An experimental animation constructed in accordance with the numerical value of five including references to mythology and the classical orders of architecture as described by Vitruvius and Serlio.
- Title: VITRVVIVS
- Running Time: Approx. 17 minutes 35 seconds
- Format: NTSC, Widescreen / Letterbox, Color
- Language: Broken Esperanto
- Audio: Digital AC-3, Stereo
- Genres: Animation, Stop Motion, Experimental
- Location: Atlanta, GA, U.S.A.
- Completed: September 2008
- Festivals: Rome International Film Festival (Rome GA USA) 2009
The VITRVVIVS project began as a computer animation project in 2002. The original goal was to illustrate the classical orders of architecture in a creative way. Vitruvius was a Roman writer living in the first century BC and author of the first books on architecture from classical antiquity.
The myth of Saturn devouring his five children, was a separate idea that I wanted to utilize within the same conceptual space. The experiment was to take two discreet concepts (architecture and mythology), rich with visual potential that appealed to me, and merge them together. Computer animation tests were created in August 2003 but the project stalled due to the lack of a satisfactory conclusion to the story being presented.
VITRVVIVS was put on hold for a few years until I eventually came across references to Sebastiano Serlio. Serlio was a Renaissance architectural writer who proposed a definitive set of five orders of architecture with many references to Vitruvius. Serlio’s references to Vitruvius as well as his attention to stage plays and stage design filled certain vacuous elements of the stagnant VITRVVIVS project.
Shunning any attempt at dramatic, emotional-based narrative, I eventually revived the project using the numeric value of five as a structural device to inform creative choices. The number five related to both the five orders of architecture and the five children of Saturn. The numeric convention would act as the connection between the architecture and mythological modules of the project. Additionally, around 2004 I was beginning to work with stopmotion animation which yielded faster workflows and more satisfying visual qualities than my previous CGI tests. Production for VITRVVIVS officially began in early 2006 as a stopmotion animation project.
Three sets were constructed for the project. The first was the Vitruvius set which was loosely based on the Roman Forum and a distorted version of the temple of Saturn presented with only five columns. A second set was constructed for Serlio which took the form of a theatrical stage with a backdrop depicting a merger of the various set designs that Serlio illustrates in his books on architecture. The third and final set was a minimal set which would serve as the domain of Rhea and more generally act as a visual pivot point between the two modules of the film.
Materials used for the sets included Durham’s Water Putty for landscape forms, synthetic pillow stuffing dipped in green paint for foliage, and carved foam insulation sheets for constructing landscape or structural forms. Pine and basswood were used for architectural objects, Serlio’s desk and the five books.
The puppets were constructed from aluminum wire and epoxy putty. Sculpey was used for the puppet heads as well as body musculature covered with liquid latex.
Lighting consisted of a 3-point incandescent setup with the use of a blue gel for the back-fill on the Roman Forum set, and yellow and red fills for the Serlio set.
Equipment and Technology (Camera, Audio, Software)
VITRVVIVS was shot on a Nikon D-50 DSLR camera using the Zigview viewfinder for video assist. Stopmotion maker was used for video assist. Color grading, color correction, and compositing was done in After Effects with final editing taking place in Sony Vegas. Audio was recorded using USB microphones and edited, processed, and mixed using Adobe Sound Booth and Audacity. Music was composed using Sibelus software and a Roland synthesizer. Audio and Video were mixed in Sony Vegas to a high definition master with 5.1 audio and a stereo mix.
VITRVVIVS footage was organized as 1920×1080 JPEG sequences. Photoshop was used for wire removal while color correction and color grading were completed in After Effects. Other composite effects and dissolves were finished in After Effects. High definition and low-resolution AVI proxy files were rendered using Lagarith lossless compression for final editing in Sony Vegas. Many experimental edits of the film took place with sequences moved into different orders based on the original script and storyboard outlines. Exploratory editing allowed me to test new juxtapositions between sequences until a final cut was completed.
Drawings found in Serlio’s books for the introductory five drawings were animated and would later be composited on top of the stopmotion footage. I utilized Flash to animate the drawings as black and white JPEG image sequences. The drawing sequences were then composited with the stopmotion footage during the final rendering in Sony Vegas.
Music, Audio, and Sound Effects: 2008
As primary photography was coming to a close around March 2008 the next steps involving audio work would commence. The music is based in the key of G sharp minor because it is the “fifth note” from C and includes five sharps. Musical or audio motifs were planned to occur five times or in multiples of five. The time signature was 5/4 which references the idea that Serlio began his multi-volume works with volume four where he describes the five orders based on Vitruvius.
I utilized the Sibelius music composition software to create the primary musical passages and a Roland synthesizer for some extra treatments and some effects. The final music files were rendered as uncompressed WAV files.
As I continued working on the score and preparing to record dialogue I decided to experiment with singing portions of the dialogue instead of just speaking. I thought this approach would work best for the character of Rhea and within the “realm of mythology” sequences to set it apart from the other environments which would have spoken dialogue. Rendering the singing tracks in reverse, a result of exploratory editing, also resulted in a softer and more “musical” delivery which I decided to keep in the final edit.
Originally, I had planned to use Latin and Italian (the original languages for the works of Vitruvius and Serlio) for dialogue but I abandoned the notion in favor of using Esperanto. I had concerns about accurate and grammatically correct delivery of Latin and Italian. Esperanto, however, was a viable option since it is an artificial language which seemed more appropriate for my experimental project. I had previously taken a rudimentary online course in Esperanto to learn some basics and also utilized the online Esperanto translator to produce a version of the text. I am sure the there are errors in the Esperanto tracks but it was an acceptable choice to complete the project.
The use of a Esperanto as a “foreign” dialogue was also intended to both distance the viewer from any perceived or readily accessible narrative while at the same time implying connections to the non-fictional reality buried in the foundations of the work.
Foley and sound effects were recorded with a cheap USB microphone and then processed, edited, and mixed in Sony Vegas. I recorded various from such items as cloth, a rice bag, books, a rubber mallet, and the consumption of potato chips. I would then bring the clips into Sony Vegas and cut them, stretch them, overlay them with each other to build out the final larger set of audio clips and sound effects.
Final Cut, Mixing, and Mastering: 2008
The final edit was complete in Sony Vegas, titles added, and the proxy files replaced with the high definition video files. I knew Sony Vegas supported software encoding for AC-3 but had never created a project with 5.1 audio. The 5.1 process was a bit difficult for me to figure out since most online tutorials and the Sony Vegas documentation seemed to focus only on how to activate a 5.1 editing mode in the editor. Information on how to actually render out and burn a 5.1 mix for a DVD seemed to be sparse at the time and I had to go through some trial and error until finally figuring out the entire workflow. I am pleased with the resulting 5.1 surround mix and found that it actually helped to work in a 5.1 mode even when downmixing to a 2 channel stereo version.
The final render of VITRVVIVS was output to a 1920×1080 AVI with lossless compression as well as separate AC-3 5.1 audio tracks and stereo audio tracks. Additionally, I rendered out separate audio files for both the music, fx, and dialogue tracks. I also rendered out 720P and NTSC versions of the final cut. Having isolated files of the video and audio tracks will, hopefully, help in future renderings for high definition media or remixing if the need should arise.
VITRVVIVS is being sent to selected festivals.
Copyright 2008 by Grant Goans