Category Archives: RETROfilm

The Dungeon

Still waiting on a key $395 set piece for this scene that is held up in transit due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. The artist lives in Siberia, and the tracking information hasn’t been updated from Moscow since February 12.

In the meantime I have transformed our master shower into a cavernous fern grotto-like BDSM dungeon attached to Amanda & Sushi’s minka. Here we’ll see our supervillains holding Mona Lisa hostage.

The shower will be filled with about 4″ of water, using a silicon drain stopper. The 12 acrylic stands you see will act as pilings, supporting four stepping stones, two fire pits and the 1:6 scale timber BDSM rack.

Here’s the list of props I’ve used to build this set:

Murder Hornet Nest

Act 7 of POSERS will see the return of our Giant Asian Murder Hornet puppets. I hadn’t planned to reveal where they came from, until I was faced with needing a ceiling in Amanda & Sushi’s Japanese minka — their supervillain lair. So then it hit me that I could solve both problems at once, by designing a ceiling that was also a nest. Creepy? Yes!

This is the photo that inspired me. I researched as much as I could about bees, wasps and hornets — and I’ve always been intrigued by them. Especially how they build, how they communicate and how they organize themselves to do the Queen’s bidding.

My first prototype looked good at first, but it wasn’t stiff enough to support its own weight. I used card stock for this, folding each tube into a hexagon shape. But you can see what happed after I coated them with papier-mâché. They became stiff, but they deformed way too much.

So next I found some rather expensive white cardboard called chipboard. This prototype was a success. It took a lot more labor, however, as I had to score each fold with an Xacto knife. In the background you can see a woolen dryer ball. That ball’s diameter dictated the size of each comb. I will stuff those balls into the ends of a few combs to look like silk cocoons that haven’t yet hatched. The hexagon sides turned out to be 1-1/4″ each.

I made about 140 of these combs and glued them onto a 2×4′ sheet of corrugated cardboard. Notice how they vary in height. The average hornet comb has about a 2:1 ratio of height to diameter in real life. I also left gaps in the honeycomb pattern, to give it more of an authentic organic quality since hornets don’t use rigidly structured bee apiary panels. Today I’m going to squirt some yellow foam sealant into the joints to make it look like waxy build-up. (Hornets don’t produce honey.)

I got pretty excited to learn that cocoon silk glows under blacklight, since I’ve shot many scenes in POSERS using UV lamps and UV-reactive materials and paints. So I found special spray paint and a string of blacklight LED “fairy lights” that are programmable. These lights are spaced four inches apart, which is perfect. I poked a hole at the base of each comb and then on the back of the cardboard, I fashioned a circuit board by bending and poking each LED up into the hole. Then I secured all the wires with Frog Tape across each row.

Here are the wool dryer balls. I bought two bags of nine. I originally thought I could just cut them in half but they proved too difficult to set in the tubes that way. But I’ll use fibers and clumps from the cut-up ball to glue debris in the honeycomb. That will look like cocoons that have hatched but haven’t been cleaned out of the nest yet.

And finally, here’s one of the Giant Asian Murder Hornet puppets I’ll be using. These came out of Japanese capsule toy vending machines, ordered through eBay. I already had a set of three but decided to buy three more.

The nest was looking too sterile so I used some yellow foam sealant to simulate the muddy pulp hornets regurgitate as an adhesive. I gave it a light coat of metallic gold paint and then another heavy coat of Glow in the Dark paint — especially on the cocoons. This photo is upside down, while everything dries on the porch.

Once complete, the nest will be mounted upside down across the top of Amanda & Sushi’s living room. The 2×4′ panel bowed at first, so I glued and screwed it to a particle board plank. The lighting looks super cool and dramatic. I used two cans of Glow in the Dark spray paint for the insides of the combs, and any outside portion that’ll face the camera. The LED controller can make the lights pulse or “breath.” And when the purplish lights are off, the tubes continue to glow neon green. Will post video of that later, as WordPress makes that very difficult for some stupid reason.

Chapstick Candles

Today I received the 1.8mm Flickering Warm Light LED kit I ordered from — an amazing little company. So I’m finally ready to make a dozen Chapstick candles for Act 7 of my movie POSERS. And here’s how I did it:

The first thing to know is that before running the LED wires up the center of the tube, we have to remove the plastic screw that acts as the core. This is a very delicate operation, as we need to preserve the wax intact without crushing or melting it. So step 1 is to uncap the tube, and turn the base dial all the way until it stops.

Now, with a 1/8” drill bit, we hold the tube firmly and drill out the base. If done dead center, this will sever the base dial from its plastic screw. Note the paper towels in the background. You don’t want your fingers to get waxy. Also you don’t want the label to slip. So hold the tube above the label.

Here you can see the base dial comes off. We’ll glue that back on later. Inside the tube, you can see the broken screw core. This will likely remain loosely attached to the plastic cup that holds the wax. Sometimes everything will fly out but usually you have to push it out. I used a pointed wooden skewer, about 1/8” in diameter. But you could probably use a small Phillips screwdriver.

Remember to never pull the wax. You can only push it or it will deform and break into a mess. Here are the parts of a Chapstick tube, lined up. You can throw the broken screw (just the shaft) away.

Okay, now set the tube upright (without the base dial), and carefully reinsert the wax, cup first. Use the cap to apply even pressure. The cup will resist at first, but then it will snap. We want about 1/8” of the wax to remain exposed at the top, like a real candle. If you push too far, use your stick to push it back up from the bottom hole.

Now we need to make a hole in the top of the wax, that will connect to the hole vacated by the plastic screw we removed. This is easy if the wax got a little soft from all the friction. You can just poke it with a stick. Do this gently — but if the wax starts to break, stop and use your 1/8” drill bit on slow speed instead.

Now hold the tube up to a light and make sure the hole is clear. If not, gently use your skewer again, twirling as you go so as not to move the wax up or down.

Now we’re ready to install the light. Straighten the red and black wires together and twist them if necessary. Easier said than done since you only have two hands and the assembly so far is fragile. We want the bulb to sit about 1/8” above the wax. This is mostly for effect, to simulate a candle flame. But also, we don’t want even the slightest amount of heat to cause our wax to slide down the tube and out of view.

Now we’re ready to glue the base dial back on. Carefully turn the tube upside down and thread the wires through the hole in the base dial. Secure it in place with a couple drops of Loctite 495 or other Superglue. We don’t need the dial to turn anymore. Once the dial is set (about a minute), add one more drop of glue to the hole to set the wires at our desired bulb height. On a few of my candles, this didn’t work so I used a hot glue gun. I was reluctant to do that at first because everything is heat sensitive.

Okay, that’s it for the candles themselves. Here you can see I made twelve. 3 cherry (red), 3 spearmint (green), 3 moisturizer (blue), and 3 strawberry (pink). Be sure to let the glue set a while and then check each bulb again for slippage.

The LED light wires are bare, so my next step was to thread them through some wooden stands I drilled and stained. These are 3” tall stands I found on Amazon. They had 1/2” holes so I had to enlarge them with a 5/8” bit — the diameter of a Chapstick tube. Then I drilled a 1/4” hole down the center to accommodate my wires. I broke a couple stands so be sure to order extra. Since I don’t have a drill press, the trick is to hold them in a small bench vise, drill halfway from the top, then halfway from the bottom. Turns out a 1/8” bit would have sufficed. I set each tube in a stand using hot glue, being careful to keep them straight. Note that the wires are thin enough to just cut a groove in the bottom of the stand. But on my movie’s bedroom set, I drilled holes in my plywood floor where I’ll connect all the wires underneath and out of the camera’s view.

The flickering effect on each candle is amazing! Will post video of that later.

SHOT 607

This is another highly technical shot that will last 304 frames (12.67 seconds), animated on twos. The action is timed to sync with the bass line in the music, at either 38 or 76 frames per phase.

It’s a MOCO shot where the camera starts off normal but then corkscrews, swings, bounces and defocuses with increasing intensity each time Amanda Münschon uses her Taser on Donald Trump — whose reputation precedes him.

With each zap, Donald’s colostomy bag will inflate bigger and bigger, filled with digested food waste while he yells nonsense. Just like at Mar-a-Lago, I would guess.

SHOT 606

This is a long tracking shot, 760 frames — 380 of which is animated. It’s an example of an establishing shot that isn’t the first shot of the scene.

Here, Leo is grappling with Donald while Amanda deals with some considerable baggage and a robotic film crew works their magic.

SHOT 604

This is a low stationary shot with the camera set directly on the floor. Donald appears clutching his paper towels, causing some concern for Leo and Amanda. Leo helps Donald with his overcoat, causing the Bounty to fall and bounce toward Amanda. That happens a little too quickly so I think I’ll work the paper towels into a future scene so we know they’re there.

SHOT 603

We see a pantless man enter the scene, dragging a stretch of toilet paper stuck to his dress show. There is only a slight focus pull here.

I originally planned to have Donald’s pants down around his ankles, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to animate him stepping up that step. Turns out that was a mistake. I could have just put the pants around one ankle. Oh well — it’s too late now because I had already animated the next two shots when I remembered this. So now I’m trying to come up with a place to show his pants coming off his feet in an earlier shot. Hard to do when there is timed music involved. We’ll see…

SHOT 602

This is a tracking shot that swoops in, under the theater marquee. Right on cue, Amanda emerges from the airlock, assisted by Leonardo DiCaprio in a tux. She is suddenly wearing a business suit and high heels.

Here I go full frame versus 16:9 with a vignette, to sell the idea that this is a film noir production inside POSERS.

The heels are extremely difficult to animate her on, since I’m not using traditional rigging. I’m relying solely on my ability to pose the puppets using their own weight and balance. So there are occasional falls that take a lot of time to reset.

SHOT 601

This is a 592-frame tracking shot with a deep focus pull on both ends, starting from The Joker slurping a soda, to our sexy Assistant Director holding a movie clapboard. It took two or three weeks to set this up, running through over a dozen test shots.

This is one of the few live video shots in POSERS, since it was important to catch those animated LED lights in their natural sequence. There are significant technical challenges when mixing live video and stop motion animation. I know what the solutions are, but they require new feature requests from Dragonframe and some custom Arduino programming on my side to create pausable/steppable sequence controllers for the lights. The Dragonframe team also stepped up to fix a few overspeed warning bugs for their new Digital Focus feature.

The music is based on Neal Hefti’s classic Batman Theme, lending this shot a surreal retro feel along with the natural bokah effect. POSERS is probably the shortest film ever with an intermission.