QuantumCat Animation

Opening the box one frame at a time


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News Gazette Studio Visit

Did an interview with the local paper a couple weeks ago.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Thomas Nicol with his stop motion animation figures at his home in  Champaign on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette
Thomas Nicol with his stop motion animation figures at his home in Champaign on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.

News-Gazette arts and entertainment reporter Melissa Merli visits with artist Thomas Nicol, 26, Champaign (originally published in the June 9, 2013, News-Gazette).

Q: Do you use that green screen all the time for stop motion animation, or do you have bigger ones, too?

A: Oh, yeah. I have a muslin sheet that’s 15×9 feet for live action, not animation. This is just in place because I didn’t want to build a whole theater of little seats.

Q: What is this project with the two rabbits?

A: This is for what hopefully will be a Web series called “Critter Critics.” It’s going to  be movie reviews given by these rabbits, kind of like Siskel-and-Ebert meets Wallace-and-Gromit.

Q: Can you explain stop motion?

A: You know how regular film and video cameras can take 24 pictures every second? When you play that back, it looks like motion. What stop motion does is you take those 24 pictures separately so you can make adjustments between frames.

Q: What kind of camera do you use?

A: A Canon T3i, and I use a piece of software called Dragonframe that takes an image feed from the camera so I can see what I have. With film, you have to take all of your animation to see what you’ve already shot. A frame grabber lets you see exactly what’s going on and when it’s going on rather than having to wait to develop film.

Q: How long have you been doing stop motion?

A: I started when the Lego Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set came out about 13 years ago. It was the coolest thing ever.

Q: I heard that you are one of the only people in this area doing stop motion.

A: Yeah. There’s a guy here, Johnny Robinson, who taught it for a long time, but he’s doing other things now. There’s a good online community of animators, but around town, it’s pretty much me.

Q: I watched online “Fluffystein!,” the live action-stop motion movie you made for Pens to Lens. What made you pick that screenplay?

A: Well, it was a story that really appealed to me. I like the Tim Burton feel it has. I felt it had a great potential for stop motion. It was a great screenplay with a lot of humorous dialogue. I was impressed that sixth-grade girls had written it.

Q: Did you go to the Pens to Lens gala on May 29? What was it like?

A: Yes. It was very exciting. The kids (who wrote the screenplays for the shorts shown) were absolutely thrilled. I helped plan Pens to Lens, so obviously I’m a fan.

Q: Where do you work by day?

A: PowerWorld. It’s in the University of Illinois Research Park. It does software for visualizing and simulating electric power systems.

Q: Do you do other kinds of animation besides stop motion?

A: I do some digital animation and live action. I’d like to do more stop motion than I’ve done so far. I have a few stop motion movies, but most of the time stop motion is there as part of a live-action piece.

Q: Have you posted your animation online?

A: Yes, at www.quantumcatanimation.com.

Q: Ideally, what would you like to do?

A: I would like to keep doing what I’m doing. Not doing stop motion and other animation professionally means I have a lot more time to work on projects I want to do rather than the projects a boss signs me up for. The Internet has been great for self-distribution, so it’s something that people can do on their own now.

Q: When will you have “Critter Critics” online?

A: I hope to put it up by the end of the year. It will take a long time to get those five-minute episodes ready to go. On a good day, I can get a few seconds done in one hour. That’s actually pretty fast.

Q: What are your favorite stop motion pieces?

A: Too many to list. Last year there were three feature releases: “ParaNorman,” “Frankenweenie” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” by the same people who did “Wallace & Gromit.” Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare before Christmas” is an absolute classic, and, of course, anything by Ray Harryhausen, and Phil Tippett, who did the special effects for “Star Wars.” It’s a long list.


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Critter Critics Teaser

It’s been months of trial, error, and slow progress toward actually making silicone puppets — and they’re so close to being animation ready.  However, close as they are, wrapping post on Heartshot has to take priority for the next couple of months, so Critter Critics is going to wait a little longer.  Here’s a first taste of how the show’s going to look:

CritterCriticsTeaser


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Critter Critics Theater Seat Construction

Preproduction on the Critter Critics series continues  to hop along — the major set piece for each episode is a row of theater seats from which our heroes duke it out over their audiovisual entertainment.


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Brown Bunny first draft cast

The first silicone cast for Brown Bunny’s head is out of the mold.  Not the final draft, for reasons outlined below, but it feels like progress anyway.  And progress feels good.

Fresh out of the mold, with lots of seams to trim.

A step towards the final character…

The most immediately apparent flaw with this cast is the right ear — I skinned the inside of the mold with a layer of silicone before filling in the full cast, but it looks like the two halves didn’t connect at that point.  That sort of flaw might be able to be fixed with some painted on silicone; worth a shot anyway.

The problem that ensures a new cast will need to be made is that, again, the facial control wires didn’t end up close enough to the surface to be especially useful.  Time to try something else.


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Brown Bunny skull cast

Some progress on one of the rabbit puppets for Critter Critics

This is a urethane plastic cast from the mold of Brown Bunny’s head.

Backups are important.

Its purpose is to preserve the shape of the head in case something were to happen to the mold, but it’ll also give some context for the bare skull cast.

This guy will be the core of the puppet’s head.

Wires embedded in a urethane plastic core will allow the silicone skin to be “posed” in various expressions.

This was made in the same way as Expresso-Skull, so you can kinda see where this is going.  Depending on how this test goes it might end up as the skull of the actual puppet, or it may just be a draft; we’ll see.  In any case, the teeth did not come out well — I’ll be removing them and drilling a hole in their place, making the teeth in a separate mold from the rest of the head.  The learning process continues.