Welcome to Thorvald!

Sometimes, the process of making a stop motion animated film is a bit like being locked in a deadly struggle with a fearsome sea serpent, only to look into its face and recognize yourself. This blog is for anyone who has battled a 12-inch tall monster of their own and discovered a worthy adversary and a beautiful friendship.

Welcome to my lair. Visit my monsters and tell me about yours.

Click the "Subscribe To" or "Follow By Email" links below to become a follower and get regular updates.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Water Test

I have designed some water using the Caustics and Wave World simulations in AfterEffects to see how the boat will look afloat in the perilous waters of a haunted loch...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Thorvald's Boat Completed!!!

Thorvald finally has his boat, and is almost ready to embark upon his epic journey. The boat is fully sculpted and painted, although hardly water proof. The water will inevitably have to be CG, but I am sure he won't mind. Thorvald can't swim anyway!
I will be doing some animation and compositing tests and will be posting them here shortly. 


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Thorvald's Boat Part VI

After a slight delay (mostly due to my graduation from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc in Film Studies), Thorvald is back on track and progressing rapidly. The figureheads for the boat are now fully sculpted in PaperClay, and now the entire thing needs to be painted, decorated, and aged. Here is an image of the fully sculpted boat alongside my original sketch.
Thorvald's idea of being helpful in set construction

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Thorvald's Boat Part V

Yet another mock-up, this time with slightly larger figureheads. It is probably time to start sculpting the final version. I wouldn't want Thorvald to set out in an unfinished boat!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Thorvald's Boat Part IV

The boat continues to evolve. Yes, I know the color scheme is ridiculous, NO this is not the final version. This is only a mock-up to work out the proportions for the figureheads. The heads are made of modeling clay at the moment, but will eventually be replaced by PaperClay, which is much more lightweight and paint-able. I am hoping that when I am done the whole thing will look like weathered wood.
At the moment, the heads are looking a bit small. I am considering making them bigger.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Thorvald's Boat, Part III

 The boat continues to develop. The walls are almost complete, with some cardboard additions, and I am also putting in supports for the figureheads on either end of the boat. Hopefully it will be looking like an actual boat quite soon. Thorvald does not trust me and is still despondent. Of course, as he is the star of the film, tantrums are to be expected.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Thorvald's Boat, Part II

 The boat is progressing rapidly, and I am building in some extra supports to keep Thorvald in place as the boat moves forward. It is not that I doubt his courage and feel the need to chain him down, I am simply concerned about the turbulence inherent in being swallowed whole by an embittered sea serpent. 
I have drilled some wire hooks into the foot area, and am using them to attach straps/laces that will keep his feet in place. On the seat, there are two additional loops in front which connect to a pair of hooks that go around his legs, and another loop in the back that surrounds his waist.
Surprisingly, after all of this care for his safety, Thorvald is still looking displeased and pensive. Although he appreciates the technical aspects, he would prefer it if the end result were more aesthetically pleasing and looked less like a wooden shoebox. My apologies, Thorvald, I will endeavor to do better....

Monday, 5 September 2011

Thorvald's Boat, Part I

Poor Thorvald really needn't look so distressed. His boat is only in the initial construction stages and will soon be looking much nicer. This is the boat on which he will embark on his epic journey into the bowels of the Stoorworm, so it is essential that it display both sturdy construction and a suitably mythic exterior. The walls that are visible now are made of Balsa wood, while the bottom is made of a thicker, denser wood, to keep the boat stable as it sails into the unknown...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Inside the Stoorworm (Literally)

 Here are the promised set-in-progress images. They may not seem like much now, but they are actually the insides of a fearful sea monster! The image to the left shows the beginnings of a grisly colonnade of enormous ribs that Thorvald must traverse on his perilous journey. They will be built up out of layers of wax on an aluminum wire armature to give them a bit of a translucent glow when lit properly. 
     The mesh-covered frame in the background, seen submerged beneath layers of multi-textured papier-mache in the picture to the right, will eventually be one of two movable walls, that will hopefully be able to accommodate a greater range of camera angles. Everything has yet to be painted.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Thorvald Lives!

I am fully aware that my protracted absence from the blogging universe is 
 inexcusable, and yet I shall attempt to exculpate myself. Between working at an archaeological site in Egypt, and completing my MSc Film Studies dissertation at the University of Edinburgh, I have been somewhat distracted. 
It is sad but true that Thorvald's Kickstarter funding campaign has proved unsuccessful. I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to Thorvald's supporters, and all those who pledged funds in his virtuous cause. Your noble intentions will not be forgotten, even if they were not given the opportunity to come to fruition.
However, it is neither in my nature, nor in Thorvald's to accept defeat! The film will still get made (although later than originally planned), and work is well underway on set construction and costume production. Here is a shot of Thorvald's developing costume, in the process of being completed layer by layer. Shots of one of the sets in progress will soon follow.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Become a Backer!

Do you want to help a poor but noble Orkadian shepherd in his life-changing encounter with a sea monster? It is still not too late to contribute to Thorvald's dream! 
By visiting the link below, and pledging as little as $5 to Thorvald's cause, you can have:

1. the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing that you are a supporter of the arts 
2. that you have aided Thorvald in his hour of need
3. ...and a variety of fun rewards ranging from postcards and T-shirts, to a DVD of the finished film, to a special thanks in the credits!

This opportunity closes on Wednesday Jun 15 at 10:44pm IST. If the project does not reach its goal, it WILL NOT BE FUNDED, and all pledges will be dissolved!!! We are already up to 15%, but we only have 10 days as of today to make up the rest!


Thorvald's Flesh (and apparel)

Now that Thorvald has his bones, it is time to start thinking about all the gorgeousness that will cover them. This includes some major decisions on the subject of his overall figure, as well as his costume. Here is a concept sketch, showing an approximation of what the finished Thorvald will look like:

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Calling All Stop Motion Animators!

 Are you a stop motion animator or an animation student? Are you struggling to raise funds for your independent animated films or stuck bringing lattes to obnoxious studio executives? How many sleepless nights have you spent coming up with ways to counteract “mystery wind” or experimenting with ways to animate water? Do you spend your days pouring your twisted, misunderstood soul into 12” tall creatures with aluminum bones or obsessively memorizing every frame of Nightmare Before Christmas? Are you looking for film festivals to submit your latest short to, or still reliving the trauma of mainstream rejection? Are you looking for a haven to vent your frustration and share your vision and discoveries? There is a place for you out there!

My name is Katherine Blakeney. I am an independent stop motion animator and I feel your pain. I initially launched Thorvald to share the stresses and tribulations of making my own short film, but now, I am inviting you to join me. I want Thorvald to become a community of stop motion animators, coming together to share their experiences, knowledge, discoveries, dreams, and nightmares. Come over and tell everyone about your latest project, your job search horror stories, your favourite film festivals, your excuse for being insane enough to dedicate your life to the most time-consuming filmmaking technique on the planet, and your plan for conquering the universe with the sheer power of your animation brilliance.

Every regular contributor will have their own profile on the blog with a headshot (of you or your favorite animated character), a bio, and links to your work. You will also have the opportunity to share videos, photos, and bits of animation wisdom with a passionate community of like-minded people and benefit from their knowledge in return. 
Also, I am planning to start up a festival that will run in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe, and will be dedicated entirely to edgy, underappreciated stop motion films, and as a contributor you will have a guaranteed place.

Thorvald's layout will of course be redesigned as soon as I get some new contributors on board!

If you want to join Thorvald, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at thorvald_blog@yahoo.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Thorvald's Kickstarter Relaunch

Thank you again to everyone who supported Thorvald's project on Kickstarter. The project has now been officially relaunched with a new and improved video and an extended deadline. Thorvald does not know the meaning of the word defeat, and he will prevail!
Now is your chance to help Thorvald on his epic journey. Any pledge of $5 or more will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you have aided a noble knight on his quest (as well as a variety of more material rewards).
Come and join us by clicking on the link to the right!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


As Thorvald's project on Kickstarter will close in a few days, I would like to extend a special thank you to our only Kickstarter backer. It is the support of people like you that keeps independent filmmaking alive.
I will re-post the project as soon as it closes with an updated video and an extended deadline, so there is still an opportunity to get this film off the ground! We're keeping our fingers crossed that this time will be more successful, and refuse to give up no matter what. Thorvald Erik the Fearless, son of Thor may be only 12" tall, but he does not surrender that easily!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Thorvald's Bones

 Thorvald's body consists of a simple ball-and-socket armature. His bones are made of steel rods that need to be sawed to specific measurements and screwed together with steel balls and tiny metal plates to create movable joints, much like the ones in the human body. To keep track of all the bones and joints, I had to make a little "body organizer" to sort his arms from his legs and make sure he came together all right!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thorvald's Hands

No, this is not a gruesome scene from the film...although yes, these are Thorvald's detached hands floating in a bowl of boiling water. They are made of twisted aluminum wire and coated in plastic shrink tubing, which shrinks only when placed in boiling water. Hence the barbarity...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Thorvald Needs Your Help!

Would you like to be a part of Thorvald's journey? Thorvald and the Slimy Things now has its very own page at Kickstarter.com, and we have until Wednesday, March 23 to raise $1,000 dollars to finish the film. Click on the link below to see a small "making of" featurette and learn about all the lovely rewards you can get for pledging as little as $5. Thorvald cannot reach his goal without you!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Ethereal Beauty of an IKEA bag

What's this? An IKEA bag? Are you wondering what a carrier bag from a furniture store is doing on a blog devoted to stop motion animation?
But take a closer look... See how it catches the light, how it glitters and exudes blue sparks that dance on its textured surface. Isn't it beautiful? It has a mystery, a charm that lends itself to inspiration. It seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the scales of a sea monster that I know well...

Don't you think so?

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Birth of the Stoorworm

My design for the Stoorworm's head was actually influenced by this 15th century painting by Paolo Uccello, depicting the battle between St. George and the dragon. Though much later stylistically than what I am doing for Thorvald, this image is linked thematically with Thorvald's story. I was also really interested by the shape of the dragon's nose and the structure of the skull. It seemed somehow oddly appropriate for a Norse-inspired environment. The body of the Stoorworm will be heavily ornamented, featuring the type of curly intertwined designs that appear frequently on Norse metalwork.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Head of the Stoorworm

While I'm still in the "head zone", here is the head of the fearsome Stoorworm itself. There will of course be a large-scale version as well, big enough to swallow poor Thorvald together with his boat, but that will come later, together with the sets. This model of the Stoorworm will be just barely longer than a foot and will be used for independent and distance shots. Now it needs to be painted and to grow a body and some scales. It's no good being a terrifying sea monster if you have no glittering coils to crush your adversaries into dust.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Face of Thorvald Part II

 Here, finally is the fully renedered face of Thorvald. The natural tone and porcelain-like feel of his skin are created using
unpainted FIMO (oven-bake clay. His helmet was a challenge, as it needed to bond with  the surface of his head, but could not be oven-baked as well, because it goes over his hair, which would catch fie in the oven.I finally decide to do it using an air-drying substance that also allowed for some nice carved deails.  The rust-coloured underpaintig is highlighted with a rub-on metal sheen to create the sense that the helmet is very old,dented, and somewhat flaky. Poor Thorvald will have a lot of polishing to do...  

Monday, 31 January 2011

The Face of Thorvald

Now that I have a better idea of Thorvald's  personality and backstory, I can use the references I found at the British Museum, together with my own perception of what Thorvald looks like, to create his face. He wil have a body and clothing of course, but the head is the hardest part. It will be the most represantative feature of his body - the one people will look at most. The slightest change in proportion or shape can speak volumes about his character or his emotions, and can profoundly affect the way he will move and express himself. His body and clothing will be designed around his face. So no pressure!
I did a clay model to try to visualise my sketches in three dimensions. The final version will be done in two different materials to differentiate between the texture of his helmet and his skin.


Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Story

Before beginning my screenplay and organizing my storyboard, I needed to get a clearer picture of the mood and structure of my narrative. Consequently, I decided to write a treatment of my introductory sequence in short story form. Of course the final narration will be a good deal more concise as it will be accompanied by images. But now I have something that can be adapted into a screenplay...

     It happened a long time ago, on a distant island where cold northern waves crash against the towering dark cliffs of the shore. The sun dies early there, leaving the cliffs in the ethereal embrace of the glimmering Northern Lights. Long have the shades of mythic creatures and great heroes walked among the ancient ruins, and the air itself is heavy with the breath of legend. It was here that Thorvald Erik the Fearless, Son of Thor came into being.
     Thorvald Erik the Fearless was a legendary hero, a demigod, whose extraordinary deeds and breathtaking adventures would be spoken of by generations to come. He had been sent into the mortal world as an infant by his great father, the god Thor, to fulfill his destiny. Armed with nothing but his courageous heart and the enchanted helmet given to him at birth by his great father, he was meant to spend his life defending the weak and destroying the forces of darkness, until his final confrontation with the Stoorworm, a giant sea serpent and his father’s greatest nemesis. Only when he emerged victorious from this decisive battle would he be worthy to join his true family in Valhalla.
     Unfortunately for Thorvald, even the greatest legends can sometimes be sidetracked. Of course it didn’t help that everyone in the village knew him as simply Erik, son of John the Shepherd - ever so slightly less imposing.  It was also distracting that his six older brothers found his epic story somewhat less than convincing and rather more than amusing. The general opinion was that he was a useless, lazy dreamer who hardly had he strength to lift a well-fed sheep two inches off the ground. …not that he had any inclination to do so. His claims of demigod status seemed to induce spontaneous laughing fits not unmixed with mockery and occasional stone-throwing. The poor boy was obviously disturbed and an embarrassment to his good father. Why else would he run around with a rusty pail on his head, shaped into a rough helmet by the neighboring blacksmith? Perhaps it was the blacksmith’s fault. He shouldn’t have encouraged him.  
      It was obvious that seven had been an unlucky number for the venerable shepherd. After all, he had already produced six tall, sturdy, practical sons, not very handsome perhaps, but handy and useful around the farm. They would all make industrious farmers. It was sad that they all had to deal with Erik. The boy was insufferably arrogant and delusional. He would have gotten into a lot more trouble if it hadn’t been shameful to punch someone so frail-looking
     Nobody understood. Erik resented these misconceptions. First of all his name was Thorvald, and the blacksmith had nothing to do with his enchanted helmet. He also resented being called frail. It was not his fault that his brothers were unnaturally large and excessively strong, …and he was not lazy. He simply had no inclination to be a shepherd, naturally because he was meant for better things. He would have more than enough determination and strength when it came to fighting dragons and rescuing princesses.  He had trouble understanding his brothers’ disdain and animosity towards him. He was an honorable person. He only ever told them the truth, and he condescendingly let them win every fight because he feared he would lose control over his superior powers and do them some sort of serious harm. Besides, he needed to save his strength for more serious opponents.
     He always knew his time would come, and quite unexpectedly, it did. The island was attacked by a genuine Stoorworm, every bit as huge and terrifying as in legend. Although the monster said nothing, it was clear that the only reason a sea monster would menace a kingdom was to devour the king’s beautiful only daughter. It so happened that the king was less than pleased at this prospect and, as tradition demanded, called upon the honour of all the knights of the kingdom to save the princess and claim her hand. Sadly, everyone, the knights, the heroes, even Thorvald’s strong sturdy brothers cowered in abject terror beneath the monster’s unapproachable glare. Everyone but Thorvald, whose valiant heart was filled with joy and pride that his chance to prove himself had finally come.
     His brothers were furious. How could their ridiculous younger brother imagine he would succeed where they were too frightened to even try? Surely he was just taunting them. Angered by his pretensions and humiliated by their own cowardice they vented their frustration by attacking Thorvald. Narrowly avoiding their blows he left home that very night, never to return. He ran unrelentingly towards the shore, until he collapsed exhausted on a hilltop. As the sun rose on a new day, his eyes met a sight that he had longed and waited for all his life, and he felt no fear because the hour had at last come when he would become what he was meant to be …and that was the day I first met Thorvald Erik the Fearless, Son of Thor.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Thorvald's References

The roots of Thorvald's story originate in Orcadian and Norse mythology, so it was essential for me to incorporate some Norse visual influences into the design of the film. I began of course, with Thorvald's signature helmet - the key to his image and style. I decided to visit the Norse galleries of the British Museum to look for inspiration. The helmets on display are reconstructions, but there are also some remains of the oiginals, and together they give a pretty good idea of what they had looked like. I was very taken with the bird-like faces and large expressive eye shapes that the helmets created. 

Monday, 17 January 2011

The First Step

For me, every film starts with references. Of course the idea comes first, but the visuals are no less important. Even if the film takes place in a fantastical environment, it needs a foundation to build on. The right reference can be a great inspiration and can endow your work with a greater richness of detail and verisimilitude.

Edward I's Fireplace
A folding chair
     My last film, The Dreams of Kings, was inspired by the life of Richard II and although there were many fantastical elements in the story, I wanted to maintain the feel of late medieval England in my design. I visited many of the actual castles and palaces that Richard had owned or stayed in and was especially inspired by the reconstruction of Edward I's rooms in the Tower of London. Although this was earlier than Richard's time it definitely reflected the type of Gothic architecture and furniture Richard would have been familiar with.
My design for Richard's room in The Dreams of Kings
And so, the creation of a new world begins...