Sets / Lighting / Photography

The hallway of Zelma's school. One of our bigger sets, it serves as the background for 7 scenes.

There are 145 scenes in My Love Affair With Marriage and anywhere from 1 to 25 shots within each scene. We build and photograph sets for most of them, creating 3-D environments into which Signe animates her 2-D characters. 


Some sets are used for several scenes, but many only once. This adds up to a lot of sets. The studio is filling up with them! We will have a set-sale once the film is completed in 2021. Anyone wanna buy a set?

There is no storyboard for My Love Affair With Marriage. The grand visual plan remains inside Signe's head. This breaks rank with most other animated feature films, which are meticulously storyboarded before production begins. Signe's guidelines are the script and vocal track. She does storyboard, but one scene at a time, completing the backgrounds and animation before moving onto the next scene. Signe prefers to discover the visual essence of each scene as she goes along. This way she can keep incorporating new ideas and inspirations.

Soviet Classroom, 2 to a desk

View from the stairs

And so, each set begins with the location indicated in the script. What this might look like is just a notion in Signe's head. Sometimes she finds a photo to share with Sturgis, such as a Soviet classroom, circa 1970, with two students to a desk.

Sometimes it's just a quick

sketch like the one of the school hallway pictured above.

Signe's sketch of the hallway

Either way, most of the sets begin their physical life in the carpentry shop as pieces of


Soviet School Desk

Many Desks


School Hallway

Bus with Coffin

Art Gallery

Stairway to Jonas' Bed


For the Art Gallery, where 17-year old Zelma meets the artist Jonas, Signe wanted a church-like setting with lots of archways. In the Soviet Union religion was banned and many old churches had been turned into art galleries.

Signe got her archways and suddenly we had a lot of scrap archway-cutouts. For the next scene Signe wanted a grand staircase that led up to Jonas' bed. The scrap cutouts gave us the idea of making it a curved staircase - one of the benefits of designing one scene at a time. 



The sets are scaled approximately 1 inch to the foot. We try to make them somewhat realistic, yet leave room for the surreal. Enter:



We cover all the sets with paper-mâché. Some lightly just to hide the wood. Others more heavily to create texture. A few set pieces are made with 100% paper-mâché.

The school hallway again. The paper of old Yellow Pages work best for delicate work around the doors.

Jonas' Stairway

Signe adds paper-mâché vines to Zelma's room

Intern Erin O'Malley

Paper-mâché trees

Under the heads and bodies of the horses are wood. The legs, tail and ears are paper-mâché. The carousel turns, too.

Paper-mâché coat. "Being elegant is more fun," sings Elita, as she prances out of it.

Add Paint

Lots of paint! Most sets and set pieces get 4 or 5 coats, the first an undercoat of black. We use Rosco Off-Broadway Non-Reflective Paint. Under the lights there's no glare. Our too-shiny sets for Rocks In My Pockets were at times a problem.

Paint table

Intern Max Tunney putting final touches

on the Art Gallery

Signe painting another hallway

(lots of hallways)

A section of the gallery two coats in. The bricks are cardboard

Zelma's room with vines, fully painted

Paper-mâché tree, winter

Paper-mâché tree, summer

Intern Joon Young Park painted all the artwork on the walls of the Gallery.  His first gallery show!

When Zelma travels to another town she imagines that she will meet Colorful People. Here are 3 of them - 100% paper-mâché.

Fully painted carousel

Add Lights. Add Camera... and Action!

The world turns golden when Zelma sees Maris exiting the boys room,

Shooting Zelma's Room when she's 13

Zelma has a fantasy room

where she retreats to draw wild cats

Jonas' Bedroom, awards lining the wall. Zelma, 17, is highly impressed.

8-year old Zelma's whole world turns golden when her Soul Mate 

walks out of the boy's bathroom at the end of the hall.

Zelma's College Dorm Room at night. We put a small spot in

the desk lamp to isolate Zelma studying. Whatever works.

The Gallery with Joon's art on the walls

The Colorful People. The camera is midway through a pan from left to right

The Park with paper-mâché trees.

The ground is painted newspaper

Aside from Lights and Camera there are 4 essential tools that we need for shooting.


1. A Stop-Motion Rail. For a stop-motion pan or zoom one needs to move the camera in exact increments. A rail enables us to do this. Our rail is cutting edge 1970 and completely manual. Nowadays they are computerized. But we like the sturdiness and versatility of ours. It can pan, zoom, tilt up and down and move from side to side. We've added an extension so we can position the camera in the middle of a set. 

2. Dragonframe. Dragonframe is a program that helps us control camera settings from our computer. Very handy for focusing the camera, organizing shots, replicating positions, checking camera movements and much more.

3. Dimmers. Being able to control light levels is a critical part of the art of lighting. Our dimmer board is homemade from a theater project of 20 years ago. We love it! 

4. An adjustable grid on which to hang the lights. We made ours with wood and clamps. 

Stop Motion Rail - as sturdy as they come

Dragonframe - the sleeper car

Dimmer Board

The Grid. Clamps are the new nails.

Commuter train. They still look like this in Latvia.

A coffin rolling down the hallway of the Soviet crematorium

Signe shooting Zelma's 2nd grade classroom

Desks spinning in Stop-Motion

The Stop-Motion spinning Coat

In the Park, the Carousel at night

Is that a skeleton lying on the set? It is.

Zelma's college dorm room, empty

Zelma's college dorm room, day

Zelma's college dorm room, night

Four lighting variations for the Mythology Sirens' Stage

And now we're ready for Animation!