When Rafi wrote to us to share his He-Man stop motion intro, we were exicted to share it with everyone. It utilized toys, as well as physical set building and digital composition. We asked Rafi some questions about his project which he kindly answered for us below.
When did you get the idea to turn the iconic He-Man intro into a stop motion animation?
I had made my first stop-motion video in 2012. I had never done any stop-motion before, having concentrated on 3D animation instead and, in some ways, going into the first one was just a way for me to try something new. I had attended a talk by artists Leah Gaffen and Mirek Trejtnar who were visiting New Zealand from Prague and was very inspired by their talk. As soon I went home the idea of experimenting with the MOTUC toys I had came to mind. I’ve always been able to come up with visuals for songs quite quickly so I had a number of ideas in mind ready to go and chose the Avenue Q song, The Internet is for Porn because the voices of some the singers matched the personalities of some of the iconic He-Man characters very well.
At the time of shooting the video, I hadn’t used any frame-grabbing software, which, looking back, was in an incredibly idiotic thing to do. However, because I wasn’t familiar with the power of a program like Dragonframe, I just dove right in, head first, completely naive, and, using my knowledge as an animator and the LCD screen on the back of my camera (!!), managed to animate the entire
three-minute video in under four weeks. I hadn’t started off with any specific plan, but as the video progressed, I got more serious and by the time it finished, I was really happy with the final result. I then took an entire eight months to pursue copyright clearance for the song, after which I uploaded it online. Unfortunately, the video, although appreciated, got minimal shares and mentions online which did dishearten me initially. I had thought that by combining two different properties in a very unique way I had created something new, which would appeal to people – but for whatever reason, the video didn’t turn out to be very popular.
However, the entire process did have a silver lining – it led to two realisations. One, that I LOVED the process – not just the pre-production or the post-production, or the ‘promotion’, but the actual process of filming. It was the first time I felt that the final result wasn’t even that relevant because of how much fun I had had throughout the actual shoot! In some way, this felt like an adult version of playing with toys and creating stories that would last beyond the play-session.
The second realisation was that I needed to create something that was a lot more ‘shareable’, and recognisable – something that was quick, had some form of nostalgia while also allowing me to make something that was unique to me. That’s how the decision to recreate the He-Man intro came about.
I had initially meant to recreate it frame by frame – shot for shot. I even completed around 50% of the video, but I felt that wasn’t as exciting and the director in me just had to make it my own. So, I started again, reshooting the entire video. And although the final video has almost all the same cuts and respects the general flow of the original, I did make some minor changes, even adding a couple of shots that weren’t seen in the original.
As far as the toys go, did you have to modify any of them and were there any problems you had to overcome?
In terms of animation, with the MOTUC figures themselves, because of the way they’ve been designed, I only had to make small modifications. For example, for the iconic, ‘I have the power’ scene, I cut back part of Prince Adam’s sleeves to enable him to mirror He-Mans’ ‘sword-aloft’ pose; the rest were cosmetic – I repainted the face of The Sorceress, Orko’s ears and painted in eyes on Battle-Cat’s mask. I also used custom 3D printed hands for He-Man and The Sorceress which were created by an artist through Shapeways (https://www.facebook.com/mike.mcevil). In terms of articulation, I shaved off some of the plastic around the joints to make the figures move better but everything else was left as-is. The main issue I faced with the figures was keeping them standing upright. I ended up using a lot of blue-tac, using reams of it around the knees and ankles and using toy-stands and coasters to ‘fix’ them onto the set.
The sets you made look really impressive, including the castle, the starry skies and the general area where Skeletor is shown. How were all those created?
The castle seen in the video is the officially released MOTUC Castle Grayskull which was made available to purchase in 2014. The castle, like the action figures in the line, was itself an updated, appropriately scaled version of the original Castle Grayskull playset from the 1980s.
The ‘terrain’ around Grayskull is actually made up of pieces of cemented formations that I (quietly) borrowed from a construction site, washed, painted and dry-brushed. The set used for Skeletor’s scene is a mix of pieces from the King Kong Skull Island playset mixed in with other play-set pieces I found in second-hand stores.
Questions regarding special effects…
Cringer’s eyes were done frame-by-frame using a combination of After Effects and Photoshop. The sword effects were done using the free plug-in Saber by Video Copilot. The only programs I used were After Effects (with Saber), Photoshop and DragonFrame.
I shot the video against black chart as my experiments with green screen hadn’t produced the results I wanted and had too much spill on the props and (on occasion) some of the figures. So, once I had shot the entire piece, I then removed the original background frame-by-frame to give me the freedom to experiment. I did multiple tests with the background, experimenting with different colours, clouds, smoke and fog but nothing looked convincing in motion, so I decided to settle on a night sky – thereby also balancing the realism that the rock-pieces provide. For the stars, I just played around with the settings for Fractal Noise in After Effects, and the fog was made using a combination of Saber and Fractal Noise depending on the shot.
What was the largest obstacle while making the intro?
The largest obstacle while trying to shoot the video was internal. Of course, since no one knew I was making it, nor was it something anyone asked or expected me to do, there should have been no pressure. But given how much of an iconic part of pop-culture I was paying an homage to – and knowing that generations of people would remember the original since it was so popular across so many countries, I really wanted to do as good of a job of it as possible. There was also the added pressure of it being the second time I was making a stop-motion video, this time having the advantage of DragonFrame. And since this wasn’t the first stop-motion remake of the original intro (as there are many online) I put a lot of pressure on myself of trying to do the best job I could.
What are your future plans, will He-Man return again in your future projects?
I’ve recently moved to Australia from New Zealand, so, as of now, most of my time is spent trying to figure my way in a new country, a new city and a new system, trying to make connections and new friends. But I’m also working on completing an homage video for She-Ra, which is a lot more complicated but also so much more fun. I’d love to do more with both…I’ve always loved action figures and dolls and music and story-telling, and to be able to combine all those in some creative way is something I’m very drawn to – and hope to do in a professional capacity going forward.