How to Make a Baby



How to Make a Baby

a short educational film

by Cassidy Curtis and Raquel Coelho

January 2009



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License.



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How To Make a "How to Make a Baby"

some notes on how we did this

We made this video using a technique called "pixilation", which is a fancy term for stop-motion animation done with real people instead of puppets. We shot it, frame by frame, with Raquel's Canon DSLR over a period of nine months. Those of you who stopped by our house might have noticed some mysterious tape marks on the floor in the living room. Those were for the camera tripod and our feet.

Animating over such a long period of time, using an increasingly pregnant woman as one of your puppets, means basically throwing out everything you might normally do in an animated film. For example, early on, we had this idea that we should wear the same clothes every time, for continuity's sake. But as Raquel's pregnancy developed, we soon discovered that the extra effort required to change in and out of our uniforms was going to interfere with the goal of shooting as many frames as possible, and might even prevent us from finishing the project at all. We dialed down the perfectionism, and in the process ended up having a lot more fun with it.

What emerged was a style you might call WYGIWYG: What You Get Is What You Get. Instead of forcing ourselves onto a brutal daily schedule, we simply shot whenever we felt like it, which ended up being about three or four times a month. And instead of planning ahead very carefully, we just improvised each night, based on a loose idea in my head that the breaths would require more and more effort each time. Rather than try to get a single frame exactly right, we'd shoot several frames of "coverage", with both of us in various positions. My hope was that the random uncontrollable variations in posture, clothing, etc. would kind of cancel each other out in the end.

This scattershot approach turned out to have a nice side effect: the 360 or so frames of raw footage had hundreds of possible interpretations, depending on how you shuffled the frames. So "animating" became a matter of choosing which frame would follow which, and for how long. I did this part mostly in After Effects.

The raw footage was really messy. A lot can happen in nine months' time. The tripod got knocked out of place. Plants, lights, books and curtains shifted around. Incandescent bulbs burned out and got replaced with compact fluorescents, with a totally different color spectrum. But I was able to correct for most of that using AE's motion tracking and color stabilization tools. It still ain't perfect, but again, perfection was not the goal here, I just wanted it to be stable enough not to distract from the main action.

All of the images you see were captured in-camera. There were no synthetic elements. But I did "cheat" a little on two things: the curtain in the background is a separate layer, as is the bookshelf on the left. (They were just too distracting in the raw footage, so I animated and stabilized them, respectively.) The "explosion" effect is actually a birth ball, again added as a separate layer, partly to hide some weird shadows left behind when I split the frame in half to get the timing right on both me and Raquel.

For the audio, I played some little ditties in Garage Band, and recorded foley and "dialog" with a little voice recorder and battery powered mike. Our recording booth was the closet in the baby's room. I feel pretty lucky: I don't think there are a lot of voice actors who will stand in a tiny closet and let you tickle them. Although I could be wrong about that. I also got a bunch of terrific Creative Commons licensed audio samples from freesound.org. Here are direct links to the original samples:

Footsteps on Tiles by rutgermuller
Cork3 by Traveler
balloon_fun_3 by reinsamba
gonflage_ballon1 by lematt
Balloon_Inflating by gelo_papas
globo03 by hyo

To lay the samples down onto the video, I used iMovie, which my friend Lorelei describes pejoratively as "editing with a big crayon". But a big crayon turned out to be exactly the right tool for this project, because when you're using crayons you can't get too persnickety with the details. And so instead of spending aeons in post-production, after a couple of days I could just step back and say "Done."

And that's pretty much the whole story!