DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel at DVinfo.net

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Old September 8th, 2012, 12:26 PM   #1
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DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

This film took me in a completely different direction than any other film I have done. Usually I film wildlife, and occasionally people, but I have never tried to film with miniature actors. At first I thought of doing stop motion animation, or green screen, but decided to try live action. It ended up being way more difficult than anticipated. I was shooting with a macro lens, so the depth of field on many of the shots was just millimeters, since these characters were only 2-3” tall. This meant many takes with my micro actors to get the needed footage.

To vary the shots I used a few different techniques. Some were done with magic thread, which magicians use to lift objects up magically. I used several techniques to make them move without the thread being seen. Sometimes I also held the actors just off camera, creating an illusion of motion.

Post-production involved creating a variety of cuts, ranging from jarring jump cuts and impossible juxtapositions to smooth pans and talking heads. I had some of the nonsensical transitions to make it more in keeping with the tenor of Lewis Carroll’s book, in which basically anything is possible.

Given my background in audio, I spent a lot of time on that in post. All the material, both voiceovers and sound effects, were collected with a digital recorder. I used royalty free music from a variety of sources giving each character a Peter and the Wolf thematic element. I sprinkled in sound effects for a sense of whimsy.

The script was revised over a period of weeks, as I sadly realized that my original was around 20 minutes, then as shot was 10 minutes, so many of my favorite scenes had to be deleted to make the 5 minute limit. Although this made the storyline more choppy, given the nature of Through the Looking Glass, that is the essence of the book, and I don’t feel the storyline suffered. All the words and dialogue are direct from the book, but major story elements are obviously eliminated. I felt the theme of the dream was the essence of the book, and used all the necessary elements to drive that through the film.

Although I played with filters and color grading, thinking of going for a surreal look, in the end I kept the footage largely as shot. I spent a lot of time shooting trying to get a variety of looks, to simulate the different venues and times of day covered in the book/script. So it seemed better to keep the variety than cover it up with a uniform look.

On a personal note, although I did work on this on and off throughout the contest period, there was so much left to do I had to use the Labor Day vacation to finish editing the video. I overdid it so much that I actually got a vertigo attack- my first ever, the final night of editing. I am still recovering from lingering dizziness. So I strongly suggest if you ever do a film with mini actors and need to watch them for 16 hours a day over a long weekend be very careful and take frequent breaks to regain your sense of balance!

Here is the link to the video-
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Old September 8th, 2012, 01:38 PM   #2
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Haha. Great one Ruth. One heck of a screen play.... and all those characters to keep straight.

Was that a family project too ?
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Old September 8th, 2012, 02:54 PM   #3
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

I hope your recovery from the vertigo attack is going well.

I thought that your miniature characters were really cool. If you made them I'm quite impressed. Although there were certainly a couple of times where it would have been nice to have a slightly deeper depth of field to keep all of the characters in focus at the same time it was a good choice to be so shallow. It allowed the characters to pop and gave the film a nice look. Also, adding the bits of moment that you did when characters were talking and so forth made it easy to follow who was talking.

Because you were forced to cut so much of your original script I did find it a bit choppy and a little cumbersome to follow. However I am not as intimately familiar with the story as I probably should be - it being such a classic. I feel that if I was more familiar with the story I would have followed your film a lot easier. So that all comes down to your audience and is more a comment about that than your piece I suppose.

The one other thing that I would have liked to have changed was just the volume of the music, as it seemed to be battling for my attention with some of the dialog. That of course could largely be due to my speaker set - so maybe nobody else thinks that.

I applaud you for trying something new and think you did a splendid job. From someone who has done stop motion before... I think you made a good call going with live action. Stop motion sounds really cool until it's 5 hours later and you're on the 20th second of your film. :-)

Anyway, wonderful work!
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Old September 8th, 2012, 06:43 PM   #4
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Hi Ruth

We meet on the other side :-) !

I'm loving the variety in this challenge and yours certainly took it is a completely different direction. Your film was lots of fun and nicely shot. I might have had the dolls facing each other more instead of flat onto the camera most of the time. This would help the viewer to know which character was speaking more quickly. Loved the colours, and the design of the dolls and the story was interesting and different. Uber creative treatment for this challenge...top marks!
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Old September 8th, 2012, 07:33 PM   #5
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Ruth,

I had difficulty with the audio. My ears are 55 years old and separating the dialog from the background music is not as easy as it used to be. I had to watch it twice to get the storyline. Some funny writing, like seeing nobody, and believing six impossible things before breakfast. Was that a Lewis Carroll line? It sounded familiar. I thought the puppets were really well constructed, and it looked like a lot of fun to put together. I kept expecting Mr. Bill to make a cameo.
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Old September 8th, 2012, 09:50 PM   #6
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

I agree with Dick and Adam, the voice tracks should be a bit clearer. I love great music as much as anyone, but with rare exception, the dialogue is always going to have to take priority in the mix. (Nice music, by the way.)

Your shots had some really great colors, and beautiful bokeh. What kind of macro lens were you using? The lighting looked very natural, was it all shot outside? Did you use any lighting? I can't imagine the challenges you faced shooting such small actors! Wow!

You can really see that you spent a lot of time with this, Nice job!

I hope you're feeling better!
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Old September 8th, 2012, 10:35 PM   #7
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Chris, I wish this was a family project, but my daughter is now too busy to get much involved in these. I thought fondly of the UWOL films she and I did together in watching your own film for this challenge. She did supply one of the voices, though.

Adam, it would have been nice to have a deeper depth of field but they were so tiny I just couldn't do it with the lens I was using. Definitely need to add to my kit for future work if I plan to do much work featuring macro sized actors. Trying to condense a book into 5 minutes did make it hard to have a seamless flow, especially since there were certain scenes I needed to include to drive the story. Stop motion has sometimes been easier for me than this, though as you say, it is very time consuming. I went back and forth on the music. I guess since it was so integral for me to identifying the characters, with each having their own musical theme, it was important to place it at a high enough volume that at times it may have competed with the dialogue. Coming from an audio background, I played around quite a bit with the mix, and chose this but I can see your point of bringing it down more to give more space to the dialogue. Vertigo is mostly gone, still a bit dizzy. Definitely need to pace my editing in future!

Mat, I had the dolls facing each other some, but since the depth of field was so razor thin it then threw their faces out of focus, so I chose them facing at slight angles rather than completely for most of the shots, just to allow them to more fully display their complex facial expressions :)

Dick, as noted in the comment above to Adam, I consciously chose to make the music as loud as the dialogue since each piece was chosen to express a character. At times I did push the envelope, literally, with competition between dialogue and music. I will continue to explore this idea in future films. For most of my films, music is just a backdrop, so making a creative decision to feature the music as a character made me consider a variety of ways to enhance it. Turning up the volume seemed the most logical, since some of the musical themes were fairly close and I thought they might otherwise get lost in the mix. Yes, all the lines were from Lewis Carroll. For what is thought of as a children's book, it has a remarkably complex storyline.

Andrew, the music was basically a series of characters, so I used it and made it louder in a non-standard way. I will consider various ways to achieve this in future films. Most of it was shot outside but some was indoors and for that I did use lighting. Since most of the story takes place outdoors, I tried to shoot in as many locations and as many times of day as possible to get a variety of lighting and scenes to reflect the complexity of the book. I actually just used one macro lens, it was all shot with the Sony NEX-5N.

Thanks all for the comments, food for thought. I appreciate feedback so I can get more ideas for future films.
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Old September 9th, 2012, 04:42 AM   #8
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

I liked it.

The colors and the depth of field really made this pop out of the screen. The dolls have a lot of character considering they have no real movement; I guess that the music really did help to highlight a facet of their characters in this way. The audio was not really an issue for me I have to say; it worked fine for me.

I especially liked the opening effects (the slowing down of the music and the stretching of the screen when she warps through the looking glass) - I also liked the use of the reflected chessboard in the mirror (I really like in-camera effects, and that was an effective one).
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Old September 9th, 2012, 04:47 AM   #9
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Awesome, Brilliant. I love the puppets, Framing and color was good and I didn't see any fingers coming into shot. Loved the story. Just one point. I think the voices needed a bit more passion to tell the story. Other wise it was magic.
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Old September 9th, 2012, 02:52 PM   #10
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Hey Ruth! This was a really fun and creative entry and I loved the puppets! Really cool aesthetic and I think they looked awesome. I think a few other people mentioned getting some different angles of the puppets would have helped, and I would like to second that. I think it would have been really funny and interesting if you filmed it like a live action piece with alternating over-the-shoulder shots of the puppets, close-ups etc. Doing that could have helped avoid having so many jump cuts as well.

Another note is that sometimes the music was much louder than the dialogue and that made it hard to hear and as a result a little difficult to follow along, which I think a few other people mentioned. When you have so much dialogue and narration, it all is so crucial to the story so I didn't want to miss any of it! Just bring the music levels down a little bit would definitely help there.

Other than that, a really charming and fun piece that I bet you had a lot of fun making! Great stuff.
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Old September 10th, 2012, 06:32 AM   #11
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Ruth,

When I first watched your film, I kept saying, "oh, my gosh, this must have taken Ruth so long to do!!" Your ability to get so many voice actors, little actors (every scene it was another doll!), and sound effects together for this short film really impressed me.

I have a new respect for this type of art form and I don't know if I would have been able to do what you did.

For me, there were only two times the voiceover was drowned out by the audio track/music, so it didn't really bother me. There were too many components for me to wonder at!

Great job and such an interesting departure from the typical glass usage!

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Old September 10th, 2012, 11:50 AM   #12
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Hi Ruth,

Just seeing the vimeo thumbnail alone let me know that this was going to be a good project -- and it was! Funny thing, I think I looked away or something during the beginning, and I somehow missed the title sequence. However, your short film -- the characters, the set, the music -- it was all so well done, I soon said to myself, "Oh I see, this is a take on Alice in Wonderland!" Heheh, silly me, I guess.

A really nice twist on the theme, as others have said. I would have never thought to use little puppets -- they were so cute!

I'd love to know more about this film, if you've the time, Ruth. Did you make the puppets? What about the set design? Reminds me of the miniature sets at Disneyland. I'd love to know more! Cheers!
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Old September 11th, 2012, 03:32 AM   #13
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Mrs. Happel,

Let me say nice work the camera work and colors were fantastic! I will have to say that I may not be educated enough to comment on the film as a whole for I got lost at some point. It is very artistic for sure and I see a lot of talent in the film.

Its like those fine art paintings that you see and wonder about they are beautiful (like your film) but I am not sure exactly why? Sureal I guess best describes it!

Thinking I had missed something I have watched it several times but some of the story still escapes me but it is very pretty and pleasing to watch.

Overall Nice work!

thank you

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Old September 11th, 2012, 08:33 AM   #14
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

Very cute! But I'm having terrible problems in separating speech from the background music, almost wish there were subtitles. I get just pieces of the dialogue and they don't fall into a story, which I haven't read by the way.

The visuals are great, the overall impression - stylish! And I am really amazed by all the work put into making this happen - I love it! But the bad sound really spoils the enjoying bit for me.

I've followed you at Vimeo, and I really hope to see the next incarnation of this film with improved sound.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 11:14 AM   #15
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Re: DVC22 - Through the Looking Glass - Ruth Happel

I had to watch this again, just to see the cool actors.

Now I want to read the book!
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