Saturday, December 23, 2006

Shooting postponed big time

Well, not to make this sound like a pity post, but filming has been shut down until April or May at the latest now.

Why? Because someone broke into my apartment and stole my camera. That's about it. I went out for coffee around 10 this morning, came home about 40 minutes later and noticed a window beside my door had been smashed - which is kinda sad considering the pane right next to it actually had no glass at that point so I'm no sure why they didn't just use that. Anyway, stupid criminals aside, at first nothing looked wrong, not muddy footprints even - so I guess they were polite enough to wipe their shoes first.

I thought at first it may have been my landlord's handyman, for whatever reason he'd smash I window I don't know, just the most logical thing that made sense at the moment. I asked my landlord, nope wasn't that - so I chalked it up to a failed break-in attempt because nothing seemed disturbed in the apartment, other then Scully (my cat) but she acts weird sometimes anyway. Then, about 10 minutes later I was struck with the thought: "What about the camera?"

And sure enough, there it wasn't.

Now, what makes this a little on the sketchy side is that whoever this was, one or several, had to pass by everything else in the apartment before finding the camera tucked away in a dark corner. At this point you think, inside job - not to be too melodramatic about it. But I seriously doubt it, since the camera is normally never sitting there and it's obvious nothing else was disturbed.

I call the cops, showed up in about 10 minutes. All the while I see a city truck parked outside. Turns out someone also broke into the dentist's office next door (and they have a security system that apparently never went off), and when the cop showed up the city truck pulls into the driveway with him - with a TV someone found hidden in the bushes in their driveway, not less the 3 houses away. I assume the TV came from the office, no one's there today so I have no idea what happened over there.

An stupid me without apartment insurance. Some of us have to learn the hard way. In any case, the camera isn't irreplaceable - it was on it's last legs really. I'm more annoyed about the storage drive, luckily all the footage was taken off the drive so nothing there was lost - it just means I have no means of shooting the rest of the movie now. I do start work in about 2 weeks, so I will be able to afford to get things back up and running if all works out, but I won't have enough to buy a new camera until March at the earliest.

So, everyone involved in the movie who reads this; Take a break, and don't worry about filming any time soon.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Homemade Steadicam...and not much else

It's been quiet, no filming going on, not even really working on anything. Since I'm taking time off I decided to actually take time off instead of working on another part of the project. Well, that's not entirely true. I did do some location scouting and built a homemade steadicam.

I'd seen articles and plans on how to make steadicams several dozen times over the years, I've even looked at buying them - ultimately I never bothered with any of it. The homemade ones all seemed too much work for no real results, the pro ones just seemed way overpriced for what small use I'd really have for them (not much of a handheld fan since it buggers up any FX).

So a friend of mine, Derek Martin (Grayson, in the movie) sent me an email with a link to another persons site claiming to have a $15 steadicam. I checked it out - it was pretty McGyveresque. Then I figured, what the hell - it cost me more then $15, I neither had the luxury of the same stores this guy did or US prices, still only about $25 so no real complaints.

Finding the right parts without the hassle of running here and getting this drilled and going there and getting this cut and rethreaded was a bit of a pain in the ass. The whole point of something like this is the ease of finding the parts and assembling them - because the ultimate finished product is of only so much use so it's a little ridiculous to put that much effort into it. It's like, why bothering travelling all the way on horseback to a hidden village in Tibet for a special coffee cup, when you really don't drink coffee all that much.

So after a couple hours running around, I found one store that had all the parts, had to go to get two pieces of galvanized steel drilled and that was it. And that's about all the effort needed to make a weird looking t-bar thing with a barbell weight on one end. Not a perfect steadicam, but it actually does make a difference in the quality of handheld shots. It's not "balanced" in the sense a real steadicam should be, more like it's just weighted down to keep down excess wobbling and given a different axis to hold the camera on that helps also.

Overall, it's not too bad, do I have much use for it? Not really. I have a few shots where I can use it and it will help. I'll probably design a few shots to use it just to make use of certain sets and locations. Who knows, I might become more accustomed to it and use it more often, although I'm seriously considering this being one of the last movies I work on - live action at least.

Otherwise, the problem of a lost location that caused a major setback in shooting is more or less taken care of. I've found a place, very similar to what I had before - only this one offers a much wider variety of shots and angles. I've yet to actually secure it for shooting, but I've got a better handle on what needs to be taken care of first before I go in and shoot. So in the new year I'll be working on that and hopeing by mid-January we'll be back up and running and we'll finall wrap this thing up.

And that's it, this is probably the last post for sometime until things get back up and running.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More FX stuff

For the last couple weeks since there’s been no filming going on, I’ve been working on some special effects and post stuff, as you may have noticed obviously. In particular I’ve been muddling through The Library scene, trying to prep the footage for the addition of the computer generated elements - by “prep the footage” I mean cleaning it up and whatnot.

I’ve also been working at creating some of the smaller computer generated elements. The Book of the Skull prop now has a digital counterpart, as well as the Jim-Jim prop, and I’ve been fiddling with some designs for the Library set and the Librarian himself.

I thought I’d do a quick breakdown of how much work goes into a single shot, by showing it layer by layer.

First we start off with a clean plate - the original footage, totally untouched. You can see that around the outer edges of the doorframe the walls are still visible, as well as a sliver of light from the crack in the door. So first off they’ll have to be removed.
Since the shot was locked off (on a tripod and unmoving) it’s pretty easy to create a mask to block out those areas and just turn them into dark patches (which is what I want). Here you see the mask.
Instead of just using black, I actually took a 10 second clip off the camera with the lense cap still on, so instead of a jet black, I get a grainy black - which matches the footage more accurately so it doesn’t seem too weird to the eye. And combined with the mask, we get this:
Now, at the very end of the shot, which is 272 frames long (30 frames per second), you can see the Malice crosses over in front of the door. That won’t work, so I created a rotospline mask copying her movements across the door, this mask is a full 272 frame video clip since it’s masking out the motion of an actor (I think I explained this process before so I’ll skip it here, if you want, search around here for some more info on it).
Here’s a still shot of from the mask of Malice crossing in front of the door. Luckily it only requires a small part to be masked out over roughly 30 frames, so the mask doesn’t have to be completely accurate, just where the sliver of light needs to be removed.
The two masks are then combined, the still frame and the rotosplined mask to create this. Just a still image of the final composite. Not really much to see so far.
And now you can see the when Malice crosses in front of the door it works like it should. This is just the first step, All I’ve done is clean up footage at this point (note that I actually already cleaned up the burned out pixels if you recall those little buggers).
Now that’s done, I need to add the computer generated element - which is the digital version of The Book of the Skull. First I had to scan in the entire book from as many angles as possible, model it and finally turn out this. Here’s a side by side comparison of the two books, the real one on the left, the digital one on the right. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for what it’s needed for - the digital one will require some post work to make it match the quality of the footage.
So, we start be setting up the scene. I purposely shot the scene with the pedestal empty in order to insert the digital book later - you might have noticed that actually. Here’s a quick render of the shot with the book added in. The block you’re seeing under the book is used for camera matching - in order to get the same angle and whatnot of the original plate - so the book ends up being shot from the exact same angle. Camera matching is a long, sometimes painful, process I won’t get into.
From there I do a rough animation of the book flying up off the pedestal and hovering for a second before flying off, which Heather had to try and react to. So then I refine it a bit more, trying to make it match what’s going on in the scene, in this case instead of having Heather react to a sequence of things going on to match the “to be added” book, I just walked her through it knowing I could just add the book and make it match with her actions instead. So I just told her to look up at a spot that made sense to her, then when I added the book I just lined it up as best I could to make it appear as though she’s actually looking at it.
Then we do a final render of the book animation. The textures, lighting and an added motion blue make it look much better. I won’t go into the process of how the book was actually made, I might do that at some other point for another digital prop or actor.
Now that I have my final book animation I still need to composite it into the shot. And since there’s a few things that need to be done to the footage to hopefully make it match a little more seamlessly, I have to create a mask for the book itself.

This is pretty easy, I just render another version of the animation, removing the lights, background and textures so I get a quick mask version of the footage. Also, the reason I render the animation against the original footage, is because otherwise you tend to get a bit of a “glow” surrounding the computer generated parts.
And since the book has to appear to be on the pedestal, another quick mask and a still frame one are added to block out the pedestal.
So with a complete mask for the book I add it with the cleaned up live action footage and this is what we get. You can see the shadows and whatnot of the book are just way to harsh to make it feel like it’s actually part of the original shot.
So I do some quick touch ups, adding some noise to simulate the same noise the live action footage has, adjusting the colour balance and brightness and contrast to get as close as I can. Not always easy to do and it doesn’t always work, so sometimes you just have to settle for “as close as I can”. The changes may be a little too subtle to be noticed here, but blown up on a large scale, it'd be really noticable.
That’s pretty much it, there’s a few other things I’ll add in - like a bit of a bloom off the lantern to help bring the elements together a little better, that’s really it. Otherwise this is the process I go through with every shot that require a clean up and then additional computer generated elements. Not "Hollywood" perfect, but still not terrible looking.

By no means is this an easy or simple process, nor is it something only a “professional” can do. I am by no means a professional, it just takes a buttload of patience and practice and of course the right software certainly doesn’t hurt. I get the impression sometimes that folks who don’t really understand this side of moviemaking just pass this sort of stuff off as “oh, it’s all done by computers” - well, that might be true, but it’s a bit like assuming cars can just drive themselves around. Computer generated imagery, whether it be matte paintings, or digital actors and props, are not something that just pop out of computers, it takes an incredible amount of work to make it happen.

Having said that, I don’t mean to imply I have more talent, dedication or knowledge of this stuff then anyone else, obviously I don’t - otherwise I’d be so rich I'd pay people to write this blog for me while George Clooney and I sit on my private Caribbean beach with my supermodel girlfriends. I just have way too much time on my hands, that’s pretty much it. And a touch of OCD doesn’t hurt either I suppose.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Special Effects stuff

I've been playing around, testing some ideas and whatnot to make the 3D models a little more realistic looking. Or at the very least, not look like total crap. The modelling itself isn't so much the issue, that I'm becoming pretty used to - it's the final, sort of detail stuff, that gives it that extra something something.

So, I decided to put this together to show just how it more or less works.

First, this is the basic model for the face of the Titan, it's unlit at this point and looks pretty dull and flat, but you can see the basic structure of the model.

And here it is with the texture, while it looks better, still not terribly impressive because there's still no lighting, nor does it really have any depth to it.
So here with some actual lighting, you can see a bit more of the details of the model. Here you can really see how smooth the mesh of the model is, doesn't really make him look like he's made of stone.
And now with the texture again, looks much better, still a little flat though.
This here is what's called the "bump map" and it's pretty much what it sounds like. It creates bumps and whatnot to make it looks like there more detail to the actual model. This is faked though so while it gives the illusion of detail there still really isn't any.
The texture and the bump map combined make it look much better. Now this is the stage I've been at for the longest time, still not 100% thrilled, it was missing something. Since he is supposed to look like he's made of stone, the actual model itself needs to be a little more jagged and whatnot.
That's were this comes into it. I just started playing around with this, it's kinda techincal, but bascially it's this; it's called a "displacement map" which again is pretty much how it sounds. You take a black and white image, the black part will appear sunken, while the white appears more raised - this effects the actual model. And combined with the bump map (which it is in this picture) is gives a much more detailed and stone-like effect to the model.
So now we end up with this. This is everything combined, the texture, bump, and displacement maps as well as the lighting gives it a much more realistic look - as well as a stone faced looking giant statue god kind of thing can be realistic.

And these are the 2 images used to do all this, this is the bump map, also used for the displacement map as well.
And the actual texture, or diffuse map.

This isn't the final version, you can see in a few place a couple problems that still need to be worked out in the the displacement and bump maps. I'll probably do another version of both maps and try to get a more stone-like appearance out of it. And more dramatic lighting would help, however that's not an option in this character's case since he has to match footage shot in broad daylight.

This is the process each character model will go through before it's finally animated and added into the final movie. In some case certain set pieces will use the displacement map as well to simulate more detail. The main reason being, if you tried to model this kind of detail it'd take forever, probably bugger up a million times over and would just be hell to animate - ultimately unless you're a real pro at this, it would never quite look the same and probably cause your computer to crash just by looking at it.

That's it for now.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

No news is sort of good news?

Nothing really new to post, other then shooting has hit a bit of a delay. This is for several reasons.

First reason, lack of a shooting location for the final three sequences - I had a gymnasium lined up as a location, but that has fallen through for some very annoying reasons I won't go into.

However, the silver lining to that is more time to prep everything. So really, just lost time I can live with if the payoff is a better and more prepared shoot. By more prepared I mean bringing in lights to pull off some special effects gags, getting a better feel for the scenes overall and all that stuff.

And of course the ever present financial reasons, which should no longer be a problem if all works out. I need to bring in some new lighting equipment as well as a massive white backdrop for a scene I'm calling "The White Room" - which really isn't a "white room" exactly, but it looks like that out of context.

Other then that, working on collecting music for a soundtrack. As lame as it kinda sounds, you wouldn't believe what is available out there for royalty free music. It might cost a bit of money, but it's beyond worth it.

And in the meantime I've also been busy going over all the FX - and there is going to be a lot. From cleaning up the burned out pixels for nearly half the movie, to just cleaning up excess objects in frame here and there (namely scripts in a few key shots) to colour correcting, extra dramatic lighting here and there and even removing entire parts of certain shots - it's going to be a huge amount of work...And I haven't even started on the actual special effects stuff yet.

An example of a script in the shot.
The average person might not notice it or even care.
But if I can fix it, I can't live with leaving it in.

To give you a rough idea. The Library Scene we shot last week. It's got roughly 27 shots, 26 of those need to be touched up BEFORE I even start to add in the computer generated set or Librarian character. And then there's an entire computer generated chase scene that has to be storyboarded and created.

So you might be asking "Is this even worth it?" The answer is yes, obviously. The Monkey Rodeo: MALICE is hardly the next Oscar worthy movie, even on an Indie or B-Movie scale, but what I want is something that is just fun to watch because there's just so much to look at. Not a fan of overdone eye-candy movies, but there's a small niche that this fits into and I think it should fit in it's own small way.

Anyway, I mention the FX side of things because I know so many of you just sit and wait week after week wondering what absolutely tedious work I'm up to this week. And just for you, I have an extra special treat...well, not really extra or even special really, just an example of the post work going on so far.

Some examples:

Here we have the original shot.

And the more or less final version.

All I really did was make a single mask that removed the far left edge of the frame - removing the mirror around the door and the wall. And for when Malice enters I had to mask out the entire hallway in behind her - because I wanted it to be just black - not looking like a hotel hallway. That part was done through a process called rotosplining, I may have mentioned it before, not sure. In any case this process is used to create a mask where normally you might use a green screen but either don't have the budget or time or whatever - so you end up creating shapes (splines) and matching them up with the video nearly frame by frame at some points - I guess that's the roto part...I don't really know, so don't ask me, I just made that up perhaps.

Without going too deeply into it, the process is partially automated. If you set the position of the splines at your first frame (usually 0) and then at say the 10th frame, you'll could get lucky and hopefully frames 1 through 9 will match up, since it moves the splines automatically from their positions at frames 0 to 10. And you would do this for an entire clip, at 30 frames a second it can get pretty tedious the longer the shot. I think you get the point.

And this is a much easier shot to clean up, just a single mask that removes the unwanted visuals at the right edge.
And After.
These are fairly straightforward and simple clean up jobs - but when you have close to 200 or more throughout the entire movie it becomes slightly overwhelming by times. So I'm just taking it pretty much one scene at a time for now.

If these changes look a little subtle, that's the point. If I can give any advice to any filmmakers at my level - don't think about doing this kind of thing unless you've already set it up in advance to make these kind of changes. In other words, don't film during the day and think you can make it look like night (watch some episodes of Magnum PI to see what I mean). So knowing I would be removing those sections of the shots, I set them up accordingly knowing full well with a little effort it could be cleaned up.

Also, if you're looking at these and thinking the edges past the door might be a little too dark - that's fine, this is just a first pass and I haven't really decided if I'm going with the doorway sort of floating in an inky black space look or if there'll be some sort of visible (although still dark) wall back there.

Sorry for the tech laden post for those of you who just like the pretty pictures - I feel for you, I really do. In closing, it probably will be some time before you see too much new stuff other then this sort of thing - so you've been warned, no complaining.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Library

First off, a bit of background on this scene. I think this was always one of the scenes I had in mind when I first started messing around with the idea of turning the original script into a more supernatural then sci-fi kind of movie.

I knew The Library would have to be mostly computer generated, there was never any doubt it was ever going to be otherwise - just how big of a chore was the only up in the air part.

Basically it was meant to be shot like this. I wanted a doorway, something simple, fairly non-descript that would fit with the intended environment. That was the hard part, we nearly shot this scene several times already, first time was over a year ago actually. I was never thrilled with the doorways I found, there was always something that made shooting around it a pain in the ass.

I kept putting it off, and each time I put it off I was able to gather together more props to make it more what I had in mind when I wrote it, until a year later I had everything perfect. Even my location. One of the huge ballrooms at the Delta hotel - a nice massive open space and a huge door, nothing too flashy or too plain. So finally everything was in place.

Now the main idea behind the scene is that there is this library that's so old and an ancient it pretty much houses nearly every old book known to human and demonkind alike. So this is where Malice ends up in her search to identify the thing that's been wandering about murdering hundreds of people.

The "live" set will just consist of the doorway and the area around it. There's a bookstand - what better to stand books on? And a hanging lantern that will pretty much light the scene for the most part. And of course "The Book" itself, which is a prop I purchase off eBay from an individual down in Florida, I believe, who makes these crazy HP Lovecraft inspired statues, books and props. If I'd had more money and time I'd probably found a way to work all those pieces into the movie.

So Malice walks in, the lantern lights up and reveals the computer generated set beyond. The area she's in will appear to be just floating in space pretty much - I think, I'm working on various visuals that may change this. And the area surrounding will be a massive, several story library where all the books are pretty much alive. So the air will be filled with books in certain places.

And then there's The Librarian character, a little floating fellow (still going through several designs of him as well) that helps Malice find what she's looking for...sort of.

So that's the scene, more or less. Without a doubt the biggest special effects undertaking I've ever done and probably ever will do for some time. I hope it doesn't kill my poor computers just rendering it.

That's out of the way. Now onto the shoot itself. It went great, the location was so easy to film in without any worries whatso ever. No one bothered us once.

Firstly, thanks to Scott Parsons for giving us a drive down with all the props and equipment, that would've sucked to walk. And thanks to Heather as usual for putting up with the now even more dreaded eyepatch, and of course, thanks to Moe for taking more pictures - you'll see them later, be patient.

So everything went as planned, a little hard to focus in such low light, but that's fixable in post so I'm not really worried. I think the hardest part was for Heather to have a conversation with something that wasn't there. This, as I mentioned before, is a very heavy FX scene. Otherwise it went very quickly and painless. Onto the pictures.

Malice enters The Library.
The background behind the door will be removed
in post, as well as any extra reflections or lights
you might be seeing.
I really like the way the lighting turned out in
this scene for the most part.
This is one of the shots of Heather acting with no one.
Once finished there'll be a little floating guy with her onscreen.
Well, not really, I think it's called The Book of the Skull
or something like that. Don't know where the guy who made
it got that name from though.
And some of the pages. These were made by me,
the above book is actually just filled with empty pages.
And more pages. I like the brain picture.
You can see there's no book on the stand at this point, this is
another "it'll be added in post" shot. Malice rips out a page
and the book will fly away in the final version.
And finally the whole reason for coming to The Library.
This is where Malice discovers who the evil dude slicing up people is.

So that's pretty much it, it's mainly a dialog scene with some cool FX, so there's really not much to show you right now. As I said before, this was always one of my favorite scenes and at first glance I think it'll be pretty closed to what I'd imagined.

I'll update again with some behind the scenes stuff in the next couple days.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ain't no cure for a Delvian Demon Run hangover

Some behind the scenes pictures from the other night of filming.

Coming on the end of some lengthy exposition.
That just looks kinda cool.
Some of the props from this scene.
Heather looks way to amused by something.
And that green crap again.
If you saw how this looked behind the scenes,
it would totally ruin the effect, so I'm not showing you.
I took the time after all last night to do a rough edit of the scene and was surprised how quickly it came together. I took more angles then I intended to for certain parts and I'm glad I did. My reason for not wanting to originally was because doing the setups can take up so much time, and by the time we had the bulks of the scene over we'd only spent just shy of 90 minutes shooting, so it was more then worth it.

What took up so much time was the setup for the FX shots, but I think I mentioned that before. It was worth it though, I think I had enough footage to get the timing I need for the FX and the setup for the entire image in the green liquid in the bowl effect. So overall I'm pretty happy with the way the scene came out, it's a little dark in places, but I'm getting used to that still and it doesn't ruin it, just means I have to pay more attention.

So everyone involved can breath a sigh of relief, we're all good, that's one more major scene over and done with. And as far as what's left to shoot, with Heather there's one more really major dialog heavy scene that involves her and a computer generated creature in a giant computer generated library - and then after that I think she has all of 8 lines left for the entire last 20 minutes of the movie.

We're getting ready now to do The Library scene - which while it'll be fairly simple to shoot will end up being the most work in post of all the scene in the entire movie. The set will consist of just a doorway and the surrounding area, about 10 feet in all directions. The rest of the set will be a massive, several story library where all the books are alive. So there'll need to be some very careful planning to pull this off.

If you don't hear from me until then, don't be surprised, my head might have exploded.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Known side effects of Delvian Demon Rum

Tonight we shot a rather important scene, basically it's where (hopefully) everyone gets to clue in to what's really going on. All the loose ends are more or less tied up and we proceed onto some actiony type scenes after a couple lengthy exposition scenes.

I hate exposition scenes by the way. They're hard to film and make look interesting, luckily when you're dealing with this kind of movie you can at least add some cool props and effects to help ease any potential boredom.

The shoot went longer then I figured, the bulk was over and done with in an hour or so, but when it came time for setups for some FX shots, what a bloody pain in the ass. I'd planned it out - or so I thought - pretty well beforehand, but I guess this was just one of those things that changes once you actually get down to filming it.

The only major problem we had, and this is actually the only major problem I think we've really had so far, was dealing with a silly bottle of glowing green liquid. Now that seems like a simple enough practical effect, right? Wrong, big piles of wrong. I thought to myself some time ago, "Hey, it's be cool to use the liquid from a glowstick." So I tested it, worked perfectly. That was over a year ago, and for some reason the laws of everything changed since then and we made a mess. The shot more or less works, so I'm happy with it, but this was easily the stupidest idea I've ever had. I got that crap on my hand and it burned and now my fingers are kinda numb. Very, very stupid.

This stuff says it's non-toxic - but how much non-toxic stuff actually melts paint and turns your skin white? If you learn one thing from reading this, you've now learned glowsticks are evil.

Otherwise, things were good. I had a bit of a headache so it was hard to concentrate. Moe was rather sick too I think, at least she was moving at the speed of a sick person. But she still got some pictures I think, I haven't seen them yet so I'll post those one I get them, but for now I've just got a few stills from tonight.

Malice shows up for a visit.
And brings some Delvian Demon Rum!
Grayson doesn't like what he's reading.
Another shot of a very long conversation.
And onto the vile green crap of doom.
While Malice plays with a voodoo spirit bomb.
And the glowing orb of something or other.
Ooh, it's radioactive!
“I should bring sample kit, this would be an excellent
opportunity to analyse the Bile Demon’s stomach fluids.”

And that's it for now. From what I can tell everything came out pretty good. I don't think I'll get around to editing it tonight, it'd probably come out like crap anyway if I did, I'm not really in the mood to wade through over 50 minutes of footage for a 4 minutes scene.

Since I'm uploading stuff, I thought I might as well upload some extra stuff from the photo shoot for the movie poster.

Heather and I discover we're shoe buddies!
I'm not really sure if that's a good or bad thing.
Draper yells at his agent, or he would appear
to be if he had one.
That's it, pet the nice camera. Who's a pretty camera?
One good thing about having real sharp weapons around.
They're good to cut things up with.
And now some various shots for Malice.
This one reminds me of why I decided to
have an eyepatch in the first place.
Snake Plisken!

And there you go. I had a whole pile more to chose from, just thought I'd post some of them.
That's it for now.