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Anatomy of a Set - October 30, 2017

Dear Backers,

Today we want to share with you our "My Love Affair With Marriage" set-making process. We build, light and photograph background sets to create a 3-D environment onto which Signe Baumane can animate her 2-D characters. Some sets we'll use for a single scene, others multiple times. There are 145 scenes in the film and numerous shots within each scene. We'll be making about 65 sets in all.

One recent set was the hallway of a Soviet school which Zelma, our leading character, attends. A total of 7 scenes take place in and around this hallway. Signe wanted it to be long with doors on each side and staircases going up and down. Here is her drawing explaining her thoughts. It's about as sophisticated as our set designs get.

Shaky because it was drawn on the subway

In the carpentry department, Sturgis Warner builds the initial structure - 8 feet long by 16 inches wide with adjoining hallways at each end:

The scale is approximately 1 inch = 1 foot

Signe glues paper-mache over the wood to create texture and paints a black undercoat:

Five coats of paint later and this section of the hallway is complete:

The base coat of black paint helps to bring out the textures

Next comes the stair units. The pink stairs were part of a set from a previous scene. We recycle whenever possible:

One reason we don't spend much time designing sets is that good ideas come to us while we build them. Here we decided to double the length of the top staircase. We also decided not to put railings on the stairs. Despite the hazards to animated schoolchildren, we like the simple look:

The unpainted white piece connects the two previously-built staircase sections

With all the sections painted, we moved the set to the photography room. To accommodate the staircase unit we had to elevate the entire hallway:

Signe wanted a moody look for the first hallway scene - light and shadows mixed together:

The box in the lower left corner is our dimmer board, crucial for sculpting the light

We have a saying: "What does the camera like?" Sometimes our Nikon doesn't care for lighting that we think is beautiful. Other times it surprises us by liking a look that seems quite ordinary. Here is an early test shot taken by i-Phone, not Nikon:

Test 1: Sharply angled light accents the textures of the walls

Another test:

Test 2: The smoothness of the steps juxtaposes the textured walls, the extra-long staircase paying dividends

And another:

Test 3: This shot is taken from Zelma's point of view

In one scene a boy walks out of the bathroom at the end of the hall. As he comes closer to Zelma, the hallway explodes in color. It quickly fade as he passes by without acknowledging her:

Orange light for Zelma's fantasy moment

Once a hallway scene is shot, Signe animates that sequence. We don't want to move on - and change the lighting - without making sure that we have our shots.

When Signe is on a roll, she can complete 70 animation drawings a day.

The small tree on the table behind Signe is made of paper-mache. We will use it as part of our next set: the carousel in the park, where another 5 scenes will be shot:

Sometimes we despair at how long the production process takes. Sometimes we get plagued with doubt. But seeing the animated characters come to life and inhabit our backgrounds is always a thrill.

THANK YOU for your support!

With love,

Signe, Sturgis and the "My Love Affair With Marriage" Team

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