Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Dream Come True: Uncle Ralph Lives

I haven't been blogging everyday for November, but I have been working on a creative project (see above). It all started when we went to my sister-in-law's house for Halloween. Alicia and her husband Rick are unstoppably creative. For example, they have built a spook house in their basement that they keep up all year around and change every couple of months. It is outstanding and imaginative.

While we were at their house, the kids were watching a Rankin & Bass Halloween movie, Mad Monster Party. I watched a bit of it and was entranced, as usual, with the puppetry and animation. I wandered out on the enclosed porch with my brother-in-law, Rick. He was puffing on a pipe and I started telling him about how I've always wanted to make a stop-motion animation film.

"Why don't you?" he asked.

"Well, I'd need a script," I said.

He didn't say anything. We looked out over the foggy valley beyond the Rocky Fork Creek that runs in front  of their house. Then a thought occurred to me. I have a ton of material...all of the Uncle Ralph stuff I've written here! All of a sudden, the penny dropped and I suddenly knew how I could make it all happen. I also felt super-grateful for Rick's capacity for silence that gave me room to make this discovery. I moved away from all the obstacles and into the realm of the possible.

Doc and I started talking about it on the way home from their house. Then, we decided to make it happen. We are fortunate that we live in Speedy's old house. Speedy and his wife bought this house in the 50's when it was new and lived a very long and happy life together, if the love notes that are still taped to the inside of cupboard doors have anything to say about it. Speedy was a handy man and a shelf-builder extraordinaire. So, we had TONs of materials to start this project.

We began by building the set with a large piece of particle board...about 4x4. I had purchased a $30 circular saw and we angled the sides in slightly. Once that was built and suspended over two steel saw horses, Doc set the latter on top of it and climbed up into the rafters in our garage to pull down several pieces of paneling, press board and MDF that Speedy had stashed away for a rainy day. We also pulled down an ancient pair of wooden saw horses, who gave their life (and 2x4's) to support our walls.

After a few trips to Pat Catan's, or Pakistan's as my Grandma Jean used to call it, with Scotland (the Capn) and Elizabeth. We were ready to design and dress the set. And finish making Uncle Ralph, who is a drawing dummy under all that felt. I recorded Scotland doing the voice for Uncle Ralph.

The wallpaper and floor are contact paper. Doc made the wainscoting. Elizabeth covered the straw chair in felt and stuffing and doilies, and the kids decorated the tree.

We were nearly finished and ready to film, or so I thought. But Doc insisted that we build him a fireplace. I'm glad we did. It is a block of 2x4's glued together (another gift from Speedy). Doc cut out the fireplace part and painted it a shiny silver, selected from Speedy's vast collection of spray paint. 

Then we broke up a piece of Speedy's slate and hot glued the pieces to the front of the fireplace. Now we were ready.

It was Doc and me in the garage on a very cold night. We set the tripod and the camera. We watched  listened to short pieces of the video of Scotland and started filming. At first we tried to animate every single syllable. We were sure it would take us DAYS. We spent about three painstaking hours doing this. Doc would move the felt lips and the wooden arms and I would hold the camera in place and take the pictures. We thought we maybe had 10 seconds of material.

Then I loaded all the pictures into Movie Maker and the voice track. We set the pictures to .1 second duration and let her rip. We were confused to see that the images didn't exactly line up to the speech we thought we were animating. But we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it didn't really matter. The movements matched the words, for the most part. And the unsteadiness of the camera gave it a Super 8 effect...totally the look I was going for. So after some careful cutting and pasting, we had a complete short film.

Now all we needed was the music. Doc and I went back and forth about what we should do. He suggested I play the piano. I wanted something better than that. So I convinced him to check out the royalty free music on iStock Photo. We found the perfect music: The First Flakes of Christmas. It was so earnest and heartfelt and very sweet, a nice counterpoint to Uncle Ralph's gruffness.

So last night, we finished up the editing and announced the birth of Uncle Ralph to Scotland and Elizabeth. They came over and we toasted our efforts and watched it together. It was a wonderful moment of the realization of a dream. Ever since Davy and Goliath and Rankin and Bass, I've always wanted to make a stop motion animation film. And since then, I've been blown away by Nick Park and Aardman Animations, who are responsible for Wallace and Grommet. I'm fascinated by the miniatures and the attention to detail on the sets.

I am so thankful to have the friends and family I have. Their creativity and willingness to pitch in humble me. And now I don't have to mail Christmas cards. Uncle Ralph will handle our message this year. So, watch the video and take the message to heart. Also, share the hell out of it, please.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raging Red Bull Smoothie!!!

It was very tasty, but if I didn't already have a bad case of ADHD this morning, I do now!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

F3 - Cycle 56 - Shields Up!

600 words of Sci-Fi for Friday Flash Fiction.

I calculated all the alternatives. None of them would let me get where I needed to go. I was going to have to batter through the asteroid belt to make it into the Dentari region in enough time. My cargo was small but huge in importance. And this jump was more problematic than a Centauri whore-dog during Intergalactic Chastity Month. 

It all started when I was given the launch sequence that would let me leave the space station. Some joker in HQ thought it would be funny to encode them first. And he didn't use any standard code. I couldn't find it in the empire's code databases, that's for sure. I had to go to the space station library, find an actual "book," and spend my last day of leave and most of my prep time solving the puzzle. That's OK. I got him back. He'll never look at a tube of anti-itch gravity cream in the same way again, I made sure of that. 

Once I was done fiddling around, I barely had time to cram all my gear into my shuttle duffle and kiss my cat goodbye. I ran from sector 17, through the dread zone, past the barber shop and into shuttle bay 7, where I got chewed a new one by Sarge Benson for being late. Fortunately, I'm a gifted pilot and my interns fall all over each other to get things set up before any mission I go on. One aw shucks and a country boy smile and I was off the hook. I made a quick sweep of the panels as I plopped into the driver's seat. Everything seemed fine. 

But I failed to notice the tiniest of mistakes. My outstanding interns didn't factor the subspace variable out far enough and caused my jump to land me here and not on the other side. 

So here I am, my artificial navigator cowering under the sub-engines while I prepare myself for the ride of my life. I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. My buddies and I took turns showing off at the arcade playing Asteroid Belt, which was basically a simulation of what I was about to encounter. 

"Alright, Arty" I said to my chicken-shit navigation computer, "Shields up!"

My shuttle shuddered as the force field unraveled itself outward from the nose cone. I cranked up the view screen and engaged the rock anthem music algorithm. I took a quick scan with the front sensors and set the weapons array up so that it would spread neon green static light particles over all the rocks in my path. It was all routine, really. 

"Speed factor seven," I commanded, "Let's go!"

My field of vision lit up with green lumps that turned into tubes. I felt the impact of the smaller rocks that bounced off my shields as I maneuvered my way around the big boys. Every now and then, I'd see the shields shimmer and weaken; they were taking a pummeling and there was nothing I could do but keep pressing forward. 

"We make it through this, Arty," I said, hanging on tight, "I'll buy you a backbone." 

We crossed in two hours, record time, and I delivered the package to the Dentari chief ahead of schedule.

“Well, Arty,” I said, hopping back into my craft, “Want to see if we can beat our score?”

I think he passed out. And I laughed my way all the way back to another medal and a new crop of interns. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Oh, God! I'm Bored! - Tuesday Haiku

Moira and Riley

I know exactly what I have to do today. But I don't wanna. 

Haiku for Tuesday
Tuesday is trash night.
So, out with last week's garbage
Empty cans, clean slate.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm Daylight Saving Time's Bee-Eye-Tea-See-Aitch

I love setting the clocks back an hour. It's a dream come true. I woke up at seven o'clock yesterday morning like it was the right thing to do. I'm sure after a couple of days, seven o'clock will feel too early again. But it's nice to feel like an early bird for once.

Plus, I got a bunch done yesterday. And took second place in our weekly poker match.

I wish we could set the clocks back one hour every other week. Then I'd probably feel normal most of the time.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Wish Me Luck

I've decided that, in lieu of Christmas cards, I'd send my peeps a video short this year. And it's not just any short, it's going to be a stop-motion animation featuring none other than our Uncle Ralph.

Ever since Davy & Goliath and Rankin & Bass, I've had a fascination with this medium. And then Wallace and Grommet came along and took it to a whole new level. I've always wanted to watch the makers put these strike that: I wanted to do one myself.

I was musing about this to my brother-in-law, Rick, over Halloween weekend. He's the right person to muse to, let me tell you. He and his wife have built a haunted house in their basement. He makes wooden toys and stilts. She makes costumes and their kids are all stilt walkers and jugglers. But Rick's got a certain quietness to him that allows room in conversations. And in this space, I told him that I wanted to make a stop motion animation short. He said that it was doable. And I said, "but I need a script..." He puffed on his pipe in response. I felt a little bit sunken...didn't want to face dreaming up a short script with one or two characters who didn't move much..."UNCLE RALPH," I exclaimed.

I started telling Rick about Uncle Ralph and we bounced ideas around. Needless to say, I am now inspired.

So far, I've made an Uncle Ralph figure and Doc has built the framework for the set. I'm hoping that the Cap'n will be able to provide the voice and that Spooky will help me do the set decorations.

The only thing in my way is momentum, of course. But it's nothing some Red Bull, an inspirational speech, and promise of pizza couldn't defeat handily. So wish me and my team luck. And look for this short coming soon.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Blimey! Can I waste time, or what!

I'm trying to figure out what happened to two hours today. I can't account for them. Maybe I was:

  • In Rivendale, trying to sort out some business with a ring
  • Abducted by faeries and forced to listen to ballads and drink faerie wine
  • On board an alien ship trying to explain the difference between American Idol and X Factor
  • Sucked into the Bermuda Triangle
  • Given the opportunity to go on a trip to Paris that I wasn't allowed to remember ever
  • Under the influence of a sleeping draught while someone drank a polyjuice potion to turn into me and do some mischief

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Lyrics I Don't Understand: Sometimes When We Touch

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide...

--Dan Hill

  • Can someone please explain what it means when the honesty's too much? Too much what? Also, why must he hide? I don't get it. 
  • Does anyone have a copy of the cliff's notes for this?
  • Please help me. This makes me crazy. 
  • Do I just not get love in the 70's?
  • Am I missing some sort of passion/complexity gene?
  • Are my relationships just not meaningful enough?
Perhaps, I'm over thinking this. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday Haiku

It's nice to be done
Mostly with the week, Wednesday
It's all down hill now.

Edited to add: Haiku for a Bad Day

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hair Metal Soliloquy: Hence I Journey Anon

From White Snake, Here I Go Again

I know not to where I go, but I knoweth certainly whence I've been
I graspesth on the promises in the ballads of yore
And in my mind's eye, I am certain
I waste time no more
Hence I journey anon, hence I journey anon.

Though I searcheth for an answer
I find and not find that for which I seeketh
Oh Lord, prithee, give me strength to carry forth
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams

Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more

I be another heart requiring salvage
Waiting on love's sweet charity
And I shall grippeth tight for the rest of my days
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams

Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more

But hence I journey anon, hence I journey anon...