By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — With a deadline looming, have you ever wished you could just step out of the room for a moment and that project might — just this once — magically finish itself?
Recent Niskayuna High School alumnus Calvin O’Connor’s did, and he caught it on film.
At least, that’s the plot of “A Noteworthy Production,” O’Connor’s first foray into stop-motion animation. In the film, a stick figure on a yellow sticky note is moved by its creator’s exhausted state — literally.
To help him out, the doodle climbs down from O’Connor’s computer, slips in and out of drawers, vaults over thumbtacks, flutters past a fan, steals a pen, and checks the thing off his to-do list. The detailed piece of animation won O’Connor an award for “Best Editing” in the young filmmaker category at the Ballston Spa Film Festival, which drew 38 submissions from a variety of states and countries.
“I’ve always been fascinated with 2D animation,” O’Connor said. He didn’t have an editing program or professional tools, but decided to tackle the project anyway, one stick figure-step at a time.
“I just drew on one Post-It note and took a picture of that, moved the camera, and took another picture,” he said. The film is two and half minutes long, but took about three months to create.
O’Connor studied the biomechanics of walking so he could realistically draw each stage of the figure’s steps, and worked hard to keep his lighting consistent across several months of work. He said the biggest challenge he faced was figuring out a creative way to make the stick figure leap from one table to another.
“I tried to figure out how to make a 2D figure move across a 3D plane,” he said. The final solution involved filming the fan prop in front of a green screen, then photoshopping the Post-It into each individual frame.
Although he had tried using green screens before, O’Connor said most of the project was completely new to him.
“This was my first time trying anything in animation and I think it came out spectacularly,” he said.
Clearly, his pride was validated by the award, which came with a bag of souvenirs and, more importantly, an opportunity to network and talk with filmmakers from all over. Several filmmakers from Niskayuna submitted work, mostly live action, to the festival and had their work screened there. O’Connor said the experience was so valuable, he’s sure he’ll submit again in the future.
O’Connor is honing his filmmaking and editing skills at Ithaca College starting this year, as he majors in film and photography. While he said film has been a natural, lifelong interest for him, one local event in particular hooked him on the process.
When the 2012 film “The Place Beyond the Pines” shot in Schenectady, O’Connor was an extra.
“You can see me in a few of the scenes and even in the trailer,” he said. During his time on set, he was curious about the ways the camera people set up and filmed different shots, and couldn’t wait to learn more about the process.
He learned a lot at Niskayuna High School under the instruction of art teacher Stephen Honicki, and the experience has already begun to train his eye. “I’m definitely paying more attention to the angles of the shots,” O’Connor said.
He’s so invested that now, he can hardly watch film for pleasure without analyzing each frame.
“Now when I watch movies I say, ‘Ooh, I see this, I see that,’ ” he said.