If this is your first time visiting this page, I have been posting my production notes in chronological order, with the first at the top and the latest at the bottom. I realize that is backward from the usual "blog" setup, but I wanted to make it easy to see the progress of this film, top to bottom. I never expected it to go on for several years, but when I began this project, I had no formal training in animation or directing or film-making, and a bit too much confidence in my own creative talents. "It's an animated short, how hard could it be?" This account, begun just over two years into production, is a bit of a raw, honest diary of my long, slightly insane, journey of creation.

Incidentally, I have posted the complete audio track of the 2005 recording (on The Funhouse Waltz page). In many ways the original 1995 recording was superior, since Adam Pike engineered that session, but the 2005 recording features my theremin playing (the original recording used a synthesizer). The theremin parts were recorded on the night of Bob Moog's death. I wanted to mark his passing by playing the instrument he built for me, so I learned and played the parts that night. -Carvin

Production Note 030709: Winging It

Carvin Knowles on Friday, July 3, 2009 at 2:30pm

The circus-like "Clown Room" is almost ready for shooting, 30 June 2009.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

For the past several weeks, I have been animating the "Clown Room" sequence of the film, corresponding the the music at about 2:10 into the the track. The music there plays an "out of tune" version of the main waltz melody (the left and right hands of the organ are in different, clashing keys) and in the film, the funhouse opens into a series of circus-like rooms filled with increasingly out-of-control clowns. The sequence is in two continuous shots of about 17 seconds each, matching the two parts of the music, a simple A-B melody scheme.

The first of these continuous shots was finished near the end of June. The second half, where things get stranger and a little more out-of-control began shooting last monday. Both were complex shots with 7 characters each (slightly different characters for each shot), machinery, stunts and lighting effects.
Happy The Clown appears in a warped mirror, during the "Clown Room" sequence of "The Funhouse Waltz." Note the camera standing next to the clown, on a small tripod.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

The second one, that I'm shooting now, leaves behind the set that I've been shooting on since March and goes down an alleyway before ending up in a new room. The trouble is that my "stage" is only about 1 meter by 3 meters. So in order to move out of the main set and into another, I had to dismantle the original set, keeping only the portion that the camera was focused on intact, then rotating that portion of the set, along with the camera and lights, then moving them all down to the end of the stage, then assembling the new portions of the set before continuing to shoot.

In addition to this bold and somewhat daunting move, I had this great idea to recycle a portion of the old set. But that required that I actually cut the piece of set into three pieces along a jagged line. This, combined with my dis-assembly of the old set and complete rotation of the remaining pieces means that there can be no second chances. The first take is the only take. If this shot doesn't work, there are no "pick-up" shots or re-dos.

This would normally require close, accurate planning. All of my other shots for this short involved hundreds of timing-sheets with each shot carefully planned. I spent two weeks filling out timing sheets and prepping the shot down to the last detail.

But for some reason, I was so excited to get shooting on Monday night that I forgot to mark up my timing sheets as I shot. I'm a musician, so in my head, I counted frames so that I knew how many measures of music should be going on, but still, I failed to write it down.

Worse than that....I changed the plan of action in the middle of the shooting. One of my old ideas from the original planning of this scene leapt into my mind mid-stream. Just at the point where it would go. So I just did it. I winged it. I didn't have time to think about what this would do to everything because it was time to rotate the set and camera and lighting instruments.

And that was only six bars into the B melody. I had 10 more to go. I continued to wing it. It was a little like jazz improv. Live, no second takes. No going back. I just kept shooting.

For most animators, I'm sure this is a recipe for disaster. Hell, it SHOULD have been a disaster. But strangely, it's working. I have three bars left to shoot.

Wish me luck!

Near the end of the "improvised" section of the "Clown Room," moments before the batteries went dead in my camera, Jack was ready to strike! I changed the batteries and kept shooting.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 090709: Thanks Clowns, That's a Wrap!

by Carvin Knowles on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 10:09am

Tonight I finished shooting the "Clown" section of The Funhouse Waltz. The last shot was less complex than the ones just before it. Four characters. Two "gags." Nine seconds worth of animation. Yet this shot was in my head from the first time I conceived of the short film. Which, as it turns out, was the day I wrote the music. It all happened at once.

Happy The Clown pours wine from a barrel that was once used in Paramount's "Team America: World Police"
Photo by Carvin Knowles

This brief scene was taken from memories of the funhouses of my childhood. I don't remember if it was the one at "The Pike" in Long Beach or "Coney Island" in New York, but it involved clowns getting drunk, then a clown standing over an arched doorway, pouring wine from a barrel onto the audience as they tried to pass through the door. Even back when those old funhouses were made (probably during the Great Depression), people knew that clowns....especially drunken clowns....were scary.

It is of some interest that in the section of film I just shot, the keg of wine that the clown pours down upon us is a prop that has appeared in film before. I bought it on eBay from Paramount Studios. It was a barrel from "Team America: World Police."

So now the clowns are finished. It's time to strike the set and pack away the characters that I began shooting while I still lived in Hollywood. Time to move on to the darker sections of the Funhouse. Ghosts and ghouls and skeletons. After all....isn't that what you ride on a funhouse for in the first place.

Production Note 190709: The New Set Takes Shape

by Carvin Knowles on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 12:18pm

Today I wallpapered the first room of the "Haunted House." It will be a gallery for a few of the paintings I did last January/February. I created the wallpapaer pattern on the computer and printed it out, so the whole thing was papered in sheets and sheets of A4. This one is a kind of Victorian green with faces in it. All the wallpaper in the Haunted House will have faces of some kind.

The first room of the "Haunted House" section of the funhouse.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

I also mounted a 1.2 Meter "tree" to its base. The base is a bit flimsy, so it'll need reinforcement. The "tree" is really a bough that I trimmed from one of the trees in the yard, thus combining yardwork with my Animated short.

I'm still a couple weeks out from shooting the next section ofThe Funhouse Waltzbut the scenery is starting to come together...

Production Note 260809: The Nursery Walls

by Carvin Knowles on Friday, August 28, 2009 at 1:00pm

The "Haunted House" set has gone over schedule and over budget. The wallpaper alone is a hundred times the cost of painting. The furniture and fittings for these rooms, including a book-shelf containing over 100 hand-painted books, a grandfather clock, a pram, light fixtures, a chandalier and a chest of drawers, took three weeks to build.

And it was all worth it.

Today, I assembled the parts of the Nursery. pasting up the last of the wallpaper, hanging the french-paned windows, planting the tree (outside), placing the grandfather clock and the pram, hanging the portrait....

I painted the portraits last January, at the beach. Minerva Whitomb, the little girl, was the last I did. I actually did a portrait of her first, but after the others came out so good, I decided to start over. Children's ghosts are always more creepy than adult ghosts. Many of those who have seen the trailer for The Funhouse Waltz have commented on Minerva (or Minnie, as I like to call her). She's not the only ghost, but she's already the most popular.

The nursery isn't finished. I still have to hang curtains and build the hallway that leads to the library. I also need to buy more print cartridges so that I can make wallpaper for the other rooms. It's come out to about a set of print cartridges per room. I won't start shooting until the whole set is ready, but I've started putting up the walls. Soon, I'll light this place properly and start the cameras rolling and let the haunted house work it's dark magic....


The Haunted Nursery in "The Funhouse Waltz." Note the fresh, un-burnt candle in the candle-holder.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

Production Note 051009: Just My Camera and Me

by Carvin Knowles on Monday, October 5, 2009 at 11:43pm

When I started The Funhouse Waltz, I didn't think that I'd be spending a couple of years working on it. Nor did I think I'd be creating anything beyond some cardboard sets and some wire-frame puppets. The complexity of this mad project has me laughing at myself. I guess that's the problem, in my mind it was a complete short film. Shouldn't be that hard to just make. Right?

From the beginning, I have used my Nikon Coolpix 4600 digital camera that I bought back in 2005, attached to the cheap, hard plastic tripods that sets it about 6 inches off the ground. For the scale I was working in, that put the whole thing at "chest level" to most of the characters. I've tried a few other tripods in this film, but the cheap ones are exactly the right height.

The trouble is that there's not really a good, smooth, tracking system for moving the camera in straight lines. I've been using a ruler. Yes, all those camera moves that you see in the trailer are tracked using a ruler taped to the stage floor. Nothing is locked down.

So tonight I have shot about the thousanth photo for a particular take. It's a slow walk through the darkened, haunted nursery (see previous notes), pausing to watch the supernatural things begin to happen in the room. There's at least another four-hundred shots to go on this take. I began over two weeks ago. And it's late and I'm exhausted.

And the whole thing has me thinking about how extremely lo-tech (or is that lo-fi?) this whole project is. It's insane. Especially since this mad thing is becoming a serious work. If there is a next time, I'm going to need to get serious gear.

....but for now, I have finished uploading tonight's photos. It's time to see what I shot.....

Production Note 171209: Breaking Glass, Flowing Blood and Flying Ghosts

by Carvin Knowles on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:17am

I'm still working in the "Haunted Nursery" set, a large room with a huge, curtained window, a clock, paintings on the wall and a staircase that leads to a door above. Last night I was working on a shot that begins focused on a grandfather clock, then the camera pans away and up to where a ghost comes down a stairway toward the camera.

After returning from my Halloween trip to L.A., I began trying to figure out how to make the ghost come down the stairs. I ended up building a whole new version of my "star" ghost, just for the scene. The process of engineering her to come downstairs took weeks, but last night she was ready, and I was prepared for the shot.

So I began with the shot of the old clock. It's the simplest thing. It's just an old grandfather clock. The whole animation is making the pendulum swing and moving a hand on the clock so that it clicks over to midnight. No big deal. Compared to the character animation I've been doing, this is nothing. But I've had to shoot it three times now because every time I do, there is some issue with the lights. The wrong shadow is in the shot. MY shadow is in the shot. The light moved when it shouldn't have. Last night was no different.

The cursed Grandfather Clock, in the 9999th frame of the shoot, moments before the light that was focused on it crashed to the floor.
Photo by Carvin Knowles

The shot of the clock was over halfway finished with no problems. 129 frames of pendulum swing. Not even an exciting bit of animation. Then I noticed that the lighting instrument, a clip-light on a microphone stand, was slipping down the stand. Probably had been, un-noticed, for at least the last 30 shots. But now it was shining directly onto the clock where before the light had been indirect. At that point, there was nothing to do but keep shooting.

Then, just before the shot was to finish off with a hold on the unmoving clock, another70-odd frames later, the clip gave out and the light crashed to the floor and went out. I could hear the ringing of the element. I turned on the lights in the room and began digging around for a new light bulb. I only had one other 15-watt bulb for the low-light shoot.

Several minutes later, I picked up the lamp and reached inside to remove the old bulb. But when I touched the bulb, it exploded, sending a shard of glass into the center of my thumb, and glass all around the set. I couldn't believe that a tiny bulb, just a little bigger than my thumb could produce so much glass. My thumb was bleeding very steadily. I rinsed the tiny, but bloody, wound with listerine, because I didn't have a first-aid kit in the studio. The bleeding increased. The wound was only about the size of a pin-prick but it just wouldn't stop. I wrapped it in toilet paper and then continued on with my cleanup of the glass.

After I had removed all of the glass that I could see, I attacked the stump of the light with some pliers, to get it out of my clip-lamp. More glass. Just how much glass was in this thing? I screwed in the new bulb and......nothing. It was dead. So I tried another bulb, a brighter, 25-watt bulb. Still nothing. My clip-lamp was broken and I hadn't even gotten to the limportant part of tonight's shoot. So I got out my second clip-lamp and used it with the 25-watt bulb. But that didn't look right. The shot of the clock was definitely, un-redeemably ruined. Again. And tonight's shoot was gearing up to be a total loss.

But I didn't really know for certain that the shot was ruined. Maybe it worked, I told myself. It was all in the camera and I hadn't moved anything to my computer yet. I couldn't without losing what I had already done. It's a bit like the old "Schroedinger's Cat" gambit. If I check to see if it was ruined, I would ruin the shot. But if I don't check, and it is ruined already, I will have wasted time. And in this case, blood.

So with no lighting instruments, using only light from the flourescents coming through a door to the next office, I continued shooting, starting from the hold on the clock, I animated the camera moves. Pan right to reveal the carved hard-wood staircase. Move toward it, then past the heavy knobbed pillar at the end of the balistrade, covered in spider-webs. Then look up to the doorway at the top. The door swings open. The ghost appears and floats down the stairway, exactly as planned. All the difficult parts of the shoot go off like clockwork. Easy. And beautiful. I finished up at about 2 am. The tissue on my thumb was soaked. I was dripping blood into the carpet by the time I wrapped for the night, so I changed the dressing and went home.

Tonight is a "family night." No shooting again until Saturday. I haven't decided whether to re-shoot the old clock or just cut it altogether. It seems a shame, after having built a miniature Grandfather Clock to not use it. But if I didn't know better, I'd say this damn thing was cursed.