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"Dancing with the Pollies" - "Team MITCIT" takes on Modelling Clay Animation in the 48 Hours 2007

Video - "Dancing with the Pollies" (link to Youtube)

L to R:  "Compere", "Geri Reid"-Mayor of Wanganui, "Pete Hodgson"-Minister of Health, "Helen Clark"-Prime Minister of NZ (Red), "John Key"- Leader of the Opposition NZ (Blue)

The usual mad weekend - this is our 3rd time in the 48 Hours Furious Film-making competition.  This year we were given our "assignment" at 7pm on Friday 18th May and we had until 7pm Sunday 20th May to hand it in.  We found ourselves working with:
Genre: "Coming of Age" or "Romance" We chose Romance
Compulsory Character Geri Reid, a hypochrondriac
Compulsory Line "What do you call that?"
Compulsory Prop A Rope

We had decided to go with modelling clay animation.  We had done some promising experiments and wanted to try taking it further. 

Romance and a Hypochrondriac!  - what a gift!  We headed into parody territory with "Dancing with the Stars" in our sights. 
In the recent series in New Zealand we have been treated to the sight of one Michael Laws, outspoken Mayor of Wanganui, limping through with much noise while suffering a broken toe.  We appointed our Geri Reid as Mayor of Wanganui and developed her hypochrondria from there.  "I'm suffering from rope burns.  I think I'm allergic to the fibres!".

We started well, but by late on Saturday both lead animators, Euan and myself, were suffering from bad colds.  In the true Geri Reid spirit, we stopped at 8:30pm, unheard of for a 48 Hours Team, and the next day our mostly newbie helpers were "thrown in the deep end" with heavy responsibilities and much self-direction.  They did well to get an edit together and we made it to the finish line with about 3 minutes to spare.

The biggest experiment was getting the characters to talk.  I had an idea to share the workload.  We had only 2 animators but we also had a workforce of 5 computing students and an Institute computing lab.  So on the Saturday we shot all dialogue one character at a time, moving the mouth into each of the "phoneme" positions plus partway positions and taking 1 still photo of each.  This amounted to between 3 and 20 photos for each character depending on complexity.  This was then dumped on the newbie editors who had a few lines each of dialogue to work with, laying that down on a video editor audio timeline, and copying and arranging the photos against the speech in durations of  small fractions of a second.  It worked!  Although it took 4 of them 5 hours just to get the dialogue synched this way.  I will continue doing clay dialogue this way, even if I am animating on my own, because we discovered this has the advantage of reducing wear and tear on our models by minimum handling of them to get the speech out of them.

Greg and Linda, our musicians and sound recordists, composed and performed through Sat and Sun to create "The Wanganui District Health Tango" and "The Smacking Polka". 
New Zealand satire backgrounder.  Wanganui not only has a dancing mayor but also a current (May 2007) Hospital scandal.  We kinda symbolised this by coming up with the Minister of Health as Geri's dancing partner and having them performing an "Indian Rope Trick" as part of their dance routine.  I like to get deep and meaningful here and say that this represents the mysterious disappearance of our government health dollars.
Our other dancing couple were "Helen Clark" - our Prime Minister and "John Key" - Leader of the Opposition.  These 2 had recently put on a rare display of bipartisan co-operation over NZ's controversial  "Anti-Smacking Legislation" so this became the "Romance" of our movie and our clay versions of Helen and John celebrated their newly found love and togetherness by performing a "Smacking Polka". 

Greg hauled his home recording studio into the Institute and classroom NR220 made a fine studio where Greg did a great job of recording our voice performances.  I made a point of getting everyone together on the Sunday at 11:30am to have a voice recording session and get crowd noises.  That and the following compulsory forced break from panic for a civilised lunch was the only time we had all of Team MITCIT together.  Especially with animation we can be a rather fragmented lot so it was good to see ourselves as 18 people.  Plus Arthur makes 19.  Arthur played the announcer, recording himself 1000km away in Greymouth and emailing the sound files to us.

9 of us made it to our Heat at the big, beautiful Civic theatre in downtown Auckland where we saw our result on a 20-metre screen.  It looked very good, as it should because being animation we were shooting stills at a much higher resolution than is normal for a video camera.  We were rather upstaged by having one of the few other animations, "Camp Fear", in the same heat as us.  "Camp Fear" is made by "Mukpuddy", a tight group of 4 guys who have clocked at least a year of intense dedication to becoming professional animators, and this was their breakthrough movie.  All power to them and congratulations to them on winning the Auckland Final.
We therefore had a good and worthwhile participation experience but no awards this year.  The quality of the other contestants is a good reality check for our students of the kind of sustained effort needed to pull off a breakthrough movie.

The review by "Godfather" says it well.
(Quoted with permission.  Read more reviews at 48 Hours Forum - Check out my shorts )

Dancing With The Pollies (Romance) by MITCIT

It just clicked for me that we our team made a joke about MIT's computer science department in our film. We weren't intentionally making fun of them, so I hope they don't take it personally. It's always been obvious that this team's main motivation for entering 48Hours is to have a bit of fun and challenge themselves. They always attempt something technically difficult, to the point where they risk compromising their ability to communicate their story. The last two years this has meant using extensive blue-screen backgrounds. This year they opted to use claymation. It was perhaps a bit rough in places, but still possibly the most successful 48Hours animation attempt I could remember (this was not to last long - see below). The characters were all very cute, and the story - a Dancing With the Stars parody with a political spin - was basic but enough to keep me watching. A very good effort, but I bet they would have loved to be in any heat but Mukpuddy's.

Script: 2/5
Acting: 2/5
Production: 4/5
Entertainment: 4/5

Overall grade: C

Follow-up discussion
Dancing With The Pollies (Romance) by MITCIT ...
It just clicked for me that we our team made a joke about MIT's computer science department in our film.

Someone notices us?! Yay! What's your film/team?

I bet they would have loved to be in any heat but Mukpuddy's

You lose that bet. It was great to get to see the other animation in that theatre setting.
QUOTE(iafilm @ May 31 2007, 04:30 PM)
Someone notices us?! Yay! What's your film/team?

It was Fractured Radius, and the joke went like this:

DOOF: She's got a T3 uncapped LAN, a Kray laptop, and a PhD in computer science from MIT.

JERRY: [IMPRESSED] Manukau Institute of Technology? Wow!

More Videos and Pictures
Video Link to YouTube - Earlier Experiments: "A Quick Start into Animation" (2006)

Tracking Shot!  Hi tech lump of plasticene to hold Canon on the toy car. (Yay!  "The Warehouse" was selling "Plasticene"(TM)  this week - the "real thing" in modelling clay!)   Note at lower right Euan's very mathematical toothpick/plasticene/ruler tracking controller.

An oldie but a goodie - this use of the Number 2 Diopter closeup lens is a giveaway of the Super-8 past of John, Greg and Peter.  Modern vid zoom lenses can get close at wide angle, but the diopter lens gives us the whole of the zoom range on condition that the camera-to-subject distance is locked down to a narrow range - in this case about 42 to 50cm.  This is the same principle as reading glasses and some of our diopter lenses are extracted from reading glasses sold in dime stores.



Set building

Character building

Team MITCIT are staff, students, ex-students and friends of the Manukau Institute of Technology.

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