A Different Kind Of Remake

Posted Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 8:08 PM

Sometimes I watch a movie from a long time ago (the 80s - sad to say that is almost the dark ages, in some respects) and wince at it. Not because it's a bad film, but because styles and technology have changed so much in the intervening years that it feels dated and creaky.

The most obvious difference, especially for me, are things like the visual effects, which back then were entirely practical or optical, which is to say they were literally filmed on top of the original film using another camera, or were drawn on by hand. Almost no computers were used at all for filmmaking back then (except for motion control cameras and some crude computer graphics).

But there's also audio quality, colour grading, title sequences, soundtrack orchestration, and the pacing of the editing. All of these have improved, or changed, quite significantly in the last decade or so, and have altered our expectation of how our entertainment plays out.

And it occurred to me how interesting it would be for someone to take the original footage of an entire shoot from a film made in the 80s, and completely re-cut it, from the ground up, into their own movie. They would have to be unfamiliar with the movie, so it shouldn't be a much-loved classic, but can't be a completely obscure lump of nothing, so I figure a typical 80s fantasy film that could do with a few tweaks to boost its quality would be ideal.

Krull was not a runaway success on its initial release in 1983, but as cheesy 80s fantasy movies go it did a lot of things right. Some of the casting was excellent, with rough-hewn Alun Armstrong, a pre-fame Liam Neeson, a very amusing David Battley, and a noble and wise Freddie Jones.

But it also did a lot of things wrong. Lysette Anthony was very pretty, but they dubbed over her voice so she had an American accent! Why? Almost none of the other cast were American, so why change her lovely voice? Plus her role was to be a damsel in distress, which in this day and age is unacceptable.

The lead was played by Ken Marshall, who has not done anything else of note, and it's no wonder as his acting is mediocre at best; He has some charisma and charm, but absolutely no energy and is certainly no hero; As a prospective King he would be a weak and ineffectual ruler.

The bad guy is a monstrous creature, known only as the Beast. He doesn't play much of a proactive role in the story. Yes, he kidnaps the princess and throws challenges at the band of heroes, but all from a distance.

And finally, the magic weapon, the glaive, is all style and no substance. It isn't used as a knife or sword, instead it is mystically operated to fly around and slice in a method not adequately explained or explored.

A few other factors are also worth mentioning. The score is suitably grandiose, with a couple of pieces being very cool, especially the piece accompanying the fire mares. The Beast's soldiers are really creepy, as they scream when they die. Rell the cyclops is very well done, and is a great character. The landscape is quite epic and beautiful, especially as much of it was not augmented by matte paintings, but were genuine Italian locations. And the adventure as a whole, where they travel across the kingdom picking up members of their band as they go, was well structured and had a lot of time for us to grow to love the characters.

So I think it would be marvellous to be able to go into the original takes and edit the film my way: Choose new shots, with new edits; Use the original voices of the cast; Replace all the visual effects, matte paintings, and model shots with CG and digital set extensions; Improve the makeup on the creatures and cyclops; Colour grade to bring out the vividness of the colours and match the interior sets and the exterior scenes. Re-record the soundtrack to match my new cut; and make it faster, funnier, and more exciting.

I figure with a small team of ten or so to achieve it, especially not having to actually organise and shoot the film itself, it would cost only a couple of million dollars and take 18 months to get it looking perfect, perhaps sooner.

Who do I talk to to get this happening?

I Don't Know Nothin'

Posted Sunday, July 11, 2010, 7:02 PM

Sometimes I wish I had a tutor looking over my shoulder, giving me tips and step-by-step lessons.

My current hobby, amongst many, is that of visual effects. That includes 3D Modelling, Texturing, and Animation, as well as Compositing, Rotoscoping, and anything else that comes up as needs must.

In the professional Visual Effects industry you can specialise in any one of those disciplines, but when you're an amateur just trying to put something cool together, you have to know a little bit of everything. I do know a little bit of everything, but only a little. It's not quite enough of any one of them to get professional work straight away, but it's plenty enough to continue as an amateur.

My skills lack mostly in understanding the tools I have at hand. Though I have many excellent books, and there are plenty of great websites to get some tips from, including Video CoPilot and SpinQuad, there's nothing quite as useful as turning to an experienced person when you're stuck and asking them just how to achieve the fiddly thing that's missing.

I have a good eye. I can look at a clip and see what it needs and have a reasonably good idea of how to achieve that, in principle. But in terms of actual execution, I am average at best, and struggle.

In the picture above, which is from a clip about ten seconds long, only the soldier is real. Everything else is digitally created or a manipulated still image photograph. I had to: key out the greenscreen, and then rotoscope around the soldier for his every move to give him a clean edge (and also the second soldier who has since been cropped out of the shot); build and texture the truck model, animate it coming down the road; build and texture the road and walls using a blend of several photographs; and then composite them all together using a series of layers, tracked to the original camera shake, and colour graded so that all the disparate elements fit together as a whole.

I have worked on this shot for over a year, from prepping and shooting the plate of the soldiers, modelling the truck, through to assembling the pieces, and then subtly adjusting it until it has reached its final stage. In that time I learned a lot about modelling a vehicle; about animating wheels; about rotoscoping in separate chunks instead of in one big go; about colour grading; about "expressions" which are mathematical ways to manipulate 2D layers; about "Depth Maps" which are greyscale images that represent the Z-Scale, or depth, of a 2D image or clip to give me virtual 3D to play with; and about "chromakey" which is a method of removing a single colour from an image, such as for a greenscreen.

If I had a tutor, guidance from an expert, I could have finished it much sooner, and with less struggle, and perhaps even more efficiently using techniques and tools I've not even touched before. I do wish I had the time and money to organise something like that. But I don't even know where to turn. I'm no beginner, so a regular Night School course isn't quite what I'm after, but there are no doubt many beginner's steps that I do need to brush up on before I can skip to the top level.

Until I figure myself out, I will enjoy being jack of all trades, master of none, and be thrilled by those artists who really know what they're doing, and who produce first class awe-inspiring work every time.