Having just seen the third in his series ourselves, we thought our readers might enjoy these very popular videos by Kieron Jansch…
I’m often asked where I got the kite I happen to be flying; the answer is that I make them. This generally leads into a long & involved discussion about just how the hell I actually go about it, and often leaves whoever I’m talking to none-the-wiser! So, I thought it was about time I showed you. By the way, I’m also often asked another question, the answer to which is, categorically, “they are not for sale!” I make kites purely for my own pleasure, not commercially.
If I’ve been quiet these last few weeks and months, this is why. This is the is the latest, and last, in my series of Calvin & Hobbes kites, and it’s taken me near on six months, on and off.
At times I felt my spirits flagging, thinking I’d taken on too complex a design on too small a kite. I had this design in mind from the very start, way back when I was building the kite featured in my first kite making film ( vimeo.com/6889604 ) but the complexity was daunting and I didn’t feel able to tackle it back then. I’m glad I waited.
The inspiration for making this film was seeing Sean Stiegemeier’s wonderful “Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull” film ( vimeo.com/11673745 ). I thought that some of his techniques would work beautifully for the kite making film I had planned. Being on a budget I had to build my own motorised dolly for the time lapse parts of the film. It worked reasonably well, although I’ve since improved it and will be heading out again soon with another film in mind.
The rig is a 2 metre alloy box section with channels on all four sides that are big enough for bearings to sit in. Around that sits a larger box section that houses the bearings and effectively clamps the outer box section to the inner one, whilst allowing the bearings to run freely up and down the alloy section. Attached to that is a cable that runs the length of the alloy section, through a pulley at one end, then around a very high torque/low rpm 12v motor: the torque is so high that it’ll pull a 4 kg camera rig vertically, and hold it in position when it’s not moving.
Whilst this movie isn’t 100% time lapse, I do use it in various places from start to finish.
I learned a lot making those earlier Calvin & Hobbes kites; filming and writing about the process helped too – and so, back at the start of 2010 I started work on this one. Strictly speaking it’s not a Calvin & Hobbes kite, as Hobbes doesn’t appear, and Calvin’s appearance is a brief daydream.
In typical Calvin fashion he’s ignoring his teacher whilst sitting as his school desk; instead of the tedious business of learning he’s off traveling the galaxy as his alter ego, Spaceman Spiff.
I’ve tried to tell a story with this kite. In much the same way as Bill Watterson used to in the original comic strip, this kite has a distinct narrative; the three sections following on from each other. Foil kites can’t be seen in the round when flying. The back presents one side or the other, depending on the direction of flight, effectively separating imagery into two distinct halves; you never get to see both. Whereas the front foreshortens images into one complete whole.
So with this one, Calvin daydreams his way through the school day on the first half of the back, and takes to his flying saucer as Spaceman Spiff on the other. The front features the inevitable conclusion of his space-faring: being shot down by aliens (which usually coincides with a rude awakening by his teacher).
The making of this kite fell into to two phases; prompted by the popularity of my first kite making film. There was the process of making the kite itself, and that of documenting it. I decided very early on that I would make a special effort to improve on that first film.
I’d done the informative “this is how I do it” film, and written a very detailed blog of the process from start to finish. So this film takes a different tack. I doubt very much that you’ll be any the wiser about the how exactly I go about making these kites after you’ve seen it. I hope instead you’ll begin to understand how it makes me feel, making and flying my own kites, and knowing that each one is unique (that’s code for “heavy on drama, light on information”).
One of the other reasons this kite, and film, has taken much longer than I’d at first hoped, was that I switched from Final Cut Express to Pro, and invested Adobe After Effects, meaning that I faced an unpleasantly steep learning curve. It was worth it though. I finally feel like I know exactly how to get the result I want; rather than trying to cobble together the footage I happen to have shot that day, I now know what I want before the camera comes out of the bag. The downside? Well, I could always do with a better camera…
So, here, after many months of delays (I know, I know, I promised this film would be ready for the end of March), is Kite Making Three.
In a way the delays have proved a Godsend. You’ll probably notice that there’re a distinct improvement in the time-lapse shots as the film progresses. Those in the first third of the film were all shot using my home-made dolly, with which I had been more than satisfied. But during an (all-too-brief) improvement in my finances, I finally invested in a rig from TL Pro, one which came with the ability to “move-shoot-move”. That, and the ability to perfectly time the travel of the dolly and number of shots taken, meant that I was able to exercise control over my time-lapse shots in a way I hadn’t considered before. The result was that for the first time I was able to conceive a shot and know how to execute it; rather than just set up the dolly and “see what happens”.
As is generally the case with my films, KM3 is no different in being part and parcel of a wider project – predictably one involving another kite!
I started this kite back in October 2010 and fresh from finishing the last in my Calvin & Hobbes series, was searching for a new look.
As you’ll know, if you’ve seen any of my previous kites, cartoons have a special place in my heart. But this time I wanted something a little more contemporary; something that spoke to a wider audience than Calvin.
Of the plethora of choices Family Guy stood out head & shoulders above the rest: it has a synergy with the Calvin strips of Watterson, not visually perhaps, but more in the way it comments on our world. Perfect fodder for a kite then.
I knew from a very early stage that there was only one image I wanted to adapt; something from a scene in which Lois, dressed in fetish gear, says “the safe world is Banana”, before smacking Peter, fully bedecked in a leather gimp outfit, in the mouth.
That wasn’t quite enough though. Great for one side of a kite; but what of the other?
In stepped Quagmire: who better to be on the reverse of the kite, watching Lois & Peter at play?.
Knowing what I wanted to do, I then needed to think about the kite to use as the basis of the build. My love affair with Ozone’s snowkites is well known, and so it was only natural that I expand my quiver: this time though I evicted the moths from my wallet and splashed out on a brand new 12m Manta M3.
Two days after the kite arrived it was deconstructed into its component parts (having never been flown), and adorned the every available space in my flat.
Very shortly after dismantling the kite the delays started. I blame my friend Mark for the first of them.
We were in my study one afternoon, looking at a few of the time lapses I’d shot for the early parts of Kite Making Three, and discussing our plans to visit Nevada in early 2011, when Mark pipes up “you should build one of these for the guys at NABX you know”.
That conversation was responsible for diverting my attention (I’m easily distracted) for at least three months!
January rolled round as the NABX kite progressed and brought some excitement with it, in the form of an ambulance ride to A&E. A week in hospital, and strict instructions to take it easy after that, meant more delays. I finally finished the NABX kite in March, and was looking forward to getting back to work on my own kite, when yet more hospital time beckoned. Two weeks this time.
My health improved to the extent that NABX was back on the cards and during the event I meet so many wonderful people, and started so many video projects, that it was not until the end of May 2011 that I picked up work on the Family Guy kite.
All the delays proved a boon though. I’d been through a steep learning curve on the NABX kite, and with the video work, so much so that when I came back to this project I found that I was able to progress very quickly – whilst filming the entire process without undue delay. Even so, it was still several month’s work until the day finally arrived when I closed the trailing edge.
Now it’s over I’m still glad I did it, still happy with the design and quietly proud of the result. I do think this is my last cartoon though. Time to move on I think!
Things you might like to know:
Moving images shot at 24p 1920×1080
Ripped using MPEG Streamclip to APR(HQ)
Edited in FCP using APR(HQ) – I can’t be bothered with proxy codecs
Exported for Vimeo using H.264 (highest quality, multi-pass encoding), AAC Audio codec, highest quality 44.100/320kbps
Timelapses shot at full size jpeg 5616×3744 (raw takes too much time to convert)
Batch processed to 4096×2731 in PS (4k being the highest res FCP can handle)
Imported into an FCP project with sequence set up: 4096×2731, square pixels, APR(HQ) codec, editing timebase 23.98fps
Exported as .mov ready for re-importing into my editing sequence.
Canon EOS 5D MK2
TL Pro Stage Zero Dolly
Final Cut Pro 7
After Effects CS5
Trentemoller “Take Me Into Your Skin” from the album “The Last Resort”
The Chemical Brothers “Container Park” from the album “Hanna”