Things What I Have Liked In 2008

Posted Monday, December 29, 2008, 4:54 PM


I have seen many movies and TV shows this year, many of which I have greatly enjoyed. Some I have not enjoyed, and most are somewhere in the middle.

I have also done some cool personal things which are of note.

Here are my lists of those things for 2008.

Firstly the movies.

These are the ones I liked, the ones I thought were acceptable, and the ones I haven't yet seen but certainly plan to, with the expectation that they'll be fun. I have not listed the bad movies, because I tend to weed them out before I watch them. I have a pretty good radar for that sort of thing.

COOL MOVIES:
The Dark Knight
Wall-E
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Prince Caspian
Kung Fu Panda
The Incredible Hulk
Get Smart
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

AVERAGE MOVIES:
Iron Man
Horton Hears A Who
Nim's Island
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Wanted
Hancock

NOT YET SEEN MOVIES:
Valkyrie
The Tale of Despereaux
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Transporter 3
Bolt
Quantum Of Solace
City Of Ember
Igor
Death Race
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Speed Racer
The Forbidden Kingdom

+++

Next are the TV Shows.

As well as the shows that debuted this year, I have also watched a whole bunch of shows from previous years that I missed at that time, having discovered the magic of downloading them, while also experiencing the crap of premature cancellation of some great stuff. And of course, seeing more of my favourites.

COOL TV SHOWS:
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Chuck
Reaper
Pushing Daisies
The Mentalist
Burn Notice
Eureka
Kyle XY
Lark Rise To Candleford
Merlin
My Own Worst Enemy

AVERAGE TV SHOWS:
Eleventh Hour
Crusoe
Torchwood

OLDER TV SHOWS I LOVE:
NCIS
Monk
Numb3rs
Doctor Who
Battlestar Galactica
Heroes
Lost
Mythbusters
Time Team

+++

And then there's my personal stuff.

I've done some things this year that are new and I've not done before, and some other things that I have done before but were the best ever so far.

COOL STUFF I DID:
Started a blog
Rob's WWII short film: Checkpoint
Began my short film: Horizon
Wrote my first feature length screenplay: Pegasus Rampant
Visual Effects for Dags's short film: Reality Check

3D MODELLING ACHIEVEMENTS:
Railway Locomotive
Jet Fighter Plane
Dragon
Judge Dredd and his Lawmaster Bike
PigeonMan's Car
French Cafe Exterior
French Cafe Interior
DC3 Plane
Space Shuttle

+++

Gee. When you list it all out like that, it seems like a hell of a lot!

Pegasus Rampant - The Third Draft

Posted Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 12:01 AM


About six weeks ago, I started receiving reviews of my first feature length screenplay, Pegasus Rampant. They had lots to say, a lot of it good, but also a lot of it critical.

But the good kind of criticism, the kind that was helpful. Pointing out the weak spots, the technical mistakes, and what to concentrate on in the next draft.

Well, the next draft has been completed. It meant going through it carefully and tightening up the dialogue, to eliminate repetition and extraneous words, and to make the pace speed up considerably. It surprised me how much of it was long and unwieldy and could be reduced to sometimes only a third as long.

One particular character was not intended to have a very strong arc to his story, but they drew my attention to how important it was for him in paticular to have one, so I added that in. It didn't take much to do it, and it really did make the story better and the relationships between the characters more realistic.

The fight and battle scenes needed to be expanded on. Just saying "they fight" and letting the stunt arranger fill in the blanks is not acceptable in a spec script, so I had no choice but to put in the additional detail that they needed. They're possibly still a little too thin, but they are good enough to show the main beats of the fight, and they add some character motivation too, so that's good. And another thing it did, unexpectedly, was let me add in an extra plot point that wasn't there originally, and which adds an interesting texture to the whole story and the world it's set in.

There was a lot more I did to fix it up too, but they were subtle things like changing a single word in the dialogue or description to help emphasise some character beats or add visual imagery to the scene.

There is still room for improvement. I recently bought a book about scriptwriting, and reading it will give me new insight into how characters can and should behave in a story to make it zing, so I will read through that and hopefully it will inspire me, perhaps to formulate character moments, and give it some energy where it needs it.

But the plot is just where I want it. I don't anticipate much of that changing in any further drafts. Most of my emphasis will be on strengthening the dialogue and characters.

One day I will figure all this story writing business out, and approach it already knowing what I'm doing. Who knows, I may even sell one some day.

Pegasus Rampant - The Characters

Posted Thursday, December 18, 2008, 11:03 PM

Because I am writing a movie screenplay, I can't help but think of it as though it was a movie playing out in my mind. This means a fairly clear image of the characters should be in my head.

Unfortunately, finding the right words to describe the characters so that, when others read it, they see them in their head the same way, is not a skill I particularly excel at. I can certainly write their behaviour very clearly, as the story plays out, and I do write a simple physical description upon their introduction, with additions as and when new plot situations require it. But they aren't really very vivid.

For example, one of the main characters in Pegasus Rampant is Wren, who I describe thus:

    A young woman, dressed in light leather armour. Lean and strong, her hair is dirty and cut short, though under the rough appearance she is boyishly attractive.

Well, that's broad enough to give an idea of who she is, but I don't specify too many details. Casting would already be limited enough to find an actor who fits the absolute requirements, no need to specify the negotiable ones.

Is that enough of a description for you to imagine what she might look like? When I go on to describe her as a Mercenary, in this Mediaeval era film, does that add to the image?

I am a visual person, an artist, and when I think of characters I like to firm them in my mind with a sketch. But my drawing skills are rudimentary, and lately under-practised, so my attempts to sketch an image of Wren have not been very successful so far.

I am consistently disappointed by the way most Fantasy artists portray female warriors. They always have them in impractical clothing, sometimes only bikinis, with exposed flesh everywhere! No armour to speak of, no sense that they're trying to protect against a weapon. That's just absurd!

I don't mind a little bit of exposed skin, but that should be for showing off muscle tone and scars, and maybe a tribal tattoo. They shouldn't be looking like beauty contest finalists parading on a catwalk!

So when I draw my warriors, I try to give them more realistic layers of armour, chainmail, leather jerkins, bracers, boots, etc. They have to be something you can walk around in, be flexible enough to fight in, be comfortable in all weather conditions, and protect you against weapons. Not expose you to the cold, be too heavy to stand up in, or let you be vulnerable to blades!

The other day I was in a Video Rental store, wandering around, and I saw a cover of a DVD that I really liked. The movie isn't anything to write home about, though. I looked at the image of the kick-boxing woman and thought "that's a great image with the perfect pose and build for Wren. If only she wasn't wearing those modern clothes..."

I looked up the image when I got home, and thought about drawing over the top of her to give her a Wren-like look, but soon realised I could do better than that - I could source each individual element of her clothing and distort and recolour them to fit the figure, creating a more photorealistic kind of conceptual art.

After a few hours work (I was up until 2am tweaking it) I came away from it pleased with the result. It's not perfect, but for a quick collage of disparate elements it's pretty good, and a close representation of the character's appearance.

The adjustments I would make, looking at it now, are things like perhaps a slightly prettier face, and a happier expression (I was trapped by the fact that the original image was of someone recently beaten up in a kickboxing fight) and a few more period-ish items of clothing, such as lacings for the jerkin, or some studs on the chain-mail. But that's just being picky.

I am often surprised with what I'm capable of doing when I put my mind to it. Things that seem daunting or unlikely to work often turn out a lot better than I had realistically initially hoped, and this is one of them.

Checkpoint: The Edit

Posted Monday, December 15, 2008, 11:31 AM


My mate Rob's short film, set in WWII, which I have talked about several times this year, from shoot through to visual effects, is nearing an important stage of completion.

About a month ago, he invited me and some of our mutual movie-related friends over to view an edit of his film, and to give suggestions on how to tidy it up. Editing was a daunting task for him: with five or six hours of footage; sometimes as many as ten or fifteen alternatives for some scenes; and ten minutes to fill. He was finding the task exhausting, and overwhelming, so after the viewing, and the suggestions we threw at him, he called me in to help him out with finishing the edit. I was more than happy to participate!

Rob uses Final Cut Pro on his Mac. I'm more familiar with Adobe's Premiere Pro for PC, but they are very similar in most respects, so though I wasn't at the keyboard doing the physical work, I knew what options were available to us. Rob's method of working was not too different to mine, we both are very familiar with movies and their styles, plus we were mostly on accord with what we wanted to achieve with each scene. When we didn't agree on anything, I deferred to the Director's choices, because I knew he definitely knew what he was doing, and when his ideas worked, they were better than mine anyway.

So, we sat down together and figured some things out. Firstly, what was wrong, and why. That was relatively easy. Rob's first try was apparently very choppy, with too many close-ups. His second edit, which was the one the group of us had viewed, went in the opposite direction, with too many long takes that were Wide. For a movie that has tension and some amount of action, slow pacing can be a killer. But for a movie with some interesting dramatic beats and an extended dialogue, fast cuts are not good.

So secondly, we needed to figure out how to fix it. Easier said than done, we decided to go in step by step, and address each scene from start to finish. Some editors claim starting from the beginning in chronological order is a bad idea, and perhaps that's true. But bollocks to them. We'll learn the mistakes our own way.

You have to pick and choose the right places to put each shot. Wide shots establish location, position of characters, physical points of view from off-screen characters, isolation and vulnerability. Close up shots increase tension, show emotive facial expressions, allow for reactions. Mid shots are normally a good in-between, where you can orientate characters, see hand gestures, introduce a third character, and are good to cut to when you've had too many close ups already.

What we discovered, as we worked through the movie scene by scene, is the power you can have to change and create. I really was thrilled by some of the tricks we managed to do. I was afraid we'd not be able to achieve some of the ideas we were going for, because there is often a risk a lack of the right angle or a bad camera motion or line reading can ruin an otherwise usable shot. But what we discovered was not only could we cheat some shots, because two locations looked very similar to each other so we could mix and match, but that because we are also visual effects artists, we could assemble several different elements from various places (still images, different scenes, Behind-The-Scenes footage on a lower resolution camera) and manufacture a whole new shot to suit our needs!

And this is the part that really astonished me, though I don't know why because I hear of how this goes on a lot when editing. If you need an emotional beat, but aren't sure about where to place it, it's an incredible thing to see how a single shot can make a difference. If you don't have it, you feel like it's missing. If you do have it, and put it too early, it ruins the flow of a scene. If you put it in the right place, it completely transforms a scene into magic. If you shorten it by just a couple of frames, it can feel flat. If you lengthen it by a few frames it can change the emotional tone of the whole moment.

It's amazing.

We finished the edit, but there are many effects shots to do to complete it. We also are going to go back in, in a few days, and look at it afresh, to tidy up some of the rough edges that inevitably will be there. Especially since the morning we began, we were kind of floundering a little, but by the end of last night we were on a roll, and that difference may have affected how the edit flows.

Exciting stuff, and a lot of fun. I would be very happy to sit in on an edit with my mate Rob any time.

Neither Rhyme Nor Reason

Posted Sunday, December 14, 2008, 1:27 PM

A limerick is not hard to write.
Given time, I could write ten tonight.
   The bit at the start's
   Not the difficult part.
It's the line at the end that has to make sense in context of what the poem's about, but also fit the rhyming structure, that makes it such a struggle.

Horizon: Casting

Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 4:53 PM


As this is my first proper short film (not counting the stuff I did for abbywinters.com) I am finding myself having to make the kinds of decisions that I have long heard about when others do it, but now are inevitably my own to make. It's somewhat surreal, as well as imposing. I'm a little bit worried, but also excited.

Casting has always been something I have been afraid of. When I wrote Horizon, I deliberately eliminated all the spoken dialogue, to avoid the fear of having to deal with bad acting ruining my film, something I see very often. Dialogue performance in an Australian accent always sounds bad to me, and you have to be really seriously amazing to make it work. It's the difference between Neighbours and The Castle; One sounds like lame boring line recitation, and the other sounds like real people. Coupled with the fact that my idea of good acting rarely coincides with what others think is good (a strange situation, I thought), I had to do something, and the answer was to eliminate the need for dialogue at all.

But I also was worried about going through the full audition process when there's no dialogue - how do you audition people for that? Ask them to cry on demand? Impossible. I was painting myself into a corner. The single thing that mattered to me more than anything was that you'd believe the romance between the two characters; accept that they really loved each other. A good actor can do that, but if I'm not auditioning or requiring great actors, then that limits my options - and the answer to that conundrum I set myself was to cast a real life couple.

Crikey, that's a big ask! In my attempt of making things easier for myself, was I really making things more difficult?

We've been working with Alex Sheedy, who is the girlfriend of a casual crew member Andy Scott, on a side project. She's proven herself to be excellent at taking direction, and enthusiastic in taking part in our crazy ideas. To the point where every new project idea Rob and I come up with, we slot her into it, imagining her in our heads to see if she fits. Sometimes she does.

What's that you say? Girlfriend of Andy Scott? Why yes indeed, that's rather convenient, isn't it? Andy is just the right age and look to play a fighter pilot! So I contacted them both, we've discussed it some, and they have signed on.

That's a big weight off my shoulders. I now have my cast, about two thirds of my locations, and most of my crew. All that's required now is to compile a shot list, book some equipment, and commit to actually filming it.

Easier said than done.

Panda-Monium

Posted Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 11:48 AM


How's that for an original title. Oh well.

Dreamworks Animation has, in my estimation, a bit of a chequered history when it comes to originality. Its very first production was 2D, based on the Biblical story of the Exodus of the Jews, better known as the Ten Commandments, and was called Prince of Egypt.

It was pretty good, but a bit dour and dramatic. Not really a movie for kids, though I'm sure they got something out of it. It's one of those Bible myths that probably has a fair amount of truth to it, somewhere amongst the miracles and epic absurdity. If you ignore the talking to God, burning bushes, and parting of the Red Sea, the story comes down to two brothers who diverge in their beliefs and have a bit of an argy-bargy over ruling their people.

Anyhoo, they soon realised that kind of movie wasn't going to bring in the moolah, so they immediately took a leaf out of Disney's book, and headed down a family friendly comedic route.

The Road To El Dorado which was based on the Bob Hope & Bing Crosby "Road To..." movies, was clearly stolen from what Disney had planned originally for Emperor's New Groove (which had started out as the more dramatically themed Kingdom of the Sun).

Sinbad, which wasn't as good as it ought to have been, was very similar in style to Disney's Treasure Planet.

As Pixar started to make a real impact, Dreamworks shifted its focus to CGI animation, believing that those movies make more money than traditional 2D animation. A load of baseless nonsense, of course. Pixar's success is based entirely on great characters in fun stories with hilarious humour. All things that do not impact the style of art used to create them.

But as the CEO of Dreamworks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, used to work for Disney, he had some insight into what was being developed by Pixar. And though he denies it, he clearly was stealing their concepts and then trying to rush them through to release first. I have always resented that about Dreamworks.

Equivalent movies include:
Antz = A Bug's Life
Shrek = Monsters Inc
Shark Tale = Finding Nemo
Madagascar = Into The Wild

Now, plot-wise they aren't really similar (except for that last one) but if you were to hear on the grapevine that Pixar's next film was going to be about fish, or about monsters, then you can definitely believe Katzenberg would then say "Hey, lets do a movie about monsters". Even worse, they have a new movie out in the new year called Monsters vs Aliens and the character design is so similar to Monsters Inc it's highly suspicious. Though it does look like a funny film.

I watched Dreamworks's new feature last night, Kung Fu Panda. It stars Jack Black as a panda who unexpectedly is chosen as being the greatest warrior of legend and prophecy despite being an incompetent clumsy boob. It is an excellent movie. Really funny, brilliantly animated, and highly recommended.

And best of all, as far as all the plagiarising of ideas that I have just accused Dreamworks of partaking in, this is a wholly original concept, that I can only praise them for.

And this is the thing - when they forego the pop culture references, and choose a story that is not based on another company's production, Dreamworks do amazing stuff, the top of their game. Though the sequel is inevitable, I hope they continue to make original product, one-offs like Over The Hedge (admittedly based on an existing comic strip) and Bee Movie, and don't run ideas (like Shrek) into the ground. They deserve better, and deserve to be seen.

Blowing Shit Up

Posted Tuesday, November 25, 2008, 11:20 AM


List some of the best ways to spend a weekend. You might have some sexual escapade with your loved one, or a great holiday to some exotic locale. Perhaps a sporty day where your team won. Possibly going to a big spectacular stage show.

Well, I got them all beat. We spent the weekend blowing shit up.

We needed some background plates for a film that involved a big ba-da-boom, so we had a miniature and simplified version of the building built, and got the pyrotechnic "experts" from our team to make some explosives. We spent the whole day watching fireballs and flames and things going bang and crash! Woohoo!

Haven't had a day of so much fun in a very long time!

Checkpoint: Hadrian's Wall

Posted Friday, November 21, 2008, 12:10 AM


Sometimes you never know just how complicated things can get.

Whenever I'm called on to do a visual effects shot for someone, my normal reaction is to say "Sure, I can do that" and about two thirds of the time it's true, I know exactly how to do it and that I'm capable of it with my current level of skills and software. But the other third of the time, I am secretly thinking "I have no idea how to do this!" and will rush out to do some research to figure some things out - can the software do it, do I need additional resources, am I really able to do this, how complicated will it be?

There's a shot in Checkpoint that I've been working on, off and on, in various pieces, over a period of six months. It's a simple shot - we filmed our hero on a bridge over a railway track, and had planned to do a crane shot over the wall of the bridge showing a train on the tracks, with a railway gun. So my original plan was to comp in the train, maybe replace the gumtrees with European pine.

Our attempts to do a crane shot handheld were a bit of a disaster, we really ought to have thought it through a bit better and borrowed a crane to achieve the shot. And we ought to have picked a day with nicer weather, too. But our hands were tied, as is so often the case, and we got what we could, as best we could.

So now it's my job to fix it.

The train model was already long completed, so that wasn't a problem, though it did take me a long time to build.

The first thing we knew we had to do was stabilise the shot as we follow our hero crawling along the wall, because it shakes all over the place. The problem is, with stabilisation comes distortion and motion blur. We can't really do anything about that, though, so I have reduced the shake down gradually as the shot progresses, so that the distortions are minimal.

Next thing we knew was that we would need a 3D representation of the railway line and valley, which had to be a matte painting including distant fields of the French coast, a complete replacement of the trees with European pine, and a French village. So I assembled the elements into a 2D matte image, using the best shot we had of the railway line, but it wasn't good enough for the final shot, and we knew we had to go back to the location to photograph high resolution images of the valley.

The day we arrived was a beautifully sunny day, and the shots of the valley we took were great, but as it turned out, not perfect, because as we crane over and tilt the virtual camera in the 3D environment, it distorted the verticals and all the trees looked like they were leaning over. The answer was to go back again and re-photograph the valley from a slight angle, so that the distortion would be eliminated, achieved by having the final angle of the shot match the actual angle the image was taken, and not fake it like the first try.

One of the issues I had with the crane move through the valley, though, was getting the sense of distance for the French coastal part of the shot. In reality it was a photo of a farm in Holland, but I had it comped in and needed it to move relative to the camera so it felt like it was miles away, and not a flat image. This meant finding ways to have the fiddly crinkly edges of the trees blend in with the background without distorting or obscuring it as it moved. So I had to mask them out using alpha masks, careful to keep the bleeding edge suitably coloured to blend, and move all elements to give a sense of depth. Rendering each layer separately was the only way to achieve this.

The good thing with this approach, though, is that I didn't need to use a tracking program to recreate the environment, and 'lock' the train model onto the real tracks. Instead I am able to apply the train actually to the virtual environment, because they're both 3D models in the same program, and are fixed entities. That is a relief, because 3D tracking is still not perfect, and is a bitch to get right.

The next thing I realised we needed was the wall of the bridge. It isn't enough to use a 2D image and animate it, I needed to have a 3D representation of the wall so that the depth as we craned over it felt realistic. I tried to find a way around this, because I was afraid it wasn't going to work, but in the end it was unavoidable. I built the wall, and the uneven rocky surface it possessed, and applied the textures of the real location that I took pics of. The end result is the wall looks completely convincing, and the crane move is seamless, so it was well worth it.

However, big problem. The original footage was taken on a grey overcast day, and the other photographs we took at later dates were in glorious sunlight. They don't match. I have to apply this footage onto the surface of my wall, while the virtual camera watches it and cranes over it. If the footage and the wall photos don't match exactly, it will look wrong.

I had to alter the colour of the wall image so it matched a grey day, then mask around it with a soft edged blend to overlap with the original footage, so you cannot see the mix between them.

Then I have to render the bridge part of the shot separately to the valley part of the shot, so that when Rob colour grades the two, he can either reduce the vibrancy of the sunny day valley, or increase the vibrancy of the grey day bridge, so that they blend seamlessly. I also have to provide him with an alpha channel mask of the footage so that he can separate the two shots when he grades them.

The train has to be rendered at high resolution. Soldiers have to be added, probably digital ones because we don't have any footage of live ones. Steam coming from the train, smoke from one of the stacks, atmospheric haze, and birds flying, all will add life to the finished shot and give it the energy to make it convincing.

It is the most complicated thing I have ever done. So many elements, so many techniques, so much preparation, and yet every single part of it I was absolutely confident about being capable of achieving it. Individually, anyway. If I'd realised just how complicated I was making it for myself, I would've come up with a different idea for the shot and convinced Rob to do that instead.

Like hire a real train.

Bass From Beneath

Posted Tuesday, November 18, 2008, 10:59 PM


The guy who lived below my apartment was a very mysterious fellow. He lived alone, with two little dogs, but I barely ever saw him. He always had his blinds closed, 24 hours a day, and appeared to only be home about half the year, the rest of the time he was who-knows-where.

Usually the only times I got a glimpse of him was when he went out to walk his dogs. Though now that I think about it, they were only ever in the car with him, so I wonder if they ever did actually walk anywhere at all.

He appeared to have a girlfriend. Certainly I did see a very very attractive young woman with him once, but several times I heard them arguing very loudly about something, though I only ever heard her voice and never his. He always seemed the calm rational one, and she was a squealing shrew.

I invented in my head an explanation of the behaviour I observed of him, including a job and lifestyle that sort of made sense. I figured he was a Fashion Photographer, and the girlfriend was pretty because she was a Fashion Model. She certainly looked like one. And he was always away during winter, because his work took him to exotic places where it's summer.

It fit the profile, but it's based on nothing but my own observation. I can't recall if it was winter he was most absent, hey, I don't even know his name. And apart from the girlfriend on only a couple of occasions, and apart from the dogs yapping for about ten minutes a week, he was a completely silent, perfect neighbour. For all I know I was the bothersome one, shouting at the TV, verbally abusing the computer, generally stomping around, acting the idiot up here in my apartment. But I never heard a complaint from him at all.

Then one day he was gone. I didn't notice his absence as anything out of the ordinary, I didn't see him actually make the move, but one day the industrial strength cleaning crew came in and restored his apartment to pristine condition, and a "For Sale" notice was placed out in the street, so he had definitely moved out.

Where did he go? Why didn't I notice? Who the hell was he anyway? I thought maybe he had died, hence the invisibility of his leaving (they chucked out his furniture and effects, he didn't move any of it out himself). But there was never a Police Investigation, or a Family Visit, so probably that isn't what happened at all.

Whatever the case, new people inevitably were going to move in. And, after three months or so of auctions and contract signing, a few weeks ago they did.

They're a young couple, I think they both work full time, and so far I have met only the male half, whose name is Stan. But the circumstances of the meeting bothers me - because I was complaining about the noise they were making.

Now I don't like confronting people, and even though I know I'm rapidly turning into a grumpy old bugger, I don't like to come across as a whinger. But inevitably that is probably going to be my fate, it seems to be a deeply embedded part of my nature.

So what do I do? Do I complain every time they make a noise? Do I bottle it up and hope they'll figure out the error of their ways independently? Do I let it pass and just carry on, because after all it's never after midnight, or keeping me awake? Do I invite them up so they can hear what I hear? Maybe to their ears it's barely worth bothering about, and I'm just being overly sensitive.

I'm just so used to perfect silence from my neighbours. I love silence. I hate deep bass noise. This is at odds with most of the rest of the world, where volume and bass seem to be what everybody else wants in their entertainment.

I'm never going to escape that particular insanity, am I?

Eventually I will move, as we all do, but that's not happening any time soon, as I do not have an income. When I do move I'll be sure to choose to live in such a way as to not have potential neighbour noise to interrupt my evenings.

Until then, I have to suffer through it.

Pegasus Rampant: The Reviews

Posted Friday, November 14, 2008, 11:19 PM


I mentioned my intention to write a screenplay on a messageboard website, and someone there pointed me to somewhere online that reviews them, with the intent to learn how to improve technique and storytelling, rather than just to be criticised.

When I visited there, they also suggested various different pieces of software to help with accurate formatting. This included a new program that was open source, and therefore free, so I thought "that's just within my budget!" and downloaded a copy.

It's called CeltX, and is an excellent way to get things looking professional, without having to labour over the small details. Basically you just keep writing, and it does the rest for you with barely any need for you to look up from your keyboard.

It also has scheduling tools, space for meta information like notes and tags, output to PDF, and loads more features than I could possibly want. Outstanding.

Having completed my second draft of Pegasus Rampant to my own satisfaction, I uploaded it to the reviews website. In order to get a response I need to review other scripts also, as that's a way to engender a positive and helpful community. It also meant I could learn from experienced writers how to do it properly.

Though it also showed what not to do, because a couple of the scripts I've reviewed so far are not especially well written. I personally thought my own script was much better than those, though admittedly not as good as the others I've read so far.

But then, probably most writers think that about their own work. Now that I have had some encouraging reviews of my script, I can also see what their suggestions and hints and guidance has shown me - that my first attempt really was full of first-time amateur's mistakes.

Having said that, they mostly seem to like the story, and enjoy the characters, but I did write them sometimes too inconsistently, and there are a few loose ends that ought to be tightened up or rewritten. It just needs more impact. I think it is a very even script, but that means dull and monotonous. It needs higher peaks, lower troughs, and more of them. I'm cool with that. I can see that most of what they said is spot on, and definitely needs addressing.

The key technical mistake I made is that there's a difference between a shooting script and a speculative script. A shooting script is for the director, cast, and crew to read, so it has camera information, shot angles, scene numbers, sound effects, music cues, etc. But it's not my job to put those in when there's no director to read it yet - my job is to write a script that entices and interests people, so that they read it to the end, and are desperate to sign me up as their screenwriter. Therefore a spec script must have no camera angle information, and instead concentrate entirely on the story, the characters, the action; basically the imagery and the emotional beats. My problem was I was mixing the two kinds of script up, which is a classic beginner's mistake.

One of the reviewers said "I note it is an early draft. You will find by about draft six that significant changes will have been made!" Draft six! Crikey!

But she is most likely right. In my next draft I probably will change a few plot points, but in doing so I will have to wrangle them into line with my main story, which is a thread I hope I won't have to change too much. But even if I do, and reading their ideas I think it's inevitable, then it will turn into something quite different. I'm actually quite excited about that, though, as it means I get to create some new stuff. I hope it won't collapse into a struggle for me to deal with, and it will flow as easily as it did originally.

One thing that is a little bit hard to explain to them, though, is that as I was inspired to write this by watching a low budget TV movie from the Sci-Fi Channel that I thought I could do a better job with, I'm intentionally not aiming very high. It's not meant to be an epic fantasy like Willow or NeverEnding Story, it's really meant to be filler for a Sunday evening's TV viewing. I'd be happy if it went straight to DVD and was only available in the bargain bin.

Not that I don't have some amount of pride in the effort, because I most definitely do. It contains characters and situations that I love, and I put a lot of effort in making them feel like the kind of things that I enjoy seeing, in the hope that people like me would have a good time watching it.

But I also know that it is no literary masterpiece or visual spectacle. It's just a bit of a laugh.

I will work on draft 3 over the next few weeks, and see if I can address all the criticisms so that I have a better spec script, and a better film, at the end of it.

Checkpoint: Wheely Good

Posted Thursday, November 13, 2008, 6:52 PM


As usual, instead of doing the work I ought to be doing, I find excuses to do other work instead. Though at least this is tangibly related.

The opening scenes of Checkpoint, under the credits, will be of a C-47 plane heading to France, and I've been roughing the shots together one-by-one to show Rob. He's had suggestions on each shot so far, so it's a back-and-forth exercise to get it right.

To distract me from obsessing over one shot too much, I'm breaking it up by doing some higher detail modelling of the plane, piece by piece, in between each shot update. I've done the propellors, the engines and cowling, and a little bit on the fuselage so far, and this week I've been working on the landing gear, which is arguably the part of the plane with the most mechanical intricacy.

I'm adding physical detail to this part because one of the shots is of a close up of the wheel beginning to turn on the tarmac, and there's also a wider shot of the plane taxiing where the wheels are likely to be seen. It's best to have real detail on things like this, rather than using 2D tricks to give the illusion of detail (such as projecting a wheel hub texture on a flat disc), or hoping it won't be seen.

And anyway, I enjoy doing the modelling, as I learn new techniques and improve my skills every time I do it.

Seek It Elsewhere

Posted Sunday, November 9, 2008, 5:34 PM

I used to read a lot of Fantasy novels. It was the only thing I read for about fifteen years straight, and I am still a fan even though my enthusiasm has waned. One of the series I began, and enjoyed, but soon got tired of, was The Sword of Truth, by Terry Goodkind. It was a fairly standard fantasy tale, as tropes go, but with a dark edge to it, and almost sadistic scenes of torture and violence.

It has now been commissioned into a TV series, to be made by the same guys who brought us Hercules and Xena, and filmed in New Zealand. But The Legend Of The Seeker, as it is unfeasibly called, instead of being the almost comical adventures that the former were famous for being, is very very serious and dark.

And that is to its detriment. It is formulaic pulp in its storyline, with its evil overlord, magic sword, and mystical prophecies; and it really needs to lighten up if it's going to keep my interest. I don't expect it will be able to do that, though, as the original books are not known for their light touch; Quite the opposite, in fact.

I do not anticipate the series will last, but I am very bad at predicting such things, so who knows - it may run for years. I will watch the first few episodes to see where it leads, but I doubt my long term interest will be sustained.

Frankly, it may be false bravado, but I could write better stuff than this.

These Ain't Your Grandma's Matte Paintings

Posted Thursday, November 6, 2008, 11:20 PM

Matte Painting is an astonishing art. The real geniuses of this art of the last 100 years of movie visual effects are true masters. Using nothing more than paint and their eye, they could match colours, create photo-real imagery, that matched the live action seamlessly, all done effortlessly. It's bewildering what they're capable of.

These days that art is no longer practised in the same way. Computer graphics and digital cameras means we can now use photographs to assemble together, to make our background plates and matte paintings, eliminating the practised art, and replacing it with reality itself.

In many ways it's disappointing to lose that specific approach to a relatively young art. But on the other hand, there is still a good amount of skill and artistic endeavour involved in digital mattes, especially when creating a fantastical environment that cannot exist in the real world.

I haven't had to make anything too spectacular before now, most of the time it's been a "real" location. Augmented to suit our needs, true, but basically made up of tangible and familiar elements.


Click the image for large pic

And today's work was just such an effort. I had to make an airfield runway from a particular close angle. It shouldn't have been anything too fancy and modern, because it was set in 1940s wartime, so it needed to look suitably worn and well used.

I found a whole slew of pics that someone had taken of a WWII German airfield, that has long since been abandoned and disused. It looked overgrown, but it had a suitable length and flatness to it that worked perfectly.

The land around it was a little crowded with new trees that had started to fill up the unused empty field, and the photos were all taken on the runway itself, instead of to the side where the virtual camera would have to be, so my job was to blend the photos together in such a way as to eliminate the trees and replace one side of the runway to make it look like we are standing in the grass next to the tarmac. Coupled with having to clear the overgrown weeds, it was a little bit of subtle work.

I may have to green up the finished image once we go full resolution and finalise it, but until then I believe I have figured out the right angles and created a suitable matte painting for the shot.

Checkpoint: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted Monday, November 3, 2008, 10:23 PM


So there's more to Checkpoint's effects than a few bullet hits. I've been working on the opening shot of the crane shot over a bridge wall, past the British soldier and down to show the railway gun, for the past week, pretty much non-stop. It's finally getting close to being complete enough to render at full resolution, and I've just put together a rough version for timing purposes and approval by the Director, my mate Rob.

The number of elements in this shot is really quite daunting, and if I'd known what was involved I wouldn't have been half as enthusiastic about it when I posited it originally. These are the elements in the single shot:

  • Original filmed element of soldier crouching in front of wall, tracked and stabilised
  • Matte painting, projected onto 3D geometry, of:
    • Real railway line location
    • Pine trees replacing gumtrees
    • French village houses
    • Distant horizon of French coast
  • 3D model of trains, including:
    • Locomotive
    • Coal Tender
    • Railway gun
    • Caboose
    • Second train
    • Railway track
  • 3D model of bridge wall
  • Probably a 3D model of the soldier for accurate parallax
  • Additional atmospherics, such as shadows, steam, smoke, birds, and German soldiers
  • Depth of field and atmosphere fog
  • A sweeping crane shot of it all

It's really complex to put those elements together at all, let alone seamlessly and realistically. I mean, crikey! It's very satisfying if I manage to do it, though.


And to top it all off, there's the titles sequence of a C47 Skytrain, aka a DC3 aeroplane, launching off an airfield and flying to France, that needs to be done, which means I have to build an accurate 3D model of the plane. Have you seen the level of detail, the number of fiddly bits that is on a 1940s transport plane? Vents, pipes, bolts, cables, engine parts, windows, doors, landing gear, antennae, registration N-numbers, and dirt and paint and grime and other imperfections.

Holy crap!

I had considered cheating by using photographs of real planes for the close-ups, and animating them with 2D parallax and 3D propellors. So I made a relatively high detailed model of the props for a test, and enjoyed it so much I realised that I could make the whole plane if I approach it one section at a time, in small easily manageable steps. So I've done the cowling of the engines, and the propellors as mentioned. Next stage, the fuselage.

If I can pull this off, and if I could actually get paid for it somehow, I'll be a millionaire by the time I'm 45.

Spam and Beans

Posted Monday, October 27, 2008, 7:30 PM

Spam is the bane of the internet. It's worse than viruses, kiddie porn, and goatse all rolled into one. It, to put it mildly, sucks shit, and all perpetrators should die by firing squad.

Every so often I check my spam filter to make sure no legitimate email got caught in it, and I need to tread carefully, so as not to open up anything nefarious, or annoying, or just plain sad. I fear that the sight of the bad spelling, shitty typography, and absence of any truths, will drive me to crazed anger for the rest of the day.

Instead what I found was this:


The whole list of emails I got on October 27th all came from fake (or stolen) names that began with the letter 'A'. I mean, what's up with that? Is this a strange coincidence that goes against all known statistical probability? Did their evil name spoofing algorithm crap out on them causing it to spit out this bizarre list? Was it the fault of some lackey in their office (HA! Like they have offices! Or lackeys!)?

It's pretty bloody weird, anyway.

Where's a Mediaeval French Village when you need one?

Posted Monday, October 20, 2008, 11:55 PM

Today I was with Rob, we were looking for a door that was suitable enough to represent a 1940s French Cafe entrance. But when we got to the salvage yard, it was closed up for the day. Damn.

On the way there, we mentioned several times, rather jokingly, that it was amazing that Melbourne, Australia, completely lacked any authentic olde worlde French architecture anywhere. And then later still we talked about ideas for mediaeval movies we want to make, but can't see how we can achieve it in this modernised and young country.

Later this evening, I was randomly wandering across the internet when I stumbled upon mention of an Australian pop band of yesteryear called The Chantoozies, and I thought to myself "I haven't heard their song Witch Queen of New Orleans in a long time, I wonder if that's on YouTube."

It is.



After watching the video, I was enamoured not only by the 80s hair, and how young Tottie Goldsmith and David Reyne looked, but also by the fantastic location. Why, that looks like Mediaeval European Architecture! Holy crap, thought I, is that in Australia? It must be!


I went searching through the web to find some details, and eventually found mention of it on a page about the director of the video, revealing the filming location as being a building called the Montsalvat Chateau, which is one of 12 buildings at the Montsalvat Artists Retreat, where artists of all kinds can live and paint and create to their heart's content in a peaceful, inspirational, beautiful environment.


Well, by crikey o'reilly, take a look at some of these pics - it's a fantastic location, absolutely ideal for a mediaeval film, and perfect for a number of our upcoming (and current) projects. It even has great old doors! Just what we were looking for!


And the most amazing part is, it's about 2km from Rob's house, and we never even knew it was there!

Cruising with Crusoe

Posted Sunday, October 19, 2008, 5:58 PM


When Pirates of the Caribbean was first released, despite widely held expectation of its failure (Pirate movies never succeed) but then its unexpected success, there was then a fear that we would be suddenly inundated with Pirate movies, bringing us right back to the position of having unsuccessful dreck littering the entertainment world again. This didn't happen.

There has, however, been a surprising rise in epic television entertainment, almost cinematic in its scope and quality, with exotic locations, long story arcs, large casts, and spectacular visual effects out the wazoo. Many of these I have come to enjoy very much: Heroes, Lost, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and lots more (some of which I don't watch, some I do).

Well, now the Pirates of the Caribbean influence has hit TV. A UK show that has been commissioned by the US, based (very very loosely) on the story of Robinson Crusoe, has debuted, and you know what? I like it.

Crusoe is about a man who has been shipwrecked on a tropical island, alone but for a single "local" who he names "Friday". The first episode concerns the island being discovered by Pirates after a buried treasure. That should give you the level of adventure it's going for. Not serious or believable in any way, but still a good adventure action drama, it kept my attention, entertained me to the end, and bode well for a fun series. It's been commissioned for thirteen episodes, guaranteed, which I don't think it will falter over.

Ratings in the US lately have started to yoyo, due partly to crappy scheduling practices, and partly to increased use of downloading as a means to watch a show, bypassing advertising. With torrents, official streaming video, TiVo, and episodes available on iTunes, there is a wider choice publicly available for viewing, and many are taking them up on it. Despite low ratings, the Networks are recognising that these alternative options make up the rest of their audience. They aren't switching off or over, they're remaining loyal to their favourite shows, but in their favourite viewing format. The only problem is, the revenue stream from advertising has to be maintained to keep the shows coming. Here's hoping they can figure out how to handle it so that we can continue to enjoy epic TV.

Checkpoint: Resistance: Cafe Chairs

Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 10:53 PM


Now here's something you don't often consider when making a creative production. Chairs.

The addendum film that Rob and I are making is set in WWII France, and it's not like you can just wander around downtown 2008 Melbourne, and find a perfectly set up location matching 1940s France that you can use for your film. Instead you have to create it artificially, with a little of this, and a little of that.

One of those is costume. We have cast our main actor, and will have authentic costumes for all those involved. Another is to use CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery. I have previously detailed some of my attempts in creating the landscape that the story takes place within, including the interior of a Cafe.

Well, it's not enough to just have an interior, you also need things to populate it, give it character and authenticity. Things like chairs. And do you know how easy it is to find authentic chairs for a 1940s French Cafe?

First we went to Springvale and trolled the second hand shops there. Not much to see, it's surprisingly sparse. Then we headed north to Nunawading and managed to accidentally stumble on a second hand store advertising period furniture. They didn't have what we needed, but the owner did suggest another street we could try, and so we zipped way over to Sydney Road in Coburg and we found a couple of shops that were almost useful, but not quite useful enough. Until just as we were leaving them, Rob said "What about that chair?" and indicated one of two chairs that were in the window, which I'd overlooked because they were well hidden under some other items.

Utterly perfect. Completely and exactly what we were looking for.

And that's how you do it.

Wizarding About

Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 9:52 PM


What do you do when the biggest family entertainment production of each year is in downtime? What do you make to fill its slot and keep the same demographic entertained? That uses many of the same production team, especially the visual effects company? I am talking, of course, about during Doctor Who's absence from our screens.

The answer is to create another fantastical episodic adventure tale, and cast it with classic British actors as well as a new slew of young up-and-comers. Sprinkle it with fantasy creatures, epic landscapes, and a dash of magic, and you have quite a feast. And so: Merlin.

The story concerns young Merlin, 18 years old, employed as the apprentice to Uther Pendragon's court Physician, and given the honour of being young Prince Arthur's personal servant.

He arrives at the court of Camelot already fully versed in magical abilities, only to find himself in a society that shuns the practice of magic as witchcraft. He must therefore hide his powers from all, and yet he constantly finds himself in situations where he has to use them to save Arthur's life.

With his constant needling from Arthur to be an obedient servant, a budding romance with a young Guinevere, Uther Pendragon being a stubborn pigheaded arrogant bull of a man, the suspiciously ambiguous nature of Uther's ward Morgana, and a constant stream of enchantresses trying to overthrow the kingdom, it is a busy time at Camelot. However can a poor young sorcerer cope?

The show's off to a shaky start. I suppose I can't expect perfection first time out, so I'll give it a chance to find its feet, however it's a hard one for me to get into. If I was fifteen I am sure I would lap this up with wild abandon and it would fast become my favourite show, it certainly has a lot of the ingredients that I love in fantasy. But I'm nearly 40, and it is most certainly not aimed at those my age at all. My expectations may be unrealistically high.

The problems I have with it are many. For one thing, the dialogue is cheesy and clunky. Instead of being inspired by great modern fantasy adventure stories, it seems to be basing itself on simplistic pulp sword-and-sorcery fiction. And I can overlook anachronisms if the characters are compelling, but instead they are like storybook cardboard cut-out versions, and awfully predictable.

The concept of Merlin having to hide his expert telepathic and telekinetic powers is very disappointing. I would have preferred it if the background to his adventures was of him learning new skills, instead of being blessed with immediate knowledge of how to do anything he is called on to do. I think it misses out on some key plot and character developments.

The characters are really not very appealing. They over act, and are portrayed as quite unpleasant people. There's a distinct lack of warmth, with no moments of real connection between the characters. Something any family drama fundamentally needs is appealing characters, and yet it's a glaring omission. Not through lack of awareness, but instead from clumsy writing. Most disappointing.

I expect it to be a popular show - it's better than the awful Robin Hood that is unfeasibly popular amongst teens at the moment, and it has some carefully constructed content that is sure to appeal to a teen audience - so if it continues onto a second season and beyond I have some hope it will improve.

But if it continues on as it currently stands, like a slightly more lavish Sarah Jane Adventures, it won't keep me around for long.

Checkpoint: Resistance: Cafe

Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 7:48 PM

Over the past few years, as I've learned more and more 3D and visual effects stuff, I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to work on new things I've never done before. It hasn't all just been light sabres and spaceships.

Interestingly enough, it's never been light sabres.

So I've made robots, and people, and cartoon characters, and spaceships, and vehicles, and aeroplanes, and buildings. But here's something else that's new - an indoor scene.


This will eventually be a Cafe, set in WWII France, and be populated with some patrons at tables and a few other characters, which we'll be filming against greenscreen and compositing in. That in itself is something I haven't really done before, though my job is mostly just the background elements like this, and Rob will probably be handling most of the compositing. Which is fine by me, I think that will work out well.

There are a few extra details I'd like to add, like a menu on the wall, and maybe hang a painting, but I'm pretty happy with the design and implementation so far. The window is especially impressive, it really looks like late evening sunlight or something.

If we go with this light, though, it will need to be rethought a bit, as it took two hours to render this one image. I think, therefore, that what I'll do is render the window once, and apply that to the window glass as an image. That way it doesn't have to re-render the full light effects, transparency, and distortion every time, presumably shortening the render time dramatically. There's a built in method for doing that kind of thing, called baking but I've never been able to figure out how to do that successfully. It may be time I learned.

Checkpoint: Resistance

Posted Monday, September 29, 2008, 3:17 PM

My mate Rob and I are assembling some effects for his short film, Checkpoint, and because we love the whole idea of creating stuff from scratch, he's also put together a sequel idea, which we're calling Resistance.

This will be made entirely of live action people filmed on a greenscreen, then composited against an entirely digital backdrop, a French village. We hope to be able to take 3D models and 2D images and combine them together to allow us to move around within the artificial environment relatively freely.

The challenge comes in making these digital matte images in the first place. Sometimes we can use real photographs, and other times we need to make pieces out of 3D models and mix them in.

A few weeks ago I made a test image from one of the angles, as a test to see if I can create a convincing enough 3D building that it's indistinguishable from the real background. It worked pretty well, and I've progressed somewhat, adding additional features to the building, and have also expanded the backdrop area to give it more space and scope.

There's an explosion that is going to happen within that building, which is another reason why 3D is better than real life - it gives us the ability to add the explosion effect accurately and under our control. We had a meeting yesterday where we discussed a live explosion that we'll create in quarter-scale, in a small model of the building, that we can film, slow down to give it scale, and paste onto the scene. Interactive elements such as a table and chairs or the curtains within the building were also discussed.

Exciting stuff.

It's starting to come together.

Charley Boorman: By Any Means


I accidentally stumbled upon a cool TV series on DVD a few years ago, which at that point rapidly turned into my favourite documentary ever, called Long Way Round. Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman got on a couple of motorbikes and travelled around the world, pretty much on a straight line through Europe and Asia and America, from London to New York. It was loads of fun, with tons of adventure, and a great voyage of discovery for them both.

Since then they have done another, Long Way Down, which wended its way through Africa. Unfortunately, it didn't quite have the same magic the second time, and was also marred by being over-organised, but it was still great TV.

Charley Boorman has also done something on his own, when he took part in the most dangerous race in the world, the Dakar Rally, in a show called Race To Dakar. I enjoyed that too, but it was very much more oriented towards motorbike racing, so that didn't quite draw me in as much as it might someone who's a fan.

But now his latest solo adventure, By Any Means, is something I've been really enjoying a lot. He and his Producer friend Russ Malkin, who has been part of all the previous series, are taking a trip from Ireland to Sydney, via Asia, using only land transport like cars, bikes, buses, boats, etc, to get there. So far there's been four episodes and it's been fantastic. Always upbeat, interesting, and fun, as well as being seat-of-their-pants racing from place to place, in sometimes very precarious transport.

Michael Palin's journeys, which are similar in vein, are now too structured and colonial to have the visceral appeal it had when he began the Around The World In 80 Days trip he made. Charley (and Ewan) are now taking up that mantle instead, and they're following through admirably, with just the right balance of fun and adventure.

I totally recommend it, I'm sure it will be on DVD soon, and I can't praise Charley enough for managing to front the programme with such ease, competence, and charismatic aplomb. This new found career he has stumbled on of hosting travel and adventure shows is perfect for him, and I hope he continues.

Horizon Online

Posted Tuesday, September 23, 2008, 8:40 PM

I made a website for my film.

Sometimes the most fun part of a project is the ancillary stuff, which can often take a lot of time that you don't have to spare. It's a common problem amongst new filmmakers that they want to make a film so they can get to have a behind-the-scenes documentary or a DVD with flashy menus, and the risk is they get so caught up with that kind of unimportant yet cool stuff they forget to actually make the film in the first place.

As I am aware of that particular potential pitfall I am risking by doing this, I suppose I can't really let the website be considered properly live yet.

But, typically, I couldn't help myself, and I put this design together anyway. I also tried to be fancy with a couple of funky CSS tricks, like the plane being layered over the top, and the clouds scrolling behind.

Anyway, it's not ready, okay? It's done, but only unofficially.

I shall fill in the blanks as they happen.

Horizon: And So It Begins

Posted Sunday, September 21, 2008, 8:50 PM


I had my first production meeting for my first short film, Horizon, today. I have been afraid to begin something like this for so long, because of the responsibilities I'd have towards the rest of the people involved, and my fear of being unprepared. But now I've committed myself.

It's a story about a Jet Fighter Pilot who looks back on his life and the love he has for his wife. It is a very short tale, set mostly domestically, but with a few visual effects scenes involving the plane in flight. It's not going to win any awards for its sensitive portrayal of a man in crisis, or anything pretentiously moronic like that, but it's good enough as an experiment in my ability to create and complete a film of my own.

Today's meeting was with a few of my friends who have made films of their own, and we talked of the practical elements involved, so that I would go in armed and prepared. Locations, directing, filming, permits, schedules, crew, and lots more, were all discussed and decided. Also, a particularly elaborate prop, or set, is the cockpit of the fighter plane, and we explored our options on achieving that.

I am now reassured that things will be easier to handle than I at first anticipated, and am buoyed up by my friends' endorsement. It should go well.

My next steps include sourcing locations, organising a shot list and schedule, and getting a few more people on board as part of my team. It will be a busy few months, I think.

Shouldn't Have Done That

Posted Sunday, September 14, 2008, 3:22 PM

I am a website designer, I've been doing it for over ten years. But I'm not particularly great at it. Sometimes I have done work I'm proud of, but if you were to look at my coding skills, they're mostly pretty average and naive. I like to be tidy, but structurally I can be haphazard, and anything beyond HTML and CSS is mysterious and incomprehensible to me.

As I'm not currently working, which is great and I wish it could ever be so, I don't get to do website stuff much anymore. I could probably redesign my own website, but I've got nothing to show anyway, so it's laying dormant.

So I was talking to my mate Rob about a website I visited recently, and how I thought it was in desperate need of updating, which I'd gladly do if I was paid for the work done to it. And inevitably, I had images in my head of how it could be improved upon. That night I had a very clear idea of the graphics I'd apply to it, and the colour scheme. And then the next day (yesterday) I couldn't help myself, and I spent all day designing the page.

On the one hand I need the experience and to keep up my skills, it can be great fun to create something that works well and fulfils the vision you have for it. But on the other hand, I basically did work that will never be showcased. I have no job lined up, there's no payment, they don't even know I did it.

I find myself wondering if I should contact them and suggest I work on it. But then that would mean a lot of work for them, and therefore a lot of time and money, which they may not be willing to outlay. It really ought to be them who volunteer to upgrade, rather than some pushy designer coming along trying to convince them to do something they have no intention of following up on.

Still, I am happy with the design I did, so here it is.

Writing Is Not Easy

Posted Saturday, September 13, 2008, 12:32 AM


I've been writing the second draft of my screenplay off and on these past few weeks, working through some of the problems.

Having had to introduce a whole new subplot to beef up the energy level it needed, and to keep some of the characters active through the plot, hasn't exactly introduced new problems into the plotting, like I thought it might; It has actually made it a much better story.

But what it has done is introduce problems with the pacing. Having to weave through this new, more exciting thread has interfered with the story structure already in place. Now I have to interrupt or bookend a quiet scene with an exciting action packed scene. Or worse, shunt up an action scene in one location, up against another action scene happening in a different location.

I've seen that work in a film, but I'm not talented or experienced enough to know what the trick is for it. Luckily I don't really have to be too strict in how each scene works together, as in the editing process there's plenty of opportunity to swap and alter and adjust to suit. But having said that, getting the scenes to at least work chronologically, and not be too jarring or confusing to read, is also an important skill to refine. After all, there isn't actually going to be an editing process, as the film is not intended to be made.

I think I'm doing okay. For every change I make that bothers me at its potential for distorting my story, there's another subsequent scene that pulls it back on track and keeps it flowing smoothly. It surprises me how successful it has been so far, to the point where I'm wondering if that means I'm missing something important. I probably am.

I should have this draft complete soon, and will then hand it over to a couple of people I trust to review it. I'll be looking for feedback on my abilities to write cohesively, entertainingly, and with the right level of detail to conjure up the imagery and characterisations I am hoping to depict. I expect I'll get a fair amount of notes, some of them harsh, and perhaps some of them suggesting dramatic changes in the story.

But I hope they'll generally be favourable enough to encourage me to keep going. And then hopefully I'll be buoyed up enough to write something new.

I Like Parcels

Posted Monday, September 8, 2008, 11:05 PM


Not that long ago, when I had very little money, an awful lot of really cool geeky stuff was made available. They were difficult to source (I occasionally heard about them through my local comic shop), expensive to ship (sometimes shipping cost more than the item itself), and for those reasons, and my lack of cash, I had to let most of them pass me by.

But now I have some money, and the difference is glorious. It's so easy to find the coolest things online. Toys, books, DVDs, music - if you want it, you can get it. Due to demand, shipping is now really competitive and affordable. It's a doddle to get coolness personified sent to me in exciting brown cardboard boxes.

Last week I got a new comic art anthology. Today I got three new DVDs. Next week I expect to get a soundtrack CD and a DVD of one of my favourite movies.

I'm not a fan of the more commonly experienced forms of shopping, i.e. clothes and shoes and wandering from shop to shop, trying stuff on, looking for bargains. Blah. Buying online is so much easier, and more exciting. Perhaps I buy rather too much too often, but I'm careful; It hasn't depleted my savings too much. And it means I get more parcels!

I love getting parcels in the mail.

Spot The Fake Building

Posted Wednesday, September 3, 2008, 9:23 PM

I am the king of getting halfway through a project and then leaping onto a new one. It's not healthy, because unless I have a deadline or a promise to another person, those other things tend to be permanently abandoned.

I'm currently involved with two projects for my mate Rob, one for another mate MPS (though I haven't got the footage for that stuff yet), and my own projects that tend to just meander.

In one of the projects for Rob there will be 3D virtual environments, which is usually done by combining video with photographs that will be manipulated in 3D (or 2.5D) in order to look as realistic as possible.

2.5D is when you take 2D elements, like photographs, and apply them to a 3D environment, or manipulate them in 3D space, such as for parallax motion. I shall be doing some of that, as well as building 3D models to place inside those 2.5D environments. The first such example is the oft-mentioned train and railway gun, which is being placed in a 2.5D version of the real valley location we photographed.

But the above image is meant to represent a street in a French village, where we need to place a Cafe. As it has to look pretty specific, and so we don't have to hope to find a good photograph we can use, I have made a 3D model of it.

Can you spot where the real photo ends and my 3D models begin?

Pegasus Rampant - The Second Draft

Posted Friday, August 29, 2008, 10:01 PM


Writing, they say, is not easy. Just when you think you're on top of things, that you have a great story, an excellent grasp of the characters, and the whole thing is coming together perfectly, something comes along that throws a spanner in the works and totally throws you off your game.

I am halfway through the second draft of my movie script, that I'm writing for my own personal 'writing exercise' experience. I like most of what I'm doing with it; I like my characters; I like the story; I like how many of the scenes unfold and play out; but I have, inevitably, struck a problem. It doesn't, as it stands, work as a movie.

It'd probably be fine if I adapted and expanded the plot into a novel (though it probably wouldn't sell very well and I wouldn't be lauded as the next JK Rowling or anything). And it might work as a comic book, played out episodically. Perhaps. And if I picked a few scenes out to make as a short film it'd be quite promising, I hope. But that's not what I'm doing with it - I'm writing it as an exercise in feature film screenplay writing, so it therefore has to work as a feature film, or else it's a failure.

I noticed early on that the motivations for the characters to go on their adventure were weakly realised, so I knew that in the second draft I would have to add some urgency and intensity to the beginning. I figured out the kind of things I wanted to do but it couldn't be anything too intense, as it would push the rest of the story in directions I didn't want it to go. So it had to be small enough to not impact the story too much, but big enough to add much needed energy to the plot.

Then I realised my bad guy was too static; he wasn't shown as much of a threat until near the end. So I had to introduce his machinations earlier in the story. However, I combined the two problems into one, and now I have my antagonist introduce a sub-plot into the storyline that is continually woven throughout.

But my worst fears are potentially going to be realised: the new sub-plot is threatening to impact the existing storyline, the parts that I already am very happy with. If this means I have to rip out and rearrange that part of the tale, then I will be very disappointed.

Writers will tell you that such things are often the way it goes, and it must be done without sentimentality. Improvement in the final story is all that matters. But, nevertheless, it will be heartbreaking if that's what I have to do.

So I am desperately trying to weave in this sub-plot in ways that will only expand and motivate the characters, and not so it pulls the story down a different track.

The irony is, if I hadn't recognised the problem I saw in the early parts of the story, and had made the finished film as it was in the first draft, it would've been just as good as the B-Movie fantasy flicks that are so often made, as they tend to have plot holes and discrepancies throughout. But my goal is to make something better than that, to prove it can be done if you put the effort in.

And the irony in that is that if I actually sold it and it got made, they'd probably strip out all the things I think are great, and jam in more sword fights and giant monsters, turning it into a mess that doesn't resemble my story hardly at all. Writing scripts is too often a hack and slash exercise, that when it gets released and people dismiss it as rubbish, often blame the poor writing, even though the script they actually put together was a marvellous whimsical joyride of a story, and not the explosion and effects-fest that the idiot director turned it into.

Anyway, the point is I am at a difficult stage of the creative process, and it's stressing me out a little.

Next!!!

Posted Tuesday, August 26, 2008, 12:18 AM


Last weekend I wandered down to Southbank where a friend of mine was filming his very first short film. It was something that I wasn't sure would be fun, but it turned out to be a good way to spend a Sunday.

Pete, or MPS as we call him, wrote this sketch idea a long time ago, and finally has gotten things together to get it made. It was about an audition process for a film, where there were a succession of hopefuls lining up for a part, all turned away. I didn't cameo, though I did do something silly which they caught on camera so you never know.

Anyway, I was there in my capacity as effects supervisor, as there are a couple of funny shots involving 3D, including a rocket shooting along, following someone out the door, and a trapdoor opening up and the poor guy falling through it cartoon-style.

Should be a giggle when it's all done. It was being shot in the Malthouse Theatre, which was for manufacturing malt liquor once, but is now remodelled into a theatre. It's most likely a protected "Listed" building, as it has all its original exterior walls, and a considerable amount of its interior fittings, still existing and intact. Though a lot of it just hovers in mid air without a way to get to them: Stairways lead to nowhere; doors don't open; mezzanines have no access. It's weird, but cool.

Visits From The Family

Posted Tuesday, August 19, 2008, 7:47 PM


I'm from New Zealand. I live in Australia. I've been here since 1999. I came here to get away from a life that had collapsed around me rather suddenly.

I used to have a circle of people who were the best friends I could've hoped for. Fun, funny, creative, we did tons of cool stuff together, though a lot of it never amounted to anything. I was pretty happy, even though I had no money, and not much else to call my own.

But then one of those friends moved away to Wellington. Then another did the same. And a third. Another friend unexpectedly died. The last of the group I hung around with found a cool job that took up all his spare time. I was bereft. When I lost my job, due to serially incompetent management, I saved up what little money I still had and leapt across the Tasman Sea to live in Melbourne, and though it was a struggle at first, I soon found my feet and am happy to be in a place I can call home.

I have no regrets on the move. I have found a new group of friends, who, though not as hilariously funny as my old NZ friends, are much more proactively creative, and are very inclusive in their fun social activities. Some of the things I've been involved with are beyond many of my hopes.

But do I miss my family? I'm pretty close to my family, but not in the way some people are. When we grew up together, my brother and sisters and I got on very well with each other. We rarely had disagreements, and didn't really get into serious trouble. Later in life there were a few run-ins that are best left behind us, but they weren't between each other. Our Mother always tried to keep us in contact, and we'd gather for special occasions a few times a year. My brother was the hardest to corral, as his career took off into jetsetting directions while we were all homebound, but when he visited it was a pretty good evening to be had.

When I left NZ, leaving my family was one of the hardest parts of the journey, but I knew it wasn't a permanent arrangement - visits would occur from both directions, and they have done. Every year either one of them has visited me, or I've gone back to visit them. It gets so frequent that it's sort of boring, sometimes, as there's nothing new to talk about. Last time I visited it was for Christmas 2006, before that it was for my younger sister's wedding. But as my Mum travels around the world a lot, she usually stops by Melbourne on the way there or back so I get to see her a lot. The truth is I don't miss my family, because I see them too often for that.

Which brings me to my point. Today my Mum visited Melbourne again, after a little holiday in South Australia, and she brought her friend Linda (who witnessed my Passport renewal form). We hung out together for a brief lunch and a wander, but there wasn't much to chat about. And it's strange to me that I see her less frequently than I did when I was back in NZ, and yet we have less and less to talk about as so few things develop in our lives as we get older. My life right now is not that dissimilar to how it was three or four years ago, whereas through the 90s it was developing in new directions every year.

Mum brought over a DVD of a NZ film that you can't find anywhere else, which was nice of her. It's called Out Of The Blue and was directed by a friend of mine, Robert Sarkies, who I have done work for on some of his earlier films (some completed, some aborted). It's about the Aramoana Massacre, which happened not far from where I was living at that time, and is one of the worst crimes that has ever happened in New Zealand's history. I hope it's as good as the reviewers claim.

The Astonishing State of Science Fiction TV

Posted Thursday, August 14, 2008, 8:58 PM


Science Fiction and Fantasy on TV has had a chequered history. The 60s was surreal with weird shows like The Avengers, Prisoner, and Thunderbirds. The 70s and 80s had a whole bunch of cookie-cutter adventure shows like Incredible Hulk, Invisible Man, Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider. The 90s had an onslaught of shows set in space with aliens, like Star Trek (et al), Babylon 5, Space: Above and Beyond, Earth II, Seaquest DSV, and the silly stuff like Hercules and Xena. Then X-Files and Buffy came along and bucked the trend somewhat.

But it was the onset of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who's reimaginings, and the unique Lost, that have set the way for a new breed of Fantasy TV, and it has made me all excited about television again.

However, there is a major problem. Almost none of these shows are shown here! Aargh! If it wasn't for the internet and bittorrent, I would see almost none of this top class entertainment. And most of the time I end up buying the DVDs, so it's to their benefit that they remain available to me this way. I urge you all to check out these shows that I've been watching recently, and marvel at their brilliance:








Should I Get An iPhone?

Posted Wednesday, August 13, 2008, 8:50 PM


I don't have a mobile phone. I have never had a mobile phone. Their ubiquitousness bothers me; their inescapability irritates me; the broad assumption that we all have one frustrates me; the expectation I ought to have one disappoints me.

But I always knew that I would probably get one eventually, when the true need for one arose. Perhaps if I had a family of my own (I can safely predict that's not gonna happen), or was employed in a job that absolutely required one (I am unlikely to be in such a career, but you never know).

And now the iPhone has arrived in Australia, and I am wavering.

I am not a particular fan of Apple's "style over substance" approach to their products. They seem to spend rather too much money on something that looks cool, sometimes at the expense of usability, and usually use it as the centrepiece of their promotion: "Buy this, it's only slightly better than anything else out there, but it looks really pretty!" And a lot of people seem to like the prettiness more than the substance; The new MacBook Air only has its slimline design going for it, at the serious expense of practicality, and yet it's selling well.

I'm not anti-Mac, or pro-PC, I am loyal to PCs only because it's all I've ever known and see no need to change. Re-learning an OS, under the illusory expectation it's better, when it may be much of a muchness for my kind of usage, isn't something I'd want to spend time on.

But the iPhone... just seems to be so cool! And I don't mean in that "style over substance" way I'm decrying, because I wouldn't just give up my principles on a whim. The substance really is what makes it cool - it is usable, functional, full-featured, and, I have to be honest, represents the future of GUI design.

I think that if I do decide to get a mobile phone, it will have to be an iPhone. I won't accept anything less.