August 30, 2015

Photoshoot, Ga-Rei Zero Style!

Some time ago, I was talking about a "creative project" I was working on... y'know, the one that needed 60 sets of chopsticks, a trilobite, something donated from Texas, two different styles of gift tissue, four thumbtacks and a big binder clip?  It's fairly clear to me now that I'll never actually finish the damn thing, simply because the effort involved is somewhat beyond me at the moment... i.e. I can't be arsed.  However!  That doesn't mean that I can't reveal that which has been completed, and J Greely was right... the stuff WAS being used as a photo studio though not a tabletop one.  More of a bookcase, really.  You'll see, later.  But what was I shooting?

Almost 18 months ago, I sugested that there were two more figmae waiting to be photographed... but what I didn't say is that they were a matched set: Kagura and Yomi from Ga-Rei Zero!  Though they're fairly old Figma (Kagura is #066, Yomi #067 in a collection that's announced number #269 recently), I was able to pick the pair of them up for a song... in new condition, to boot.  I just checked online, and nowadays they cost individually what I got both for in 2014.  Anime figures: investment material!

Of course, the best part of Ga-Rei Zero is the relationship between these two.  It's no spoiler anymore to say that they go from best friends to a duel to the death, and if nothing else, that gives a LOT of picture-taking opportunities.  Let's continue, shall we?

The plan was portraits of each individually, and that part turned out beautifully.  For example, even a quick test shot of the Schoolgirl in White was pretty keen:

...though it pointed out some limitations of my camera.  To whit, it hated low-light situations with a passion.  If you click on the picture, you should get the full-sized version (3473x2767) just to get an idea of how grainy it is.  The background, amusingly enough, is from one of the first figures I ever owned, an Onegai Twins blind box.  It's not quite to scale, but close enough for jazz.

All these pictures of Kagura were taken first, as I figured out techniques and tricks for shooting figma well.  I was never particularly happy with this shot, but it worked out I suppose.  That's King Caesar she's defeated, if you're curious.  I gather he's a good guy in the Godzilla universe, but he's also appropriately scary-looking enough (in a goofy sort of way) to be a good Ga-Rei Zero monster.  The box of Pocky is scratch-built, if you can call printing out a teeny picture and mounting it to a well-folded and taped piece of paper "scratch-building".

My favorite of the Kagura shots.  The only photomanipulation here is that I edited out the post that keeps her from falling over; everything else is exactly as it came out of the camera.  I really liked the way the light plays over the chain and scabbard for Michael #12... enough so that I would use the technique a lot with Yomi's pictures.  Now, I wouldn't be much of a "creative" sort without wanting to juice up some of the pictures, would I?  Particularly because Kagura becomes a magic-user in the final episodes, I wanted to see what I could do with Photoshop.  Well, turns out my 12-year old copy of Photoshop doesn't play well with Windows 8, so I installed GIMP and let me tell you, that's a darn useful little bit of freeware right there.  That my attempts at photomanipulation failed isn't the fault of GIMP, lemme say that right off.

I honestly didn't expect to post this picture, but what the hell, I'm having fun talking about 'em.  What we've got going on here is a failed attempt at backlighting using a cyclorama.  Unfortunately, the lights I had weren't really able to do the tight focus streak I was looking for, nor could they flood the drop without hotspots.  What resulted was... not pretty.  I do kinda like the "magic lensflare" effect, though.

Since Kagura controls her spirit beast, Byakuei, via a magic portal that flares just behind her, I decided to give it a try... mixed results, really.  I suppose that I could have made it work, but seemed like such an effort when I had so much more planned to come... to whit, Yomi.

Let's face it, Yomi is a much more fun character, both in the show and in figma form.  Because while good may always win, evil takes better pictures.  Indeed, I very nearly didn't get a simple portrait of the Schoolgirl In Black.  I had too much fun doing the dramatic pictures that the simple, boring one nearly got lost in the shuffle.  As is, this one isn't the best I could have done... her face is overly bright, for example. I'm okay with that, though, because the rest of the Yomishots turned out pretty darn good.

Case in point.  There's a larger version available if you click on the pic.  I didn't realize I had a light visible in the lower left corner until just now, but I kinda like it there.  I was fully confident I knew what my camera could manage by now.  Even better, I knew what I could manage with the lights and the selection of colored media I had at my disposal... formidable, in both cases.  A year before I was jettisoned by the Duck U Bookstore, the man who taught me how to be a lighting designer was hired by the school to be on the faculty.  We talked for quite some time, I showed him what I could do with some flashlights and a handful of rubber ducks, and a little while later, he brought me a bag of scrap pieces of stage lighting gels.  None of them were usable by the theatre anymore, being either odd sized or full-sized but burnt out.  For me, however?  A 4"x4" square could cover most of my lights, easy!  Suddenly, I had a full assortment of Roscolux gels at my fingers, ranging from light bastard amber to surprise pink to special lavender to light frost!  Short of full dimmer packs and actual miniaturized stage lights, I could not ask for more.

Remember what I said about "evil taking better pictures"?  I wish I could have taken the stand out of the shot, that's about the only complaint I have with this one.  This is where, by the way, the "donation from Texas" is from... that's one of the Rio figures Ben from Midnight Tease sent me a while back.  I finally got to take a small bit of revenge on Rio Rainbow Gate!  Speaking of other shows, back in the day some people realized that Yomi and K-On!'s Mio had some similarities of character design.  To whit:

Some unnamed artist decided to actually put it to digital canvas.  It's a great picture, and I while I didn't have the Mio figma, I decided to see how close I could come to replicating it.

Far and away the best picture I took in this whole endeavor.  Of course, you can click for a bigger version, and I recommend you do.  I couldn't get a complete match between the artwork and the picture because Figma just don't bend that way, but I think I came pretty close.  Couldn't figure out a good way to do the smoke effect short of actually smoking a cigarette and that way lies madness... and not just because cleaning tobacco smoke off of vinyl figures must be a nightmare.

So that brought me to what would have been the true highlight of the project: the tandem  photographs.  I had a whole series of them planned out, including a pic or two of the two of them fighting a trilobite (y'all guessed the wrong one).  And this is where the project hit a snag.  Y'see, to pose a single figma well takes a bit of time.  For example, the last of the Yomi pics took a good couple of hours to pose, and that was working from a source picture.  To get them to stand in a position that looks human takes effort... and if you have two of them, it often takes more than twice as long.  I mean, if they're interacting... well.  You get the idea.  What I did get done, though, shows me that I was on the right track.

Bigger pic when you click.  Posing these two took for-freakin'-ever, and I'm still not overly convinced I got Kagura quite right.  The real pain in the butt was getting Yomi in a position where it looks like she was attacking from more-or-less straight overhead.  Figma arms just don't do that very well, particularly when you're trying to have them also hold a sword.  As is, her left shoulder joint was very close to popping out of its socket, and while the newer figma are designed to do that, these ones are most definitely not.  I spent a lot of time removing the stands from the picture, in some places pixel-by-pixel, and I did... a good enough job of it.  I love the lighting on the backdrop... green light in the back-right corner shining towards back-left, then a  purple-blue fill for the shadows.  Look at me, I can do lighting things.  Now, an eagle-eyed reader may think that there's something different about this picture when compared to the others... and you'd be right.  For my birthday this year, I bought myself a much more capable camera, the Sony A3000... mostly because it was on huge sale, almost 50% off at the time.  I just looked it up on Amazon, and I could literally buy two of them then (and still have enough left over for a SD card) for what one is selling for now.  A real photographer would sneer at it, but when all you've used before are inexpensive point-and-shoot digicams, it's a revelation.

Taken with my cellphone's camera, just a look at the stage in use, if you will.  That's my old Nikon Coolpix L22 on the tripod, the camera that took all the shots in this post save the Kagura v Yomi pic.  Just a fun little thing, but you can't really see what's going on. 

In this one, you can.  Big honkin' binderclip in the lower-left hand corner, check.  Ceramic tea-candle holders, check.  And look at all the chopsticks being used as positions for the lights!  I later realized that big tongue depressors or paint-stirring sticks might have been better choices, but hell, I can use the chopsticks as silverware, too. 

Maybe one day I'll finish this project up... the shelf is still set up, after all... but for now, this'll have to do.  Hope you liked it... I know I enjoyed the photography practice!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 12:35 AM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
Post contains 1810 words, total size 13 kb.

1 First picture: So that's what the monolith was!

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 30, 2015 10:18 AM (+rSRq)

2 This is pretty awesome.  I always wanted to do something like this with some of my figures but always run out of patience.

Posing older figmas can be a real pain in the neck.  The oldest I've worked with is #11, and it's hard to get anything other than basic poses without tons of work.

I need to figure out a way to photograph some other Rio figures I found.  You wouldn't want to "cut" those in half.  

Posted by: Ben at August 30, 2015 12:27 PM (DRaH+)

3 Swiftly approved, A+++ use of available resources and free time. Also, it's clear that if we were in the same part of the country I'd be begging for lighting lessons. All I ever managed was to get two gooseneck lamps with "sunlight" temperature CF bulbs pointed more-or-less in the right direction...

Also, it's a good thing I never got into anime figurine-type stuff. My entertainment budget is slim enough as it is, and I already have trouble figuring out where I'm going to put all the ducks in this new place. (Shelving is at a premium.)

Extra also: Onegai Twins! The show with one of my favorite theme songs of all time! Aaaah!

Posted by: GreyDuck at August 30, 2015 07:05 PM (/zxpg)

4 Good lord, GD, we really ARE brothers, aren't we?  I love Onegai Twins! to the point that it was one of the first series I ever wrote about here at The Pond.  I wouldn't go following any of the links in that post, though, seeing as how it's from 2005.

Lighting lessons?  Hm.  If others are interested, I might be able to do that through The Pond...

Posted by: Wonderduck at August 30, 2015 08:23 PM (jGQR+)

5 Coolio!

Re: smoke effects, you could always buy some dry ice at the grocery store. (Okay, Meijers carries dry ice. I don't know if other grocery stores do.)

Posted by: Suburbanbanshee at August 31, 2015 01:57 PM (ZJVQ5)

6 Dry ice is great if you're looking for a floor-hugging fog, but I was looking for something more airborne.  Also there's a lot of wetness involved, and between the photography background, the books on the shelves, and the DVR just below, it's kind of a "dampness adverse" situation.

Posted by: Wonderduck at August 31, 2015 11:47 PM (jGQR+)

7 I was going to say that you could take a separate picture of the dry ice, and then Photoshop it onto a picture of the figures. But I guess that would be cheating.

You could also collect a lot of chalk dust on blackboard erasers and then clap the erasers to create a cloud of "smoke," but I guess most schools don't have chalk dust and blackboard erasers anymore. Maybe you could get a chalk slate with erasers.

Posted by: Suburbanbanshee at September 02, 2015 06:20 AM (ZJVQ5)

8 could take a separate picture of the dry ice, and then Photoshop it onto a picture of the figures...

You overestimate my shooping abilities, Banshee!

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 02, 2015 06:55 AM (jGQR+)

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