Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Merry Christmas Readers! The Secrets Revealed...

The Making of Incarnation Street
Read this post if you like to know the creative/tecchy stuff! Otherwise just enjoy the movie...

A couple of interested friends asked me about the process involved in making this animated Christmas card.  I've been fermenting the idea since the summer, when I first discovered I had a free copy of Live! Avatar Creator on my Dell PC. 
Having found a superb copy of a 15C Nativity scene. I downloaded it and began zooming in to sections to find out if the resolution was sufficiently good for the heavy cropping needed for the talking heads. 
It proved plenty big enough for my purposes and I created a panning shot in Photo Story 3 moving from Mary to Joseph and back again since it was fairly clear from the outset that they would be the main protagonists! Using screenshots from that sequence as guides I cropped a portrait shot of each from the original so that I had some good quality images to animate using the Live! Avatar Creator. 
The first scene was the conversation about visitors. I intended humour of the piece to arise from the banal conversations that would have gone on in the stable - had the occupants been a little less holy. I had to do some research to check the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, where I was reminded that Elizabeth was an elderly primigravida - a perfect 'reason' for John the Baptist to be a spoilt child running around shouting his head off...
Something about Joseph asked for him to have a Northern accent (he was from Galilee after all) and I realised I was in the middle of a parody of Coronation Street (circa 1965) . So the name came next and I created the titles by ripping first the footage and then the sound from Youtube using the excellent Zamzar. The titles usually came to rest on a depressing-looking street so I used PhotoStory 3 to move across the picture to the stable roof. 
Most of the other ideas came from the picture. The external Christmas "decorations" some people love became a voiceover complaining about light pollution by the heavenly host. Photo Story was used here again, along with a saturated version of the heavenly host edited in Paint.NET.  Food is a regular Christmas topic of conversation and as a vegetarian I was pleased with the idea of Joseph consuming the gifted lamb and the stable's ox. The lowing ox (me: pitch lowered and reverb added in Audacity) leads into a paraphrase of "Away in a Manger" and a noisy intrusion by the carol singers (sound from ccmixter I believe). 
Oddly the grumpy character of Joseph is exactly how he is portrayed in the medieval Mystery plays and traditional pieces like the Cherry Tree Carol
By now I was running out of time and I needed a conclusion. I fell to wondering what banal reason the family might have had for ending up in Egypt - I toyed with references to but preferred a simple wrong turning. This made an abrupt jump from the stable to the Pyramids and the rather bored-looking angel came into his own wishing "He" would cut to the chase. In some folk versions the Flight to Egypt involved a chase by Herod's men.  Michelangelo's famous finger of God switches to the last scene and Paint.Net was used to make the photomontage of the Holy Family against the Pyramids.
But, all in all, much the most difficult part of the process was the scripting and there were times when I longed to have an evening kicking ideas around over a pint with a kindred spirit. It's not for nothing most of the best comedy teams write in pairs.