Posts Tagged ‘shell’

Photo: A24.
This is Marcel the Shell. Says stop-motion storyteller Kirsten Lepore, “No one in the industry ever works with puppets that small.”

As a child, I was fascinated with shells, and I have noticed that other children are, too. My grandchildren, when they were younger, liked a picture book series that featured photos of clay-sculpted child figures and the shells the children collected at the beach.

Carlos Aguilar writes at the Los Angeles Times about a shell that has become an unlikely star.

“ ‘Marcel the Shell’ began as a series of lovingly crafted homemade shorts for YouTube by Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate. So when it came time to give the diminutive breakout star the feature film treatment — in A24’s ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,’ now playing in theaters nationwide — some technical concerns needed to be addressed.

“ ‘The challenge for me was always, “How do we maintain that authenticity and the texture from the shorts?” ‘ Camp recently told the Times. …

“He enlisted independent stop-motion storyteller Kirsten Lepore as his animation director to lend her expertise to the meticulous frame-by-frame technique. Her seasoned ability for subtlety of movement in the performance of stop-motion characters was paramount in the decision.

“ ‘It’s a very mechanical process and because of the technical elements, it’s hard to get stuff that feels loose and organic. Every time you watch a stop-motion anything, you’re watching a time lapse of a sculpture being manipulated. Kirsten, more than any other young stop-motion artists I know, really embraced that in her work,’ Camp said. …

“To that end, Lepore and the animation crew first had to create a puppet of Marcel suitable to make multiple copies of.

For the short films, Camp used an actual shell, but since carapaces vary in shape and size, it would have been nearly impossible to naturally find enough similar ones.

“Instead, they did 3D scans of the actual original Marcel figure and then worked with a company called Stratasys. They were able to 3D print a large number of them in a way that the inner translucency and luster of real shells would come across. …

“The petite size of the Marcel puppets, which don’t have any internal armature as most stop-motion characters do, also required added precision when bringing it to life. ‘It’s literally 1 inch by 1 inch. It’s the smallest puppet that any of the animators had ever worked with before,’ said Lepore. …

“ ‘The work that they did is not just a feat of stop motion. It’s a feat of expressing emotion in all the little movements of Marcel’s eye and the nuanced postures they got him to make. They did that acting,’ Slate said. …

“In order to create the illusion that Marcel coexists with our reality, the film had to be shot twice with two different cinematographers.

“First, the live-action shoot in a real house was lensed by Bianca Cline, which occurred like most other productions, except that for the most part the shots were devoid of characters. Lepore had a stand-in of Marcel that she would place in the location to mark where the puppet would go once the stop-motion scenes were composited into the frame. They filmed with the stand-in present, and then again without it. Twice for every single shot.

“For the sake of light continuity, it was pivotal for the stop-motion director of photography, Eric Adkins to be present for the live-action operation in order to take copious notes on how each shot was lighted — down to the measurements of the distance between the light source and the character — to be able to re-create them on the stop-motion stages months later.

“One of the most impressive examples of Adkins’ skills, Lepore recalled, is the car ride that Marcel takes with Dean early in the film. After studying the live-action footage of that sequence and creating an equivalent of the dashboard, where Marcel stands, on a stop-motion stage, Adkins had to program his lights frame by frame to flicker in a way that would perfectly match how trees or other objects block the light from hitting Marcel as the vehicle moves.

“Lepore had a stop-motion staff of around 50 artists working on 10 stages running simultaneously.

“ ‘For every interaction that Marcel has with a live-action character or a live-action prop, there was nothing spontaneous about it,’ she noted. ‘It was all meticulously choreographed to make it look ultimately like it’s just off the cuff, as if it just happened.’ ”

More at the LA Times, here.

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Photo: Carole Fritz.
This ancient conch shell from modern-day France was once used to play music.

For today’s story, you’ll want to go to the original article to see the detailed illustrations showing how a conch shell was turned into a musical instrument thousands of years ago — and how archaeologists figured it out.

Matt Simon reports at Wired, “Some 18,000 years ago, in a cave in what we now call France, a human being left behind something precious: a conch shell. It was not just any conch shell. Its tip had been lopped off—unlikely by accident, given that this is the strongest part of the shell—allowing a person to blow air into it. The shell’s jagged outer lip was trimmed smooth, perhaps to assist in gripping, and it also bore red, smudgy fingerprints that matched the pigment from a cave painting just feet away from where the object was found in 1931.

“But those archaeologists missed its true significance: It was an intentionally crafted musical instrument. Writing today in the journal Science Advances, researchers from several universities and museums in France describe how they used CT scans and other imaging wizardry to show that a person during the Upper Paleolithic age took great care to modify the shell, the oldest such instrument ever found. They even got a musician to play it for us, revealing sounds that have not rung out for millennia.

“The first clue to suggest this shell was actually an instrument is that broken tip, or apex. If you find a conch shell on a beach, you can’t just toot it as-is — you’ve got to knock that tip off to get air flowing through the internal chambers and to exit through the opening of the outer lip. …

“The researchers had a musician try playing the shell in the lab. You can hear three notes [at Wired]. The sound is a bit breathy, like a more earthy version of a trumpet or trombone.

“But the breakage around the apex turned out to be quite jagged. ‘It’s very irregular, and it was hurting his lips,’ says archaeologist Gilles Tosello of the University of Toulouse, a corresponding author on the paper. … Why would an ancient human take the trouble to modify a conch shell and then not add a mouthpiece? …

“As for the shell’s outer lip, Tosello and his colleagues could tell it had been chipped away, both from wear patterns and by comparing it to pristine shells of the same species, which have significantly larger lips. In addition, the researchers enhanced a photo of the inside of the lip … to reveal faint red splotches.

These are fingerprints left behind in ocher, and the pigment matches a wall painting of a bison that was mere feet from where the shell was found. That bison was actually etched into the wall, then covered with over 300 ocher fingerprints to shade it in.

“The researchers couldn’t date the shell itself, since that’d require breaking a piece of it off to do carbon dating. But … based on these nearby objects, which they think would have been used by the same people around the same era, they surmised that the shell is likely 18,000 years old. …

“This was in pre-agricultural times, so they would have been Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. [It is] likely that this person belonged to a band of 10 or 20 humans working together to survive.

“We also know that life must not have been too terrible, since people had the time and energy to make music. And after all, they didn’t need an instrument to make music in the first place. ‘With a voice, you can make music,’ says archaeologist Carole Fritz of the University of Toulouse, a corresponding author on the paper. That is, the shell is extraneous. ‘I think music is a very symbolic art for people,’ Fritz adds. …

“This find emphasizes the richness of Upper Paleolithic culture, says University of Victoria paleolithic archaeologist April Nowell, who wasn’t involved in the research. ‘We have music, we have art, we have textiles, we have ceramics,’ she says. ‘These were really complex people.’

More at Wired, here.

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