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Reina Takahashi’s Bright Pink Birthday

Production still from Reina Takahashi’s #ConnectedByLemonade commission.

Reina Takahashi makes delightful art with cut-paper sculptures and stop-motion animation. Her commission for #ConnectedByLemonade — which involves a paper candle and a very pink birthday cake — never fails to make us smile. We asked the artist to break down her process, step-by-step.

“First things first, I hop on the phone with a client. I’m interested to learn about their goals, constraints, scope, and tone for the project.

For #ConnectedByLemonade, I was excited that the team was eager to collaborate with artists working in their own style, with just a few simple guidelines. Basically: Cook up anything I like, and make sure to include the signature #FF0083 pink drip. I love the magic of stop-motion and how there’s implicit permission to suspend reality. I knew I wanted to have an element of fun surprise.

A notepad for sketches and words.

I start almost all projects by listing words that pop into my head as I let the project parameters roll around in my mind. I build and push on those words, sometimes making them into doodles. These sometimes far-fetched words and wisps of ideas combine to become fun, weird, or interesting ideas that I’ll then draw.

I then pick a few of those drawings to refine into digital sketches that I create on a tablet. Those sketches are what I send over to the client. For Lemonade, I was thinking of wacky ideas of what could get covered in pink ‘stuff,’ and what the ‘stuff’ covering the object could be. I tend to love making food out of paper, so I had a leaning towards snacks and pastries in my drawings.

Building by hand in the studio.

From there I incorporate any feedback from clients and come up with a composition or storyboard in color. Once we’re all aligned, I begin making! I’ve been creating pieces with paper for over ten years, and it’s a medium that I really love. It’s so versatile, and I’ve always gravitated towards tactile media.

99% of my work is made out of paper, with occasional cameos from other materials. For example, in this project, I used cotton balls to make clouds, which I was very excited about. It added a fun contrast to the smooth texture of the paper.

My favorite part is in figuring out how exactly I’ll manipulate the paper to represent something. How do I represent the ooziness of the icing on the cake? In each iteration, I’m also thinking about how to amp up the dimensionality of the piece.

The candle, ready for stop-motion animation.

When my pieces are photographed, I want to highlight the paper-quality of them, so I’m constantly experimenting with adding curves and folds to create interesting shadows. For example, the flame of the candle in the #ConnectedByLemonade animation is curved so that it catches the light in every frame.

One piece that took a bit of iteration was the confetti. I knew that I would need it to fall in a straight line, but I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d assemble it to flutter and fall but stay aligned. I did a few experiments, photographing frames and reviewing them, and ended up stringing about two feet worth of confetti onto fishing line.

Confetti falling along a fishing line.

All of this making translates to big, fun messes in my studio space. I primarily work at a simple desk set up by a window with a cutting mat. I have a flatfile for large sheets of paper, and smaller shelves for scraps. As you might expect, I’m a bit of a paper hoarder and have a tendency to keep and use a piece of paper until it’s tiny.

I love working with photographers in photo studios and leaning on their lighting and shooting expertise. There’s magic in this kind of collaboration. However, this year, due to Covid, I’ve been shooting more stop-motion projects in my home studio. This means clipping up black-out curtains, setting up lighting, and shooting solo while animating the pieces, frame by frame. Suffice it to say, I’m learning a lot!

Takahashi’s home studio set-up.

The shooting for the Lemonade piece took two full days, for about 180 shots. I definitely did yoga before my shoots and wedged myself between light stands and tripods to animate the confetti falling frame-by-frame!

Following the shoot, it’s post-production time. This is when I’ll bulk-edit the photos with light and color adjustments, and edit out rigging pieces — like the wire that held the lid of the cake box up, the confetti’s fishing line. The most delightful part is when I’ve edited a handful of frames and hit ‘play’ to preview the animation. It’s so rewarding to see it all come together.

Making pieces like the Lemonade cake and confetti puts me in my ‘making happy place.’ I love when I have opportunities to add fun details, experiment with each form, and include surprising transitions. I hope that this bit of joy translates to whomever views the animation.”

See more of Reina Takahashi’s work here, and don’t forget to follow #ConnectedByLemonade!




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