I’m currently an animation student studying at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Last summer I decided to practice stop motion animation, so I talked with the program coordinator Chris Walsh who helped me get access to the school’s stop motion studio during the summer months. I decided to make a short film I could use towards my portfolio and also as an animation test for a kid’s show I had an idea for.
First, I reached out to my friend Davey Swatpaz, an Irish Animator I met through the podcast I run (The Animation Industry Podcast). He is known for his silly independent animations, the Turbo Fantasy series from Mondo, and his guest episode of Adventure Time. He is also a fantastic voice actor and agreed to do the wizard’s voice.
The Silly Wizard Video
I started production in June – crafting the Silly Wizard, the ducks, and the special effects. I finally started production mid-July and by the time school was starting in September, I had finished the animation. I completed post-production (removing rigs in Photoshop, sound, and music) after classes and posted the video to my YouTube channel and Instagram at the end of September.
Within a day, more than 150,000 people had viewed the video. The biggest source of traffic was Reddit, where my post reached the front page and received more than 1,000 comments.
Behind The Scenes
I also posted a behind-the-scenes video showing the 6,420 frames it took to make, most of which didn’t make the final cut. This was my first time animating something like this, so half my time was just learning how to animate. The first shot of the wizard bouncing in took about five full tries before I got it right.
In November 2019, I won the animated tv show pitch (PS Team: Congrats Terry!) competing at the Toronto Animated Arts Festival International (TAAFI) conference. That led me to talks with a few studios in Canada and the US about turning the Silly Duck Wizard into a preschool show (fingers crossed!). Plus, the video caught the attention of some directors which has opened new opportunities for me (can’t disclose anything yet).
Dragonframe let’s you draw and time out archs over your shot, which is very helpful in planning your shots.
I timed out the lip sync ahead of time in Adobe Premier using simple open & closed mouths so I didn’t have to figure it out while animating. Then I created a chart showing which mouth to use for which frame (Example: frame 46 = mouth “O” shape)
Set up your scene ergonomically and take breaks. I pulled a muscle in my shoulder from spending full 8 hour days with my arm extended.
Simplify everything as much as you can. I decided to remove the background completely because it didn’t enhance the story and would’ve taken a lot of extra effort to make/animate.
Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one. I wanted the wizard and the ducks walking away together at the end. I tried to animate the larger puppets all at once, but it was a nightmare. So, I decided to use tiny pompoms to represent them zoomed out and it turned out great!
Have replacements ready! Somehow I lost the wizard’s hat halfway through production. Luckily I’d made a replica of the entire puppet just in case.
Be ready for things to break. I’ve experienced armatures breaking half way through a shot, which ruins everything. I designed the wizard so that anything (head, arms, legs, wand) could be easily pulled off and replaced at any time.
If you’re just starting out and feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay! My first animation was with plasticine on my bedroom desk using my grandpa’s old camcorder. You don’t need sophisticated equipment, expensive armatures, or elaborate sets. In fact, the Silly Wizard is made from a box of chicken nuggets and dollar store felt and wire. I recommend starting small and building your way up.
*Thank you Terry, we loved your stop motion and only wish you the best in your promising career forward! *Swishes wizard wands
Written by Ruan Smit
Ruan Smit started Pixelsmithstudios with the vision of creating a new design orientated environment of sharing, learning and expertise development amongst local Animators,Illustrators,Game Developers and VFX artists in South Africa.