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We are proud to be sponsoring five senior thesis projects at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. These projects range in subject matter and medium, from stop-motion to live action. As with most recent films, each project requires some amount of computer graphics or computer animation in their post-production process. We will be following these Chapman students and their projects through their post-production. This is the first of several updates on the progress of their films.

Inspired by Japanese culture, three Chapman students, Taylor Johnston, Austin Piko, and Evan Ridpath, have teamed up to produce a stop-motion animated film, Meraki, about a samurai warrior. Meraki is the only stop motion senior thesis film that is being produced at Chapman Dodge this year but the team is working to make sure that their project makes an impact on the college.

Although stop-motion animation can be more time-consuming than traditional animation, Taylor, Austin, and Evan are passionate about the art form and see this as a unique opportunity for education within the university. The team’s stop-motion studio, located in the filmmakers’ apartment, is close enough to Chapman Dodge for animation professors to bring their students to experiment with the technique. The team of students producing the film is excited to bring new techniques to this animation process.

Stop-motion is one of the original forms of animation, dating back to the late nineteenth century and usually relying on taking photos of a clay form as it is gradually moved to create an animated object. Characters and set pieces were painstakingly created by hand and reshaped as scenes progress to adjust for facial expression and other small movements of the character. Sometimes animators would handmake many detachable heads, each with a slightly different facial expression, to swap out for a change in expression. Most recently there has been a new focus on stop-motion as innovative animation studios marry this old technique with advanced computer graphics software and emerging manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing.

With 3D printing, these heads (and other pieces of the characters) can be created much more quickly and accurately, resulting in more precise changes in expression and character movement. Advanced video editing and animation software, such as Foundry’s Nuke, is also a key part of the advancement stop-motion animation through 3D printing and advanced video editing. One studio, Laika, is pioneering the creation modern stop-motion animated films, such as Coraline and the Boxtrolls, using 3D printing and they continue to push the boundaries of animation.

The students working on Meraki are following in the footsteps of animation studios like Laika to produce a stop-motion film from 3D printed characters and advanced computer graphics software. Austin, Taylor, and Evan digitally designed armor and facial expressions using AMD Radeon Pro graphics technology to be 3D printed. The team is working with the 3D printing company Purple Porcupine to produce these features for their samurai warrior, Meraki. As of this month, the team has finished 3D printing the dozens of expressions needed to animate the character.

Aside from the printing the expressions of their main character, the team is finishing the sets for their scenes. Each one is carefully crafted by hand but was converted to digital sets for animation and composited using Foundry Nuke software at the beginning of February. The team is still in the process of animating the characters, as you can see in the video below, but they expect to be finished in the next few weeks. The filmmakers also showcase their animated warrior expressions.

Learn more about our partnership with Chapman University students here.

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