To help Nickelodeon celebrate Dora the Explorer's tenth anniversary of the television series, Hollywood visual design and motion graphics studio yU+co delivered a 45-second show open for their TV movie, "Dora's Big Birthday Adventure."
For the show open, yU+co and Nickelodeon developed a creative concept using a "Wizard of Oz" themed journey as Dora visits magical places from her adventures over the last ten years. Along the way, she calls on her character friends, Isa, Benny, Boots, Tico and others, to help get her back home in time for the big celebration. For founder/creative director Garson Yu, the concept was a natural for stop motion animation, using pop-up book styled practical sets. "When Nickelodeon came to us with the idea of a pop-up book, I immediately thought of Nathan Boey," Yu said. "We worked together on spots for Census 2010 and I love his intuitive and meticulous sensibilities."
Designing and directing the execution of the show open, Stop Motion Director Boey built 8 miniature tabletop pop-up sets, each about four feet deep and four feet tall. "One of the goals was to have constant movement and surprises happening within the frame to keep the viewer engaged," Boey said. "To make a pop-up world that's warm and inviting, we used simple movements that are constantly unfolding into new scenes."
The show open begins with a pop-up card that's an invitation to Dora's birthday party, then transitions to other recognizable places in Dora's world, such as the Barn, the Treehouse and Piggies Pirate Boat. "For the pop-up book approach, the most visually interesting pop-ups are the ones where we were able to use a central structure such as the boat and the barn," Boey comments. "They are more dynamic because of their size."
The biggest challenge for Boey was working within the tight framework of the pre-recorded Dora song and creating each set to look identifiable yet unique within the limited time frame. Before the process began, Boey created a full-on stop motion test to sell Nickelodeon on the overall aesthetic of the piece. After it was approved, a rough 'boardomatic' was created in Final Cut Pro to show basic timings. Different characters sing different lines in the song, so yU+co. had to introduce those characters in scenes at just the right moment. Later, more detailed boardomatics of scenes were created in AfterEffects and motion tests were done to show facial movements of characters singing. To build in flexibility, the movement was done in sections with cuts and cross dissolves.
"Once we got the timings down pat, we then built practical sets out of paper and card stock. For the paper characters, we created controllable arms that you could move up and down and for backgrounds we created movable waves and clouds," said Boey.
The sets and characters (without eyes and mouths) were shot with the Canon 5D Mark II. In order to sync-up properly with the song and make it look realistic, eyes and mouths were added later in post using After Effects. 3D confetti was also created for the final scene using Maya software.
The whole process of creating the stop motion animation took six weeks from beginning to end -- building, shooting, animating and editing the practical sets and characters. Despite certain limitations, Boey is proud of how he and his team brought it all together and created it from nothing. When asked what attracts him to working in this type of animation, which can be so meticulous and time consuming, Boey noted, "You have to have an obsessive compulsiveness and extreme patience to do stop motion animation, which I do, and I absolutely love doing it!"