[VIDEO] Stop motion animation for THAC 2024

This short animation was made in 24 hours for THAC 2024 contest. THAC is short for The Twenty-four Hour Animation Contest. This is an annual international event for fans of stop-motion animation. I've always wanted to participate but never had the free time. This year I managed to do it. What does it look like exactly?

It's the same pattern every year. A few weeks in advance the date of the competition is announced. This time it was January 6, 2024, 1:00 p.m (for Poland, where I live - different time zones makes different hours for each country). The most important thing for the creators - theme of the competition and the so-called "mod elements" - are revealed when the event starts.

Mod elements are things that need to be placed in every shot of a film to make it clear that the film has not been prepared in advance. There are 2 types of these items to choose from. The first one is to combine any bricks in two given colors. This year it was blue and red. The second type of element is a letter. This time it was "N". Additionally, we can have up to 15 seconds of animation without these elements, e.g. for close-ups in which it would be difficult to fit anything additional than the object being filmed i.e. the head of a minifigure.

All participants sit in their studios/houses/rooms and wait for the competition to start. The organizers' Discord (Bricks in Motion) is full of animators. Messages from participants appear so fast that it is difficult to keep up with reading. There are also a lot of people on voice channel.

Zero Hour has come. We know the theme and mod elements. There are 24 hours left to send the finished film. This is really not much time for making animation from scratch. Everyone has their own way of working. I will briefly describe what it was like for me.

First of all I disconnect from everything. I'm saying goodbye to my phone and internet. To save time I don't make any documentation of the shooting (behind the scene materials). That's why we have a wall of text without pictures here today. I prepare food, drinks and supplements in advance - electrolytes and vitamins. The body must be at peak performance for 24 hours. In fact I'm on my feet all that time. I rarely sit.

As you never know what the theme will be there is no point in building specific scenography in advance, but... it is worth having some basic elements prepared like trees, vehicles, a piece of terrain. Personally I was prepared for the cyberpunk/space atmosphere because I already had a sci-fi base and several cyberpunk factions + a lot of sci-fi vehicles. But somehow I couldn't think of anything that would fit the theme of the competition. Ah, I guess I didn't write the most important one. The theme of the competition is "The Journey Ahead".

Since cyberpunk doesn't work for me this time I decide to venture into the fantasy world. I have built in the past some fantasy dioramas and had them in the boxes. I could use them now. An idea is born. At first I thought about orcs. The N tribe. Their symbol will be everywhere. A meteorite with a magic crystal falls. Orcs call their chief/mage/shaman. He also has an "N" symbol on his staff. The crystal causes him to have a vision. He sets off on a journey. He reaches a dark creature in the underground. In the alcoves you can see orc monuments holding similar crystals and sticks with the letters preceding N in the alphabet - K, L and M. There is an empty alcove beyond. The creature points it out. The hero puts the crystal there and a portal appears. The hero enters and his journey begins (or maybe ends). Blackout.

Cool. The script is ready. It is time to move on. I am preparing a very simple animatic - a prototype of the film made out of photos of minifigures on the table. It helps me to know more or less what the shots will look like, how many of them there will be, how long they will last and what I will need for set designs, backgrounds etc. Also here it turns out that I am not able to build good orc monuments. So I'm changing them to Chima (wolf people) because I have their heads in both a pure gray version (for monuments) and normal ones for minifigures. So I'm preparing new figures, the animatic will stay with the orcs. Final thing is 2 minutes long. I cut the scenes to 1m45s. Still too long, I wanted to make it 1 minute long but I don't have anything else to cut.

2 hours of competition time have passed and I haven't shot even a single scene. But the rest is absolute trance work. Like a robot I build the sets by combining various models, dioramas, patching holes and adapting everything to specific shots. From the outside everything might not look very good. There are visible holes in the ground, you can see cables, bricks are in inappropriate colors. Looks a bit like chaos. But this is only apparent chaos. Everything is in its place. Looking straight through the lens the bricks combine into an desired aesthetic views.

At this stage quick access to perfectly sorted bricks is crucial. You can't waste time searching for elements. You need some specific brick - you reach for the appropriate drawer or box and you put it into the scenery in no time.

Stress begins - hardware problems. One of the screens I'm working on doesn't display anything... The minutes are flying by. Replacing the cable helps. This is strange because the same cable works with another screen. Nevermind. Now only the animation is important.

My main directive during working on the animation is - don't improve anything. There is no time for this. All possible errors remain. I don't refine the movements of the characters or the camera. Everything is just filmed (photographed) the first time. No repeats, no second take, no fine-tuning of movement, lighting, etc. I very rarely check how the scene looks during animation. I am almost animating "blind", by feel. I also avoid any post-production. 99% of the shots are raw, untouched material. Why? Yes, you guessed it - no time for post-processing.

The time is 00:30. I'm giving up on fully animating one scene (0:52 - the one with mushrooms) because it would take me about an hour. I can not afford it. I came up with an idea to simplify walking through the scenery and cover the whole thing with eight photos. I record a few scenes with a camera and combine them with the rest of the material taken using traditional photography for stop motion.

I have over 1 minute of animation ready. The more complicated half is done. Time to go to sleep. I lie down and wonder how to enter the portal at the end of the movie. I don't have time for advanced effects. The dungeon set is built in a way that will consume too much time to rebuild it for the proper portal light and portal placement. Also walking in will be hard to animate. I set my alarm for 6:30 AM. This will give me 6 hours of sleep, about 3 hours for final scenes, 2 hours for sound/music/final editing/rendering and 1 hour for unexpected events/crashes/problems.

I woke up at 4:30 AM. Without any alarm clock. I immediately have an idea for a portal. I will make a door and portal behind it. I will not animate walking into it. You will only hear the sound of footsteps and doors closing on the faded screen. After all, not everything always needs to be shown precisely and it can create a nice atmosphere. I will also gain time for other things. Plus I have 2 hours extra by waking up early. But I only slept for 4 hours... We'll see how it goes.

It turns out that in the morning everything goes more or less according to the plan. I'm making some simplifications in the shots again. I finally sat down to the sound editing. I start with a library of sounds that I have already created for previous videos. Clock is ticking like crazy. I was going to record some new stuff, make some new sound design but there is no time for that. I only record the voices of the wolves (myself growling into the microphone + mix it appropriately). Final montage. And... done! Without those two extra hours of sleep I might not have made it on time. Adding sound takes a lot of time and I only did some basics here. Video sent! Competition results in 2-3 weeks.

Overall I am satisfied with how the whole animation worked out considering the extremely short making time. I think that under normal circumstances and with paying attention to the details it would take like 2-3 weeks for animate this short film and 1 week for post-production (including sound).

I had a lot of fun making this. It is also nice to know there are others who do the same thing you do in the same moment in different parts of the world. We all love stop motion animation. It is awesome! And this is the end of this ridiculously long post. If you read whole post - respect ;)

Ah, I forgot something again, here's my video :)

P.S. I am also including a link to almost all submissions. There were 160 in total. Awesome! A few hours of watching. Link to playlist.

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