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?