Kimiko (9) takes the train from her village to the city, to go live with her mother for the first time. Kimiko is confused by an ad in the train about masks, a confusion which grows when she discovers her mom uses one of those masks to hide her face.
When we started this process, an appreciation for Japanese culture and animation brought us together. After re-inventing our plan multiple times, we landed on the story of Kimiko and her mother. This film has no dialogue because all of us wanted the characters to speak for themselves (quite difficult with dolls), which is when we wanted to use eyes like madame Tutli Putli’s to convey the emotion. This decision kicked off loads of testing, because we wanted to solve this is post-production instead of the wonderfully aligned compositing our inspiration used, more on that later. The mattepaintings consist of physical elements which were made and composited together. This collaboration between VFX and production design was crucial for the look of the film.
Before we shot this project with the stopmotion program DragonFrame, we made a complete previz using Maya to create the sets digitally and placed our camerapeople with HTC Vive controllers in a room to record their intended camera-angles. This also helped the discussion between VFX and production to decide what was going to be on set and what was going to be added later. We used overlays on top of the previz to help define their tasks.
The shooting of stopmotion is a very tedious process which lasted a couple of weeks, after which we did the post-production in 2 months. We were planning to use DAINapp for the final shot of the film but ended up using it for the title animation only. Hopefully we get to continue this experimentation and make the longer version one day.
Making the eyes
The eyes were a delightful challenge for the entire crew. Our inspiration used the shot from the actors in full-size sets after which the stopmotion sets were shot with the exact same angle. We wanted to use a different technique, Keentools, to match the movement of the live-action eyes with the stopmotion footage.
For this we photoscanned the doll heads and used the Keentools geotracker to track the head of the doll throughout a shot. Instead of using this as an object track, we used it as a camera track. This way we could project the live-action eyes onto the static 3D dollhead. When you would look through the moving camera, the eyes would by on the head of the stopmotion doll.
This gave us the freedom to shoot the stopmotion however we wanted it, and the ability to change the timing of the eyes to the intent of the shot. The shooting was a bit difficult, since the helmets with camera’s aren’t really made for shots towards the face. For motion capture, you’d place a couple of dots but we needed the eyes themselves. This separation of shooting the eyes and shooting the stopmotion shots helped us figure out our plan while in the edit.
Besides the eyes we had a lot of other fun stuff to add to the shots to create this big world with the small time that we had. For the mattepaintings Production Design created all the separate assets in real life. These were photographed in the correct lighting and then used in Nuke on cards to create a mattepainting true to the style of the rest of the film.
For one of the shots we wanted to add moving shadows, which was too big a task to do during the stop motion shoot. Thus we decided to do these in VFX. We photoscanned the stopmotion set and used this to project the passing trees onto the shapes of the set. Using this as a mask for the second take we took of the shot with the 'sun' turned off, we created VFX shadows that interacted with the actual set.
This project was developed for nearly 2 years and was executed in 3 months, this was only possible because we had a ton of fun while making this project. From the meetings in which we acted out the scenes ourselves, to the shooting of the stopmotion while having discord open for discussion and small visits, this film has been made with a lot of love and enthusiasm.