I’m pleased to announce scenarIO STUDiOS has entered Pink Floyd’s THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON 50TH ANNIVERSARY ANIMATED MUSIC VIDEO COMPETITION.
I have submitted two entries to my YouTube channel. You can view them together, in the recommended order:
This unofficial combined version also includes 20 seconds of animated audio that may not otherwise be allowed by the contest rules, since Rule #8 is unclear in two respects.
And here are my two official entries, presented separately and without any additional audio:
I chose these two tracks because they bookend the album brilliantly, as its overture and encore. Speak to Me foreshadows lyrical themes from the middle of the album, while Eclipse offers catharsis and invites the listener to loop back around for another orbit.
Speak to Me
While Pink Floyd’s masterpiece album was lighting up the charts in 1973, a certain British comedy troupe was looking to fund their own luminary epic: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Pink Floyd would soon join Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and a few others, to contribute £21,000 towards The Pythons’ £175,350 horseless and nearly castle-less budget.
This album and that film left deep impressions on me as a teenager in the 1970s. And now after 50 years, this contest is a golden opportunity for me to pay homage to both — and say, “Thank you.”
And since I’m a 1:6 scale stop motion animator, I chose to parody how The Pythons might have taken over Pink Floyd’s recording session at Abbey Road Studios, to make their fevered pitch.
Terry Gilliam’s Patsy as Nick Mason
on lead guitar
John Cleese’s Tim the Enchanter as David Gilmour
on bass guitar
Graham Chapman’s King Arthur as Roger Waters
Terry Jones’ Sir Bedivere as Richard Wright
a kitbashed Carol Cleveland as twins Zoot and Dingo, as Clare Torry
at the desk
a kitbashed Algie the Pig as The Producer
Terry Gilliam’s The Bridgekeeper
Eric Idle’s The Dead Collector
up in the rafters
Graham Chapman’s Prince Herbert
out in the wings
Michael Palin’s Sir Galahad
Speak to Me took nine months and 67 takes before I started the final animation, in order to perfect the camera motion control and rather sophisticated lighting programs.
My mantra is, “It’s all about the photons.” And to that end I refined my custom-built Photon Harvesting Machine specifically for this project. Analog Photons > Digital Ray Tracing
My one-man studio is tiny, occupying an upstairs room in a 1925 farmhouse here in SW Portland, Oregon. My toolchain includes:
- a very overpriced Apple iMac Pro
- a TerraMaster D5 Thunderbolt 3 with over 40TB of RAID storage
- Dragonframe stop motion animation software
- Final Cut Pro non-linear editor (NLE)
- a Canon EOS RP mirrorless camera with special animation firmware
- 16mm, 35mm and 50mm Canon RF Series lenses
- an eMotimo spectrum ST4 motion control system
- an iFootage Shark S1 slider with 6-foot extensions
- a 55-inch curved Samsung Odyssey Ark 4K UHD display
- two MOKOSE 4K UVC mini webcams
- a Chauvet GigBAR Move with DMX
- a Chauvet DJ Hurricane 1DX haze machine with DMX
- and various low voltage lighting systems that I built myself and programmed via DMX.
I sourced most of the props from Amazon, eBay and Etsy. But the set design and construction was all me. The main concert stage is comprised of seven wooden substages that have modular, interconnected wiring. And yes, I do my own soldering. The foreground office stage revolves on a MOCO turntable under my custom-built cyclorama’s 24-inch glowing moon.
There are two Dragonframe DDMX-512 controllers and six generic DMX decoders on set, to drive all the lights and haze in sync with the music on a repeatable frame-by-frame basis.
Speak to Me is only 1567 frames long (~66 seconds at 24 fps), which I extended to 1807 frames (76 seconds) in order to provide a climactic outro into the next track, Breathe (In the Air). The main shot is a single, slow-burning track designed to draw viewers in, gently, like lunar gravity.
We open from behind a futuristic control booth window, overlooking the Producer’s revolving office and his private concert stage. Two of The Pythons are at the desk, chatting up the kitbashed Producer puppet who wears a pig mask, representing capitalism and no one in particular. (But could it be Algie?) In front of him sits a pile of strapped cash. £21,000 to be exact. The Bridgekeeper examines a translucent vinyl album with his evil eye, powered also by a UV LED.
The Producer’s wooden desk and chairs were hand crafted by Zubko Mihail, an Etsy artist in Ukraine. The first desk was apparently lost in a Ukrposhta post office missile attack, and it took months to get a replacement out of that war zone. Once received, I drilled it out through an acrylic top, and wired it with 5V DMX smart lights — the kind where each LED has an individually addressable microchip. The props on the desk include a cash register, a bowl of caviar, and a soccer ball — all symbolic references to Money.
In fact that metal toy cash register was the first prop I acquired for this project, for a whopping $7. I thought hey, I could write a whole scene around that cash register if I wanted to do Money.
I handmade the ring of Chapstick candles with 3V flickering LEDs. Each candle is lovingly wrapped in a (fake) £50 British Pound note representing the Monarchy.
As we glide weightlessly over the office substage, our attention is drawn to what appear to be vacuum tubes, including two giant bell jar cloches shielding gilded roses. But we also spot several 1:6 scale vacuum tubes that I fabricated using 12V UV LED bulbs, set into 8mm diameter glass vials. The glowing filaments you see are just wads of neon fishing line. The microphones are all fitted with those UV lights too. And each light is programmed to sync with Speak to Me’s audio spectrum, broken down either by frequency band (Hz) or by who’s speaking or singing.
You’ll note that my characters are comfortable animating at variable frame rates. While standard stop motion animation is shot “on twos” (2s), meaning two frames of video per pose, I will slow them down, freeze them, or speed them up when it makes sense — to me. A typical speed ramp progression might go 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s, 8s, 12s. Those intervals all divide evenly into 24 fps. And during the band’s 60 bps heartbeats, my main animation alternates between 6s and 18s. Those first six frames per beat represent the 1/4 second interval between human heart valve movements.
There are good reasons for these practical constraints, compared to 30 or 60 fps CGI animation or even traditional cell animation.
First and foremost, my aesthetic is Retro. That means I use Old School animation techniques that I personally find nostalgic and charming, doing only as much body language animation as necessary without physical rigging or digital crutches.
Second, most 1:6 scale action figures are made for collectors to pose, not necessarily for animators. While most of my studio’s puppets have advanced armatures with 31 points of stainless steel articulation, these Sideshow Monty Python figures weren’t gifted with, shall we say, fine motor skills.
Third, I consider posing an artform unto itself. So in cases where sustaining smooth movement on 2s isn’t practical, I’ll put extra effort into blocking and lighting keyframe poses that can be held long enough for the audience to savor those photons while the camera continues moving on 1s. You can see examples of this in the light refracting through various translucent albums the characters are waving around.
So just think of every pose as an individual photograph, suitable for framing. The human brain is wonderful at filling in whatever gaps an artist leaves open, much like the notes a musician chooses not to play.
By now all the characters have synchronized their movements on the heartbeat, produced by Nick Mason on the coconuts, and Roger Waters on the vacuum tubes. These heartbeat lighting patterns are driven via spectrum analysis data from the original soundtrack, which I then converted to DMX signals (RGB amplitudes) with a rather sophisticated Swift program I wrote called DYMO.
There are around 800 active lighting channels on this set, consuming two DMX512 universes. This includes two LED light strips acting as graphic equalizer visualizations. One of those strips actually lines the inside of my 1:6 scale Sega grand piano. Some of the other lights and LED panels operate as standalone fixtures.
- 12 3V flicker LEDs in the candles
- 2 3V custom desk lamps (battery powered)
- 14 5V 12mm smart Pixel LEDs in the desk (42 channels)
- 10 5V 12mm smart Pixel LEDs in the drums (30 channels)
- 12 12V 5mm UV LEDs (12 channels)
- 2 40W UV blacklight bars
- 2 Lume Cube 2.0 (Bluetooth)
- 2 Lume Cube Panel Pro 2.0 (Bluetooth)
- 2 Lionel 12V incandescent light towers with 16 bulbs each (2 channels)
- 11 3V N-scale (1:160) LED street lamps used as piano lights (AA battery operated)
- 1 Chauvet GigBAR Move (DJ gear) with 8 fixtures (35 channels)
- 1 144-light smart LED strip across the stagefront (432 channels)
- 1 72-light smart LED strip (cut in half) inside the piano (216 channels)
- 2 5V RGB Slow Fade SMD Mini Supercomputer panels each with 144 LEDs
- 1 24-inch diameter LED lamp with custom blacklight moon lens
Nick Mason is The Heartbeat of Pink Floyd, and we’re driving straight into his kitbashed Ludwig drum kit. This was the first set piece I built. (See Drums Almost There.) Each drum has a 5V Smart LED built in, behind custom translucent skins. The drums are arranged and lit to simulate the flow of blood through the chambers and valves of the human heart. And if you watch closely, there are even signs of atrial fibrillation in the bass drum on the right.
Once we peer past the glass cloches, we’re over the synth bay. These amazing 1:6 scale maquettes were crafted by Ronaldo Lopes Teixeria in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He’s world famous for reproducing historically accurate keyboards, synthesizers and amps. And for this project I commissioned, at appropriate expense, a full suite of authentic instruments used by Pink Floyd for The Dark Side of the Moon. That includes:
- HIWATT amplifier heads (two)
- Hammond RT-3 Two-Manual Console Organ
- Leslie 122 Cabinet Speaker for the Hammond organ
- Wurlitzer EP-200 Electric Piano
- Mini Moog Model D
- EMS Synthi Hi-Fli Guitar Synthesizer
- Fender Rhodes Piano 73 Stage
- Synthi AKS Synthesizer
- Farfisa Combo Compact-Duo Organ
- Binson Echorec
- EMS VCS3 Putney
- Azimuth Co-ordinator
You’ll notice these pieces are fitted with tiny piano lights in my video. I added those myself (carefully), using 3V street lamps designed for N-Scale train dioramas. The Hammond organ and its Leslie speaker cabinet are also fitted with my handmade UV vacuum tubes, as are the two HIWATT amplifiers next to Waters and Gilmour. Those vacuum tubes are all DMX controlled like the other UV LEDs on set.
I chose a different style for this track: Simple, traditional cel animation reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s work in Monty Python, but also with some motion graphics synced to the music. The idea here was to use original photos or artwork in a deep stack of animated layers.
While designing Speak to Me I had found an amazing trove of public domain images from NASA. The problem with the scene I chose to construct in Eclipse is that the Moon, the Earth and the Sun were all captured against a shared black background, with no alpha channel to use as a mask or traveling matte. And that meant I had to add my own masks to every celestial body, in order to control what other elements their photons might interact with. So in the main layer I first had to assemble 2909 NASA stills into a video clip adjusted for 24 fps. Then I carefully retimed the “Sun’s orbit” to match the music’s cadence. And did you know the timing in Eclipse varies slightly?
Once I mapped all of that out, I had to painstakingly mask three moving circles across the entire shot— one keyframe per frame. Yes, this took several days to do manually since no “tracker” plug-in can outdo me when I start a labor of love.
So in case you question whether these shots are animated, the answer is yes. It’s just that the result is photorealistic.
Waters’ lyrics are exquisite in Eclipse, and it would have been fun to produce literal imagery to match like everyone else was bound to do. But this is ultimately a 50th Anniversary celebration, so I went with the theme of us all traveling back in time together over the past five decades, and remembering how we all experienced such impactful music over the course of our lives.
So from a Big Bang cold open, driven by the wails of Rick Wright’s Hammond organ, I started with a streaming device and then regressed back through MP3 players, CDs, and audiotape, to finally land on the original vinyl album. The dominant shape of these devices lent themselves naturally to a full moon, in montage.
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
And here’s the twist: At the very moment of the song’s eclipse, we realize we’ve been observing our cosmos from a spacecraft — from behind the Moon, allowing the Sun to transit happily between.
For this sequence I kitbashed the spacecraft out of a PetKit Breezy Dome cat carrier, installing a second power unit, and a cool little control panel clock full of blinking lights. Our astronaut is a transparent Android, representing one possible Evolution of Mankind. A possible future where robots might use AI to ponder their own existence, in full circle.
No rotoscoping, live action or AI-generated video was used in the making of these hand-crafted entries, nor did any farm animals float away. I mention AI because the contest rules permit its use. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 😎