12 Inches at a Time


As a follow up to Behind You, best Film at the Carnival of Darkness Film Festival in 2012 (beating out a Guillermo Del Toro executive produced short), Benjamin Freiburger, myself and new collaborator, Grant Wheeler, set out to make an epic adventure at miniature proportions. Separated is the story of an inch and a half tall wind up toy named Jim who embarks on a perilous journey to re-unite with his lost love, Jill. When Jim was wound up all the way, he could walk about 12 inches, so we were restricted to shooting the movie one foot at a time or less, depending on the action. For other activities such as turning, jumping, looking around or interacting with other objects, we used puppetry techniques designed on the fly. No stop motion was used.

Working with such a small lead actor, we needed the lens to sit and to travel as close to the floor and other surfaces as possible. So, being on a tight budget, and lacking a snorkel lens system, we shot on a small DSLR camera with a combination of Nikon and Canon lenses. An old Nikon 35-70 macro lens was utilized most often. The macro feature allowed us to get tight enough on the wind up toy for medium close ups. Almost every set-up required some sort of unusual camera rig, whether it was mounting the camera upside down off the tip of a skateboard, holding it in place with wedges and tape, or sliding the camera across the wood floor on a soft piece of fabric.

Wind Up AssemblyWind Up Assembly5 Wind Up Assembly2 Wind Up Assembly3 Wind Up Assembly4

The lighting was motivated by ambient daylight and direct sun. Units were regularly placed outside and aimed through windows, with fill light bouncing off the ceilings inside and miniature bounce cards placed close to camera. Jim’s highly reflective dome and body were a challenge. We had to constantly remember to check for camera and other unwanted reflections. For most set-ups, I embraced the specular highlights. But, for the more emotive moments, I had to be wary of reflections in the toy’s helmet obscuring the his eyes. Since the toy doesn’t speak or have any animated facial expressions, we had to rely on camera angle and light to project emotions into his lifeless robotic peepers.

The movie starts out warm and cozy — everything is right in the world — with the toys, Jill and Jim, sitting together on a mantle.

Then we see that certain objects around the living room are missing there pair: where there were his-and-her coats hanging by the door, now there is only the man’s, etc. The human’s living in this house have split up, and the lady has taken her things. The lighting cools off a little. We see that Jim is all alone. Jill is missing and, for the first time, Jim begins moving on his own, motivated by desire to find her. At this point the lighting warms up again to reflect a sense of optimism and adventure. During his journey, there are moments where it seems impossible to get to her and the lighting is cooled off a little. Then, once Jim overcomes the hurdle, the light warms up again. At a certain point, I introduce flares and even warmer colors until, at the end, the world becomes bathed in warm oranges for a passionate embrace.

Wind Up 1st Cut2

Montage of selected shots from the film, “Behind You” Full Movie, “Behind You” Montage