The word “gear” likely brings to mind things like tripods, dollies, lenses, and microphones. Thanks to Johnnie Semerad’s “Walking Johnnie,” we can now add scanners and 3D printers to the list.
In the following interview, Semerad takes us behind the scenes of his cutting-edge time lapse animation featured at the 2016 MobileFilmFestival.
MMM: Before we dig into the production of “Walking Johnnie,” could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Semerad: I’m the Owner and Creative Director of Quietman, a production company based in NYC. I grew up in Schenectady NY. Then I went to art school in New York City, Pratt Institute as a fine arts major. While still in school I got an internship in visual effects and fell in love with it. The industry had changed over and over again, the technology has improved but it’s still about solving problems.
MMM: Of your vast body of work, do you have a favorite?
Semerad: I think I’ll always be proud of the Beatles “free as a bird” video and all the super bowl spots I’ve worked on.
MMM: “Walking Johnnie” is certainly different from the productions you just mentioned.
Semerad: As a piece of fine art I wasn’t really sure where I was going to end up with it. I started by scanning a walk cycle of myself.
MMM: Could you explain what you mean by “scanning a walk cycle”?
Semerad: Simply put I took a little step and we scanned me. Then I took a little more of a step and we scanned me again. We repeated this until we had enough scans of me taking a full step: 16 scans altogether.
MMM: What kind of scanner were you using?
Semerad: We hacked our Kinect scanner so we could scan ourselves. It took a few minutes back then to scan a person. At first I was the only person willing to hold the multiple poses long enough.
MMM: What was the next step?
Semerad: I printed the scans out on a 3D printer.
MMM: What kind of printer did you use?
Semerad: We used a MakerBot Replicator. It’s the very first one you could buy without assembling it yourself.
MMM: so after you had the 3D printouts…?
Semerad: Then I set up the camera on my iPhone to take time lapse pictures and in between the exposures I swapped out the print of me with the next printed scan in the series. This created something I’ve never seen before: a 3D printed time lapse/replacement animation. The effect was that the 3D printouts appeared to be walking.
MMM: Can you say something about the many locations in the movie?
Semerad: After I had shot everything out my window, in my backyard, and around my neighborhood, I began to bring the prints everywhere I went: Vermont, San Francisco, Austin, Schenectady just to name a few. I also scanned my daughters, Emma and Dara, and my dog, Mateo. So the film evolved into a record of my life.
MMM: What about the post production?
Semerad: My friends, Morgan Mitchell and James Nelson, did the editing and the music, and Alex George, Zach Rubins, and Gib Peterson did the scanning and printing.
MMM: During the production, did you encounter any big challenges?
Semerad: This entire project was giving myself problems and solving them. Shooting on the iPhone was a chore. So what I did was set up the time lapse on my phone and then all I had to do was swap out the prints. Then I kept pushing myself by shooting while the snow melted, then during a sunset, then in a stream. There even two scenes where I took a picture a day while the leaves changed. I played with putting telephoto lenses on my phone. Motion control egg timers. Anything I could think of. Especially tricky were shots with multiple prints walking by. It was really hard to keep track of which was which and not make them run into each other. But convincing teenage girls to get scanned and trying to get a dog to hold still were the hardest part of the project.
MMM: “Walking Johnnie” is really cutting edge and might inspire experienced filmmakers to push the boundaries. But I wonder if you have any advice for novices?
Semerad: Do something! I always have something going on besides work. A music video, a script, a short film, a spec spot, helping a friend out with their project. You will rarely be challenged in a regular job. You have to challenge yourself.
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Credits for Walking Johnnie:
Director: Johnnie Semerad
Editor: Morgan Mitchell
Music composter: James Nelson
- Alex George
- Zach Rubins
- Gib Peterson
- Johnnie Semerad
- Emma Semerad
- Dara Semerad
- Mateo Semerad
You can see Johnnie Semerad interact with an animated character here.