PIT STOP (2019)

PIT STOP, my senior year thesis, is a Stop Motion/3D hybrid short film about a gas station convenience store clerk with a magic 8 ball for a head, he lives in fear that people will discover the secrets his fortune-telling head holds and therefore has isolated himself in a grimy convenience store working graveyard shifts. On this film, I focused primarily on directing and animation, but I found myself jumping around and performing a variety of roles in order to keep production on track. Some of these roles included: Creating and prepping 3D models to be 3D printed, assembling lasercut files, sculpting and mold making, silicone and foam casting, set fabrication, compositing, and much more. This film really pushed me to my limits, and I feel that I learned so much throughout the process.

PIT STOP is currently being submitted to festivals! At the moment the film is uploaded privately. For the video link and password, feel free to email me.


The concept for PIT STOP was an amalgamation of many of my favorite things, the iconic imagery of Magic 8 Balls, Wingdings 1, experimental animation, and the uncanny valley. One of my primary inspirations came from the stops I'd make driving from school in Savannah, Georgia, back home to New Jersey: the feeling of being in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, in a town you've never heard of, is one I can only describe as otherworldly. Capturing and portraying this feeling was the most important aspects of the film to me, and many of the visual and narrative elements came from this feeling. Pictured below is a lot of the preliminary work I created to flesh out the world and characters of the short, along with some mood boards showcasing inspiration for the look of the gas station, and a lighting progression script I made using various films with lighting I wanted to emulate. 


-Concept Illustration Color by Madeleine Arana

The Clerk's Head

The Clerk's 8 Ball head was definitely one of the trickiest parts of the preproduction process. Ultimately, we decided to go down the route of 3D printing the head, inside of fabricating the head using a readymade object. I used Rhino 6 to model the 8 Ball, while using vectors I made in Adobe Illustrator to splice the model into separate parts. The model needed to be separated so it could be printed with the breaks in color already incorporated, to achieve this, we sent it off to be printed by a Stratasys J750. After it was printed, I wet-sanded it using sandpaper ranging from 220 grit to 2000 grit, gradually working my way up, to remove the print lines. After this, I lightly sanded it with 400 grit, and applied three coats of Duplicolor Matte Finish Clear Coat, using a spray gun. After the coats were applied, and the piece had been left to dry and set for 12 hours, I wet-sanded it one more time with 800 grit sand paper to give it the finished, slightly worn look.

The Trucker

"What if a bear ate a truck driver?", this quote from my Professor was the driving force behind the monstrosity we ended up creating; The Trucker. During PreProduction, my tasks included: sculpting the body of the Trucker, sculpting the negatives for the 4-part plaster mold of his body, assisting in pouring plaster for the body mold, creating the armature for the Trucker's body, prepping the armature for casting, assisting in casting the Trucker's body, assisting in casting the Trucker's arms, sculpting the Trucker's face and creating the facial replacements, and rigging the Trucker to a camera tripod for animation. 



-Finalized Trucker Concept Illustration by Preston Vihlen

-Trucker Arm Sculpts, Asst. Plaster Molding, Asst.

Silicone + Foam Casting by Madeleine Arana

-Asst. Plaster Molding by Heather Morrison and Jessica Morris

The Trucker's shots focused only on his upper-body, so that's exactly what we built. He needed to be large and menacing, yet flexible enough to hit the extreme poses he was boarded to hit. Because of this, we decided to cast him so that he could have a mostly hollow interior. Once the body was sculpted, molded, and casted, I began making the armature. For the spine, I used twisted 3/16th armature wire for strength, and formed it in the shape of a sharp curve in order to get some slight squash and stretch once casted. The torso plate was also made to receive the silicone arms afterwards, while allowing the arms to then be removed for repair or for additional fabrication. To create the hollow space in the body, I painted elastic material with balloon rubber and stapled it to the armature so the foam we poured wouldn't seep through. Then the empty cavity was filled with loose fabric, and stuffed to give the stomach a slight curve. We then fit the armature in the mold, poured foam, and let it the foam set. Once the cast was removed, I cut a small slit in the back of the body that wouldn't face camera, and removed the loose fabric, leaving the interior hollow. The puppet was then seamed, dressed, and had his two silicone arms installed.



-Foam Casting Asst. by Madeleine Arana


Though the Clerk puppet was made with rigging in his feet for tie-downs, and rigs in his pelvis for fly-rigging, we had some shots that required the Clerk to be tied down to the floor in ways that required specialized rigging. For these shots, I would drill and tap small pieces of polycarbonate that I cut in order to support the Clerk in these various poses, they were fitted for 10/24 bolts. 


For the Clerk puppet, we casted him entirely in GI-1110 Transparent silicone that we tinted with colored pigment. We did the same thing for the Trucker's pink arms, they each had their own mold and were injected with tinted GI-1110 silicone. I was responsible for painting in silicone into the mold beforehand using silicone mixed with a fast curing catalyst, prepping the molds for injection, and then injecting the molds with silicone. After injection, I was responsible for removing the seams from the Clerk's puppet, wearing a sick poncho in the process.




-Asst. with Silicone Prep, Mold Prep, and Injection by Madeleine Arana

Set Dressing


To fit in with the realism of the film, many of our props that needed to look machine-made were laser-cut. I handled creating the files two of the more complex props: the cash register and the lottery window display. Using the measurements from the mockups, I assembled how the props would be cut and how they would be fitted together within Illustrator. I was also responsible for overseeing and finalizing laser-cut files that other crew members were creating, often helping with troubleshooting and problem solving.


-Cash Register assembly and final paint by Jessica Morris

-Lottery Window Display assembly and paint by Preston Vihlen