easily edited and composited together with digitally painted backgrounds later.
(If you want to know more about green screen shoots, check out Dave’s handy post about it).
So how do you make a real puppet fall through the rabbit hole? Good question, the answer is with the help of a rig and stop motion software.
The metal rig helped to keep the puppet mid-air while animating. A software called DragonFrame was used to help shooting the animation and playing it back to preview. It allows the filmmaker control over the camera settings to keep each photo consistent. DragonFrame has been widely used in cinema, including Boxtrolls (2014), Isle of Dogs (2018) and Wallace and Gromit.
All the backgrounds in these illustrations are hand-painted and so are some of the characters. Photoshop and a digital tablet was used to create the environments and side characters which were then taken to After Effects (compositing software) for further work and effects.
Chapter 3 in Alice and Wonderland is titled "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale" features sea creatures that race around in circles, only to be all told that are the winner. Making all of them as puppets wasn’t realistic in the time frame, so instead they were painted and then animated in 2D.
Layering the artwork allowed Iina control over different elements separately, like moving the leaves in the wind or making Cheshire cat appear from nowhere. Painting everything digitally in Photoshop meant for greater flexibility.
After Effects wasn't only used for compositing but also colour grading and creating additional light and shadows for the scenes. For web purposes it was necessary to turn all the scenes into GIFs, so each image had to be a loop that could keep playing while reading the story.
"It's magical animate static puppets and then look back at the frames on screen seeing them move on their own. That's the power stop motion has, bringing the inanimate to life." Iina
Our favourite character to make was The Mad Hatter, because he had so many fun details to work with. He can express his emotion with a simple wiggle of a moustache or tapping the teacup nervously with his long articulated fingers.
Now the Mad Hatter and rest of his friends are retired and sit on a big shelf with other stop motion puppets and dolls (hopefully not moving on their own, but who knows!). It was an exciting challenge to illustrate this classic tale. If you have something similar in mind, get in touch, we would love to work on something like this again!
The full illustrated story of Alice in Wonderland can be found online (although in Finnish) on Iltasatu's website which publishes bedtime stories online for children to read on a tablet.