Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth

Posted Sunday, June 29, 2008, 10:33 PM

Holy crap! What a hell of an episode!

Appearances from the crossover series: Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures. Characters from the past and the distant past: Rose Tyler, Harriet Jones, the Judoon, the Daleks, and, of course, Davros; And more unbelievable plot dynamics than you can shake a stick at!

And wow! What an ending! Click for spoilers

Regeneration?? Say it isn't so! If it is so, it's the best kept secret they've ever had!

I can't wait till next week! I hope, hope, hope, that the ending is worth the wait. Please let it make sense and be satisfying!

More plane!

Posted Saturday, June 28, 2008, 7:48 PM

I'm testing out textures, but haven't applied them yet. In the meantime, here's a nice dynamic angle.




Okay, now that some time has passed and I've worked on the textures some more, it's interesting how this happened. I was working on some finer details, and getting somewhat frustrated at its lack of realism, so I was afraid I'd not be able to do it, or I'd have to cheat and use photographs or something.

But I was looking at a reference photo and saw something that gave me hope. The keys to believable textures are scale and getting that randomised "used" appearance that everything, even brand new things, have, and the way to get that is to put in fine, but random, detail. And the real planes are covered in that kind of thing, what with them being very active and fiery machines.

However, how do you "make" random stuff when you're doing it by hand in a digital image program? After all, by its very nature you are being unavoidably regular and repetitious, even though there are hand drawn elements. The key is to spend a lot of time copying and pasting and merging and changing colour and reversing and flipping and inverting and skewing and distorting and putting layer over layer over layer at different opacities and colouration.

Which is how I added this dirt layer onto the jet plane.

In this pic it's still unfinished, you can see the sharp edge where it stops which will be where the "side" textures will be placed.

3D Jet Plane

Posted Thursday, June 26, 2008, 7:12 PM

I can't help myself. Whenever a new project comes along, I tend to drop anything I'm doing midway through, and leaping over to the new thing eagerly. I am not supposed to be making models of Jet Fighter Planes, but that's just what I'm doing.

I had an idea for a short film, trying to make something simple and with minimal work involved. This seems to be a hard thing to do when you're a visual person like me, as it's a lot more involved than I had hoped. Anyway, it's got a lot of 3D visual effects in it, including a fighter plane.

Here's a clip of it. Careful, blink and you'll miss it.

Digital Sunset

Posted Monday, June 23, 2008, 4:30 PM

Amongst the many distractions I find myself constantly finding excuses for, I occasionally actually do something that achieves a result. This is a rare and treasured thing, so I post today's for posterity's sake.

I was writing a script today, for a short film I may actually make this time (don't hold your breath), and I was considering the opening shot, which is a helicopter shot of the ocean with a jet fighter screaming into view. Knowing that I don't have access to a helicopter, the shot would have to be either stock footage or a digital composite. The jet fighter is already confirmed to be digital anyway, so why the heck not the ocean too? So, I thought to myself, can I make a convincing digital 3D ocean?

I found a tutorial, then tweaked the settings to suit me. This image is my first attempt.

I think it came out pretty well, though it's a little too regular and digital. The finished shot will be moving, and the eye will be drawn to the jet fighter, so perhaps it will work out after all. I shall also be adding some additional features to give it some life; convincing clouds; some land; maybe some birds.

Something like this.

It gives me confidence that I will be able to achieve something good.

Doctor Who: Turn Left

Posted Sunday, June 22, 2008, 12:48 PM

What if Donna had never met the Doctor? What would the world have turned out like if all those alien enemies attacked the earth without the Doctor and Donna working together to stop them? What if the Doctor actually died because of Donna's absence?

Chaos, that's what would happen.

Luckily, there is another who has a unique perception of what's going on, inexplicably being shunted between parallel universes. Rose Tyler.

This was an exciting episode, as it had a good amount of edge-of-your-seat twists and turns. Russell T Davies tends to like hugely epic storylines, but ends them with a bit of a lame duck conclusion. As this is a setup for the big finale two-parter, I can only hope he doesn't ruin it by pulling the ending out of his butt with lots of technobabble deus ex machina nonsense. I live in hope.

Oh, and the "two words" ending was one of the most thrilling things I could've hoped for since the reveal of Rose in the first episode.

3D Hair

Posted Friday, June 20, 2008, 12:03 AM

There are a few holy grails in 3D graphics that most artists struggle to get to grips with. Water is one such feature that only recently has been finally knocked on the head, but even then only in certain situations. A lot of the water and ocean effects in Peter Jackson's King Kong were excellent, and a few were not. As long as they don't draw attention to themselves from their wrongness, then that's considered a success, but geeks like me tend to notice the tricks that are employed a little too readily.

Another difficult to nail down aspect of 3D is animating physical motions like jumping or falling. I've never seen a convincing hand animated jump yet. All three Spider-Man movies are full of crappy attempts at hand-animated leaps and swings, and it annoys me a lot.

The Uncanny Valley problem of eyes is another continually difficult nut to crack. It's improving, but it's still not there yet.

One that has been figured out, relatively recently in computing terms, is hair. But the problem is if you want it to react and interact like real hair, it takes a huge amount of processing power to do it properly, and I haven't got such a luxury. So my attempts at things like cloth effects and hair have to be simplified and reduced to something relatively basic.

Here is my first attempt at polygon hair, based on a tutorial. I am... not satisfied, but it's a good start.

3:10 To Yuma

Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2008, 11:13 PM

I'm not a fan of Westerns, generally, but there have been a few that I've watched and particularly enjoyed, both movies and TV shows. Some of them are just staples of my childhood and so stick in my mind, but others are great stories wonderfully told, the genre notwithstanding.

But that's the key: Westerns are a genre; and like Science Fiction and Fantasy, it's a setting to tell morality tales. Sure I can enjoy them on the superficial level of gunfights and horse riding, but that's not enough for me, and they're often why I don't like Westerns as a rule - they seem to rely too much on gunfights and horse riding. Just compare any Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western with each other. So to draw me in, they have to have a good story that works on my level.

3:10 To Yuma got some good reviews when it was released last year, so when I saw it was out on DVD I was interested. I have enjoyed Christian Bale a lot recently, and there's no doubt that Russell Crowe is a great draw card, even if he is a dickhead in real life (cf. Robert Downey Jr). On a whim I bought the DVD. It might introduce me to the genre in a more serious way, but if nothing else it should be entertaining.

As I have gotten more involved in movie making, genres as a concept have started to interest me more. I am not a fan of Horror, but I have worked on Horror stories and movies. I am not a fan of War films, but working on Checkpoint for Rob was something that interested me a lot. I am not into steam trains, but having made a model of one for Checkpoint, I had to do some research and it really interested me, now that I had a purpose motivating it. Soon I'll be researching jet fighter planes for similar reasons.

So the Genre of the Western - the tropes, the clichés, the stereotypes, the myths, the stories - hold a fascination for me now that they haven't before, and it's interesting to see modern film-makers take them and twist them into something modern audiences will enjoy. That in and of itself is something I should pay attention to: How do you take a genre full of well worn clichés and turn them into something new, and watchable, and unpredictable?

Perfect Day

Posted Monday, June 16, 2008, 2:21 PM

Today I decided to go into town to pick up a few things. I had four things I specifically wanted to buy, and also have lunch.

Firstly, the weather was perfectly pleasant. Cold (it's winter) but clear skies.

Next, I walked to the train station, unhindered, and bought a two hour ticket, which actually gave me 2.75 hours when you buy it at the right time. The next train arrived promptly thereafter, on schedule, and got me into the city in rapid time.

Then I got off at the stop nearest to where I wanted to be, walked straight there, and bought the two DVDs I wanted, which were prominently displayed and easy to locate. I even bought another one that I had long been considering purchasing, on a whim.

Half a block down the road was a bookstore I wanted to get a very specfic item from, but it was something that had only been released a few days ago, in the US, so I wasn't sure if it would be here yet. But as it's published in Australia, I had some hopes. I didn't find it on the shelf, though I did get another book I had been wanting, so went to the counter to pay for it, and there behind the counter was the first book I wanted - the last in the store. I grabbed it.

Then I went half a block to have the very lunch I had been craving for all morning. It was tasty, with friendly service, and I quickly consumed. I wandered over to the Tram stop, and my tram had just arrived. I leapt on, and headed home, where it dropped me off at my door.

A perfect day.

Doctor Who: Midnight

Posted Sunday, June 15, 2008, 5:38 PM

Every season they have an episode of Doctor Who that has less of the Doctor and Companion than normal, as they try to jam in the making of 13 episodes into a 12 episode space. In this case, they have separated the two of them, with this week's episode having almost no Donna, and next week's will have almost no Doctor.

Midnight is an exercise in simplification, with more of a psychological terror assailing the Doctor, in a confined space, where other passengers in a beleaguered tourist vehicle, when beset by panic and fear, retaliate by accusing another to be a danger that must be stopped, violently. The Doctor's attempts to placate them only make them turn their invective upon him, and he suddenly finds himself in his greatest danger. This disappoints and frightens him considerably, and his faith in humanity is shaken.

A very powerful episode by Russell T Davies, who normally doesn't write as he has done so here. His attempts at being epic usually come across as childish, whereas this time he has minimised his scope, and it works considerably more successfully.

An interesting trivial note: The character of the professor is played by David Troughton, who is the son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton. But, also, it's directed by Alice Troughton, who rather interestingly is not related to the aforementioned.

Lookalike Actresses

Posted Friday, June 13, 2008, 6:28 PM

There are a few actors around and about that sort of look sort of similar to each other. Some are famously so, like Skeet Ulrich and Johnny Depp, or Leelee Sobieski and Helen Hunt. But here are two sets of four who I think could easily play siblings in a movie. Maybe all the same movie.

Jennifer Garner, who was in the movie Daredevil as Elektra; Hilary Swank, who won an Oscar as a boxer in Million Dollar Baby; Amanda Peet, who has been in a bunch of things I've never seen, but I do remember her in Whole Nine Yards; and Missy Peregrym, who was in Heroes, and more recently Reaper. All have a remarkably similar appearance: dark hair; chiselled boyish face; prominent toothy smiles; a tall, limber, rangy frame, useful for the often physical roles they get asked to play. I say they could easily be very convincing as sisters in a film.

Preferably a porn film, but failing that, any kind of movie would work.

Jake Gyllenhaal, who was in Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain; Tobey Maguire, known as Spider-Man; Daniel Radcliffe, the rather well known Harry Potter movies; and Elijah Wood, one of my favourite child actors who is now most famous for Lord of the Rings. They also share similarities in their appearance: Medium to short; dark hair; distinctive blue eyes; and youthful faces. In fact, Jake and Tobey are playing brothers in a movie, appropriately called "Brothers", even as we speak, so I am not alone in that estimation, at least.

Checkpoint Shoot Completed

Over the long weekend my friend Rob's short film, Checkpoint, was shot. I came along, partly because I am the Visual Effects Supervisor, and partly because it's just cool fun to be on set of a film as it's being made.

When you're involved in no-budget filmmaking, it's always good etiquette to dig in and participate enthusiastically - it's all part of the fun. I volunteered myself as being in charge of the boom mike, and it took up a considerable amount of the shoot, as I had to be there to record all dialogue and sound effects in most of the shots. I also did a few general dogsbody kinds of jobs, alongside most of the other crew.

The good part with a job like that is being right in the thick of the shoot, and seeing it all up close. Witnessing, and perhaps contributing, to the decisions being made, as they come up, is a very exciting part of the creative process, and it's a joy to be so close to it as it happens. I can really believe it would be equally cool fun for the professionals in that kind of close quarters position; getting to be there on some big Hollywood blockbuster, next to the actors, Director, and DoP when they make their on-the-spot creative decisions.

It was exhausting, though. Partly due to the early starts and the cold weather; but we were also on our feet all day, sometimes walking back and forth a lot between crew area and shooting area, helping out with the set and prop relocating, etc. Plus there's a mental exhaustion that comes from being alert all the time for every shot. And I was far from suffering the worst of the hardships: Dave the DoP had to lug a shoulder-mounted camera everywhere, sometimes handheld; Matty was on sound with a heavy piece of machinery hanging around his neck all day non-stop; Ads was in charge of set wrangling; MPS was Producer; Dags was 1st AD; and they all were a lot more active than me a lot of the time, especially mentally.

But strangely enough, the tiring exhaustion of it is part of the joy. Somehow doing that kind of hard work is like a holiday away from an ordinary day, and can be quite exhilarating. In fact, in retrospect the most annoying parts become another story to tell the new guys who come to each subsequent shoot - indeed we often regaled each of the newbies and actors with the tales of the Reality Check and Jedi Heritage shoots.

The film came together really well. The performances were exceptional, the costumes were impressively authentic, and some of the shots will look just beautiful. I can't wait to see it when it is put together.

The next step is post-production. As Visual Effects Supervisor, I will have a few shots to finish up, but Rob the Director/Creator/Editor is also an effects compositor, so he'll be taking on quite a few of the needed shots himself. I've already made the 3D train model, and know how to do all the other shots required of me, including some bullet hits and matte paintings, but there may also be an additional scene shot, to be used as a credits sequence epilogue, and that will be partially composited with suitable WWII era backgrounds. I hope it will be done, as it's also something I'm excited to try.

So my job on this one is far from over yet! Bring it on, I say.

Weeoo song

Posted Thursday, June 12, 2008, 7:42 PM

The Internet is an amazing thing. If you need to find out something, no matter how obscure, chances are that someone else will have already wanted to know too, and left an enquiry somewhere online, which you can use vicariously to get the same answer.

I have been hearing a song on TV, and wondered whose song it was. All I knew is it began with an “Eeoo” sound repeated. So I looked up “Eeoo Song” but had no luck. I then tried “Weeoo Song” and huzzah – through another person asking a similar question, but interestingly in reference to a completely different song to mine, someone suggested the very one I was actually looking for. Though they don't actually say "Weeoo" in the song after all.

Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape.

Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008, 6:16 PM


The conclusion to last week’s mysterious scary episode by Steven Moffat is suitably dark, but though it answers a lot of the questions posed, it also leaves some of the mysteries open. Who is River Song? Much is implied, but nothing is resolved. Very nice.

Donna’s story also took a heartwarming, and yet heartbreaking, twist, very compellingly acted. And the two very young kids playing her children are unexpectedly good, too.

If this is the expected direction of the series after Steven Moffat takes over the reigns, then we are in for a seriously thrilling treat! He really knows how to take the whole idea of Doctor Who and bend it into an exciting, funny, and unique storytelling vehicle.

I am very excited for the show’s future.

Windows Live Writer


In an attempt to make my blog posting easier and more reliable, I’m going to try and use an offline blog composer, in this case Windows Live Writer, to see how this improves my posting. I hopefully will be able to see a live representation of my post exactly, and an easier way to publish images and links within the text. We shall see how it goes.


Posted Thursday, June 5, 2008, 10:47 PM

This weekend it's Queen's Birthday, so it's a good time for a three-day movie shoot. My friend Rob, who has been planning this for a very long time, is finally going to get the chance to direct his first short film. Checkpoint is set in the midst of World War II, and concerns a British soldier who is returning from a mission when he stumbles upon a German checkpoint in the woods, and unexpectedly ends up in a bit of a kerfuffle.

It should be fun, we're spending all long-weekend in the forest to film it. I'm effects supervisor, as there will be several shots with visual effects in it, such as gunfire, a train, a few matte paintings, and an optional scene that might be shot later, set at an airfield.

It may be cold out there, though, so I'll have to wrap up warm, and also may be staying over so as to be nearer where the shoot is taking place. Early starts for everyone (5am wake-up call, 6am leaving, 7am arrival and prep, 9am shoot) so it isn't all fun and jollity. But we always have a good time on a shoot, so we should enjoy ourselves immensely, especially as it's such a different kind of genre for us.

Master Race trailer

Posted Tuesday, June 3, 2008, 12:14 AM

I have many friends on the fringes of the movie industry. Most of us are just doing this kind of stuff for fun, with some hope we'll do it for a profession somewhere along the line. A couple of us are actually in the thick of it. Cameron Smith works as a compositor for WETA in New Zealand. He's worked on Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer, Enchanted, The Water Horse, and Prince Caspian. Peter Roberts is working in the props department of local productions like Charlotte's Web, and Band of Brothers: Pacific. And perhaps most famously, Justin Dix has worked in various creative Departments of big productions like the Star Wars prequels, Storm Warning, Rogue, and, of course, that effects masterpiece, Gates of Hell.

Well, Justin has been trying to get his own feature film off the ground for many years, but hasn't had a lot of luck with it so far. Various ideas have been developed, including a Zombie Western, or one based on Red Riding Hood, but his first big idea was called Master Race, about alien technology adapted by the Nazis during WWII. Over time he has gathered together a lot of preproduction work to show the storyline to potential investors, including the storyboards I have drawn up for it, and filming some footage for a teaser trailer. That trailer has remained incomplete for some time, the visual effects never having been completed. So I've volunteered to finish them up for him, now that I have the talents, skills, and software, to do it.

Here's what I did today. The man in the shot was filmed in front of greenscreen. The rest of the image is my own work, a 3D model of a hangar rooftop, and a matte painting for the distant background. With some compositing work, including: removing the greenscreen (keying); adding depth of field blur; adjusting the colour; and adding in a subtle reflection of the man in the metallic roof panels.

I'm very happy with this work. I think it's quite convincing. Unfortunately, the image I am working with here is low resolution and badly marred with artefacting, but the original video files should hopefully be coming in my direction soon so we'll see how it looks after I add that in.

When I was first asked to do some of this job, four years ago, I really didn't know what I was doing. Here's my first effort at the modelling and rendering I attempted way back then.

Doctor Who: Silence In The Library

Posted Sunday, June 1, 2008, 9:18 PM

After a break last week, because of the unbearable crapfest that is Eurovision, Doctor Who returns with a new two-part story, written by fan favourite Steven Moffat, the man who wrote Season 1's The Empty Child, Season 2's Girl In The Fireplace, and Season 3's Blink, and who will be taking over from Russell T Davies as showrunner after the specials season of 2009.

He has a lot to live up to, expectations have been running high for this two-part episode. The preview for it didn't exactly make me excited, it looked a little bit lame. But I had faith that there would be at least some magic to it.

And there was! It's about a creepy alien presence that lives in the shadows - indeed are the shadows - of a huge library planet. But that's just a plot device, a McGuffin if you like. The real story seems to be Click for spoilers

with a little girl who is apparently imagining the entire library in the first place. And then there's an Archaeologist who appears to know the Doctor from past meetings, but he doesn't know her. Something of a time paradox, that if not addressed in next week's conclusion, may become a part of the specials in 2009.

It was a signature episode. Exciting and fun, but with very inventive ideas, some compelling mysteries, and convoluted character relationships, along with some traditionally Moffett-like scares. I don't seem to get affected by the scares, unlike some audience members, but I think the idea is to get under the skin of kids - the behind-the-sofa syndrome - and this will probably manage that just fine.