Tuesday 1 March 2022

monotony and solitude

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
Albert Einstein

  "I'm bored!" he says.

  "Agghh! Why are you bored? How can you be bored? I was never bored!" I think, but it isn't strictly true. When I was bored my mum always had jobs for me to do. So I learned not to be. "When I was a kid, I used to...." what did I used to do?
  "I used to make my own lego movies using a video camera and stop-motion animation."

I think that it was about four frames per second, with jolly street organ music forming the accompaniment to a lego man being run down on a crossing multiple times. Our sense of humour back that was more slapstick than dark, and being run over was the most we had to fear in life.

But we don't have a video camera... and we don't need one! We have a digital camera that takes jpeg images. Some of my misspent time on the computers taught me about the motion-jpeg video codec, so it's going to be pretty easy,

I teach the young complainant the basic principles of stop-motion animation. Keep the camera steady, move only a little bit, and have enough light. They can get a basic view of their work just by flipping through the photo history on the camera.

He sets to work with the camera and his lego pieces while I write a shell script to invoke mplayer and mencoder on a folder full of images. In the end we end up with a short script which processes the images in order based on the image name (which is a 4 digit serial number). 

But it gets tedious (that's a posh word for boredom without me having to resolve the contradiction of being bored during a period of intense creativity) having to copy a title frame ten or twenty times in order to make it show long enough for the audience to read, so we add the feature that the images can be renamed to contain extra data such as the number of frames to be shown for. We also allow symbolic links to a folder of images to allow re-use of some sections.

This is all used to produce a list of images (some repeated) to pass to mencoder to produce the final movie which is then combined with a sound track.

The images to form the movie (along with sub-folders and links) are stuffed into a top level project project folder, and the entire user interface consists of dragging the project folder onto a desktop icon shortcut for the main script, and out pops an image named after the project folder.

And what was the result? The boy was busy, creating animations for fun and entertainment. His younger siblings had their turn. Lego movies for home. Lego movies for talent contests, clay motion movies for course credit at Leeds College of Art, and through that exponential curve of interest so technique improved from a camera held steady against a fluffy carpet, through the use of a board, a tripod, additional lighting (to avoid shadows you know), and finally a shutter-release button on the end of a wire to avoid shaking the camera! So far we had come. It was he, of course, but I'm determined to claim some of the credit for I was there at the start, and it was my idea!

Any future cries of boredom (from any of them) were swiftly dealt with by threats of stop-motion animation. The work involved in creativity had become apparent. But they all resort to it from time to time, to stave off the boredom.

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