Animated dance around the house Part 1

The Boing tour has finished and I’m back at home with some time on my hands.  So I thought I would make a new video. An idea came to me whilst I was lying on my side waiting for some ear drops to do their work. The idea seemed quite simple at first; take existing clips of the dance films I’ve made, print and cut out the dancers in a miniature form and then stop frame animate them dancing around the house. Simple…


It wasn’t long before I realized this was going to take quite a considerable amount of time, so I thought it would be interesting to document the process and progress (or lack of it) on here.


Already I suspected that this would take quite a long time to do each second of animated footage and my idea involved mixing this animation in with the original film, so the first step was to make and rough cut of the finished film – so as to be sure that I was only animating what I was going to use. Once this was done the fun began.


The process of this animation divides roughly into 3 steps.


1: Extracting the dancers from their backgrounds and printing them out.

2: Cutting them out.

3: Rebuilding the scene in the house and taking a picture of each frame.


The first thing to think about is the frame rate. All of my films are shot at 25 frame per second, which is the standard for PAL footage and slightly faster than the 24 used in cinema (with the exception of Peter Jackson). Hence to try and recreate this in animation would mean extracting, cutting and shooting 25 frames for every second. In roughly 2.5 minuets of animation that would be 25 times 60 times 2.5. Which is 3750 frames! And thats assuming there is only one dancer in each frame (which there isn’t). More dancers mean more cutting. In order to give good results but not be too ambitious I went for 12 frames per second, it remains to be seen if this was still to ambitious.


So the first step is to export the relevant sequence (the one that I want to animate) from final cut pro as a 12fps sequence and import it into after effects. Once it’s in after effects I can go through each frame using the rotobrush tool to cut around the dancer. Its quicker than just doing it in Photoshop as the tool predicts what it is you want to extract (sometimes correctly and sometimes not). But because I only want to roughly isolate the dancer to save on ink when printing, I’m going to cut it out exactly later, it’s relatively quick; Takes under 10 seconds a frame. Next, again to save ink and paper, I need to put as many of the cut out dancers as I can fit onto a single sheet of paper. I use Photoshop to do this. It’s pretty straight forward except for the size of the dancers. Because I’m going to recreate the scene physically in miniature I need to adjust the size of all the dancers so that they are all the same. If I don’t when a dancer dancers into the background they’ll get smaller and if I’m making them dance into the background in my miniature reconstruction they will get smaller again.  The best I can do with this is a rough approximation and it remains to be seen just how significant slight inaccuracies will be here. Fingers crossed.


Here you can see After Effects and a good example of how the Rotobrush tool can't be trusted to cut everything out by itself (the purple line should just be around the dancer).

Here you can see After Effects and a good example of how the Rotobrush tool can’t be trusted to cut everything out by itself (the purple line should just be around the dancer).

Here you can see lots of little dancers getting lined up in Photoshop ready for printing.

Here you can see lots of little dancers getting lined up in Photoshop ready for printing.

So, after printing I sit for hours (days) with a scalpel and a head torch and cut out each dancer. In this first scene, which is 12 seconds, I have cut out 154 little Shantala’s and 40 little Joel’s. Once this is done its time to shoot it all and get it back into the computer. I haven’t done this bit yet, so I will update my progress in later. But essentially what I need to do is create a little scene in the house, in which the geometry approximates to that of the original scene, calculate and map out any camera movements that happened in the original scene and shoot it all frame by frame on a stills camera. Simple? We shall see…



Lots of little people

Lots of little people


thats 194 dancers cut out there...

thats 194 dancers cut out there…


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About Wilkie Branson

Wilkie Branson is an interdisciplinary artist and, as co-director of the project based Champloo Dance Company, an associate company at the Bristol Old Vic. Self taught in both dance and film, which form the main focus of his work, the roots of his practice are in BBoying. Wilkie’s dance style has developed into a unique fusion, with expression, accessibility and integrity at it’s heart. His most recent works, White Caps and Stronger are currently touring internationally in Europe, North America and Asia. Awarded the Arts Foundation Choreographic Fellowship in 2012, Wilkie is also a member of the Sadler’s Wells Summer University. Photo: Chris Nash Upcoming shows: White Caps - York Theatre Royal / Varmints - Sally Cookson & Wilkie Branson / BOING! review - The Independent

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