Bethany makes a music video for Midnight on the Interstate,
a song from Trampled by Turtles

Trampled by Turtles is teaming up with the Media Arts department at Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, MN) to create their next music video! Read on to explore the making of and see how this stop-motion adventure unfolds.

ConceptSetsPropsCharactersStop MotionRobot

Concept

Midnight on the Interstate touches on themes of reflection, remembrance, and even a bit of regret.  Having reached the end of his life, our main character, an old man, begins to rewrap the ball of yarn signifying his existence – he follows the string of his personal story as it leads him back through time. We journey with him as he relives significant moments from his past – the first house he bought, where he met his wife, etc.  Slowly, we are made aware of how his story is intertwined with the stories of others. Emphasizing the connections, relationships, and personal stories each one of us carries with us, this music video reminds us to take time to reflect on and appreciate our lives.

Production Design

Sets
To provide a rich background for the unfolding narrative, our team spent several weeks creating and building a world for the puppets to interact with.  The sets were primarily constructed out of foam to ensure they were light enough to move around, yet still durable enough to withstand days of shooting.  Consisting of seven different scenes, we built multiple locations and landscapes – an interstate, several residential neighborhoods, a small town main street, a cemetery, and a small-scale city.  As much as possible, our team thought of each set as a distinct character in and of itself.

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Props
Even though stylistic care was taken to simplify backgrounds, it’s the smallest details that help breathe life into each scene. Handcrafted, miniature pieces emphasize the personalities of characters and reinforce their actions. Careful thought was put into each individual object – ranging from balls of yarn to storefront flowers to instruments for band members.  In order to fully flesh out the created world, we also assembled several independent light sources.  Sets are populated with streetlights, lamps, and even several vehicles with working headlights and taillights. 

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Characters
Characters are at the same time one of the most exciting and intimidating aspects of an animated project.  Animation provides us with the opportunity to create characters of our own imagination and make them do things not possible in live action shooting.  As an audience though, we still have to be able to relate to the figures on screen and identify our own emotions with theirs.

Midnight on the Interstate features handcrafted, richly textured wooden puppets. From stylized people to hand carved owls, each carefully assembled figure allows us to convey the action of the scene.  Some of the puppets even have stunt doubles of sorts to ensure we have spare parts to draw from when needed.

Throughout the video, the main character, the old man, encounters other figures at different stages in their lives – a family moving in to a new house, two college students meeting for the first time, a father and daughter reuniting, etc.  The wide range in puppets further enriches the world of the music video.

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Animating

Stop-motion
Our team of animators collaborate closely to create the stunning imagery accompanying Trampled By Turtles' music. To bring the animated world to life, characters are moved and photographed one frame at a time to create the illusion of continuous motion. The team uses the state of the art Dragonframe software to photograph the scenes. The software is the same one used in many animated films and commercials such as Paranorman. This is a laborious and time consuming process, taking many hours for just a few seconds of animation. Numerous challenges arise and are solved for every shot, often requiring special rigs to be built or props and characters to be slightly modified to perform complex motions. The animators start with the storyboards and figure out how to take the director's vision and make it a reality on the screen. Hundreds of images are taken, cataloged, and processed for editing. Some shots require clean up and digital touching up after they've been photographed to achieve certain effects.

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Robot
Using a custom made robotic slider, the animation team is able to make the camera move at precise increments one frame at a time. This allows us to create smooth camera motions in the computer which the robot translates into frame by frame movements. The robot also allows us to control the acceleration or deceleration of a camera move. Being able to move the camera in a stop-motion animation adds a level of depth and interest to every shot the robot is used on.

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