Disney Channel Micro Content: Drive-in

On June 21, 2016 by jw

A combination of animation and engineering brought to life an urban chipboard city for the Disney Channel. Ben Rohel and I teamed up with Roger to build a stop motion rig that could give a bird’s eye view of a miniature motorist in one of Kiel Johnson’s incredible sculptures.

We used pre-production to solve as many potential problems as we could find. I went to Kiel’s shop to photoscan the set and then I used the resulting 3D model to design the stop motion rig in Maya with parts from OpenBuilds.

KeyshotVR render of the rig

We used an Arduino Mega and Ramps 1.4 to control three stepper motors and Dragonframe to guide the camera move. Dragonframe offers an Arduino sketch for non-real time camera control. Ben was able to modify the sketch to work with Ramps. I 3D printed a few mounting pieces to secure all the electronics together. This made moving from our ping pong table workbench to the stop motion set a bit more organized.

Since we had the rig and set to scale in Maya we were able to previs the camera move and animation before production. I exported the camera move from Maya and Ben wrote a parser to convert the camera data from Maya’s ATOM format to Dragonframe’s XML format.

With the previs camera keys loaded into Dragonframe we could onion skin the live camera feed with the previs. Both clips lined up and we could see how all of the cars and the boat needed to move throughout the shot. The first take was with daytime lights, then we did another take with moon lighting. The rig was accurate enough to do perfect repeatable moves, so in post we faded in the night pass. In the future we talked about adding motion controlled lighting to the rig, that way we could physically set the sun throughout the shot.

Ben tracked the footage in Nuke and I added clouds, birds, ducks, boat steam, and boat wake in Maya with Arnold.

Bonus: I was able to help out with the sculpture a little bit by laser cutting a sheet of trees and the XD logo. Ben added a few micro green LEDs to the back of the movie screen that Kiel made.


On Set BTS


This mix of animation, mechanical engineering, and computer design has made this project one of my favorites to date. A huge special thanks to Terry Lee, Kiel Johnson, Alex More, and of course Ben Rohel.

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