"Grace Under Water" is the latest stop motion animation by Anthony Lawrence. It utilises realistically styled, handmade silicon puppets repositioned frame by frame in richly detailed sets.
With a running time of 8 min 10 sec, "Grace Under Water" has been shot stereoscopically for 3D release. It is the second collaboration between director Anthony Lawrence and writer Chrissie McMahon, following on from their award winning stop motion short "Looking For Horses" (2002).
Lou is losing the cold war with her stubborn and enigmatic stepdaughter Grace when an unexpected challenge arises from the depths of a warm, dreamy afternoon at the local pool.
Shadows from the past bear down on the present as Lou is forced to face the truth about herself and the frustrating child she is trying to love.
Grace Under Water is an eloquent exploration of the balance of fear and delight, estrangement and closeness that only a family can understand.
It was refreshing coming to "Grace Under Water" after twenty six years of experience in stop motion as everything in this project represented a challenge. To begin with Chrissie brilliantly condensed her script which conveyed the essence of all the internal monologues contained in her original short story. How much could be pared down and still convey the meaning of the story? That was the question.
Water and water effects feature largely in most of the films scenarios. I, and other like-minded stop motion animators, strive to do all effects in-camera where humanly possible, so for the various ways water can move, ripple, splash, bubble, or spill, special techniques had to be utilised, one I believe, for the first time.
I felt that the nature of the story was not particularly conducive to a cartoony approach, where puppets are stylised with disproportionally sized heads, and sets are designed in unusual ways. For this reason, and also as its quite rare to see, the puppets were made with lifelike proportions. The smaller head size of the puppets meant great challenges not only to the sculptors, but also in creating the tiny facial armatures to control the expressions and jaw. The actual physical manipulation of the faces in the finished puppets was also tricky, particularly the eyes which were no more than 3mm in diameter. An animators fingers are just too big to physically get in there. Also I don't drill holes into the pupils of eyes to control the direction of gaze with pins. The eyes are the focus for the viewer and to see holes in a puppets eyeball I feel raises a barrier between the audience and the character the puppet represents.
Usually in puppet animations, the characters can have body parts made separately, and the joins hidden beneath clothing. In "Grace Under Water", set in a hot summer, most characters are portrayed in bathers requiring a single, successful cast, from toes right through to fingertips. Casting a one sixth scale, full body puppet in silicone with the armature set perfectly in place, and no air bubbles, is no mean feat. Highly visible seam lines on the puppets in this instance was a concession I was prepared to give, as if the audience is engrossed in the story, they ought not be concerned about seam lines on a puppet.
The Stereoscopic aspect, although relatively straightforward now with computerised stepper motors alternating precisely the left and right image captures automatically, meant that traditional special effects used to save on set construction such as glass paintings, hanging miniatures and forced perspective, could not be used. So the outdoor settings in the film needed to be carefully designed so that their horizon lines were blocked in order to save a massive and unaffordable build.
Seeing the film with sound and music after so many months of planning and producing, is really refreshing as the combination of the music with the edit is where the emotional impact is created, and after all, the reason for making the film in the first place.
I was really lucky to be able to work with so many artists who gave this film their all despite the relatively low budget for what we set out to achieve.
- Anthony Lawrence
A StopMotion Puppet Animation by
The camera was mounted on a Mark Roberts Stereoscopic Sliding Rig, which, in conjunction with the Stereoscopic controllers found in the animation software, Stopmotion Pro, automated the motion of the single camera to both left and right eye positions.
Convergence was not used, rather we shot with the camera in parallel with itself. Although convergence can provide a different, perhaps more rounded 3D feeling, parallel allows for more control in post with tweaking where the eye settles on the focal plane, i.e. in front of, behind, or on the screen plane. Parallel also avoids any problems with "keystoning" that may occur on some objects.
The Interocular distance was set at roughly the distance between the puppets eyeballs, around 4mm, so as to keep the depth in the sets looking in scale to the puppets. If the IO distance had been set to human scale , it would have the effect of making the sets appear smaller.
To view the effect of 3D, the left and right image are nested together, and the 3D television or projector does its magic electronic wizzy biz, and layers the left and right images across each other making them look a little blurry. The glasses correct that and allow the left eye to see only the left side image, and the right eye to only see the right eye image. There are different 3D systems in place at the moment, and no doubt there will be more as the technology advances. I prefer passive glasses as the powered glasses give me a headache and use up battery power.
Doing post in 3D means you need a system that can deal with the left and right side images together. For instance, doing rig removals or compositing, whatever you do on the left must be applied the same way to the right view. So even though the shooting of 3D stereoscopic is straight forward, the post on it can be challenging, which is one of the reasons this animation has taken a little longer than usual to bring to completion.