Posted in Betwixt, Dollmore Manuier - "Marta", Granado Udell - "Marcelo", graphic novel, Maskcat Ester - "Faye"

Betwixt 03: Life with Pixies

Posted in Dollmore Manuier - "Marta", Granado Udell - "Marcelo", How Tos, Photoshop

Make your doll part of the crowd: Using Photoshop to add your doll to a scene

The Betwixt characters seem to spend more time out and about then any of my other dolls, so I’m forever figuring out ways to make them part of the scene.

Marta and Marcelo joined the crowd in the subway in their first episode.

and later we caught up with them crossing the street:

The tricks in both of these photoshops are to match their general coloring to that of the background image, and not to make them overwhelm the scene they’re in. That is, don’t use the scene as a backdrop to a portrait, but rather make your dolls look as if they’re part of a larger scene.

For the episode I’m working on, I’m working the Maskcat Ester doll (Faye) into some animal conversations. For this, I’m going for a slightly different strategy – although I want her to be part of the scene, I also want to draw attention to her (often necessary because she’s so darn tiny).

To do this, I started playing around with hue and lighting within Photoshop. Here’s a sample of the kind of shot I want her in:

So, I’d like to add her so that she looks like she’s having a conversation with the butterfly, but I also want to draw the attention to her in the shot.

I started by grabbing an image from a previous episode where she’s sitting and facing left and paste her into the image with the butterfly in a semi-realistic pose. Here’s what that looks like:

So, cute, as she always is. But the profusion of color in the shot draws you eye to everything but her. I tried just making everything other than her B&W (actually, tinted yellow B&W, but now the photo looks too drab, and she’s still disappearing in the shot since her full color matches the background tint:

To make her pop a little, I copied the blue sky in the original shot and made it it’s own layer, and then I tinted the butterfly and flower separate from the blue sky. Here’s what the finished shot looks like:

Now your eye is drawn to her, but the blue of the sky makes the overall image seem bright and happy. I realize the focus isn’t right – if she’s sitting on the flower and *she’s* in focus, then the flower should be in focus too. But, you can’t have everything 🙂

With this basic strategy, I made a bunch of shots of her visiting with things-that-fly:

and that’s how you make your doll part of the crowd, while still making her stand out.

Posted in How Tos, Maskcat Ester - "Faye", Photography, Photoshop, posing

Brute force doll posing: Photographing impossible poses

Sometimes I get a really clear picture in my head of what I want to capture, and then realize that there’s simply no way to achieve it. That’s when I resort to brute force posing.

I had that happen today with my little Maskcat Ester doll (named Faye in the Betwixt episodes). In trying to tell her backstory (she’s a “listener” who hears calls for help and sends in the rescuers), I settled on a shot. She’d be sitting on flower, with her hand cupped to her ear, scanning for trouble.

First problem: Faye, while tiny, is far too big to sit on a flower without bending the stem. I suppose if my peonies were still blooming, they’d be strong enough to hold her, but nothing else in my house or yard is. And, I’m really tired of photoshopping my dolls onto objects. So, I used brute force method #1 – holding the doll in a pose. Here’s my hand holding little Faye on top of the flowers, while my other hand takes the picture. Fortunately, it’s bright enough that she doesn’t blur while I’m holding her. (BTW, that’s Rosie from Among the Flowers in the background, waiting patiently for her first episode in the remade series).

OK, first problem solved. Now, second problem. Faye is a single jointed doll. That means that, while she can bend her arm at a 45 degree angle, she can’t bend it past that. So, she’s not actually flexible enough to cup her hand behind her ear. I *could* tie her hand in place, but that just felt like a task fraught with more problems. Instead, I moved the arm after I took the shot, using puppet wrap in Photoshop.

Here’s the picture of Faye with her arm bent up that I used as the basis of my final shot:

To fix the arm’s position, I brought the picture into Photoshop. I selected the arm and used puppet wrap to reposition it, then pasted the arm into its own layer. Then I made a layer with just her ear. That lets me put things in the right order (arm in front of her hair but behind her ear). Finally, I found a picture of flowers and pasted it in back, lightened everything up a bit and, in the end, I had little Faye sitting in the flowers and listening for trouble.

Posted in Dollmore Manuier - "Marta", Granado Udell - "Marcelo", How to, Photography

Backstage at Small Life Stories: How many photographs does it take to make a photographic novel?

In answer to the question in the title, a ton. I’m not a great photographer, but I’m a pretty good experimenter and I can (mostly) recognize a good photograph when I see it. What I can’t do is reliably create one. So, I take A LOT of pictures to come up with the shots I include in each episode. Sometimes, they’re versions of the final shot. Often times there are whole photo sessions that I throw out and start over when I can’t get the results I want.

To give a better sense of what it looks like backstage here at the Small Life Stories studio, here are all of the photographs I took (or used) to create the first 4 pages of the Betwixt episode I’m working on – roughly 300 in all. Out of these, I’ve ended up selecting 10 photos to fill those pages, plus a few public domain images for the crazy wall. 3% is lower then my usual “success” ratio, but I was trying out a bunch of new things (like the disco light shots), so I ended up throwing away most of my shots.

Posted in How to, lighting, Maskcat Ester - "Faye", Photography

Unusual lighting with a disco ball light, finishing up

As a follow up to my previous post, I finished the shots I’d been taking with the disco ball, and they turned out pretty well.

I didn’t manage to get my camera settings right for capturing the disco ball lighting with a shorter shutter speed, meaning that my pictures didn’t capture the pinpoints of colored lights that the disco ball gave off. But, I manager to use an effect in Photoshop that gave me exactly what I needed.

First, I brought the disco ball colored shots into Photoshop. Then, I found a nice “pin point of colored light” image on Pexels and brought it into Photoshop. Here’s the image by itself:

Then, I used select and mask to isolate the parts of band scene that I wanted, and placed copy of the party lights image beneath.

Finally, I played with the transparency on the primary image until the party lights were incorporated into the shot.

Here’s the image of Ester (now named Faye) in my original:

And here it is with the party lights showing through.

Anyway, pretty cool effect, if you happen to have a disco ball light lying around 🙂

Posted in How to, lighting, Maskcat Ester - "Faye", Photography

Unusual lighting for doll photographs: Using a disco ball to light a scene

One of the big advantages of photographing inanimate subjects is that you play around with all kinds of dim lighting. Light a scene by LED tea candle? Done that.

Camellia and Moana warm themselves by the side of a tea light candle and a few pieces of straw

Set a scene by using a dim mini flashlight to cast moonlight on a campout? Done that.

The sisters sleep for their first night in the treehouse

Create an intimate conversation by using a mini log fire? Done that.

Camellia tells stories around the fire.

What all of these methods share is that they use the stillness of the subject to let you open your shutter in very dim settings and just leave it open until the camera has gathered enough light to take a picture.

For this week’s project, I wanted the little pixie in the Betwixt episodes to play in a nightclub-like setting (although, because of their size, this nightclub is inside a trunk.) And I wanted lighting that would suggest this scene.

Fortunately, for reasons of my own, I happen to own a disco ball light. Not the mirror ball (although I’d love a mini one of those), but one of those little contraptions with refracted light in different colors and spins around casting pools of colored light as it goes, like this.

As in all of these exercises, I turned off most of the lights near the doll dining room (where I’m taking my shots) and set my camera up on a tripod. You can’t focus in the dark, so you need to leave on a regular light near to you so that you can turn it on to focus and turn it back off once the scene is in focus but before you take your shot. Then just press the shutter and wait while the camera gathers enough light. Here’s what the scene looks like to me while the camera is taking its photo – first with the lights on, and then with just the light from the disco ball:


I have a great camera, but I don’t mostly use the controls for these shots, I just leave it on auto with the flash turned off.

Because it takes so long to gather light, this method doesn’t capture the spotlight effect of the lights. Instead, it contains all of the places that were lit up while it was capturing.

I love the effect of this light on the little Maskcat Ester doll, although she looks far more spooky than festive. I’m going to try another round tonight and see if I can use a shorter exposure to capture a single instant, but, for now, these pictures give me much of what I was going after.

Posted in Granado Udell - "Marcelo", How to, Photoshop, Set construction

When dolls go mad: Building a crazy wall for Marcelo

Has a real person ever created a crazy wall? Or does that only happen in films? In any case, if ever I saw a doll who might create a crazy wall, it’s Marcelo (Granado Udell). And, after the last episode, where he suddenly found himself and his daughter in mortal danger in another world, it’s really to be expected.

So, he needs a crazy wall – a nice big crazy wall, with lots of pictures and string going every which way. But, how *exactly* do you build one? Those are the questions I had to answer this week.

First, what to include in the crazy. I went a couple of different directions – one involved fairies, one involved parallel universes, and one involved just straight up crazy. In the most miraculous of miraculous discoveries, I found an honest-to-God article about fairies and the multiverse, here. I didn’t actually read it, because what could it say that would be better than the fact that there actually is an article about fairies and the multiverse. Let me know, though, if it says something interesting. The non-article items came out of google searches on public domain images, and I ended up with a bunch of really fantastic pictures. Here are a few of them:

To print them out, I resized them to 1/3 scale (about 2″ across for the photos and 3.5 inches long for the articles) and printed and cut them out.

Next, to layout and connect the images. I’d already decided that I was going to photoshop the wall onto another image, so I did my layout on a dark green foamboard that would be easy to replace in the final image. Then, I got the images roughly where i wanted them, and attached and connected them using map pins and embroidery thread. I’m not sure there are any official rules about how to organize a crazy wall, but mine was grouped into a few themes: fairies, parallel universes, and crazy. Lots and lots of crazy. I used different color thread to connect the images in each grouping. Here’s the entire wall on the green foamboard. That’s fairies in the upper left, parallel universes down the right side, and crazy all through the middle.

Finally, the image behind the crazy wall. I decided Marcelo wouldn’t work straight on the wall, mainly because I don’t have a wall that I want to put a bunch of tiny pins in. I’d gone pretty far in the bulletin board direction but, really, if you’re going crazy, do you actually put up a bulletin board first to contain all that crazy? I finally decided that I wanted a big image in the background, preferably a map. And, since it was parallel universes, I used a NASA picture of deep space, like this:

For the final, I shot the wall over Marcelo’s shoulder and brought the image into Photoshop. I removed all of the green by using the magic wand tool and selecting the foamboard, then deleting it. Finally, I copied the NASA deep space image behind it all.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think the real images attached to the wall with push pins and strings look much better than what I could have photoshopped together.


I’m moving very slowly on this episode because I’ve decided to actually try to realize my initial plans for an episode, instead of giving up and just throwing stuff together. That goes so much against my grain, apparently, that it’s taking me weeks to prepare each shot. Fortunately, my plans for the rest of epsiode aren’t so grand, so I should be able to get through it more quickly.